However that being said, the following are my current (as of July 2012) opinions, regarding this new digital realm, of course they are based on my own experience of working with it. Behind any image that I make are my overriding creative motivations, those things that spark and ignite my creative inspiration to take flight, so to speak, and drive me too work up the desire I need, to go about making photographic images. But that is not what my present ramble here is about.
It's more about sharing my opinions on the developing maze and seemingly
endless glut of digital photographic equipment, not too mention the numerous programs and constant
upgrading that's currently available on the digitally based imaging
"treadmill". Something that we are literally being forced by the various manufacturers, that
hold out that proverbial "carrot dangling from a stick", too constantly egg us on to dig ourselves in a little deeper. We obligingly do, but with desperation so in many cases, as we
try to keep up and remain in lock step with each new hardware or program advance. Such is the endlessly bounding nature of human progress I guess.
From 2001 until 2012 when I was out of my studio photographing, I have using digitally based Nikon camera equipment to capture my landscape images. But long before this digital era began, I was a long time Nikon equipment fan, I began my love affair with Nikon the early 1960s, that's when I first owned a black Nikon F body, that didn't even have a light metering system available for it at that time. I ended up taking it over to India and I gave my first Nikon body away to a young Indian photographer, while I was there photographing Goddess Kali and her grotesque entourage of Yoginies, in Calcutta. Such vivid memories of photographing there, to be honest with you, the ten Indian years that I had were the worst and yet in so many ways the best time of my life. My greatest images, the ones that were seen but never photographed, they were were left on the streets of that city for someone else to capture. They were the ones that I couldn't take at the time, or just didn't take, mostly because of timing or conflicting agendas, or the type of equipment that I had with me. All of which all too frequently prevented me from capturing the image that I saw.
I have owned and worked with
every type of image capturing platform. For twenty years I worked steadily
with a large format 8x10 wooden Deardorff sheet film camera, in fact three of my nine trips to India were with the 8X10 inch wooden Deardorff camera. It was,
after all, considered to be the traditional tool used by those older
more seasoned fine art photographers, you were just not seriously into
photography unless you were using a large format Deardorff to execute
your image captures. It was something akin to climbing and standing a top mount
Everest, only in the photographic realm I suppose. Now I have also owned
and worked extensively in past years with Hasselblad 6x6, Mamiya RZ 6x7 camera system, and Linhof 4x5
and 5x7 sheet film cameras, and of course let me not forget about those various versions of Nikon 35 mm cameras.
So I can tell you quite frankly, that I do honestly enjoy working in the digital realm. I have been able to explore many different creative imaging
avenues like the six combined images seen above, without the over burdening cost
of film and custom made developing chemistry draining my limited monitory resources. The latitude of image control is
far greater digitally than it ever was when using film. How wonderful
it is not to be locked away in a smelly darkroom, day after day, processing either film or paper prints and of course breathing in those chemistry vapours. The reality
for me is that the multiple image creations that I am now able to make digitally, would have been close to impossible using the older conventional
film and chemistry methods, and that's just a fact.
I actually like working with digital technology, it does come with an
attribute and an inclination that I find somewhat annoying. Let me tell you
a little story from my life which illustrates the direction today's
digital equipment is taking. I have a one hundred year old father-in-law
who moved into in a retirement home some eight years ago. He is a former
bomber pilot during the 1940 to 1945 war, and a smart old codger at that, still
with all of his male testosterone argumentative marbles. Who asked on one visit if
we could possibly go to MacDonald's for a lunch time hamburger. Being long time vegetarians ourselves, since 1975, he knows that
a trip to MacDonald's is an extremely rare occurrence for us. Although
they do have nice clean washrooms that we tend too use while we are traveling
about on photographing excursions.
So we agree and take him to the fast food restaurant. Where I proceed to the counter
to ask for a simple coffee and hamburger for a very old, frail white haired
guy. I stand in a long lunch time line that seems to take fifteen minutes before
I get to the server. At the busy bustling counter I ask for a coffee and a hamburger.
The young clerk quickly spiels off something that I simply don't understand; apparently
there are a range of various combos, or Mc deals something about hamburgers,
fries, and a drink, possibly something called "happy meals"
I truly don't know? I say again, I'll have just a small burger please. He then rhymes off a
list of the various "sandwiches" as he called them, that are
available. I haven't a clue again what he is talking about. I don't want double
anything and certainly nothing cheese covered, I just want a plain and
There is a lot of commotion mostly because of my indecision, when I say rather loudly "JUST GIVE ME A HAMBURGER.... PLEASE, that's all I want, oh and a coffee
also please". Now I haven't drunk coffee myself since 1975 so the
server's response threw me again. He asked did I want a small, medium,
large or extra large coffee, but he mumbled it so quickly that I had a hard
time hearing what he said above the very noisy lunch hour din. There
were several annoying squealing beepers bleeping loudly behind him and
dozens of people talking loudly standing in long lines behind me. I
shrugged my shoulders. He then asked me something else I just couldn't
comprehend about the combos I think, and if my order was for sitting
in or taking out, I replied very loudly I JUST WANT A COFFEE AND A SIMPLE
BURGER, THAT IS WHAT YOU SELL HERE ISN'T IT? The entire place hushed
up as if something terrible had or was going to happen.
As I experienced in this fast food restaurant, when they made ordering
a simple coffee and a plain hamburger a far more complicated issue than it really
should be. I am increasingly worried at what I see being played out
in this new digital realm. Camera makers now include the "proverbial
digital kitchen sink," and then are throwing in even more esoteric
technical fluff, to dazzle and impress everybody with their endless
choices. But I would like to ask exactly to what purpose?
What really is essential to capture photographic images? Modern cameras have too many menus too choose from in my opinion, the "Shooting Menu"
the "Set Up Menu" the "CSM Menu" and the "Play
Back" menu, now the one I tend to use regularly is the Nikon CSM Menu which has
36 options and unlike the smaller quicker to use "Shooting Menu"
it has some of those particular options which I tend to use, and many
of them with their endless sub options to choose from. Now I only use three of
those 36 options which generally are always constantly set and two other
options which I have to set occasionally from time to time as I work.
I also find when working digitally that I never ever use the little LCD monitor on the back of the camera for viewing images, because its just not good enough quality to see anything when outside in the bright sunshine. It is also an incredible draining battery waster, so mine is always turned off. I don't need, nor have I ever used, the bracketing feature, as I tend to do everything in the Manual mode using spot metering off a gray card that's placed in the scene when shooting a many imaged mural, with one reading being taken at the beginning, then all images have exactly the same exposure throughout the photographing.
For taking quick single photographs I always use the reliable Program mode, and then rotate the rear thumb wheel to come up with a shutter speed and aperture combination that I am the happiest with. I find Nikon's multi metering system works well and you can always depend on it. And with digital's incredible image latitude I can easily fix just about any and everything except of course for gross overexposure in the Nikon Capture NX 2 program.
Now recently, I must confess to you, that as of June of 2012, I switched over too the Sigma SD 1 camera body, opting for that over the Nikon 36.3 MP body. The reason for the switch is simple, Sigma makes what I think is a straight forward photographer's camera. It has a incredibly simply laid out uncluttered intuitive menu system. Yes it's Spartan by Nikon's over the top pirouetting standards.
But I don't require voice memo or GPS positioning. I usually only capture my
images in the NEF (Nikon Electronic File ) also known as the RAW mode.
I have yet to use the Tiff mode or any of the numerous Jpeg settings in many
years of continual use and thousands of images taken. I shoot everything
with the in camera sharpening always permanently turned off. I leave
the white balance continually set in the "Cloudy" (6000K) setting all
the times, even outside even in brightest sunshine or darkest shade, because it
gives me decent looking images, and the Tone compression is always set
to High because of my landscape detail subject matter. I only sharpen
the image in Nikon's Capture NX and can easily tweak the 6000K Cloudy setting Kelvin
temperature of the image up or down in Capture, if it's a necessity,
which I will admit some times it is.
I question on the newest Nikon D800 E body, that anyone should have to go through
the annoying digital third degree about the choices of selecting either
Tiff, Jpeg Low, Jpeg Basic, Jpeg Fine, Jpeg Extra Fine, Nef, Nef plus Jpeg
Low, Nef plus Jpeg Basic, Nef plus Jpeg Fine, White
Balance, Tone Compression, Image Size; Small, Medium or Large images
and all interrelated to the other format choices that are available,
and then on the D800 having to choose between Nikon's own Full Sensor
Size or the Cropped Sensor Size. The choices seem endless and confounding
and frankly to be honest with you I would only ever use one, full sensor
and the NEF (RAW) format. Like the LCD on the back of the camera body
these sizing choices are all far too costly to implement and simply
redundant useless digital fluff in my mind.
It appears to me that digital engineering teckies, computer junkies and a photographic advisory board pushing for every last digital item thinkable are now in charge of current camera design. At least they are at Nikon corporation. The results are maddening, instead of producing cameras that can take excellent quality images involving a minimum of technical bells, whistles or hoops, with menu mazes to work your way through, in the end they have burdened all of us with a vast glut of needless digital "smoke and mirrors".
The argument I suppose that they would make, to support their digital excessiveness is, someone somewhere out there might just need the GPS positioning, voice memo, and wireless transmitting, and endless menu and image size choices. The issue for me is that most of what is being provided is simply redundant and not going to be used by the average photographer and yet we collectively are all having to pay for these unnecessary and expensive extravagances included. Only Sigma to my mind, seems understand this. However more perhaps because of cost cutting measures, than anything else I suppose.
Recently a friend of mine approached me with an offer I that couldn't refuse. He had a Hasselblad H1 digital outfit that he wanted to sell and he was looking for a Sigma SD 1 camera, which I had just acquired. So we struck a deal in July of 2012, and he agreed to send me his barely used Hasselblad H 1 outfit in return for my brand new Sigma SD 1 body and a zoom lens that I had on the camera. I also agreed to send him the remaining funds, but spread over a two year period. So since September of 2012, I have been using a Hasselblad H 1 outfit to capture my images. The system was first sent to Hasselblad's repair depot located in New Jersey, for them to look it over and of course do some firmware upgrading. I can tell you that I absolutely love medium format's image quality. The system is also a no nonsense system, the back's menu system is extremely Spartan, when it's compared to Nikon's" kitchen sink" attitude regarding their digital equipment. Personally I like my cameras to be nice and simple, but with absolutely great image quality. Like the Hasselblad H system is.
Now let me impart too you, what I once experienced while I was in India, which nicely illustrates
my technology over kill point of view. It happened in a five star hotel
in Delhi; Delhi is the main transit point in India so you frequently
have to go there to catch international flights. We often use the high
end coffee shops to eat lunch just to sit in their refreshing air-conditioning. One
day after eating we went to the hotel's gift shop to look around. My
wife wanted to purchase some post cards costing just a few Rupees. There
at the check out was an super duper brand new looking IBM cash register,
with every bell and whistle on it that man could ever think of. This
machine must have cost the hotel a small fortune, it looked very expensive
and we were most impressed with the hotel's technology as we walked
up to the counter.
Well the indian clerk took our post cards and surprisingly used a small hand
held abacus to add things up mentally, then he laboriously hand wrote out
the bill. At this point he asked for assistance and eventually three hotel
individuals were silently gathered around staring at the complicated cash register.
After some time one of them dared to put a hand out and then a finger landed
on just one key, which it pressed. With much relief the cash register door
flung IBM efficiently open, much to their chuckles and smiles and "thank
goodness" we did it attitude. They made the change, the transaction
had taken half an hour. The point I am making is that this cash register
could easily have taken control and totaled probably every transaction
in that large five star hotel, without so much as breaking into a sweat. Yet only one simple "open drawer
key" was being pressed by the people who were using it.
It is the exact same scenario with these new digital cameras. Most of
the digital camera equipment is used on a basic straight forward level.
I would be willing to bet you that 85% of the incredible, sophisticated
technology that is currently build into these latest cameras never ever or very seldom
gets used. The overwhelming capabilities might as well not be there
and yet the crazy thing is, we are paying a high price for these camera
bodies, that only become high priced digital toys, really meant more
for equipment based technophobe types, but really not being designed for genuine
hard core photographic image makers. Just remember that old joke about
people not being able to program their simple by comparison VCR's, or
even set their timers which constantly flashed a dayglo neon green 00.00
displaying the time.
to all this, is the sad reality that the technology advances so quickly
that a digital camera which is only three years old is considered virtually
redundant and therefore more or less a worthless piece of digital junk, that's of course
in the general market place. Unlike the old film cameras, trade in values
on digital equipment are literally ridiculous to virtually none existent.
Basically only companies or those well healed types can afford to take
the ride on this always changing always running digital treadmill.
my life time I have found that the simplest things work the best and are the most reliable, and
this is especially true when it comes to technology. The more we
pile on, the more there is to break, foul up, or complicate the situation.
Give me a good camera body that operates with a minimum of finicky fussing
and put the emphasis on delivering incredible image quality. To get
this image quality in digital, the research and development dollars
should be spent on the "chip" to increase the pixel capacity
and recording ability of the camera. Those other bells and whistles
should really be reduced down to a minimum, like Sigma has done with their SD 1 camera. The chip should also be
replaceable in my mind, so that as improvements do occur, all one has to do, is pay
for a new chip and some of the latest upgrading tweaks in firmware programming to be
installed in the camera body.
Furthermore camera manufacturers should make the technology actually
work for the user. Allow for uncluttered individualized programming;
that is each person should be able to pull from the numerous different
menus what is important to them and put them into one quick and easy
to look at special customized menu. Everything else could go into a
sleep mode and not be seen again until it is required. This would eliminate
scrolling through forty different headings trying to find something,
especially in the bright glaring sunlight, looking for those one or
two options that you need to tweak in the camera for specific image.(I originally wrote this in 2004, and amazingly this is what they have done. SL)
perhaps another option would be to look at what car manufacturers have
done for years now. You can buy a basic model of a car or you can purchase
the same automobile fully decked out and loaded. Wouldn't it be wonderful
to be able to purchase a top of the line digital camera body like the
Nikon D3X, but only in a basic no frills configuration, and be able to
get it for about two thirds of the price of the same fully loaded unnecessarily
overburdened "never ever going to use all of those things"
D3X camera body. (In a way Nikon especially, has done this by providing the D800 and D800E for just $3200 instead of charging $9000 for a body, as they have done in the past.)
In closing I'll share three stories of mature photographers all of whom have made their living the past forty years by taking pictures. I see one of them that refuses to get on the digital treadmill because of the digital instability; he is doing digital but still scanning his film to do it because the digital backs he requires are much too expensive, and in the end like everything digital simply will not maintain their value.
Another photographer who leapt into the digital realm a number years ago, is now in training to become a bartender and casino card dealer. He's was just not able to handle the complexity of his high end camera and learn the computer programming necessary to work successfully in the digital realm; and then there is the last one, myself, feeling somewhat used by the camera manufacturers.
All of the very expensive digital equipment that
I purchased at the beginning of my digital journey in 2000, quickly became completely worthless and outdated
and was literally outpaced just a couple of years after purchase. I have
been known to be a dreamer, so I continue to hope that one day I can
own a digital camera that will maintain it's value for more than just a few
years, and might be upgraded when needed, and will deliver quality images, and do so with a minimum of menu choices, digital clutter and choice aggravation.
SL, July 4th 2012.