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Does Camera Gear Matter? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Eastman   

Does Camera Gear Matter?

If you Google this question, you'll find posts that say Yes and posts that say No. It is really a matter of opinion. So here is my opinion on both answers - yes and no!

Let's deal with the Yes answer first.

If image quality - and by that I mean image dynamic range, sharpness (resolution), detail, tonal rendition, etc - is the most important image feature to you, then gear matters.

Back in film photography era, there were different film sizes. I've used 8x10 cameras, 4x5 cameras, medium format (120) cameras and 35mm cameras. The 8x10 cameras took sheet film that was 8 inches by 10 inches. Yup, film that was about the same size as a 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper!! Why use film that large? It's ability to capture and render amazing amounts of image detail and the films dynamic or tonal range were absolutely incredible. Think Ansel Adams landscape images. The 4x5 camera took sheet film that was 4 inches by 5 inches. While not equal to the 8x10 film, it was still able to record a great deal of image detail and could maintain a great tonal range. These cameras were big beasts that required a heavy tripod to hold the camera and the photographer had to put a black cloth over his head to see the upside down image on the ground glass. These cameras were not convenient to use.

Medium format (120) film cameras used a roll of film that was 2 1/4 inches wide. You could get 12 exposures on a roll of film. The medium format camera - Hasselblad, Rolleiflex, Mamiya cameras gave a square image that 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inches. This camera could be hand held or placed on a tripod and so were much more convenient to use than the large format cameras. However, due to the smaller film size image quality was less than that of the large format cameras.

35mm cameras frame size is 36mm x 24mm. The camera used roll film that gave you 24 or 36 exposures depending on the length of the film roll. The camera was light, smaller than all other cameras, easy to use, could be carried over your shoulder and images could be captured hand held. This camera changed photography for ever. The 35mm camera allowed photographers to capture candid images of life as it happened right in front of them. It allowed the average photographer to capture images of his kids birthday party, the family's summer vacation, the war photographer's images of real life battle, gore and misery. These were images people had never seen before. However, the image quality was no where near that of the cameras mentioned above.

How about digital cameras you ask?

Yes gear matters. While we do not have digital cameras equal to the 8x10 or 4x5 film cameras, we do have medium format digital cameras that have large sensors that are about  2 1/4 inches by 2 1/4 inches. These medium format digital cameras are capable of capturing image detail that can, in some cases, rival the 4x5 or 8x10 film cameras of old. However, the cost of the digital medium format cameras are another question.

The digital SLR or DSLR cameras of toady are equivalent to the 35mm film cameras of old. But the image quality of a top of the line Nikon or Canon DSLR can far surpass that of a 35mm film camera. Full-frame sensor technology is constantly evolving and improving. DSLR image quality today is amazing.

Point-and-Shoot digital cameras have a much smaller sensor than a DSLR camera. And so the image quality is less. Cell phone cameras are very convenient and easy to use, but their image quality is perhaps the poorest of all digital cameras. Mind you, sensors and firmware for cell phone cameras are also improving constantly. But one thing a cell phone and now mirrorless and DLSR cameras have is a connection to the Internet. The Internet connection allows everyone to share images with the world. However, a 5x7 or 8x10 print from a cell phone image file will not be all that good.

If convenience and ease of use is your primary criteria, then consider the new mirrorless digital cameras. Some of the newest ones actually have a full-frame sensor that rival the DSLR cameras for image detail and dynamic range. And they are considerably less expensive than a DSLR camera.

The conclusion for me is if image quality is your priority then gear does matter. However, cost is also a factor. I have always been cognizant that money is important in life. I know it is to me and so I'm sure it is to you. When looking at gear, consider your desired image quality and how much you can feel you can afford.

Now lets look at the No answer.

Why do we look at images or photographs?

If you walk into a gallery to see a photography exhibit why are you going to be attracted to a specific image? It's not because the of megapixel count, the absence of pixelation or image artifacts, image grain, the paper it's printed on or the frame it's mounted in.

You'll be attracted to an image because it grabs your attention! It is interesting to you! It speaks to something inside of you! You'll care about the image.

You won't care whether the photo was shot on a cell phone, DLSR or a mirrorless camera. You'll stand and study the photo because it speaks you in a way that is unique to you.

So as a photographer, instead of focusing on what camera you have, or don't have, learn to use what you have. Consider what kind of images are important to use and make them. And if someone asks what camera you used to capture the image, reply "The right one."

Remember, the medium used to create the image does not matter. I know a lot of people will disagree with that last statement. In fact, I used to. When I bought my first DSLR, I talked to a pro that I know and asked him what I should buy. I then went out and purchased that camera. But it took me a good 18 months before I was even semi pleased with any of my images. I had to learn how to use the camera until it became second nature to me. All the dials and the menus faded into the back ground and I began to "see" for the first time the the camera. Once that happened, more of my images had greater impact for those who saw them. That is what really mattered to me. It wasn't the technology that made the image, it was me using the technology to capture an impactful photograph. So if you only have a cell phone, then experiment with it until the images you capture have meaning to you and you alone.

When a new version of whatever digital camera comes out, avoid the ads, don't read about it on the Internet, don't go to a camera store and drool over that new camera body. Instead, take your current camera and go make some new, different great images. You'll be much happier and also save yourself a bunch of money.

Conclusion

If my camera gets in my way of creating the kinds of photographs I want, then the gear matters. For me, it's about training my eye and my brain to become sensitive to what's happening around me. This works whether I'm walking along a street or driving my car. Often when I'm driving, I'll turn around, or pull over and go back and study a scene that grabbed my attention.

For me it's the final image that I print that matters. What camera gear I used, what f stop, what Aperture or ISO or lens I used matter not. In fact, for the majority of my images, I could tell you the answer to any of the technical questions. Ok maybe the camera, since now I only have a Fuji XT-1, but that's it.

Additional Info

Here is a link that gives another view of the yes/no answer. Here is a link on Why Gear Matters.

 
Street Photography #5 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Eastman   

Street Photography - A Narrative

Oh, that image tells a Story!!!

I hear this phrase often when someone looks at an image. I've heard it many times over the years. And, in some cases, it is true. Single images may hint at a story line.

What's the story in the above image?

During some of my classes, when I showed students some images someone would say, "Oh, now that picture tells a story."

I'd reply, "Ok. What's the story?"

The person making the comment would reply. Then I'd ask others if they agreed or did they have a different story. Often, I'd get more than one "story".

I'd point out that in many cases it was the viewer who brought the "story" to the image based on their life experiences and, in some cases, their bias.

For me, "That image tells a Story!!!" is not true.

Six Hardhats

A couple of years ago, I started shooting street photography. I sold all my DSLR equipment and purchased a mirrorless camera and lens. I wanted a camera that allowed me to blend in, to be more unobtrusive and not scream PHOTOGRAPHER Taking A PICTURE!! My Canon 5D MKII and its white 70 - 210 mm lens did not quite fit that bill.

Mirrorless cameras have improved greatly since about 2012. Today, mirrorless camera are equal to, or rival a DSLR camera in image quality, focus speed and lens offerings. If money is no object, you can buy a Leica with their lenses. If your budget is more down to earth, like most of us mere mortals, Sony, Fuji and Olympus, offer excellent products. (I find Fuji is currently the most customer-centric camera maker with regular firmware updates to their cameras and lenses.) Canon and Nikon also make mirrorless camera bodies, but in my opinion, are not equal to the previously mentioned ones. That being stated, I'm sure there a Canon and Nikon fans out there that would disagree with me.

A Narrative

A Narrative is a "series of sequenced, connected photographs that are viewed as a whole".

I believe a Narrative tells a more nuanced tale. The series may make a viewer smile, think twice, see a ring of truth, bring joy to the heart, etc. A Narrative captures life in action.

Narratives can consist of only three images, while others may include eight or more images.

Capturing a Narrative requires patience, practise and a little nerve.

While you're shooting, the subjects may notice you and radically change their behaviour. The original Narrative may be gone or simply over and a new one beginning.

There was one instance where a young couple were sitting on a park bench. She was reclined across his lap with her back toward me. He was kind of facing me. It was obvious they liked each other - a lot! He was hugging her and she was responding. Then he started to kiss her and that was when he noticed me. I smiled over the top of my camera, he flashed me a "thumbs up", smiled and proceeded to really lay on a great kiss! I kept shooting. Once it was over, he glanced at me. I flashed a return "thumbs up", he smiled and nodded.

The Kiss

The result was a lovely, passionate, yet discrete Narrative of young love.

I find Narratives more interesting to chase after and much more rewarding to create.

Here's another sequence following the same theme - young love.

She stuffed an ice cream cone in her mouth. She offers it to him.

 

He glances at the cone and consumes it.

 

Now they both enjoy the Kiss.

The Ice Cream Cone

Next time you're out on the street, keep an eye out for an unfolding story and try to capture it. It's well worth the effort and will add a new dimension to your street photography

 
Getting Over Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Eastman   

Getting Over Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS)

GAS!!!

Are you infected? Are you addicted? Are you addicted, but in denial?

No worries; you can get over this most dangerous, addictive and infectious disease.

What is GAS really. Simply put, it is the constant searching for and purchasing of the latest and greatest digital camera and/or lenses. And all sorts of other photography gear. All this money and effort is solely directed toward some inane effort to capture the perfect picture. You know the head speak. We all do. I used to do it too. Sometimes I still find my self tempted.

"If I get the (you fill in the camera name) with that really great (you fill in the lens specs) lens, I'll take great pictures and everyone will flock to my lame web site and buy all my images and I'll be incredibly rich and famous and everyone will email and ask me to photograph their wedding even though I hate shooting weddings..."

You get the idea.

Here's a bulletin for you.

The camera does not take the photo; the photographer does. A camera and lens are only a tool. And like any tool, in the hands of a true creative photographer amazing images can be captured. That same tool in hands of a first time amateur, will probably capture a snap shot.

You have a camera with a lens in your hand because you put out the money to buy it. Now spend an inordinate amount of time learning the ins and outs of every aspect of that camera. Learn what it will do, what it might do if you work at it and what it won't do because of its inherent technical limitations. Learn to work with those limitations and you'll learn to take more creative photos.

Buying the newest lens or camera body is not the answer.

Take the camera off Auto. Start using M(anual), A(perture Priority) and/or S(hutter Priority). Learn these modes by using them for 4 months straight. Slowly, you'll begin to understand which mode suits what photo situation for your type of photography. In this way, your camera will become an extension of your eyes and your photographic vision. Yes it'll take time, but it is time well spent.

 
Street Photography #4 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Eastman   

Street Photography #4

Not all street photography includes people; the image is about people, but he/she, him/her, us/them and we/they are not actually in the image.

These type of street photographs contain the things we buy, sell, loose, give away, discard, consume or fetishize about. The objects speak volumes about we value and what we don't.

The poet Williams Carlos Williams wrote a poem called "The Red Wheelbarrow". it is short'; very short. Four lines; 16 words. Economy. Well, a great street photograph can accomplish the same thing. Williams spoke about "No ideas but in things."

What a photographer chooses to exclude in an image is as important as what she includes. We, the viewer, never know what she excluded; but sometimes the image poses a question or a suggestion. Other arts, like painting, sculpture and music are about things; photography is of something. Ever listen to Beethoven's 6th symphony, 4th movement and not see, hear and feel a thunderstorm?

Well, street photography and maybe all photography can do none of that. Oh sure, we can listen to the Beethoven's 6th and then we can go and make images that remind us of the music, but the images on their own are not the music.

Street photography, even the abstract type, are still of the real world. As street photographers, we start with a tangible thing and photograph it. There other day, I presented the following image I took of some kids having a great time playing with a fountain splash pool to the members of a B&W photo group I belong to.

One of the members remarked the image reminded him of three stages of childhood. The youngest boy behind a gushing spurt of water, the older one on the right aggressively splashing around and the slightly shorter boy on the left represented that time just between childhood and adulthood. Did I see this idea when I took the series of shots? No. I was just photographing a bunch of guys having a great time playing. It was the viewer who added the idea in the things.

Boys and Water Play

The following abstract images are broken factory windows that were painted over to keep the light out. If you look carefully you can see the brush strokes. But when you look at certain images, other images seem to appear - face profiles, animal profiles. Was that what the photographer saw at the time of capturing the image? Hard to say.

Window Abstract #1

Window Abstract #2

As a beginning street photographer who may be somewhat nervous about approaching or photographing people, consider the things we leave behind in the street. An other great place to look is second hand store windows. I love walking down a street in that part of town where there are lots of second hand stores. Some of the strangest juxtapositioning of objects can occur. I'm never sure if the store owner meant to put odd things side by side or not. For all I know, the guy could be pulling the publics leg metaphorically to get a laugh and maybe have them come into to the store and buy something. Either way, it is a photo rich landscape of a very different kind.

Street signs offer and interesting opportunity. Try parking signs. If you want to add some real humour, set up beside a collection of parking signs on a pole and wait for someone to come by and start reading them to try and figure out whether they can park legally or not.

Include real objects and parts of a sign in a store window. Sometimes humour or a visual pun can be the result.

Go visit a flea market and peer into the stalls. You can find mannequins dressed up in some crazy outfits that simply do not go together. There is a project for you! One you can keep in the back of your mind as you wander around a particular part of town. Martin Parr is a well known British street photographer. Check out some of this work.

Here are some more of my images. Let me know what you think!

Window Abstract #3

Sand Tracks #1

Sand Tracks #2

 
Marching Backwards into the Future PDF Print E-mail
Written by Edward Eastman   

Marshall McLuhan said, "We look at the present through a rearview mirror. We backwards into the future."

I subscribe to The Inspired Eye and look forward to downloading their e-magazine. Their focus is Street photography. The creators/editors solicit images from people around the world, select about half a dozen and display their images in the magazine. For some of the selected photographers, the editors submit a standard series of questions for the photographer to answer. One question is "If we're speaking specifically of photographers, which ones of the past and the present do you admire?"

Whenever I read an article about an emerging photographer or watch a documentary about a photographer of today, the person is always asked, "What photographers from the past are your inspiration?"

Photography seems to be inexorably linked to the past. It is almost as though any photographer today must have some past master that inspired them otherwise they are not truly valid as a photographer.

Full disclosure here!! I studied photography in the ancient days of film. And yes I studied the history of photography, so I was exposed to those who invented photography and those who pushed to have it seen as an art form. And I was inspired to emulate those photographers I admired. Most of them were black and white photographers and so that is how I started out. Before I crossed over to the "dark side" (my analogue photographer friends call digital photography the "dark side"), I had an extensive darkroom in my basement where I explored black and white printing and an alternative process called lith printing. So as you can see I was steeped in analogue photography and I really enjoyed it. Then digital came along.

Lith Nude Study

I bought my first digital camera, a iMac computer, and Adobe Lightroom and a printer. I was hooked! The instant feedback of the digital image was inspiring. The ability to work in the light instead of a darkroom as freeing. And to make a print quickly was amazing. I sold my darkroom stuff and have never regretted it.

But interestingly enough, I judged the quality of my black and white ink prints based on the analogue prints I made in the darkroom. In other words, I was looking at the present through a rearview mirror.

Photography can be a visual story telling medium and as such it can have tremendous impact. Digital image processing give the photographer today unlimited possibilities when it comes to presenting his/her vision. Through digital processing, a photographer can combine elements from multiple images into one a single image and make an interesting print. Mind you, there was an analogue photographer you may not have heard of who did the same thing - Jerry Uelsmann. Check out his images and remember they were all made in an analogue darkroom with multiple enlargers using multiple negatives.

I create candid images from the street - most of the time. Does that make me a Street Photographer? Does that mean I have to emulate Street Photographers who are long dead? And if I don't emulate them, does that make my images any less meaningful or important?

I do not have an Instagram or Hipstamatic account, but apparently they have added a vintage filter that renders colours in a faded tone and adds grain to emulate film. This look is called retro and apparently is very popular. So you see what I mean about "...looking at the present through a rearview mirror ".

Taste is personal and subjective. Digital cameras and sensors are a miracle of technology that allow rank amateurs to produce extremely detailed photos in colour or black and white and then instantly upload them to the Web for the world to consume. And yet some of those images are run through retro filters to make them look more like "prints" our grandparents snapped back in the 50s and 60s with their Kodak Instamatics. (If you have no idea what an Instamatic is, Google it.)

So what's really happening here? While the technology has made the switch from analogue to digital, out brains have not.

About 6 months ago, I became aware I stopped creating landscape and graphical photographs. I had focused strictly on candid street images. So I decided to include those past creative outlets back into my image making. And once I did, I found I was creating photographs as opposed to taking pictures. And I enjoyed the process even more. Labels do not describe ambition.

Today, photography has become an omnipresent tool for capturing reality and applying meaning to it. Which leads me to contemporary photography.

Contemporary photography is an interesting category. Contemporary is defined as, "happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same time period".

The Power Plant Gallery in Toronto exhibits contemporary art. I attended a contemporary photography exhibit and saw some, what I'll call, straight portraits of a bearded man. There were three images in the series. Through the series, the man's beard was a bit fuller. I studied the images for a while to see how I felt about them. I decided they represented the passage of time. Not exactly an earth shattering series of images, but it was an interesting idea. Then I read the associated text. It seems the photographer was attempting to illustrate his personal inner struggle with his aging and the loss of his intellectual and creative edge. According to his Bio, he graduated with a BFA degree from an American college and was in his late twenties. I looked at the images again and without the accompanying text I never would have gotten what he was conveying. And he was in his twenties. A little early to worry about aging, but then who am I to judge.

I find that in contemporary photography, the subject matter may be rather banal and yet the photographer imbues it with a deep personal meaning that may escape the viewer. It seems to me contemporary photography is a very personal pursuit and the photographer seems to care very little if anyone else gets or understands the images' deeper meaning.

Now I readily admit this may represent a lacking in myself. Perhaps I am simply to mature (I'll be kind to myself) to see or understand the deeper meanings hidden within the images. Perhaps I'm simply "looking at the present through a rearview mirror".

 
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