An Amazing 6 Months

How it all came about is a bit of a mystery, I can be frugal and “think myself poor” if I have a specific objective in sight and want to save for something plus, as you get to my age you want and need less also, I changed my mindset with regard to second hand gear. What has happened over this recent period of time is that I have completely upgraded my main camera gear and in doing so have set myself on specific paths in terms of what I want to achieve with my photography.

However this post it not just about camera gear it is also about reflecting on some aspects of our society and consumerism in a broader sense but “told through a lens” as it were.

The Sequence of Events

The first part of this ‘story’ I have already written about previously in a post last November ( http://baldysblog.co.uk/2016/11/17/letting-go-and-moving-on/ ) but a brief recap is pretty simple. I had a camera, a tasty upgrade was launched at an exhibition last September and I got one and some add on bits of kit for little money because I traded in some redundant camera kit I just wasn’t using any longer. This was the first time I had used a “trade in” system because it had always seemed to me that the only people who offered them were retailers who were selling at ‘top dollar’ on new kit however and in this case it all worked out well for me.

From there I must have got a bit of a bug because what followed was another deal but this time with a company that specialised in second hand kit, I traded in a quite old model for a slightly later version of the same camera and further than that, picked up a number of what are called ‘vintage’ lenses from the 1970s and 80s. These vintage lenses are purely manual unlike modern ones which rely on electronics but they can be used manually on modern cameras with suitable adapters. As to why do this ? Because they are yesterday’s technology, they are very cheap to buy, give you a technical challenge today to use but with lots of satisfaction when you get it right.

However the latest upgrade really topped the lot and made me think. My main camera was a Canon 7D which I had owned for about three and a half years though the model is roughly 7 years old in terms of design but it is still a great DSLR. About two years ago they bought out a MkII version but I wasn’t prepared to do such an expensive upgrade back then however just recently I thought “why not if the deal is right ?” Brand new the MkII is retailing between £1,000-1,200 body only but by trading in my existing 7D I got a ‘low mileage’ second hand MkII for less than £600 which represents rather good value for money.

Some Reflections

The used camera I got in this exchange was in excellent condition and works perfectly but in some ways it was a bit of a shock because although the body is identical apart from the odd button placement on the back and a badge saying it is a “MkII”, it has way more bells and whistles than my old one and a whole new repertoire that required ‘reading the user manual’ of all things. But having said that, the truth is that these new in built capabilities you did do previously but in a different way such as doing time lapse photography. Previously you attached an external shutter trigger device that counted down the intervals between pictures and fired the shutter and counted down the sequence, now this facility is built into the camera which you can access via the menu system.

This all becomes possible because these cameras are totally electronic so not only can the manufacturer add ‘more features’ by adding to the internal circuit boards but they can also update the internal software, called firmware in future years with downloads.

I first became seriously interested in photography back in the 1970s, the days of ‘wet film’ and largely mechanical cameras. Back then, there really wasn’t a tremendous amount of ‘major improvements’ on offer between different makes and models, a better split prism to aid focusing, perhaps a faster lens but nothing really radical until some electronic controls started to appear that could control shutter or aperture settings or even both but even so, camera bodies remained largely mechanical devices in those days.

Actually not just the bodies, the lenses too were purely optical/mechanical devices where you set the f stop and focused manually, the result was that these lenses were beautifully made and quite substantial in weight because of their metal build. I became very aware of this when I decided to buy some vintage Canon FD glass and handled my first purchase, I had forgotten what these lenses were like which compared to their modern equivalents all bristling with electronics, plastic and glass, seem almost jewel like in comparison. I run two camera systems, a crop sensor DSLRs and also a Micro Four Thirds system, with suitable adapters, these same vintage lenses can be used on both.

Electronics started to become more noticeable in camera design during the 90s but that was still in an age of wet film, by the time we got to 2000, the digital camera revolution was really starting to kick off and camera designs changed quite a lot over the next few years. Today’s cameras are in reality optical computers designed to take pictures so I should not have been so surprised in the differences between my MkI and my MkII camera, the potential to put in new circuit boards and therefore ‘features’ just comes with the territory. To be fair to Canon, because the 7D is a DSLR with a mirror and mechanical shutter mechanism, the faster frames per second did require some physical engineering tweaks by them too.

Gear Fan Boys

As ever, I don’t look at the world in quite the same way as most people and this applies to camera technology too so I most often find myself completely out of step with camera reviewers and the ‘fan boys’ that post comments against their reviews. The typical reviewer is only interested in the “new and novel” and so too are the people who haunt reviews whether in on line publications or YouTube, if it doesn’t have the latest fashionable go faster stripes it “must be no damn good !”

And yet this is a nonsense on a number of levels and to illustrate this an example concerning video capabilities: Over recent years cameras that would be purchased as ‘still cameras’ have increasingly had video facilities added to them although, they are not ergonomically that ideal for the purpose. However, the fact that they have interchangeable lenses and the ability to control aperture, shutter speed and ISO does mean that they can provide the basis of a high end video making platform but mark my use of the word “basis”.

I have owned cameras for some years that had video capabilities and whilst as a “curious child” I have played with the video capabilities, it is only lately that I’ve started to take it seriously and in doing so, have come to understand just how complex “doing it well” can be. Now I won’t bore with the details except to say that still photography can be spontaneous and produce great results because they are single images whereas shooting a film that is worth other people watching requires a lot of planning and effort on the part of the film maker.

In video there are various formats and the most common is called HD because it matches up with most modern flat screen TVs and this resolution measured in pixels is 1920 x 1080 but the latest resolution is x4 that so, 3840 x 2160 pixels and obviously for the higher resolution you will ideally need to use a camera that shoots in 4k to produce your original material. There are quite a number of such cameras on the market but in all honesty, apart from professional videographers who are doing it for a living and have both the experience and the other facilities needed to process it into an end result, for the average consumer, a camera having a 4k capability is a novelty but a waste of time.

It is obvious that the majority of consumers that post to review bulletin boards saying that such and such a camera is useless if it doesn’t shoot in 4k and they wouldn’t buy it, are the very people who don’t make films because they are oblivious to the technical and creative requirements. The question therefore is why do people insist on having features in consumer products that are useless to them ? And yet they do, would feel ‘robbed’ in some way if the “feature” wasn’t present on the model they bought and that is daft.

Perhaps a clue can be found in the following: A very good on line camera website did a very brief article on the video cameras that are used in commercial film making, it being the Hollywood awards season, none of which are in the price range of amateur/enthusiast photographers, A reader complained that as most readers couldn’t afford the average “cooking” camera, the article was a total waste of time…The implication might be that people who avidly read these websites are not the type of people who do much actual photography, they just like drooling over the idea ?

Sony

But perhaps large corporations understand this and exploit it for their own ends. One of the most interesting camera manufacturers is Sony who have a whole range of mirrorless cameras most of which shoot 4k video as well as taking still images. Pretty much all of these models suffer from similar problems, when shooting 4k they are inclined to overheat and to protect themselves will shut down to cool off plus their battery life is pretty poor. However if you ignore them as cameras and see them as computing devices it is easy to understand the issues, trying to throughput 4k video at 25 frames per second is pumping a lot of raw data, the electronics will inevitably heat up quite quickly.

Sony though is an interesting company and one of their main and profitable business activities lies in sell imaging processors to other camera manufacturers. In this sense, having their own camera product lines out in the market place must generate lots of useful maintenance and design data as well as demonstrating to potential customers for their ‘chips’ that their solutions work.

A very revealing example of the way a company like Sony works is illustrated by a premium Sony mobile phone they have launched at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-39098186 )

The key to this is that the on board camera can shoot short bursts of high speed video which you need to produce slow motion video. This must have cost a lot of money to develop and wouldn’t be commercially viable as Sony only has a 1% share of the mobile phone market. But that is likely not their aim which is to demonstrate the product with a view to supplying the technology to other higher volume smartphone manufacturers to use in their products because rather than through sales of their own phones, that is where Sony will make their money.

As For Me

Whilst this is all interesting where all this has led me to is my next major projects which will be based on multimedia incorporating photography, video and even 3D animation. Having got the benefit of all this wonderful kit to play with, it would be pretty dumb not to push it and me, to the limits. Roll on the next 6 months it will be interesting to see where this adventure takes me next. I suppose the point is that wherever that is, it really doesn’t matter because at the age of 71, success and failure are pretty much the same, the real importance lies in trying and putting in the effort, the outcomes will take care of themselves and it will be for others to judge the results.

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