On not being a photographer

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Red drapes. This post is quite deliberately illustrated with images from times when a) I wasn’t actively shooting or looking for images, and b) have been rather thankful to have a camera of any sort on me.

I struggled a little with the title for this essay. In essence, how many times have you found yourself without the primary aim of photography, but still shooting anyway – or worse, wishing you could be? The kinds of situations I’m talking about are when your primary purpose isn’t photography. You’ve gone out to run some errands, or fulfil family obligations, or rush to some work-related meeting (assuming photography isn’t your primary occupation). But these are the times you inevitably come across that interesting patch of light, that unexpected scene, or just…something that makes you pause and wish you didn’t have to be somewhere in the next ten minutes. Then what?

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Sleeping dogs and all that

I have to admit I don’t struggle with this problem as much as I used to; when I was still corporate – and especially at those times when I was involved in anything operational – I’d come across these scenes all the time. And there’d be no way I could shoot without drawing significant attention to myself, which I could probably get away with given the seniority of my position, but it wouldn’t be very professional. Most of the time, I’d just settle for a quick phone grab – if anything at all. These were of course never satisfying given cameraphone technology at the time was pretty dire – we are talking 3+ years ago.

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Strung up

I’m sure anybody with a trace of photographer in their veins has faced a similar dilemma: shoot, or not? Run the risk of being judged and potentially having your life made a little awkward or having your colleagues and friends look at you in a strange way, or deal with the internal struggle of just knowing you’ve let an image go? If you’re wondering why I practiced restraint, it’s because in a previous life I’d become the de facto company photographer – in addition to my normal work. It was an expectation, an obligation, not at all appreciated – let alone compensated – and I frankly didn’t want to feel used anymore. Photography slowly faded into the background; my previous ability to frame and focus without seeing through the finder left me – pretty much for good.

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At least it’s not bird droppings

At some point not long after, I made the switch to photography full time, started this site, and the rest is mostly history. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still face the same occasional dilemma: what to do when you a) know there might be something interesting; b) aren’t really supposed to be shooting or the primary purpose of your outing is not to photograph, or c) you don’t necessarily want to remind people you’re photographing because you don’t want the obligation – family events sometimes fall into this category, such as weddings*. You might want to grab a shot but not feel obligated or asked to continue, but at the same time not be restricted by a cameraphone – even though camera phones are getting better.

*Or worse; I was once invited to a christening, asked to bring my cameras, and then told quite seriously by the child’s grandparents that I should be documenting the flower arrangements – and yes, they knew I wasn’t the hired gun. I nearly walked out after clubbing them with several kilograms of magnesium alloy. After this incident, no longer attend events of anybody I’m not close friends with..

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Three sacks

Or perhaps the whole urge to capture images is an affliction, a disease of some sort. Photographers fall around varying ends of the scale; my suffering is probably terminal. I am pathologically compelled to make images most of the time; even when I’m not inspired, I’m still framing and shooting out of reflex. When I am, I might as well have a camera permanently glued to my face. And when I’m not supposed to shoot out of social convention – is precisely when I want to be (and have done, much to the irritation of the people I’m with at the time). It’s a serious problem and a cause for endless frustration. I suppose these days I’m lucky enough to be in a position where nobody is surprised if I’m carrying anything short of a view camera, but I still haven’t managed to get over the obligation of being expected and asked to supply images for free. I suppose there’s the assumption that since I’m already taking them, it costs nothing. Actually, it’s not strictly true: it may cost nothing because I’ve already invested in the time and equipment, but the dangerous implied assumption is that my work has no or trivial value. Obviously it does, since I make my living from this; the asker would almost never dream of doing anything for free. Ironic, no?

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Thoughts of the obvious

Even when there’s no obligation, I still sometimes feel that carrying an enormous lump of metal might be a little socially obnoxious and awkward. Not for me, I’m used to it; but for the people around me. Just because they know you’re a photographer doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comfortable with it. The conflict I face is this: carry what I want to use, just in case, or moderate the load for the benefit of others? Frankly, I’ve never been the most socially well-adjusted person, so I’m not sure why I’m even thinking about this at all. Perhaps it’s a sign of old age or something.

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Pastel furniture

Before somebody suggests carrying mirrorless or something smaller, it’s worth remembering that to most people, cameras are either compact or they’re serious – there’s no real dividing line. I might as well carry the 645Z if I’m going to take an E-M1 and a pro lens. It might be physically smaller, but the impression is still ‘oh, you’re a pro’ or ‘big camera’ or something of the like. A GR is great for most things, but sometimes you want more than 28mm – in fact, I find myself increasingly gravitating towards 50mm. And there are precisely no decent 50mm-e (or thereabouts) compacts; smaller sensors are non-starters for various print-related reasons. If I’m going to bother carrying a camera precisely so I don’t regret not having one and not being able to capture something printable to my usual standards, I might as well not carry one at all. Photographing with one’s eyes – the act of observing that is so critical to the whole image-making process – is satisfying, but thoroughly unprintable.

Here’s my question to the audience: what would you do? Carry a compromise and regret it slightly, carry nothing and rue it, or carry what you want and to hell with everybody else? MT


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  1. You said “my previous ability to frame and focus without seeing through the finder left me – pretty much for good.” How can that be? Do you really have to look through the finder to see how the camera sees?

  2. Stephen S. Mack says:

    I have attained a certain age (74 years) where I have decided that I will do what I want within reason, and that includes carrying a camera with me everywhere I go. Do this often enough, and the camera becomes like a piece of jewelry which is now part of you, and expected of you, too. I’m picky about what I will photograph (no weddings, please, I’m not competent to do that), and I’m very sensitive to people’s vibes, so mostly I don’t photograph them. But almost anything else is fair game and I too have become a compulsive photographer. But on a scale of major vices, compulsive photography seems to me to be down at the bottom of the scale; there are much worse things you could do with your time. It helps to be something of an outsider, too….

    • Agreed on your last two points, but I’ll also say that it gets expensive pretty quickly. As for being an outsider, perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to photography. One can be involved but not at the same time…

  3. I struggle with this a lot! I’m certainly not a pro, but I’m good enough that regular people usually sound disappointed if I’m anywhere without some kind of camera. I’ve taken to carrying around an x100s almost all the time (i really wish it had a 50 instead of a 35 too, i absolutely feel your pain on this! Any time I’ve heard a photographer say “I could glue this lens to my camera!” it’s a 50 of some kind, but any time a manufacturer literally does it they use a 28 or a 35, drives me crazy). My phone usually makes a good enough file for anything except printing, so i suspect a few years from now this’ll be less of a problem, or more of one because we’ll just have no excuse for trying to turn the instinct off. There is something satisfying about only having my phone and trying to make the most of a scene and being able to use the results on instagram, even if that’s a hollow victory.

    • The X100 series have TCs and WCs available that take the lens to 28 or 50…

      I don’t mind 28 personally, but it’s nice to have a distinctly different perspective easily to hand, too.

  4. NeutraL-GreY says:

    “Thoughts of the obvious” is a brilliant composition!

  5. Rube Redfield says:

    “carry what you want and to hell with everybody else.”
    Of course I teach basic photography, and am not a professional photographer.

  6. I keep thinking about his topic from time to time. In the past, my options have been a DSLR or a mirrorless with prime lens(es). I’ve disliked compacts due to the very narrow shooting envelope. Lately I’ve been experimenting with the iPhone 6+, which is a big step ahead over previous versions. Granted, the shooting envelope is still limited (no darkness, bad gradients, no super detail, no narrow angle, no narrow DOF), but it’s sort of part of the charm; I’ll just look at a scene and either it works or doesn’t with the phone and if it does there really aren’t many shots needed to catch all useful angles, so it’s a quick affair.

    Now the phone doesn’t work for everything and a DSLR is pretty big even with a prime lens (by DSLR I mean something like a D8x0, I can stand the entry level models). I’m thinking of getting a new small mirrorless or possibly a Ricoh GR for my very compact option.

  7. Shooting events (weddings, special birthday parties etc…) for free for friends / family is a dilemma. Either it may raise expextations you do not want to meet, it may feel devaluing to oneself (‘for free’) and it may destroy your own fun at an event (having a chore).

    My personal solution when asked for such a favor is the following:
    – I insist that I’m not the professional photographer of the event (this must be done by someone else).
    – I do not feel obliged to cover everything (this is the chore of the official photographer)
    – I shoot what I like and to the extent I like (I enjoy my time at the event)
    – Image rights stay with me (I make this clear, especially concerning any comercial use)
    – I do postprocessing to the extent I have fun (or I deliver the images “as is”)
    – The resulting images are my gift to the couple / jubilee (I do not bother with any additional present).

    This procedure has brought peace to me. I’m aware that I’m giving something special. The bride/couple is aware that I give/gave something special (many have said it was their most valuable present). Since I had insisted that someone else would be ‘the professional’ there is no pressure concerning missed shots. If I only take 20 pictures and 3 are great I might print these and that’s it.
    (But usually I’ll shoot much more 😉 )

    One aproach to find peace which worked for me.

    • I’ve stopped going to events for people/things I don’t care about. Life is too short anyway. If I do go, then I don’t generally mind doing a favour so much because the people involved are less likely to ask for it anyway. 🙂

  8. I say carry what you want and are comfortable with.

    Now in regards to comments where others “expecting” you to be the photographer all the time. Well that is a product of you really not setting expectations. Just because someone asks you to photo an event, a reasonable answer is always no. I’m the “photographer” in my little circle and I get asked often and I often refuse politely (especially for weddings and portraits). I always tell them they need to hire a dedicated photographer, but not me (i’m not a pro and don’t really want to be at this point). I will help out in some cases, especially events, but I’m totally comfortable saying no and I have prepared them for that response, already.

    • I agree with setting expectations, but you don’t live in Asia. If you’re the pro, and you’re a friend, you’re expected to work for free. The sad reality is that in this part of the world, we are viewed as producing less tangible value than say, insurance salesmen.

      • Correct I don’t live in Asia, but at some point you (and other photogs need to take a stand). If I were your friend and you conveyed your opinions/desires to me civilly, I would certainly respect your wishes. If not, then really not a friend in my opinion. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have many friends. 🙂

      • This is very true! In East Asian societies, it’s common to ask big favors of anyone in your circle. And if you do one favor for someone, the “reward” is that word gets around and everyone else will start to hit you up for the same favor. Even worse is that (at least here in Korea) contact information gets passed around freely and pretty soon you get asked to do favors for friends of friends. Thankfully(?) my photography isn’t good enough that people ask me to take pictures for them yet!

        I, too, wish there was a 50mm largish-sensor semi-compact camera out there. It truly is the jack-of-all trades focal length. I’m surprised Ricoh hasn’t come out with a 50mm version of the GR since they seem to be in tune with what many photographers want out of a camera. But for now my X100S goes with me almost everywhere, even if the images tend to get cropped.

        As always, great pictures! I especially love the tree petals falling on the car. Your ability to find beauty in everyday situations is something I aspire to develop in my own photography.

        • It’s no different in SE Asia, sadly. Perhaps worse, if anything. You can say no, but suffer the social stigma afterwards. Worse if it’s family.

          Thanks. I’m not sure if a 50 GR would be that useful simply because it would be handheld at arms’ length; you’d need high enough shutter speeds that the shooting envelope might shrink. I think something with an EVF would work better (or at least a stabiliser) – perhaps this is where a GM5/25 comes in, or I wonder if the Fuji’s 50mm TC will fit the Q…

      • I am a German living in China now for almost 15 years. For a long time situations like you have described were very frustrating to me for the exact same reason as you described. Until I learned to use the strengths of Asian relationships: Being gentle and seeking win / win:

        When asked to photograph for free from friends and family, I happily and thankfully accept under the the following conditions:

        1) I photograph what I want. I can not be asked what to photograph. That would be paid work or traded favor.
        2) If I am not in the mood, I may not photograph at all
        3) I may or I may not do image processing and editing.
        4) These images can not be shared with the note: They are shot by me. As I might not have made much effort and they do not represent my usual work standard.

        With above rules I have no obligation, just fun to do what I want to do anyways. Which is what I want in my free time. Sometimes my friends get great pictures, sometimes so so, sometimes nothing. If they want to be sure, they need to hire a professional.

        I have few friends, but all of them are wonderful. I enjoy few deep relationships much more than lots that are on the surface. To my friends these rules seem fair and are very consistent with who I am and they work for us nicely.

  9. Samuel Jessop says:

    I voted for ‘carry a compromise’, but in reality it is not quite the route I have chosen to take. Whenever possible I carry my Fuji and 35/1.4, but when loaded up with textbooks and a laptop for university most days even this is too much extra weight to carry. On one end of the spectrum I want to get something more suited to large printing like the A7RII, but at the other end I have learned to make two uses of my phone camera which I have with me and charged almost all of the time. Photographs I am happy with go on to Instagram with proper edits rather than grotty filters, and those that are not already have GPS tags and are useful for me to go back with my Fuji and get the photo another time. My storage of phone photos has been very good for finding inspiration, and on Instagram I have been doing a phone only and mono only this year and it is the happiest I have been with my photography.

    On the subject of feeling obliged or requested to give away your time for free, I can completely understand your viewpoint. I have stopped taking a camera to any kind of social function unless it is the very closest of friends, although many years ago I attended my cousin’s wedding and they had been let down by their photographer. As I had my 350D on me, my own snapshots of the day are the only decent record they have of their big day, even though they are in my view very far from commercial quality. It made me feel great that I could send them my photos, and simultaneously made me respect wedding photographers so much more. It is not a job that I would go out of my way to do again in a hurry. I think my abilities have improved, my snaps with an X100 of my sister’s wedding last year were much nicer than the paid photographer’s work with a pair of 5D Mk II’s as I was walking around looking for the best views of what was happening. I am also the first to admit that I did not have the constraining pressure of doing a job to order, and I am happiest that is the case.

    This post really has me thinking hard about how I view myself and my photography. I see myself as an architectural and urban photographer, and people are my weakest link. My project for next year is to work on this, maybe even to get a minimum of one portrait a month while I am out wandering. My career is in a state of flux as I retrain in law, but maybe there’s a career in photography somewhere in there too.

    Again, thank you for sharing.

    • It’s a slippery slope: the 7R2 might be small, but the lenses are still FF lenses and therefore carry FF optical requirements and sizes.

      As for the wedding, even if you are close friends with the couple, it isn’t your responsibility to fill in for somebody else’s job. If that were the case we’d never get anything done trying to make up for professional shortfalls of people we have to deal with in everyday life. Personally, I’ve had more than my fair share of the hired guns stalking me because they couldn’t figure out better framing – and yes, I no longer carry a camera to weddings. Actually, that’s not true: I don’t attend weddings of people I don’t care about, and I do still carry a camera…

      Fortunately we no longer have to have one career for a lifetime; that’s going to be the exception more than the rule going forward, too.

      • Samuel Jessop says:

        A slippery slope indeed. At the moment I’d be covered with the 55/1.8 and both the 25mm and 85mm Batises, and those would be fine to travel anywhere I have desires to. Beyond that your Tilt Shift 101 article is opening up my mind to extracting the very best from these high resolution sensors. It’s good to dream, but I am trying to let my acquisitions be guided by necessity as well as budget. Buy less of better gear, and buy it when I need to. In the meantime I am learning to stick to one lens and learning it best, no matter what the compromises.

        • A sensible approach – the only caveat I’d introduce is if you’re a working pro, you don’t want to leave hardware experiments to the last minute on the job… 🙂

  10. Richard P. says:

    On the drive to bring the kids to school I take this one long road that runs through a nature park. At a certain point a stream on one side crosses under the road and continues on the other side. For the longest time the scene down stream was idyllic and I always wanted to bring my gear and setup on the side of the road and take photos that would do the scene justice. But one day something changed and the scene became just average. I still drive the kids to school but now have a pang of regret when I get to the stream that I didn’t capture the scene at its peak. Cheers Richard.

    • Perhaps it could be your perception changed? I know that’s certainly been the case for me in the past, especially when looking back at old photographs which certainly present a more objective picture than our memories…

      • Richard P. says:

        You could be right … So now do I carry a small compact that may not capture the scene as I wish? In some cases a quick grab may be ok, but in this case the picture was only memorable because of its artistic value.
        Somehow carrying my DSLR around with me everywhere doesn’t seem realistic either … I guess I should start reading more of your gear reviews for something in between and drop some hints in time for the holidays. 😉 Cheers Richard.

        • There’s probably a happy medium of ‘good enough’ somewhere in there, and a compromise or two made for size. I guess mirrorless would probably fill that hole, or one of the smaller DSLRs and a prime. I admit this is something I’ve been considering increasingly.

  11. The everyday-carry camera is for yourself, documenting the passing by. I used to carry GR kind of camera (coolpix A), together with a Nikon 1 body and 30-110mm lens. The next step will be a NX500 with the 16mm, 30mm and the 45 or 60mmM. The NX500 is very close to a FF 24MP camera in IQ. Actually in real life two of the four lenses mentioned before are just enough as everyday carry. Actually the body with two lenses is appr. 500g. or 1.1 pounds.

  12. Paul Bingham says:

    I bought the Hasslblad Stellar Special Edition with the Carbon Fibre grip. I bought it after seeing that Steve Huff bought one. I thought great I will wait until they are sold out and trade it to someone for a Leica…? The problem is that I love it and it (for me) is perfect. I can not see ever getting rid of it. It came with a custom made Italian wrist strap and regular camera strap – very nice. I would recommend this to anyone. It is the first version of the RX100, but I don’t care, however, I am now waiting for B&H to offer the version ll Stellar and will buy it (if offered) because it has a few extras that I would like.They are made in Japan and not in China under the Hasselblad guidance I would think. The camera is similar to your take on the Lunar – it is much nicer in the hand(s) The version ll has a flash/viewfinder accessory shoe (see Eyebeam Images for his use of same on Fuji’s – I love it.) I can’t recommend it enough vs the Sony Rx100… This has just been my experience and as it is about the size of a wallet albeit a somewhat thick wallet and I take it everywhere. Alas I do not like the Sony Rx100’s in the hand(s).

    Good Luck in your search.


  13. John Brady says:

    I chuck my E-M5 / 12-40 in whatever bag I’m carrying. I did buy a GM1 recently so that I could carry something lighter, but it’s only made me realise how much I enjoy the EVF and tilting screen of the E-M5. My work colleagues do sometimes see me wandering round the office with my E-M5 and I tend not to worry about it too much.

  14. Hi Ming

    I have really enjoyed this post and the many thoughtful comments posted, thanks.

    You’ve articulated a dilemma I understand and have also wrestled with. I carry a small Canon S110 PowerShot everywhere and have to live with the useability of the end results, but as I don’t print anything, just post to my low-pro dodgy blog, it suits me fine and I’m constantly surprised by how good the battered little thing is. I usually photograph anything other than people. I prefer photographing venomous reptiles to people (literally), they are easier to deal with.

    Many’s the time I’ve had to remember this quote by some dude called deGriff. Just deGriff, apparently (I have no idea who he/she is/was etc):

    “There will be times when you will be in the field without a camera. And, you will see the most glorious sunset or the most beautiful scene that you have ever witnessed. Don’t be bitter because you can’t record it. Sit down, drink it in, and enjoy it for what it is!”

    Nonetheless, I’d probably still be fiddling with my dodgy smartphone camera and muttering and cursing instead of just enjoying the scene.

    And, yes, I’ve done lots of photo sessions as a favour (for people, not venomous reptiles), and usually regret the hours spent processing and sorting that is never understood, and I should say no, but I’m hopeless at that. All reached a low point when I dropped camera and lens onto concrete trying to meet the insane demands of a work colleague whose wedding I’d stupidly agreed to photograph as a favour. Luckily the old Nikon F4 was a tank of a thing, suited to beating off muggers etc. Big learning curve. I try to find something positive in it all.

    On another occasion I must mention, I worked hard to photograph an afternoon informal wedding ceremony for another work colleague. When she showed me prints she’d made from my carefully prepared files, I was utterly astonished to find she’d literally cut herself out of many prints with scissors, because “she didn’t like the way I’d made her look”. Hmmm, yes, I gave up such things after that and practised saying “No, sorry” in the mirror each morning and continued to look only for things such as reptiles.

    Love your blog, cheers and all the best.

    Rob, Toowoomba, Australia.

    • That’s a good quote. And your colleague is a very good example of why we shouldn’t work for free…if there is no investment of any sort there’s also no respect for the outcome.

  15. Kristian Wannebo says:

    The doctor’s dilemma: at any social gathering there will be someone who asks him/her professional advice privately… I know doctors who have secret private phone numbers.

    I prefer camera bags that don’t look it.
    But in your case anyone who knows you would guess the contents… (sigh!)

    Pocketable 50mm full frame?
    Leica made a series of collapsible 50 & 90 mm lenses for their screw mount – some also for their M mount,
    ( E.g. kenrockwell.com/leica/lens-reviews.htm
    has a list with photos.)

    The smallest is the f:3.5 50mm Elmar, which barely sticks out (~1/2cm) of the camera.
    On your Sony A7RII you will hardly notice it on the 11mm long adapter, but that camera sadly looks a bit large even for a coat pocket.

    ( Another smallish combination might be a mirrorless plus the 22mm long Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2.)

    • You can’t collapse those into mirrorless. Risk of hitting the sensor 🙂 I did think of either the Voigt 50/2 collapsible heliar or the 50/2.8 Elmarit. The 90/4 macro-Elmar is pretty interesting too.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      I thought a couple of turns of a narrow strip of duct tape (or similar) around the outer lens barrel would guard the sensor stack?
      ( And not all these go back all the way to the film plane.)
      Good luck in your search!

  16. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been invited to a restaurant, or café opening, and heard “oh, bring a camera with you”. Sometimes I have fun with this, and only bring an old Polaroid 250 Auto loaded with Fuji 3000 ISO B/W film. 😉

    I use to enjoy just walking around with a Nikon FE and 50mm lens. There really is nothing like that small combination in the digital realm; small body, crisp focus screen, and mostly metal construction.

  17. Modified carry what I want. After toting a number of mirrorless ILCs over the last few years (EPL5, EP5, (both w/ one pancake or another), an NX300 w/ a 30mmf2 and briefly an A7 (lovely camera, but the lenses I wanted were too rich for my enthusiast w/ a mortgage and family budget) attempting an all in one solution I shifted gears and now keep an RX100II (which pleasantly surprises me by punching well above it’s weight class for my purposes) I picked up second hand in pocket or hand, a DSLR or DSLRish camera/lens in messenger bag front pocket (currently a Pentax k-3ii w/ 50mmf1.8, an NX30 w/ 45mmf1.8 or 85mmf1.4 back when I had the NX300). Additionally nearby I keep a bag packed w/ a varying assemblage of digital lenses and/or my dedicated film bag (Hasselblad501c/Canon AE1Program) packed and ready in case the mood strikes. After much trial and error this has been working well for me. I am respectful of others when I shoot, so I am not fazed by what some think when I do shoot and I have gotten really good at politely declining photog for free offers. Now a known quirk of mine. I may offer to shoot if it is a good friend, for a good cause, if I want to use the situation to play with newly acquired gear, or I feel so motivated for some other reason, but that is a different scenario on my terms.

  18. If you’re looking for a small high quality camera with a 50mm equivalent – maybe try the Samsung NX500 with the 30mm f2 pancake. You got the best APS-C-Sensor on the market (28 mp, iq according to dxo). And camera + lens fit in a coat pocket. Older NX without swift monitor are even a few mm smaller (e.g. NX1000) but their sensor is just at 20 MP and the AF is slower.

    You can add pancakes with 16 and 20mm (f. 2,4; f 2,,8) and a small -but not pancake – potrait lens (45mm 1.8).

    I think i remember you don’t like Samsung cause it’s not a professional brand for photographers. Maybe in the descibed situation this is an advantage… 😉

    • I never said anything about not liking Samsung. I just wouldn’t put money there because it’s a write off as you’ll never be able to sell it again…and since it’s a completely different control paradigm again, there’s a chance you might land up not getting along with it.

  19. Alex Carnes says:

    I bought an X-Pro1 recently (you can buy them for peanuts now) with the Fujinon 35/1.4 (on offer and with a generous cashback deal), which serves as my compact 50. It’s a bit heavy but so cheap and robust that it tends to come with me when I’m out and about on non-serious-photography missions. (The only other 50mm setup I have at the moment is D810 and Sigma 50/1.4 Art, which weighs a tonne and has rubbish AF performance.) My trusty GR is more or less permanently on my belt whatever I’m doing. I love the D810, but truth be told, the Fuji and the Ricoh would be plenty good enough for the majority of my needs.

    • Has the focusing speed of the XPro improved with recent FW to the point that it’s ‘fast enough’ now?

      • Alex Carnes says:

        Yes, it’s ‘fast enough’. Certainly not as fast as the newer Fujis and nowhere near as fast as a DSLR; it’s not for sports or wildlife photography that’s for sure! I suppose it’s roughly comparable to the A7R – not lightening fast but quick enough for most purposes and extremely accurate. (In contrast with the D810/Sigma 50/1.4, which focuses with great rapidity but very inconsistently and inaccurately. In fact, it’s not wonderfully accurate even in live view for some reason!)

  20. OMD EM5 Mkii(got it used frm YL) + 17mm f1.8….I have u to thank, 🙂

  21. Steve Jones says:

    Leica CL and 40mm. Cheap. Excellent image quality. compact.
    Still using mine.
    Rangefinder and meter accuracy as good as an M. Nope. Good enough? Certainly. Don’t worry about it.
    Deliciously low tech, fun, cool and capable. oh, and much easier film loading!

  22. What about going back to an M and 50?

  23. I rather think your title covered the problem well – I try to always carry a camera on my walk to work. There are so often “photos to be had” that present themselves and it does grate on the mind if there was no camera to hand. The problem is “being” a photographer is exactly that – it doesn’t switch off if my eyes are open! I have similar affliction with fishing – if I see any sort of water that a fish could swim in then I will always give it as much attention as possible – without causing a car accident. I have real conflict issues when it comes to fishing and photography …
    Equipment wise I am happy with small sensors, so as I wear a coat to work my go-to camera was a Canon G12 until it died recently. Now a PEN E-PL5 and kit zoom are stashed in the side pocket. Thus I can be discrete but ready should there be a photo to be captured.

  24. Jaap Veldman says:

    A graviation towards 50
    That’s old age
    Less dynamic
    But with a natural balance

  25. Seeing what you’ve done with various iPhones, I don’t think there is a problem.

  26. Or in short for cineasts:

    at 0:51 and 1:08

  27. To me it sounds like a pure social thing than a matter of (camera-) size.
    Some people get annoyed by you taking pictures and
    you get annoyed by other people asking you for pictures.
    You are framing constantly and
    do like a certain quality of prints.
    Sounds familiar. And deal with it.

    While I am phoning, tweeting or taking pictures I do not share the
    moment with the people surround me. They get annoyed. I get this.
    Most of the time.

    As a guy in computers and known for knowing a lot of things like
    how to use a camera I got asked a lot of things on social events
    and I learned to look for myself. I can recommend this and
    taking part.

    Starving is a good thing once in a while for good nutrition.
    Resting after sport is important as the sport itself.
    Guess it is the same for taking pictures – at least for me.

    And there is a picture made with my phone and special to me,
    that reminds me almost constantly on having a real camera on me – most of the
    time with a compact lense. <– finllay gere

  28. The dilemma you raise made me think of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism which in part holds that the greatest evil is altruism, doing things because of others. Being “selfish” in Objectivism means doing things in your own best interest which leads to a productive and happy life which ultimately is more beneficial to all. I’m probably not doing a great job in explaining this (suggest seeing interviews with her on YouTube), but certainly we, your readers, benefit when you act “selfishly” by carrying and using the equipment you want, when you want. By increasing the opportunities to capture a potentially sellable image or increasing the likelihood of someone buying one of your products, you and your family benefit as well.

    • I think you summed it up perfectly well (but then again, I’ve read most of her books). There was another line I remember reading recently – something along the lines of ‘everybody suffers from a compromise’…

      • Oddly enough her disdain for “altruism” did not extend to her self when after years of being a proud smoker and flat out denying the mounting science regarding the dangers of it, she graciously accepted thousands in government assistance. But, I’ve noticed that most strong ideologies will succumb to reality given time.

  29. Your photographs are not only quality, they are also creative. Thanks for sharing them. And I really like the term “addictive” when applied to your passion. I feel that way sometimes, and I’m not even a photographer. I just like capturing scenes and objects with my camera.

  30. Kenny Younger says:

    My problem with camera phones is they are too wide. I understand why this is a requirement, but I also tend toward 50mm or narrower.

    • Completely different perspective, and small sensor wides tend to render quite differently to large sensor ones due to optical compromises. TCs and add on lenses aren’t the same. My guess is that it has something to do with stability issues, though.

  31. MT, you know me.
    Screw them if some glass and magnesium alloy makes them feel uncomfortable.
    (Same people that generally says “oh, nice photograph, I’m sure your camera is amazing” upon seeing an image of yours)

  32. Larry Kincaid says:

    I just came across a quote on the web (can’t remember who or where) along the lines of “the day I don’t bring my camera is when the flying saucer actually does appear.” One of those comments you cannot get out of your head when you head out the door without a camera. You’ve also touched on two related notions. [Again past unknown quotes] A good photographer can make a good image out of anything. I’ve applied that to myself in situations where this could only be refuted: I cannot see any good photograph at all. But it lingers in my mind that someone else might be able to create one. These photographs you’ve posted confirm that to some extent. How many of us would have noticed that those red curtains or “imagined” that, if framed well and in the right light, they would make such an interesting, if not stunning, photograph. Which brings up the final thought you’ve provoked, it’s not a static world. If you photograph, then over time you get better at seeing the world that surrounds you all the time. This to me is a good reason to take photographs, and it’s why we continue to take them in our mind when we don’t have a camera. We just learn to see the world differently, especially beauty and human drama that goes unnoticed by most people. You have a habit of illustrating all of these thoughts on your web site. . . with photographs. Why we keep coming back. Please don’t hesitate to share with us something that at first might seem inconsequential.

    • The proverbial ‘flying saucer’ might be something far more mundane – but I think it’s still a valid point. I’d be really quite bummed if one of those unicorn events did occur and I missed it or worse, produced a near miss for want of some laziness…

      I do find that once your eye is keyed into observing – i.e. being a photographer – it’s almost impossible to undo, whether we carry a camera or not. Photograph is and always has been about seeing first…since you cannot capture what you can’t see.

  33. Isn’t photography to be FUN? Forget expensive equipment, forget all rules and be happy!

  34. I find it’s very important not to be anything quite often: no roles, drop the lot, enjoy a coffee and just be. Otherwise what beckons is a mess – creative burnout, always trying too hard and always with a goal in mind, leaving things not done that need to be done, etc. So I keep away from that little pocket cam I’d be tempted to take everywhere, like a GR2. I don’t feel I am missing out. What would I be missing? More stress perhaps … No thanks, lol.

  35. I know the feeling. I am an attorney and couldn’t resist the morning light in the small park immediately across the street from the courthouse where I had an early hearing this week. Clients drive up and I am chagrined to be out snapping photos with my GR2. Of well, the hearing came out just fine:)

  36. Hi Ming, I just took up golf and I was struck by how beautiful some courses are. Occasionally, I will bring my little Sony RX100 M2 with me to shoot some of the scenery (the light can be spectacular at times). But when I do, I always think, “I really should be focused on my golf … “, mainly because I’m not a very good golfer ! 🙂 Photography always some how intrudes, no matter what I’m doing. I’ve just given in to it.

    • And that is one of the reasons I don’t play golf – I’d be carting around more hardware for landscape photography than clubs; the same thing happened with my skiing… 🙂

  37. I hate missing the opportunity to capture a great photo because I left my camera at home. And my personal opinion is no smart phone is good enough for photography, I need a viewfinder to look through. So I always try to take a camera with me whenever I leave the house. The LX100 is my normal choice.

    But my personal problem is one of self-consciousness. I have been in situations where a wonderful view has appeared briefly in front of me, and I have a camera with me, but I still failed to capture the shot through hesitancy and fear of looking like a “weirdo” when there are many people around me. When I am travelling abroad I never have this handicap, I never feel self-conscious, but in my home town of London I do suffer from it. For me, having a camera with me is only half the issue, it is getting it out and using it that is the other!

    • A long time ago, I was advised to ‘see like a tourist in your own city’ – which makes a lot of sense, and as you say, you don’t feel self-conscious anymore. I’m sure Dr P.L will have a reason for the cognitive disconnect experienced when we travel, but it’s probably got something to do with feeling a part of a society as opposed to a visitor. I’ve never really felt like I fitted in anywhere, so I suppose that might be why I have no qualms about shooting anything and everything 🙂

  38. It is fairly obvious that ‘not being a photographer’ is something you never have to worry or wonder about. With or without a camera, you are very much a photographer – one with an interesting point of view!

    • It’s a pathological problem for me, I tell you. Which is precisely why sometimes I need to take a step back and smell those roses to at least get my context back again…

  39. How do you get out of the photography rut? I’ve not shot in two months now. Not once. All inclination to shoot has gone, no inspiration, no desire. I’m not blaming it all on only having my A7r with me, but that certainly has something to do with it.

    What’s the cure?

  40. John Nicholson says:

    I have a folder in my library, Ming, which is called “Serendipity”, and it has these off the cuff, chance images which are so rewarding. I really enjoyed your serendipitous pictures.. Most of mine are taken with my go anywhere Leica C which punches far above its weight in image quality and versatility.

  41. You asked the question – so here’s what I would do…… a situationally / mood / interest / company dependent response leading to any one of the three…..
    1. Carry a compromise and be prepared to push the envelope of its limitations to get as good a picture as possible….(enjoy the challenge)
    2. Carry nothing and simply smell the roses….. (A greatly underestimated pastime IMHO!!! Enjoy the moment.)
    3. Carry what I want and to hell with everybody else. (Just enjoy / senang hati !)

    1. It’s the journey not the destination.
    2. As a GP I see too many people – every day – who don’t smell the roses and are ill as a direct result.
    3. D810 / RX100iii / iPhone 5s / “Mark 1 eyeball” – whichever one I’m using – it means I’m not at work – so by definition I’m smelling the roses ! OK I can’t print or display from the last option but I can …. describe …. so by definition I’m putting the picture into words – which helps me to interact with others in a non-work environment. A greatly underestimated pastime (see 2 above!)

    However – I voted for 3 as it seemed to be arguably the answer that covered all 3 options anyway!

  42. Very interesting. I voted for “take what you like”. Next month I’m visiting Chicago for work and am facing a similar dilemma (iPhone or Nikon or nothing) for any down time. I’m tempted to take the Nikon with one lens (50, 60, or 85mm).
    This having been said, I’m seriously contemplating a move to 5×4 colour film next year, so after that anything smaller would feel to me like a point and shoot (and that’s the reason why I’m thinking about the move: my 35mm images of late have been the kinds of images where I could probably get even more out of the entire contemplative experience with 5×4 – slow deliberate tripod work with few other people around).
    I think my bottom line would be personal safety rather than caring what others think.

    • That’s a serious move. I don’t think you’re ever going to manage ‘few others around’ in Chicago; from my experience last week, your challenge is less likely to be personal safety than stability/vibration/wind (given a lot of streets are bridges or have tunnels underneath). But I see why you’d want to go that way, and at the same time there’s still a sweet spot between going for broke and nothing at all.

      • Thanks for that, Ming. I’d almost certainly keep some digital profile, though perhaps for macro only and as backup. Re. Chicago – perhaps Nikon and the fast fifty, then.

  43. Yesterday I went to pick up some rolls of film in a lab, and the owner asked me if I was one of “those wrong people” who always have a camera with them. My wife got used to it, even when we go to the grocery store. So, yes, better have something with you I’d say, lately a Q and a 35mm Nikon35ti. I simply don’t like using the smartphone.

  44. That’s where the hipster retro look option might just be useful – definitely noticeable but not taken as a very serious camera. It might not work though if you’re a known professional. I still opted for black on my x100t because the alternative is so ugly to my eyes – and yes, the teleconverter kind of kills the purpose when photographing people, because the front element is so large. I wish they had gone for a stop slower converter. The 28mm add-on fits very nicely, though.

    If you can anticipate a need then it might help to ask if it’s okay to take a few photos because of [insert some photographic or social need]. After bringing it up you can probably shoot much more than you asked for.

    Personally I don’t have that strong an urge so I just look and be grateful for seeing the beautiful things that I would have missed before taking up photography. In social occasions it’s easy to evaluate if getting those shots is better for my life (to heck with the others’ lives 😉 than focusing on the interaction. The answer is almost always the latter, but I come from a position where I miss much more photography due to my own laziness.

    • The GR did a great job on that front – not very serious-looking but very serious in results; the Q does look a bit hipster but is anything but in use. I guess I have the opposite problem: most people wonder why I’m not shooting. I think they don’t realise that a) sometimes we need a break too, and b) working for free is generally a bad idea 🙂

  45. Gerner Christensen says:

    Ming, those images here brings up memories of what made me attracted to your work and education. I thought those were so fidel and I still think that.
    I voted *Don’t carry anything – I’m not out to shoot* because if I take my camera out of the car or sling it over the shoulder taking a walk in town, it’s because I want to shoot. I can’t really deal with being undecided why I carry a camera. All this ‘just in case’ doesn’t work for me. I simply can’t shoot if I am not tuned 100% into it up front. If I dabble around with family and friends who doesn’t have the slightest interest in my photography, I feel the irritation they emit why I stop up and want to spent minutes to get a shot. That irritation doesn’t actually grow lesser if I stop up more than once 🙂

  46. Great points, but there is still beauty in seeing what can’t be committed to a photograph. I’ve sometimes found that not being able to shoot increases the creative drive the next time I can.

    • Agreed. And there are scenes that ‘work’ for our eyes because of binocular vision and/or dynamic range that we still can’t quite capture.

  47. There’s an in-between option, isn’t there? Carry a decent smartphone.

    For me, the 4S changed everything. Suddenly I didn’t need a “real” camera to capture the gist of what was going on. It was a welcome relief, because I can’t resist snapping away when it’s interesting. And my friends always seemed curious about it (rather than impatient).

    However, I’m still disappointed in the image quality of the full size 4S shots. Missed a lot of crucial detail and info with that sensor (but hey, better than nothing). Noticed it focuses slower now too. Time for an upgrade. Surely the 6 is past the point of (daytime) “Instagram sufficiency”

    • The 6 is pretty darn good; 6S is better still. Instagram sufficiency? Sure – but printing with it is a bit of a disaster, unfortunately.

      • Rupert Stubbs says:

        I agree about the printing… I have the 6S (having upgraded from a 4S) and find the noise reduction “smoothing” and general watercolour effect at 100% very depressing. I know that all phones do that these days, but I prefer the honesty of sensor noise. The 4S produces better prints than the 6S does (IMHO).

        • After making a couple of test prints myself, I think both still fall into the ’emergency only’ category, but I applaud you for persisting 🙂 It is clear they’ve optimised the internal image processing for web and and specifically retina display though – all of the water-colour artefacts are pretty much not visible in those situations.

  48. Ming, I think your poll is just a bit biased — especially the second option. I have two Nikon D700s with grips. I generally, but not always, have them in my car (in the trunk (boot)) but they are too heavy for emergency use. Hence last year I bought a Leica D-Lux 6 (a Panasonic incognito) because I love the fast, sharp lens, the zoom range, and it fits in my pocket. I don’t have any regrets. And since I work for myself, I generally stop anytime I see something that catches my interest. That is actually one of the hardest things I taught myself – how act like a fool in public — getting out of a car and spreading yourself on the ground (a few times in the rain), or leaning over the car, or running up an embankment to get just the right shot. Its not the camera, its the photographer.

    • Feel free to suggest an additional option 🙂 I’m quite happy using my iPhone if nothing else comes to hand.

      Leaving cameras or anything else of value in your car here is an invitation to get broken into.

  49. I know this feeling of regret, whenever one passes by an opportunity to shoot. A bridge is a fine compromise (or a weak excuse, for if you take a bridge camera you might as well do the full monty). You see, the dilemma is with everyone, who has that framing gene….

  50. I always carry a GM1 with the 20mm and/or the 12-32.
    There is a compromise, but the fact i dont have anything else to use. So i left myself to have no other choice except “don’t shoot”, and the camera is small enough to have it on a jacket/bag/hand.

    I mainly use it at web size or medium prints and try to squeeze some IQ from raw files

    I basically tricked myself, to always shoot w/ small camera haha

    • Actually, the GM1/5 with 20mm isn’t a bad option, and pretty small. I will have to look into that…

      • You may also find the GM line more appealing when it inevitably gets the new 20MP sensor – presumably in the next few months – which I imagine might extend its sufficiency a little bit more for your requirements.

        • Whilst that will increase the pixel count and resolving power, it isn’t going to help diffraction or pixel level image quality/acuity/DR/color…

          • Supposedly DR is modestly improved (1/3 stop), and diffraction limiting happens at f6.3 or so – but as you know, diffraction limiting on the basis of DoF affects all formats equally, the f-number just happens to be higher on larger formats. Most of the best lenses in the system offer peak performance between f2.8 and f4, anyway. You’re absolutely correct about pixel level quality, acuity, and colour. I did offer the caveat that it might extend it a little bit…

  51. I think it is fine to just stop sometimes and “smell the roses”. Could end up seeing or appreciating perspectives that you have not noticed before. And that will contribute to better work later.

  52. I have to agree about the lack of a high quality small camera for my pocket with a 50mm equivalent. My favourite focal length from which I shoot 95% of all my photographs. The proifilation of 35 mm equivalents seems strange to me too.

    • Or if not a 50mm-e, then at least some sort of high quality TC – the X100 series is the only exception, though the TCL for that thing is massive.

      • Wonderful article, on a very subjective topic that opinions will vary a lot on person to person. I find the key is – to let moments be appreciated for what they are , circumstantially – sometimes the best way to take photos – is not to take them. Let reality happen around you, breathe , enjoy it, relax and appreciate the moment/lighting for what it is…by not shooting all the time – I feel you can get a better perspective on how to enhance the times you do shoot – keeping photography that little bit purer by not shooting everything under the sun – and allowing your own self some mental breathing time.

        Saying that, most high end smartphones now are more than capable enough to capture any rare moments that you simply cannot let go by – sure the prints may not be up to “high end quality” standards – but good enough for apple to make billboards out of 🙂

        I find it best to think about where you are going / what you are doing , and bring what feels right to you for the occasion.
        Going shopping bring X , a small visit on the outskirts of town bring Y or maybe Z if you have time , To a friends / family members birthday bring Z …etc..

        My XYZ currently are:
        X: Iphone6S
        Y: Ricoh GR II (would love a 35-equiv-50mm version though)
        Z: Sony A7SII/RII w/ 50 lux

        The Y is the hard one – and currently there aren’t too many options for it.
        The Sony RX1RII might work well for some as a step above the smartphone – however It seems to be just that little bit to big fit into the Y category ( fairly pocket-able ).

        The only other option I can think of that is pocketable and yields beautiful results – is going to something a little different 😉
        _8027885 copy

        ^ lovely shot that made me realise I need to alternate my Y with some occasional lovely pocket film alternatives to keep things interesting 🙂

        Keep up the great work Ming – good stuff.


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