Monday, October 26, 2020


I happened across a pair of articles, almost adjacent, on one of the ubiquitous photography news-review-thing-blogs. The first bemoaned the slow pace of innovation, blaming Sony, somehow. I did not follow the argument, mainly because I don't care. The second piece, two articles below the first. breathlessly urged readers to keep up with the fast pace of technological change in cameras. I did not read past the lede on this one, ibid.

While contradictory, the two pieces both hew to the idea of innovation in camera technology as an essentially good thing. Indeed, as a thing at all.

Let us review: a camera is a box, with a hole on one side that lets pictures in. That's it.

Yes, to be sure there are a few corner cases where technology is either necessary or a very great help. Now with really good autofocus, anyone at all can manage decent pictures of Birds In Flight with a little effort. With Amazing New Sensors people can take pictures of unspecified vigorous activities in almost total darkness. If you want to print Really Big you actually need more megapixels than my 10 year old bottom-of-the-line camera has. And so on.

Nevertheless, there are limited directions that innovation can actually go when you're dealing with a box with a hole. They're tried filling the box with sand, or maple syrup, instead of darkness but those experiments were by and large a bust.

And, further, if you actually look at the pictures people actually take, a different story reveals itself. Virtually any picture you actually see if you just go randomly looking for pictures, could absolutely have been taken with my 10 year old camera and the motley array of second-rate lenses I have lying around. While randomly trolling about, I happened across some aircraft photos and thought "ok, well, you'd need some gear for those" until I realized that they were heavily photoshopped pictures of models. We were back to "Yep, my D3100 and the old Micro NIKKOR 60 could totally do that."

Nope, barring a handful of exceptional cases, all technology really does it make it incrementally easier to do this thing or that thing, and all those things are quite niche, quite rare.

It might make you feel better about taking pictures to have the buttons just so rather than thus, and to have the control wheel there instead of there and a touch screen to move the focus point around might be good for some use cases, and so on. These things are all camera-forward, not picture-forward.

In almost all cases "I need a better/different camera" means "I want a different camera" which means "I am bored with my current camera or my pictures or both."

It is OK to be bored with your camera, or your pictures, or both. No, really. I have been bored my all my cameras for years and years. Unlike some people, I do not rely on my cameras for entertainment, but that too is OK.

What camera companies need to do is stop pretending that the new features have anything to do with pictures. Just add flashing lights, games, buzzers, and lots and lots of knobs, dials, and buttons. One touch screen? Screw that! We're putting three in there, and a shitload of options to configure what they all do! I'm putting ISO on this dial! But only in one direction, the other way adjusts the shutter speed!

Sure, they should continue to take pictures and all. There's got to be an excuse. But the main point is to dink around trying to get the perfect set of controls and menu items to truly optimize your shooting for various workflows, right? And then you can test all the workflows! And adjust the controls some more! And when, finally, you've wrung that rag dry, they'll have the new model out with four touch screens and two more configurable dials than the previous one!

I'm not saying that some technology isn't a bad idea. I love the autofocus with the lenses where it works, it's awesome. Metering is great. I'm sure ever more sensitive sensors with greater dynamic range is also wonderful. But it's all kind of minor stuff. You can make pretty good pictures of a lot of stuff with practically anything, and that's mostly what more people want to do, picture-wise.

You probably don't need a new camera, is what I'm saying.


  1. I totally agree with the spirit of your observation, but the sad fact is that us picture-enthusiasts with our ancient and used cameras are bottom-feeders who depend on the wealthy camera-hobbyists' feeding frenzies to trickle down the kit we use.

    There's no money to be made out of cheapskates like me who never buy new stuff, and no reason to stay in business if there's no money to be made. The old mass market for point and shoots has gone (I'm told telephones have cameras in them these days) so, no bored kit-fetishists with surplus cash to throw around, no more affordable cameras, used or new: simple as that.

    I may not need a new camera, but I may soon need a new phone...


  2. In affluent societies we have mostly everything we really need, so shopping has become entertainment for many people. People buy cameras because they can. Or maybe shopping is a substitute for hunting and gathering, I don't know. Some of them take pictures too.

    People are weird though. There seems to be lots of concern over the prices of things, especially taxes, and yet large expensive trucks that use a lot of gasoline are displacing small cars, so maybe a lot of that whining about high prices of things is just something that people talk about, like the weather.

    In a previous life I participated in motorsports. If you look at the performance capabilities of the average automobile, let alone the capabilities of higher performance models, and compare it to the driving that people actually do or their own driving talent for that matter, it's a lot like owning a 40 mpix full-frame body with expensive lenses and only showing your photos on small portable screens. People prefer mythology to reality, I think.

    No one is immune to this. I own a couple of prime lenses that I rarely use and I'm pretty sure I bought them because they were so damn cute and I thought the manufacturer should be rewarded for building them. I know that's nuts.

  3. I do quite appreciate the way the camera enthusiasts keep the market ticking over, and I don't really want anyone to change their ways.

    These grumblings are really a reminder to myself that there's a fairly broad category of photography, made by ostensibly very serious people, very seriously, that I don't need to pay the slightest attention to.

    The most *visible* photographers and photography, really, is the stuff to take least seriously.

  4. I need a new camera, but no one makes it anymore, so I will be *forced* to continue using old, half-broken cameras with deprecated technology, since a) I don't care they're half-broken and b) repairs are prohibitively expensive, more than what I paid for them (free, free, $35, and $100 respectively).

    Apropos of nothing, may I just add that I'm shocked, shocked to learn "neoliberal realism" is now a book?

  5. I am a sucker for shiny objects. Thus, many cameras live here, any one of which is more than enough for my photography. I do print a lot and can see the (small to tiny) differences in newer, larger sensors. I do use my cameras every day and love the using, but am fully aware that I only really need one of them and maybe two lenses.

    I am also shocked when I take my first DSLR, a Canon D30 (3mp) and fire off a few shots. Up to A3, at a low ISO, it is still fine.

  6. My most recent camera acquisition... an Agfamatic 200 sensor 126 camera, because I got a wild, half-minute thought to make some square sprocket images on 35mm. Now to wait on the good people at CameraHack to send a Fakmatic so I can actually shoot with it... I'll have lost interest by then, likely, but I'll have a workable 126 solution should the wild hair grow out again.

  7. I'm a bit of an outlier, photographically speaking (oh, hell, who am I kidding? I'm an outlier in most respects!) and I don't need or use any of the many features my camera body offers.

    No autofocus, no autoexposure, no IBIS, no high-speed frame capture rate, no sky-high-ISO mode, no video ... no nothing.

    All I need is a camera with a low-noise sensor and a wide exposure latitude, that can take long exposures without heating up too much, and I'm good to go!

    Which is interesting, because the best camera for my purposes I have used to date was released in 2013 and seven years on, it still outperforms all three generations of cameras that have replaced it.

    Personally, I would love to replace it with one that is newer and better, but all the newer ones I've tried are just that -- newer -- and not necessarily any better.

    In a related vein, I have also found there's much happiness to be had from using a family of lenses that were designed and manufactured in the 1970s and 80s and have been NLA since the mid-to-late 1990s.

    Without exception, the eight lenses I have are smaller, lighter, and cost me significantly less than any similar lenses I can buy new today.

    So, tell me: Where, exactly, is all this "progress" I keep hearing so much about?

  8. I used to own a Leica M6, but I couldn't focus it, because I was half blind. I sold it but kept the (amazing!) lenses to use on a fancy digital camera, with focus peaking or peeking or piqueing, but I couldn't focus those (amazing!) lenses on that camera either, because I was more than half blind by then. But maybe the best photos I ever took were with a pinhole "lens" I made myself, for a digital Nikon something, with a scrap of aluminium foil, a camera body cap, and an icepick. The world the way I really saw it, three quarters blind: blurred and beautiful. I do miss that M6 though. And yes, I made prints of those pinhole pics. You oughta see them.

  9. Not THAT Ross CameronOctober 29, 2020 at 3:59 AM

    A most entirely rational argument, my good man. Except that you overlook one minor point - you’re dealing with human beings, and a subset known as enthusiast photographers, with a less than stellar reputation for rational thought and behaviour.
    Because I need the latest Nikon DSLR to use all my hoard of manual focus AI-s lenses. And then in a fit of anti-consumer electronic gadget sentiment, I decide to buy a used FM2n, because it has no electronics and will therefore outlast the latest DSLR. Except it was cheap because of the bent shutter blades, so I take it to the local camera shop for a new shutter mechanism and a CLA. And while it’s in there, I decide to buy an FM3a, because, well, they’re going up in price so I should get in now to have the epitome of the Nikon FM designs (ignoring the electronic circuitry) before I can no longer afford them.
    GAS is just the amazing human ability for self-deception by rationalising to oneself the unrational. At least I have my precious toys....

    1. Not THAT Ross CameronOctober 29, 2020 at 1:27 PM

      LOL - touché .
      Cars are definitely out of my league. Don’t have the spare cash nor the storage.

  10. Well I solved it. By emptying out years of GAS clutter from my toy box, I scraped together enough to buy a Hasselblad. Since I can't even think of affording new Hasselblad lenses, my GAS is effectively cauterised.

    Unfortunately so far the H has turned out to be several notches above my photographic skills. It's nice to fondle though.

    Note, this sadly has not cured me of my constant thirst for new photobooks.