« The Ideal Photographer's Outfit | Main | Tasty Olympuses »

Friday, 03 March 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

oi! My first camera was an instamatic! I was 10 and one day I took a picture of my suster and a horse against the sun and when I got the film back they were in silouette and I thought "WoW" and I realised ai didn't have to just capture reality, I could take s different shot.

If it wasn't for that camera and thst shot I wouldn't still be shooting today.

I agree with Ken Tanaka that the "ideal equipment" is a spurious concept. Not only does it matter what you want to use it for, but more important, it must be equipment you know how to use and are comfortable using. Case in point: My (not yet) wife went on a cruise to Greece, Turkey and the Agean in 1965. She had never used a camera, so I gave her my old (~1950) and heavily used Argus C3, and taught her how to use it and a simple light meter. I also gave her several rolls of film, and told her to get more of the same if she ran out. Note that she is an artist. She came back happy with the camera and with some truly excellent images, and surprisingly few bad ones.
Should I have given her my Nikon SLR? No way! She didn't have the tech skills or time to learn them if she had wanted to. For her, the ideal camera was simple to use, and let her focus on what she was photographing. For a techie like me, it would have been frustrating, being unable to manipulate all the variables I knew how to use. Clearly, her ideal camera and mine were very different, and that's the point. Different "ideal" camera equipment for different folks.

On the condition of Photography now that digital is 'old hat'.
With cameras in so many phones and all those who have the phone cameras with them all the time we are seeing the modern version of George Eastman and "you take the picture, we do the rest" - without "we do the rest".
So many cell phone cameras and so few prints. The era of The Ephemeral Image is upon us as so many photograph something, quickly send it to a circle of friends and followers and it disappears in the memory of electronic devices and media. Very few I know who use cell phones ever make prints. Reality is that very few I know with decent digital photo gear make very many prints. Online display, emailing, cell phone transmittal - whatever. Almost any use other than actual prints on the wall.
Your beautiful gear designed to show your images in all their glory is at the mercy of my $299 WalMart special with its 'good enough' uncalibrated monitor. Never to be seen is the quality you worked so hard for. As a result, is it any wonder that cell phones are "good enough"?

The economic word you might be looking for is "mature".

I love Fred Herzog's photographs!

Yes, we're a minority. And yes - some of us don't care about expensive 'outfits.' And yes, we can't support the photo industry - but the latter always turns an ear when we speak. Unfortunately. That's why today's cameras feature insane ISO sensitivities and an f/2 lens is found to be risibly slow. That should give a clue as to why Nikon is in trouble.

This said I was reading Ken Tanaka's comment to the previous post with delight until I got to the part when he started raving about the smartphone. Smartphones are not for conscious photographers. Even those who shoot casual photos with their smartphones know much better results can be attained with dedicated cameras and thus have no pretence their smartphone is a *real* camera. I can't understand why photo enthusiasts try to convince themselves and the rest of the world that smartphones are proper cameras - when smartphone regular users refuse them such status.

So there is a divide in the enthusiasts' field: on one side are those who cling to conventional cameras, and on the other are those who adhere to gizmos such as smartphones, selfie sticks and drones.

I refuse such divide. I see many youngsters shooting film and lots of old people shooting with tablets. Yes, you read that right: with tablets. Guess which people take photography seriously?

I could be tempted to say "whatever floats your boat" is the best advice for anyone who shoots with a purpose, if it weren't for the hype around the iPhone and Instagram. Those are ways of producing images, not photographs. One thing is certain, though: the gear is never as relevant as the brain behind the camera. Except if it becomes a limiting factor, as smartphones and point and shoots usually are.

I joined the smartphone fray recently. Of course I tried its camera. It was one of its features I tried first. Image quality was so poor I decided never to shoot with it again. The fact that it is always with me is completely irrelevant. If I want to memorize a license plate in case I'm run over by a car, the smartphone's camera might be useful (provided the car is still in sight when autofocus is finally deployed, that is). For the kind of photography I do it is as useful as a pair of skis in the Desert of Gobi. Of course some can think otherwise. Whatever. The beauty of the world is in how big and diverse it is.

TOP readers are primarily interested in making pictures. Others simply want to have and share pictures. One is a journey, the other the destination.

Maybe that's why TOP readers like cars so much.

On "Deliberate, conscious photography".

I thought this article ("Intentional camera movement") was about a new group proposing mindfulness techniques in photography.


But it turns out that they just mean deliberately moving the camera about during an exposure.

Mike, this is the best commentary you've ever written (that I've read anyway). And well, I've liked quite a many of your commentaries, but this one excels. Why? One of my favorite books is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. What is great about this book is how it reveals that human nature, humanity such as it is, has not really changed over time. Besides which it is a beautifully written book. A monk is sent to investigate a murder at a monastery in medieval times, and what is striking is that even though he rides a mule up the mountain to the monastery, human nature is no different in those days than in modern times. Anyway, that is what your commentary does for us, it adds depth and context, revealing that human nature regarding the humble field of photography has not really changed. The monk rides a mule up the mountain rather than driving a jeep, but human nature is no different then than now. The trappings change, but not the human being. Same with photography, we have wonderful cameras these days, but your article helps show that the nature of photography is...unchanged. Thank you.

Heh. Poor photographers, yeah, I know that game deep in my heart. Had to get a bit of gear out of the pawn shop today. But that brings up this:

"the view camera revival of the 1970s was due in part to the fact that there were big old wooden view cameras all over the place at the time, cheap as can be. A teacher of mine bought a Deardorff 8x10 for next to nothing, just because he could. Art photographers are scroungers, adapters, repurposers."

What did I see there at that pawn shop, sitting on a shelf? A Calumet rail 4x5 with a Caltar 210/6.8 lens in a Copal shutter. I found myself pulling the lens board and running it through it's speeds (sounded great) wondering where I could get the $350 he wants for the whole rig and how I could rig my Olympus E-P3 in place of the ground glass... ;D

The Mamiya M645 at the other end of the shelf was calling my name too, I'll add. < LOL >

Back in the days of the Digital Transition, there was excitement in the air as we waited for the camera companies to solve that next problem, the one missing feature that was keeping us from doing that one thing we NEEDED to do. The excitement is gone now that cameras do pretty much everything anybody can actually justify.

I think it's time to use the gear we have, and remember Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might".

Lest you forget, we have made a lot of progress in digital. I found this page I created in Sept 1997, almost 20 years ago, using my new HP digital camera - my first digicam, with an astounding VGA resolution! The camera was made by Konica, if I remember correctly.
Of courae, it's cars...

It is of course VERY difficult for companies to survive in a collapsing market, as unsold inventory, un-needed plant, warehouses and staff are a financial burden that could push a company into bankruptcy. I guess it's easiest for diverse companies to survive, with additional revenue streams that can help them manage the downscale transition. Certainly Sony and Panasonic, perhaps Fuji and Nikon fit into that characteristics (maybe Canon too, though I don't know what there other businesses are).

One trouble we have is that digital cameras are not designed nor built for longevity; they do tend to fail after a few years, and to become difficult to repair. This is fine when new models are coming along. But we can't expect new models when the margins are not there to support the R&D spend. Maybe that's not too important; today's cameras are "good enough" that continuing making and selling them as replacements would be a reasonable continuing state, if it were possible for the companies... which it maybe isn't! There will continue to be a niche market for high quality cameras though, for companies that can find a way to survive in it.

On that basis, I'm pretty happy that my preferred camera type is old manual film cameras, still repairable after 40-50 years. I only need them to be repairable another 30 years or so; probably won't be taking too many pictures after I'm 100!

Interesting we haven't seen contraction until now. I would have thought, along with the proliferation of capable smartphone camera tech, that consumers simply are overwhelmed by the number of options when it comes to choosing a camera.

This begs the question, 'How many camera models does a manufacturer really need to grab (hold?) marketshare? 3? 5? More?'

I believe it has been a month since I took a photograph with anything that was less than 60 years old. Oddly, the "transition" from digital to antique has been practically seamless....Compared to the converse. I think I have discovered the main culprit in all of this nonsense we have experienced over the last six or seven decades......It is the battery.

I take that back: I did shoot with the M7 last weekend. I was mesmerized by the LED metering display. But then, it hit me: How long had it been since I changed batteries?; what does that flashing red dot mean?; are the batteries about to die?; did I bring spares? OMG! The shutter lock was not deployed; the thing may have drained itself while it was nestled in the bag.

I think about Ken's comments concerning the adequacy of the Iphone. But then, I think of those moments of great desperation my daughters experience when they are unable to locate their chargers. :)

Your post reminded me of how back in the 80s all my friends had the newest 35mm automatic point and shoot cameras from the major manufacturers. (I did as well). They would show me copious envelopes of 4x6 prints and boxes of slides from vacations and birthday parties. Of course they were thrilled with most of their results. However they were always blown away by my Black and White prints from 4x5 negatives made in my darkroom and the color prints done in a friends. Recently I got a chuckle at a large costume ball party I attended where everyone was taking photos with their phones and looking at the results and being disappointed (the lighting was a bit low). Once they saw the images I was getting with my Olympus EM5 MK II with the Pany 20mm 1.7 they were asking me all night to be the "official" photographer of the event.

Thank you for the link to the Fred Herzog book, I have ordered it. I have been infatuated with his pictures since I first saw this one posted on these pages a long time ago. Fingers crossed that it is part of the book!


Please forgive me if it has been posted or comented before, but this Sony ad explains a lot of what's happening now in global photography (it's both very funny and sad):


Don't focus on the reduction of camera size, but on the attitude of the characters. Two weeks ago I was in the Alhambra of Granada, probably one of the most touristic and beautiful places of the world. I lost literally my faith in humanity in front so many people just grimacing, gesturing and making the strangest stretchings of their fingers instead of enjoying the incredible place and all its wonders.

Most people taking pictures didn't need all the controllable capabilities that came along after WWII. What they needed was convenience and ease of operation that reliably gave reasonable results. They needed smart phones. But the hyperbole accompanying the capability advancement sold a lot of cameras

Most of what I did during my long and sometimes intense involvement with photography could have been done with the simplest of gear. But the extra thousands of dollars was spent on stuff that would give me a better chance out on the edge of the medium's envelope. How many people really need that and how often?

The pre-digital obsession with equipment advancement seems to have gotten us thinking that art isn't possible without huge technical exercise. And we push so hard for eye cutting sharpness, etc - because we can. That sort of thing long has sucked a lot of the air out of the room for discussion of the other sides of image making. We've been living inside a huge, ongoing technical, manufacturing and marketing explosion for so long that maybe it's no wonder that we're slow to grasp ofher stuff.

On the desk is a coffee table book full of work on local natural landmarks. You almost couldn't ask more from the craft. But the views are just fine results with the same old image concepts that I've seen forever. I think the photographers are more familiar with their gear than they are with their subjects. They spend more time indoors thinking about photography than outdoors becoming intimate with their subjects.

Still, the rocket sled is going to take off again. Before long smart phone cameras will blind us all with their magic too.

Nikophone, what's taking them so long?

Clay Olmstead seems to have mis-attributed the Bob Dylan lyric ;-)

'I think it's time to use the gear we have, and remember Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might".'


D'Oh! I messed up my own joke! It wasn't Dylan, but rather John Hiatt who cribbed the line in his song Through Your Hands.


I'll go over in a corner and think about what I've done now.


The period in which a new product or process sees rapidly accelerating growth is during the transition from the early adopter to the early majority phase in diffusion of innovations theory, q.v. The DoI is graphically represented by a flattened S curve.
Brad Thompson

Yesterday I shot some selfies (with cat) with my LG G4 phone, thought to have a very good camera at the time it was released in the summer of 2015. Of a couple of dozen photos, only two are technically usable. Luckily they're both fairly decent otherwise as well, so we'll call it a successful effort. But losing 90% of the photos to focus and motion blur problems is not what I look for from a competent camera.

And this thing has an f/1.8 lens, 16mp sensor (matching my highest-res dedicated camera in megapixels), and captures raw DNG image files, not just jpegs. Oh, and the screen is over 500dpi, making it far the highest-resolution device in my collection (quad HD).

The camera app doesn't give some crucial controls (it's low on ways to bias the exposure towards high shutter speeds, or low or high apertures, or whatever, other than full-blown raw), and the auto-exposure profile goes for far too low shutter speeds.

And selfies and cat pictures are, as we know, what powers the Internet. They ought to be the thing phone cameras are most optimized for!

Art photographers—or whatever you want to call us ... I prefer "Very Serious Photo Enthusiasts." 8-)

To paraphrase Syl Arena I'm a photographer, not a retoucher. If you #getitrightincamera you don't need to waste your life sitting in front of a computer.

Making a good picture is easy. A well lit and composed shot needs little if any 'Shoping. I'd give my P.S. Artist both CR2 (Canon raw) and fine jpeg files. She never worked with raw, she said she'd end-up with the same results as my fine jpegs.

Things like composition and lighting are best learned from painting.

Composition http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2017/02/25/4-composition-lessons-raphael-can-teach-you-about-photography/ and http://www.creativebloq.com/digital-art/tips-composition-31514496

Lighting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiaroscuro

The Matchmaker by Gerrit van Honthorst

Want your photos to stand-out? Then throw away you umbrellas and softboxes, and learn how to light like the masters. Or you could spend a lot of time recreating this look in P'Shop 8-)

Not the point of your post, but 6x9 contact prints with fancy borders? That sounds like cheap(ish) fun!

If you are still looking for Fred Herzog's Modern Color, the publisher Hatje Cantz looks like they still have it in stock as of Saturday, 4 March.

OMG! Smartphones!

I have believed that smartphones are not for conscientious photographers every since I got the George Barr book "Why Photographs Work" and saw on page 18 the photo "Tree and Pond in Fall" by Dan Burkholder. Horrors, he used an early Apple iPhone!!!

"My god," said I, "How can any photographer try to convince him/herself that a smartphone is a real camera?" Were he serious, he'd be using a film camera which would automatically create art merely because of the fact he used film. Or at least he'd use the latest full frame digital with a large aperture lens and creamy boke. Does he not recognize that his smartphone camera is a limiting factor and thus it does matter in the creation of good photographs?

Why Dan has even made a site that includes his iPhone photos along with his real camera stuff: http://www.danburkholder.com/iphone-artistry.html

And mark my words, smartphones will only become worse in the future.

Gotta go. Kids are on the lawn again.

"Art photographers" covers amateurs and professionals who think of their photography primarily in terms of "making art". It's not in any way related to "photo enthusiast" in my version of the language.

I'm a "documentary photographer", I'm interested (in fact downright "enthusiastic" sometimes!) in taking pictures that record how things look and what's happening.

"Enthusiasts" might be a better term than "serious amateurs", though. Still, some serious amateur enthusiasts mostly make art, some mostly document things. Most photographers do some of both; people want snapshots of their kids (and cats) mostly.

In 2004, before Dr. Kaufmann came along, Leica was on its last legs, financially, and desperately hoping to be acquired. Publicly held at the time, the company's sales were severely depressed, it had been hemorrhaging money for some time, and its stock price was abysmal. The Leica brand, or "marque", however, was still powerful, virtually synonymous with serious photography.

The Spring or Summer of that year saw the world's first mobile phone photo show, organized by Kurt Bigenho and held at RX Gallery in San Francisco. Entry was open to anyone in the world, and images were curated and then projected on the walls of the gallery in virtually real time. I sent my entries in from Hawaii, where I was living at the time.

It was apparent, to anyone paying attention, that the mobile phone photography explosion was about to happen, and that it would disrupt pretty much everything. I had a small blog at the time that no one read, so given this impending convergence, I used it to suggest, here and here, that Nokia buy Leica, just to get the name for use on their phones. I forget what the exact valuation of Leica Camera AG was at the time, but it seems to me it was just a few tens of millions, maybe very few.

Apparently, the folks at Nokia were like everyone else in not reading my blog, because it never happened, but about a year later Nokia did team up with Zeiss for one of its phones (the N90), and Sony-Ericsson followed suit with Schneider-Kreuznach. And recently Chinese phone maker Huawei has partnered with Leica for the latter's new flagship phone.

These licensing deals seem like an obvious avenue for camera manufacturers to pursue. This way, they can continue to fund their R&D with the profits gained from catering to consumers, and everyone benefits. Probably, then, it won't be long before we see the Nikon name on cellphones. And as for Canon, they are large enough, and aggressive enough, to buy a mobile phone company, if they think there is money to be made in it.

The link to the first mobile phone photo show, above, was to an entry on my own defunct blog. Here is a much better one:

Cellph Portrait / Mobile Phone Photography Show at RX Gallery

I think the gear mike described was illustrative of a kit capable of fully professional results under nearly any conditions. If you do commercial or assignment photography, you need to be ready for anything.
You might need an 800mm lens or an ultra wide tilt shift lens, or a radio flash system, or blazing fast AF.... or you may not, but you have to know it's there.
If the kind of photography you do never has those needs, then you will likely choose a different camera, which is as it should be.
But his recommendations serve as a benchmark in time, which is valuable.
In my day a commercial photographer needed a Hasselblad, a 4x5 and an 8x10 along with big strobe, a news photographer carried a 35mm kit Nikon or Leica, etc
Re smart phones being real cameras: In my mind there is no doubt they are, one only has to look at some of the fine work that has been done. But like all cameras, they have limitations, and used in their sweet spot produce fine results, outside their sweet spot, not so much-----but that;s ok . The more you pay the fewer limitations you have, until size and weight and expense become the limitation.
The ubiquity of smart phones have given us photo as substitute for language---is THIS the kid of Peanut butter you want or THIS one?
The big feature of runaway IPO stock Snapchat is that it throws away everything you post after 24 hours unless you tag it.
More people are using photography and most of it is for casual, even throwaway use.
There have never been more options for serious photography, however you choose to define it.
That part is probably not sustainable. If the interpolated sensor continues to hold sway (Beyer or Fijifilm) some consolidation in camera manufacturers seems inevitable. A new sensor type (say multi layer without Foveon issues and capable of high ISO's were invented tomorrow, it would probably create another large spurt in camera buying. At some point multi sensor cameras will hit the mainstream, that could do the same
Right now, with our embarrassment of photographic riches is great, but unsustainable, there are too many companies making cameras without a profit. That can't last forever.
As camera phones get inexorably better, they will eat into the the 1" sensor market, then m4/3. m4/3 has no where to go, they defined themselves by size. (I'm not saying Oly &Panny don't make fine cameras, they do) Volume will be eroded by the ever increasing capability , convenience, and ubiquity of smart phones.
On the higher end, Nikon (who also makes fine cameras) is shrinking in share, and while a few innovative products could change that, it better happen soon.
So Mike's benchmark was a valuable exercise.
Analog methods won't die. Like Vinyl records , Film has seen a bump, but they will always be small, they are not 'coming back'
In the analog days, you could start making View Cameras in your garage, Digital cameras and specialized lenses have a pretty high barrier to entry, so it would be better if we lost none of these companies, but if you take a larger view of change, that doesn't appear likely.
Thanks for a thought provoking post..

When I think about it I could be quite content if I just got rid of all my camera gear, and worked with the photographs I have taken over the past 40 years. There must be some good ones in there....

Just a comment about the shrinking camera market and some makers being at risk: ironically, I think a couple of small makers might do OK: Pentax and Oly. Why? because I think they have adapted to smaller sales, much better than Nikon has! Around 2008 to 2010 I remember distinctly the doom and gloom that some of the makers would go out of business, and these 2 figured prominently. They could probably survive just with Japanese sales.

Well, a couple got out of the camera biz, but a number have been doing surprisingly well. Sadly for the whole industry, it's Nikon in the most trouble right now I think. Canon is probably diversified enough to survive. Sony seems to be doing well (and one still suspects that for them the whole camera business is a kind of stalking horse for something else...). Fuji seems to be doing well. Leica....is just Leica. Panasonic? Hmm.... Sigma's got lenses. Hassy has revived, maybe. Phase One? I wonder if the new affordable DMF market will kill them. Good riddance, with their house-priced equipment.

I like these couple of last posts on camera equipment and the market in general. It also mirrors the computer / IT market in general: we've seen a great amount of innovation and upheaval in the last 10-15 years through technological disruption that has seen a lot of the old "classical" players disappear.

The rate of change is enormous: what we would consider a reasonable timeframe to master a single technology or object no longer applies.

I remember my IT professor telling me: "Do you think that Java (a programming language) book is going to be useful in 10 years time? Even 5 years time?" The same applies for photography: "Do you think that Lightroom 4 book will be useful in 5 years time?" Probably not.

Mind you, that's coming from someone who shoots with a Leica M ... I do feel like I'm missing out on this golden age, but every time I've switched, the results tell me otherwise.

Cheers, Pak

A bit late to the party, but this graph renders discussion superfluous:

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007