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Wednesday, 23 January 2019


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"This story is probably apocryphal, but supposedly a Leica lens designer once said, "the best way to test a lens is to use it for a year. Everything else is a shortcut.""

Which means, in general, buying one.

Are you sure it was a designer and not a salesman? ;-)

And if what you *really* want to do is *nothing*, as often and as intensely as possible, how hard that is to practise, how distracting the roads called "work", "earning a living", and "if you're not out of bed in ten minutes..." can be!

What is the sound of unpaid bills hitting the doormat?

An Older One

Jep Gambardella, principal character in the movie La Grande Bellezza:

"The most important thing I discovered a few days after turning 65 is that I can't waste any more time doing things I don't want to do."

It's a lesson best learned far younger in life.


Thank you Sensei
But if my true desire is to become the greatest camera bag shopper, is it ok if I learn just a little about the cameras that go in them? Or, maybe even take pictures?
Or, must I only shop for bags?
Thank you old and wise one, I await your sage advice.

I tell myself that I am “analyzing “ the movies I watch preparing myself to be a director. I do make 2 short films a year. But I should focus more on my portraits. Thanks for the reminder Mike!

Why only the young ?

“If you spend all your time shopping for cameras and comparing specs and ‘testing,’ that is exactly what you’ll become good at.”

It’s like you wrote that to me personally. But I’m not young. And I’m not even good at the “testing” part.

Your post about reflexive shopping made me chuckle uncomfortably. This post makes me realize that I have a problem and that it’s not unique.


I have just come here after visiting the M43 Forum on DPR. I came across much drooling and gnashing of teeth about the new super camera from Olympus with its huge bulk and big €3000 price tag.

I get the impression from skimming through all the comments, that nobody young or old wants to learn, or practice technique, or even the art of seeing anymore, all the talk seems to be about which of the myriad of autofocus systems works better and how one cannot live without 120 frame a second burst rates to catch peak action.

People what to be instant experts without having to bother with wasting time practicing it seems to me. Many of the pundits and YouTube “stars” are the prime movers in this great photo’s without any effort thanks to technology illusion.

Some time ago I stated to make some digital copies of some old negatives of when I worked for a local news magazine. Among a lot of documentary stuff, I came across the pictures of when I was dispatched to photograph the local football team. I would shoot five or six rolls using a motorised FM2 and a manual focus 300 2.8. I have to wonder how I ever managed to get sharp peak action shots with 200 frames in ninety minutes and no autofocus. Listening to the moaners on photo forums and “camera reviewers”, I achieved an impossibility. The answer of course is practice and experience.

A few months ago, I came across a post where a guy gloated about having shot 16000 frames in an afternoon whilst covering a cycle race. When I replied that this seemed a bit excessive and the guy was practicing machine gunnery rather than photography, I was told off in no uncertain terms. It seems this a normal amount, if you want to get good results. Saying that if you look carefully through the viewfinder and press the shutter at peak action, thus avoiding thousands of unnecessary frames, was greeted with derision by a good number of posters.

I guess, I am just getting old and grumpy.

Or, do what you want to practice. That is Marc Cuban's advice on how to succeed in life. Don't follow your dreams, find what you like to grind away at and do that. Mr. Cuban is a self made billionaire, by the way.

I tell any of my (university) students that will listen a version of the same thing: Study what you love, not what you think will put you on the path to a good job.

"Practice exactly what it is you want to do."

Not that it matters but I have to take issue with your guidance, Mike. I have become wise enough not to give advice to young people (not that any ask me for it anyway). It's a fool's game and a foolish, and somewhat arrogant, game.

But if I was tortured into offering some silly platitude along these generic lines I would tell young people to Follow your heart but keep your eyes, ears, and mind open!"

"What you want to do" is far too pliable or, sometimes, can become a prison of personal expectations later.

As a young man I was of the lonely and gloomy sort, and naturally I was drawn to reading Franz Kafka. Not just the novels, also his diaries and letters. What I really wanted to read were his "Letters to Milena", a correspondence from the end of his life. The tone of these letters starts off very formal, then over the years it becomes personal and close, and ultimately toward the end it once again becomes more distant: intimacy unfolds and then dies.

I had seen short passages from these letters, but I wanted to read them in their entirety, I wanted to experience letter by letter how the relationship unfolds and freezes, from the early letters to the last. I knew that this book would tell me something about life, I did not know what, but it would tell me something that I needed to know.

I had the volume at home, but being young and ambitious, I went about my Kafka reading in the most systematic way, chronologically. Kafka did write many notes and diary entries and letters, and there were other women earlier in his life, and all of this fills volumes and volumes. According to my plan these earlier volumes all needed to be read first, before I could finally read the Letters to Milena.

I never made it to the Milena volume, other things got in the way. To this day, many decades later, I haven't read the Milena letters. I will read them one day, perhaps, but there is no rush, because the moment when this book would have changed my life has long passed.

Thus: do what you are called to do, and do it in time, when you hear the call. Don't lose time with preliminaries.

In the sports world, coaches admonish their players to “practice what you’ll play, then play what you practiced”...the same advice, applied. Of course, the players have already determined what they want to be...and, ideally, “how good”, if that’s even objectively measurable (like a “good” photographer).

Just a quick shout-out to the (phantom) Leica engineer. About a year ago I bought a (used) Oly 4/3 7-14. I'd always wanted one of those. With an adapter it works fine on my E-M1 and is 1/2 the price of the new model. I love wide angle. I've been having tons of fun. But lately, in the past month or so, I've started to notice flaws (when and where it's soft in the corners, or distorts certain shapes). Those flaws have always been there but now I'm noticing them. I still love the lens. But now I can make better use of it; knowing a bit more about when and where those flaws will bug me.

I bought this on Kindle one hot summer afternoon while browsing for something to read. It was cheap and it was short. But it was also somewhat cliché with guidance from older guys who were not really themselves experts or artists and never really in the mix.

I think many TOP readers will get much more from Henry Carroll's latest little book Photographers on Photography: How the Masters See, Think & Shoot. It's an excellent large collection of concise comments and thoughts harvested from real photographers and photographic artists.

Having followed your advice and done an OCOLOF (sort of*), what am I supposed to think of "Don't practice something else thinking it will help you with the thing you want to do"?

Actually I think it was interesting and helpful, despite disposing of my rangefinder and lens immediately afterwards to get back to using my SLRs, with colour as well as black and white film... I made one of my favourite photos during that period.

* Leitz Minolta CL swapped for Bessa R3A, M-Rokkor 40/2, Tri-X

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