Thursday, October 23, 2008


This post is going to have a ripple of photographic geekyness flowing through it, so for the unbelievers among you, you have been warned.

I’ve been a keen photographer for much of my adult life (yes, that’s getting on for nearly 5 years, my wife has just pointed out). As with most interests, the one thing you collect as you ply your trade, is Equipment. Drawers full of the stuff. So you go out with your camera for a day looking like Quasimodo suffering from a slipped disc. Camera, lenses, tripods, filters, flashguns, film et-bloody-cetera.

Only you don’t go out with it all because, all up, it’s just too heavy and bulky. So you leave a couple of lenses behind. And which lenses do you find you need when you get snapping. You’ve got it – the ones sitting on the desk at home.

Being, supposedly, someone in the top 1% of the country’s intelligentsia, it only took me until about a year ago to realize the barking stupidity of all this. So I called for a serious, long term, fundamental strategic review with myself. And, as a result, out went three cameras, five lenses, the back-pack and a huge pile of associated photographic crap. A new regime of Camera-lite overtook the Cable household. If I can’t carry it all in one hand, it’s history.

Luckily, technology had got there at the same time when I did all this, and 1 new Nikon D300 camera, and a couple of light, versatile lenses, and a small bag I can throw over my shoulder later, my equipment portfolio has been totally transformed. And the result - I take a lot more pictures now because the camera is with me more often. And because the stuff I’ve now got is appropriate to what I want to take, the resultant pictures I take are way better than before.

A guy called Michael Reichmann, who writes a truly excellent website - The Luminous Landscape - puts it perfectly. “Most cameras are better than most photographers”. But you have to have them with you. So, once again, size is important (my dear wife also had something to say here), and at least, I’m a bit ahead of the game.

The one area where camera technology still leaves me wanting is the really pocket sized machine, the one you can ALWAYS have with you. I bought the best one I could find a couple of years ago, but I still couldn’t get on with it. It was OK, but I wanted more than OK. So that’s been sold as well.

Two photographic blogs today report developments which I think could lead to a seismic shift in The Art of Smallness. Up until now, you could have Small, but not Very Good, or you could have Large and Good. But not both. The Small and Good mix didn’t exist. But Canon have just brought out a new camera, the G10, which Michael Reichmann has just put through a few of its paces. He sat it alongside a Hassleblad H2 with a Phase One P45 Back (39 Megapixels and $40,000!) and took the same picture with both machines. He then printed both sets of images at a size of 13” x 19” and showed them to a dozen of his professional photographic colleagues, asking them to guess which camera had taken which picture. 60% of them got it right – and 50% would be the pure guess figure. So, what does that tell you? And anyway, how often do you produce a 13” x 19” print?

Now the Canon fits in my pocket, whereas I would need a manservant to carry the Hassleblad around for me. And if I had just shelled out the $40k to buy it, I then couldn’t afford the manservant. Just for comparison, the Canon’s list price is $499.99. That’s like putting a Veyron up against a Golf.

For yours truly at least, I don’t think the next move is very difficult.

On the same day, on another (extremely good) website - The Online Photographer – there is the first review of a brand new type of camera – the Micro Four Thirds. It’s a Panasonic DMC-G1 – a Digital SLR-like camera with interchangeable lenses, except it doesn’t have a mirror or an optical viewfinder. So, yes, it’s not a DSLR. But the sensor is the same size as my Nikon, and therefore should be capable of similar picture quality. And without all the gubbins they’ve got rid of, the body is about half the size and weight of the Nikon. And the size of the lenses are reduced in the same way. It uses a very high quality electronic viewfinder, and it all seems to work extremely well. The guy testing it had already seen the next iteration of this design, from Olympus, which he says is about the size of a bar of soap. And it records high quality video. And it fits in your pocket. The Times, they are A-Changing.

If you look at the camera world, it’s suffered from a massive degree of design conservatism over the last 50 years. Nikon’s top line camera in 1957 is recognizably similar to their top line model today. I know it’s now digital now, but the design hasn’t moved on a lot.

It’s about time someone stood back and went back to First principles here. Canon and Nikon, the world leaders, tend to be ultra-conservative in their thinking. They produce terrific cameras, but they don’t do ground breaking innovation. It seems to take the underdogs, who probably need to get ahead of the game to get a bigger toe in the water, if you can unravel the mixed metaphor there, to forge ahead with these developments. The issue here is that, if someone like Panasonic or Olympus gets it right, you could see major changes in the way camera development changes, and very quickly.

And the two giants could then be playing a game of catch up they don’t want.

We live in interesting times.



1 comment:

Whitenoise said...