A grumpy old fart's view of photography

Started Oct 30, 2013 | Discussions thread
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joneil Regular Member • Posts: 177
A grumpy old fart's view of photography

Warning - a long, rambling message that is likely to insult and hurt the feelings of most people who read it - so be warned.

Okay, the sky isn’t falling. It has always looked this grey if you are honest with yourself.

I keep hearing about how the death of digital SLR is at hand, how camera companies are dying off, doom and gloom and more. Well from a cranky “old fart” who has been into photography for 30+ years, a few observations, in no specific order, which will end with “grow up and get a life already.”

1) yes, the economy sucks.
We are in a recession, maybe even a depression. There are roughly 314 million Americans - the world’s richest country I am told, and 47 million of them are on food stamps, and it’s not a recession? In this poor economic climate, it is - at least to me - a major miracle that any of the camera companies are doing as good as they are. Companies of all types, sizes, all areas of manufactured good are all suffering, all over the world. So the next time somebody writes an article about how this camera company is suffering or losing money, place that fact in the broader context of just how poorly everyone else is doing.

2) You don’t know how good you have it
Most of the history of photography was dominated by the fact that it was very, every expensive. At one time, having your portrait done was almost a once in a lifetime event. Even as photography grew less expensive with things like the first Kodak Brownie cameras, film and developing was still expensive enough that you just did not shoot film unless it was something special, something specific.
When I bought my first “real” camera - a Nikon EM back in the early 1980s, I saved and saved for it. It was expensive. I think I spent total, with taxes, around $220 for camera, lens, and not much else. By comparison, I had just moved back home from Ottawa, which is the national capital of Canada. I had a very small bachelor apartment right downtown - I could see the flag on the Peace tower of the Parliament buildings from my apartment. So imagine you are living in downtown Washington, London, Paris, etc, and you live close enough to walk to your respective capital buildings in 10 minutes or see them from your apartment. Well at the time, my rent was around $215 per month.
So put this in perspective - $215 a month for a tiny apartment in the core of a national capital, and $220 for the cheapest, lowest cost Nikon available at the time.
Now look today at what $200 or $250 will buy you and what kind of amazing camera you can get for that money. A basic DSLR from Nikon or Canon is about $500 and what you get and what you can do with it is simply amazing. How much is basic monthly rent today in the core of any major city?

3) the iphone is the new “Kodak Brownie” - deal with it
Every time I read about how the iPhone or iPad or other smartphones and tablets are changing photography, blah, blah, blah, go back, study your history, and see that nothing is really that new. If you look up read old magazine and newspaper articles from 90 or 100 years ago (first one came out around 1900) you will see all the same dire warnings about how nobody will need a full sized professional cameras anymore. Wrist watches were all going to replace the need for wall clocks too. On the flip side of things, they predicted way back in the 1930s we would all have flying cars by now too. Still waiting for mine, how about you?

4) old technology is worthless - aka: film is dead
I have a 1930's era brass Ross lens, no shutter, just the iris, sitting here that if I put on ebay I could get $500 right away for it and maybe $700 if I held out. It covers 11x14 inch sheet film, and yes, people shoot a lot of large format nowadays. By comparison, my Nikon D40, which was originally $750 brand new when introduced about 5 years ago then dropped to $500 when a newer model was coming out. Do you think I could get even $250 for it today? I have many, many more examples, but you should get the point.

5) sometimes less is more
Much of the cost of almost all new lenses is not the optics, but all the image stabilization/vibration reduction and auto focus. These things are cool, but they break down easy, and they are expensive to fix. I am amazed at that for almost 150 years nobody had a problem manually focusing a lens on any kind of camera but now when you read a review of either Zeiss or Samyang lenses, somebody always puts in “but it’s a manual focus lens”.
Well excuse me you bunch of lazy louts, if you reviewed a restaurant, would you start or conclude your review by saying; “The food was excellent, but sadly I had to chew it myself before swallowing.”
Or perhaps you would get a job reviewing the latest running shoes from Nike, and start you review by saying “Sadly, I had to learn to walk by myself instead of having somebody carry me around all day to use these shoes.”
Look, I like the new features, but they are not the be-all or end-all of everything photographic. A manual focus lens takes more punishment and abuse than autofocus and stabilized, lenses, they are cheaper to repair, they often stand up in extreme cold and other climates better and they actually force you to think about your photography. What is wrong with that?
The other point of view for some of us is like this: Putting a auto focus lens instead of a manual focus lens on a high end camera like a D800 is like putting an automatic transmission in a brand new Lamborghini instead of a 5 speed manual transmission - you just don’t get it.
So if you personally don’t like manual focus lenses - fine, but please, all you reviewers out there, please, please stop portraying manual focus as some sort of detriment or drawback when in fact, for many of us, it is a benefit and an advantage.

6) just because you don’t like a camera doesn’t mean people who do like it are wrong
I do not like mirrorless cameras, but a friend of mine who also has been into photography for 30 years has one, loves it, and makes great photos with it. What is wrong with that? On a similar vein, if a new camera is coming out, and you don’t like it, that does not mean it’s a bad camera. I don’t like using my iPad as a camera, but many others do. Whatever turns your crank. On the flip side however, the number of people who do not seem to have money for food or clothing but still line up for hours for the newest iPhone or iPad boggles my mind.
Arguing about which is the best camera is like arguing which is the best car. Maybe you need a van or a pickup or jeep and not even a car to begin with. Depends on your needs.

7) basics count
You can have the sharpest lens in the world, and even with image stabilization, you would be amazed at how much a shot improves if you are using a tripod or a monopod or even just learning to hold yourself steady while shooting.
I have an old book on photography from the 1930s and the first chapter talks about how the rules of composition and how lighting makes a difference in a scene have not changed from the days of oil painting or even marble sculpture. For example, if you have ever seen in person at a museum some old marble sculptures from the Roman Empire, look closely. The rules of proportion, how the statue captures light, and so forth - they are all there. The Parthenon in Greece, which is roughly 2,500 years old, still inspires architects today.
The point I am trying to make is no matter how advanced your technology is, no matter how sharp your lenses are, no matter how many megapixels your camera has, none of it is any good unless your first engage the most important instrument in photography - your brain.

8) fan boys, the eternal plague
The debate on Nikon vs Canon has been around as long as I can remember. Even before the internet, I used to hear and read “Nikon is doomed” or “Canon is behind and cannot catch up.” I read an old article from a magazine way back in the 1950s comparing the Speed Graphic to the Busch Pressman, both 4x5 sheet film “Press Cameras”, and afterwards, all I could think was; “holy crap, they had fan boys back then too!”
If we had a time machine, I would bet you dollars to donuts that Grog the caveman argued that his oak stick was better than Ugh’s maple stick. In the Roman empire what do you want to bet that there was an argument over which chisel was best for carving marble - Greek or Persian?
So, to all you fan boys out there, move out of your mom’s basement, buy yourself a bottle of Jack, discover what girls are all about, and just leave the rest of us alone.

......last and not least - just be there.
An old saying in large format photography, don’t know who first said it: “F64 and just be there.”

In the city I live in, the metro population is in excess of 450,000 people. We have beautiful dirt trails along our river inside city limits. Wonderful wetlands and woodlands. Without exaggeration, I have gone for long hikes on these trail, and have walked as long as two hours at a stretch without seeing another human being on those trails. I am talking about good weather too, not harsh conditions. I often wonder to myself, all these cameras, all these messages and forums, all these opinions about photography, and yet out there in the “real world” how few I actually see out doing photography instead of talking photography. I don’t give a damn what kind of imagining device you think is best, if you are not out there using it, it is useless.

Grow up, get a life, be greatfull for all the wonderful options you have, and get out there and do it.
Good luck

Nikon D40 Nikon D800
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