It Is About Pictures

The interesting thing about most hobbies or past times is the passion of those that follow them, that can be generated over the smallest things that most often are not essential to the particular pursuit and this seems even more amplified by the attitudes developed by social media use. It doesn’t really matter what the particular pursuit is, most seem to require the purchase and use of ‘kit’ of one kind or another and inevitably with that comes what “is in or out of fashion” as far as such ‘kit’ is concerned.

This piece ‘focuses’ (forgive the pun), on my passion for photography but it applies to many other “hobbies” too.

The Elements

I have three mountain bikes one of which gets used everyday for my morning ride, I combine riding with photography. Now at the age of 70, I am not in the market to buy new mountain bikes, all three that I own have been with me for between 21 and 16 years and I am sure will see me out. Over the years when I wanted any of my bikes serviced or components upgraded, I always avoided those bike shops staffed by young spotty faced “keen cyclists”, for them only the latest and most expensive kit was worthy of their approval even if they couldn’t afford to buy it themselves.

What they seemed not to realise is that in the end it is all about people being able to enjoy riding safely at their own pace and to their own level/standard, whether their bike is equipped with the very latest Shimano group set or not, would not change that basic requirement. A very popular UK sport is fishing and there too the ravages of fashion and the latest “Trendy Wendy” thing in rod, reels, flies and hooks no doubt, fills the pages of the appropriate magazines and websites for this is where all the noise is generated from.

Wherever you have any enthusiast market where lots of expensive hardware is sold, there will be specialist magazines and websites to accommodate the consumer and provide advertising opportunities for the suppliers and retailers of such kit. At this point you have the “journalist/reviewer” whose job is write about and extol the virtues of whatever is shipped to their offices to be looked at and theirs is a difficult job. On the one hand they need to be honest but on the other, need to bear in mind that sales of advertising is what pays their salary and slagging off the products of a big advertiser even if correctly, is something that may not best please the “Boss”.

There is also another factor to consider, whilst the reviewer needs to know the market they are in, they are technical journalists first and foremost rather than the “average user” they are writing for. If they write on photography, they probably take very few pictures for themselves even though they may handle a lot of kit and in that sense are rather disconnected from their readership.

Photography

I enjoy photography and stretching myself to get better at it but I came to realise some time ago that constantly upgrading your kit had become pointless. True 16 years ago when I bought my first Canon DSLR which only did 3.2 megapixels, clearly there was an awful lot of room for improvement but now when we are at 16-20 megapixels and half of that is good enough for an A3 sized print, the megapixel wars must be over. Sure for those working professionally, a 50/100 megapixel camera may well be ideal for producing physically huge ‘exhibition prints’ but as few people even print frequently and if they do, do so at well below A4 in size, for the majority, it is an irrelevancy.

Obviously there are other technical areas to do with focusing, light sensitivity, ISO range etc.etc. where no doubt considerable strides will be made in the coming years but thus far, nothing so radical has appeared as to require binning all the camera kit you have right now just to start all over again.

A little bit of background here, the ‘big’ innovation during 2015 was made by Sony who introduced several mirrorless cameras with lots of bells and whistles but also a hefty price tag to match. Whilst these have very good specifications, there certainly wasn’t anything there that said “major game changer” and few of the “features” would be considered must haves for the average photographer though to some people the fact that a stills camera could also shoot 4k video became some kind of Holy Grail it would appear and therefore any new camera that didn’t incorporate it must be considered very trashy indeed.

Now I must be frank, I have a number of stills cameras that can shoot HD video, I have used them for small sequences in that form but I am primarily a stills photographer and when I want to shoot video, I have a couple of video cameras I use in preference, they were designed for the job and this shows up particularly when it comes to issues such as battery life in use, they go on forever ! Well a pretty long time, you don’t need to worry about them dying on you during a long sequence. There are loads of other technical issues concerning today’s common standard of HD and 4K which is four times the resolution and brings with it a whole raft of issues but they are a bit boring.

Canon Cameras

Although I own Canon DSLRs and lenses, I do not see myself as a “Canon fan boy”, I am a customer not an owner of their business and will therefore both praise and criticise them in that context, I blindly follow no big corporate. Canon are I believe the biggest brand in cameras of all types and have a reputation for being a bit conservative, new models tend to be incremental rather than technically revolutionary. So far this year they have launched two upgraded models with a third major upgrade due in a couple of months:

The first one DX1 MkII is totally aimed at the professional market with a price tag of around £6,000 and has all the latest bells and whistles. This is understandable, working professionals hang on to their kit for quite a number of years so a bit of technical overkill at launch is certainly required so that the model is still ‘current’ for the owner in 4 or more years time.

The second one though (80D), is targeted at the ‘prosumer’ or enthusiast market, weighs in at around £1,000 and does not include 4k video which raised questions by some. At a recent camera show in Japan, one of the senior management was interviewed and asked about this and he quite simply made the point that the camera was a stills camera primarily with added video capabilities rather than the other way round.

The subsequent article that was published was very negative in tone towards Canon but what I found odd about that was that the author of the piece surely must have understood that at the purely technical level, a mirrorless camera which is an evolution of a video camera rather than a still one, should be able to incorporate 4k video easily, a DSLR with a flipping mirror and prism, far less so by the very nature of the design. And there is a further related issue here as a consequence of the technicalities. If video and delivering content over the web or on HD TV was your prime concern then ignoring the additional costs of lenses, there are a number of sub £1,000 cameras that can easily deliver 4k video, the Lumix DMC-GH4 (Panasonic) at around £800 being a class leading bit of kit but if you were more ambitious in terms of your end market, then professional grade kit comes with a far higher price tag and with a lot more complications.

A Comment

There was an article on a photographic website I visit and normally contains interesting stuff but I couldn’t resist leaving the following comment which I suppose could be summed up with: “So you can only afford one camera ?

“To be frank, the spin in this article is rather misleading and geared to “fan boy” readers who worship at the altar of mirrorless. The main thrust is that Canon is fuddy duddy and behind the times, mirrorless is the future…blah, blah. Now I start from being someone who uses Canon DSLRs, have a lens collection and shoots wildlife, aviation and all such moving stuff. I wasn’t prepared to invest big money in a mirrorless system but neither was I prepared to ignore the potential of mirrorless so I bought an Lumix G7, true the cheap end of the market but not too far from what ‘core’ mirrorless is about.

My suspicion from outset was this was mainly a video technology and frankly that seems to be true. The sequence above in the Sony ad with the sports car, right on I can do that with the G7 as I can the “burst 4K” mode to grab the best 8mpx image from a sequence. I could go on but my point would be that whilst I have fun with the G7 the trick is to use it as a “video mode” device, when it comes to action stills, it doesn’t compete with my DSLRs and as the man says, the weak link is the viewfinder or to be exact EVF black out on single shots which DSLRs don’t suffer from.

These are two different technologies which both have slightly different strengths, they really aren’t the same at all. I also use a couple of technically capable compact cameras because they provide me as a photographer with options that my DSLRs can’t, I now have a mirrorless that also offers me different opportunities and I am happy with that because all I’m interested in is taking pictures not buying kit and tea shirts with a manufacturers logo on. In the end, it is all about the images not the fan boy brand.”

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