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Saturday, 27 June 2015


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One of the forms of inverted snobbishness is the use of cell phone camera for street and portrait photography. Many "magazines" (print and online) promote that with contest for cellphone photography.
I can understand people who have no deep interest in photography using a cell phone for family photos. But why do people who have a serious interest in real photography do that? That is perverted snobbishness.

Is it snobbism to prefer a photography blog that is more about craft and reason than the latest gear or prepaid junket? Present company excepted, of course (this blog is opinions and stories of coffee, dogs and books, with gear on the periphery)

And then there are the photos made with a box camera found at a garage sale for $2.

For a long time I’ve wondered about why so much that is written and taught about photography deals with just the equipment, the part of photography that costs the most money. Writers don’t spend a lot of time discussing keyboards, computers or pads and pencils. Are we targeted because we spend more money or because we can spend more time dealing with what is behind the lens rather than in front of it? I don’t know. I wish I did because it doesn’t speak well for us. My wife would certainly say I spend too much money on cameras. (She is terribly wrong.) I do spend too much time looking at my cameras rather than looking through them, but I love my little toys.

Ok how's this. One of the few and final pictures I took of my mother was with the Kodak clip on digital unit that fitted on tomthe side of a palm pilot. The camera was a close out at Staples for £10

I long ago learned not to belittle anyone of what they were shooting, or what they were shooting with- until I saw the ultimate results.

Still, having just come back from NYC, I've never seen so many FF, high end cameras taking the most (seemingly) mundane of tourist shots. Again, hope I'm wrong.

I'm with you. I pick the cameras I use because they make me happy using them. But the photos I make have all pretty much looked the same (adjusting for my glacially slow growth as a photographer) whether I was shooting with (in order, heavily overlapping) a Kodak Instamatic, Canon AE-1, Nikon FM2, Nikon N90, Leica M6, Leica M7, Canon 10D, Canon 5D and 5D2, Leica M9, and Fuji XE2.

Soon a Monochrom will show up at my door and I expect that the photos from that will look like they're part of the same evolving body of work.

It won't make a damn bit of difference to any viewer (at least, any viewer whose opinion I respect) what I shot them with.

Interesting - I'd never seen or heard the word "snobbism" before, is that really what you say over there? AFAIK the English (kings of class distinction) are quite happy to just use the word "snobbery".
Anyway "inverted snobbery" is quite handy in the photography world these days as no one will give you a second glance if you're only carrying a "less than serious" camera.

Yeah, but what really bothers me is the just plain awful images you see these days, mostly on social media and mostly shot with a camera phone. Seem quantity has replaced quality.

So what's the best inverted-snob camera today? Pentax K20D or old K-5 with a Limited 21/3.2?

That kind of snobbery can be worse than the one we're used to. There is no shortage of people who claim "y'know, there are people out there taking great pictures with inferior cameras." (Often discreetly pointing at themselves with their thumb, of course.)
Unsurprisingly, the utmost expression of this inverted snobbery can now be found among iPhone and Instagram users. Some are willing to claim pictures taken with an iPhone surpass many taken with DSLR's.
Oops!, sometimes they're right. Far better to have a good picture taken with an iPhone than a lousy one taken with, say, a Canon 5D MkIII.
In fact some people find it hard to understand why their pictures suck, despite having been taken with an ultra-fast lens, a 30-plus MP sensor and exhaustively processed in Lightroom using all the fancy filters. It's just that a boring picture is a boring picture, no matter what the gear employed and what lengths were gone through in post-processing. Most people simply don't care about it: they just want to see meaningful pictures, irrespective of how and with what they were made. They can't be bothered with tech talk.
This is not to say people should dispose of their expensive gear in favour of limited equipment; what they should do would be to learn to take better photographs (providing that's at all possible: some people just have no imagination).
I would also like to add two examples of photographers who achieved greatness despite using equipment reputed as inferior. (At least now that Ctein made us all aware the 135 format isn't really that good.) Those would be W. Eugene Smith, who was fired from Life magazine for refusing to use medium format cameras, and Jane Bown, who used Olympus OM-1's bought second-hand for her magisterial portraits. Proof that at the end of the day what matters is skills, not gear. (Stop me if you think I'm being overtly pedantic...)

Kai Wong of Digital Rev has a great series of "reverse snobbery" videos called, "Cheap Camera, Pro Photographer", where he gives an incredibly lame camera to a very good pro, and they make a video of what they come up with. It's both enlightening and often hilarious.

Where on the snobbery/reverse snobbery scale does a sketch pad and a stick of charcoal sit?

I reckon that trumps any camera that's ever been made, and for less than the price of McDonalds Happy Meal!

You couldn't be Steve Huff no matter how hard you tried. It's just not in you. ;-)

"Back then, the best digital cameras were barely good enough, and bad ones were, well, just plain awful."

Then again, I've spent time looking for ones that were awful in interesting, possibly useful, ways.

"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."

Never any snobbery, in any direction, in which images you or I get something out of. \;~)>

No matter how dressed up, our preferences, individual or group tastes, are all judgements, and only valid or meaningful within the context of those who hold them. One person's loathsome snap of rubble in an abandoned building is another's wonderful art.

It's often fun to explore where our individual tastes do and don't overlap, as in the comments to your Random Excellence post of Juan Buhler's dog in a pick-up back in 2007.

We change, too, as we experience the world. We had an [incomplete] interchange of viewpoints about this in "Color Pictures vs. Pictures in Color vs. Pictures of Colors" earlier this year.

Then, you experienced something that changed your opinion, or taste, in one area.

"I even have to eat some very recent words (written to Moose) because David Boyce sent a print that is almost purely a rectangle of brilliant blue, with just a bit of variation, and I have to admit it really works as a print."

I admit my inspiration was physical paintings I had seen years ago, similar affects to which I wished to create. So I had "seen the prints" when I created my web images. You "got" it when you saw a print.

Taste is a very tricksy thing.

Looking back, I see that this theme of differences in taste/preferences is one I come back to again and again, as in Seeking the Best

What's a "pj" ?

[Photojournalist. --Mike]

Sometime in the 1980's, while I was visiting a large photography retailer, a young man was in the store with his portfolio and his camera. He inquired about replacing his camera and the sales staff behind the counter were all recommending the latest Nikon "professional" equipment as the way to make great images. He opened his portfolio, showing each page, and every image he showed was superb; they were all made by a Yashicamat. I thought to myself that photographer didn't need a new camera all he needed was more film for his Yashica camera (the sales staff thought otherwise). From that day on I had a new found respect for the Yashica cameras and an understanding that is it is all about the photographer and not the camera. Come to think of it Yashica made some great products, all affordable, and largely ignored by "professionals". I also learned that, as a rule, camera sales staff sell cameras and do not make images. Too bad that there are no more Yashica products.

The Ann Arbor Area Crappy Camera Club!

a day late and a dollar short.
a day early and…

can I borrow a dollar?

I can vividly recall the first photography workshop I ever attended, in Northern Michigan circa 1990. I was just trying out the newfangled Velvia slide film, though my standard was still K-64.

A radiologist showed up with a brand-new Nikon system; *two* high-end pro bodies and lots of fast glass including a new 200 mm macro and a gigantic 300 f:2.8 lens. And a shiny new Gitzo tripod. He could barely lift his camera bag.

Two folks showed up with Pentax K-1000's; one was a schoolteacher, the other a construction worker. I think they had 4 battered lenses between them.

You already know where I'm going with this. The end-of-the-week critique session was fascinating. The schoolteacher shot beautiful photographs of forest interiors, impeccably composed. Made you want to walk into the woods. The construction worker (taciturn, dour and leathery) shot the most quietly poetic landscapes I'd ever seen. They put the rest of us to shame. And the radiologist produced...gaaaah, the worst photos in the history of slide film. Poorly exposed, skewed horizons, bulls-eye compositions, each shot worse than the last. Proof positive that good gear did not a photographer make.

I still don't get the appeal of the Lomo, though. Sounds like a masochism thing.

The whole equipment thing always reminds me of asking Pablo what kind of brushes he used.

I have newer gear, but I still often go light and use a GX1 and P14 pancake. In the digital age, that's ancient stuff!!!

I wonder now whether the remaining bastion of snobbery is in the (amateur) long lens wildlife (and maybe sport) photography where Canikon still hold the banner ? I think the other 99% of photography is wide open to a vast array of user devices. Now more good, not so well off photographers have choices that couldn't have been realised not so many years back: more democratic ?

#camera_doesnt_matter The photographer does matter.

In the 1990s Juergen Teller and Terry Richardson became well known as Fashion Photographers using Film P&S cameras with built-in flash. Later Teller switched to a Contax G2 with ON Camera Flash.

Now Teller uses a Canon 5D3 with a 279EX2 flash https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NjMb-bkjNk And Richardson uses a Nikon Pro body a flash bracket https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QstSGVARdMI

Go back and look at their 1990s work and compare it to today's work--not much difference. #camera_doesnt_matter

Probably a Pentax MX when compared to a Leica rangefinder is a perfect example of inverted snobbery

Some people have difficulty painting by the numbers. Other people need a lighting diagram to shoot a decent selfie. #Talent_does_matter

Many Very-Serious-Photographers with their high-dollar cameras, will never produce photos as good as what their little-sister gets with her iPhone. #Talent_does_matter

"I coulda been Steve Huff.....

What's that about?
It doesn't read entirely friendly, not that there's anything wrong with that......

"...shoot the pants off all the pj's ..."
Gotta admit: it sounds like a kinky bedtime scenario to me.

So when I use my $50 50mm f/2 AI on my D810, can I be an inverse snob and a regular snob simultaneously? ;)
In all seriousness though, is camera snobbery all that common outside of the bubble world of an internet photography forum? I stopped frequenting most of the major photography fora when I realized that I couldn't think of a less productive, more mindless way to spend my time than reading pedantic arguments thrown back and forth by big egos over the most mundane details of camera and lens purchases. I just don't seem to encounter these snobs in real life. I'm ok with that. Or maybe I do encounter them, but they're more reasonable and respectful without the dehumanizing mask of internet anonymity. I'm also ok with that.

Ansel's darkroom: state of the art light, water and temperature control, spacious and regularly restocked by Kodak itself. Weston's darkroom: a shack, a contact printer, a gram scale, a notebook, and a bare bulb on a cord, length adjusted by clothespin. Saw a model of it at Boston MFA in the 90s. It is so not about the gear...

Heh. My Canon 7 with it's Industar-61L/D 50/2.8 has done the guerrilla thing occasionally but the best one for that was a Kiev 5 with it's unique version of the Jupiter 8 50/2 lens. It was the one time the Russians really tried to move the camera forward into the modern era but never quite had good enough QC to pull it off. I even had a Cosina Voightlander 35/2.5 in contax mount for it at one point. What a mistake to sell that kit even if it was for a Canon 7. I miss that beast of Contax RF derived heavy metal.

Reverse snobbism is more fun than the other kind, I think. Poking fun is, well, fun. Gives everyone a giggle.

From the marketing machine, snobbism (number 2 after "feed the myth")is a requirement of capitalism. It's who we are and why much of the world fears us and should.

Who's Steve Huff?

Now why would anyone want to be Steve Huffwell?

I do find it strange that I can have internet friends with whom I share photographs, but we have to limit ourselves to the brand each forum is dedicated to - only Pentax here, only Leica there etc. Especially with more esoteric gear or processes, where it's frustrating to be in a long thread about, say, film photography, and want to show results obtained with an alternative process, but you can't because the wrong kind of camera was used!

I'll plead guilty to this.

I like using my Super Ikonta, bought for £35, or my French Royflex TLR, bought for £10 and being slightly insufferable about it.

The Super Ikonta really is something something special, however.

When I got back into photography about 8 years ago, the thing that got me back was seeing the work of toy cameras. I guess that was an example of reverse snobbism, appreciating the excellent photographs produced by cheap plastic lensed cameras given away at Shakey's Pizza Parlors and gas stations in the 60s.

"...Is that bad for my business? I coulda been Steve Huff...."

Thankfully, you're not!!

"I coulda been Steve Huff...."

This is pure gold LOL

BTW, you forgot the mother of all inverted snobbism: using an Holga (and yeah, sometimes I'm guilty of this one...)

Your post about “The one that got away” gave me an experience along these lines. That post inspired me to spend under $100.00 on Ebay for a decade old point and shoot digital camera that originally listed for $1,000.00. I checked it out in a camera store when it was new and awesome, but never seriously considered spending that much for a camera back then.

I did it as a birthday/Christmas present and impulse buy, but I found out that the thing actually takes pretty good pictures in daylight. And the EVF is useable. Only 10 megapixels, ISO 400 is the upper limit, and it takes over 10 seconds to write a RAW file, but within those limits, this camera works well. Color and tonality are good. The lens is good. 10 megapixels spread over a 2/3” sensor are relatively sharp and crisp.

I was walking around the local university campus with this camera over the Christmas holidays. There were a few students there, walking around, showing the campus to their families. In each group, one family member usually had a nice camera around their neck.

People were in a good holiday mood, smiling at each other, but, as he passed by, I got a frown from one Dad with a new Sony mirrorless around his neck. It took me several steps to figure out why - he couldn’t place the camera around my neck! It has a good brand name, is black, somewhat bulky and complicated looking. But what was it? I had a quiet laugh, and bit of a reverse snobbery moment then. My $90.00 camera is so cool that you don’t even know what it is!

A friend of mine, a pj for the Philadelphia Bulletin (now defunct), used to use a Leica that sometimes the lens would actually fall off. I am serious and he made a very good living at it.
He really never really much cared for equipment, only caring about the "end result." Sort of oxymoronic.
Somehow I can never get that attitude, but then that's probably why I never became a war correspondent.
My two pesos.

From the guitar world, we have this video where both guys had trouble telling a Squier Classic Vibe Tele from a Fender Custom Shop Tele. The difference in price is 10x.

My D300 is almost enough of a camera to last me the rest of my days. Unfortunately, my version of Photoshop is held together with chewing gum, and my MacBook Pro has been in and out of intensive care for some months now. Can't recommend this as any way to run a business, but clients value my expertise. I'm heartened to read recently that even Steiglitz experienced these common pro tribulations...

Nietzsche called that "slave morality:" the idea that the poor are more virtuous, charitable, humble and holy than the rich. It's a powerful thought - most, if not all, of the world's major religions have it as one of their tenets - so it's not surprising that photographers get caught up in it, too.

Is it regular snobbery or inverse snobbery to enjoy using an expensive camera that looks like an inexpensive one?

On a recent outing to NYC, I did just that with a Sony RX1, which I used both with and without its external EVF. Without a doubt, it flew well under the radar without the EVF installed, never garnering a second glance from anybody, but it might as well have been painted a neon color not found in nature for as much attention as it attracted whenever I used it with the EVF.

As much as I enjoy using the EVF, I enjoy photographing people unnoticed even more, so the EVF ended up staying in my belt pouch for most of the two weeks I was pounding the streets and taking photos. In the end, the results are more important than either the process or the tools that are used....

I was under the impression that Edward Weston bought that $5 lens, as he bought other cheap lenses-I seem to remember from his Daybooks that he bought a 25-peso lens in Mexico-because of a lack of funds rather than from snobbism, inverted or not. Also, those $5 were 1927 dollars.

I have a D800 and a Fuji Xpro and the requisite pile of lenses.
I just bought a print from a UK photographer that I first saw on FB over two years ago but without credit to the photographer, I re-posted it a few times hoping someone could locate the owner. Finally a couple months ago someone came up with a link. I ordered 4 copies as gifts for friends. The owner is a wedding/family shooter and just happened to grab this wonderful shot with her phone. So my point is, as James Natchwey pointed out when a question about hardware was posed after his presentation. "its about the image"

"I also learned that, as a rule, camera sales staff sell cameras and do not make images."

I have no idea if it is true today. For most of the history of retail camera shops, manufacturers offered "spiffs", cash bonuses to sales people for sales of their equipment.

As you might imagine, this had a major effect on what they recommended at any given time. I already knew it, but tales from a close friend as he spent a couple of years behind the counter in the mid 60s further opened my eyes.

I don't even think the sales people are necessarily wrong. Most of them know what has been repeated in this thread so many times: it's the photographer, not the camera and that the practical differences between the various major brands were minimal in actually making images. So why not make a little money?

> So what's the best inverted-snob camera today?

A battered, second-hand Sony A7, a cheap made in China Leica M to Sony E mount adapter, combined with an Apo-Summicron 50mm lens without any protection filter and a fingerprint or two on the front lens. Drives my digital M-using pals bonkers ;-)

Years ago a guy I worked with made many amazing images using nothing but a Kodak Panoramic disposable camera that he reloaded with Kodak Extar 50 and taped a polarizer over the lens.

Mario...wherever you are now my hats are still off to you.

I detest the inverse snobbism since it misses the point just as much as getting the fanciest gear but pretends that it is about photography, not about gear.

I have used some pretty low-cost gear and some expensive gear. Bottom line is that you get what you pay for, more or less, but there's a point of sufficiency. E.g. for my event pictures, the 36 megapixels of high end Nikons is unnecessary, even harmful as it slows down the workflow, but the tonality and quality of the cameras make those cameras worth using. Could I do with older, simpler gear? Sure, but why would I? But I don't need the best either, the exact needs and wants are personal.

It had been a long time since someone turned up their nose at my camera, but it happened to me just two weeks ago. I use a Nikon D90 with a Nikon zoom, and although I have no delusions that this setup is the ultimate, I am also disabled and on a decidedly fixed income.
I should have known what was coming when a guy with a white bazooka attached to his camera asked me what kind of camera I had. When I said, Nikon D90, he snorted, and said, yeah, I think I remember those. He went on to regale me with the specs of his new Canon 5D Mark something-or-other.
I separated myself from him when I could.
At 52, life has put me through the ringer at times, and photography is a joy for me, a release. I have no illusions that I'm a great photographer, but I have managed to please and occasionally surprise myself, and to my delight, my friends and family love my work and encourage me.
Maybe one day I'll be able to afford to upgrade my D90, but if not, who cares?
(I have to add, I so very much love reading TOP and your thoughts, on everything. I love the comment section too, a bunch of good folks.)

Then there's cognitive dissonance camera ownership: a Leica, but it's an M8. Still, it's a Leica: therefore the tape over the markings, so as to not draw exclamations of, "Oooh, a Leica". Or, equally, "Meh, an M8". Favourite lens on it is a 35mm Summarit (one of the "cheap" line of lenses) with a sort of home-brew hood arrangement. It has an air of apology. Or is it an air of humblebrag? It's all very confusing.

My gear is middle of the road consumer gear, Canon 60D and 6D, but my claim to reverse snobbery is the use of 1. 400mm f/5.6 autofocus-but-no-stabilization lens on 60D for shooting birds (popular lens, 20-year-old design) 2. my old and my dad's old 1968 to 1978 vintage M42 and AIS Nikkor manual lenses from the film era (using adapters on the 6D with a superfine focusing screen)- because I still like using manual lenses and they were gathering dust. The el-cheapo Canon pancake 40mm lens ought to qualify for reverse snobbery, it's that good, but there's no secret that it gives the best image quality per gram of just about any 135-format lens out there.

Totally offtopic, but I after checking out Steve Huff's site (I had to, as you didn't linkto it; the "non-links" sometimes make me more curious than the ordinary links) I realized Chernobyl has become one of the worst cliches in photography (the post I'm talking about: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/06/30/visiting-chernobyl-a-photo-diary-by-gary-mather/). It seems like the tourists are taken to the exact same locations for years and years, the ferris wheel, the empty pool, the gas masks.

It reminded me of Paul Fusco's excellent coverage of Chernobyl, but that too has been linked already: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/03/still-a-few-hours-left.html. By the way the Kickstarter campaign has now produced a photo book. Some of the photos made during the project can be seen on Gerd Ludwig's website, which seems to include much more than the page dedicated to the book. And there are the cliches being made: http://www.gerdludwig.com/recent-work/chernobyl-nuclear-tourist/#id=album-10&num=content-811.

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