Photography - Simple Is Good

Yesterday I wrote a spoof post announcing a new Nikon DSLR with an image of a Nikon FE and a 60's vintage 50mm f 1.4 lens. I wanted it to cost somewhere south of 1000 bucks, have extremely simple controls, and very limited options. All kidding aside - I might buy something like this if the price were right. I definitely know that there would be a substantial number of people that would buy it for $5000 as well. How do I know that? Look at the number of people who buy the $7000-$8000 Leica M9 with about the same set of features. I of course did not. Why should I - I have a couple of M cameras that are perfectly good and continue to use. Do I have the NEED to upload my images the moment they are made? No. Do I like the way various films render color and tone better than digital in a lot of cases? Yes.

I think there are a couple of things to think about regarding the current offerings from camera makers as well as the current state of affairs in image making. Here are some random thoughts for your consumption and comment and the real point of my post yesterday.

  • Cameras are too complicated. Too many settings to tell the computer inside what you want it to do. The couple of things that really matter should be simple and direct. focus, aperture, and shutter. Are there occasions or subject matter that calls for something else? Maybe but not very many for me. Exposure? Are you kidding me - exposure is EASY there really are not that many circumstances and even the most non-technical photographer can figure it out after a few dozen shots.
  • Cameras are too big. Digicams aren't but they are not a whole lot smaller than compact 35mm cameras of 2 decades ago. Why are the sensors so stinking small? Why are 25mm sensors accompanied by gigantic camera bodies. Even DX sensors are too small to provoke any kind of DOF rendering with most lenses and they have bodies that are too large for my taste.
  • There is a complete lack of diversity in the digital market. For the most part all the cameras are exactly the same, they look the same, they handle the same, they all have the same functions, they all take movies, they are all relatively the same size. etc. etc. There are dozens and dozens of them within the same "class" but within that class they are the same. More and more they are even using the same sensor across brands.There are a few exceptions and they sell well - even if they are not perfect. I think one of the reasons they are not superlative is that they are half measures and the committee that designs them gives way to "more features" or common wisdom. Take the Fuji X100 - lots of potential but fails. How much better would that camera be if they did away with AF all together and just gave you a smooth accurate manual focus ring and range-finder patch? In my opinion a lot. Same with the Leica X1.
  • I love everything about my Leica M cameras, my Nikon F series from the original F through the F3, I love my FM's and FE's. Heck I even love old Sears/Ricoh RF with fixed 25mm. I don't LOVE any of my digicams in close to the same way. They are junk, complicated, take so so images, and far far more importantly they make me think less about the important things and think more about non-sense. In a word - distracting.
  • Big, heavy, slow, zoom lenses suck. They are about the only reason I could give a rats ass about ISO higher than 400. They may have impressive pixel peeping credentials but for the most part they have a rendering that looks like dog shit. Not only do they look like dog shit - they all look like the same dog shit. You can tell the difference in rendering between my Old Nikon 50mm lenses from my Leica 50mm from a mile away.
  • Digital tries to make everything "easy" from shooting action to shooting at night to making movies. Actually none of it is easy no matter what the camera does. It's an illusion of convenience. Hey man there is some settings that you can set and everything is a go... Bullshit. Pile that on to how much more work it is shooting digital and you have to ask yourself why. Every new camera and software release makes it "easier" That's crap - how about someone that knows what they are doing taking care of all of the post for dirt cheap and you don't worry about it? - That's film. I guess if you want to insert yourself you can - but you don't have to. Shoot the film, drop it off/get it back = done. Don't like the look - talk to the lab and tell them what you want your stuff to look like. Still want to fine tune it - shoot a different film. How great is that.
  • I don't even own a full frame FX DSLR any more. Gone. Do I miss them - NO. Too big, too complicated and for the most part they make the same images only not as good in some cases as my gorgeous, tiny, Nikon FM or my Leica M6, except I don't want to carry them with me. Would I really want a D3 with 24-70 2.8 more than one of my compact film cameras with a 50 1.4?? Really? For that matter Any of my medium format cameras with 80 and I am still lighter and smaller with that?  But hey you can't shoot at 8 frames/second and 6400 ISO what about that? Screw it. Don't want it - don't need it - and at F1.4 Portra 800 or Fuji looks great in the same light.
  • My LX5 is great - amazing for what it is. As a gadget freak it does unbelievable things. Does it look nearly as good at ANY of my 35mm compacts? No. I use it when I don't give a crap. Even when I had my FX sized DSLR and medium format backs I still shot film for stuff I care about. and was likely to care about a year later.

Just some things to chew on. Simple is good. It's good for your state of mind, it's good for your pictures. Here is a casual shot from last summer. Portra 160VC with my Leica M6 and 50 Summicron. This is fairly decent skin tones right out of the box on my uncalibrated scanner. Would the D3 be better? No way - in fact it would be a lot worse for a number of reasons. Is it somehow inferior I don't think so. Could you make the same image that looks as good using a digicam? No way. How about a $100 Nikon FM or FE - absolutely.

Would this image be better if there was no film grain/noise when looking at it at "100%"? No. Would the color be "better" No. Would there be some wonderful detail that somehow isn't there? No. The skin tone would probably be nuclear, the hair would be some strange noisy digital mess, The out of focus trees would be really funky, distracting, artificial looking, harsh, and probably more yellow, The sky would have no tone without lots of screwing around,  Would AF somehow figured out how to focus at f 2.0 better and sharper? No. For that matter none of my shots on this roll were in anyway out of focus and better yet - the focus was exactly where I wanted it. Could I somehow screw around with a digital capture in ways I can't screw around with this? No - in fact I have way more data to play with should I want to.

Would this one be better on digital? Would Auto WB some how save this shot? Doubt it. If I wanted to play with the color balance I sure as well could just as easily as digital capture. If I had a lab scan it they would do it for me to my taste all included in the process/scan price. That's a lot of labor for a great price. The color of the light was changing really fast here as it was going into twilight and I did want to demonstrate  Portra's almost magical ability to render skin in a pleasing and wonderful way almost no matter what the color balance of the light and overall image. Did I need ISO 1600 at twilight - nope.

Are these AMAZING shots - no. Just my typical family snapshots Are they important? To you - no. To me - very. Would they somehow be better with a complicated, heavy, expensive DSLR last year, this year, or next year even? No, if they would be please let me know how. I would LOVE to hear it. If somehow your answer is in post processing - forget it. I can do that if I want but don;t have to or want to. For the same price as processing, I can have someone else do it for me to my liking very consistently. Based on 200,000+ shots on digital over the last 12 years I can guess at some ways digital capture would possibly and probably be worse.

Just some things to think about when reaching into your wallet for the next new wonder-DSLR. Sure I will use digital when I have to or when it actually helps me to, or for that matter just to play around but I love the simplicity of film cameras and I long for a digital that has some of those properties at a reasonable cost and maybe even some of the more redeeming characteristics of film.

RB

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