Welcome to the latest Photography Bluff.
I guess, every photography enthusiast or camera geeks wants the latest and the best in business these days. With the emergence of compact system cameras or mirrorless system cameras, there’s never been more choices for them. People will get confused and simply don’t know what to get anymore. Combining with the advances in camera designs and image processors, they are also getting easier to use and faster.
For examples, the latest bunch of mirrorless cameras or compact system cameras, simply does everything for you. Face-detection, Right or Left eye detection, smile detection, motion detection… you name it. All done via realtime processing. Photographers only need to click that shutter button and it’s all done. Quite spectacularly. Then the traditional DSLRs, their super fast focus tracking is unbeaten (yet). With the latest round of pro-level focusing system from Nikon’s D4s, Canon’s 1Dx and 7D Mark II, you will be amazed on what you can’t do with moving subjects. Perfect for action and wildlife photographers, even street photographers (size is another matter however).
I was once drawn into this chase for the best focusing system available a few years back. I thought man, what if I have that system, it will speed up my work considerable. When I got that camera and after a few thousand clicks later, I realised that it was definitely faster and more accurate but then my keeper counts dropped. Why? I started to rely on the system to do the ‘thinking’ for me. Couple with fast continuous drive, I could literally fired the shutter a few hundred in minutes if I was not careful. Yes, I could ‘choose’ the best one out of the bunch during culling but with that volume of photos, it also took a lot longer and that meant slower workflow. I wasn’t a sports journalist nor working for a news agent so that volume continuous shooting wasn’t for me. And for that matter, I can confidently say on behalf of 90% of the photography enthusiasts out there. Do you really need that 10+ frame per second and that multiple zone tracking focusing system? The pure answer is NO.
So while the latest bunch of cameras offer so many auto functions that make your’s, as a photographer, life much easier but at the same time, making you a lot lazier. When I first got my OM-D a couple of years back, it was the first camera I bought with a useable and fast face detection system. It was fun to use of course but that novelty soon wore out. It was quick and to be honest, perfect for kids. I bought that camera for capturing my newborn twins when we were out and about. I still use it and it’s still a very very good camera. But what I am going to say is that because it was so easy to use, you will soon forget about photography. The principles of light, composition and control. The camera simply did everything for me. At that time, I was still shooting my Canon 5D and Leica M6. During my ‘spare time’, I love using the Leica. It was the ONLY SAVIOR for my photographic skills. It was the ONLY camera that brought me back to earth. I wasn’t joking. Even though the M6 had a meter, there was no priority mode of any kind. I needed to read light, composite and set everything MYSELF. I loved it.
The point I am making however, is that for those who are getting into photography or those who are brought up with digital cameras, will appreciate the learning curve from manual cameras. Yes, getting a Leica may not be your option but there are absolutely tons and tons of manual cameras out there and cost absolutely nothing to buy. Get any old film SLR with a 50 1.8 will probably only cost you a dinner.
When operating such manual camera, you will slow down to a point of ‘thinking’ if you are not experienced in non-auto photography. Because you are shooting film also means that each click costs you. This process forces you to think even more in terms of composition, lighting and content. Also don’t forget that when you load a film into the camera, you are also stuck with that film speed for the entire roll. There’s no changes in ISO. When you develop your photos, you will also find that exposure is also critical, especially when you shoot positives. It’s not like RAW in digital that you can literally rescue a photo if you are over or under by 2 stops. So it’s a big learning for anyone stepping into the manual world.
Leica M is probably the only digital ‘full manual’ camera in production to date. Yes it does have aperture priority mode or auto ISO but many, including myself, still shoot manual most of the time. Shooting manual, whether it’s a Leica or other older SLRs or medium formats, will definitely get you a lesson that will only improve your photography skill. If you don’t believe me, try one and see for yourself. After that, you go back to your digital format and you will notice your skills improve dramatically, speed and accuracy. Now, even when I am shooting with the latest Leica M, I still sometimes slow down and got back to film. It’s definitely an experience and a continuous learning for me.
I am not discounting digital cameras and all the fantastic technologies. I am just telling all the photography buddies out there to slow down, buff up your skills and improve your images. Yes, these all-singing-all-dancing cameras are great but they can only be great if you are a GREAT PHOTOGRAPHER!
That also means that you can get the cheapest DSLR for £250 and still achieve a top quality picture? Yes, absolutely. And yes, there’s some differences in terms of ultimate image quality such as dynamic range and sharpness (though that’s only part of the story and you will need a sharp lens too!). Starting to get confused? Well, wait, these cheapo cameras can produce top class pictures??? Yes, and I say it again. But why on earth did I or many fellow GAS photographers (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) spend all our hard earn money on big or expensive camera? Well, I can answer a few but only from a professional point of view.