Friday, March 2, 2007

What Photographers Need

Ambling preamble
We all need to look at the world from our own perspective. At least sometimes. Maybe it's not the most realistic viewpoint, but it makes sense for us to put our own needs first. (Classical capitalism assumes it, for one thing.)

Among photo hobbyists, one development that's emerged from the Age of the Internet has been a greatly increased interest in the business side of photography. (It parallels similar interests in the business sides of sports and of entertainment.) Tens of thousands of guys who took a couple of business courses in college have discovered that it's deeply diverting to speculate about the interests of the camera companies and the rest of the photo industry. They argue hotly about it all day long until they arrive at some sort of rough group concensus, never mind that most of them have no reliable sources, no inside insight—in short, no data whatsoever—and that much of their conclusions are thus based on nothing but warm air and rumor.

At first, this struck me as profoundly absurd. I couldn't fathom how anyone could care, much less why any photographer should care, and I had no idea why people would put aside their own interests in favor of sycophantic sympathy with large corporations. But time has passed, and I've become habituated, and at root I'm basically a tolerant sort of fellow where this hobby is concerned—people are gonna do what they think is fun, and whatever it is, more power to 'em, no matter how damn stone dumb I might think it is. I ain't the boss of them.

The preceeding is an elaborate qualification—a way of saying that I don't give a stink about what's good for the companies that make our equipment. I mean, I do, but not here. Here, I want to talk about what PHOTO- GRAPHERS need.

Rant, still on
Oh, and one further point, as long as I'm in rant mode. Photographers— people who like, and make, pictures—have always been in a minority in what's now known as "the market," meaning the much larger Universe of People Who Buy Equipment. And the relationship between a) the kinds of equipment photographers really need to do their work and b) the kinds of equipment the photo industry actually makes has always been uneasy, without very good correlation. A lot of photographers recently got what they actually really wanted/needed when the Leica M8 came out, and I'm sure that seemed almost like a miracle to them, simply because such things don't happen all that often. Mostly, we don't get what we really want—we come as close as we can and then make do.

Consequently, there is a long and honorable tradition of photographers making their own equipment (in fact, many camera companies got started that way), or modifying existing equipment to suit their needs. That tradition is being killed by electronics. Nobody makes their own sensors. Nobody writes their own firmware. Now, more than ever, we're stuck with what "they" want to give us. We always have been...but it's getting worse.

All of the foregoing is a polite way of saying: puh-leez don't write business 103-style comments about the following list. I don't care that the companies have to make a profit (duh), or if not enough people will buy it, or if a similar product failed, or if it doesn't fit a corporate philosophy or a product lineup. I just care about what some real photographers need in order to do their work. Yeah, sure, we might never get any of these things. Yeah, they might not make sense. Neither of those things is the same thing as saying they are not wanted or needed.

Rant mode off (finally!), and thanks for putting up with me here. And now, a short off-the-top-o'-me-head list of a few things that photographers could use that they ain't got.

In reverse order:

Digital Cameras We Need

8. A Sony R-1 with anti-shake/image stabilization. This is a beautiful camera, and the people that own 'em love 'em. It's a pity it has to go join the Nikon 950 and the Olympus E-1 as the best camera designs of the digital era to end up as evolutionary dead-ends. While we're daydreaming, they can leave off the EVF. And for that matter, what's wrong with a square sensor? We can crop. (Yes, I know we're never going to get this—but see above.)

7. A full-frame Nikon. (Yes, I've said in the past that I think APS-C is the sensible standard. No, I haven't changed my mind. Yes, I do admire Nikon for sticking with APS-C consistently, so it doesn't have the Tower-of-Babel crop-factor confusion Canon's gotten itself into. Yes, I think it's the right decision. But this is not about me. Photographers want this. And what photographers want is the topic of this post.)

6. A higher-end Sony equivalent of the Konica-Minolta 7D. Where the heck is this, anyway? Sony took over the Konica-Minolta DSLR business and promptly introduced its own equivalent of the 5D, which apparently made a big splash, at least in Japan, and evidently captured a good big healthy chunk of the DSLR trade, in Japan and at first. Now the really good Zeiss lenses are starting to become available and yet, on the topic of a higher-end follow-up to the A100, there's been...nothing. Just silence. Onward Sony goes into the Wild Blue Yonder with a one-camera lineup. If Sony were a person, you would think they had just lost interest. So is Sony going to become a player in the DSLR market or not? As one who's stuck in the lensmount I wish it would make up its gigantic friggin' corporate mind. At least throw me a bone and make one of those vague far-off means-nothing future product announcements.

5. A Canon reduced-sized-sensor body with in-the-body IS. At least as an alternate variant of a mainstream DSLR body for a few hundred bucks extra. (Can you say "40D and 40D-IS"? I knew ya could. Pace the above, amateur bean-counter analyses of why this will/will not happen are not encouraged.)

4. Two words: Zuiko primes. (Well, maybe three words, if you want to add the word "wide.")

3. One letter, one number: E-2. Come ON. (What are those clowns thinking? How can that much high-priced business and technical talent be so eternally, neverendingly clueless? Slap that 8-MP sensor in an E-1 and get on with life, fer chrissakes. Sheesh. Of course, maybe I should wait until Monday before I complain, ya think? Nawwwww....)

2. At least one DSLR with a high-quality black-and-white-only sensor. This could easily just be a variant of an existing DSLR. We badly need a modern version of what we last had in 2002 with the ill-fated Kodak DCS 760m. (As Pete Myers said in his review, "Without an anti-aliasing filter and no Bayer color matrix, the resolution of a 6-megapixel monochrome camera is astonishing. In monochrome, 6 megapixels effectively does what it takes 12–24 megapixels with a color matrix." A friend who owned one of those at the time told me that he got the prettiest black-and-white with it that he'd ever gotten with any kind of equipment (and he had a lot of equipment). Some photographers like high-quality black and white, and some company or other is going to step up to this plate, sooner or later. So who's it going to be?

1. The DMD. I've ranted about this before, so enuff said. I'm amazed—really, honestly amazed—that we still don't have this. It's so obvious, so crucial for street photography and some kinds of art photography, and it would require absolutely zero in the way of new technical development. It could easily be put together with existing technology. Whoever does it first will instantly create a new digital camera category. I hereby offer my services, free, to any camera company that wants me to spec out what it ought to be. Just because it hasn't existed heretofore doesn't mean it shouldn't—to paraphrase Al Gore, all that's needed is the will to do it, and that's a renewable resource.

So—your comments? Put aside your analyses of what's likely and what's not, what's good for the corporations and what's not, and just tell us what you wish you had to do your work with.


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