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Monday, 09 July 2012


It's a very odd thing, that when things become easy, many of us cease doing interesting work with it. It's strange, and heart-breaking.

Mike, may I plug the photo contest on my blog? Non-commercial, yet has cash prizes:


you-you mean.... its like marriage?

"The work you put in mastering some specific set of equipment and materials is transient; it's fleeting."
Which is exactly why that OMD is so frustrating to many of its new owners - they might kid themselves that now they've found just what they need and they'll stick with it, but in the back of their minds they know it's too much effort required learning how to use something that'll be replaced within a couple of years.

I'm one that likes to stick with one thing for as long as I can because, well, I'm cheap.

It's that simple.

At least in photography there is an option you didn't mention: making your own materials. If deep mastery is your thing --bone deep, soul deep -- then learn to make your own film and paper. Doesn't work for all materials, of course. Your poor Kodachrome friend is probably out of luck. But, handmade silver b&w. It's yours if you want it.

"Just recently I heard of another guy who had bought and sold so many cars within one calendar year that he was obliged to wait until the end of the year to do it again, because in order to legally sell one more car he would need a dealer's license."


Now, I wonder if you need a dealer's license to legally buy and sell x number of cameras/printers in a year :)

I tend to like to learn one thing, learn it well, and stick with it. I've learned rather quickly you can't really do this with digital photography. I do think there is a steep initial learning curve that flattens out after a bit. There is some point where your learning becomes evolutionary instead of revolutionary; how long it takes to get to the latter stage depends on a number of factors such as time invested, comfort with technology, etc. I think many folks who dislike trying to play catch up would benefit in investing some time and money in classes so they can "get over the hump" and into territory where keeping up doesn't involve mastering a bunch of more fundamental digital tools as well as trying to keep up with the latest and greatest.

This brings me to the other point: while you have to keep up, there's a detriment to living on the bleeding edge of technology. Namely that you never master your tools if you keep buying new ones. There's a balance - maybe a 10 year old OS is a bad idea, but sticking with one camera body for five years at this point doesn't seem unreasonable.

Acquire as much knowledge as you can at first, find what works for you, identify what you need to be on top of and keep up with those skills, and dont obsess about the acquisition of new gear until you've mastered or outgrown what you currently have.

Copy and paste your complaint to the larger topic of photography itself, Mike.

In the old chemical photo days the primary goal was to master the film medium. If you used several types of films you had to get the hang of how they behaved. The camera was basically an accessory to the film medium (perhaps as it should be). To get different "looks" you bought different films but generally loaded them into the same cameras.

When photography merged into consumer electronics it also joined the eternal "improvement" treadmill that supports the gadget markets: continuous obsolescence. Today one's ability to master his/her medium -- which now IS the camera -- is constantly challenged by temptations to get a better camera. Succumbing to the temptation means sliding backwards in your mastery of the technology. New cameras mean new features to learn and new characteristics to discover.

Good photography is not, and has never been, heavily indebted to technology or recoding media. Great stuff has gotten done since 1839. But it's also true that much of history's best photography has exploited the technology and medium. Exploitation requires mastery, something few photographers, amateur or pro, ever accomplish with their cameras today.

Speaking of keeping your car for a long time, did you read this:


About 25 years ago, a good friend was the top technologist at Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) the minicomputer company that faded away as the market moved to PCs. He said way back then that their customers complained that by the time they learned to use the hardware/software they had purchased from DEC, salesmen were already telling them that it was obsolete and selling them something coming in the future. So nothing has changed.
But technology does not change continuously - it looks more like a staircase - and often flattens out. Mobile phones had a big step with the intro of the iPhone, tablets with the iPad, but PCs have flattened out - many people I know are using PCs that are 3-5 or even 10 years old that work just fine. Remember that software may change but often not for the better, e.g. Windows Vista, and some of the Mac OS upgrades have caused consternation as older programs and peripherals are no longer supported!

You raise some very true points but I respectfully challenge you on the notion that advancing technology forces one to relearn what they already knew. I come from a traditional photo background and went into digital dragging my feet but because I already had some computer knowledge, making that transition involved one major learning curve (years) that didn't get repeated with every new iteration of software or printer. There is a certain predictability to learning the in's and out's of what is new; after all, much of it needs to have built-in legacy. The idea that after two years what you use and know is obsolete is a gross misstatement.

Mike, I'm older than you by a couple of years so maybe this does not apply in your case. The obsession with the pace of technology by people of a certain age is completely understandable. When we were growing up the bright and shiny technological future was just around the corner. It developed slowly and with plenty of notice. Now the future is the next minute. It is unpredictable to those accustomed to a more deliberate pace.

I myself am an aging techie who tries to keep up as best as he can. You could be right about personality playing a part here. You are wrong in describing my desire to keep up as entertainment. I live in the present and look to the future. I can't live in the good old days. Whatever they were.

Sounds like you could use a refreshing dip in Mazo Beach!
Who knew Wisconsin had a nudist beach : )
Now everyone does because it's in the NYTimes.
Cheers from the Ocean State, S

I had a 1978 Honda Accord, the first one they made. The odometer only went to 100,000Km! I had it 16 years and took it over that 100K clock twice. I drove it from Perth to Cairns and back and it never needed oil, water or tyres in that 8,000Km trip. I loved that car (two speed Hondamatic) and when I finally sold it with a wheezy engine, the buyer told me it was only the head gasket! Damn, if I'd persisted, I may still be driving it. Btw, whenever I dream about cars and travelling even now, it's the Accord in my dreams. Heh heh.

Back to the point: yesterday I said I have trouble printing. I don't doubt that if I got a monitor calibrator, my troubles would be over. My problem is I only print seriously once every few months and I don't put enough effort into getting things right. Mostly, my Canon MFP is good enough and gives me the A5 quick print I need. I've just got to try harder.

But, the discrepancy between my assessment of D6500 on my monitor, and what the Spyder gave me continues to mystify me. But I haven't got the Spyder here and I haven't got time to worry enough about it. Duh.

Perhaps you're right, Mike, but I haven't had to relearn anything about digital print making (except when I decided to learn how to make Piezography b&w prints) since at least 2006. I use the same software (Qimage), the same operating system (XP), literally the same PC hardware, the same printer brand (Epson), and same ICC profiling method of matching ink to paper. The papers have gotten better, particularly the selection of fiber papers (I use Epson Exhibition Fiber mostly), and I'll put my prints up against any ones. I know the computing selection of most creatives revolve around Apple -- but from what I've read with the various profiling issues, incompatibilities between versions of the OS, I couldn't be happier to be using a seven-year old PC and ancient software like Windows XP. I can make lots and lots of pictures while others have to iron-out problems with their Macs "which are so much easier to use than PCs..."

If I were to believe in conspiracy theories I'd say someone's out to f**k with our minds. The hamster's wheel spins faster and faster and we can never keep up. But I don't put stock in such fancies. Nope. When one's hobby becomes a chore it's time to drop it and move on to something else. Take up walking or reading – there's not much can spoil those activities. Our bare feet still suffice and there's a wealth of reading matter out there already.

I first learned my printing techniques at The Art Center School in Los Angeles back in 1955. My "printing team" was Kodak Plus X film, developed in D-76, printed on DuPont Varigam paper, developed in Dektol. It was Otto Halmer at Art Center who taught me how to boost the Varigam print by using Varigam's # 10 filter during the final few seconds of exposure under my Omega enlarger. "Kiss it with a ten," he used to say. Coaching me on the sidelines were Ansel Adams' two important treatises, "The Negative" and "The Print." Major tonal manipulation (dodging and burning under the enlarger) was sometimes followed by a local application of diluted potassium ferricyanide to the still-wet print, to accent (bleach) small, but important, highlights.

As you mentioned, further learning and refinement, deeper layers, more thorough knowledge, more subtle understanding and judgement came later. Different films, papers, chemistry and a brief study of the H&D curve all added to my understanding of how to make a fine print.

With the eventual demise of DuPont's Varigam, I experimented with other film/paper/developer combos. After numerous trials, I finally settled on the somewhat mundane, but very serviceable, combination of Tri X developed in D-76 (1 to 1), and Oriental Seagull developed in Dektol, dilution varied.

When I retired as Head of the Photogrphy Department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1980, the photo lab was still using that very combination, and the large, floor model Pako drum drier was still spitting out Seagull prints. (Our color output was almost entirely transparencies, all on Ektachrome.)

Today, my personal work is all digital. And yes, I have learned, after many hard-learned years, how to make a very good print, both in color and B&W. The digital learning curve for me was steep and often abominably frustrating. Surprisingly, although it may seem to be a disconnect, my intimate knowledge of Ansel Adams' Zone System was a huge help, especially in the beginning of the digital learning process. Even today, I often "pre-visulize" the final print when looking through my viewfinder. Not always, because some of my work takes some strange turns through Photoshop and various plug-ins. But when I shoot "straight" I still pre-visualize. Thank you, Ansel.

Ed Cornachio

It's often hard to understand strong "resistance" to trying newer ways of working. Recently a friend of mine, an excellent photographer, asked about my new EM-5, and I showed it to him.

Quickly recoiling from it, he said he could never use an EVF, that his ageing DSLR was superior, etc. I certainly didn't argue. But I find such reactions counterintuitive--new tools just might in fact be better.

Yes, a new tool always has a learning curve, which some fear, and others take as an exciting challenge. But it's not a binary, all or nothing split. There is a "middle ground". Curiosity prompts me to take a look at new technologies, but gadgets, per se, hold no intrinsic interest, I only care if an item better serves my purposes. The rest are unnecessary complications.

It means the "constant learning curve" in the digital era is not really an essential feature of the technology.

It's easy to observe the only thing worse than using inadequate and ancient gear is enduring upgrades. We humans have a tendency to "fix" what is not broken. We have a hard time leaving it alone. Which is a major source of our discomfort with digital image-making.

It seems that as soon as we get things working reliably, we are compelled to "improve" it, and then of course it doesn't work well at all until several versions down the road, and by then the next "improvement" is ready to be released.

Whosoever figures out a solution to this part of our nature will be assured fame, wealth and eternal gratitude.


I can think of nothing better than when digital printing reached the point of equalling and exceeding the quality of wet printing, just like digital imaging has exceeded film imaging (despite what the diehards wish to believe). I never had the ressources to colour print for a start and B&W printing became a health issue with dermatitis and what not.

I started photography when there were no personal computers and calculations were done on a slide rule. I do not want to ever go back to those days again. The good old days are nothing more than nostalgia; the skills required yesteryear are the same as those required today, it's just that the tools have improved so that things aren't as labour intensive, time consuming and error prone.

I seem to remember shooting significant numbers of rolls of Kodachrome II, Kodachrome 25, Verichrome Pan, Plus-X, Tri-X, TMAX-100 and 400, FP-4, FP-5, HP-5, Delta, XP2, Agrachrome, Ektachrome 100, Kodacolor II, Ektacolor Professional, and various more modern Kodak color negative and slide films, plus some Fuji high-speed color negative films.

Yeah, I could have just stuck to TRI-X all the way through (that's most of what I shot seriously early on), but I would have missed out on a huge number of photos that I rather like, that I needed other films (including color films) to get. I would NOT be happy having had just Kodachrome II all that time!

"it is what it is." An expression my mother hates.

I share your mother's hatred of that expression.

Digital photography is a pain and has been since day one - and that's coming from a pretty young guy like me who has grown up with computers. As a "serious amateur" I don't have time to master anything anymore. A new or upgraded version of almost everything is out long before I have even warmed up to my latest investment. And none of my how-to books have collected dust before they are thrown in the bin. Usually I haven't even opened them before my software "must be" updated to a newer version. Oh how I miss my Kodak Instamatic...

Still there can be a discongruence of paces: the human pace and the pace of technichal innovation. The latter may be so fast that even the brightest (youngest!) early adaptor may find him- or herself to be too much out of breath - not to make but to create. On this forum, Ken Tanaka pointed out one or two years ago how important it is to really, intuitively master you camera - a process which easily takes at least a year. And how that factor is overlooked when yet another technical miracle appears on the horizon. Much to the detriment of true quality.

While I enjoy reading about the new camera models that seem to appear with ever increasing frequency, my finances preclude me being able to join the camera of the month club. I'm still shooting with an Olympus E-510, released "way back" in 2007. I guess it's considered a dinosaur by today's DSLR standards, but it still works perfectly, and I've always liked the results I get from it. I have friends in a local photography club who can afford to keep up with the latest and greatest cameras, but up to 16x20, their prints don't seem to look any better than mine. I can't bring myself to plop down several hundred dollars just to have something newer if it won't give me visibly better prints. So until the E-510 starts showing signs of dying (as all electronic devices eventually do), I'll keep enjoying my dinosaur and continue to save and dream about its successor.

It is true that technology improves and those of us using it must adapt. And although it is annoying when technology is changed in ways that compel adaption and, hence, consumer spending without much benefit, what astonishes me is the longevity of much technology. For example: my Nikkormat FTN has worked in the same way for 30 years; film and processing is still readily available; or in the case of my SX-70, has again become available; I use Nikon lenses that are older than I am; my enlarger still works and I can buy new bulbs (if I were bothered); I can not only buy new vinyl records and new record players, I can buy new record players to play '78s; etc. Sure we should learn new things but we don't always have to.

Something that becomes more apparent as you get older is this: you have a finite amount of time.  It takes a certain amount of time to become really good at something (10,000 hours is often quoted: getting on for three years if you work ten hours a day every day of the year).  So you have a very stark choice: either spend your time becoming really good at something, or spend it becoming mediocre at lots of things.

For a photographer, that should be an easy choice: if you can avoid having your brain corroded away by the endless parade of shiny[*], you should pick something and spend your time becoming really good at it.  Studies of great photographers[**] show that, almost without exception, this is what they do: pretty much one thing really well.  Very often they will use a very small range of equipment, sometimes to the extent of using a single focal length of lens, for instance.

This isn't a controversial idea: you may think it is, but that is because your mind has been eaten by the virus.  No one thinks it is strange that pianos don't change radically every few years: the constancy of the instrument is what allows piano players to become really good.  Even electric guitars have hardly changed in living memory: it is quite common to find guitarists using instruments and amplification built before they were born.  Nothing changed in the technology of setting type to enable the Tschichold's new typography, and the coming of digital typography has had a fraction of the impact that he did.

Now, of course, the digital photographer is in quite serious trouble: by the time you have achieved a basic mastery of the tools you have chosen, they are obsolete; by the time you are half-way to becoming really good with them you can no longer find hardware on which they will run which is still serviceable.  You are, simply, trapped in an endless cycle of having to relearn stuff for no good reason other than some spurious notion of "progress"[***] foisted upon you by the disease vectors of the plague of shiny: malignant hucksters whose business model is based around making everything obsolete as rapidly as they can do so without quite killing their host.

The astonishing thing is that the hucksters have won: we are so collectively vulnerable to the infestation, and our minds and culture have been so damaged by it that we can't see how absurd it is.  People quite seriously think that sitting in front of some screen, hypnotised by the inane babble of Facebook or Twitter while their life drains away is a useful way of spending time.  Here's a clue: it's not, it's what the disease has done to you to help it spread: what you are doing is wasting your life[****].   You need to get up from in front of the computer, if your legs will still lift you, find a tool which will last and become good at using it.

[*] This rules out almost everyone, and almost by definition anyone who is reading this.
[**] "Studies" means, of course "I just made this up"
[***] Because, you know, an ISO which won't fit in a 16-bit integer is going to make you a better photographer.  Really, it is.
[****]  How do I know this?  The disease had me for years: I have probably posted 10,000 messages to usenet.  I will never be free of it, the damage is severe and irreversible.  But I know it for what it is now, and so should you.

Yep. The technological treadmill can be absolutely maddening. I was very frustrated five years ago to find that I had to buy a new calibration device and software for my monitor when I bought a new computer. The old one worked just fine...but not with the new computer. Now my computer continues to work well, even though it's a digital dinosaur, but the removable hard drives are no longer made, and new computers from the same manufacturer don't have a bay for them. When this computer dies, I will probably have to scrap my ancient dedicated film scanner and equally antiquated flatbed scanner because they won't work with any new computer. So I'm hoping the computer will never die.
Sigh. The Great Hamster Wheel of Progress.

Exactly. Put me in the group of people of who is interested in refinement and especially in the maturity of expression. This can only be achieved and appreciated if the nature of the tools is well understood.

Photography has always involved technological change. However, change in the digital era has been so fast that--in my opinion--maturity of expression has suffered.

I don't understand the basic premise of this post.

Once you've realised that a colour-managed workflow (profiles!) is essential to good printing, found 2 or 3 papers that you like and acquired reasonably accurate profiles for them, what is it that changes, exactly? If you print from different softwares, the dialogue boxes may change but that's about it. The principles are constant and, so far, permanent.

To print well you also need to know how to prep a file for printing. This is largely a matter of judgement and practice (as it was in the wet darkroom) since the most-used software - Photoshop - hasn't changed in it's essentials since I first used Photoshop 2 about 20 years ago.

For someone like me who still thinks of his OM-1 as a "modern camera" I know what camp I'm in. Trouble is, us folks need the technology folks more than they need us. Who do I call when I can't get the machine to work? (We old folks call everything a 'machine', a computer, a car, a coffee maker) Anyway, where was I, oh yeah, changing technology and me. Well without my darling bride,(of 24 years) or son I'd be more lost than I am. What do people do who don't have a smart kid handy to guide them through the digital jungle?

I find digital printing refreshingly simple. I process my photos on a monitor calibrated to my lab's printing machines, and order chromogenic prints without corrections. They always arrive looking just as I expected. It seems much more convenient to me than when I worked in my own darkroom for BW, or relied on the opinion of the lab tech for color. It's like having my own fancy printing machine, except the cables are 100 miles long.

I've been saying that I'm going to learn ink jet printing for seven years now, but my C-prints look great, and I've heard all my ink-jet printing buddies complain about the time and expense.

I have learned the hard way that a tool is just a tool. If a six year old medium format camera yields terrific results in the studio today, it will still yield terrific results five years hence (barring a camera disaster requiring ridiculous repair costs).

It's an IT-Zen thing. On the one hand, all system-administration involves automating regular tasks through configuration, scripts or in-house applications so mortals/machines can do more with a mouse-click; meanwhile, on the other hand, the forces of obsolescence and depreciation creep up from behind and eventually the whole machine needs replaced with a compromise between what you want and what the world has to offer.

Is there anyone out there who's a real specialist in a particular lightroom preset, say a red-filtered contrasty black&white effect simulating the frequency-response of Ilford PanF50+, who applies that and only that to all of their published work exclusively, because "that's the look they sought when they bought the software"?

On the other hand, there's nothing quite like a consistent flickr photostream, so maybe the magpie-or-not question is still wide open.

Computer is new and hence you have to upgrade initially. But once good enough, it is good enough. You can use your D300 for many years but not your easily your D1 or D100.

Hi Mike,

I am not sure that I agree with you on this one, which is a rarity for me.

Yes, we are still in the midst of massive changes in digital photography capability; however, those changes allow us to do things faster, better, with more direct access to creating an image that matches the impulse that caused us to make it.

This does not mean the the photoshop or lightroom skills you learn are obsolete; they can be used in newer versions of the software (and refined with new capabilities). In fact, one could stop "learning" photoshop today and use simple image controls to create excellent work today and in the future. I have read that Clyde Butcher does exactly this, though I have direct evidence to back this up.

Regarding hardware - computers, cameras, printers. The tech-driven race continues though we have reach an important threshold in image quality, price, and size in my opinion. However, you could still use a 10 year old Canon 10D SLR on a 10 year old Mac G4 to produce fine prints if you wanted to on an older printer. Manufacturers still sell inks for old printers because that is where they make the $$. The break in this chain occurs when you update one item - then the other items needs updates...larger images need a faster computer; newer printer needs updated drivers and operating systems of a newer computer.

So, yes, there is a "hamster wheel effect" going on here, but is is voluntary.....and enticing because image quality continues to improve for the same relative cost and time efficiency.

All good choices...but they are that...choices. Reminds me of the cold light, VC cold light, VC paper, Pyro, unsharp masking evolutions of the chemical days.

I still print on my 5x7 VC enlarger...and use my view camera..the experience is very different (and I see differently) than using my great DSLR...

I wonder if sculptors are irritated with multi-axis digital carving tools or 3D printers? Are photographers the only visual arts wrestling with the pace of technology change? Or are we actually wrestling with the ease by which technology is making everyone a photographer?

I can see a divergence in our future. One group takes the path leading ultimately to hand-made tools and methods that will never "spoil" because control is entirely in the hands of the users. The other path will lead to "commoditization"(are we there yet?) as disposable technologies enable anyone to image everything with no learning curve.

Technology (and the mastery of it) merely enables; what will the enduring compositions show us? What's the meaning we want to see?

Drudge steps back in time. Most recent posting photos all in B&W.

Sometimes change in the way things work can't be avoided -- the concepts the new technology was built around either can't be adapted to the old user interface or doing so would seriously hobble its use. However, after more than two decades in the computer industry, I've seen an awful lot of change for change's sake -- things that could have been kept the same (or mostly so) with no penalty on functionality or performance but were changed just because the engineer or manager of a product felt like it.

It's strange that camera makers have been very conservative about changing camera shape, sticking to the established SLR shape for cameras that have no mirror box or optical viewfinder, but think nothing of completely changing the menu system between generations of camera. The opposite would make more sense -- the lack of film and mirror remove constraints and should free up the physical design, while there have been no major change in how menus operate so they should be able to stay pretty consistent there.

I used Photoshop Elements a fair amount in the past and it was maddening how much Adobe changed things from one version of that program to the next. Especially as the changes often seemed like regressions rather than improvements...

Technology changes, but not as fast as marketing departments would like you to think. Often what they give you in "upgrades" is more refinements, as you say, than real fundamental changes in ways of working. Tools do not become obsolete in months. If the tool you have works for what you want, you don't have to buy the upgrade just because it appears. Software, n particular, has always been prone to meaningless "feature bloat" with no real value. Sometimes you are forced: file formats change too much, old materials go away from the market. Electronics will eventually fail and need replacement. But these changes frequently suit the producers more than the consumers. They have saturated markets, so they need to keep getting you to pay up one way or another.

It took me four or five years of intermittent wrestling with the problem of fine digital printing on a budget to realize that I was, for the most part, wrestling with reality and expectations and ultimately undermining my aims.

The one bright spot was at times getting beautiful monochrome prints with MIS greyscale inksets. But the clogs were a headache and the frequent refilling was a pain. Color was a disaster.

I'll sum up the gory details by saying that every time I got the rock a decent way up the hill, it would roll back down to the bottom. I just didn't have the patience and persistence to keep the rock up there, or even to pick the same hill every time.

These days, it's pretty easy to get "good-enough" prints on my "good-enough" modern printer by using it as intended--sticking to the manufacturer's recommended materials and techniques and adjusting to taste within what's reasonably possible. When I need finer results, I work with professionals, when reasonably possible.

Printers like the Pixma Pro 1 are a different story, of course. They perform best with custom profiling and are meant to respond to being tweaked to perfection by those with the patience, persistence and know-how to manage every part of the printing workflow. Which is not to say that someone like you or me couldn't get great results relatively easily, either.

But somewhere out there is a Goldilocks printer for me--one that, with merely reasonable amounts of expense and effort, is capable of consistent results that are better than "good enough".

I'm wondering now if that printer isn't actually a combination of a top-notch printer and an expert who sets it up and profiles it for my system, tutors me (or at least tries) on best practices for my setup and needs, and who returns once or twice a year to check up and adjust things. Sort of like owning a piano and having a professional come and tune it on a regular basis.

I've had the same Canon F-1 rig now for approaching 3 years. I'm now at the point where I feel like I know how it will respond in most situations and I can operate it without having to think too hard about it. Given another couple of years' regular use I may have mastered it completely. A bit sooner if I can get out more often with it to shoot.

Had it been a digital SLR, there's a good chance I'd have replaced it already with something similar, but subtly different in ways I'd have to begin to learn all over again.

I've spent an entire career doing that, mastering a programming language or technology just in time to see it obsoleted by the next big deal. I have NO desire to do that as part of a pastime. Not any more.

No doubt the newer technologies are better, but I didn't get into photography so that I could be part of some great technology arms race; I got into it because *I enjoy making photographs*.

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