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Wednesday, 30 May 2018


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"You'll come around to the camera," sounds about right to me. Well put!

If you keep writing about this, eventually you’re sure to get it right!


Amen Mike.

Based on my experience with modifying cameras in various ways to better meet my actual and perceived needs, I can validate your comments about how even a custom-built camera will ultimately fail to meet expectations.

It seems that every time I (cough, choke) finish one of my camera projects, several ideas about how to improve it and/or daydreams about replacing it with another one start popping into my head.

In fact, it's a perpetual process and no matter how happy I may be with the initial results, I soon find myself scheming about the next project and/or working on the next version of my current project.

As is the case today, in fact, because I've recently taken the first of many steps to adapt a dedicated astrophotography camera, with a cooled sensor, to mount on my FrankenKameras since I believe it will better meet my long-exposure, terrestrial photography needs here in the Arizona desert than the A7R I'm presently using.

I think the point of "the best camera is the one you have with you" is that the cameras you don't have with you are completely useless. If all I have with me at the moment is my iPhone, I can find a way to make a decent picture with it. Of course I'd rather use my Fuji X-E2S, but if I left it at home, that's not an option.

Like many aphorisms, this one is not necessarily meant to be taken completely literally.

I have to agree with "You'll come around to the camera". I used Nikon film slr's for years starting in 1970. I adjusted to taking the back off of the F, after a bit of practice it was automatic and just a few second procedure. I used that F for years upgrading to an F3 eventually. Built to last, reliable as the rising sun. I adjusted to their few idiosyncrasies after a time. I think in today's digital/web/blogs world these cameras would be classified as hard to use, too heavy, too expensive. They were tools. Plain and simple.

Digital cameras- well that is another topic which is the same story as above. Adjust and learn to use what you have. The more you use your tools the greater your skill in creating your vision.

"The best camera is the one you're knowledgeable enough to know to take with you." ~KW

There are good photographers, and they're good because they have the right equipment with them--they know to bring what they may need.

I've been working on a parks project inspired by the NY Times/NY City Parks exhibit from 1978 [https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/04/27/nyregion/newyork-parks-photos.html], and I know if I carry a 20mm and a 70-210mm, I can do all I need to do.

There are other photographers who think the equipment makes the shot, but have difficulty with how to make photographs, even if they have the equipment the good photographer is using. They're more into the cameras than photography. And for some, that's not a bad hobby, the cameras are interesting enough--the tech specs, the test photos, the lens reports--so as not to have to worry about making photographs.

Seeing photographs in a gallery, like the National Portrait Gallery in D.C., shows what photographs can look like and communicate unlike the online swipe galleries that are relentlessly never-ending, and of widely-varying quality. I find the time spent with online photographs is not terribly inspiring and may even be detrimental to new photographers looking for inspiration.

At the end of the day, the photographs are all that matter, and they speak as to whether we've made something worthwhile. All cameras are pretty good these days. What we need from photographers is truth, not microcontrast and absolute sharpness with sweet bokeh, but truth--what do you have to say that no one else can, what do you see in your own unique way? Show that to the world.

There's a proverb that goes something like "you have to take things the way they happen so you should try to make them happen the way you want to take them". I suppose you could adapt that to cameras: "You have to use the camera you have with you so you should try to have with you the camera you want to use." Or something like that.

Maybe I'm overdoing it here but surely the message that Chase Jarvis was putting across here wasn't "what the best camera in the world" actually is but much more about having *any* camera WITH YOU when something happens.

Regarding your considered opinion generally and your statement soecifically most photographers will discover and complain about its shortcomings,... nitpick about feature and design choices they wish were different, and ultimately find the camera they "happen to be using at the moment" to be disappointing and/or inadequate.....

I must be one of Malcolm Gladwell's 'outliers" because personally I could not disagree more. I am very, very happy with the cameras I'm using today and feel blessed with the embarrasment of riches we have available.

This a wonderful time to be a photographer.

I always took "The best camera is the one you have with you." to mean that any camera you have with you has more utility than the one you left at home or never had at all and that the opportunity to make the photo probably won't repeat. Thus if all you have with you is a Gowlandflex and the saucers land, then a 4x5 TLR is the only tool for the job.

Some cameras impose a style of imagery that is pretty strong and I would posit that cameras that emulate 35mm eye level SLRs have a pretty strong look but they are so much in the majority that the look becomes so much the default that it becomes invisible.

For example, try to imagine a Diane Arbus photo taken with a 35mm camera much less digital.

As an unwilling reformed member of the "the weirdest camera you can hold makes you see differently and work harder" club, I can unequivocally state that even if you have three* cameras with you sometimes none of them are the best camera.

*Oh say an RB Graflex, a Stereo Realist, and a Brooks.

It's good to have a few cameras you enjoy using lying around. If it gets too confusing, as it sometimes does, you can always put all but one or two in a camera bag on the closet shelf. Out of sight, and all. Bill

I had this happen to me the other night at my niece's dance recital. Instead of a Canon SLR and 24-105 or 70-200, my Oly E-M10 and Canon "nifty fifty" (with adapter) was my weapon of choice. It. Was. A nightmare. The four-thirds sensor struggled to handle the challenge of stage lighting even though I had gone online and compared images taken at ISO 3200 by the Oly and the Canon bodies. Online it was no contest that the E-M10 was better. In real life? Not so much.

I only complain about things I can't live with. These have mainly included:

  • Unpredictable behaviour (typically focusing and WB).

  • Recurrent quality control issues and failures in the field.

  • Weight and balance.

  • Confusing control assignments (never know what each button with do when you change modes).

  • Uncomfortable grip design/ergonomics.

  • Bad customer service experience.

  • Image data glitches that cannot be easily corrected in an editor (banding, artefacts, blooming).

  • Poor visual feedback of focusing and control settings.

In the absence of such issues, I seldom bother complaining about a camera. It's usually just a matter of familiarisation.

But when I choose a camera, one criteria these days is that I am likely to have it with me most of the time. That means it has to fit in my regular day bag along with a few other odds and ends.

The "truth" you outline at the end of this post is seemingly obvious, but actually quite profound. It took me years to work out. I finally realized that the lenses, and cameras I liked most were the ones I was getting my best pictures from, and more to the point, these camera/lens combos were generally quite simple, boring even, when compared to the latest thing (whatever that was).

But I went through many years being seduced by SLR TTL viewing, AF, etc. until as I say I finally got this worked out (I think I'm either a slow learner or just not intense enough with my photography). This epiphany was achieved mainly through using the unsexy rangefinder cameras I initially learned with. It turns out they're just right for the kind of pictures I want to make.

This of course is the answer to the recently posted 'why shoot with a Leica' type columns. I read them but had no time to comment as for the last four weeks I was in Ireland and Scotland (a visual feast!), out shooting every day with my digital Leica(s). And never once needed AF, a 200mm lens, or ISO 12000!

I purchased a GR on a lark, thinking I'd resell within weeks. It doesn't have the tactile interface I cherish, its only viewfinder a back screen that my failing eyes just barely make out- even in good viewing conditions. And yet, that little pocket rocket has become an indispensable tool that has allowed me a myriad of quality images I never thought possible. I've tried passing fancies like Holgas and SX-70s, fun- but they never quite stuck. Every few decades, it's good to get outta your comfort zone...

Well said, Mike! In other words, the best tool is the one you're most practiced with on serious work.

That old saw about the camera you have with you doesn't hold up well to any scrutiny, though I think the problem is mostly semantics. It sure sounds wise, but look closer and all it is is common sense, i.e.,

"If you want to take pictures, you need a camera, so best practice is keep a camera with you."

Or, even more bluntly: "Any camera is better than no camera, so make sure you have one, any one."

Either way, the "advice" in essence has little to do with any actual "best camera", at least not in any way that has anything to do with what cameras are or can be.

With regard to nitpicking, I have no problem with craftsmen being nitpicky about their tools, as long as it doesn't get pathological or rigid. It's part of the learning process, as one learns about the craft, about the tools and about one's skills and approach. But it is, therefore, a moving target, and, as we approach the hypothetical bullseye, an increasingly subjective one.

Any attempt at identifying an objectively "best" camera is futile. There are simply too many applications with specialized problems and too many possible solutions that can be built-in or prioritized. And that's even before we get to personal needs and styles.

On the other hand, what if that old saw is not advice at all, but observation? What if the camera you have with you is the one you wisely chose because you know it best, having used it extensively for serious work? What a wise observation!

"The best camera is the one you have with you."

I assume your misunderstanding of the intent of that quote is intentional, an entree into a mild rant.

My understanding of the quote has always been:

"Any camera is better than no camera, especially if it is one you chose to have with you."

I include the second part because my experience is that my iPhone camera is often not better than no camera at all. I tend to notice, and want to photograph, small bits of the visual field, i.e., macro and tele. The phone is mediocre at one and completely useless at the other.

And no, aux. lenses aren't a solution. It I'm going to carry them, I can just as easily carry a real camera. Less fuss and better pictures.

Jay Maisel says "Always Carry a Camera, it's hard to take pictures without one" He practices what he preaches. He ALWAYS carries a camera.
Most people don't. "The best Camera is the one you have with you" originated (I think) with Chase Jarvis' book by that title.
He demonstrated that an iPhone can take wonderful pictures.
He also demonstrated that having any camera is better than having no camera.
I don't know a single person who has a smart phone who hasn't benefitted from the "Always carrying a camera"aspect of ownership.
The combination of surprising quality and instant sharing are a powerful 1-2 punch.Add to that the fact that it is always in your pocket, and it's a 1,2,3 punch.
I agree with you that it is rarely the best camera you can carry, but it is Always better than no camera at all.
So in that narrow sense, it becomes the 'Best" camera, by virtue of the fact that it is better than all the other cameras in the world (Which you don't have with you).
So I'm willing to cut them some slack with the "Best Camera" thing.
No camera is perfect, and no camera is perfect for everyone.
I have fond over the years, that if I accept that as a given and just learn the one I have , and work around it's 'shortcomings' and just make pictures , I am far ahead of where I would have been by switching to marginally better cameras and having to learn them.
So I agree with you there.
None of this is to say that yo shouldn't do your best to find the camera most suitable for your preferences, but you HAVE to know that there will ALWAYS be a marginally better camera just around the corner.
Accordingly, I keep my cameras a long time. I bought my Canon 1DsIII in 2009, I still use it. In 2017 I added a 5D IV.
It's better in specs has yet to earn it's mojo.
I know there are 'Better' cameras than either of them, but always fall back on the fact that historically speaking , Both Cameras are so good that if I can't make good pictures with them, I should hang it up.
I love cameras, and marvel at what technology has brought us, but I hate changing cameras.
You have to know them well enough so that the technology just disappears..

Myth: The Best Camera Is....
Claim: "The best camera is the one you have with you."
Truth: No, it isn't.

Michael - since your intelligence is not in question, the assumption has to be that you are deliberately misconstruing this popular saying. It simply means that if you go out into the world carrying only one camera, that camera is - by definition - the best one you have with you, since it is the only one.
This little motto fits very well with another one I've heard a few times - "f5.6 and be there". Just in case you are taking this one very literally too, it doesn't mean that, on location, you have to shoot everything at f5.6. What I think it means is that to do good work, first you have to get off your ass, and second, that you need to work in a methodical, familiar fashion.
All that - in just five words; wish I could do that!

[My opinion is that I can miss a shot by having the wrong camera with me just as easily as I can miss it by having no camera with me. The paradigmatic situation is having a film camera loaded with B&W film when you see a great color picture. Other examples might be less incontrovertible, but I do mean what I'm saying. --Mike]

Ken's Corollary

Just shuddup and shoot. You're going to take the same picture regardless of the camera you use.

It's true for both talented, skilled photographers and complete hacks.

According to George Bernard Shaw, the difference between a reasonable and an unreasonable person is that when faced with a conflict between themselves and their environment, someone reasonable will seek to adapt themselves to suit their environment. An unreasonable person will seek to adapt their environment to suit themselves. It therefore follows that most progress is made by unreasonable people. (If this little aphorism depresses you because of someone you know, take comfort from the corollary that not all unreasonable people are actually making progress.)

The application of this principle to the post at hand is that a reasonable photographer will adapt his style of shooting to his or her camera, whereas the unreasonable one will complain to the manufacturer seeing a firmware upgrade and changes to the next model. It therefore follows that many improvements to Fuji cameras are attributable to unreasonable photographers. But not Nikon, since Thom Hogan assures us that they never listen to users. It also follows that most quality photographs are made by reasonable photographers, as they have worked out how best to use what they have, and aren't wasting all their time griping about their equipment in online forums.

"If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with."

Two posts, next one will be a car analogy.
I blame this entire discussion on the digital era. Going back to when I started serious photography, I averaged more than ten years per camera - Leica M2, Pentax Spotmatic, Nikon FM 2, Nikon 6006. 1961-2002. Some overlap.
Digital, I was upgrading every 2 years to keep up with technology. Reminded me of the humorous acronym for my car fetish- ALFA- always looking for another. Between the Internet reviews and new camera introductions, I was never satisfied. Nor became proficie nt with any camera.
Then I realized that tech was becoming asymptotic - improvements were marginal at best. I kept two OLY E-P3s for 5 years. Programmed thm for how I like to shoot and rarely touched controls.
Last year I bought a Pen-F which I expect to keep for a long time. I've programmed it to my style and it looks promising.

"My opinion is that I can miss a shot by having the wrong camera with me just as easily as I can miss it by having no camera with me."

That is easily said but would be hard to justify or demonstrate. Your whole position presupposes that everyone owns a battery of different cameras from which a choice can be made - something that is less and less true in this digital era. In my experience, shots can be missed by having the wrong lens(es) - any camera-body which I might buy will be capable in virtually every situation - but if a stunning wildlife opportunity occurs, I won't be carrying a 600 or 800mm lens, so that shot will be missed.
Another significant reason for missed shots, is most likely a loss of concentration or simply looking the wrong way, but the "wrong camera" - it's hard to imagine the scenario.
Your b/w or colour-film analogy largely depends on an unrealistic initial premise. In the film era, if you wanted the option to shoot both b/w and colour, many medium-format cameras had interchangeable film-magazines; sheet-film cameras, you pre-loaded a few sheets of colour and b/w; 35mm, you carried two bodies. So the "wrong camera" problem simply did not exist.

‘iPhone and be there’ could be a modern version ;-)
On a hopeful note, I have the impression that there are more TV documentaries about photographers/photographs these days here in U.K. Could it be that since so many people are taking so many photos, and most have a photographic/artists studio in their pocket, that there is an increased interest in photographs just as there is a fall in “real” cameras?

What I try to do is decide ahead of time what kind of pictures I want to take on any given day and take stuff with me that allows me to get those pictures. Even with "real" cameras you have to make these choices, since you can't always be carrying that 12mm superwide along with the lens for Football. If I happen to walk past something that I see but can't shoot, I shrug my shoulders and decide that it wasn't meant to be.

For me the spirit of the original saying is that it's better to be prepared to get *some* pictures than *no* pictures. But obviously if you are either after something very specific *or* you want to be prepared to capture any picture that you happen to wander past, or any picture that happens to wander past you, then the reasoning behind the aphorism doesn't hold up.

I'm not sure why such a simple statement of such a simple feeling should cause so many much consternation.

I will say that we are lucky to live in a time where a camera that can capture 50-75% of the pictures that even most serious photographers would want to get fits in your pocket and to get the most of the rest (say 20 out of the remaining 25%) you almost never need to carry more equipment than fits in a small bag. This is a pretty good situation to be in.

This seems to be a deliberate mis-application of the so-called "myth," (which is a truism, not a myth). Given the choice, most of us always prefer a "big" camera (sorry, in 2018 many phone cameras are "real" cameras). But we don't always have it. Or want to carry it. Or can carry it.

The truism is stating, in different terms, that ANY camera is better than NO camera. We might not get the exact shot we want, but we will get a shot.

If I set out at midnight to take a picture of a black panther and all I brought was a phone, I made a bad choice. But that's not what the truism is about. The truism is about happening upon a panther at midnight when all I have with me is my phone. At that point, the best camera I have is the one I have with me, because it's the only one I have. Will it be a great shot? No (but the odds have increased exponentially in the last five years, and will do so again in the next five), but it will be a shot.

The best camera is the one you have with you. If it's not with you, it's irrelevant, because you can't take a picture with an imaginary camera.

How about we change this to: "Any camera is better than no camera." Who's with me?

"The best camera is the one you have with you."
isn't the same as "The perfect camera is the one you have with you." Maybe it should read. "The best available camera is the one you have with you."

When I'm out with a camera I tend to find myself seeing how that camera (lens really) sees. The longer I stick with that camera the more it becomes the right one for what I see.


The best camera is the one that captured the best image you have ever taken...so far.

The best camera is the next one I buy.....

I find it bemusing that there are respondents here who claim, with apparent seriousness, gravitas, and with extended explanation, that your OPINION (as you clearly state at the start of this posting with "...my considered opinion...") is wrong.

How, pray tell, is a person's opinion wrong?

Not that anyone else's opinions to the contrary of yours are wrong, either.

Just different.

It is also bemusing to me (and as you state as well) that the claim made means that any shot is better than no shot. Really? I would beg to differ.

I know for myself that there have been, literally, untold billions of potential photographs that I could have made, but chose not to. I chose not to push the shutter button because I knew that the resulting image would not be satisfying nor useful.

I've always used my own internal editor to intelligently (within my own shortcomings) decide when to take a photograph. It's never been a process of, "Oh, well, this moment (or this camera) is equivalent to any other moment (or camera), so what the hell... [click]"

I do use my iPhone camera regularly, but I have never expected it to be equal to my dSLR. I regard those iPhone photos as note taking only. They can provide information and ideas, but not the quality I demand.

As Mike often states, your milage may vary from mine.

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