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Author Topic: I Saw the Light... Finally  (Read 27925 times)
LightCapture
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« on: February 07, 2008, 02:58:03 AM »
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I don't know about any of the rest of you, but reading Michael Reichmann's newest 'think piece' on PMA 2008 entitled "Reading Tea Leaves" left a gnawing in the pit of my stomach. The post-gnaw epiphany didn't come until the walk I was compelled to take after reading his piece, with my trust Australian Cattle Dog Matilda and my trusty old Leicaflex strapped to my shoulder.

I had seen the light.

I must say at the outset that I deeply appreciate Mr. Reichmann's erudite essays on everything photographic. I have benefited greatly over the years from his photographic insights, equipment tips, and good humor. He serves a need and does it well. Which is why what I'm about to say is so disturbing to me.

To put it bluntly, I was completely turned off by his Tea Leaf essay. I thought to myself, Is this what we've come to? Weighing the relative merits of 30mp's vs. 60mp cameras and processors? Where did we take a wrong turn? Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and we took the one *most* traveled by.

The trouble with any large trade show (PMA, Comdex, etc.) is that it preys on our worst instincts as artists. The Tyranny of the Now pervades our very being, and before we know it, we're writing things like:

"20+ MP files (whether from a DSLR or a medium format back) are only needed in the work that I do for my most critical landscape work and some commercial projects. (For example, I have a commission to document a major urban renewal project, and in addition to an eventual coffee table book have been told that wall-sized blow-ups for a presentation center will be needed. So, I'll be shooting much of that with a 39MP medium format back.)"

Come again? Did he actually say "20+ MP files are only needed in the work that I do for my most critical landscape work..." and "I'll be shooting much of that with a 39MP medium format back"?! Huh?!? Makes me wonder what kind of shoddy work Mr. Reichmann must have been resigned to producing back in the prehistoric days (aka eighteen months ago) of  10-12MP cameras. And poor Cartier-Bresson, stuck with @#$%^& film!!

Allow me a little perspective. A relative of mine (my uncle's  sister's husband ~ what does that make him?) is the publisher of the Robb Report (for the uninitiated, the Robb Report sells Falcon X7's and Gulfstreams with the same casual swagger that other 'high-end retail' magazines sell Patek Philippes and...well, Leicas... Anyway, for a few years I worked with Mr. Bill on some of his ventures), and if there were ever a magazine that has perfected the art of pretentious obsession, it is the Robb Report. Sadly (for me, anyway), 'Reading Tea Leaves' had that same patina of overindulged asseveration to it. In defense of Mr. Reichmann, though, he is hardly the only one blinded by the Fashion of the New. But here's the rub. I came to expect more from LuLa (my pet name for this site). After all, isn't this the same guy who raved a few years back that

"After some 35 years as a photographer, printer and teacher I can say that the Epson 1270 along with its new inks and papers is the first inkjet printer that can claim to supplant traditional wet process photographic printing!"

and

"I believe that itís fair to say that with the 2200, and its larger brothers the 7600 and 9600, inkjet printing has now reached a level of maturity that requires no excuses or apologies. Ultra-high quality archival inkjet printing has truly arrived!"

and

"The net of all of this is that I intend on printing with SuperPhoto 2880 mode for my exhibition and sale prints..."

Where does it all end? Certainly not at 60MP's, that I promise you, because as quaint as Mr. Reichmann's ebullience about the Epson 1270 reads now, imagine what his rhetorical waxing about 60MP's will look like two years from now. Clearly, the years he was using his SuperPhoto 2880, his customers were getting short-changed. Or no, wait a minute... might there be a difference between relative quality and a trained eye?

The bottom line is this: a great photograph is 10% the right equipment, 90% a discerning eye. Like the old Mastercard ad campaign put it:

A Nikon D3 plus an AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR with nanocoating lens technology: $15,000.

A good eye: PRICELESS.

What Mr. Reichmann doesn't appear to realize (nor do the bevy of other photo-technophiles) is that essays like Reading Tea Leaves have become a parody of themselves ~ and symptomatic of an industry that has lost its soul in service to the Hype of the Latest Gadget. You see it in all the photog magazines, which have become nine parts glorified product endorsements and comparisons to one part photographic art.

I always used to say that having a 600hp engine in a $300k car couldn't be supported by the infrastructure (read "speed limits"), and thus only suitable for power- and image-obsessed car geeks  who were very, very rich (and likely very, very bored), like many of the people who subscribe to the Robb Report. Of course, it always went without saying that the net-worth of a car had no bearing on the skill-set of the driver.

Which takes me back to my walk with Matilda and my 45 year-old all black Leicaflex (yes, 5 stars on the Leica rarity scale for those who actually give a damn), with its trusty Summicron 50mm 1:2 lens and a roll of expired Kodak Tri-X 400 Pro film in its belly. When I get done developing my pics and get to see the fabulous grain of that wonderful film, I won't lose a second's sleep wondering about high-resolution chips and new industry standard 39MP sensors. I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that if B&W emulsion was good enough for the likes of Mssrs. Adams and Cartier-Bresson, it's certainly good enough for me.  

Does that mean I'm going to throw away my Fuji f30? Of course not, because it does just what digicams do best: satisfy my cravings for decent photographic quality and immediate gratification. But when I want to test the limits of my art and try to capture just the right light at just the right moment, will I go to the newest and latest DSLR? Of course not. I'll just grab my old Leicaflex and my trusty Matilda and head out the door for another late afternoon walk in the crisp, clean February air.
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viswan
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« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2008, 11:19:34 AM »
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hey, you are a good writer!  enjoyed the article.  
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michael
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« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2008, 11:39:04 AM »
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If I may be allowed to paraphrase Ė It's the photographer not the camera.

Why didn't you just say so?  

Seriously though, your comments have merit, but they are somewhat myopic.

There are about a million people a month that read this site, and that means that there are at least a million different perspectives on what tools they need to pursue their hobby, craft, art or professions Ė because it needs to be borne in mind that photography is all of these.

All I can do is provide my own insights and commentaries based on my own needs and biases. It's up to the reader  to draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions, which will undoubtedly be different than mine.

In the meantime I'm going out in today's snowstorm aftermath with my point and shoot to take some snapshots, and then tomorrow am scheduled to be doing some architectural work with a view camera. Just a choice of tools.

Michael
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sergio
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« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2008, 08:57:19 AM »
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Nothing much to add to your personal views, but rather express a feeling of tiredness of the technological race this noble profession has turned into. My 1DsMII is on the verge of being obsolete.  Nothing against high tech gadgetry, just that it is starting to bore me. Itīs the same story all over again every 6 months.
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2008, 09:27:34 AM »
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I don't earn my living from photography, and so I don't 'need' even to take pictures, even less 'need' a 1ds3.  But I 'like' to take pictures (hobby #1), and I 'like' superbly engineered gadgets (hobby #2).  I'm not rich and so have to indulge my appetite for gadgets with discretion.  Years ago, pens were about the limit, so I collected nice fountain pens.  Was I writer?  No way.  Now I'm a bit better off so I can exercise what I consider my second hobby with camera 'stuff' - but the MF back world is still out of reach.  Does that bother me?  Not in the least.  Am I happy to have two hobbies that are synergistic?  You bet.  

Even from the pro perspective, I don't understand all this angst.  Either the new 'stuff' makes economic sense or it doesn't.  Either you will reduce costs from a more efficient end to end process or more revenue based on the demands of your clients.  

And I mean more in the relative sense of what income you would make without making the investment - ie: factoring in the risk of loss of clients, not necessarily more in the sense of gross revenue.  Of course professional photographers can have hobbies as well  

Finally, in addition to Michaels oft repeated:  "horses for courses", I'd like to add:
"If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems look like nails."
« Last Edit: February 08, 2008, 09:28:46 AM by Tim Gray » Logged
blansky
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« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2008, 11:17:35 AM »
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My take on the photographic industry is much like the movie industry of 30 years ago. It went from people wanting to make movies to people wanting to make money. It is probably part of the whole globalization thing.

Everything is run by very large corporations and by definition, their goal is to make money. The pride in product exemplified by companies like Victor Hasselblad is a thing of the past. It's now all about stock prices.

Before the digital revolution in photography, novices and pro's alike could buy equipment that could almost last a lifetime. Granted there were advances but by the 1980s at least, you could buy your "kit" and it would last a long long time. Probably the only products with built in obsolence were the lower consumer gadgets.

Now, unfortunately, or not, depending on your lust for whiz bang electronics, this digital phenomena has invaded a myriad of consumer products from radio/stereo to MP3, from TV to home entertainment centers, from pay phones to personal phones/messaging/paging, from typewriters to personal computers and from personal interaction to online everything. The only thing that got cheaper in this revolution is that porn is a whole lot cheaper than it used to be and a whole lot easier to find.

Which brings us to the state of the photographic industry. I believe we are caught up in the whirlwind almost akin to the invention of the cotton gin and the printing press. We have to reinvent ourselves as everything around us is being reinvented. How much we wish to jump on the band wagon is really up to us and if you feel more comfortable with your Leicaflex, then that is where you should stay.

In reality only top line pros need to invest in the lastest and greatest and although most products today have 3 year "use by" date there are still great deals to be had using cheaper hand me downs from those that want or need the lastest gadget. The Canon 5D for example is as good today as it was when it was released to all that fanfare 3 years ago. Something released last week does not negate that.

I believe this whole digital photography thing will work itselft out in the next few years and will return back to the hand and eye of the artist and the tools will again become more like tools than what they are today.


Michael
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TMcCulley
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« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2008, 01:23:03 PM »
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You have not seen the light you have turned the light off.


"I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that if B&W emulsion was good enough for the likes of Mssrs. Adams and Cartier-Bresson, it's certainly good enough for me."

This statement is blatantly self-aggrandizing.  I must suggest that Mssrs. Adams and Cartier-Bresson were working photographers using the best technology that they could get their hands on.  Today they would be right there in the middle of the megapixal race still trying to use the best equipement to produce the best possible images (their current names are probably Mssrs. Bill Atkinson and Jay Maisel).


"The bottom line is this: a great photograph is 10% the right equipment, 90% a discerning eye."

This statement is debatable.  How many of Mr. Adams photographs were adjusted in the darkroom?  The production of one of his famous photographs involved a whole combination of equipment including camera, camera accessories, the darkroom camera(enlarger), darkroom accessories and the list just goes on.  It seems that you are mixing your processes and failing to give proper weight to each.  Recognizing the image or having a vision of an image is 100% discerning eye and/or imagination.  The production of that image into a photograph is 100% equipment.  The synergy of vision and equipment is not assignable because sometimes you need very little equipment to produce a photograph and other times the photograph can not even be created until the technology advances enough to produce equipment that can fulfill the vision.


"But when I want to test the limits of my art and try to capture just the right light at just the right moment, will I go to the newest and latest DSLR? Of course not. I'll just grab my old Leicaflex and my trusty Matilda and head out the door for another late afternoon walk in the crisp, clean February air."

Yes, that is correct-you will go out into the crisp clean air and once more practice what you already know because you have lost interest in learning something new.

Tom
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LightCapture
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« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2008, 03:10:47 PM »
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Actually just to clarify, Tom, what I said about Adams and Cartier-Bresson wasn't self-aggrandizing at all. It would be akin to my saying, "If a Honda is good enough for Richard Petty, it's good enough for me." I'm not suggesting I drive as well as Petty... I'm saying that if someone as good a driver as he chooses to drive a Honda, then a Honda's certainly good enough for little ol' me. That's not self-aggrandizing ~ quite the opposite.

As for your suggestion that Adams and Cartier-Bresson would have been right in the middle of the digital hype if there were photographing today, forgive me for saying this, but you show your complete ignorance of both men. HCB composed all of his pictures in-camera and never worked in the darkroom ~ he abhorred post-processing and never developed or made his own prints. Nearly all of his photographs were printed full-frame with no cropping whatsoever and with no darkroom post-process dodges or burns. He worked almost exclusively in black and white his entire life in spite of the rush to color films, and with very few exceptions did the vast majority of his work with his M3 long after other Leicas in the M-line had been produced. In other words, he'd look at the digicam revolution of today with all of its emphasis on post-processing and must-have-the-latest-gadget hype and puke. He was the father of the "decisive moment."  HCB with a digital camera? What a hilarious idea.

Adams... well, that's an entirely different story. He once said, "The single most important component
of a camera is the twelve inches behind it." Not the size of the sensor, not the number of megapixels, not even the camera or the lens or the film. Yes, Adams was an equipment maven, but the equipment was always secondary to the eye he had developed, the geometry of the image, the light of the moment. He would've thought that all this focus on equipment and megapixels was silly and indulgent. Walker Evans once said, "People always ask me what camera I use. It's not the camera, it's - - - " and he tapped his temple with his index finger. Andreas Feininger said, "Photographers ó idiots, of which there are so many ó say, 'Oh, if only I had a Nikon or a Leica, I could make great photographs.' Thatís the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. Itís nothing but a matter of seeing, thinking, and interest. Thatís what makes a good photograph."

And the notion that the work in a darkroom is all about the latest equipment... how did you put it, "The production of that image into a photograph is 100% equipment," is, with all due respect, about the silliest thing I've ever heard anyone say. I work in a darkroom, and I can tell you that, though the equipment is certainly necessary, the eye and your brain is guides the decisions about the final outcome. Adams would, I suspect, be insulted by your comment, as if anyone else with the same equipment could've done the same work. That's like saying, put a paintbrush in anyone's hands and they can produce a Matisse. Pomp.

And finally, though I am holding myself back here, I must simply say that your final comment shows not so much an extraordinary ignorance of the photographer's craft as it does an almost bizarre antipathy towards it. I will be learning about light and photography and composition for the rest of my life, as I do every time I step outside on a clean, crisp afternoon to shoot. I'm tempted to give you some advice, but that would be unkind. I'll just say this: the lion's share of photography is about the heart and eye and mind, and all the equipment in the world cannot make up for a deficiency in those areas.

Good luck with your picture-taking.
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« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2008, 03:26:15 PM »
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It seems that we will continue to disagree except for one thing.  We both feel the photographer is the most important component in the process.

Tom
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LightCapture
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« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2008, 05:31:56 PM »
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Agreed. The camera is the brush, the film is the canvas, and we, for better or for worse, are the artists.
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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2008, 08:23:31 PM »
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Quote
I don't know about any of the rest of you, but reading Michael Reichmann's newest 'think piece' on PMA 2008 entitled "Reading Tea Leaves" left a gnawing in the pit of my stomach. The post-gnaw epiphany didn't come until the walk I was compelled to take after reading his piece, with my trust Australian Cattle Dog Matilda and my trusty old Leicaflex strapped to my shoulder.

I had seen the light.

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=172938\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


Excellent contrarian commentary. Yes, lots of us get caught up in the megapixel sweepstakes and the desire for the latest thing. My wife has little interest in gadgets or photography per se, but she has an excellent eye. Recently I showed her a new print I had made on satin paper with my HP Z3100, proudly pointing out the very deep D-max and the improvement this represented over prints I had been making a year back on rag paper with an Epson 7600. She quite cheerfully conceded that I might be right on purely technical grounds, but pointed out that people were delighted with the quality of prints I was making the year before, and that only the tiniest fraction of viewers would be able to notice the difference even if it were pointed out to them. I believe it was George Barr who recently wrote something to the effect that we put an awful lot of work into getting a print just so, without realizing that only a handful of equally obsessive photographers would ever see the difference. Meanwhile, we might better spend our time refining our eye and studying what works in our images and those of others, rather than hoping for the technological silver bullet that will magically elevate our work to the level of art.
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Moynihan
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« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2008, 09:47:25 PM »
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I have used various formats of films over the years. Lately have gotten my feet wet in digital; P&S, and a couple Fuji "bridgecams".

Within a month or two I will be purchasing a 10mp DSLR, and one good small range zoom.

When I get that, I am hoping to not visit dpreview and xyz etc. "anymore". I am also tired of "the next big thing". I will try new printing papers though, and try new software techniques I imagine. But hardware?, only to replace something if it fails.

I Will still lurk about on this site though. It is one of the few "photography" sites that has discussions, about, well,     photography.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2008, 09:48:10 PM by Moynihan » Logged
Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2008, 12:00:52 AM »
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Quote
Meanwhile, we might better spend our time refining our eye and studying what works in our images and those of others, rather than hoping for the technological silver bullet that will magically elevate our work to the level of art.

Or make a sharper print of a fuzzy concept.

I still have the original 11MP 1Ds. If the Army decides my services are no longer needed due to my health issues and I get a medical discharge and disability pay, I'll probably buy a 1Ds-MkIII so I can print larger, crop more, and shoot in lower light. But if not, the camera I have still has years of useful life, as long as I don't need to shoot action by candlelight and print 20x30 inches. But a 1Ds-MkIII isn't going to make me a "better photographer".
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« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2008, 05:38:25 AM »
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I chanced upon this thread because I did a LL search for "tyranny", as I've been pondering a lot on what I experience as "the tyranny of technical perfection".

Photographers of all stripes are now served better than ever by equipment-makers in frenzied competition with each other, by publishers bringing out books and magazines that range from the crass to the sublime, by websites such as LL (my favourite by far), and by each other.

The world is now not just awash with images - it has been for decades - it's awash with images of ever-increasing technical perfection.  Anybody with the cash and the patience can now Learn the Secrets of Whatever and produce tack-sharp images, cropped just right, with rich vibrant colours (or pale and interesting colours, to taste), corrected for CA and noise and and and.  

All of which means that technical perfection is increasingly possible, and probably increasingly expected.  But it's not obligatory unless someone is paying you for it.  

A few years back I lent two CDs to my flamenco guitar teacher - both recordings of solo guitar playing Astor Piazzola tangos and milongas.  One recording is murky and needs the volume turned up; it sounds like someone playing down the hall.  The other recording is bright and crisp and very present.  And my teacher preferred the murky one - not because it was murky, but because the player was more into the music and less into the technique and himself.  As a further illustration, he said of a Spanish flamenco player "Manuel plays a cruddy old guitar and his playing technique is poor, but you just have to listen to him.  He swings, he's got the duende."
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dalethorn
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« Reply #14 on: February 29, 2008, 10:41:46 AM »
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Technology is getting better, but we still have only one foot out of the cave. Ignoring quantum spaces and the like, and what future cameras might capture, I can clearly see loss of detail in landscapes in any 35mm image of today. Give me more detail at the very least, and I'll keep my fingers crossed that the other issues (white balance etc.) will follow.
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« Reply #15 on: February 29, 2008, 01:49:57 PM »
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For me The Bottom of The Tea Cup was by far the most important part in the article!

As far as I know HCB was no more interested in color photography than he was interested in darkroom chemistry (though the peoples who used to print his photographs were) but despite Ansel Adams claimed he did not like color photography he produced some great color works.

Being able to "determine the fundamental characteristics and look of our images" (especially for color images, for B&W this was quite easy in the darkroom) rather than leaving that task to "some scientists and engineers in Rochester, New York or Tokyo" reminds me of the many books he wrote about photography.

Am I wrong?
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« Reply #16 on: March 11, 2008, 09:07:39 PM »
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If you will indulge me, a small analogy.

Many years ago I took up salt water fishing which, on the West Coast, is done using conventional reels.  learning how to cast one of these reels takes some effort and a lot of practice.  Teenage deck hands could take a rusty old reel and throw a bait much better than I.  Quality gear enabled me to match them in a shorter time.  One day, I stood next to my favorite captain during a slow afternoon and he said "That looks like a nice piece of water over there."  He then threw a jig a country mile and immediately pulled out a monster calico bass.  The point is that I never and will never learn to read the water in the same way that 30+ years of experience does.  That teen age deck hand can find and catch a good bait and get it over the rail before I can even get to the bait well.

If photography is ART then the eye is all.  However, I don't think that anyone will argue that there are quality differences in the the gear.  All things being equal (they never are) better gear scores better.  Talking about gear is endless fun.

Change is neither good not bad.  The rate of change is accelerating.  Keeping up with it is probably a good idea, if only so that one knows what is happening and about to happen.
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« Reply #17 on: March 13, 2008, 09:20:06 AM »
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as a working pro.... reliability and ease of replacement are very important to me. I went through a spell where I shot with vintage gear (deardorf) and while it was fun and nostalgic, it was also not very convenient. Older gear can vary from cam to cam, lens to lens, and make it impossible to replace if something goes missing or breaks beyond repair. I had a red dot dagar that was just incredible... it went missing, and I never cold find a lens that gave me that same look again.

In the end.... it's the photograph that counts. I think we live in such a wonderful time! the gear we can buy just one click and one overnight shipping away just amazes me!
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« Reply #18 on: March 13, 2008, 10:12:00 AM »
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The only thoughts I'd throw into the queue, are that the camera wasn't critical "at all" during the film days. Sharp lens and the appropriate film where were the technology resided.

So hardware had little meaning to the output, it was about film. And the B&W film industry was largely mature during the grand days of B&W photography. Ansel's prints still look fantastic, even though 60-70 years have gone by in many cases. The improvements in film were in allowing smaller film to replace larger. IQ didn't really change at the print level.

Digital is another animal, the film is the camera, and appears to me, to be in the region of rapid change. Will it flatten, sure in the not too distant future, the wall will be hit with changes beyond being economic (megapixels for the masses) and size (is anyone else tired of carrying a camera, the size and weight of a view camera, well OK a medium format camera).

To the point, changes in technology that make a significant and measurable change are interesting and worthly of investigation.

To the OP, I do agree with some of your ideas, I still shoot with an old M2 and a Technika. Why, because I enjoy doing so and they still produce exceptional output when I do my job. But I'm also waiting for the next generation nikon "uber" digital.

bob
« Last Edit: March 13, 2008, 12:41:26 PM by bob mccarthy » Logged
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« Reply #19 on: March 13, 2008, 11:11:05 AM »
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I kind of got the opposite impression from the article because of MR's observation that 12MP is the sweet spot for FF digital.  This struck me as kind of funny since the now seven year old original 1Ds is 11.7.  Guess that's why I've never felt the need to replace my 1Ds (for image quality reasons at least).  It continues to produce stunning, saleable images up to 16x20.
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