My (digital) problem, it is Sunday

2009, Photography

How come so many photographers are so obsessed with the newest camera, the latest feature? Why does it matter what camera was used for a photograph? If Bresson used a Leica do you seriously believe you take the same photographs when you have a Leica? It seems we are all infected based on common preconceptions. Newer is better, Canon versus Nikon, Foveon versus Bayer, more pixels are better, SLR cameras for nature photography, rangefinders for street photography, compact cameras for family snaps. Who created these boxes and why do feel we need to restrict ourselves to these boxes?
Waterfront by Wouter Brandsma
Newer is better
Is newer always better? From a technological point of view it might be so, but does that also improves your photography? Likely not. Lets be realistic. Every time you bought a more recent car did you become a better driver? I don’t think so. Again my suggestion is to stick to your current camera. Your camera is fine. When you want to improve your photography, you should improve your photography taking. Take more pictures, get yourself a book (still cheaper than a new camera), and learn from others.

Canon versus Nikon or Foveon versus Bayer
I personally find these discussions so silly. A real male thing I guess.
The Animal Farm by Wouter Brandsma
More pixels are better
For large prints or where fine details do matter it probably does, but most view photographs on a screens with lower pixel counts. And when people print it is likely still A4 size or smaller. And than you don’t need more than 20 megapixels. Your older 6 or 8 megapixel camera is fine. In fact, I still prefer the overall feel of my older Olympus C4000z with only 4 megapixels. Thankfully there is still a good portion of photographers who do love their Leica Digilux 2 which was announced in 2003.
Waterfront by Wouter Brandsma
SLR cameras for nature photography
Maybe from a size and price point of view. Getting a true tele lens for a medium format camera cost you a lot of money. But why shouldn’t a SLR camera not be used for street photography? Because it is more obtrusive or noisy? But did that bother Helen Levitt with her Nikon for instance? It all probably depends more on how you act as a photographer on the street. When you want to be inconspicuous and hide your camera you might likely have a hard time with your SLR. Also when you lug around with a tele lens on the street you will be noticed. But I think that when you walk around with a normal to wide lens on your SLR and you don’t hide your presence as being a photographer, you will do just fine.

Rangefinders for street photography
Some of the greatest street photographers used Leica M cameras, because they were smaller and quieter. But Leica didn’t invent the rangefinder system for the street, but just because they wanted to design a smaller and quieter camera. But nowadays you might wonder whether serious compact cameras are even better suited for that job. These cameras are even smaller and quieter than rangefinder cameras. More and more photogs do consider this idea.
The Animal Farm by Wouter Brandsma
Compact cameras for family snaps
Are all compact cameras point and shoot cameras? Of course not. Some are really serious cameras and because of its obvious limitations, like much smaller sensors, you need to be much more careful too with exposing. And not all compact cameras can be used in a similar way. With snapping we also think of less deliberate photography. But some of these compact cameras are awful snap cameras, so you need to be focused and working very deliberately. Think of the Sigma DP1 or DP2 for instance or the soon the released Leica X1.
Waterfront by Wouter Brandsma
Maybe it is better to think outside the common boxes. Be happy with what you do. Your Nikon D70 or Olympus C5050z is still an adequate camera. Think more of what you want to photograph than with what gear you want to photograph.

Should creativity be restricted by boundaries? Of course not.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

42 thoughts on “My (digital) problem, it is Sunday

  1. Thanks, that needed saying. There is a strong desire for the latest kit in photography, and it’s a weakness of mine, so your post is a good corrective 🙂

    I’ve been following your blog for a while, I especially like the kind of photos you take and that you use compact cameras. Particularly interested in your comments on GRD III as I have just bought one. I’d be interested to know a bit more about how you shot, eg. do you shot in RAW and convert to B&W or shot B&W camera JPGs? and how you expose shots to get the kinds of pictures you take?

    1. Hi Huw,

      Thank you for visiting. I shoot RAW and convert these to B&W. I do however set the jpegs to B&W and sometimes find these sufficient. Some say expose to the right, others say expose to left (I am referring to the histogram). I expose to keep as much preserved in the mid tones as possible. Because of the limited dynamic range you can’t have it all.

      1. Thanks, does this mean that you accept that you will at times loss detail in the highlights and shadows?

        I’m fairly new to digital photography and have found the lack of dynamic range the biggest problem. I know now that this is a particular problem of digital photography and in particular small sensor cameras. Having spent a lot of time looking at these issues and thinking about which camera to get (I already had a Canon 590) I still decided that the GRD III with the small sensor and the fixed lens was the camera that I wanted. But I am very much still learning the characteristics of this kind of photography and this camera.

  2. The saying goes “the best camera is the one you have with you”. I would say the best camera is the one that suits your style, motives and goals. No matter what the size, price or number of pixels is.

  3. LOL! couldn’t agree with you more!

    no wonder i drove a Karmann Ghia for over 20 years… as for which camera for what — i shoot anything and everything with the camera that i have in my hand. the only time this becomes an issue, is if the camera is not responsive to my needs… and, i have to admit that i am a total sucker for the Foveon sensor — it’s a pity i hate the cameras its in.

  4. Hello Wouter,

    thanks a lot for writing your philosophy into your blog. These sentences makes photography finding its roots. Substantial for a sunday like today.

    All the best, titus

  5. Why people keep acquiring new gadgets/gears?

    I think it is partly because of human nature, and lack of information.

    Human’s brain tends to associate things together. Marketing people will use this to associate new gear with something we desire, such as pleasure, convenient, prestige, etc.

    Also, there are many people who are misinformed about products. For example, more megapixel equal better image quality, or bigger camera is better.

    Also, human nature have tendency to collect stuff and more stuff. One explanation is because soon a person acquired one new gear. they will feel euphoria, and then after a while it will wears off. just like drugs. and then he will find a new one.. Then if he already acquired all, they will keep looking for rare and expensive one, and keep going on.

    That is why rich people who can afford to buy all kind of things, collects rare paintings or artifacts which probably worthless for most people.

  6. I have to disagree. I think a lot depends on whether your are an amateur or a professional. To say that the technology involved in digital cameras has no effect on image quality is very niave. While someone shooting snapshots might not notice the difference, those selling their images do. Especially if you’re selling stock. Diferences in noise levels, sharpness and resolution can all make a difference to a professional.

    While people shouldn’t substitute technology for things like good composition and lighting, equally to claim that a D70 can produce the same quality image as say a D3X is just rediculous. For those making their living from Photography the technology does matter.

    I wrote about this a while ago on my own blog.
    http://thomasfitzgeraldphotography.com/2009/09/12/in-a-world-of-digital-cameras-technology-does-matter/

    I think it represents a counter argument to your points

    1. Did I say the technology involved in digital cameras has no effect on image quality? Am I here being naïve? I read your post and your arguments. Some are even solid from a professional point of view. But not every professional photographer does stock. And probably not you, but the stock agencies raise the bar. See Getty Images and their minimum requirements. They mention cameras in particular. But by constantly buying better equipment to make your photographs more salable, your not doing your business any better either I think.

      I still think that most of the cameras being sold are to the amateurs, not the professionals. And I think that most amateurs don’t do large prints.

      So please, reading your post it reads almost like bitterness. And if you feel attacked by my post I am sorry. Not for the context, but just the fact that it infected you to comment vigorously on my post.

      And lets bring things into perspective. Most photographers are still amateurs even though many admire the professional status a minority has. And do amateurs really need a Nikon D3s? Likely not, but the fortunate thing for professionals is that especially the amateur sales helps manufacturers to make pro and semipro cameras.

      1. I certiainly did not mean it to sound bitter, and I did not feel personally attacked by your post either. I was meerly offering an alternative point of view. In fairness you did not state that camera technology has no effect on image quality, but nor did you distinguish your comments between amateurs and professionals. A lot of people make blanket statements that the art of photography and the technology of photography are mutually exclusive and they’re not.

        I don’t believe for a second that people should use technology as a crutch to replace good technique, but I also don’t see why someone, even amateurs can’t have an interest in the technology of photography as well as the art without being vilified. And yes, they are vilified on many blogs and forums. Certainly there are people out there who are only interested in cameras as gadgets but there are plenty who might like the latest technology and are also good photographers.

        You say creativity should not be restricted by boundaries, but equally, should creativity not allow an artist to use every tool at his or her disposal?

        Incidentally I am a stock photographer. I regularly sell images to stock agencies and requirements indeed are harsh. And while no, not every professional shoots stock, many do. I’m certainly not trying to advocate rushing out to replace your camera every time a new one comes out. That would be stupid, but equally, if something comes along that allows someone to increase their sales, and increase their profits, why is that not doing your business any good.

        I apologise if my post sounded combative, it was not meant to. I just think that there are two sides to this argument.

        1. Of course there are two sides to this. And for what matters, photography holds a special place. At first it is a form to capture light, done well it becomes a craft. It wasn’t invented to start a profession, but some were able to make a living of it. I agree that being a professional sets different standards.

          Of course an artist should be free to use every tool at his or her disposal. And even though tools are necessary to capture light, they should not, I think, set the boundaries for creativity. That was also the intention of my post. In my opinion it is stupid to think that P&S cameras are there for snap shots (remember Alex Majoli with his Olympus P&S cameras in Iraq), or that rangefinders are the best for street photography.

          Cheers,
          Wouter

  7. I love the third photo Wouter. there is a lot there and I love the vignette.

    The thing is, today cameras are as much gadgets as anything else to a lot of people. Not cameras, gadgets. Many people are not interested in the photograph itself, or the art of photography. It’s the gear. Different times than before when you bought a 35mm camera and kept it for years.

  8. Wouter, excellent points you make here!
    As ever, superb images too.
    I find myself affected by all the gear discussions but in the end it is the results that matter far more.
    What works for YOU is personal choice; it is far better to spend ones time making/taking images that it is to shop or agonize over gear choices.
    Some of my most pleasing image I took with camera phone.
    Why?
    Because I had it with me.
    Would they have been better technically had I used a more ‘serious’ camera?
    Possibly.
    But I had what I had.
    And still got something I liked.

  9. Hah, I’m glad that you brought these up. For a time, I was constantly obsessed with getting the best gears there are.

    I changed when I bought my GX200. I chose the Ricoh over other cameras knowing the short comings associated with it. Understanding where you camera is weak and being able to exploit the good stuff out of it make photography all the more fun and enjoyable for me. The point is that the camera does not have to have the latest features (though, it would be nice if it does), the camera has to able to inspire you to go out there and take photos.

    I’m happy with my GX200 and use it daily, something that never happen with my DSLR. Frequent practice not the equipments makes me better. Regardless, I do have fun keeping up with the latest of technology, it is a short of fetish of mine.
    Anyway, great pictures and articles in your blog.

  10. A very keen observation. For many, many years I have fallen victim to that idea. That a “better” camera is just that. Am definitely not personally a better photographer because of it. Probably (almost certainly) the opposite. And yet, I still fall for the same old song and dance. Yes, could make the “excuse” that three digital cameras have failed in the past two months. And each time a new purchase was made. But that’s what it is, an excuse. Rather than replace (or fix) should have just made different (better) choices.

  11. The key question to ask oneself before upgrading should be whether one is limited in some way with the current gear. I recently upgraded my carry-around camera from the LX3 to the GF1 because there were certain times the LX3 couldn’t give me the picture I was looking for. These limitations could be clearly defined: 1) DOF (bokeh, better portrait pics, etc), 2) Sensor size (resulting in e.g. less noise), 3) faster lens (20mm 1.7). The resulting pictures are definitely better and this was a worthwhile upgrade. OTOH, I haven’t upgraded my DSLR in three years because I do not feel that buying one with more mega-pixels will make much of a difference at all.

    On the other hand, I know a few people with money to spare that own fantastic equipment with lots of cameras without really knowing how to use it. This has more to do with the pleasure of buying and owning the latest and greatest (or sometimes just the name) and much less with photography.

  12. Hello Wouter,

    You ask yourself why many photographers are so obsessed with the gear. The answer (I think) lies partly in the fact that most of the people writing about photography are male and man are, for whatever reason, preoccupied with gear, any gear. Whether its cars, computers or camera’s, the online discussions seems to be more about technique than for what it is actually used.
    Another reason might be that it is easier to write about technique than it is to write about why you took that picture, what got you inspired and why you took that specific angle.
    A possible third reason might be that there are a lot more people who can relate to gear instead of pictures because the vast majority of the people isn’t able to take good pictures and show them. But they can show their gear and pretend to make good pictures.
    Even you are interested in the type of camera’s you use and many of your posts somehow involve the specific camera. It may get less when the market matures but I think it will always be a dominant discussion within the community of photographers on the web.

    1. Hoi Jeroen,

      I think you are right it is easier to write about technique, in particular about cameras and post processing. Talking about why you took a photograph and why you composed it in a certain way is a. more difficult to do and b. more difficult to understand either.

      And even I talk about the cameras I use. Not because they are the best tools you can get, but more to demonstrate that you can use less obvious cameras for lots of things. My creativity is not limited by using a compact camera, in fact I feel I am triggered because of its limitations. It is not bad to be occupied with gear, but I personally hope it always serves your personal photography.

      Gr.
      Wouter

  13. It is still a pleasure to take a bit of time out of my absurd life and come back to your home Wouter, to find the words of one of the most honest and rational photographers (and individuals) I´ve met. If only to find that you speak swiftly what we all think (and won´t do..) 😉

    And the fact that I know that your words may well come from the obscure itch for new gear (that we all share), only makes my sympathy grow.. 🙂

    May precious light hit your sensor (whichever you choose it to be). May you capture the golden photon…

    Erik.

  14. Much needed food for thought these days. I feel most of us fall into this tech trap continually with all the marketing and hype, but only deep pockets –a level of stupidity– would attempt to keep up with owning each as it came out. I know what’s it like to feel bummed out for lack of “better” gear and to be left out –by the gear snobs– for not sporting the “new” and “improved.” It’s a great mental release to let go of this foolish fretting over gear and getting back to massaging a vision into existence.

  15. Wouter:

    I love the tonality of your pictures: the high overall contrast, with deep blacks, and and quality of the mid tones. Perhaps you should write an article on your processing.

    As you know I’ve just bought a GRD3, really on impulse, but also because I found the DNG files that you sent me could be processed in more ways, with more looks and more flexibility, than my experience with the GRD and GRD2. So, while I feel the same way about new cameras as you do, I’ve given in to temptation.

    For all of this year I’ve been shooting with a larger sensor camera and wanted to get back to a small sensor camera for its huge depth of field, which I find useful for street photography. I was also pushed in this direction by the following picture taken at ISO 800 with the original GRD:

    But, as I said, I get carried away by the glimmer of greater processing flexibility of the GRD3.

    Incidentally, I’ve have a 100x133cm (39×52 inches) of the above picture. Have you made any large prints with your GX100 and GX00 cameras and, if so, what was your experience? Mine was that if the GRD/GRD2 prints looked good at A4 size and normal viewing distance they also looked good at the huge size mentioned above, although some subjects were not suitable for larger prints.

    —Mitch/Bangkok

  16. it’s the same with computers. with the same speed you cpuld have developed spaceships not long ago (almost) and people just use it for word, powerpoint and excel. why the heck do they need the fastest and newest (and most expensive) computer?
    i agree: the best camera is the one you have with you!!!

    word!

  17. I agree with what you’re saying Wouter! At the same time, every photographer is also a bit obsessed with gear and having something new and shiny tom play around with is quite satisfying. Will it take better picture tahn the old gear? Not unless the person behind the camera has improved but it will be fun to use and maybe it will inspire one to take a different approach.

  18. Hi Wouter

    I’m 31 years old, male and I bought my first camera this year. From time to time I get obsessed with different things in which I always want to make the ‘right’ choice. Camera’s were no different. I really and I mean really, struggled to make a decision. In the end I made a quick rash decision and got a 2nd hand GR digital. I bought it because I wanted to stop thinking about options, i.e. zoom and wanted something that I had to work with to get good shots, move around subjects and get my mind thinking about the creative possibilities with my camera. I promptly dropped and broke it after using it twice (fixed since), but started using my mobile in the mean time.

    I’ve really enjoyed doing so and I think it’s because I’ve removed pressure from myself. There’s not much it can take apart from landscape and people standing still shots but for some reason, some of those ‘moments’ I catch are better, I feel, than my GR or my ‘new’ 2nd hand Pentax 100D Super DSLR (which I got for speed of use). I’ve since blown up one of my mobile photo’s to A0 size, out of all the photo’s I have taken this year it’s the one I have had the most compliments over. See what you think? http://artfrommymobile.blogspot.com/2009/10/just-one-more-go.html

    One of the people making comments on this post mentioned something about being male makes us obsess about gear. I really agree with that and in most aspects of my life I’m trying to move away from that obsession and enjoy the stuff I have. It’s a work in progress 🙂

    One last thing, I don’t think taking photo’s will be just another ‘fad’ to me..

    Good post(s)

  19. I think another reason for gear obsession is the fact that none of the current cameras available tick all the boxes. From D3x/5DII to an iphone, all have a shortcoming or compromise somewhere. DSLR’s are too big, compacts are slow in comparison and image quality isn’t as good. So the need, hope or search for something better continues.

    1. That is of course a very subjective opinion, because what matters to you in a camera might not matter to me. I think it comes down to the desire of having the perfect camera and our unwillingness to make compromises (unless your Dutch of course, they are made for consensus).

      1. I understand and generally agree with the point you are making, but I don’t think it’s about aquiring a perfect camera, just one that performs at a particular level. The level of performance/’compromise’ each of us is prepared to accept will vary dependent on the context within which the camera is used. The right tool for the job as it were.
        If Sigma can get a higher resolution foveon sensor into a DP1 sized body with a faster lens and operation, I think that would do it for me, or if Canon made a smaller quieter 5D 🙂

  20. GREAT little article, I thoroughly ENJOYED it Wouter…Wonderful Pixs as well
    though I think Helen Levitt mostly used leica /& aome nikon rf lenses

    I have debated about a year to get a Digital cam
    but Quite Frankly I have been overwhelmed by all the new cams that come & go
    their overcomplicated bodies & menus….

    I guess Film for me is really VERY SATISFYING
    and I don’t think I can CAPTURE Light the way I LUV & SEE w/ digital
    the only thing I miss is the ‘INSTANT GRATIFICATION; factor
    which makes me sometimes Desire a digital

    As for cameras I can be quite content w a Leica or a $46.00 OM1

    Its really about the MOMENT, the CAPTURE, the LIGHT…Cheers-H

    1. You might be right Helen about the other Helen. I once read she did use one of the Nikon f series, but she also used Leica.

      As long as digital is being compared with film, than it won’t beat film with the exception of instant gratification in my opinion. And you are fine with your older Leica, so why the need for a new digital camera? An older Olympus C5050z for instance is great camera with a wonderful fast lens.

      I know started photographing with an older Canon 10D and I am having a blast. Like you say, it is all about the moment, the capture, the light.

      Ciao,
      Wouter

  21. Nice article. I still have my Oly C5050 and still do take it out. Back in 2004 I think, I shot a whole hardware catalog with that little camera. And the company is still using the images. Absolutely nothing wrong with them. This from a Nikon D3 user.

    I’m done with the obsession, although I do secretly lust for an M9 😉

  22. The problem of equipment obsession has increased in recent years because we are the pioneering generation for digital cameras. There has been very rapid change in the short time since digital was introduced, and I think that many of us got caught up in wanting each new improvement. Some of that is not mere obsession–at least at the beginning there were substantial changes that did, in fact, improve the cameras. But I think that you are expressing a thought that may be of increasing interest to camera manufacturers, which is that obsession-fatique has begun to set in for many of us. I have bought and bought and bought to keep up with the latest thing, and now I’m tired of it. I used to shoot all the time with a Rolleicord–simple, stripped-down, and highly competent. After a hectic few years of keeping up with the latest equipment, I suddenly am realizing the value of those old Rolleicord days. It’s time for me to settle into something like that with digital. I would not be surprised to find that there are a lot more people with these feelings. In closing, I would like to say that I am a big fan of your photographs. You clearly put feeling above equipment, and that shows! Thanks.

  23. Hi Wouter,

    good article. I think many people like the thought that a new camera will cast it’s magic spell and make them take photographs a) more often and b) that are better than those taken with the ‘old’ camera.

    In reality most of us have no need to get hung up on possible print quality, sharpness, megapixels, raw or jpeg etc. We would be better off worrying about composition, & editing.

    🙂

  24. When I shot film, I used a Mamiya RB 6×7 and loved the large image. But, curiously, now that I am shooting digital, I have fallen in love with the camera in my pocket. And to think! It has a good zoom lens and I can make adjustments both in the camera and then later when I am doing “processing” in software. You know what i have learned? What I knew all the time. I would be a far better photographer if i had real talent. But I am just a yeoman shooter and my limited jpeg camera is able to produce very fine A3 and A4 size images on my lovely printer. I am sure it is not the best work— but I don’t think I do the best work. I do what I enjoy and I love the flexibility of a small camera that can fit in a pocket. Do I need the best and the newest? Oh no. I just don’t take too many dark light pictures because a small sensor has its limitations. So what? What will a new camera do for a just ok old photographer???? 🙂

    1. Expectations should me measured to your own capabilities. We can only become really familiar with the limitations of our equipment if we are aware of our own limitations. A lousy photographer won’t become a pro with the newest and best tool. Just do what feels right to you is what matters in my opinion.

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