We all have “significant moments” in our lives and my last one truth to tell of several, came in 2004 when I decamped from my home town London to move down to the Somerset Levels to live with and support my Parents who were then in their early 80s. My Mother was an invalid and my Father acted as her carer but his health was now starting to fail so they needed some live in help and as I didn’t have a lady in tow, I was happy to take on the role besides which I actually liked my Parents so it was no great sacrifice. An essential further family member was their dog Jack, a large creature with lots of character who was to be important in developing my photographic skills.
He needed two walks a day and because I was younger and fitter than my Pops, these were of course longer than he was used to which cheered him up no end. He and I came to a deal, I would wait on him whilst he sniffed just about everything and he would wait for me whilst I took photographs, it worked for both of us. As we did the same walks night and evening, it was a consequence that I was photographing the same things day after day so that my output was frankly pretty dire in terms of variety and yet with hindsight, crucial because without realising it consciously, I was getting my eye in for what constitutes a picture.
When I moved down to Somerset in 2004 I had 2 digital cameras, a Canon D30 which was 3.2 megapixels and a Canon G5 which was 5 megapixels, hardly chart topping by today’s standards but not too bad for back then. I had originally bought the D30 as a birthday present for myself at Christmas 2000 when I was back home for the holidays as at the time I was living and working in the USA and based 90 miles from Chicago in the City of Rockford Illinois. As these were early days in the development of DSLRs and the kit quite expensive, there is a background to my buying the D30.
I had been a very keen wet film photographer but in the mid 1980s had gone through a divorce and because of my need to ensure the financial survival of the family, life of necessity became rather stripped back, photography went out the window and I didn’t pick up on it again until the late 90s. By the time I picked up a camera again it was the era of smart point and shoots like the Olympus Mju which were great for the family/friends stuff just brilliant bits of kit for those “happy snappy” moments.
When I shipped out to live and work in the US, we were in the early beginnings of the digital camera era and I bought a little Fuji camera which as I recall ate batteries at an alarming rate but never the less allowed me to share images via email with friends and family back home which were only 640 x 480 pixels resolution.
Looking back, those early digital cameras were in a similar state technically as electric cars are today. The camera companies knew how to make cameras, even digital ones, what they lacked was decent and reliable battery storage solutions. Eventually, those solutions arrived.
My Brother Michael
My only brother Michael went to live in New York in the late 1960s, he settled there, got married and was destined to die there in 1978 after a 4 year struggle with a rare form of cancer. I had been over visiting him and when he started having complications over a weekend, accompanied him back into Lennox Hill Hospital where he was to die some weeks later. Although we both knew but didn’t communicate to each other on my last day before boarding Freddie Laker’s Skytrain to return back to the UK, we talked about my next visit and how together we would do all the tourist stuff, Empire State, Circle Line etc and of course that never happened.
I had always promised myself to go back and do it anyway sometime but I never did until 2000 when I had to visit a company site in New Jersey with one of my UK based technical chaps, we decided to spend the weekend in New York and did all the things I had intended to do with my brother Michael, “make like a tourist” ! It was this weekend that made me realise that I was interested in photography again, New York was full of photographic potential and I wanted a ‘proper’ camera but of course I made this decision at exactly the same time that the new digital era was really starting to kick off.
On my return to the UK at Christmas 2000, I bought myself a Canon D30 DSLR camera. In the early years of the 2000s, DSLRs didn’t have dramatic increases in their technical specifications as became the norm a few years later with the “pixel wars” and as competition heated up. I had therefore in late 2003 picked up the G5 which is a compact camera design, to use alongside my D30 and deliver a bit of an upgrade in terms of resolution. However I will kick off with some stuff from back then in my early days of ‘digital’
As was probably common with most people, initially I kept every photograph I took during this period though later on common sense kicked in and I deleted the vast majority of them, no point in storing crap I would never revisit after all. However and one of the beauties of digital photography is what is called the meta data captured with each image and stored with it that shows date/time/exposure/camera/lens etc so I am able to see what I was doing back then. Needless to say it is all rather disappointing and not very skilful, lots shot on what appears to be the ‘Auto’ setting and in jpeg format, it wasn’t until later in 2005 I started to grasp the significance of shooting in RAW and switched to using it. Mind you looking back in the archive reminded me of another way in which things have changed, I paid £50 in 2005 for a 1Gb memory card, today that would easily buy you a far faster 128Gb card !
The other thing that shows up is that because it was easier to carry, I seemed to greatly favour taking the smaller G5 with me on walking Jack my Parent’s dog. In fact the G5 is a funny story in it’s own right because a couple of years later I sold it to a friend of mine and later still by a circuitous route it came back to me so it sits with my other cameras and gets used from time to time. I bought several other and later versions of the “G Series” in subsequent years and one of them a G9 repeated this same story, it too I gave it away and a few years later it too came back to me. This G9 still gets used regularly today because it is a useful ‘pocket camera’ that I carry with me on my morning bike rides in addition to whatever system camera I have in my back pack.
Christmas of 2000
As I mentioned above, at the time I was working in the USA and earning very decent money indeed so spending £2,200 on a camera body and one lens back then wasn’t too much of a problem financially. As an aside, if you take into account inflation over the past 20 years, that cash price today would amount to £3,266 which makes a Canon R6 with a decent lens about the same for a far more capable bit of kit !
However what I do remember was how confusing that period was for me in other ways. I had come from a mindset that there were 36 pictures on a roll and this combined with the fact that CF memory cards were quite humble affairs back then, 128Mb and 256Mb were ‘huge’, in fact if I remember rightly Canon gave you a 16Mb CF memory card in the box with the D30 – yes, I do mean megabytes not gigabytes ! To put this into some perspective, even today shooting RAW files with the D30, 48 pictures equals just 61Mb and amazingly that is only a slightly more than one single RAW image from my Canon 5DS.
Although there are a number of good photographs that I took with this camera back then, the original files I still have and can still manipulate in post production software for the best results, I had an issue with myself looking back and wondered whether I could and should have done better with the opportunity. I had got rid of my original camera some years previously however a couple of years ago and whilst sniffing around on Ebay, I found a Danish chap who specialized in photographic gear and had a D30 for sale. Of course being rather old digital technology it wasn’t too expensive and as luck would have it, when it arrived it was in very good working condition. I therefore got to have a second chance but this time as someone with far more technical knowledge, a lot more humility plus an acceptance that this is now 20 year old technology so it wouldn’t be as good as my more modern kit.
My quest really was to see just how much I could squeeze from this camera within its technical limitations because the sensor alone will be nowhere near as sensitive as modern gear. For what it is worth, by going through this odd exercise I did find that I was was being a bit hard on myself and probably had in the end extracted as much “juice” from it at the time. Of course and whilst there is an element of ‘charm’ I suppose in the images it produces even today, modern cameras do offer so much more depth of colour and detail, naturally plus and regardless of the brand are radically different tools.