Advance warning: I’m going to butcher Hamlet here, or as close as I can to it. Modern English isn’t really suited to the meter, nor is technical photographic jargon. I’ve done my best.
MT: To carry, or not to carry – that is the question:
Whether ’tis more sensible to pack your camera
At only when the time and mood suits
Or to always be loaded for bear
And in preparation, bag the shot. To hear the shutter
The flow of pixels, the fizzing chemistry of halide
Whatever your medium. Tis a satisfaction
Confirmed by the rush of hits. To travel unburdened
With no magic box: ay, light of shoulder you be,
For who knows what frames yet unseen may lie ahead
The imagined torture of being able to see but
Unable to capture gives the photographer pause.
There’s the problem with going without.
For who would bear the unfortunate light,
The tripods and accessories, the TSA-man’s probe
The aching shoulders, the impatient spouse,
The ‘NO FOTO!’ shouted, and the frustration of
Lugging the gear without it seeing use,
When he might delude himself into making do
With just an iPhone? Whom but the most hardcore
Would insist on two bodies and four lenses?
But that dread of missing the shot,
The heavenly light, which transforms the
Mundane into the magical, frustrates the hell,
And makes us bring the f1.4s, and a flash
Just in case, rather than wing it and go blind.
Thus the anxious photocondriac in us all
At the least burdens pockets, usually bags,
Empties our purses upgrading, enforces visiting
Of the chiro and desire for just one more stop.
With this, I break down and hit order
Hoping this is The One. To the ‘Bay the others go.
O Hyperion, give me contrast but hold the range
My sensor is now but one-inch.
In all seriousness, this is a dilemma I think most semi-serious photographers face on a regular basis: if you’re not going on a dedicated photography outing, do you pack a camera? And if so, which one? It isn’t such a straightforward problem: the tradeoff is a three-way battle between image quality, portability and flexibility/ versatility. As is the usual case with these things, pick any two – the final one can’t be had without a lot of money. The inconvenience – and back pain – of carrying more gear has to be offset by a higher chance of payoff in terms of shot satisfaction.
The good news is that this barrier keeps coming down; the top end compacts have similar technical photo quality to DSLRs of not that long ago (though their compromise is in the optics and depth of field control), so the penalty for carrying isn’t as high as it used to be. Unfortunately, working against this is us: we’ve now become accustomed to a much higher baseline. I used to be happy with smaller files, but I admit now that I see everything as ultimately having commercial potential, I do have a preference for more resolution. (You won’t have to push me very hard to extract a confession that I’ve become accustomed to the D800E’s files.) Even more of a problem is psychology: if you’re a really serious photographer, then there is no such thing as a non-photo outing. There is always a photographic opportunity somewhere; I’m sure I’m not the only one with the anxiety of infinite composition.
In order not to suffer from some sort of minor nervous breakdown, I need to have a capture device with me all the time; I’m sure it’s pathological. (Again, I hope I’m not the only one, but there can’t be that many of us.) The trouble is, when you throw the commercial angle and high requirements for image quality into the mix, one finds himself packing a Hasselblad, two lenses, film, and a spare compact all just in case you happen to see something on your trip to the grocery store, which is one you’ve made hundreds of times before, and photographed everything that can possibly be photographed between your home and the store in every kind of light.
I don’t want to do this, I just have to. Not carrying really isn’t an option for me, not just because it makes me deeply unhappy. In all seriousness, I feel immensely frustrated when I see a frame and don’t have the means to capture it properly – I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me as the the photographic observation process is pretty much subconscious and not something I can turn off. Moreover, in the past, some of my most satisfying images have been from times when photography wasn’t the priority of the day – I therefore need to fill my pockets with something. An iPhone still isn’t sufficiently versatile to do what I need it to – it isn’t the angle of view or sensor so much as the near-total inability to control it in anything other than the most basic way. If the spotmeter had a greater possible range of exposure latitude and narrower angle, that would be a start; even better if you could decouple it from the focusing point. Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
At the same time, I really don’t want to be a pack mule; a messed up neck and back aren’t fun (or conducive to photography). The obvious compromise is to pick a compact and work around the limitations, though I often find myself frustrated when the situation starts to exceed the camera’s capabilities. I suppose I might as well make the most of it – after all, the best camera is the one you have with you, right? What the compromise of ‘best’ in this case might be is something that will vary from individual to individual, determined by their personal threshold for masochism and backache – or perhaps their spouse’s patience. (You’re not going to carry a view camera if you’ve got thirty seconds before being dragged on.) This threshold has been a continually moving bar for me; I’ll buy a new compact every six months or so out of frustration, then land up kicking my stupidity. Perhaps this process needs more objectivity…or my expectations need a recalibration. Still, having something is infinitely preferable to having nothing. MT
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