I'd like to post up with a brief vote in favor of reverse camera snobbism. That's when the value system is inverted, turned on its ear, such that the prism through which cameras are evaluated is changed to some criterion other than the obvious one. In the case of cameras, it's that good shooters are going to come back with better pictures than people who have better cameras but are worse at using them.
This is just snobbism, of course, only of a different kind. It's no more a necessary rule than good camera = good pictures.
Still, it's kind of fun. Edward Weston used a lens he bought for $5 at a flea market; Alfred Stieglitz's camera had a bellows that had been patched many times, and was so saggy he had had to hold up the middle of it with a piece of twine when he made an exposure. Closer to home, my old studio partner and former teacher Paul Kennedy ran a professional studio serving high-level clients using a beat-up old Hasselblad with only two lenses and a cheap monorail view camera that was so damaged I sometimes couldn't figure out the trick of getting it to work. (He also had a Nikon F3 with a giant motor drive he called "Darth Vader," which is why he named my F4 "Luke." All this is giving you clues as to the era in which all this took place.)
Of course the ultimate in reverse snobbism was when a guerrilla shooter with a beat-up old Leica and a single lens would come in and shoot the pants off all the pj's who had expense accounts and bags full of expensive Nikons. That won't fly any more, since Leica went all-in as a maker of status symbols. Not to mention that those formerly flush and smug pj's are enduring lean times themselves now.
And of course inverted snobbism didn't work very well in the early days of digital. Back then, the best digital cameras were barely good enough, and bad ones were, well, just plain awful. It's only lately that we're getting back to the point where knowledge and skill can accomplish more with a small digital camera than a bumbler with the lastest/coolest/bestest can.
Can't say I'm a big fan of snobbery in any form—I'll never understand, much less sympathize with, the bitter brand-based flame wars that we still see sometimes out in the Wilds of the Intertubes. It's never mattered much to me what someone else uses to take their pictures with, as long as I'm getting something out of looking at their pictures. But I guess I have more sympathy for inverted snobbism than the other kind.
Is that bad for my business? I coulda been Steve Huff....
"Open Mike" is the Sunday opinion page of TOP. It's been a day late enough times, I figured this week I'd post it a day early.
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Featured Comments from:
Michael O'Donoghue: "And what do you mean by being Steve Huff?"
Mike replies: Just that I'd guess Steve he sells an awful lot of Leica gear through his links. And probably makes 2X as much money as I do. Sigh.
Dogman: "Having crappy cameras was something of a status symbol among several of the shooters at the two dailies in town back in the '70s and '80s. My own Nikons were pretty beat up but they hardly compared to some of the other photographers'. One of the shooters for the afternoon paper had a piece of twine holding the back and bottom plate together on a Nikkormat but he explained he only used the camera to keep handy a second lens for his main camera rather than carry a bag all the time. His main camera only looked marginally better than that Nikkormat. One of the new hires at the morning paper (where I worked) came in with two or three motorized Nikon F's that I swear were mostly greenish gold where they once were black or chrome. When he moved on a year or so later, they looked even worse.
"Most of our cameras showed finish wear but continued to function well with annual tune ups and occasional trips to Nikon Professional Services. However, lenses had failures due to daily wear and abuse. The glass elements on mine stayed in pretty good shape but some of the guys had lenses that looked as if both front and back elements had fought a few rounds with a sanding tool. Backlit subject definitely had a 'glow.'
"I did wear out a few lenses over the years. The focus distance scale on my 24mm was worn completely away and the lens finally loosened internally to the point it was unusable. My 35mm and 85mm both had loose front elements that required frequent retightening (a Swiss Army knife made for a great emergency tool kit). I had an embarrassing moment with my 180mm during an interview when I was trying to fill the frame with the subjects face. I kept moving closer and the lens kept focusing until the damn thing came completely unscrewed and I was left with the rear half of it on the camera and the front half in my hand. Nikon actually repaired that lens and I continued to use it for a couple more years. I sold it along with much of my other equipment when I left newspaper photography in the early 90s. The proceeds from the sale was meager to say the least."
Peter Barnes: "An emphasis on photos and photographers and life over photographic tools bad for your business? Not from my point of view Mike—it is exactly why I come here several times a week (and pay you a regular pittance for the privilege). You are a most refreshing change from what dominates most writing about photography—what I call the engineering approach, which is so popular because it is so much easier to write and talk about megapretzels and aperture speeds and The Rule of Thirds."
Mike replies: My rule of thirds—one third photography, one third music, and one third books. And the question, what's my spending money for?
Ann: "I took many of my best, most memorable images with a D70 (with good lenses, but still a D70), long after most people were talking about the D70 in the past tense. My current cameras are certainly more capable, and my current images have more pixels and less noise, but it's pretty clear to me that I could pick up pretty much any decent camera made within the past five years, and for good or bad, once the images were printed, one camera would be mostly indistinguishable from another.
"I shot a wedding with an RX100 once. I was a guest, the hired photographer was in the emergency room, and I had that camera with me. Except for the wider than typical DoF on some shots, it was hard to see the difference between those wedding shots and a wedding I shot with my D800. I'd still rather use the D800 to shoot a wedding, of course. Right tool for the job, and all that.
"I've had thoughts about starting a blog called 'it's not your camera, it's you,' where I use some really terrible early 2000s consumer DSLR to debunk some of the silliness that shows up on the Internet fora. Is that snobbery? I was thinking of the 'Bike Snob NY' blog when I thought up the idea, so I suppose it is."
Andrew C E (partial comment): "So when I use my $50 50mm ƒ/2 AI on my D810, can I be an inverse snob and a regular snob simultaneously? ;-) "
Mike replies: You nailed it.