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Wednesday, 30 January 2019


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Mike wrote: "I don't know how long it takes to get "the feel of the wheel" with a digital camera, but I'm betting it's a year or two longer than people typically keep them." Try 2 or 3 years.

I'm still going strong with the 3 Fuji X-T1 bodies I started using in early 2015, and I feel I'm goofing off if I don't learn something new once each week. This week it's high speed sync.

More to the discussion at hand (musical and photographic instruments), these items have a dual utility: they're for fun AND for business, and therefore attract professional and amateurs alike. The same cannot be said of tractors and jackhammers. These "work" for a living and must perform, so amateur-related patterns of use and ownership don't emerge.

By coincidence, I'm now woodshedding with my latest acquisition, a Fujifilm X-T3. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “woodshedding” originally referred to when a jazz musician took time off to work on mastering his instrument, alone and without having to be concerned with a performing in front of an audience. I'm currently in the process of woodshedding with the X-T3 to make sure I know all of its strengths, weaknesses, quirks and peculiarities. As a street shooter, I often have less than 2 seconds to grab a once-in-a-lifetime shot. I want to make sure my camera is up to the task; so I think of every experiment I can to find out exactly what it will do in any given situation and what the resulting image will look like. Once I have everything set up to my preferences and expectations, and I know I can trust my camera to perform under pressure, is it any wonder that I'd be reluctant to switch to something else?

I'm an amateur photographer, always have been.

In the mid-70s I bought my first SLR, the excellent but recently deprecated (hence a lot cheaper) Rollei SL35 with Zeiss Distagon and Tele-Tessar lenses. I used it along with several m-42 lenses, for the next 30-years -- 25-years of which were after it got dunked in seawater, dried out in my oven, and re-lubed with WD40 (the tele-tessar was a write-off, and I lost the prized distagon at a beach some time later).

Eventually it died, shutter seized up and I bought a used, Auto-Everything plastic fantastic Canon Rebel-Ti. At first I marveled at how it was all auto-everything, except the kit zoom was too slow to really take advantage of the auto-focus, so I used it manual.

Eventually though, I missed the simplicity and heft of an old, metal all-manual SLR, so I bought a Spotmatic SP with 50/1.4 supertak for a hundred dollars.

One of the strap lugs wore through that, which shows how long I had it and how often I used it. The body still works though, just made carrying it around less practical. So I bought another, this time for $35 sans lens.

I've taken a lot of pictures with this type of cameras and I could use them in my sleep.

Recently I resuscitated a damaged Mamiya C2 TLR I had acquired and used briefly ~30-years ago (by resuscitated I mean I took it out and shot a couple of rolls with it), and also my brother gave me a Riken Ricoh 35s RF in its original, dried-out leather case.

So these are two 'foreign bodies' (and lenses) I'm having to get used to, and boy are they ever different from what I'm used to, in every way. I only bring them out when I want to fiddle-fook around and see what happens, rather than aiming for a result. Which is rarely.

I admit though that the RF has some interesting optical charms I've succumbed to, which make all the difficult parts like loading, focusing and film advance seem worth the trouble.

One other thing the pro wants/needs is that if something breaks while on the road, it should be easy to replace.

Much better when you're in the middle of nowhere to go to the nearest Guitar Center to get that effect pedal that just blew up. As opposed to trying to contact someone six time zones away and get them to overnight that exclusive piece of "pro" gear you depend on.

I've been guilty of using the term "pro" carelessly but it is a convenient shorthand. I sell a few pics but do not consider myself a pro. At best I'm moderately competent, with vast areas of ignorance. All the term "pro" has ever meant for me was ruggedness. If you are a pro (or pro-am) then you want equipment that can take a LOT more pics before failing than someone who uses a camera twice per year. In the case of sports/action photographers, you probably need it to withstand at least as much bad weather as the photographer can endure. And maybe the top-end gear has convenience features that only matter to people who shoot A LOT. But I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before.

Well put! I have been using my OMD EM1-ii for about a year now and have finally gotten to the point where the camera has gotten out of the way. Even though there are many tempting new cameras, I am thinking that a back up OMD EM1-ii is probably the smartest investment. The 20 MP sensor with IS and the 12-200 lens makes for an incredible and versatile machine with a wide shooting envelope.

Since pros are a distinct minority among users, the more relevant question is, do non-pros buy pro gear?

I have said it before in forums, and have probably said it here before, but I'll say it again: The more I'm out shooting, the less I worry about my gear. The less I'm out photographing, the more time I spend online reading about photographing, the more I worry about my gear.

Easy solution: shoot more, spend less time online...

I think it takes very little time to become familiar with a film camera. The only one that gave me pause was my first 500C, the reading of the brief manual giving me fear that I might freeze the damned thing by going out of sequence changing lenses or films.

In the event, it was very simple to get it right; the manual was the mental complication rather than the camera.

My Nikons didn't need manuals: know the F and you know all you need know, other than the dumb self-loading thing on the F4 which made me dump mine and regress to an F3.

Film and developer were also best standardised and learned in the field. I never needed anything beyond D76, D163 and Kodak WSG graded papers. Films: TXP 120 and HP3/4 and FP3/4. Colour: Ektachrome and Kodachrome. That was it.

Digital: I set my D200 and D700 to as close to manual as possible, with only auto ISO employed, and af on the only two af lenses I own. I can't remember using the menu for anything beyond going in and out of auto ISO as required, or when switching to my manual optics and having to key in their details. The menu is largely forgotten, as is how to magnify the screen on the odd time I want to take a closer look. Like the experience of the lady who was mentioned, unless it's something used regularly, always forgotten.


One of my last pro jobs was a contract I had with a local hospital to create images for an annual report highlighting the neurology department. I photographed brain surgeries, testing equipment, doctors using the equipment and of course the usual head and shoulders shots. To a tee each doctor as he or she came in said the same thing; hey why you using that old camera I have the latest digi pro dslr and the best glass money can buy, my camera is way better than yours. Maybe I should have been hired to do this gig hahaha. Ya, really funny. Most of my peers use cameras that are not the latest and greatest unless there is a compelling business reason to spend the money. For non pros it's about ego, for pros it's about ROI.

There must be a lot of money in marketing "pro" gear to well-off enthusiasts since almost all of the major hobby industries that have the opportunity to do this seem to engage in the construction of this mythology. "Buy what the pros use, it's the very best".

It's too bad this is almost never the case.

I think the most egregious version of this has to be in high end bicycles. Normal people buy a bike and then need it to work relatively reliably probably for one to several years ... not even the most well off enthusiast is going to get a new bike every month or two.

Pro racers on the other hand probably get on to a completely rebuilt bike *every day* ... whether training or in a major race. They work for teams that have entire staffs that do nothing but rebuild the bikes every day. So really in practical terms they are riding machines that only need to work for about 8 hours at a time.

Normal people don't want to ride such things. Yet the "buy what the pros" use mythology still looms large in the bike industry.

I'll never understand it.

Familiarity breeds confidence - if your camera is a familiar "old shoe", you are likely to feel confident that your settings and exposures will lead to useable images. But digital photography, as it exists today, calls out for skills in both the hardware and software parts of the photograph - yes, the film era allowed for tinkering with film processing too, but that was limited and I bet fewer folks messed with it.

I submit that, long ago, I knew enough about my Fuji X-Pro 1 to stop thinking much about it. But I always have less software "confidence" compared to my hardware confidence. One key difference is I can determine for myself when and how often I make hardware changes but I have much less control over updates and changes to the software side of my life. This isn't all bad, but when ACR introduces a new feature, for example, I have to learn what it does and how to use it and, finally, determine its usefulness to my own workflow.

Even though I have changed camera brands many times, there really are many aspects of camera function which are universal (duh). What isn't universal is how to set or change a camera's behavior, hence the need to familiarize oneself with your gear. Maybe because I've been using cameras almost 60 years, I don't find learning how to use a new one very difficult and they become "old shoes" very quickly. No software ever seems to become an old shoe for me!

They drive their "Pro Grade" GMC trucks to their photo assignment where they use "Pro Grade" equipment. Then they go home and cook dinner on their Viking stove.

Me, I confess to taking an odd, perverse joy when my small sensor, consumer level camera (mid-level consumer circa 2016 no less! And sometimes with a kit zoom!) produces a magazine cover or a two-page spread. I usually celebrate with a Guinness and a pizza.

I am often baffled by the use of the word "professional" in the photography business. As far as I am concerned, the main function of a professional bit of kit (in any sphere) is that it is reliable, not that it is necessarily better.

Many years ago (over 40!) I was involved with a recording studio. They had some "professional" tape machines (the old 10.5 inch reel to reel that ran at 15 or 30 inches per second) and also some "semi-professional" machines. They were made by the same company (different brands for the pro and semi-pro, of course) and basically had the same electronics and heads. The pro version cost about 5 times the semi-pro and weighed a lot more. Over the course of about 5 years (the studio worked about 20 hours a day) the pro machines didn't fail once. The semi-pro versions had problems every 3 months or so.

I'll take reliability and usability over an imperceptible technical advantage every time.

I think that Willie Nelson and Trigger (his guitar for the past 50 years) perfectly illustrate the synergy between an artist/professional and the best tool to match his vision (in this case, his desired sound).

I imagine that Willie can afford any guitar in the world, but keeps using a guitar that most would consider ready for the trash based on appearances.

If you're interested, there's a short film about Willie and Trigger on Youtube.

It doesn’t help that cameras now iterate on consumer electronics timeframes, unlike SLRs.
I’m still on an iPhone 5s, bought 2nd hand long after it came out. Thinking of plunging for a used 8. The cost of higher / newer models, to refer back to an earlier thread, is just ridiculous, even if they aren’t near your $3K mark.

One of the advantages of upgrading through a certain brand (and level) of camera is that, depending on the camera maker, you don't have to learn a whole lot from scratch. The best manufacturers make tweaks on an interface that had evolved over decades. In my experience, upgrading to new Nikon DSLRs within the same category (D200, D300, D700, D810, D850) meant that specs changed, sometimes radically, but the basic interface changes were relatively minor.

The other nice thing about photo gear is that many of us keep our previous DSLR body for various reasons (repair backup, to carry both with different lenses, to qualify for Nikon Professional Services(!)), and so even as we're getting used to the changes in a new body, we've got the previous body to fall back on for mission-critical work during the transition.

One year ago my wife hired a professional photographer to photograph our baby daughter, he showed up with his Nikon D2X.
The photographs were fantastic.

I am one of those "people" who when the first get around to opening the box of a new "thing" they take out the manual. I then actually sit and read the manual. When I got my last camera, it took me two days to get around to powering it up. (I opened the box, got out the batteries and charged them up)

Once I had a basic understanding of the manual, I took out the body and proceeded to go through the menus to set the camera up to my way of shooting. While my brand is not considered "professional" by most people, I have been able to get images out of the camera that seem to please the non-profits I basically take images for these days.

When I took a photo workshop at Santa Fe workshops when film was still being used. The camera that all of the assistances wanted us was a Holga. It was held together with duct tape and had a oh-so subtle bubble in the lens. Pro equipment required? Not so much.

I've had this discussion in relation to digital image software and editing workflow. The question being what can you learn from "pros", i.e. those making most of their livelihood from image production? The short version is efficient workflow, sufficient to produce client-acceptable quality. In my experience, you won't learn about getting ultimate quality from many of them, as most simply don't have the time or need. You learn that from advanced prosumers with more money than sense and time on their hands, enough to treat each pixel as sacred, and then argue about it on forums, like they do on hammerforum.

I am only a semi-pro at best; the occasional paid job.

I know I will need to upgrade from my D700 this year, and I know I have options. But a little bit of me is scared that nothing I replace it with will be as good, even if everything about the replacement is better, if that makes sense. My D700 is why I feel confident taking on a whole bunch of jobs.

Relatedly: I am currently exploring how to build a technical rig I want from cheap off the shelf, reimagined parts, not because I couldn’t justify something expensive and perfect, but because I would rather have the easily replaced components that solve *my* problems, than be dependent on expensive spares for something niche,

Now, when it comes to guitars it’s a bit easier to confront the spending urge. Will the expensive thing make you a better player? Emphatically not. It’s actually not quite so straightforward with cameras.

Thom Hogan recently had some thoughts on how to get the feel of the (camera) wheel:


There's much truth in these observations. I used to enjoying futzing around with computers (tweaking, customizing, updating). I had more time to waste on that kind of thing. Now I just need it to turn on and do what I want it to do. I only replace them when they die of natural causes or stop doing what I need them to do. I dread having to get new ones because I take no pleasure anymore in setting them up to be like I want them to be; that's time I need for actually doing work with them. Anyone who uses things as tools rather than toys will understand this.

My ex brother in law was a drummer "in a band". The house belonged to her and she paid the mortgage, she paid for all the food and utilities etc... He supposedly didn't have much spare income from his job at a motel, but did seem to find enough to purchase a *second* drum-set that he could keep permanently disassembled so that it was ready to put in his car and drive to a gig. However, this "band" had never had a single gig and had no prospects of ever getting a gig.

Needless to say, they were divorced a not long time after...

I may be slow, but I’m about two years into the E-M1.2 and I’m still getting comfortable with it. And that’s after using the E-M1 for a couple of years before that. And an E-M5 before that.

My poor GX7 sits mostly unused because, although I really like it, I don’t have the time to use it enough to feel really comfortable with it.

I’m also a guitarist and bassist. I’m actually a “pro” because I’ve made money wielding them, despite being far from an expert player. I have two basses, which I can get my head around. I have way too many guitars and really don’t know most of them very well. Probably should sell most of them.

Excellent commentary from both Tim and Mike. Have you ever seen Willie Nelson’s guitar? Case in point of a professional who uses gear that is well-known, well used, and reliable. Same with the road worn guitars and brassed Leicas - they got that way for a reason.

I’ve purchased three digital cameras since 2005. A Canon 5D; Canon 5D Mk II; and my current Canon 5DS R. I’ve kept and used the same 50mm f/1.4 lens and for the last two iterations a 24-105mm f/4 L lens. (Full disclosure: I bought two 5D Mk II bodies, the second one replaced the first which was stolen from my car in San Francisco. I liked the Mk II so much I had no interest in the newer versions.)

I have no moral high ground here. I did buy relatively expensive gear, because I like the results I get. But I do like the ease of getting to know and then use a camera over an extended period of time. For me, that’s a big advantage when I’m working in the field. I don’t dig too deep into the menus - only when it serves a need I have. I use the cameras as manual cameras, and don’t use the auto functions at all (other than auto focus - getting old in my old age). Meaning some may opine I’ve spent money for features I’m not using. But I’m ok with that.

Like Willie, the camera gives me what I demand, the way I demand it. Can’t ask more from gear than that.

I learned on my grandfather's Nikkormat. I still have it, the only film camera I own, and I'm never letting it go.

"Final thought: in the art-photography world I came up in, it was said by some that changing cameras would set you back a year—that is, it was a year before the new camera fully became second nature and you knew it inside out."

I came from a similar world and the said is absolutely true. My best ever photos were taken with my first film camera, a Leica M4 equipped with just the summicron 50mm f2.0 that I still have. Later I had the Olympus OM1, OM2n, OM4T, Hasselblad and many lenses, and was not able to do better photography with them. Since two years I have a couple of Pen F and I will not buy another camera for at least 5 to 7 years or more if they are still working then. My most used digital camera is the Olympus OMD-EM5 that I bought when it just came out in 2012, it has almost 7 years and it has given to me my best digital photos. Still gives excellent results today, almost no difference in image quality from more modern M43 16 Mpix sensors.

"I don't know how long it takes to get "the feel of the wheel" with a digital camera, but I'm betting it's a year or two longer than people typically keep them. Just kidding. :-)"

No kidding at all, I have a friend that buys a new camera almost every year with the hope to improove his photography in spite of my recomendations. His best photos are from the doves that come to his backyard to feed from what his overfed dogs left, which are lazy enough to standup and chase them. For this he bought a $2,000.00 f2.8 tele zoom.

Okay, I'll weigh in, and I hope Kirk Tuck will as well.

While I haven't earned my principal living from photography, for the last 15 years or so, I've worked in a fully professional context (professonal motorsports photojournalism) going on 15+ years now.

Overall, Tim's commments about professionals' requirements are, for the most part, quite accurate: but I'll paraphrase it a little bit to reflect professional photographers' "requirements": you want it to work, every time, and you want it to do the same thing, every time.
That is absolutely true.

Its also true that they work with gear that is "less up to date" than the latest kit, and they also care about latest "specs" as it relates to "bells and whistles" than amateurs/enthusiasts. A good example is the Canon 1DMkII/MkIIN pro bodies. That camera debuted in 2004 and there were pros I knew that were still using them 10 years later. I used 1DMkII/IINs myself for 11 years, from 2005 to 2016, and those cameras were fully capable of meeting the image quality and size requirements for media and press, both web and print.

The bottom line for the majority of pros is the old adage: if something isn't broken, don't fix it.

I've mentioned here many times, but the top 5 requirements for working pro photographers is not 492 AF points, IBIS, 20 FPS, "eye focus" or a flippy screen.

It's attributes that are much more mundane, but much more important: reliability, durability (reliability & durability are different quality attributes, but equally important), shutter life, robustness, and consistency. That and a comprehensive and fast service & support infrastructure.

Regarding the commment So my guess is that professionals either really do not explore the configuration space of their cameras and use them mostly on out-of-the-box settings".

Well, yes and no. Most pros know the configuration space that is specific to their use-cases VERY well. They typically only work on 1 or 2 specific disciplines, and getting up to speed on configuration for those is disciplines is fairly straightforward & practical to manage.

I resonated with the example that Mike gave about the pro that didn't have time to get up to speed with his D4, but most pros stay in the same system for many, many years, and Canikon, for example, are very good about keeping the controls, interfaces, and menus pretty consistent from model to model over time. So, once that pro got around to using his new D4, its wasn't like he had to start from scratch with a new system; much of the camera would have felt right at home.

Oh, and BTW, most pros RTFM...just sayin'. 😜

Several years ago, we were in Cuzco, Peru on a tour. Literally every place we stopped, there was a photographer with an ancient Canon (?) film rangefinder who snapped away as we visited the sights. When we got to the airport to fly back to our ship, he was there with a set of customized postcards for each of us. Of course, we bought them. It's a sure bet that this incredibly hard-working pro wasn't going to change his equipment until he could guarantee success with the new stuff. I've wondered whether he ever made the shift to digital....

I am not sure if this is a general rule.

I would guess that if your kind of photography is exposure-centric, that is you have to think on your feet, react fast, and have an instinctive feel for the camera, then changing cameras is a big deal. I know a few photojournalist who won't change a camera until it is beyond repair. I just don't know how typical that is.

But other types of photography are production-centric, such as in landscape and studio photography. In this case, using multiple cameras is quite common, and if you have someone else doing your production work, as many studios do, it is relatively easy to work a new camera into your workflow. Again, I know one fashion pro who changes cameras all the time, depending on the shoot, and leaves everything else to his wife.

If you do your own production work, it does take time to optimise the workflow for a particular camera, but I don't think that is quite as difficult as acquiring muscle memory. It's pretty much all WYSIWYG if you are adept with the software and printer you use.

I have a friend who does professional retouching work for a large studio, and she has to deal with files from new cameras all the time. Just as I guess you had to deal with many types of negative film.

Fortunately, I see no overwhelming reason to keep swapping cameras any more. There are no bad cameras, and once you find one you like, there are few advantages to be had by changing it. That has allowed me to get my Xpro2 and its files well integrated into a fairly comfortable workflow.

Wasn't it Sam Abell who said that when he switched camera systems, it took him a year to feel like he was fluid with the new system?

This is honestly why (even though it's a veblen good etc. etc.) I shoot Leica digital: I have been shooting with Leicas for 20mumble years. The "UI" is exactly the same. I have an XT-2 as well but I always feel like a gorilla trying to use it because my fingers don't know where anything is.

I have now had my OM-D EM-1 Mark ii for nearly two years, and it suddenly struck me some time before christmas that i finally operated the camera much smoother, and about the same time my photos started to become better (in my eyes ...).

I think this has two main reasons: 1. I finally know the camera, and 2. I set the cameras three different custom settings to strait A-perture automatic, and strait M-full manual, and one B&W setting with A. In addition I closed down mostly all the settings on the buttons and so forth. The result: Basic photography: Aperture, Shutter, focal lenght, focus, and composition. Very rewarding and very liberating.

Happy light and shooting!

Anders Holt (Norway)

It doesn't surprise me at all to read this. The newspaper photographers I used to work with ALL used their cameras until they simply stopped functioning, whether from wear and tear or from damage while out shooting. That thriftiness covered bodies, lenses, flashes, whatever. It was a necessity because of tight newsroom budgets, but there was also a familiarity factor for these photogs, who didn't want or need anything preventing them from capturing breaking news and sports. I would imagine the "pivot to video" was the last time some people still in the industry got new bodies, which was nearly 7 years ago (our shooters swapped their Nikon D300s for D600s.) I wonder how many amateurs are using the same cameras they had then.

Well, if I buy "pro" gear, won't I take better photographs?

If you change the question slightly "Do Professionals Use Pro Gear?", the language problem comes clearer.

"Pro" may at one time have simply been shorthand for "Professional". But practical usage has moved on. "Pro" means something like "as good as a professional", when applied to practitioners, "what professionals use and/or of the level of quality they use, or that we imagine they use", when applied to gear and materials.

When I did the exercises in PS from PopPhoto "Expert" column and got obviously better results*, I was not a professional, the journalist/expert was, because he/she got paid, albeit for shoddy work. Thus, I might claim to be more "Pro" than the professional.

There's a guy in Bar Harbor, Maine with a storefront on the main street. He's a good photographer and printer, and indefatigable. Yet, my friend Bob, who for a few years sold "pretty pictures to tourists", too, is at least as good a photographer, and a better fine printer. He recently gave up that business as not worth the effort and embraced retirement.

Bob was more "Pro", in terms of the final prints, and the other guy more "Professional", in that he makes a living at it.

* Doesn't matter to the writer, job long ago done, paid for and the one for two or three issues in the future in process. Pleasant brush offs.

Mike replies: A nice comeback: 'You have a bigger stick, I just swing mine harder.' Or in that situation you might have said, 'if I had a better scalpel, would I be a better surgeon?' But sometimes with clients it's more politic to just think it. :-)

I've always liked "it ain't the meat, it's the motion," as sung by The Swallows in their 1951 hit and later covered by Maria Muldaur and many, many others...

The only reason that a piece of equipment is labeled 'professional' is to entice status-conscious amateurs to buy it.

There's one major difference now than from the film era.. namely that the "film" (sensor technology) keeps changing. I feel like we're entering (or have entered?) the era of diminishing returns, but if you're shooting at the edge of the envelope there will always be that need for really extraordinary imaging.

That said, my last three bodies have been Olympus OM-D variants (E-M5, E-M1, and E-M1.2) to minimize that familiarity cycle. For the most part these days if you understand a manufacturer's mindset, you can grok most of the necessary bits pretty quickly after the initial investement

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