More GAS

It’s 10 years since the first mirrorless camera appeared on the scene. Amateur Photographer magazine has a whole issue devoted to the subject (Saturday 18th August 2018).

One article compares the first mirrorless camera, the Panasonic Lumix G1 with its contemporary counterpart the G9. Unsurprisingly, there are great improvements in the latter over the former model.

However what struck me was the relative similarly in the sample images. Yes the G1 delivers noisier shots. But given that there has been a decade between the cameras I was surprised with how well the G1 images compared.

Now, of course their have been very significant changes in other areas. The viewfinders today are a huge improvement on the laggy earlier offerings. Image stabilisation, autofocus, focus peaking and 4K have also made their mark. But basic image quality has possibly improved less that some other technologies.

I have seen similar comparisons of each iteration of Canon 5D. Yes their have been improvements, but the actual images can appear similar without too much pixel peeping.

The thing we have to remember is that photography is not just about art, it’s about business, marketing, sales and profit. There is an industry devoted to parting you from your cash with the promise of better images. But new cameras and lenses will probably make a marginal difference compared to practice and devotion to the art of picture taking.

The blogger Giulio Sciorio confirms this in a recent post saying that after years using and testing the latest camera tech he is now using an older and adequate camera with only a few lenses. However, he sounds much happier than when he had all the newest gear (here).

Sadly we convince ourselves that if we just get a new camera or lens, we will be more satisfied and our images much improved. The problem is that the new gear satisfies for a few weeks and then something better comes along. Our new gadget is psychologically relegated and we remain the same photographer we were before.

Technology moves on and we need to catch up from time to time. But we should challenge more often the myth that the latest gear is most important.

No filter

I have an ongoing ‘discussion’ with a family member who is not a fan of processing digital images. She prefers ‘pure’ images straight out of the camera. I get what she means but I also point out (the discussion takes the same direction every time) that the image on a phone or cheaper camera is almost always a jpeg. Which means that the raw image has already been processed. The difference is whether the camera makes the processing decisions or the person does.

There can be snobbery and inverse snobbery about processing images. Those who prefer minimal manipulation may be surprised to know that, even in the age of film, processing decisions were made. I remember seeing this when, I think it was, Magnum released contact sheets and annotated prints with instructions about visual effects.

However there can be snobbery too relating to how technical processing is perceived to be. For example, in an earlier blog I suggested the inclusion of filters in Instagram was essentially dumbing down. But in the immediately preceding post I lauded the provision of film effect Lightroom presets. Surely there is little difference between Instagram filters and Lightroom presets borrowed from others.

The return of Flickr?

In what seems to be good news for Flickr users, Smugmug are reported to have bought the venerable photo sharing platform.

A brief trawl through the internet reveals mixed fortunes in the story of this web institution. In recent years Flickr has been abandoned by some enthusiasts in favour of platforms like 500px or simply outshone by the rise of Instagram. But it’s still here and hopefully Flickr is about to see some new life.

I have used Flickr for a while but there have been seasons where I’ve focussed elsewhere. On a recent return to the iOS app, I found that finally the communities chat from groups is now easily viewed. The communities discussion is for me a top feature and previously was not viewable in the app. Another addition to the app is the ability to post an image in multiple groups simultaneously. I have no idea why this was not possible before.

Those user friendly changes were made while owned by Verizon and hopefully things will keep getting better. But what features would you want in a redeveloped Flickr?

Personally I’d prefer them not to continue to compete with Instagram. But that’s a huge challenge. How do you make a successful photo-sharing service without competing with other market leaders? I like Instagram but for me competing with them is a race to the bottom. A race to appeal by encouraging phone photography, filters, adverts and product placement.

The things I like about Flickr are also the most infuriating and least widely appealing. For example, I want to know about exif details; camera and settings etc. Flickr encourages such sharing. Instagram is not interested. They do not make such data public and may well remove them from the image.

This all probably makes Flickr more geeky and a little more elitist. Instagram, in contrast, has always been more encouraging, less critical and more vibrant. Yet, it is to Flickr not instagram I would turn for advice about photography. And it’s also usually Flickr I use to investigate a future holiday destination. Because on Flickr you’ll generally see fewer products and selfies and more actual landscapes.

I don’t envy Smugmug this challenge of making Flickr viable, appealing yet distinct and niche. But I do look forward to what they come up with.

Street photography and distraction

Street photography is difficult in the sense that it’s hard to make images that have impact. It’s also difficult in that you have to overcome the fear of shooting in public and the potential to anger people.

But street photography is also very easy. It’s got to be one of the easiest forms of photography in the sense that you can do it every day. You only need one camera and lens that you can carry all the time.

Compared to the landscape, nature or wedding photographers with their bags of kit, wide range of zooms and primes and tripods etc, street photography is easy.

You don’t have to travel; you can shoot in your own street or town. You don’t need extra gear; lights, reflectors etc. All you have to do is get out and shoot.

But that’s the problem.

There are so many distractions. For me the main ones relate to social media. I think I spend more time reading about gear and technique than getting out and taking pictures. But there is so much to read. You have Japan Camera Hunter, Eric Kim, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Time Lightbox, not to mention WordPress. Then, once you’ve seen what others have shot and shared, there’s checking if anyone’s read or liked your creations.  

More images are shared today than in the history of humankind. There must also be more information available regarding photography than ever before. But I wonder if this information overload actually improves our creativity?  Are we better photographers than our predecessors? I suspect this question could be asked of other creative activities too.  Are we better artists and musicians now that we have access to so much material? 

Looking at other people’s images is surely beneficial but social media doesn’t lend itself to long periods of reflection or pondering.  We are encouraged to focus on frequency and volume rather than quality and appreciation.  To that end I’m trying to buy photography books, though I struggle to look at them on account of checking my Flickr feed and writing this blog. Also I’m trying to get to more galleries and exhibitions. I’m convinced that shaping my use of social media in a more disciplined way to give room to look at prints will be beneficial. 

But ultimately there remains the need to stop reading, discussing, commenting, liking and sharing and just get out and shoot.