In praise of crappy hardware

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I’ve had the privilege and frustration of working with both the best and worst hardware of a wide variety of types. I say this independent of cost, as often it isn’t a good indicator for suitability to a given task – in fact, this is increasingly true as cost increases and your tools get more specialised. It’s also not always true given reliability issues, customer support and other general electronic weirdness and histrionics. Perhaps crappy is an unfair term that probably does the hardware in this discussion a disservice. If you haven’t noticed, the industry has been changing silently but surely: the midrange has gone high end, the high end has gone stratospheric, the bottom end is gone, and the midrange has gone downmarket. We now have multiple $3000-4000 FF ‘pro’ lenses released as par for the course and nobody blinks an eyelid (compare that to just a few years ago when only the Otuses were in that territory, and the same lenses were in the $1000-2000 range). We have the ‘low’ end of medium format now below the high end of full frame – $4000 Fuji GFX50R vs $7000 Leica M10 – and we have some true bargains at the beginner level. We have entry points into full frame at sub-$1000 (albeit in older hardware, though still available to buy new). That’s a psychologically significant number; it’s the price point of the Nikon D70 and Canon 300D back in the days of the first actually affordable DSLRs in the early 2000s. What if we go lower still?

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Repost: Derivative works and photography

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Influenced by the architect? Surely. Created by him? About as much as it was created by Apple, because it was shot on an iPhone.

I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’

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Bigger isn’t always better, or why you can’t see the difference most of the time

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Quasi-gratuitous header image: large format golfball, anybody?

I start this article with a deliberately provocative title, at the risk of being taken for one of those forum sensationalists that proclaims OMG NEW BEST CAMERAR EVARRRR SINCE THE SECOND COMING OF SLICED JESUS!! . But as always, there are caveats: I’m examining the situation under practical implementation, practical shooting constraints, and real world limitations: i.e. non-ideal circumstances, which I believe to be fair since this is how most photography takes place. And since we’re interested in hardware towards the practical application and implementation of photography, this is a fair approach to take. The crux of the argument is this: we have now reached a point in technology where the tradeoffs associated with upscaling your format do not translate into significant gains in shooting envelope or even practical output most of the time. Actually, I’d go even further and say that your hardware choices really hinge on a few factors, which we’ll discuss shortly.

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New year’s resolutions, 2019 edition

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Perhaps a more accurate title for today’s post isn’t so much ‘resolutions’ as ‘expectations’. I like to think that after a while in the same industry*, one acquires the maturity to know what you want to do, what you can do, and what you realistically might be able to expect. Here’s my plan for 2019, both photographic and otherwise. Some stuff I’ll have already said to various individuals or gotten lost in various comments, but as yet things have not been unified. So, to hopefully stem the tide of ‘are you going to x’ emails, here goes…

*Shooting since 2001, for clients part time since 2005, and full time since 2012 – that’s a good 18, 14 or 7 years, depending on how you want to measure it. Even 7 years in the digital era is an age given how fast things change.

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The most important things in photography

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In the better part of 17 years’ worth of shooting – there are just a few critical things I find are inescapable when taking the shot. I perhaps have the benefit of having gone full circle a couple of times around the effort and equipment wheel, and shifting priorities force me to work both faster and smarter. Please note that the descriptions following have some subtlety and may at first seem contradictory, but bear with me…

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Faster isn’t always better

*Or, an example in construction series.

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Like most photographers…I am not immune to the siren’s song of very fast lenses. And even less immune to the lure of lenses that are fast and designed to deliver performance at maximum aperture – think of the Zeiss Otus series, for instance. We’re even willing to compromise with older designs that perhaps don’t perform or resolve quite to the level we’ve come to expect from modern lenses on modern high resolution sensors, but write it off as being ‘characterful’ or ‘nostalgic’. Or even trying to rationalise that we don’t need such high resolution since most of the frame is out of focus anyway, plus we want a smooth transition between the bits that are and the bits that aren’t. And then we try to adapt lenses to systems they were never designed for (here, and here) – with varying degrees of success. However: the reality is we probably don’t need such tools the vast majority of the time, and even from a creative standpoint – a wider aperture doesn’t necessarily make an image better.

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‘Investing’ in equipment

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By strict definition, an investment is something that is expected to appreciate in value over time, or deliver some sort of tangible return that together with the underlying asset value is grater than the initial amount spent. One of my pet bugbears when it comes to photographic discussions are the two inevitable questions: “is X worth it?” and “should I invest in X?” The problem is, if you replace X with any other depreciating mid-term consumable such as, I don’t know, frozen peas, you’ll instantly realise the whole question makes no sense whatsoever. But replace X with a camera or lens model, and it seems common sense goes out of the window. You wouldn’t put your savings into something that has no hope of making any financial return. Why should this be any different? My aim is by the end of this article, you’ll suffer from far less frequent confusion and buyers’ remorse (if any at all).

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Market challenges and predictions, late-2018 edition

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Construction images, because, well, we’re building something here…

As with every industry, the cycle time for major changes is getting shorter and shorter for photography. I would argue that we’re now late into the second phase of digital (first phase: early digital at the cutting edge for pros, scientific applications etc.; second phase: consumer) and on the verge of the third phase. What does this mean in real terms? Why is the overall enthusiast photographic market softer? What remains to get excited about as a hobbyist? At the risk of inciting every troll between here and DPR, I break out the crystal ball…

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Brand (dis)loyalty, mirrorless and why it’s good for everybody

Switching camps has never been easier: with the increasing number of companies going mirrorless, photographers can now have their cake and eat it – at least in theory. With the whole premise of mirrorless being smaller, mechanically simpler and cheaper, there are several key implications for every company: firstly, new mounts and optics are needed to at least attempt to keep to the brief. Secondly, the form factors are going to land up much the same: EVF in the centre position (or off to the left); thin body with large mount since the final element has to be very close to the sensor and therefore large to avoid extreme ray angles and all of the things this implies; some sort of decent handgrip both to house the substantial battery to power an always-on sensor and display; not quite enough body real estate to place the buttons for all of the features demanded by today’s buyers; and lastly – a bonus feature. Basically: make it as attractive as possible to the buyer to adopt, but remembering that as a company, you are also going to have to convince your existing brand loyalists to reinvest heavily, too. I’m opening with fighting words, but there is a point to all of this especially with the last two big holdouts joining the game.

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Design, photography and visual priorities

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The previous post out of the archives was intended to cue up your thinking for today’s discussion: taking things one step further and exploring the relationship between design, photography and composition.

Some of you probably know that beyond photography, I’m involved in design work on two fronts – as lead designer at Horologer MING, my watch brand, and as a consultant at Hasselblad. There is a popular misconception that design is mainly about a few things: style, function/ usability/ UI/ ergonomics, and differentiation. In reality, design is really about making a set of coherent choices in an environment where there are choices to be made I’d argue that beyond and above this, there’s really only one overarching principle that should be the basis of all good design: I think of it as one of composition.

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