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Wednesday, 28 October 2009


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I have to agree. Especially with "People who are deeply involved in working tend to adapt to their equipment, learn their equipment thoroughly, and learn to work around whatever flaws and idiosyncrasies the equipment presents to them." That's a vitally important point.

I will freely confess to some recreational upgrading myself, and not enough taking photos.

By the way -- the best photographers I know do not own any perfect equipment (though sometimes, not always, they own much better equipment than I do). There IS no perfect equipment. If you own the perfect camera, it's a sure sign you're a fake. (Being deeply in love with your camera is fine, though. But it's always much better if you have a clear-eyed understanding of its flaws. This, it turns out, is much like some other situations where "perfection" is casually prated about.)

Two of four cameras dumped? Throw away my Leica? I think not. Yeah, I can hear the flames coming. But, while the Leicas cost a fortune to own, they don't go in the trash...and customer service in NJ has always made good when there's been an issue. I only hope they survive long enough to maintain this approach.

I've worked hard for 35 years to get better at the craft, with no end in sight, but the focus has never been on the flaws of my gear, only on my own.

Your thoughts about the reasons for dissatisfaction with cameras are very insightful—slightly painful to read but very hard to argue with. Seeing a Venn diagram between far-distant parentheses was a nice bonus.

Dear Mike,

Only you could come up with an entire column out of "no comment."


pax / Ctein

Two comments to your comment.

I always have a problem with the statement that a repair costs more than the camera is worth because it is a comparison between a newly repaired camera and a used camera that is likely to need the same or other repair. Certainly it out to be looked at to see whether it is operating up to spec. It seems like a false equivalence to me and is more likely just an easy rationalization to buy something new.

I used to think that the value equivalence of digital cameras to computers was the reason for the new depreciation rate for cameras. However, the depreciation of recent, very good cameras is not as much. A several years old Nikon D2Xs in like new condition, for instance, retails for half of the new price. I wonder now whether the depreciation has more to do with progress in image quality and the quality of the original camera. As that area of development has slowed down and people become more and more comfortable with 12-16 MP imaging systems as giving all the quality that most people need or want, I suspect that used camera prices are going to firm up.

You worry me with your history of digital failures. I'm just getting a Panasonic GF1 as my first digital camera!
I think there's an analogy with motor vehicles here. If we were wealthy enough we'd probably have a stable of cars to best serve each area of need - a sports car, a limousine, an SUV and a large pickup - and we'd take out the one suited to the day's activities. Most of us are doing well to have just one car and we try to choose one that offers the best compromise to satisfy most needs. Outside of that we might hire a special purpose vehicle, or find a work around like renting a trailer or 4WD.
I don't really see cameras as any different except they're a bit more affordable and so we can have a range of cameras. I think the mistake we sometimes make is looking for THE camera - the one that satisfies ALL requirements.
So I've got a Nikkormat FTn SLR, a couple of Voigtlander RF's (different framelines) a Rolleiflex TLR, a Leica IIIF (that's really to indulge a bit of nostalgia) and now a digital Micro 4/3 with a zoom. They're all nice cameras, all work perfectly, all different and used for different circumstances - no one of them is necessarily better than the other and not one of them will meet all the criteria of the rest.
How does that song go again? "Love the One You're With".

What is "academic photography"?

I'm not sure, apart from economics, why it would be so important whether you keep a camera three years or thirty.

Also, while it might be pleasant finding a "camera for life", I notice Ctein is also now using a lovely Fujifilm small-sensor camera. You could hardly get further from the also lovely Pentax 67.
Me, I've given up, I've had to face that apart from the fact that I love gear and can afford it, also I need a different camera when I'm on walk-around from when I'm doing portraits or nudes.

"What is 'academic photography'?"

Photography by photo teachers and/or photo students. An important part of the local photographic life in most medium-sized and larger towns and cities, at least in art photography. In D.C. back then, for instance, a number of the leading art photographers were teachers at various institutions, and the head of the photo department at a local art college was living with the owner of a leading photography gallery, who represented and showed a number of the teachers from that institution. Taking a photo class was a means of motivating oneself to work and of getting access to a darkroom and equipment like dry mount presses. Class shows and graduation shows are a regular feature of photo exhibition in many cities and a way of finding--and being!--"emerging" talent.

And so forth....


All right you people, you heard him! Lets get those old worthless worn out digital cameras on Ebay and Craigslist, and mind you, no reserve! I've been wanting to see what a Canon 5D or a Nikon D200 would do for my photography!

... Apologies to Ctein if my comment sounded snotty or if I missed the point of his article(s). I'm a bit sleep-deprived, and even at the best of times his intelligent writing misses my rapidly slanting forehead.

(Wow, am I sounding snotty even when trying to apologise? I have no idea. Bed time, dude.)

My 2 cents is in regard to having any sense of a digital camera as a "classic." A classic for me would be a Leica M series, Ctein's Pentax 67, certain Nikons, etc..

So what would make a classic in the digital photographic era when every 18 months there is a new contender?

I would like to postulate and answer; how about the digital camera that is so well designed and tested that it does not require endless firmware updates or any at all?

Have there been any? Funny you should ask. The Nikon D3x has proven that reliable. That is why it is my instrument of choice at this time. It just WORKS.

I am up to about 1600 frames in nine months of use, and the camera has simply disappeared. That was the pinnacle of my use of the Leica M series, and I never thought that would happen for me in dSLR. I keep wondering if this camera is the digital sleeper classic---the rock we will be talking about in twenty years.


I still have my first digital camera...an HP PhotoSmart 315 that takes perfectly dreadful .jpgs ... why do I keep it? ..I don't know .. maybe its because it takes such crummy images, maybe that's my fascination with it - like an old brownie or some other really bad box camera...

But I'm pretty sure I really need usable 3200 ISO so I'm looking to upgrade from my 20D anyway..... maybe I should just learn how to use the 315 and concentrate on my craft instead .. a lot cheaper....

Hm, I thought "academic photography" was scientific photography - photomicrography, research-oriented wildlife photography, astronomy, documentation and so on.

Perhaps that belongs in the orange circle.

'Only you could come up with an entire column out of "no comment." ' Ctein

"And what kind of photographer are you?" Without thinking, I replied, "I'm a writer." What can I say? Clarity.) Mike

OK, that about sums it up. This is why we see a lot more of your beautifully constructed and thoughtful essays than we do of your photographs on TOP. What damn fine work Mike!

Rod G.

Perhaps a thought to help achieving some of the 'clarity' you were right to point to.

If someone is a professional photographer his camera is a TOOL.

For all others their camera is a TOY.

And before I draw lots of flak I want to add that I have no problems admitting that photography is my hobby and I therefore consider my cameras to be toys. Wonderful toys.

"If someone is a professional photographer his camera is a TOOL.

For all others their camera is a TOY."

This can only be true if you believe that an exchange of money is required to legitimize any activity.

Would you also say that, for a sculptor who never sells his or her work, a chisel is only a toy?

"It's worthwhile highlighting at the outset that disaffection with cameras is usually a consequence of not working hard enough on your photographic projects. ... The best 'cure' for equipment angst, therefore, is to get to work, or work harder"

This is a deep insight and it's the first time I've ever heard or seen it expressed in words. (Maybe I consider it deep because it describes my first two or three years of photography perfectly.)

I would always tell myself that I can't take pictures because I didn't have the right camera/lens/whatever combination yet. At one point though, I made a pact with myself to go out and burn through film, even if only to take photos I knew would be awful. Out of laziness I wound up keeping the same camera and lens in my bag day after day. And now I can't imagine working with any more equipment than fits in my small shoulder bag.

Now, is there a fix for me waiting months to develop my film?

CMS: There's the old concept (not the current one really) of "amateur" also. There are people who do stuff, especially art and craft, at levels of quality solidly up with the professionals, but don't make their living from it, or even try.

I'm willing to agree that MY cameras are toys, though. Really great toys!

Robert Engle: Sorry, sold my D200 back in July or some such. As I remember it, I got $624, which wasn't bad (more than 1/3 what I paid for it new). I've pretty much cleared out the stuff I'm not using, except for a couple of antiques.

In your coloured diagram, the blue "art photography and academic photography" disk may have been overlaid with the others using too cosy and amicable a Photoshop blending mode. Should that not be "Difference"? Or perhaps, "Exclusion"?


In ye olde filme [1] days, I was something of a snapshot photographer. I still have my lovely little Olympus XA.

In the digital era, I've been bitten by the bug. Much like Toad of Toad Hall. I now practice my photography, capture many exposures, and try and learn as much as I can.

On the purchase of my second dSLR, something big impacted on my photography: the RAW file converter. This previously simple and responsive tool would not process my new camera's files.

Nowadays, to keep some semblance of control of my photographs, I require a comfortable workflow. Without both camera and computer program, it's all for nought.

[1] Well if people can spell lens with a trailing 'e', I think I can get away with this.

"People who are deeply involved in working tend to adapt to their equipment, learn their equipment thoroughly, and learn to work around whatever flaws and idiosyncrasies the equipment presents to them—sometimes, they even learn to love their camera's particular foibles."

That's sort of what the "get a Leica and a single-focal-length manual lens" challenge was about, wasn't it? (from the May 28th post "The Leica as Teacher") Learning to work within and use the limitations of your equipment to your advantage?

I didn't go as far as getting a Leica, but I did pick up a inexpensive fixed focal length non-digital lens compatible with my camera - one that I have to use solely with manual settings. That has certainly helped reinforce the basics for me, and I'm much happier with the photos I'm producing thus far.

To Brian W. and David Dyer-Bennet: Yes, the world is rarely as black or white as I rather provocatively depicted it here. I suspect, however, that the group that comprises hobbyists which are almost exclusively interested in the art they produce is only a tiny proportion of the photographic community. I also imagine that these people show little interest in their equipment other than learning how to use it at its fullest and will not spent much time thinking about upgrading it.

Things get really complicated once you begin to analyze the motivations that draw people to a specific activity. But it can be quite useful to find out about oneself. As Mike wrote: 'if you get clear about what you're really doing and why, you're likely to be much happier'. I can say that this worked out well for me.

From what I could observe (internet forums are great in this respect) for most non-commercial photographers their camera as well as the rest of their equipment definitively amount to toys, regardless on how seriously they are involved in photography.

Dear Eolake,

I didn't read your comment as snotty at all. It was a factual observation: compare and contrast, as it were.

Though there is one way in which the cameras are very similar; they are both near the top of their class in terms of bulk and weight. So apparently that is something that does not deter me from getting a camera.

On the other hand, I am currently working with an Olympus Pen EP1 and considering the possibility that a complete lens kit that duplicates what my Fuji S100 can do may not actually bulk to much more than the S100.

Haven't decided if the Olympus is going to replace the Fuji or whether they will coexist side-by-side. As I said, not ready to settle down, it would seem.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

A remark I made in an e-mail to Mike a few days back would seem to mirror his sentiments here:

"But, y'know, making good art is not about whining about the tools you don't have, it's about doing good work with the tools you do have."

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

BrianW: You're after the same bit of that misconception I was taking aim at, and I think you've expressed it better.

This worship of "professionalism" is a very modern thing. Through most of history most of the economy wasn't in money, and hence most people weren't really "professional" at anything, and hence everything they had were toys -- no, doesn't make much sense to follow that approach through logically, does it?

To Brian W. and David Dyer-Bennet, part II: One might sense confusion concerning the vocabulary in this exchange, more specifically with the word 'professional'.

Definition 1: Engaged in a specific activity as one's main paid occupation; belonging to or connected with a profession.

Definition 2: Competent; having or showing the skill of a professional; worthy of a professional.

Many years ago things were clearer when everyone spoke about professional photographers as opposed to amateur photographers. This was clearly definition 1 territory.

Since, clever marketing has blurred the line and moved to definition 2. Amongst others the major brands exploited the fact that people don't want to be considered amateurs, because to most this sounds like 'only moderately capable'. The industry now speaks about prosumers. Consumers are being lured into thinking that with some expensive gear they can achieve pictures worthy of a professional (some can, actually). This message can be found in virtually every advertisement for photographic products and is pure self-serving nonsense.

One might wonder why there is such an admiration for the professional (def. 1) photographer. Most of them live an unglamorous life, with long working hours, chased by deadlines, grumblingly doing what their customers want, desperately seeking new clients. Or they are on a 9 to 5 job making pictures of an endless line of unexciting products such as vacuum cleaners. On the other hand a few do indeed live great lives.

One might also wonder about the artistic skills of many professional (def. 1) photographers, of which many have little. It is a pleasure to see that many 'amateur' photographers have high skills and a sharp eye.

As for myself I will firmly stick with definition 1 when using the word 'professional' in relation to photography.

"And what kind of photographer are you?" Without thinking, I replied, "I'm a writer."

You too, huh?

Chris ;~)

CMS wrote: "Consumers are being lured into thinking that with some expensive gear they can achieve pictures worthy of a professional"

That's not the only point of this marketing tack. Professionals are demanding of their gear. They require consistently high performance.

On another note that struck me as someone used the words "worship of professionalism": In the really old days, professionals were a lower class of people who had to work for a living instead of "being old money", or, coming from a rich family. The upper class felt sorry for the lower classes who unfortunately needed to worry about physical needs at the expense of higher pursuits like philosophy.

The history of snobbery & covetousness is wide and deep ;)

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