This post is about three recent stock shooting trips I recently undertook. None are particularly far from where I live. And all show that we have had a pretty late Autumn this year. All three also show just how unimportant the gear used is. One set was shot on a mirrorless APS-C sensor camera, one on a smartphone and one on film. The galleries are similar to a stock photography website where potential clients click on a thumbnail to see a larger images. They have no idea what gear was used to shoot the images and yet all are capable of up to A3 reproduction.
A few statistics. I sell roughly 45% shot on digital DSLR's / mirrorless, 45% shot on film and 10% shot on smartphones. In terms of how this relates to what I have on websites that is roughly 70% shot on DSLR's / mirrorless, 25% on film and 5% shot on smartphones. The galleries above show how images show up on stock photography sites and there is pretty much no way to work out what camera they were shot on. Either a smartphone or a high-resolution FF camera. And since most images won't be printed any larger than A4, it really doesn't matter.
So why do amateur / enthusiast photographers buy all these pointless upgrades, when 5 or even 10 year old cameras will be fine for what they shoot? Lots of professional photographers I know change their cameras every few years and as long as they have the quality they need, there really isn't any need to do so. But of course this is all about creating dissatisfaction. One company brings out something that other manufacturers don't have so once again the pointless upgrade cycle starts again. And the internet forums are full of photographers (or paid shills) saying how wonderful the newest model is.
And in most cases it just isn't. And in most cases if you need this gimmicky crap then why on earth are you bothering with photography? Because it's not about the gear, the technology or the software novelty stuff, it's about creating images and that can be achieved with the simplest most inexpensive gear. But that doesn't 'fit' with the marketplace, the photographic internet guru industry and the needs of capitalism to constantly create a demand for more and more nonsensical upgrades. So why not stop?
Why not stop all this nonsense and actually leave some time between upgrades? And concentrate on what can achieved with what we already have? Do we really need (0r even want) 8K video? Do we need yet more and more pixels and bigger sensors? Some of the best photographic images were shot on 35mm film, which equates to about 10MP in digital terms, so does all this constant 'improvement' mean we get better images? Well seemingly not. To be honest I'm seriously disappointed by the standard of most enthusiast photography posted on the internet. It's bland, dull and full of cliches. Capturing the 'decisive moment' seems to be a thing of the past and with all that technology why is it that so many photographers can't even get the horizon straight? They also don't seem to be able to make images interesting visually and just accept what these digital cameras turn out, which for the most part is safe, bland dross.
I've written many times before that I really have no problem with the decline of the stand alone camera market. It will hopefully weed out the unnecessary from the genuinely useful in terms of the technology and again hopefully leave gear which has GENUINE quality and / or value for money. And the fact that 3 of the images above were shot on a 25 year old camera and three were shot on a (now very out of date) smartphone is testament to many of the points I'm making.
OK you may say, but I have owned and used a lot of cameras and lenses, so isn't what I'm saying somewhat hypocritical? Well, maybe it is, but the majority of my gear buying and selling was in the days when there was noticeable change and new models did have something to offer that wasn't available before. These days I keep gear a lot longer than I used to. Now part of the reason is that most of it is made by Leica, who have much longer product cycles than other companies and who believe, as I do, that the quality of the image is paramount. And I'm happy with 16 / 24MP, I'm happy with the lens quality I have (and some of my lenses are seriously old) and above all I'm happy with the final result. I have no need for medium format, face recognition, in body stabilisation, in camera raw conversion, video grab technology, super fast frame rates, or any of the other 'fluff' that camera manufacturers and the photographic internet are so obsessed with.
Recently, I uploaded several thousand images to a library that has started doing really well for me. These images consisted of film scans and images shot on some of my early digital cameras from my 4MP Olympus e10 upwards. And they started selling pretty quickly, because there is no reason why they shouldn't. Those 4MP Olympus images have been responsible for lots of A4 magazine pages that I have seen so I know that what we now have is way beyond any quality issues. Yes, I'm sure a 50MP MF image looks great on a computer screen, but in the real world is there any kind of publishing that is capable of really showing us the difference? Well maybe in terms of heavy cropping. But then any photographer who has any kind of skill level and a sense of the market will shoot a subject with a variety of lenses anyway, to avoid the need to crop.
So it goes on and on. More and more pixels, more and more technology, less and less creativity. Probably the ultimate camera for todays tech. heads is one that will go out and take the pictures itself and post them on the internet for them. We are on the verge of driverless cars, why not photographer less cameras? You'd never believe it but photography is supposed to be about the interaction between the photographer and the world around them and that should involve some kind of effort, understanding and learning about how to capture those fragments of time and preserve them in a meaningful and creative way. And the more we let our cameras make decisions for us the more we lose that.
Photography is still about focus selection, aperture selection, shutter speed selection and ISO selection and that's pretty much it. And if you have a device that can let us make those choices I'm not sure we need anything more. And yes it's OK to let our cameras do some of that for us in order to let us get on with the important stuff of choosing what to put in the 2 dimensional rectangle we are creating. Just so long as they do it in a way that we want. But these days the learning curve on some modern cameras is unbelievable. I have given up on Olympus because of the over complication that seems endemic to that brand. I got so fed up with accidentally touching something that sent the camera off into it's copious menus and did something I didn't want that I sold my last Olympus and vowed never to buy one again. Because I don't want that level of complication and certainly don't need it. One of the reasons I bought an old film camera was that focus, aperture, shutter speed and ISO selection were all manual and under my control. There are also no menus, hardly any controls on the camera and that simplicity is actually a treat for me to have rediscovered. And I have seriously considered abandoning digital stand alone cameras totally and going back to film because of all that unnecessary digital complication.
And is it any wonder that smartphones are becoming so dominant. Because we all, (well most of us)!! professionals, enthusiasts and 'happy snappers' just want to compose out picture, capture it and move on. However it seems that the stand alone digital camera market is obsessed with the complete opposite of that and seeks, either deliberately or accidentally, to make modern cameras as complex as possible. And again, is it any wonder that people are deciding not to buy them. The more I think about using a combination of film cameras and smartphones, I have to say, the more appealing it gets. I can think of nothing better than to rid myself of the need to read manuals and memorise functions in order to get to use a camera in the simplest way possible. Point. Focus. Shoot.
So, to sum up this rambling mess!! It's about time those of us who are actually fed up with all this irrelevant and creativity stifling obsession with whats unimportant in photography stood up to be counted. Lets get back to what we need, to do what we do and forget the rest. And lets make sure that we let the people who sell us this technology and then bewilder us when we try to use it know that. It has of course already started, with smartphone users and buyers making it very clear that they are no longer interested in pretending to be interested in all this technobabble and as far as photography is concerned the phone in their camera is enough. And the proof is in the fact that since this smartphone revolution has happened, everyone is a photographer and making pictures has exploded into something that virtually everybody does all the time. And for those of us who want to take things further, let us explore the relationship between what we have in our hand and what we create and genuinely learn about 'capturing light' and what it takes to do that, without giving away control and creative choice to our camera. (or more accurately some designer many 1000's of miles away).