The emperor’s new clothes

_7503044 copy
Illusion and infinite possibility – from The Idea of Man project

Newer isn’t always better.
More isn’t always better.
Limitations can be creatively liberating.
Equipment isn’t the solution to 99% of problems.
The sense of entitlement and lack of objectivity is deafening.

Does any of this sound familiar?

As the digital photography revolution has matured, more and more people have been given ever easier access to greater and greater potential – both creative and technical. We have been promised the myth that anybody can do anything, if only you just buy this bit of gear. And then you’ll have to buy a new one next year, because the old one doesn’t do it as well anymore. So…wait a minute, does that mean you sold us a lie before? Because that’s awfully close to how it sounds. This kind of marketing only goes so far: look at the scary recent decline in new camera sales, for starters. The companies that are doing well are the ones who are innovating and delivering something genuinely different – on the stills side, I scratch my head. On the video side – well, DJI and Blackmagic immediately come to mind. Olympus could be there too with that incredible stabilizer, but they need to sort out their codecs.

Even though there’s a much wider creative envelope open, and higher levels of quality are increasingly easy to access, there’s also never been quite so much moaning about equipment and ‘if only’. Online forums do nothing to help either the manufacturers’ causes or the participants, yet they continue to grow – why? I battle with the fallout of trolls, fanboys and other assorted expert pundits here who are like pigeons over a review: they come in noisy droves and leave nothing but a mess. I am a hero one day for approving their choice of religion equipment and Judas the next for exposing its shortcomings. Frankly, I couldn’t give two small mouse droppings about whether they like my images or not; photography is subjective and there are no absolute rights or wrongs anyway. But I do know that I can produce a) what I want, and b) what my clients want. But it doesn’t make it any less annoying or hurtful when people who are supposedly educated and wealthy enough to have thousands of dollars in disposable income are also able to make snap judgements without bothering to read even the full article, let alone the archives. I’m sure somebody will say it’s my fault for not making it obvious, and next I should be paying my readers since they bothered to be here at all.

I am not the only one online who realises that the future is still not here, and the mass online bitterness is a product of people realising something is missing and that sneaky feeling they’ve somehow been deceived, but not fully able to grasp why. (Hint: education should come first.) Any tool is useless without the knowledge to operate it; if anything, the sharper and more specialised the tool, the more likely you are to hurt yourself.

This is not a rant; far from it. It is an expression of sadness: we have more access and openness to creativity, collaboration, artistic development and powerful tools than ever for both capture and output/ sharing/ audience engagement, and instead of embracing and running with them – the majority of people who buy these things are just whining about the small things that only make a difference if you actually have the skill to get to that level. There are more images than ever in circulation and production, overall standards have gone up both creatively and technically, and yet there’s less value for a good image than ever. Why is this? You would expect that the more people who try to do something, the more people realise how difficult it is to achieve results of a certain level. What we have instead are initial responses of ‘great image, what camera?’ or comments like ‘it would have been better if shot with X’.

I put the blame squarely on consumerism and shortsighted immediate gratification. Manufacturers that have set up their consumers to expect immediate quick gains are going to flounder in future as they lack the ability to sustain their promises – this continued exceeding of expectations is one of the reasons why Apple is so remarkable as a company, and frankly, Nikon and Canon are not. We have inadvertently set ourselves up in a cycle that can never be broken, with expectations that can never be fulfilled: every iteration must be better, more amazing, lighter, cheaper, cooler, and make us more attractive to the opposite sex. But it’s clear this cannot work without operator intervention: a car only goes around a track as fast as the driver can make it. Images that work only appeal to us because there is some aesthetic preference and personal emotional bias that has been evoked. There is no way this can possibly be automated or formularised, and therefore no way you can ever transcend the limitations of the operator. More resolution just means bigger files, and important events will be remembered for camera frustration rather than an amazing glimpse into a transient moment.

It saddens me further that I can see it happening, but I’m powerless to do anything about it. I know I can make the images I want, and I am the limitation – not the equipment. My students are the same. I can write and shout til I’m blue in the face, but there’s not much point in talking to the hand that doesn’t want to listen. I can try to educate by writing articles and making them freely available, but that’s also pointless if nobody reads them. But maybe I have this all wrong; maybe most people don’t want or care enough to make a better image. They don’t get kept up at night wondering about experiments and new locations and considering how they could improve or rehearsing the shot list for tomorrow’s shoot.

And I leave it at this: where do we go from here? Where do you want to go with your photography? MT

__________________

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. I have already made most of my equipment choices over the years – because it doesn’t make sense to wait forever. It’ll never come to my mind to become a fanboy of any brand as all of them screw us wherever they can in one way or another.
    We are on a technical level, where the better beats the good. Shat wasn’t to beat yesterday is only second class today.
    And almost every new camera comes with quirks. I’ve read your reports and many others: no camera is perfect. Firmware updates have provided an after sale design-phase to the makers and rendered the customers to Beta testers more abundantly. But the many models in the annual renewal cycle hardly get a new firmware. Buy the next iteration. Therefore I’d never buy nor recommend any model with an annual renewal cycle.
    The best joke is the Leica LS: 11,000€ for body& “kit-“lens. I might as well lit some cigars with 500 € bills… because for that kind of money I’d expect perfection and not hoping on a makers grace to improve it by a firmware update.

    Many of the makers are shareholder companies. In a globalized world, monitored and computer-controlled 24/7, shareholder companies are an essential element of the upcoming apocalypse. No, I’m neither paranoid nor super religious. But even the best leader/CEO can’t offer a good leadership under the condition of a 3 month planning horizon in which the figures should be increased by a 2 digit-percentage. If a leader let himself become a bond-slave of the quarterly financial statement and an incompetent marketing department, then his sole priority must be to satisfy the shareholders and the expectations of the analysts. Companies going this avenue must do anything, to increase their quarter results. This, more often than not, results in cheating customers (e.g. Volkswagen), polluting the environment (e.g. with fracking), abusing the workforces in low-wages countries (e.g. Apple and many fashion-companies) etc..
    Camera makers and others shortened “time to market” on costs of QC as well as thorough development. They frequently cut services andare reducing costs on the back of their employees. That is, because it’s simply impossible to increase sales every three months.

    Of course I know that companies exist to make money, but in our times it appears, many saw on the branch they sit on. If the customers realize that they are only interesting as cash cow and their needs are ignored, customer tie and customer loyalty becomes an illusion. Providing a good service or really being interested in their customer’s needs are the relicts of the last century. Probably the Nikon F2 was the last 35mm camera really being build to serve the needs of the customers. A bunch of the following cameras may have been good, but not as good as they could have been because the makers began their tactical moves, which got refined in the digital age!
    And these circumstances deserve rants.

    On the other hand, we have to consider a bunch of stupid customers/users. Some because their enthusiasm for modern technology blinds them for any risk they take, some others are not willing to think at all and some think they can behave like they want to (namely like trash!) pretending they have understood the point of the other or even think they’d know it all.
    Unfortunately 90% of the people are satisfied with sloppy cellphone shots and the most important factor of every photograph is “me-in-front-of” and all that self-expression facebook-shit. They won’t be impressed by a qualified illumination about the IQ of Zeiss or Leica lenses – you could rather score with a test of Selfie-Sticks…
    Don’t let you get troubled by these idiots – probably they have no say anywhere else, but in blogs!
    In western countries (US and Europe as well) we’ll become increasingly governed by mob and ragtag. And our politicians prefer people with no brain, because it is easier to sell them all the lies and the mess they wreaked.

    Photography, however, is a demanding art and as such also subjected to personal taste. But beyond taste one should see and acknowledge the proficiency and skill of execution of the presented work. And you are very right: this needs education – not only in photography but in social intelligence as well.

    I enjoy and admire most of the photographs you have presented in your blog. Already because they reveal your skilled view and vision, seeing things that at least 95% would walk by without notice. There is much to learn – at least for me.
    I also like your philosophical remarks and thoughts.

    There’s actually just only one thing I’d disagree with: In my opinion by far not all things we desire, are exceeding our skills and capabilities! In fact a lot of things should be a matter of course:

    e.g. scratchproof Gorilla Glass (instead of this ugly Nikon plastic shield)for the rear screen.

    e.g. tripod threads set at a location, which avoids covering the battery-door with the modest size plates

    e.g. 2 Card-compartmentss: SD-Cards are smaller than CF, don’t have pins which easily bent, are well developed by now, if only the makers would finally give us the fast UHS II standard. At least I would prefer to have only one type of cards!

    e.g.Nikon launched the Df. But loud and encompassing promotion should blind us to realize that Nikon missed the point: the idea wasn’t bad but the execution was/is ignorant. Fuji demonstrated with their X-T1 what a Df could have been! But Nikon’s peak of narrow-mindness was to design a camera for traditional MF-lenses but withholding a splitscreen with microprism ring.
    in fact the screens should be interchangeable by the user at least at all upper level DSLR (D7200,D750, D810). Instead of supporting manual focus, the present screens are rather designed to accommodate entry-level cameras and lenses.

    e.g. meanwhile the makers should have given us sensors supporting contrast AF.

    e.g. a flip-screen and 2 user positions (they better had 3) on the mode dial aren’t professional enough? Hallo??? If this works fine on a D750 why shouldn’t it on aD810?

    e.g. why can’t we get a single type remote control for all cameras of a maker?

    e.g. electronic memory isn’t rocket science anymore. Why then do makers save every Bit they can?

    e.g. the width of upper level Nikon DSLRs differ by only few Millimeters. Considering the restrictive handcarry limitations on flights: Is it really quite impossible to have one battery-pack fitting all of them? Or offering versions with the D4 battery right away?

    e.g. after a long time makers gave us WiFi, but then the possibilities to remote control the camera with a cellphone is extremely poor. Again Fuji shows Canon and Nikon what remote control should have been.

    e.g. concerning flash guns, it was often asserted that a radio trigger would be too complicated due to the frequency restrictions in different countries/regions etc. etc. Then, surprise, surprise Canon could do it.
    Region-related difficulties? Hilarious! If it is about excluding products from guarantee, because one bought it outside the home country, there are no difficulties at all. As the companies take less production precision in account by producing all over the world, they should be forced to offer the same warrantee all over the world, no matter where the product is bought. Again it’s only about the money.
    Even more so when we regard the QC situation. Of course QC costs money. But if we have to file complaints and sent the product back and forth it costs even more money and our time.

    Let alone the design of lenses. It is no accident that Zeiss, Sigma and now Tamron too are fishing in the market of the makers. And Canon’s and Nikon’s ignorance deserve that they do. Instead designing better and the demanded lenses the big two develop stuff to make the life of other lens-makers more difficult.
    One more part of the ignorance is also the choice of the preferred customer group. Nikon e.g. seem to have decided for portrait- and wedding-photographers. Maybe these are important for the turnover at Nikon. But the result is for instance that Nikon build an AF-S 58mm f1.4 that I wouldn’t even trade for my AF-S 50mm f1.8! And really, how many wideangles do one need, where the makers trade in corner sharpness for bokeh? I could do with f2.8 or even f3.5 wideangles, if I get corner to corner sharpness, microcontrast and no field curvature!!!

    For me 36 MP are sufficient, thus I’m not moaning for more. If the A7rII would have been more perfect, it would be worth a second thought due to the lens-mount versatility with the metabones adapter. I don’t need a red dot neither 50 MP body from a 35mm camera maker that doesn’t have the lenses for it.

    I’ll never become anybody’s fanboy – the makers are interested in my money and I’m interested in the best deal. Best deal for me isn’t just about the price but the right gear. If the Sigma 50mm Art is better than anything, Nikon has to offer, Nikon should go to hell with their Bokeh priority.
    On the way I also learned to get rid of some wants. The Otus lenses e.g. are most likely the best, money can buy. But I needed to decide, if I’m ready to take the “MF-effort-penalty” for the Otus and I decided No, no MF-lenses above 28mm focal length, period! (at 28mm and below, DOF will help)
    I forego video with digital cameras entirely. First, with the codec in DSLRs we get screwed again – if we do something commercial, the codex maker requires a fee.
    Second, the extra equipment necessary to achieve real professional results (smooth zoom, focus and aperture, recorders etc.) costs a hell of a money.

    I don’t take orders for “pennies” anymore. Though it would be good to have some return for the increasing investments in gear, but I can’t let my nerves get ruined. The few buyers left, are hard to satisfy – they always want a Mercedes for the price of a VW Golf and this doesn’t work.
    And if money isn’t that tight, they are buying the guru-status of bidders. Not because these bidders would deliver so outstanding work, but they provide an alibi for the one who make the decision. That doesn’t only happen in photography; the same counts for consultants, Business-Coaches and what have you…
    Bidders chosen by their guru-status can practically do whatever they want, cause the buyer can always say, that they chose the best possible…
    Long story short, I wouldn’t be able to make my living with photography.

    Sure, Apple looks pretty attractive, BUT glued in batteries, music control by iTunes depending on the country you go to etc. thank you, but NO thank you!

    Long time ago I engaged in photo-exhibitions and did public slideshows (still with real slides back then) but increasingly realized that the people’s interest turned away from photography.
    If coming into a conservation about particular photos it became increasingly academic or about with which brand a photo was made, the latter just to confirm their brand opinion or not.
    Photography to me is something I want to enjoy in, something that inspires me and pulls me up. Therefore I avoid all these unfruitful discussions.

    Best regards
    Manfred

    • Thanks for the very detailed analysis – I agree, and have been doing my thing regardless of hardware. But it doesn’t stop us from a) seeing easily fixable shortcomings b) getting frustrated with the flippant attitudes of manufacturers and c) deciding enough is enough at some point…

  2. Dear Ming

    I have already made most of my equipment choices over the years – because it doesn’t make sense to wait forever. It’ll never come to my mind to become a fanboy of any brand as all of them screw us wherever they can in one way or another.
    We are on a technical level, where the better beats the good. Shat wasn’t to beat yesterday is only second class today.
    And almost every new camera comes with quirks. I’ve read your reports and many others: no camera is perfect. Firmware updates have provided an after sale design-phase to the makers and rendered the customers to Beta testers more abundantly. But the many models in the annual renewal cycle hardly get a new firmware. Buy the next iteration. Therefore I’d never buy nor recommend any model with an annual renewal cycle.
    The best joke is the Leica LS: 11,000€ for body& “kit-“lens. I might as well lit some cigars with 500 € bills… because for that kind of money I’d expect perfection and not hoping on a makers grace to improve it by a firmware update.

    Many of the makers are shareholder companies. In a globalized world, monitored and computer-controlled 24/7, shareholder companies are an essential element of the upcoming apocalypse. No, I’m neither paranoid nor super religious. But even the best leader/CEO can’t offer a good leadership under the condition of a 3 month planning horizon in which the figures should be increased by a 2 digit-percentage. If a leader let himself become a bond-slave of the quarterly financial statement and an incompetent marketing department, then his sole priority must be to satisfy the shareholders and the expectations of the analysts. Companies going this avenue must do anything, to increase their quarter results. This, more often than not, results in cheating customers (e.g. Volkswagen), polluting the environment (e.g. with fracking), abusing the workforces in low-wages countries (e.g. Apple and many fashion-companies) etc..
    Camera makers and others shortened “time to market” on costs of QC as well as thorough development. They frequently cut services andare reducing costs on the back of their employees. That is, because it’s simply impossible to increase sales every three months.

    Of course I know that companies exist to make money, but in our times it appears, many saw on the branch they sit on. If the customers realize that they are only interesting as cash cow and their needs are ignored, customer tie and customer loyalty becomes an illusion. Providing a good service or really being interested in their customer’s needs are the relicts of the last century. Probably the Nikon F2 was the last 35mm camera really being build to serve the needs of the customers. A bunch of the following cameras may have been good, but not as good as they could have been because the makers began their tactical moves, which got refined in the digital age!
    And these circumstances deserve rants.

    On the other hand, we have to consider a bunch of stupid customers/users. Some because their enthusiasm for modern technology blinds them for any risk they take, some others are not willing to think at all and some think they can behave like they want to (namely like trash!) pretending they have understood the point of the other or even think they’d know it all.
    Unfortunately 90% of the people are satisfied with sloppy cellphone shots and the most important factor of every photograph is “me-in-front-of” and all that self-expression facebook-shit. They won’t be impressed by a qualified illumination about the IQ of Zeiss or Leica lenses – you could rather score with a test of Selfie-Sticks…
    Don’t let you get troubled by these idiots – probably they have no say anywhere else, but in blogs!
    In western countries (US and Europe as well) we’ll become increasingly governed by mob and ragtag. And our politicians prefer people with no brain, because it is easier to sell them all the lies and the mess they wreaked.

    Photography, however, is a demanding art and as such also subjected to personal taste. But beyond taste one should see and acknowledge the proficiency and skill of execution of the presented work. And you are very right: this needs education – not only in photography but in social intelligence as well.

    I enjoy and admire most of the photographs you have presented in your blog. Already because they reveal your skilled view and vision, seeing things that at least 95% would walk by without notice. There is much to learn – at least for me.
    I also like your philosophical remarks and thoughts.

    There’s actually just only one thing I’d disagree with: In my opinion by far not all things we desire, are exceeding our skills and capabilities! In fact a lot of things should be a matter of course:

    e.g. scratchproof Gorilla Glass (instead of this ugly Nikon plastic shield)for the rear screen.

    e.g. tripod threads set at a location, which avoids covering the battery-door with the modest size plates

    e.g. 2 Card-compartmentss: SD-Cards are smaller than CF, don’t have pins which easily bent, are well developed by now, if only the makers would finally give us the fast UHS II standard. At least I would prefer to have only one type of cards!

    e.g.Nikon launched the Df. But loud and encompassing promotion should blind us to realize that Nikon missed the point: the idea wasn’t bad but the execution was/is ignorant. Fuji demonstrated with their X-T1 what a Df could have been! But Nikon’s peak of narrow-mindness was to design a camera for traditional MF-lenses but withholding a splitscreen with microprism ring.
    in fact the screens should be interchangeable by the user at least at all upper level DSLR (D7200,D750, D810). Instead of supporting manual focus, the present screens are rather designed to accommodate entry-level cameras and lenses.

    e.g. meanwhile the makers should have given us sensors supporting contrast AF.

    e.g. a flip-screen and 2 user positions (they better had 3) on the mode dial aren’t professional enough? Hallo??? If this works fine on a D750 why shouldn’t it on aD810?

    e.g. why can’t we get a single type remote control for all cameras of a maker?

    e.g. electronic memory isn’t rocket science anymore. Why then do makers save every Bit they can?

    e.g. the width of upper level Nikon DSLRs differ by only few Millimeters. Considering the restrictive handcarry limitations on flights: Is it really quite impossible to have one battery-pack fitting all of them? Or offering versions with the D4 battery right away?

    e.g. after a long time makers gave us WiFi, but then the possibilities to remote control the camera with a cellphone is extremely poor. Again Fuji shows Canon and Nikon what remote control should have been.

    e.g. concerning flash guns, it was often asserted that a radio trigger would be too complicated due to the frequency restrictions in different countries/regions etc. etc. Then, surprise, surprise Canon could do it.
    Region-related difficulties? Hilarious! If it is about excluding products from guarantee, because one bought it outside the home country, there are no difficulties at all. As the companies take less production precision in account by producing all over the world, they should be forced to offer the same warrantee all over the world, no matter where the product is bought. Again it’s only about the money.
    Even more so when we regard the QC situation. Of course QC costs money. But if we have to file complaints and sent the product back and forth it costs even more money and our time.

    Let alone the design of lenses. It is no accident that Zeiss, Sigma and now Tamron too are fishing in the market of the makers. And Canon’s and Nikon’s ignorance deserve that they do. Instead designing better and the demanded lenses the big two develop stuff to make the life of other lens-makers more difficult.
    One more part of the ignorance is also the choice of the preferred customer group. Nikon e.g. seem to have decided for portrait- and wedding-photographers. Maybe these are important for the turnover at Nikon. But the result is for instance that Nikon build an AF-S 58mm f1.4 that I wouldn’t even trade for my AF-S 50mm f1.8! And really, how many wideangles do one need, where the makers trade in corner sharpness for bokeh? I could do with f2.8 or even f3.5 wideangles, if I get corner to corner sharpness, microcontrast and no field curvature!!!

    For me 36 MP are sufficient, thus I’m not moaning for more. If the A7rII would have been more perfect, it would be worth a second thought due to the lens-mount versatility with the metabones adapter. I don’t need a red dot neither 50 MP body from a 35mm camera maker that doesn’t have the lenses for it.

    I’ll never become anybody’s fanboy – the makers are interested in my money and I’m interested in the best deal. Best deal for me isn’t just about the price but the right gear. If the Sigma 50mm Art is better than anything, Nikon has to offer, Nikon should go to hell with their Bokeh priority.
    On the way I also learned to get rid of some wants. The Otus lenses e.g. are most likely the best, money can buy. But I needed to decide, if I’m ready to take the “MF-effort-penalty” for the Otus and I decided No, no MF-lenses above 28mm focal length, period! (at 28mm and below, DOF will help)
    I forego video with digital cameras entirely. First, with the codec in DSLRs we get screwed again – if we do something commercial, the codex maker requires a fee.
    Second, the extra equipment necessary to achieve real professional results (smooth zoom, focus and aperture, recorders etc.) costs a hell of a money.

    I don’t take orders for “pennies” anymore. Though it would be good to have some return for the increasing investments in gear, but I can’t let my nerves get ruined. The few buyers left, are hard to satisfy – they always want a Mercedes for the price of a VW Golf and this doesn’t work.
    And if money isn’t that tight, they are buying the guru-status of bidders. Not because these bidders would deliver so outstanding work, but they provide an alibi for the one who make the decision. That doesn’t only happen in photography; the same counts for consultants, Business-Coaches and what have you…
    Bidders chosen by their guru-status can practically do whatever they want, cause the buyer can always say, that they chose the best possible…
    Long story short, I wouldn’t be able to make my living with photography.

    Sure, Apple looks pretty attractive, BUT glued in batteries, music control by iTunes depending on the country you go to etc. thank you, but NO thank you!

    Long time ago I engaged in photo-exhibitions and did public slideshows (still with real slides back then) but increasingly realized that the people’s interest turned away from photography.
    If coming into a conservation about particular photos it became increasingly academic or about with which brand a photo was made, the latter just to confirm their brand opinion or not.
    Photography to me is something I want to enjoy in, something that inspires me and pulls me up. Therefore I avoid all these unfruitful discussions.

    Best regards
    Manfred

  3. Welcome to the fallacy of the “digital revolution” The fallacy built on ideas that these devices bring creativity to the “masses” is absolute rubbish. A Mac does not make you “think differently” and post processing is generally a salvaging exercise mixed with some lukewarm afterthought, it’s very rarely a true creative process. The problem with digital is the lack of tangible consequence. Good or bad, therefore people don’t learn from their mistakes they delete them, or worse attempt try fix them in PP. Digital has one true weakness vs analog and It’s process and tangible consequence. Analogue photography has a clearly defined output and a film camera is an all in one device. With physical consequence the creative elements take place in camera. Your intentions are clear vs the output at the moment of capture as most options are predetermined. With digital there is no one clearly defined output and endless options. A digital camera is also a periphery device, to either the smartphone or PC that leaves you the “creative” with endless processing options. To me its wonder many are left confused. bored and uninspired. I have been a creative long before picking up photography so understand the burden of choice. For someone who is discovering their creative side its a bringer of false hope.

    I’m all for digital its great!, However after 2 years of in depth practice, I see some of the draw backs of the medium. The problem isn’t the camera, its the message. People got suckered in to thinking that digital was some kind work around or a short cut, when in reality photography never changed, its always been about the image. The right of passage is more relevant than ever. Content is king ultimately. We have passed the novelty WOW phase of current generation digital and its developed enough to realize its true drawbacks. Handing everyone the ‘keys’ to creativity was just a clever marketing trick, some people are just realizing that there was never a “creative genius” to unlock.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Putting the development in the hands of the consumer hasn’t always resulted in a better outcome; if anything, just random hacking in PS hoping that something can be salvaged. ‘It’ll work in black and who’ve’ is probably the one of the most common comments I hear.

      That said though, there are always exceptions: work that has to be previsualized as a combination of capturing the right thing and using post processing to complete the circuit – there are things like local adjustments that have to be done out of camera, but I suppose this is no different to darkroom mastery – back then there were also people who needed a synthesis of both to achieve their ideas.

      • Martin Fritter says:

        This is somewhat incorrect, I think. If you look at Adams’ three books – Camera, Negative, Print – you’ll see a great deal about how to manipulate the image after it’s taken and how to visualize how what’s being shot will be manipulated. Since it’s around view cameras, it extends even to the choice of film for a scene. These guys even produced special cut-outs on sticks for dodging and burning which they would store away with the negatives. Plus copious notes on the chemistry and paper and on and on.

        I have a bound copy of the “Proceedings of the Philadelphia Photography Society” from the 1890’s and it’s all about chemistry and paper. Unspeakably nerdy. Gene Smith was an amphetamine-, tobacco- and whiskey-fueled darkroom madman. Steichen went to Germany to study chemistry.

        I do recommend Harvey Wang’s “From Darkroom to Daylight” which is a study of the transition analogue to digital and includes interviews with dozens of photographers (e.g. Elliot Erwitt, Alex Webb), software developers and so on.

        Something big really has happened with the digital revolution/Apocalypse and I’m sure I’m not comfortable with it. But the notion that there was some sort of prelapsarian Eden is over simplified. At a minimum, the impulse to tinker and generally fart-around with gear has been co-opted and become a giant, closed-system corporate simulacrum.

        • I think there’s a little miscommunication here – I agree with you, but from a slightly different angle. The ‘darkroom madmen’ weren’t quite as mainstream, but yes, arguably no less manipulative. We now have a much larger proportion of the enthusiast population that’s now ‘developing their own at home’ without much restraint or education who used to send their film to labs…

          • Here’s a quote from a forthcoming magazine interview I conducted with Cliff Mautner, when I asked him if there was anything he missed about shooting back in the days of film…

            “I miss being considered a craftsman and an artist. Back in those days, long before the iPhone era, we were the official documentarians of an event ― whatever it might have been ― and people would have to wait a few weeks to see the images, and when they did they were astounded. The reliving and the retelling of that story through the imagery from the film; we were honestly looked upon as magicians. Today, there aren’t enough craftsman, in my opinion […] Remember, there is no unsuck filter in Photoshop.”

      • A recent big eye-opening experience for me has been a look-through of various smartphone and tablet photo apps. The interfaces are quite good in some of these. Meanwhile Photoshop has become a cluttered mess ( I have over 20 years Photoshop experience), as features spread to increase appeal beyond professionals. I now use Lightroom quite extensively, though I would not call it user friendly. Some photo apps now handle RAW (mostly just DNG) files, and I think these are nearly enough for the majority of amateur photographers. Simplification of photography is badly needed.

        • Agreed. Elements and LR really need to merge into something that’s powerful enough for all photo needs but cuts out all of the other stuff – I don’t recall the last time a photographer required 3D printing, for instance…

    • Analog is just as vulnerable to post-processed creative revisionism as digital – digital just makes it more accessible. I don’t see how choice itself can be considered a drawback unless one is uncomfortable with the concept of unlimited variety and so takes comfort with externally imposed restrictions as a means to make creative decisions easier. All things being equal I’d rather the next creative genius be born into a world of unlimited possibility rather than having an arbitrary legacy structure imposed on him/her.

      • Oddly, I can’t help but feel the imposed arbitrary structure actually forces the world to acknowledge that genius. Otherwise, the commentary is liable to be ‘oh, but I can do that too in Photohsop’ – regardless of whether that’s true or not.

      • My point being analog doesn’t require post processing. You can hand it to a lab. All you need to worry about is getting right in camera. With digital its a requirement and most of the time it is simply bridging the gap or filling technical holes.. Fix it in post is the catch cry of the digital age, its lazy. Most of what software offers are simply tools that emulate analog anyways.
        I’m uncomfortable with the fact that there is a digital monopoly on creativity and that it might be the only option for photography in the future. Having a tangible consequence is one of the best ways to learn. I find it ironic that with all these creative options in the world kids today freeze up when confronted with a pencil and sheet of paper. Easier isn’t always better, restrictions are the mother of invention and digital is limited to what the software developer decides to gives you as an option. Its really not that creative. You want to find a creative genius give them a lump of clay not an ipad.!

        • The lab can screw it up too; it’s happened to me. And at that point, it’s unrecoverable.

          Not sure I agree with the digital monopoly though. You could still shoot and develop your own film 🙂

          Lastly; the ultimate merger of creativity and digital: Sugru 😛

          • I haven’t been so unfortunate yet, I have a good lab here in Melbourne but yes it could happen. SD cards can get corrupted too:P although they are pretty dam tough. My fear is for colour film. Its a highly technical process that is hard to justify small runs its just too expensive. Ones its gone, its gone for good.There is something about having that tangible original cell that makes a RAW file seem somewhat cheap in comparison.

            Sugru, life mods made easy! Now we can post process “Ready Made’s” in 10 different flavors. Duchamp? Pfft!! I got Sugru 😀

            • Slide especially. I had a couple of rolls that were part ruined by the lab the last time – it looked as though there wasn’t quite enough chemical in some of the tanks to cover all of the film, so corners were oddly toned/faded 😦 Nothing you can do to recover those, either. I was left a) angry and b) thankful that those weren’t critical frames.

              Seriously though, Sugru has solved so many photographic-ergonomic problems I don’t even know where to start.

              • Yes, I have been shooting slide film alongside negative all this year. Haven’t had an issue yet (touch wood) but lucky to have a lab here that has been handling the stuff for over 30 years and that care enough about their lab. That being said slide is certainly the next casualty of the film era, Ill just keep shooting it till I can’t anymore. There is something nice about building a large body on 1 particular stock that give it a certain heft. This is a side project for me, but one that I am probably the most excited about realizing, as its some of my best work . Hopefully there is a few good years left, although support is dwindling 😦

                I did have a proper look at that site. Its actually a pretty neat product. I have a Sigma DPM3 crying for some. The magnetic version is pretty impressive.

    • Digital photography can be convenient, can be quicker to go from tripping shutter, to evaluating the results, to printing. Digital is now better at low light shooting than high speed color film ever was. Digital is better at subtle alterations of color than conventional EP2 and RA4 printing were. You can easily shift a narrow range of color in digital post processing, making your yellows less green, in a way that can’t be done with a darkroom print. It’s an amazing set of tools, allowing a part-time artist like me to realize my vision, but digital photography can’t make a boring photo into a good one.

      The internet, plus the digital camera, and the smartphone, has allowed the expansion of crappy photos to exponentially increase. Several orders of magnitude more photos have been produced, and seen, in the past 15 years than in the first 170 years of photography. But I think not that many more good photos have been made in that time than in previous 15 year stretch. However, most people are probably almost fully satisfied with all these easy images, selfies and snapshots, and they don’t really care about doing photography any better. For most people photography is just not a high art, not a profession, it’s a folk art, or a personal/social media documentary exercise, a way to connect to friends. Much of this onslaught of new photos has the half-life of plutonium in a critical mass, and will evaporate faster than film photography did, because people print less than they used to, not even going to the drugstore or local photo store to get film developed and printed like they used to. Many new images will die by the billions as computer hard drives die, and even servers at Flickr won’t keep everything forever. Even if the company survives for a long time they are going to trash photos of fallow accounts eventually, assuming their users have died and nobody cares about their images. The assumption will probably be right most of the time.

      How is one to be serious about photography in such a world? I fall back on trying to work somewhat as I worked in film, take pictures, experiment seriously and casually, try to find some subjects worth spending time documenting. And I make prints almost every week, and show them to people, occasionally exhibiting them. It’s enough for me. Hopefully someone will care about some of the prints when I’m gone.

      • I think realistically due to the proliferation, we just have to make sure they do what they’re supposed to – whether that’s pay the bills or just make us happy. Longevity is going to be extremely tough.

        • “Archival” digital prints might be good for a century or two, if kept carefully. If they are liked long enough to be kept by someone, their future really is the collector’s problem. Nothing beats properly processed silver prints for B&W, but color is another matter. I suppose one could have color separations printed on B&W film, and warehoused somewhere safe, but that seems like a lot of effort. Will anyone in the future care to put those colors back together in a print?

          But yes, think about the now more than the far future.

          • Bigger question: assuming the archival process is good enough to avoid degradation, even if they put them back together, will they look as-intended to begin with?

            • Probably not, but maybe better than a faded print? On the other hand, a faded print could be scanned and reprinted perhaps, also with loss of fidelity to what it may have originally looked like. Like restoring the Sistine Chapel, color photographs will be a problem for art conservators, and it will be out of our hands.

    • I know what I’m about to say may seem a bit fanciful or frivolous, but what distinguishes film for me is that the film itself was at the actual event, and it has etched onto it an image by photons reflected off the actual subject. Think of all of the famous photographs in history done on film: the film itself was a physical witness to that event. From things as profound as D-Day, Saigon, Trinity, etc. to things more prosaic like your wedding or birthday or that time you drove through Montana.

      There’s some kind of metaphysical connection there that seems meaningful. I’ve studied information theory as that is part and parcel of my profession and appreciate the reproducibility, robustness, and portability of digital encoding, but there’s some kind of romance of knowing that the film was there. OK, so if I could hold a digital camera that was at some event, I know its sensor was touched by the same photons, but that seems a lot more ephemeral than a bit of film.

      • davefullerton says:

        Interesting, Andre. The meaning we give to anything – a tool, a medium, an experience of being there – is such a personal thing and so connected to our own larger world view. And I think that ‘meaning’ will affect our capture of the moment, or later post-work on the image much more than any marginal difference in resolution/sharpness or whatever. For me personally, the meaning is less about the medium and more linked to the fact that I was/we were there in that place, at that time. So the measure of the images/footage is how well they evoke that experience for me, or communicate it to others.

        • I don’t think that difference is significant. Both film and digital are just means to “fix a shadow,” as they said in the 19th Century. Either can be manipulated. Either can be done “straight.”

          My aunt Pat was a commercial photographer and retoucher extraordinaire of B&W photos. One job she did for a customer was literally to cut the ex-wife out of a couple’s photo and insert the new wife. She did a very fine job of it using 5×7″ copy negatives and retouching both negative and print. The customer was very pleased, and you would have to examine the final print very closely to see it was manipulated. Ad agencies used to employ fleets of airbrush artists and retouchers. There was nothing very authentic about their output, which was as much painting as it was photography.

          I keep my digital manipulations to a minimum. My aim is to be as straight as I can, to get the image to look like a true document of a place or time. I try to get what I want in camera first, just as with film. On most images I correct the color minimally, remove the few oil spots from the sky, tweak the contrast and do a little dodging and burning. Very rarely I will take out a twig on the frame edge or make some other small area of an image a composite. Nothing compared to what Oscar Gustave Rejlander did with film, or what Robert and Shana Parke-Harrison or Jerry Uelsmann do now in the contemporary photographic art scene by manipulating film or film and paper, using similar techniques to Rejlander.

          So no, I don’t think film photography is inherently more authentic than digital. Authenticity solely depends on the intent of the image creator.

      • That’s an interesting way of looking at it…in that sense, it really is a piece of the action…

    • I find digital to be a great way to learn. Try things several ways, then get back, analyse the results of the shoot, stop doing what doesn’t work or doesn’t really appeal to you, keep on doing what works.

      As for equipment, there’s an opportunity cost to equipment – not just the money spent on the equipment, but the amount of time spent learning about the new equipment rather than learning to use the existing equipment more to your satisfaction. There’s something to be said about using one or two pieces of equipment until you know “everything” that you can do with the equipment on hand. Limited choices of equipment can lead to more actual seeing and thinking.

  4. Thank you for the thought provoking article Ming.

    I am an amateur photographer – I will never be a professional photographer. My photography is a hobby, and is therapy for me in a profession where it is very easy to never stop working. It has been very helpful to know why I photograph, and this has of course guided what I do, and what gear I have. I also travel a lot for my work, so small and relatively light gear has been important.

    Like most everyone GAS is a lurking issue, compounded in my case by having sufficient income to buy what I want.

    My current set up is an APS-C DSLR, and a range of new and legacy (manual focus) lenses, which allow me to experiment, learn and enjoy trying different lenses, shooting etc. The camera and sensor are more than sufficient for my needs.

    That does not mean I haven’t been tempted many times to buy and try the latest and greatest – say a 50MP medium format system and top quality lenses, or an Otus lens as an example. Two things have been really helpful in resisting this.

    First, a while back I brought a Leica Digilux 2 for 12 months (in between DSLR’s) 5 MP, maximum 400 ISO, and simple old style controls forced me to get back to learning how to photograph (which I had known pre digital) rather than relying on all the tech-wizardry of the DSLR. Once I had relearnt some of those lessons, I went back to a DSLR a lot happier. My lesson – remember how to photograph (record light) and don’t get lost in the tech.

    Second, Ming your many articles on shooting envelopes, technique, and diminishing returns as you move up the tech/sensor/lens quality tree. I have found these really helpful in realising ‘who am I kidding’ as a photographer. In my own opinion I am ‘ok’ but with still massive amounts to learn in my photography. I have limited time to learn, and practice, and so progress for me will be steady but slow. Buying absolutely top quality gear is not going to make me a better photographer or make better photographs, that is more ‘deliberate practice’ as Geoff Colvin noted in his book ‘Talent is Overrated’. As you have noted so many times, there are very quickly diminishing returns with gear as you move up the quality scale. Simply, at the moment, I am not a good enough photographer to realistically get much more out better gear. So much to learn yet, not enough time.

    In the end I enjoy learning and getting better, but also don’t want to lose the enjoyment of my hobby. My challenges around this are my own.

    As many others have noted, I enjoy reading your thoughts and thinking on this blog – they challenge me, teach me, and have saved me from my own stupidity on many an occasion with regard to gear. Thank you for that.

    I will look forward to reading what comes next on this journey you are on.

    • I’ll be the first to admit that talent is overrated. My early work was absolutely rubbish and sometimes induced sympathetic blindness in my audience. I have only improved because I practice a lot and consciously think about the intent, the outcome and the medium and its interpretation – though some would argue I haven’t improved at all 🙂

      That said, the joy of photography for me is increasingly reverting to less is more – there is ‘good enough’ and there is ‘feels right’ and there is a happy medium available now. It just requires to consider options we might have otherwise dismissed…

  5. Funnily enough it was chasing the gear dragon that killed photography for me. Stone dead. I moved from Pentax DSLR, which is sublime in use to Sony mirrorless simply to get a full frame camera to adapt lenses too. Then started buying expensive FE native glass.

    Big mistake.

    Your best images come from equipment you’re most comfortable and confident with. Even if the hideous internet marketing machine and all it’s fan boys tell you otherwise, there’s not a lot of difference in the output of good lenses regardless of brand, or cameras for that matter. But if you’re not comfortable with handling and user interface, it will show in your work as it has done mine (awful now, worse than starting from scratch).

    Ming’s absolutely right. If you get suckered into acquiring more and more gear thinking it will somehow improve your skills as a photographer, improve your work, you’ll just end up being a broke consumer (this stuff ain’t cheap) with the joy of real photography a distant memory.

    • You’re spot on about the comfort factor – which is why I place so much stock in ergonomics (much to the incomprehension of most of the Internet). There is a difference, but you have to be comfortable enough with the underlying operation of the thing in order to be able to extract it.

      • This is it and I didn’t know until I moved to Sony. Pentax was my first “proper” camera, had three of them in a row, K-5, K-5IIs and then the K-3. To this day all my best photos came from the K-5IIs with the FA Limited’s, 31 and 77mm. That camera hits the sweet spot on just about everything. All money spent since I may as well have just caught on fire, done more harm than good.

        • I’m starting to feel the same way about my Sony too. Burning more money in search of a solution doesn’t feel right either…

          • I’ve done a shed load of money, I could cry to be honest. A7r + grip, FE 28/2, FE 35/1.4, FE55/1.8, FE70-200/4 G, ten batteries, two chargers, expensive adapters . . . .We’re talking like £5k or so . . . then an A6000 . . . what’s the definition of madness again?

            • It’s not small anymore, is it? And I find we keep trying to find solutions to things that weren’t problems before, like battery life or responsiveness or missing lenses, out of plane adaptors…

              The A6000 I cannot help you with though! 😛

              • Nope, not small or light when you take the whole system into account and that the zooms are smaller/lighter because they’re f/4. Really there’s nothing in it compared to DSLR weight. But it doesn’t matter how light the thing is if you don’t even want to pick it up. May as well be a thousand tonnes. Oh the sluggishness. Oh dear me. Why? Just why? And the AF? And and and . . .

                The A6000 is pretty neat as a near pocket sized camera, but still not anywhere near a Pentax K-series for shooting pleasure. Never got used to any of this gear, tried too, but soon as I get the chance the lot is going on the bay and someone else can enjoy it.

                • I’m glad I’m not the only one finding it slow. I’ve been wondering if I’m doing something wrong since everybody seems to think it’s better than their DSLRs. The truth is…it simply isn’t. It’s just not as responsive and it’s cost me shots.

                  The A6000 is even less camera-like. I tried one briefly and whilst it did feel a bit faster and more responsive than the A7RII, it just felt fiddly.

  6. Long time reader. Never commented I think. FWIW your blogs and tutorial videos have most definitely taken me to a point I never thought possible. The day I lost my gear lust was the day I truly started enjoying photography as an activity. I don’t do this professionally and I hope I continue enjoying it for a long time to come. And best wishes, success and happiness on the path you’ve taken, occasional frustrations and all.

  7. Baby of Macon says:

    Ming, I’ve been here for a while now and have found your site to be both educational and inspirational. Professionally, I’m also involved in high end audio and everything you say about forums applies there in spades too. But back to photography… I think photography has a real problem because its such a nexus of technology confronting a creative art. As technology iterates even faster, it threatens to overwhelm or at least to distract from the art. And I say that as one who really appreciates the creative potential of better technology. But at the end of the day creativity comes from within, not from without.

  8. That was a good read! thanks Ming (..and coming from a gear head like you 😉 )

    • Let’s get one thing straight: I am a gearhead only if it will give me capabilities I didn’t have before, which I can actually use to make different or better images. Not for the sake of it. There’s stuff that’s still in the bag which is positively ancient tech or not very exciting, but there are no better tools – so they remain. And there’s very pedestrian stuff in there too along with the exotics, which again remains because there is no better solution. Hell, a good portion of my corporate documentary work is done with a 24-120…it’s not about gear, it’s about using the right tool for the job so you can do your job better: i.e. making images. As somebody who shoots somewhere between 70 and 100,000 frames a year, I think that’s justified…

      • right! Still, you’re one of the most trusted sources when it comes to the hot new stuff… This is where I come to learn about the new lens or camera from the absolute photographer perpective

  9. Hi Ming,

    Thanks yet again for another thought provoking article, FOC, delivered to my screen!

    OK, so you asked

    “Where do you want to go with your photography?”

    Well, it’s just a hobby and I’m strictly amateur… but I have an opinion.

    I like Fuji X cameras. I don’t care who else does or doesn’t.

    This year I made a resolution with myself about MY photography. I won’t bore you/your readership with the specifics, except to say an abridged version would be

    “damn it man, get some cohesion, try to make it so that it at least looks like the same person takes all your pictures”

    I had the X-Pro1. But 7 months after the X-T1 came out, I chopped in the ‘Pro’ for the XT. Better AF, wifi blah blah, to be fair it’s a lot better for snaps of our toddler.

    Anyway, about 6 months ago (which was 2 months after the resolution) I re got the X-Pro1, because I missed having a OVF and mainly because someone with some sort of GAS swapped me it (+ 2 lenses) for a X100s.

    Of course the AF is still slow… So now (unlike before when I let it frustrate me) I just use it in MF, and if I get focus then great, if not – must try harder or learn to anticipate the subject.

    Well I’ve really enjoyed shooting with it!! The X-T1 never really gets used now.

    The lack of features (compared to more modern stuff) makes me try harder, think more about what I’m doing, the more I use it, the less I use the automated features that it does have.

    -anyway-

    As a amateur it’s hard to get meaningful critique, and to be fair I’m not much past the yellow flowers and squirrels kitschy crap…

    But I’ve been on Flickr 7 years, and half of my all time top photos (views/favs/interestingness) have all been taken in the past 5 months.
    (whilst being in less groups I used to bug with my stuff)

    I’m happy with that & the joy of amateur photography is of course – you’re your own client

    So, what do I want from my photography?

    Keep my current camera, keep pushing my (little) brain to think about the shot more and hopefully continue to grow the curve of my apparent improvement.

    I suspect I’m ‘rocking’ the correct attitude…?

    I feel I’ve been far to self indulgent… but it’s my answer!

    Thanks again

  10. It was interesting reading the comment from somebody who worked in software development; I do as well, and I can’t stand the snippy factional attitudes and flamewars that come along with it. I generally avoid all online discussions of both software and cameras.

    I find that the film community online is a lot more comfortable—not because there’s something amazing about film (old camera magazines are full of what would be pixel-peeping nowadays, and adverts for expensive cameras) or that people who shoot film are unusually lovely (they can be just as snobby, I have no time for the digital-hate and sneering at Lomography that goes on sometimes) but because in general, when everyone is using “obsolete” technology, there’s no race for the new or competition between teams. Maybe somebody likes using old Nikon SLRs. Great! Maybe I like using old Ricoh SLRs, or a Fuji 6×4.5 rangefinder, or large format. That’s great too! And then you can talk about photography.

    P.S. I was talking to the guy who runs the darkroom I use recently, who neither shoots digital or really goes online much, and he asked me about what photography websites were like. “Eh, they’re mostly a bit boring, I don’t read many blogs, they talk about gear all the time and they’re full of fanboys, they don’t really talk about _photography_ much. A few of them I read, though. Like, there’s this one guy, Ming Thein….”

    • Making images is why we’re here, isn’t it? It certainly is the reason why I’m buying stuff. 🙂

      • Well quite. I do wonder sometimes whether some people online are interested in photography as anything more than a way to demonstrate their superior choice in gadget purchasing. But I guess they keep the industry rolling over… my buying a few rolls of HP5+ a month isn’t going to save any factories.

        • Also true. And to be honest, now I’ve figured out how to match digital tonality to film…I’ve shot none of the latter in recent memory. I just don’t have the time…

  11. Homo_erectus says:

    “I am not the only one online who realises that the future is still not here, and the mass online bitterness is a product of people realising something is missing and that sneaky feeling they’ve somehow been deceived, but not fully able to grasp why. (Hint: education should come first.) Any tool is useless without the knowledge to operate it; if anything, the sharper and more specialised the tool, the more likely you are to hurt yourself.”

    I absolutely agree with this and I have a lot of personal experience with what this can look like.

    I tutor a client who has immense disposable income and has a fair amount of prior experience with photography from the days before digital. They hired me to help them learn digital photography. They went out and bought thousands and thousands of dollars worth of lenses and bodies and grips and printers and computers and so on and so forth because they were told that “real photographers” use these things. They signed up for classes in photoshop and photography and then pay me to help them do their homework and teach them how to use the gear.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is a sweet gig and I really like my client personally. But, they cannot really use any of the tools they own and there is a real sense of frustration in that. They’ve made slow progress but the thing holding them back is that they just don’t ever shoot or process except when I am there or when doing a homework assignment for some class. I keep patiently explaining that you have to DO it. You have to go out and shoot and shoot and shoot and then process and process and learn and learn. But they are still shooting a few frames once or twice a week in P and af-c auto and wondering why the camera keeps getting it wrong.

    I feel for my clients frustrations but I also recognize that it’s primarily a problem of their own making. They let their expectations be set incorrectly by people and an industry that cares only about selling product. They bought gear that they didn’t need, or even know how to use, before they had a need for it. My client literally takes 90% of their pictures on an older m/43 camera because it’s simple to use and gives good enough results. I’ve spent so much time trying to convince the client to embrace that m/43 set up because they LIKE using it and aren’t intimidated by it. But “real” photographers use dslrs and huge lenses so the m/43 advice gets lost in the noise. (Of course Olympus is making some huge lenses now so maybe I’ll have better luck in the future lol)

    I think the camera industry is going to collapse or at least severely simplify over the next decade. They’ve created an artificial market by selling cameras and lenses based on their “magic” auto picture taking but the actual hardware just isn’t there and probably never will be. And in practice, for quick snap shots an iPhone is excellent for SO MANY PEOPLE. And you can’t box up and sell perseverance, love, skill, engagement.

    I love your site Ming. Thanks so much for all the work you put into it!

    • I must be a fake photographer because I sometimes use my iPhone.

      I’d actually suggest trying this: collect a bunch of images shot with ‘lesser’ gear. Challenge them to see if they can tell the difference. Or better yet, there’s this post…

      • Homo_erectus says:

        Thanks for linking to that post! I totally forgot you’d made it. I’m going to send it to my client right now. Lol!

  12. Yesterday I covered CMOPO event and the subject was Shock. There are many sides to shock but the speaker was and architecture critic and spoke about how shock is a fundamental part of modern discourse in the arts and went on to focus on architecture and cinema. While I read this article many elements of is speech came to mind, specifically the part where contemporary society (actually already in 1903) promotes the Blasé individual (indifferent to everything), shock is then in turn a tool to provoke the individual out of this state of mind. This is not new and as been a fundamental part of the consumerist/capitalist society. Shock is used as a marketing tool. The speaker argued that the shock is like a drug and the excess of use reduces effectiveness, rendering individuals/consumers indifferent to it in the long run. I believe the photography industry ran into this trap. A camera is a tool unlike a computer, more or faster isn’t necessarily better. Your title is perfect in this sense, pointing out the essencially the essencially autophagic nature of the industry. I’m not entirely sure innovation is the exit in the long run. Perhaps photographic cameras are destined to revert back to its speciallist nature as a tool, loosing its mass market appeal and sending a large part of camera industry out of business.
    Another aspect of shock is how many photographers seem to need new cameras/equipment as a fix in order to keep up the passion alive. I believe that is also part of the blasé nature of the individual.

  13. I agree with everything you wrote Ming. I was about to leave it at that but then decided to think about the matter a little more deeply and, for the sake of discourse, play a little bit of devil’s advocate. The result is more questions than answers. It occurs to me that everyone complains about the limitations of gear, yourself included, even for very advanced, expensive gear that others may not have access to. That leads to the question – what differentiates earnest complaints about gear proffered by those serious about the art of photography from the specious complaints by camera-collecting, gear-head dilettantes? Is there a threshold of artistic achievement that authenticates one groups’ complaints over another? Or absent achievement, a certain number of hours dedicated to the craft that legitimizes complaints? Or is it simply intent and artistic passion vs consumerism? Is complaining about the gear complainers itself a form of luxurious self-indulgence that is indistinguishable from the indulgence dilettantes partake when purchasing expensive gear and then complain about it? A passive form of elitism from both contingents – one based on financial wherewithal, the other on artistic wherewithal – both serving the same underlying psychological master?

    • And then there is the phenomenon of the people who complain about the complainants and their complaints. Everyone has an opinion on a piece of gear, and everyone wants to be right, to have the last word. The anonymity of the internet can play to the baser nature of us all. This leads to acrimony and confusion, without advancing solving problems. Camera and lens makers must have a hard time weighing whose complaints about their products have legitimate points that should be addressed for the next model, and who is merely complaining to complain.

      • And to be sure, one of the things I find weirdest on camera forums is those worrying about others holding the wrong opinions on gear that they don’t even use, like Brand X users telling people Brand Y isn’t worth owning due to its obsolete technology, when the Brand X user has never even used Brand Y. Meanwhile other people are using Brand Y to make wonderful, technically adequate photos, because they have learned to work with its limitations.

      • Anonymity can be an enabler for poor online behavior but it doesn’t need to be, the same as how dissenting point of views don’t necessarily need to result in acrimony. As for the camera makers distinguishing legitimate complaints sadly I don’t think it matters much to them. Resolving a gearhead’s specious complaint may lead to the the purchase of a new model the same as resolving a legitimate complaint from a serious photographer. In fact I suspect that the majority of the incremental gear purchases tilt toward geaheads so if anything camera makers likely listen to them the most (unfortunately).

        • It doesn’t need to be at all. We have names and identities for a reason…which sometimes makes me wonder if I should have been anonymous instead 🙂

        • I think one of the issues is that the (on-line) vocal minority shows up too often in search results. A camera could be perfect for an amateur, but because some pundits bash it, those comments show up in searches, then average consumers decide to avoid that model. I know of past Sony surveys that indicated megapixels, price, and zoom factor were the primary considerations. Smartphones don’t have buttons, knobs, and dials all over them, but the camera enthusiasts have pushed for as many as possible on cameras. I think lower level camera revues should be going to non-enthusiasts, because that’s the target market. Enthusiasts don’t buy enough cameras, nor do professionals.

          Also, the advertising sucks, and needs to be turned over to other companies. I have seen few camera company ads that really showed cameras as lifestyle choices, or why they are better than smartphones. Anyone with a camera already has a smartphone, and most likely has a computer at home. Most of our devices already connect to each other with little effort, but few cameras do that now. Most modern cameras are now relics of a complicated past, when we had to learn many things in order to use them. Either camera makers can change their approach, or the market will become a much smaller realm of niche products.

          • Disconnect between the people designing the products, the people making them, and the people supposedly using them…there is no incentive to change because each faction has its own little fiefdom to protect.

    • What differentiates trolls and the legitimate are the results, or lack of them.

  14. Larry Mendelsohn says:

    It is pure human nature to want the biggest, best shiniest new toy. I saw it all the time when I was avid golfer. People who should have been taking lessons were spending their excess funds on the latest drivers, putters, clubs, balls etc. Don’t even talk about golf clothing (it is not how look, it is how you look when you play). We are bombarded by advertising and promotions. Some photographers have become celebrities sponsored by various camera manufacturers. They shoot the equipment and their videos are all over the web. Photonuts are addicted to this stuff. It does not matter to the vast majority of humanity. I am as guilty as anyone suffering from gas. It is an expensive and addictive habit. I finally came to the realization that practice improves whatever you are doing and not having the best most expensive toys. Being an old film photographer, I remember when the average shooter had one camera with one lens. The other lens was your feet. I have started to get back to that and find it much more enjoyable.

  15. Excellent article. Probably one of the best written I have seen so far.

    I think as we see more niche cameras, we are seeing the death throws of the industry. Throw something out there, and hope it works, or cancel any possible future update when it does not. As an example, I have a Nikon Coolpix A, which is definitely a niche product. I cannot imagine a Coolpix B doing more than shoving more megapixels onto the sensor, or adding a zoom, neither of which I want in this compact camera. While a 50mm (equivalent) compact would get my attention, I doubt one would be very successful in the market.

    I’ve looked into the design process of major Japanese companies with new camera designs. The engineers have a huge influence on development, much more than the product development creatives. Most pros I know like customization, but once they are there, they leave most settings unchanged. Enthusiasts, especially the landscape and bird photographers proliferating the internet, appear to want a dizzying array of features and settings. Amateurs I see often have their cameras on full auto, because it’s simpler. At a time when computers, tablets, and smartphones have become simpler to use, cameras have become more complex, along with 1990s style menu systems. In addressing the vocal internet enthusiasts, while avoiding condemnation, the engineers have killed the camera industry.

    • Thanks Gordon. I’d like to think that any industry is force to innovate, fill the niches, and in doing so hopefully find something with much greater applicability to allow it to grow into a new form – who knows, perhaps one of these innovators like Lytro or Light will eventually stick. So far, nothing has because it’s been too far away away from the accepted norms and just incomplete as a niche, let alone a solution.

      A Coolpix B or a GR50 or Q50 will be successful for the simple reason that one doesn’t exist at all, and people have been asking for it. The GR is now in what, it’s 10th or 11th iteration – evidently there’s enough of a market to keep making them. Ricoh stayed in business, but Pentax did not – and landed up being bought out by the former.

      You’re pretty much spot on with observations of the different user groups: pros just want something to respond the way they expect it to, and change the nature of that response only when necessary. Enthusiasts like to mess around with the features and settings – that’s part of the appeal. Amateurs want better than a phone, but not necessarily the confusing complexity of settings that have no obvious explanation. But it again reinforces why we really need three different design philosophies and three (or more) different product lines: simple and logical for the majority of situations, for the mass market; everything under the sun for the enthusiasts; and then back to simple (but highly customisable) for the pros. The last thing I want to do is be digging through pages of cryptic and poorly structured menus to figure out why the camera is behaving strangely – perhaps this is why the A7RII is so frustrating…

  16. “There are more images than ever in circulation and production, overall standards have gone up both creatively and technically, and yet there’s less value for a good image than ever. Why is this?”

    I’ll venture a guess: Because as the barrier to quality creation falls, more and more people are willing to enter the market at cut-rate prices. The reason the whole value-for-money equation has turned upside down in so many quarters is actually a human failing more than the fault in the digital revolution. New or casual photographers with some modicum of skills who are willing to work for next to nothing to “break in” or “get exposure” need to understand that they’re hurting the industry, not only for professionals, but for themselves down the road. And clients need to be deprogrammed from the whole “get it for free or next to nothing” mentality that this has spawned.

    Frankly, if a client wants a job done for a cut rate price, because they believe digital makes it so quick and easy, I’m inclined to laconically respond with, “Then do it yourself.”

    Tools are tools. They may make things better, faster, or easier, but at the end of the day they’re inanimate objects without a skilled operator. Without a Smith, Arbus, Bresson [insert famous photog here] who has vision, no matter how technically advanced, they’re nothing more than a hammer or saw.

    • You’re right, but it takes a lot of doing it the wrong way (not to mention confidence) to realise that you can say no and still have work. That said, I’ve seen it happen so many times in my market – people working for free or very little – to the point that finding somebody cheap and to hell with the quality has become the norm. I’m not even sure most clients can tell the difference anymore. I have no idea how to get around that; there’s only so much education you can do with a client individual who is there because they need the paycheque and their boss told them to do it, as opposed to actually caring or having any pride in their work.

  17. Ming, I just have two words: Alex Majoli. As you know, he took a 5 mp point and shoot and shot the war and the presidential campaign for Newsweek in the early 2000’s. These point and shoot images won international photography’s highest awards. His secret wasn’t his camera, but the following words: “When I see a memory, I take a picture.” And what great pictures he took….

    Thanks for another brilliant article.

    • Way ahead of you 🙂 He was one of my early influences. And I did revert to compacts for quite a while in the pre-blog days. Some of that work is here.

      It’s telling that he doesn’t use them anymore; the question is whether it’s part of Magnum selling their souls to Leica, or a creative or commercially motivated choice.

      • I nearly went Leica in the early 2000s, after getting a chance to try an M7 with a 90mm f2,8. The problem was that corporate clients at the time wanted to see a big camera. I like using rangefinders, and still use a Bronica RF645 on some projects (when deadlines allow). It’s a different process of working hand held. I would use something else on a tripod. Other than a friend’s ME, I’ve never had a chance to try Leica digital M bodies, though with weight such an issue now in travel, it’s a thought for the future. Google Snapseed now allows RAW DNG editing, so it may be possible to leave the laptop behind too. Magnum may have made a deal, though I don’t think it’s a bad choice for some situations.

        • I did go Leica for a while. Frankly, the digital stuff is just too expensive and unreliable for pro work, and the whole rangefinder system doesn’t really work: it’s impossible to calibrate so all lenses work well with all bodies. That said, the Q is fantastic (and why I’d want a Q50/90, too) and is really what a modern M should be. There’s almost nothing else that comes to mind with the same level of responsiveness and the same massive shooting envelope. Most of my clients these days don’t care what I use because they’re hiring me for the results, and trust that I’ll use whatever is appropriate to get them.

          • I would probably like a Q50 from Leica. They may be the only company to try something like that. The Panasonic LX100 nearly had my attention, but it’s just a bit off from solving my needs. I haven’t ruled out Fuji yet, though the workflow is the hold-up, and I know several pros now using them. So at the moment I wait, and hope that someone develops something that works well, and allows me to carry less weight.

            • Printing from the LX100 was a major disappointment. You have sub-12MP in most modes, which is fine for web but really starts to show at anything above 8×12″ or so.

              • That’s exactly what I would have used it to do. I get some web-only image requests, or a request for separate web images, which is why I have used a Nikon V1 a few times for that. So the LX100 would’ve been a replacement for the V1. The main issue is that it is slower responding than a V1. I do get requests for larger images, but 90% of my work is only printed page size or smaller. In fine art images, I’m mostly still shooting film, and having C-prints or silver prints made. Oddly, I’ve seen large print requests decline as camera megapixels went up; much of the prior stuff was for trade shows, and that market is not doing well.

                • Large print requests are definitely down, but resolution demands are up – art directors are using the extra latitude to get two or three for one – ‘leave us more room’ is a synonym for a) we’re lazy to do different compositions for portrait/landscape/double truck, and b) we’re also too cheap to pay for it.

                  • Sure, ask for web only images, then use the extra resolution to repurpose the same images for print use. I usually respond to such requests that print resolutions means print licensing, which is more expensive for them. Also, when I deliver for printing, the files are print ready cmyk (I did pre-press preparation and commercial printing prior to being a photographer). I know, art buyers are supposed to get as much as possible for as cheap as possible, though I hate seeing them try to be slick and dishonest about it. I go into every project knowing the output needs, and I deliver what is needed. That’s when technical knowledge about printing and presses is valuable to now. It does seem about a fourth of the pros out there just shoot high resolution and hand off very large rgb files, but I’ve never worked that way.

                    • A lot of the time the client doesn’t specify a use either – I’ve had my fair share of blank looks when asking if they’d like CMYK separation for print or not. It’s not just the ‘pros’ who have become lazy and ignorant, it’s everybody. More information has lead to less understanding…

        • Ooh, I loved my Bronica RF645 in my pre-digital days. I still have it and the 45mm, 65mm, and a rare 135mm sitting around neglected. It’s a wonderful little system, though the wheezing shutters in the lenses are, well, unique in sound. I should probably do a B&W figital project with it someday while it still works. It would be neat if someone made a digital medium format rangefinder or mirrorless system like that, though with f/2.8 aperture for the normal and wide-angle lenses and a longer RF base, or a high res EVF instead.

          • I just have the 45mm and 65mm, though I’ve considered getting the 100mm. I really like the ergonomics of the RF645. Nothing else out there like it. I doubt we will see a medium format rangefinder, but perhaps Fuij may do one.

  18. Yes it is a little bit of a rant but you’re right, and we’ve been saying it with motorbikes for years; it’snot what you’ve got but how you ride it. Never mind the trolls, you write a good blog with depth and also insights into a world alien to me as an amateur snapper. Funnily enough the Tight Fisted Photographer blog has a similar theme this week – the guy takes great pictures on an XA2 that cost 0.50GBP! Anyway all the best and just keep on keepin’ on.

    • Put it this way: I try it so you don’t have to 🙂

      Not sure I could get away with a £0.50 digital (do they even exist?) when presenting work to clients, but personally, I’m simplifying.

  19. Firstly, thanks for a good post with a lot of insight. You touch upon a much deeper phenomena than found in photography alone. The belief in the illustion that a piece of technology makes me a better craftsman or artist. I have seen this in my profession as software engineer. I still remember the endless discussions on what was the best programming language, the best operating system and the best computer. Same goes for cameras, as since cameras today are computers the same geeks dominate. At least, there is not lack of passion among the participants that is the problem.

    With the Internet and its online communities these discussuins on the biggest or best or whatever has been globalized. That comes with good side, but also a dark side. On the good side we create global forums like yours. That photographers can bond on a global scale was not possible. On the dark side, the ill intended and the nitpickers have also an arena for their dirty games.

    I round off this time by asking you to continue to produce this faboulous site. Its next to none I have seen, independent of topic. Should I give you an advice, listen to the 20% who are interested learners, that look forward to read your view on the topics presented, agreeing or not. Not the pack of ignorants who dont see the beauty in what you do.

    Have a good weekend Ming.

    • A keyboard is a keyboard and a camera is a camera – I suppose that’s fundamentally at the core of it.

      The internet has also brought about one more downside: we land up with homogenised thought and herd mentality, with any deviation or creative development instantly attacked because of perception and the fact that the herd now feels threatened. Result: stagnation.

      I’m continuing til I’m not continuing – though as remarked before, it’s more like 1% learners rather than 20%…

  20. Christian says:

    Dear Ming,

    For someone just getting back into photography semi-seriously (strictly as an amateur) this is a very refereshing post. I am a cyclist too and recently returned to mountain biking after a long hiatus. I barely recognize the sport. The phenomenon you describe so well applies there as well–to a maddening degree (it’s not as bad with road cycling but it’s close!). The obsession with gear and so forth when technique is so flawed is, well, you said it all. There are many of us in various pursuits, whether as amateurs or professionals, who are symapthetic to your point of view. Do keep the reviews going as they help those of us wanting to learn. I have settled on an OMD EM1 and a Ricoh GR II and am very, very happy and trust I will be for a long time. Once I settled on my kit I stopped reading reviews just as when I settled on my fully rigid Jeff Jones bike did I comepletely abandon reading bike reviews.

    Keep up the good work, please.

    Christian

    PS: And thanks for accepting a couple of recent pics into your Flickr pool

  21. I’ve never understood photographers who feel they need the latest greatest camera body to achieve thier photographic goals. It’s particularly sad when new photographers feel they need to spend $3000 on a body in order to take decent pictures. I feel liberated as I never felt the need for the newest technology. I shoot Canon & Nikon. My newest camera is the Canon 6D. I have a Nikon D7000, but may buy a FF Nikon body within the next year. It will most likely be a D610. The great reviews that 3 year old cameras received when they were first reviewed are still valid today, and the cameras are available now at a fraction of the new price. Yesterday, I was taking fall photos in a nearby woods. I met a photographer who I believe was in his 70s. He said he’s been shooting for over 50 years. Out of curiousity I looked at the camera body mounted on his tripod. It was a Canon 40D. Certainly he could use some kind of upgrade in the near future, but it was refreshing to meet someone who is not affected by advertising or marketing and is simply enjoying photography. I also would like to point out that I continue to be amazed at the consistently great photos I see posted on websites taken with the Nikon D700. Amazing results from old technology. Ming, your website is one of a kind. I really enjoy your reviews and your viewpoints are unique and stimulating. Thanks, and keep up the great work!

    • We had a Big Leap to digital, then a Meaningful Leap with every subsequent generation up to about 2007 or so. Once everybody went full frame and thing settled down, incremental steps haven’t really been meaningful at all. If anything, far from it. I honestly don’t think today’s most of cameras are significantly better from a tool standpoint than they were five, ten years ago. Gadgetry, yes – and this is frequently deluding people into either believing themselves inadequate or drinking the koolaid.

      Frankly, I’d still be using the D700 if a) my clients didn’t ask for more, and b) I didn’t print. Of late, I’ve reverted to something much simpler.

  22. Paul Martinez says:

    Bravo Ming and thank you.

  23. Chuck Nakell says:

    You are one of the very few, in the field of photography, that consistently and intellgently will discuss issues that many of us think about, but seldom see addressed in print. I so look forward, (even when I infrequently disagree with you on some points) to each of your new essays. Big Shout out of Appreciation,
    Chuck Nakell

    • Thanks Chuck. I think if I discussed things like this in print, we’d lose our advertisers (the proverbial ‘tailors’) and go out of business pretty fast 🙂

  24. Don’t let them get to you Ming!

    I am a long time reader, an engineer by profession but photographer by passion. Lately, I have been reading and thinking a great deal about energy, and have become somewhat more philosophical.

    So I shall leave you with a few of my thoughts; with some applicability to photography.

    We currently manufacture and consume products in all forms, which requires energy in all forms to produce. We believe these products to be of ‘value’

    This consumption is currently sustained as the primary source of this energy is relatively accessible and readily available. However this source is ultimately finite, fortunately this is not predicted to happen until a ‘long’ time.
    We will need to transition to other sources, however these sources too can be finite or subject to generation constraints. Consequently energy may not be so readily available on demand.
    Ironically, we also need to a great deal of energy, time and collective will to complete this transition to these alternative sources.

    Hopefully prior to the transition, what we ‘value’ and ultimately consume will change.

    In the interim, I recommend that there is no point wasting more energy in those who mis-focus their own energy in generating output of ‘non-value’.

    What you ‘value’ as an individual is ultimately your choice.

    Best regards.

  25. It is time for you to seriously consider charging for access to your website. It will instantly filter out much of what you find unpleasant and, more importantly, distracting. It will also provide needed revenue. Photographers should not work for free and neither should authors. It is self-destructive , damages the professions and provides little if any benefit. It also encourages a sense of entitlement that is ultimately destructive to society. Take a deep breath, clear your mind and then figure out how to best arrange it. Few if any of your many friends, students and admirers will object. Just do it. I’ll be the first one to sign up.

    • But if we place an obstacle in the way of education, those who need it most are unlikely to ever even know it’s there.

      That said, there’s a subscription/ donation link in the right hand sidebar you’re welcome to use 🙂

      • You are not teaching essential life skills to the economically disadvantaged. Your readers have disposable income and time on their hands. Charity is better spent on the former. Your readers are well able to pay for the benefits you provide.

        • I love dropping by here regularly. Buster, I know what you’re saying but I can also think of some East African friends who are well educated designers/photographers. They have great internet access, and would love the content here (and perhaps they do) but are very economically disadvantaged. I’m sure the same would apply in many places. My own belief is that the people most in need of life education are often the economically advantaged 🙂

          • David – Is there any reason why a reader based charity fund could not be setup to pay for site membership of your friends and others in their circumstance? This way Ming would not be solely responsible for supporting everyone in the world who wants to benefit from his teachings.

            • davefullerton says:

              Thanks Buster, it’s a kind thought. They’re a self-reliant lot, and my guess is that they’d say something like, “Thanks, but why should you guys feel obligated to support me? We all – Olivier, Dave, Buster, Ming – face the same challenges: how to use our abilities to support ourselves and how to be reasonably paid for the time and skill we put in.” For many of them that basically means self-employment, and one of my personal frustrations is that I’ve not found much I can do to help them with that.

        • rwandanstories says:

          Thanks Ming – I enjoy dropping by regularly. Buster, I know what you’re saying but I can think of plenty of articulate but economically poor friends with great life skills, a good education and excellent internet who would love this blog – and perhaps do. My own belief is that we all need life education, and sometimes it’s the economically advantaged who need it most. This blog is probably proof 🙂

        • Again, I direct you to the donation link in the sidebar 🙂

          I’ve also noticed the wealthier somebody gets, the more frugal they tend to be, too. I suppose nobody ever got rich by sending their own money…

          • There are an infinite number of perfectly good reasons to maintain the status quo.
            “People can cry much easier than they can change.” – James Baldwin
            It seems being financially compensated for the time you invest in creating content would prove a less frustrating and more sustainable arrangement than the one currently in place. Try it for 6 months.

  26. Richard P. says:

    Ming, great article (as usual) and very good commentary from (y)our community. In some cases I think there is a general laziness to actually “learning” how to make great images (read effort/time) with a preference to taking the perceived shortcut by buying the top-of-the-line. And when inevitably the images come out mediocre, as usual, the equipment/system is blamed and then onto the next latest technology/gear. It would be great if somebody could compile a list of past great photographers/images and the gear that was used. I’m sure in a number of cases our current entry/mid-level technology is superior to what was used then.
    Cheers Richard P.

    • Thanks Richard. The mistake isn’t lazily buying the best/most expensive: it’s not learning how to use it, and that the nature of specific tools means the higher up you go, the more education you’re going to need…

      In every case our entry level tech is superior to what they used. Hell, it’s superior to top pro grade stuff of five years ago, or less. We have no reason to complain…none whatsoever. If anything, the complexity and unpredictability of that many variables interacting is causing more of a headache than help.

  27. Dear Ming,

    What you describe sounds as the typical description of burnout. You seem to feel overwhelmed with the current state of the industry and being powerless to initiate global change. Don’t let the inaptitude of others demoralise yourself. There is no cure for other people’s shortcomings. You have the ability to focus on the people and things you love. You can make a conscious decision to just don’t care about other people finding their ‘happiness’ in constant forum troll wars.

    As much as I’d like it I can’t educate my trolls neither. We all have them.

    Do what you like. Take a picture. Make another exhibition (I went to Chicago because of the idea of man and yes I bought one). I do enjoy seeing real pictures by real photographers!

    Thank you!

    Phil

    • Don’t worry, Phil. I’m not demoralised by others – I’m just scratching my head in wonderment at people obviously doing things that have nothing to do with the outcome they actually want 🙂

      There’ll be another exhibition in Hong Kong in December – going to post that soon, just finalizing the details…

      Thanks for your support for IoM! Out of curiosity, which image did you get? 🙂

  28. Rick Barton says:

    Have faith and stay the course ! This site is awesome and we all appreciate it and that your willing to share with us,

  29. Hi Ming,
    Great words.
    My wife and I recently had a baby and I’ve had to rethink my entire work. I’ve concluded I don’t need new equipment but more heart and vision (and better lighting). It doesn’t matter if a picture looks cool or pretty; it matters if it says something. It’s what’s behind the images, not the image itself, more often than not (something you’ve learned a long time ago, obviously). I’m just catching up.
    Thanks for everything!

  30. Ming,
    In any education endeavor you are only going to succeed in educating about 10% of the audience. If you can entertain the other 90% in the process they won’t be snarky but still won’t learn. My suggestion is to not worry much about the 90%, not even worry about entertaining them, and focus on educating the 10%.
    Ron

  31. I agree 100% with this article. Your philosophy which really strikes a chord with me. I have photographed for about 5 years. I shoot with a D5100 and owned only a 50 1.8g for about 2 years to restrict myself, learn more about light, composition and contrast and keep it simple. I have recently gone back to this method to try and improve. My subject is normally urban walk-around or my daughter. I could have bought a better set-up at any point but this is all i NEED. Lately i have decided to dip into the market due to WANTING a pocketable camera with even better quality. My forays into camera stores in London have not been a pleasant experience. The markets obsession with MP’s and new camera bodies every year is also borderline crazy. Anyway, after cutting through all the craziness and considering my needs carefully i have come to my final two choices. The Fuji X100T due to its pocketability, IQ and user experience, and the OMD EM1 due to its all-round performance, pro-build and also great IQ. I don’t need FF or a gazillion MP’s.

    • I have recently done a regression/detox/whatever to simple too…and feel liberated 🙂

    • Shooting with just a 50mm is not a restriction. If you go through enough equipment, shoot often enough and are serious you may well understand that a 50mm is all you ever needed. The 50 1.8g is an excellent lens; as good as most of us will ever need and the price is right.

      • True. I went through quite a few lenses. I have friends who are not pro’s who buy every iteration of camera because they fall for the marketing and think they need the 5% actual improvement in bodies they get each year. They also think they need every mm covered so own about 10+ lenses. They don’t even share or print their photos. Probably the most annoying thing i see is the countless unboxing videos on youtube where people spend the whole video touching up the packaging in some sort of consumerist trance. The don’t ever show you how the camera actually performs. Madness!

  32. Ming, another great thought provoking essay.
    I think after reading this, I am going to boycott all the online forums that are primarily for gear heads. I won’t mention any names but forums that are basically structured with sub categories for each camera manufacturer and what you see are posts about the equipment but very rarely see any actual images. A post today to me is 99% worthless without an image to talk about.

    I wish there were more sites that help with what’s really important becoming a better visionary from composition, post processing and finally printing. I myself like to shoot 2 different things, Extreme sports, and landscapes. Sure there are many forums out there for this kind of work, but unfortunately 99% of these sites are all becoming more gear centric, and less creativity, I realize it’s almost impossible to teach creativity, this takes years and years of practice. The best thing I ever did for my photography was go out and participate in workshops. The best money I ever spent. I like most of us can’t deny that I would love to have the latest and greatest gear, who wouldn’t but as you so eloquently put it, its not the gear getting in the way never has been and never will.

    • Thanks Steven.

      That’s basically what I’ve been trying to say all along: photography is about making images. Not collecting hardware. There’s nothing wrong with the latter – and as many have correctly pointed out in the comments, without such people we wouldn’t be able to enjoy such diversity and quality of equipment – but we shouldn’t make the mistake of pretending one is the other, or accepting such a misrepresentation.

      Printing is a tricky one: you really need to see a print, not a picture of a print (which is no better than the original picture; worse actually). I haven’t figured out yet how to effectively discuss that without getting tied up in gear again, so I’m parking it for now. But I think printing is still the only ultimate output where a) we can see all of the information from the original capture, and b) where we as creators can be sure our audience is seeing the same thing as we are – and intend them to see.

      Lastly, there are workshops and there are workshops…be very weary of ones where the instructor does not shoot. How can a teacher expect their students to do something they themselves cannot accomplish?

    • Workshops are good, but just getting away from the computer, and going out to take pictures by yourself is also important. Either aim to document something, or aim to experiment with composition and style, and just go do it. Then show them to other people, and get feedback, preferably from someone who is knowledgeable and honest about their opinions of your stuff. You may not agree with what the reviewer says, they may not like your photos at all, but that’s OK. It will get you to think about what you are doing, and may lead you to stronger work later.

  33. Zerberous says:

    This is the only blog I read regularly and it has been very educational. I am still waiting for Ming’s book to eventually condense all the Thein wisdom – some day. He has teached me the fundamentals – not only technically but also non-technical. e.g. understand that most readers including me have very different requirements than him. Furthermore, cameras even in smart phones have become very good hence mastering them is more important than following new product releases. If I was Ming Thein I would probably hide the product reviews behind a pay wall or cancel/reduce them. This would probably reduce the stress a lot but also reduce the page hit rate. What is more important? I am not really in the position to give judgement instead I would like to say thank you for this great blog.

    • You’re welcome.

      I did think about eliminating/ restricting reviews. The problem is that we still cannot ignore the tools: certain ideas need certain execution to work, which means certain hardware. So it has to be taken in a balanced, holistic way – the only way I can think of to make both parts effective is to a) make images that I’m happy with and can explain; b) explain them, c) discuss the underlying creative philosophy and d) execution.

      Traffic has nothing to do with it – I’d rather have a hundred friendly, intelligent, interactive readers than a million trolls. As with most other things online, the internet has conditioned us that quantity is better than quality – hah!

      • Zerberous says:

        Thank you for taking the time to reply. I enjoy reading your reviews. Many authors use marketing texts as sources or get instructed how to conduct reviews and others copy them. That is how “information” is spread now a days.

  34. I recently went to the largest art gallery in Venice, full of the most marvellous paintings. It was almost deserted. Yesterday I went to a small but excellent exhibition of photographs at the Magnum Print Room in London. Same story. Most people aren’t interested in what we are interested in and they never have been. There’s nothing wrong with that at all – how dull the world would be if everyone had identical interests – but avalanche marketing and gadgetry give people the illusion that they can do what they can’t do and then they discover they never really wanted to do it anyway. Their real talents lie elsewhere. And that feels bad, very often.

    Keith Richards was on the radio this morning. Apart from choosing some great music, he talked about guitars as things he knew he could bring alive. In a similar way, we use cameras to make images that come alive and sing to us. Isn’t that enough? It isn’t the camera but all the other things we do in life which give us whatever skills and inspiration we have. As for the world portrayed by the big brands and “Living the Dream” – run for your life, imho.

    • “avalanche marketing and gadgetry give people the illusion that they can do what they can’t do and then they discover they never really wanted to do it anyway”

      I couldn’t have put it better myself!

      And yes, Keith is right. And there are also plenty of guitar forums where the merits of various strings are discussed ad nauseam and religiously worshipped/fetishised over…

      • Martin Fritter says:

        Musicians are obsessive gear nerds. A form of insecurity that comes from being performing artists. Guitarists are the worst, IMHO. But wind players are the most paranoid.

        • Being a wind man myself, I must admit that Martin’s got it basically right, but it’s actually not an incurable condition … Anyhow, the situation is quite comparable to admiring the images the greats took and then learning what modest or limited gear they used: Give a great player a dud to play, and it’ll still sing. Of course, those guys (and gals) don’t use duds for business – but they wouldn’t lose out by a lot even if they did, at least not to uninitiated ears. However, we average players will suffer (and make our audience suffer) if we have to use a bad horn … Of course, we wouldn’t be able do the best instruments justice, but good ones enable us to just about perform well enough. Bottom line? It’s not the horn, it’s the player – but lesser players profit from playing good horns. In more general terms, good tools certainly help with achieving goals – even though they may not be mandatory. But they may well be inspiring. That said, today’s cameras *on the whole* are often more than capable of delivering all the quality an average photographer will ever need – there’s quite a considerable difference; instruments are considerably more capricious …

          Ming, I hear you – and I agree. Actually, the points you make are – sadly enough – quite universally true in my view …

          M.

          • Martin Fritter says:

            Of course, the analogy between musical instruments and cameras is a limited. Photographers doing events or journalism or sports or street are more like musicians (because of real time constraints) than those doing landscapes and fine art, the latter being closer to painters, I suppose.

            It appears to me that digital camera tech makes it relatively easy to appear more competent than one actually is. It’s much easier to take a decent pic with a phone than with a Rolleiflex TLR, much less a field camera. So people fail to acquire the rudiments of the craft and end up lost in the technological wilderness. Especially since there are so many variables that can be readily manipulated in camera in post with digital. Maybe like auto-tune for singers?

          • “But they may well be inspiring.”

            That bit is largely missing from cameras today. There are very, very few that make me want to go out and shoot. And I suppose it’s telling that almost none of my ‘work’ cameras are on that list.

  35. Dear Ming,

    It’s at your last sentence that you write from the heart. Experimenting, rehearsing, wanting to improve. Things all emerging photographers would like direction on how to accomplish successfully. I’ve had so many failed experiments per day, almost every day, I can’t count. It’s there that people need guidance, I believe. But the easy route is to talk about technology, and to give a high level account of how a photo was taken (e.g. “I saw this object, the light was nice, I rearranged my position, felt that it was right, and took the shot”).

    The difficult thing is to talk about the actual considerations the photographer has (bookends, visual flow, direction of light, and so many more). Hence the frustration of budding photographers. They talk about the same things you talk about (technology/gear and high level accounts), and yet they don’t become better photographers. Of course they are frustrated.

    I’m frustrated too. Tired of being at the mercy of how a camera decides the proper exposure and contrast, and how it renders colors. Im not a color grader. I have two cameras that give me the images I want straight out of the box (after I tweaked their jpeg settings), but both have other shortcomings that make them unusable in most situations. All my other cameras are great to use, but the images are dull, cold. I’m good at post processing, but not that good. So I have developed GAS.

    “They don’t get kept up at night wondering about experiments and new locations and considering how they could improve or rehearsing the shot list for tomorrow’s shoot.”

    • Part of why that guidance is rare is because it’s very difficult to describe – there’s no point talking about things that were outside the scene as alternative compositional elements if you can’t show them in relation to the final image, for instance. I tried doing this in an article, and on re-reading it made absolutely no sense. Hence the How To See series of videos was born – we film the context too, and I describe precisely what you’re alluding to. Sadly, they cost a lot to make but attracted almost no interest.

      GAS isn’t the solution. It’s something that I find extremely frustrating and distracting for the reasons you describe – so my only choice is to master the equipment so it becomes transparent, and in the first place, find equipment that doesn’t have any major detractions. And therein lies the challenge…

  36. Yours is an educational blog, Ming. A different league and something that I always suggest to friends interested in the medium.
    As you write, nowadays almost everyone can afford a camera and take photos. This is a good thing, but on the other side, simply because we are humans and we always want more, we are never happy of what we have.
    Yesterday I gave up replying to someone on a forum: I wrote that Leica SL showed that a mirrorless camera can be big, to accomodate bigger lenses.
    Note that I haven’t mentioned anything else, not even its price.
    Replies were: it’s too big, it has a bad handling, high iso sucks, the zoom is only an f4 at its end.
    How could these people take photos even 5 years ago?!
    Suddenly everyone is an expert, but an expert waiting for the next “big thing” to be released, in 6 months..
    Sad.

    • Thanks Marco. There are two parts – the ‘do this’ and also the ‘don’t do this’ – today’s post is screaming the latter, which is not something I do often 🙂

      I think a lot of people on forums might own cameras, but few actually use them the way they were meant to be used. I used to shoot jazz concerts in the mid 2000s with 4, 6 and 8MP cameras; the D200 was a massive liberating revelation because ISO 1600 was borderline okay in B&W. I shot one last night with the Q (amongst other things) – and it was almost too easy by comparison. Even my iPhone wasn’t bad. Compositionally, the only reason my work is different is because I’ve had ten years of shooting between then and now; the camera makes not one iota of a difference. The reality is, we are very spoiled…

  37. Paul Schofield says:

    Consumerism seems to have reached some sort of high water mark whereby purchasing new and better stuff has become a compulsion for many people, a necessary part of life that fills the void and provides some sort of comfort that they are the same or better than the people around them – ‘we are doing well, we have the stuff, we are not getting left behind’. I’m certainly not immune to buying shiny new things and in whatever I have done – diving, surfing, woodwork, playing the guitar, photography – I have always felt the nagging compulsion to ‘gear up’, go bigger, get the new thing, as if that is somehow going to make the outcome better. Some of us, though, do learn. I don’t know if it’s about getting older and wiser exactly. In my case it’s probably more to do with just making the same mistake repeatedly and getting fed up with it. In photography, I am much less worried about gear since I started thinking (finally!) about what I want to produce in terms of quality and final outcome. The outcomes that I am looking for simply do not require massive Megapixels and I suspect that this is probably true of most amateur photographers. As with all things, developing as a photographer (or whatever) comes from within yourself – acquiring and deploying your skills and developing the confidence through learning to trust your instinct – not by constantly acquiring new hardware. That’s just fetishism and it’s pretty obvious really. I read most of your your articles, Ming (even the gear ones because I’m interested in what’s going on – I even read the 28 Otus one the other day despite being quite certain that I will NEVER need one of those), and find your insight on things very useful. There are even one or two articles that I would describe as revelatory and that’s pretty rare as far as photography blogs go. So keep up the good work. You are helping to reduce the number of mediocre images in the world – or at least helping photographers like me recognise when their images are mediocre!

    • I think at some point I realized the consumerism was unsustainable: you’d need bigger ‘hits’ to get the same emotional return, and your income would not match; even if it did, you’d run out of product to buy because the pace of development isn’t faster than our rate of getting bored. I suppose it’s similar to how addition works. (PL would probably know better.)

      We are all guilty of fetishism to some degree. I love the idea of the 28 Otus, even though it’s going to be very rarely used – the Q is simply more practical for the kinds of things I use 28mm for. But it won’t stop me from wanting one. Here we go back to the right tool for the job again: I do recognise there are a lot of times where more is of no use at all…in fact, it can make life harder as our expectations go up. Nobody uses an Otus for a snapshot; there’s the expectation that you’re going to produce some serious work when you take it out, and that may well land up inhibiting one’s creative instincts.

      • Paul Schofield says:

        You’ve always got to ensure that the tail doesn’t wag the dog…

        [Edited by MT: I assume you mean tail?]

  38. Thanks Ming. To me this means I have to go out and shoot to catch the right light, right moment. Equipment can’t help this.

  39. Cartier-Bresson is my all time hero and still one of the greatest photographers of all time, in my opinion. New photographers should really study what he has to say about photography. The most critical elements of a good photograph are emotion, composition, lighting, and tones. Great equipment in itself counts for very little, if any of these are elements are missing. Some of my own favourite photographs were taken over 20 years ago using film and by today’s standards, very mediocre equipment.

    From Cartier-Breson’s The Mind’s Eye – “If the camera is a beautiful gadget, we should progress beyond that stage at least in conversation”.

    “I am constantly amused by the notion that some people have about photographic technique – a notion which reveals itself in an insatiable craving for sharpness of images. In this the passion of an obsession? Or do these people hope, by this tromp l’oeil technique, to get to closer grips with reality? In either case, they are just as far away from the real problem as those of that other generation which used to endow all its photographic anecdotes with an intentional unsharpness such as was deemed to be “artistic.””

    Another classic – “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”.

    Great article as always Ming.

    • Thanks Gregg.

      We need to be a little bit less generalised though: certain characteristics of an image help with the idea/emotion etc. – or not; knowing when to use these (and when to let them go) is also important. But that of course assumes the idea is crystallised in the mind of the photographer before hitting the button…

  40. Thank you Ming for another excellent article, that will attract much less readers than a gear review, unfortunately.
    I guess that fundamentally, people do not really like photography. It is an art which is poorly understood as it gives the illusion of being effortless. How many times do we hear that we must take great pictures thanks to this fancy camera of ours? How many people are in the market for art prints compared to paintings? Even though, I don’t think there is more education in painting, only the common acceptation that not everybody can do it. However, when it comes to modern art, you’ll here the same kind of comments: “my 4 year-old kid could have done it”. That is strangely similar to the classic “with that gear I could have done it too”.
    As a pure amateur born in a digital era, I went back to medium format film photography and a fixed lens compact in the last year. I have traded part of my old gear for equipment that makes taking photos more pleasurable (lighter tripod, better bag). I am still guilty of going to forums when I need something but I know that I will never find any satisfaction there. Gear is constantly getting better, people’s photography, not really. However, What they do with it is their problem. The good point being that it is now affordable enough for anybody to pursue a genuine interest in photography.
    I don’t know what could change things favourably, we tend to live in a world where information is readily available but only the surface of it is scratched. As an academic, I live with enough frustration when uneducated people try to challenge my expertise, not because they documented themselves to make up their own mind, but because they read something somewhere on the Internet, and that must be true.
    For now, I enjoy reading your blog (including the gear reviews). I enjoy taking photos. I enjoy talking about gear, but usually as an engineer, not as a photographer.

    • That’s an interesting take on it – “people do not really like photography”. Misunderstand, definitely. Not like because of that misunderstanding, or not like when they find out it’s much harder than they expect?

      Information is available, and sometimes accessed, but almost always a) improperly explained, b) not backed up by credible sources or scientific testing, and c) taken out of context. And none of its use ever seems to relate to anything other than gear 🙂

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the gear is a tool. I might appear to chase it endlessly, but I have very precise usage cases for my tools…and some rather surprising tools that have now found a way into the bag.

      • First, photography means different things to different people. I hate selfies but well, who am I to judge? However, we will agree that there is a lack of education when it comes to photography as an Art (the same comment holds for other forms of Art). Educating yourself is something that takes time, that needs to be proactive, that requires intellectual effort to try to understand even what you may dislike. The truth is that photography is not Art to most people, only vaguely when it is nudes on black and white.
        On the gear, does it matter? Yes. Should it matter THAT much for most people? No. It really reminds me of your post on the tripod being the most underrated piece of equipment. This is the perfect example of a tool that genuinely helps you make your photography better, for the only sake of it. Who lusts on the characteristics of the latest Gitzo?

        • Very true. The disconnect is again an education limitation: it should only matter when you know why it matters and can deploy the difference.

          I admit I do lust after tripods…enough to both own a Cube and have built my own smaller Cube. The latest Gitzo not so much, but I admit I’d really like the massive RRS 45L…

  41. Hi Ming. As someone who reads every single article you write with pleasure, but only comments once in… 30? I’d like to say, please don’t stop. It’s easy for me to say — type 15 keys — and I can only imagine what kind of challenge it is to produce a constant stream of content of this quality, but it could be that the sheer shoutiness of gear-zealots obscures the fact that there *are* loads of people out there who want to improve, and for whom your blog remains one of the only spots on the net for thought-provoking, well written, high level photography education (in the broadest sense of the word).

    Maybe all of us quiet lurkers should step of our comfort zone and comment more (even though the quality of the comments themselves on your blog are quite impressive in itself, to say nothing of the fact that you actually reply to them all).

    • Still going!

      I think we all collectively need to step out of our comfort zones occasionally to refocus on the creative aspects…which is presumably why we started shooting in the first place? I know I didn’t do it to have another thing to spend my salary on 🙂

  42. Hi Ming,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always. In case you are wondering if your blog and training material impacts people, I can answer that it certainly impacts me. Ever since I took up photography as a serious hobby, which is not so long ago and happened right after an eye surgery operation, I have looked around the net a lot for resources on photography and frankly you are the only one I follow closely and trust. Others may have one good idea once in a while, but not much more. The other important resource for me is the “Photography in Malyasia” website, for film cameras. Is it a coincidence that both of you are from the same country (which I never had the pleasure to visit by the way), I don’t know.

    As for gear and vulgarity, which seems to me to be the topic of your post today, here are my two cents: with time you build immunity to others’ opinions.
    I hope the coming shock you mention in one of your answers will silence the ignorants and reward those who are committed to learn.
    Good luck.

    • I think it’s probably a coincidence – I’ve never met the proprietor of that site, but boy, his dedication to comprehensiveness is something else.

      Doubtful anything will silence those who yell with ears covered – not even the mystery camera

  43. Hi Ming, very thought provoking and appreciated as always. I have posted to you previously that I still use my Nikon D700. This is because I still have many techniques that need more work to improve my images. Having a higher megapixel camera certainly won’t make the slightest difference until I improve as a photographer. This is we’re people like you who are willing to share their knowledge are so important. I’d like to thank you for the time and effort you put into educating people such as myself.

  44. I think you should not try to educate fanboys and let every one of them fall for GAS. They’ll find the truth anyway. But before then they’ll provide plenty of cash for manufacturers to invent even better equipment for the rest of us. 🙂 And I’m only half joking…

    • I think you’ve got a very good point actually!

      • Seriously speaking, we owe much to those who demand bigger and better and are willing to pay tons of money every 6 months to get it. 5 axis image stabilisation, instaneous auto focus, sensors capable of recording in pitch black and so on. Who would put millions into developing all of that if there were no millions of cows with fat tits (wallets) to milk? The recent decline in sales is not a good sign for the future in that regard. Technology development may slow down a bit.
        I say: long live the gear nerds!
        And what about the “opinions” of trolls, haters and other kids of pricks? Who cares…. Keep going.

        • Sure – but how much of that is actually necessary? I’ve spent the last week with an extremely basic camera that has none of those things, and made some of my most personally satisfying images in a long time. I’m increasingly starting to find the complexity of the technology is getting in the way as another distracting layer we have to second-guess instead of being genuinely helpful. The problem is nobody seems to make that basic aperture-shutter-decent manual focus-decent sensor-responsive device anymore; we’ve gone from a huge number of choices in the film days to pretty much zero.

          • I get your point. I shoot with Nex-6 and Voigtlander 25mm (almost) exclusively. I do not need more pixels, autofocus , stabilisation. Maybe better high ISO could help sometimes but it does not bother me at all. If only it had a shutter speed knob it would be perfect for my way of shooting. I’m so happy with that simple setup (despite the workarounds I need to use) that I bought another second-hand body just in case they disappear from the market. For me it feels almost like an old school film camera – a few simple controls and no shutter lag. But there is one thing that makes this camera much better for me than, let’s say a film rangefinder camera – that swivel LCD with live view and WYSIWYG. And this technology would not happen if manufacturers had to stick to good old stuff (DSLRs with OVFs for pros and crappy point-and-shoots for amateurs, or maybe camera phones) because the risk of investment would be too large due to a small market.
            I agree that the fastest and the bigest is not necessary. Most of camera owners do not need it at all. But some do and they can get it for a smaller price. If gear heads were not screaming for more, some useful features would be available only in high-end pro equipment.
            As for the simple digital camera isn’t Leica Q close to your idea? It is close to mine. But I’ll never pay that much for a camera. I guess I’m not a good consumer.

            • The Q is an odd duck here: yes, it’s very, very close to the idea of being simple; but nobody else made one – so, regardless of the price, Leica are selling more than they can make. Here’s the proof that it’s possible to a) make something that really doesn’t have any major flaws; b) make something that people want; c) make something that’s a good tool with no obvious obsolescence or ‘upgrade path’ – and then still do well commercially. Who said it’d be bad for business? Quite the opposite. And it doesn’t even have interchangeable lenses – but I bet if they released a Q50 and Q90, they’d sell out those, too.

  45. Harry DeYong says:

    I’ve developed a habit, in that whenever I have a GAS attack, (which is pretty rarely anymore), I go into Lightroom and have it select my 5 star images. After browsing for several minutes, I’m again reminded that most of the best pics have been taken with equipment that nobody would call the best. Many of them are from a 7 meg pocket camera that is always with me if I can’t or don’t want to carry anything bigger. So, when a really good picture pops up in front of me, that’s the camera that gets used, and I work around it’s limitations the best I can.
    Canon, with advertising etc., has been trying pretty hard to get me to replace my trusty old 40D, but for what? A more crowded sensor and a few features I’d probably never use. I’ll shoot with this thing until it literally quits, because I’m so used to it and it does a very good job. Trading in my 40 for a 70 would not have improved my pictures one iota. If I’ve realized that, so have other people, and Ming, you’re right, the major companies will end up in trouble.
    Thanks for a great web site.

    • That’s a good habit. I have a similar one: whenever I see something on Flickr that evokes a feeling that it *must* have been taken with a better camera than I possess, I look at the exif information. It’s an entertaining exercise because I know before looking that some 80% of time the camera is similar to mine or smaller sensor / older / cheaper. These days the feeling has gotten rare, which I think is partially due to growing wiser (also in my subconscious) and partially due to upgrading my gear to the mythical “full frame” level.

    • No problem! I just solve it by going out and taking pictures…

  46. Long time reader, first time poster.

    I feel a ‘there, there, we understand’ is in order. Don’t take the most vocal people on the internet as the average punter when there’s a significant portion of people who are happy to read, listen and learn. You’ve made a significant impact on my photography, especially for prioritising education and only buying gear when there’s a specific deficiency it solves. I have also shared this philosophy with other receptive people who are out enjoying their perfectly sufficient (yet less technically capable than what they were initially pushed towards) gear.

  47. Christian G says:

    If it makes you feel any better, this isn’t limited to photography. I see it in my other hobbies as well.
    Funny you mention cars, another hobby of mine is racing and so I do a lot of track days –days where amateurs like me drive their street cars at speed on a race track without actually racing each other. Over doing a few of those, I’ve learned that the “fastest looking” cars are usually the slowest. Whether it’s an expensive car off the showroom floor or a moderately expensive car that’s been modified to within an inch of its life, the more money spent on the car the lower the skill of the driver and thus the slower it goes. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few.

    It makes sense, time and money are limited for most of us and the more of it spent on equipment the less there is to spend on practice. It baffled me for a while too, and I eventually decided that not everybody is pursuing their hobbies for mastery. Some are content to just get the experience, even if that experience seems shallow to others who value mastery more.

    It’s not sad per se, and in the grand scheme of things, the volume of good to great photographs has only increased as a result of access to the technology. For every hobbyist with a 5DS R or a D810 who’s taking awful pictures there is one making awesome ones with a phone. OK, maybe it’s not 1:1, still the point stands.
    It’s tempting to think that all of those who haven’t developed their skills and spent their time and money on debating gear could have been far better photographers if they spent their resources differently. I don’t think that’s a realistic way to think about it though. If the gear didn’t interest them they may well have abandoned the hobby altogether.
    So instead I choose to be thankful for them facilitating economies of scale for the gear I’d like to buy.

    Myself, I’ve had two SLR bodies in 10 years. A Rebel XT lasted me ~6 years and in late 2011 I replaced it with the 7D I still shoot. I splurge a bit more on lenses, but I tend to justify that by the fact they lose less value over time.
    I also spend a lot of time and a bit of money on education –Speaking of which, I thoroughly enjoyed your videos that I’ve picked up so far. They’ve gotten me over my lifelong fear of Photoshop and helped me reframe how I think about composition and metering.

    • “not everybody is pursuing their hobbies for mastery.”

      Bingo – but the disconnect is not those who just enjoy the toys and ecosystem, but those who really believe the hardware is the deciding factor when performance gaps are more due to human factors…

      Also agreed on the enablement factor: whilst the average compositional quality hasn’t gone up at all – in fact, I’d say the opposite with the number of selfies flooding the internet, and the fact that photographs are now effectively disposable and free rather than with an attached film cost/ buy in/ etc. Nor has the professional market gotten easier with proliferation of images; the opposite because access to good hardware is now easier.

      I don’t want to think about the amount I’ve spent on hardware this year, let alone in the last ten. It’s one of the things that prompted me to write this article…

      • Christian G says:

        But you’re a Pro! So it’s a business expense 😉

        • Still, but because I am a pro I don’t have another job to pay for the addiction, so matters of profitability and good business sense have to come into play: we really don’t buy anything unless there is a very good reason to do so.

  48. Well said!!! I probably wasted thousands of dollars for the past decade on equipment alone. Awareness on the latest or upcoming tools for photography is not living. I’ve been a victim. I realized I’m just digging a deeper hole where there’s no light or hope. Glad wisdom kicked-in when I lowered my pride and my initial response was refreshing. Now, I want to create photos. If the photo came-out bad then it’s my fault. Not the sensor. Not the lens. It’s me who to blame.

  49. OK, it is enjoyable to compare equipment occasionally. You want to know that your tools perform the way you want them to. It’s when your choice of tools somehow becomes perceived as part of your integrity, and nutty internet trolls attack and harangue you over your preference for this lens or that camera that it becomes really unpleasant.
    The history of photography was created (for the most part) with cameras and lenses you can buy on eBay for $50 nowadays!
    All that matters is the image, and the enjoyment you had making it…..for yourself. If other people like it too, that’s a bonus.
    Alan.

    • Indeed. And that’s why I’m probably going to shock some people soon…

    • Joe Batters says:

      Such a great thought you have there. You are right!! The history of photography has been made in gear mostly now that can be had for next to nothing today. Afghan girl was shot on a Nikon FM2n with a 105mm f/2.5 lens. About 300 bucks. Meanwhile most think the next great lens that costs 4 grand is going to bring them greatness. Nope, it doesn’t work that way.

      • Definitely not. If anything, with that kind of hardware, you’ll just look like a tool if you can’t make it work. It’s like a new violin player buying a Stradivarius…or learner driver with a Ferrari. Sadly, both of those things exist.

      • Completely agree. Even today’s m4/3 cameras produce much better overall IQ [and flexibility] than we had in the days of 35mm film … and more than sufficient for a magazine cover or double-truck.

        Today’s quality cameras are more than good enough for the sweet spot of image capture most people chase. That’s why I find it so annoying when I read anonymous forum posters rudely arguing about why anything other than so-called “full frame” provides “puny IQ results” [conveniently and somewhat hypocritically ignoring the fact that if IQ is so important to them then they really ought to be using medium format].

        The only time I can respect such arguments is when they come from a photographer who knows what they’re talking about and needs a particular feature suite to achieve the results they or their client needs, e.g. fast focus tracking in low light, ability to make very large, fine art prints, etc, etc. Then those discussions make sense [though they’re usually more polite, too].

        The rest is measurebating for argument’s sake, an all too familiar and frequent meme on the Internet these days.

        • The irony is if we don’t need it, we’ll be the first not to go to the hassle of using the demanding tools because we know hardware doesn’t change composition 🙂

          • Oh yeah, for sure. I’ll use the lightest, most compact, simplest ILC I can get away with if I know it will do the job properly. Emphasis on “light and compact” more and more.

            And I still marvel that even those simplest of ILC can produce far better IQ than what I could have captured with my Nikon 35mm cameras back when I was starting out. (Perhaps that’s why I’m able to use ILC effectively; I have a frame of reference to know what was possible back then, vs today.)

            • I think most of us serious photographers shot film at one point or another, and objectively we know just how far things have come – even compared to current camera phones. However, I also some blindness and lack of objectivity putting film on an undeserved pedestal for some qualities (e.g. resolution, grain) and being totally ignorant of others (e.g. dynamic range, nonlinear tonal response)…

              • Yeah, I agree, when it comes to tonal gradation, film hasn’t yet been usurped by digital. By itself it’s not enough to make me want to go backwards, though … given all the other advantages digital enjoys.

                Still, JJ Abrams shot ‘The Force Awakens’ on film. So what do I know? 😉

                • Yes and no. At the bleeding edge – like with the D810 – we’re really, really close. Close enough (and under a much wider range of conditions) that I’m more than happy with the outcome.

                  • We’ve been on the same “bleeding edge” for about 10 years… The “bleeding edge” of what criteria? Robert Falconer is right, for most applications digital is “sufficient”. But, depending on the criteria it isn’t always sufficient. I mostly shoot with the Merrill’s, and they are mostly “sufficient” for my needs. For film I shoot medium format black & white. For the way I view things, my own criteria, images from those cameras blow away anything that I have ever shot or seen in digital. The way I view things, even the Olympus Stylus for black and white film is far better than anything that I can produce from digital. I can’t ever define exactly the differences that I see except that images from black & white film move me; nothing to do with the usual criteria of sharpness, resolution, etc… But, that’s just me. My feeling is that criteria that is sharpness, resolution, etc… is mostly mindless insecurity. There is far more to a good image. I can’t define it, I just know it when I see it. Anyone that thinks that those standard criteria are the end all should take the time to view some of Michael Kenna’s work. “sufficient” is dependent on our needs. Or your own images from the Titan. Like, are we shooting “fine art”, publishing, street photography, etc…? If we shoot enough, for a number of years we will eventually realize that all we ever needed was one lens. Perhaps a 50mm. State of the art on the cheap, and disregard crop factor. A 50mm based on crop factor is not the same as many of the well designed 50mm.

                    • The B&W epiphany you’re looking for lies in the the highlight rolloff. Not all cameras can do it simply because they either lack the dynamic range, or clip much too abruptly. But it’s doable with a few…

                    • Ming, Yes, I consider the “highlight rolloff”. Exposure compensation most often becomes the critical factor for me. If we shoot the same image, both in digital and film and process and print them optimally; differences are mostly apparent and matter in side by side comparisons; as opposed to viewing the same images in different rooms. But, even then, two people processing and interpreting the same raw data will create noticeable differences. And, not everyone will favor the same image; even if one is “technically superior”. The same, not everyone will favor the same matting and framing. Sometimes, much to my dismay. At least digitally, we give way too much credit to the camera for image quality. It’s what we do with the raw data that matters, providing we do a good job at exposure.

                    • Agreed. And printing, because all of that careful tonal management can very easily be undone by differences in monitors…

  50. Interesting.

    This is true of most consumer products, not just cameras. Look now at how many items we might better regard as consulates that we used to regard as durables.

    I think a lot of gear angst isn’t necessarily about having something better so much as having something better suited to the task – to our own individual approach. It takes time to feel confident in that and not feel the need for experts to validate our choices. That’s human nature.

    And yes, education, and I would add practice (though you imply it), is key.

    • Agreed, and part of that is no doubt due to the underlying commercial drive behind it: something without built-in obsolescence is really bad for business. I suspect Arca-Swiss would be more profitable if it sold a less durable Cube at 30% of the price; both from a volume standpoint and a recurring business one. I doubt I’ll ever have to buy another one in my lifetime.

      Right tools, sure – but let’s be honest: we must also make sure we are not the wrong tool ourselves…

  51. I’m a hobbyist shooter and like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been through the GAS attacks.

    I was hiking in central-northern Japan at the weekend among some amazing scenery. I had with me the Olympus OMD-EM5 with the 45mm 1.8, and my iPhone 6 plus. They covered absolutely everything I wanted to shoot. The iPhone in particular really, really impresses me: set it up to keep both normal and HDR shots, then run whichever looks better through your photoshop process (excellent video, I should add) and at web sizes they look really pretty good. I haven’t even got to the Olympus shots yet, but I can imagine that they will look excellent.

    Sure, I’d LIKE to play with an M240 and a Nocti – or a 50MB Hasselblad back on a classic old film camera. Who wouldn’t? But if I can shots which satisfy me from an iPhone and a setup which I paid barely 50,000 yen for a couple of months ago…what’s the point?

    I think that most of the visitors here DO agree with your points about gear and sufficiency, but that they don’t need to confirm them because it’s pretty self evident (look at the Leica M9 pool on Flickr and you will see some absolute and utter garbage). It’s the people out to argue who like to be contrary and argumentative. You just have to let them get on with it and do what you do.

    As for your last line : I just want to improve every time I go out and enjoy the process. Once I lose the desire for either of those, it’s over for me.

    • Thanks Mark. This is something which have to agree with: somehow, bleeding edge isn’t that much sharper than the bit just behind it; most of the time, that extra razor blade isn’t making much of a difference. In fact I think we’re so blinded sometimes we don’t realise just how good even the base level has gotten.

      • Case in point, compare the D700 to the A7S, with about 7 years of development in between. Both have the same resolution so in that regard it’s apples to apples. Just going by the DXOmark numbers for the sensors – I know, I know, just bear with me – the A7S has 13.2 stops of dynamic range and high ISO score of 3702. The D700 has 12.2 stops and 2303 respectively. What we are looking at is 1 stop of difference for dynamic range and two thirds of a stop for high ISO. The A7S doesn’t look that impressive in comparison, does it, especially if you consider the price difference.

        Admittedly, one stop improvement is basically the same as doubling the sensor efficiency, so if you look at it from that perspective, then the progress has been remarkable. On the other hand, if you compare photos taken with both, the photos from the A7S will not make double the impact. In fact, extracting that one stop of difference and turning it into something tangible takes one hell of a photographer.

        Seeing that it takes about one decade of development to get a noticeable improvement in image quality (I dare not say leap, because a true leap it is not), the camera companies need to find other ways to market their products. User interfaces would be a good place to start. And please not in the form of another ART mode for those occasions when I need to create ART, with capital letters and all.

        • I’m not sure that’s the right comparison. I look at D700 to D810 in the space of five years, and that is a massive leap. You gain 2.5 stops of dynamic range, three times the resolution and little loss in pixel-level noise. There are other intangibles too, like color accuracy, tonal response and pixel acuity. There are things I can shoot and print now which did not work with the D700/D3 – and I tried, but couldn’t figure out what was missing (until I had it). Another comparison is looking at say the flagship D3x and the current entry-level D3300: the D3300 actually has better image quality. Are D3300 users making better images than D3x users were? If anything, they’re complaining pet smile art mode isn’t recognising when Fluffy blinks.

          On the other hand, in the 3.5 years between D800 and A7RII or 5DSR – is there any tangible improvement in image quality? Having shot all three extensively, I can say honestly, no. And in the pursuit of ‘more tech’ or more resolution, a lot of things have suffered in the process. The 5DSR has compromised dynamic range and only displays the additional resolution under a very narrow shooting envelope, and on top of that demands the absolute best lenses. And don’t get me started on the number of ergonomic and operational issues the A7RII has…

          Art cannot be made formulaic and automated. That is the complete opposite of what what art should be…

  52. Hi sifu, a sad but thought provoking wake up call to us all. Hope the world listens. Have a good weekend, any plans for a follow-up meet soon?
    Regards, Ken

  53. This article is an instant classic.

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