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Monday, 29 February 2016


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Alas, aging eyes can provide a wonderful antidote to various tech-y visual obsessions.

A refreshing post, a call to re-calibrate your head before buying that expensive monitor calibration device. I do it every once in a while, but more out of frustration or boredom than with any real plan. It also explains why some accomplished photographers embrace phone cameras.

The image is primary. As Jay Maisel has said "To hell with quality. Get the image" If a photo is technically perfect but doesn't speak to you, what is it? A laboratory sample to prove the capabilities of the sensor and/or lens? My job as a photographer is not to provide evidence of quality for the manufacturer of my camera. My job is to create meaningful images.

Too many I know delight in showing and discussing the latest photo gear they have picked up. Asked to show some images and most of them don't have anything 'ready to show' - with every excuse in the book for why not.
They are great for picking up nearly unused second hand gear as they move on to the next NEW camera, lens, etc.

Agreed and agreed.
It's what you put down on the paper that counts and less about how it gets there.
I still love to shoot with my pinhole cameras and never mind that I don't have a viewfinder or lens and that the exposure usually runs to 6-8 seconds.
I love the images.

Nuff said
Mi dos pesos

59 is not old. You gotta shake that way of thinking.
Do not build the building. You already have at least two out buildings. Enjoy the open space. IMHO.
I was once upon a time really into Gurdjieff. The main lesson I took away from him was to always do the opposite of your first impulse, as away of increasing awareness. Thus your recommendation to shoot noisy photos. I like it. Luckily I am not an obsessive photographer.

I would like though, to be obsessive enough to own your recommended stereo set up. In my youth I was obsessive about my stereo.

Apropos of this post, Mike, have you read Egor's blog?


If you haven't, I highly recommend you begin with the oldest post and read forward.

I can attest to the principle Mike..

Still on the OCOLOY with the M2/50mm DR Cron Tri- X, that I began last May.

I further complicated the experiment, by developing my own film, which was a disaster at first, but I am getting better all the time... Started with Rodinal, now using XTOL.

I scan the negs onto an old PowerMac with a Nikon Coolscan.

Fantastic learning curve, I gave my digital cameras to my two daughters, a Fuji X100s and a Ricoh GRrrrr (hateful thing).

As I write this, I am listening to Hank Jones and Charlie Haden on my really ancient Linn system.

Source is FLAC on a MacPro (dustbin) with rugged SSD... Majik DSI, Klout, Sara speakers... Strange sort of "desktop system" but it works for me.

Thinking about what happens at the end of the OCOLOY... I might just carry on with the film and add a 35mm Cron...

But I am hooked on the idea of keeping good stuff, rather than becoming infected with GAS.

Oh... I forgot... I wish to namecheck the fantastic Brian Griffith who is the Iridient Developer.

He responded very quickly to a request to add support for the Coolscan .nef files... Unlike the next to useless people at Adobe, who wouldn't let me use one of their old products with a new licence.

I highly recommend The Iridient Developer for processing raw files and converting to .jpg or .tif etc...

Amen to that! What a great post. As a gear head, I always have to smack myself whenever I get fixated on the next big thing and focus on listening to music, taking pictures and producing prints. If we always waited for the perfect camera, stereo or printer, we'd be paralyzed.

So true Mike. I'm currently putting together an exhibition on a theme I have been working on for the past 10 years. Over that time the cameras ranged from a Nikon D70, a D700 and some Fuji X's. You can't tell the difference.

However, on using cheap lens / camera. I have a new Holga digital and you can tell the difference. It's rubbish (if you want a Holga to stick to the film version). So there is a baseline to this advice.

Mike, Excellent post. I couldn't agree with you more. I have recently gone through a purging of the gear shed and am trying to resist re-stocking it with another brand and just focus on the art of Photography. That is what is important. I love the idea of buying a cheap lens on Ebay and just trying it for awhile to see how it performs. If you don't like it, you could probably sell it for what you paid for it, and be no worse off. We would all be better off using the extra money we spend on gear taking a photo trip, or buying a book rather than a new lens. Thanks for reminder. Also Happy Belated Birthday, you are about to enter the best years of your life. I have really enjoyed the 60's, just stay healthy.

I'm enjoying your conflation of audio and stereo. After years of search for the Holy Grail in audio (including a 4000-watt system with high-efficiency speakers), I've settled on a 10 watt Grommes mono amp from the 50s with a simple (homemade) 3-way speaker system. I can listen to it all day and never get fatigued, I don't have to find the 'sweet spot' either. In the photography field, I've shucked my large and medium format systems completely and now do most of my shooting with the tiny Pentax Q7–and I've never had as much fun shooting, and the IQ is just fine, and even offers some advantages over DSLRs.

Sometimes I think looking at individual photos is much the same as your story of listening to snippets of classical music.

I think in every photo book I own, I could pick several photos that wouldn't elicit much reaction standing on their own. But as part of the larger work of the book, they have a place and meaning and value.

So even when not getting hung up on the technical details, sometimes getting hung up on one particular shot can be a similar issue.

Oh listening to Classical music in a system-demo situation--if one listens to only complete works, one might be able to listen to only two or three pieces, and more than one listener may not even like one of them. When demoing a system, it's the sounds that counts, NOT the music.

On 'rolling' and buying tubes--I've done some of that. Fortunately, my three current tubed preamp and amps use only two tube types, and I've never spent more than about $50 each for any of them. I think very few tube fans have ever spent a thou$and on a vacuumtube.

Playing only one LP for weeks or months is silly, and if any audiofool actually does that, he/she is not just a one-percenter but probably a one-tenth-percenter.

I love the sounds of tubed equipment, but at my house, the sounds really do serve the music. I can and do get highly involved in listening to, for instance, the Mahler 9th Symphony, just as I can appreciate 24-by-16" prints of my occasional really good images.

My fotografic obsession seems to be the fit of the camera in my hands, and I confess to having changed complete camera systems several times the last half-dozen years. Generally, what feels good enough the first few weeks doesn't feel very good at all later. I hope a Pentax K-1 with three or four carefully selected lenses will solve that.

Happy leap year, Michael, and build that new gallery/garage. :-)

I cannot recall which audio writer always suggested going out to listen to live music.

The same applies to photography I think, go out and see a show of great photographs. And maybe the technical aspects will matter to the photographs. I am glad Weston shot large format. And maybe that raises the question of what does one photograph with the 8x10 that would not have worked with a smaller camera? A tough one for me as a large format shooter.

For a change of pace, try an old box camera, or a pinhole camera.

A true audiophile has only two CDs: a test CD and Ravel's Bolero. A true photophile photographs only two things: brick walls and flowers at minimum focus distance to test the bokeh.

I would go much further than you do. One of the comments here quotes Jay Maisel as saying, "To hell with quality. Get the image." But get the image of what? This has been bothering me more and more when I look at even the "best" photography -- what does it mean? My answer, more and more often, is "not much." I can look at journalistic photography, which may be of low technical quality, with poor quality reproduction, and I can say, "Okay, this means X." I may or may not be interested in X, but journalistic photography usually holds some meaning for me, whether that meaning is as frivolous as another shot of Donald Trump's hairdo, or deeply serious as refugee photos from Syria. But there's usually some there, there. But what's there in most photography done as art? I don't care if you take razor-sharp or expressly foggy shots, or use $1000 lenses or $20 lenses or lenses you make yourself, or D810s or Holgas, you're still just talking about options in technique and equipment. I don't really care if you "get the image" or not, if it doesn't carry some meaning.

The ultimate valve amp setup? http://www.cs.man.ac.uk/CCS/res/images/res54b.jpg
Actually no, it's this - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Small-Scale_Experimental_Machine - which I have the privilege to demonstrate each week at the museum. However, we do have a very large stock of old valves. Now that I know they might be worth something - I wonder??? :-)

I just received my new Digital Holga!!! Can't wait to see what it does. Whatever it does it will be fun exploring.

John W

I cant say I cured either problem because I am clever, but yep.
My good HiFi got unbalanced after some older parts were upgraded and I got confused and annoyed, dropping it altogether (problem of working in a high end stereo store). I won a little shelf system and listen to as much music as ever and dont stress it. My camera story is similar (my wife is happy I dont work in a bottle shop!). Too much too close and far too much camera tech talk with staff and customers, but I left recently (the camera shop, not the wife) and "settled" on my well used OMD EM5 mk1 cameras, rather than switch when it was clever. I am rediscovering my photography without the distraction of gear and its great.

If the photographic neuroses were my only ones I'd be a happy man.
But you're right, of course.

If you hang around certain forums long enough, you can almost predict who will be buying what new 'silver bullet' and later selling it after they hear the tree fall in the forest. With all the recent Sigma and Pentax talk lately, it has been entertaining.

There is a recorded interview on the web with Frederick Sommer in which he states the reason he started doing the horizonless Arizona landscapes is because of "streaks in the film" that he did not have to deal with if there was no blank sky.


Swan and Flanders, from my childhood. "I never did care for music much, it's the high fi-del-i-ty!!"

100% agree with you Mike. I would go even further and say much of the technical obsessions actually get in the way of saying something with a photograph. I find over-saturated colours and excessive sharpness a distraction that deters me from lingering on a photo and exploring it even if it does have something to say. However going the opposite way and using equipment that excessively and deliberately distorts or fuzzes the image doesn't usually say much to me either. The image, its meaning and its aesthetics, are the basic tenets of photography for me and unless a photo has glaring technical deficiencies it rarely enters my consciousness.

There seems to be a spectrum of photographers, from those who are fascinated mainly by the images to those who are fascinated mainly by the gear.

I would assume the former would include our humble Ed. - although I have noticed the odd GAS eruptions emanating from upstate NY recently, they are of the low intensity kind.

However, overall I would guess the ratio between the two is no larger than 1/100. Based on internet column inches alone, the ratio is more like 1/10000, but a picture paints 1000 words, so I made allowances...

I think one problem is that it's easier to talk about cameras than images. Most people don't seem to have much of an artistic vocabulary, so it's really hard to say anything pithy about an image other than to point out the telegraph pole and the CA in the corners and give it a thumbs down. With cameras, we can all talk for months...

A simple cure is to stop taking pictures completely for a while, and look at them instead. Look at your own or other people's, look online, in books or in local galleries. Reconnect with what you like.

Then pick a few favourites and write one short paragraph on each one - no more than 20 words - describing how they make you feel.

That's it. Just a few words of visual-emotional self-consciousness is all you need to reboot the noggin', at least in my case. The first paragraph can take me days to write. After I get it down to 10 minutes, I reckon I'm reset.

Annoying the GF has no problems doing this within around 10 seconds. Maybe it's linked to testosterone?

The second problem is more intractable. We live in a age of status based consumerism, in which people project an image of themselves based on what they own, and assume the mantle of talent and greatness that it infers without actually having to live up to it.

An ample demonstration of this is the number of Porsches that end up hugging trees during the average British winter, and the number of dad's toting Nikon D4's at the school sports day.

So, unless your camera/car/boat/golf clubs/suit tick all the boxes and impresses your friends, they are not desirable enough.

The only cure for this is getting old. I no longer give a desiccated fig what other people think unless they have some direct knowledge of the subject and something interesting to say about it, and that includes their opinion of me.

So I don't base my camera on spec sheets, or performance charts, and even less by the brand, but on whether it suits my temperament, pace and sense of logic. I still like my gear, but I no longer care much about anyone else's. Each to their own.

This is the only photo blog/site I read that has gear posts and I don't read those. I come here for posts about photos and photographers, not gear.

Another way to cure yourself of tech spec fetishization and be more about the picture is to shoot film.

Ed Hawco: "I've probably mentioned this before, but this reminds me of the time I was viewing the Fred Hertzog show at the National Gallery in Ottawa (Canada), and there was this 60ish guy walking around with his young protegé loudly complaining that the photographs were all 'crap' because the captions didn't mention the lens that was used, and the shutter speed and f-stop. I try to convince myself that this guy was a one-off, but there is plentiful evidence to the contrary."

Well, exhibitions of paintings do list the materials used — oil on canvas or whatever. I guess photo exhibits do say if a print is on palladium or whatever process, but painting exhibits don't say if a horsehair brush was used.

It seems to me that the exhibitors have it right, but could share more info if they had it. Of course, the image really needs to stand on its own, separately from a title, caption, process, print material, f-stop, flash settings, etc.

Monkey see, monkey do...This from 2013.
No report on how this "important work" sold.


I've recently been comparing in Lightroom RAW images made with 2006-2007 vintage dSLR cameras and those made with more recent M43 and Pentax K3/5 models. The improvement in fundamental image over the past 9 or 10 years is startling.

@Ed Hawco I think I know that guy. Years ago on the Old Nikonians forum, a fellow admonished us that if we viewed his work we were expected to be curious about aperture, shutter speed etc. If not, he wonder "Why not?" in a less than complimentary way.

A matched quad set of NOS: 6CA7/EL34 Mullards = ecstasy. Those babies were tough to part with. I stumbled upon the aforementioned for just a few hundred dollars. ... Tubes are fun to roll.

I doubt I'll shoot film again. I doubt I'll fiddle around with tubes again. Still, every now and then, I think about building an SE amp. I'm 98% certain that won't happen.

I guess I don't understand the notion of separating technical quality from artistic quality. Why not strive to achieve both?

In fact, for the type of subject matter that prefer, I'm not sure it's even possible to succeed artistically without also succeeding technically. IMO, these two aspects of photography go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive.

One of my favorite lenses on a Nikon D800/810 is a old Nikon pancake 50mm 1.8 lens. I know nothing about it, have never researched it, but it was my dad's lens. It has such a lovely very soft focus and wonderful boken. Technically it's a horrible lens based on resolution and sharpness, but the feeling it gives makes me love it.

Recently I decided that I didn't like my camping photographs. I wanted to use a DSLR, not my p&s. I got out my old 5D mk I and found lenses I don't use. This way I'm not risking any work equipment. Ton of fun. Turns out I don't always need a f1.4 lens and a body that goes to 50,000ISO. Who would've thought? And the photos look nice.

"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
Ansel Adams

Since we've now crossed the subwoofer-camera analogy bridge, what's the photographic equivalent of this: http://www.rotarywoofer.com/

My vote is for those people who put digital scanning backs on their home built large format view cameras.

Funny thing about this. I'd been using M43 cameras for about 4 years, as they ticked almost all the boxes for me. Just the right size, and I had a really good feel for what I could do with them (with good results). The quest for ultimate IQ, though, spurred me on to try the Sony FF mirrorless (A7). After a year and a half with it, what are my conclusions? Absolute IQ is absolutely better on the FF...BUT. Am I getting the kind of results I want from it? Do I really want to carry the big lenses that using FF entails? Do the differences in IQ make up for the added bulk for me?

I recently added a tiny M43 body back into my rotation, and, wonder of wonders, I find I am using it and not the Sony. It "sees" more like I do, and the small size gives me a level of freedom that adds a spontaneity to my shots with it that I sometimes lack with the FF setup.

So, I've used the "best" for a year and a half, and I've come round to realizing that what I had before, while not the ultimate in IQ, actually worked a lot better for what and how I shoot.

Now, the hard part is convincing myself to sell the FF gear, and just buy back my M43 setup.....Not sure I am there yet ;)

Are you sure about the "tubes don't age" claim? Photomultiplier tubes are known to age due to helium contamination, which diffuses through glass. Perhaps the loss in gain isn't enough for an audiophile to notice;)

Definitely. Usually I gig with a Gretsch guitar which cost £1600. Sometimes I take out a Squier Telecast which cost £90.
I enjoy it justr as much and I doubt that the audience can tell the difference.

Philosophically speaking, photography may serve three separate classes of practitioners: the operator, the author and the creator.

The first one is engaged in documentation and is thus concerned with faithful reproduction of reality. In this case, precission matters. Technical perfection is a legitimate goal and the limitations of the tools are an adversity that must be overcome.

The third one is concerned with manipulation of reality either by constructing the scene in front of the camera or by introducing deliberate inaccuracy post exposure (or both).

The second one uses reality to convey an idea, which makes the images created multi-layered. Emphasizing the forest requires some sort of abstraction to divert attention from the trees and often the characteristics (i.e. "limitations", in techspeak) of the photographic medium itself - historic and existing - are used for this purpose. Motion blur, B&W, grain etc. are deeply rooted in the public perception of photographic images. They readily invoke associations which add meaning absent from the scene itself.

Of course, many techies are not exactly dedicated documentarians. They are interested in the tools per se and their scrutiny with technical aspects is not motivated by images.

"Sharpness is a bourgeois concept" said Cartier-Bresson in an interview when he was visiting the U.S. during the late '30.
Knowing that he was the son of a highly regarded rich French Catholic paternalistic textile baron, this opinion comes to stand in a whole different 'light'.
But in a more 'philosophic' view, this might be right, if 'bourgeois' is seen in the way Molière understood it.

BTW, sténopé might, in certain occasions, bring some salvation...

From Susan Sontag-“Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision. The less doctored, the less patently crafted, the more naive —the more authoritative the photograph was likely to be.”

Just to add to what you and others have said regarding cameras as desireable obects as objects in themselves. I recently bought the new Olympus PEN F. Did I need another camera? No, but although it has features I like, the deciding factor was the appearance. Can't get enough of just looking at it.

I appreciate the "It's not just the gear!" post very much, but I've found that the truth is very much somewhere in between the extremes.

In my own history I made the swing from using large format film to digital at the time when digital was middling good, and then slowly inched my way back toward really good quality. In the middle I spent a pretty long period with a "It's all about the images!" mentality while using gear that was only OK. I used a D200 for a bit longer than its expire date, for example, and some Nikkor lenses that were not top notch. Decent equipment, but not as good as I have now. I made some great images, and with a whole lot of work I can sometimes pull good to great prints from some of those files. But damn, I wish I had a time machine and could go back with better gear.

I think of my personal situation as not being much like the audiophiles going to each other's houses to test gear, but more like the musician wondering, "with a better instrument, will the performance be just a notch better?" I mostly don't spring for the Stradivarius, because unlike violins, these cameras are not getting better with age unless you buy the next new one. With the performance of the music as the primary driver, the instrument is an important part of the evolution. In third grade, learning the Suzuki method, it definitely doesn't matter so much what grade violin you have, compared to whether you can hear the pitch and then play the note. Much later in the evolution of musicianship and performance, it matters a lot. In between the two, it matters some.

Sure, I look at my images. But in the audiophile analogy, I'm not listening to the music, I'm performing it. I do think that my devil-may-care-about-gear period was really really good for my eye. Without a good eye, and some good purpose of why the exposure is being made there is little point in technical quality. But if you're getting that down, it's a shame to not have gear to manifest the best quality you can afford to.

Wise words. I've been auditioning the Panasonic 12-35 and the Olympus 12-40 zooms lately. Before I commit, I should do some serious (or not so serious) shooting with my Panasonic 12-32 kit lens.

Once again you have a knack for saying what I need to hear. I'm embarrassed to admit to the magnitude of the silver bullet chasing I've done over the past 10 years. I made a list a few months ago and I won't reveal the exact number but it's more than 50 and less than 100...

I haven't touched a camera in a few months. Yesterday I got out my Yashica D my wife got me when we were in college and I've committed to it till 1/1/17. It's the only camera I've never sold or horse traded in my years of bordering on being a camera dealer while chasing photographic unicorns. It visited Mark Hama three years ago and is in top shape. So here I go!

Having fallen under the spell of the Diana movement, which had to morph into the Holga movement, I had little moments of despair when I converted to digital. Luckily Holga now makes lenses for many digital cameras. Canikon, Sony and Micro 4/3. I have one on an older Olympus body and, every few weeks, I spend a day or two shooting with it. I love the look and feel and the difference. Going back to normal lenses then becomes a treat.

I too once tried to create technically perfect photos but learned that it was a pointless task as the idea of what I want to shoot is more important than technique. Now I just try to create interesting photos (well at least to me!). I the past I would not have shot the following due to all the wires in the first image. Also the lack of clouds would have turned me off in both photos. I have no idea why I like the 3rd one but I like it a lot.
Now I shoot for just me and not some imaginary ideal.

Re-obsessives.Last year I bought a 1999 Merc SL320.Since then wiseacres have told me variously; "Oh, that V6 engine wasn't a patch on the previous straight 6", "Shame, that's after the standard of Merc paints was lowered", "You'll find it won't increase in value, that model isn't liked by collectors".And other, similar comments have been mentioned.But it makes me smile to drive it, and that's what counts!

Towards the end of 2003, I think I had three or four SLRs, all manual focus, and a bunch of lenses, and was consumed by shutter lag and follow focus skills and eyeballing exposure to within a hair's breadth of RDP-III. All well and good, but it had gotten to the point where I didn't enjoy photography and could no longer find a photograph.

Then I realized my phone, an early smartphone from Nokia called the 3650, had a camera in it. At one third of a megapixel, its shutter lag was anywhere from one half to several seconds depending on the light, chromatic aberration was abhorrent, and dynamic range was nil. In short, it was perfect. Maybe I'll try shooting with this, I thought.

I spent the better part of 2004 using that camera, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that no one else I knew was doing it. Here is a portfolio of images from that time.

Camera phones have improved immensely in the meantime, alas, and I've long since returned to real cameras, but I've never forgotten the lesson it taught me: the joy of photography lies in seeing and shooting, and not in technology, or even technique.

For many photographers, actual images are just the McGuffins of their hobby.

Unrelated, but you might enjoy this:
There has been for some time a cheap integrated tube amp available on Amazon, with lots of reviews about how it can be easily improved with a swap for this or that tube. Eventually someone pointed out that the tubes were actually only in the preamp stage; then it came to light that only the heater circuit of the tubes was wired, and the transformer cases were empty. The tubes just glow, period. But the tube rollers were convinced it sounded better...

Just wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and Steve Jacob's response in particular.

I think a lot of the gear obsessed are still searching for the camera that suits them but confuse the quantifiable spec sheets and tests with ergonomics and requirements. I suspect we all have to go through our own Letter to George process to realise this though, especially in our marketing sodden window to the world.

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