Yeah, whatever. More on that later. This isn’t an article about the iPad. It’s about gear, and my fascination with people’s fixation on it. As often happens, this post was inspired by three recent conversations. One I just observed and two I was actually involved in.
There was recently an exchange on the CNPA forums with several posters discussing the relative merits of the Whiz-Bang 400 and whether it was worth the upgrade from the Whiz-Bang 300 that one of the posters is currently using. As to be expected the owners of the Whiz-Bang 400 and the even “better” Whiz-Bang 860 chimed in with their support for the “better” camera. The discussion ended with speculation about whether the Whiz-Bang 400 was due to be replaced in 2011, even mentioning that it was “interesting to speculate on the replacement of this fine camera” and that “I’ve already convinced myself that I need to be ready to jump when the replacement is announced.” Score one for the marketing people!
The second conversation was with a fellow photographer while standing on an observation platform at Chincoteague Island NWR while waiting for the snow geese to do something interesting (they didn’t). This guy, not a CNPA member and not anyone I know, was standing there with a huge something or other camera and lens combination. I was standing above him on this two-level platform where he couldn’t see my cameras so he had to ask what cameras I had. I told him that I had a 5D and a 40D, to which he replied “Mark II?” When I said “no, the original 5D” he immediately became disinterested in any further conversation with me, as though anyone using gear as antiquated as mine couldn’t possibly have anything meaningful to contribute to a conversation. As expected he packed up and left as soon as the sun went down, while the sensible among us knowingly waited while the sky lit up in one of the nicest sunsets I’ve seen in a while. No camera is going to take a good photograph when it’s in the trunk.
Lastly, I had a nice little conversation going on Facebook with a couple of friends – both of whom happen to own Nikon cameras and one of whom I knew had asked Santa for a Canon G12 – that turned into a Canon vs. Nikon (friendly) exchange when I commented on my friend’s reference to his camera as “the best camera made” by asking “so you got the G12.” It was just a good-natured friendly exchange but shows that even among friends gear choice sometimes matters. I think we’re still friends!
Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to have a little bit of a rebellious streak. Really. And when it comes to photo gear I’m convinced that even the relics I shoot with are still better at taking pictures than I am. When it comes to brands I say that the only meaningful difference between them is the file name, and everything else is marketing. I’m also convinced that buying 1-generation-removed used cameras is a great way to get a great deal on a great camera. It’s guys like Mr. Can’t-Wait-For-The-Whiz-Bang-500 that I like to buy my cameras from!
The time I seriously consider buying a new camera is when it doesn’t do what I need it to do or when something else does what I need it to do a lot better than what I have. That’s why I bought the G12. It’s a significant improvement over my G9 in just about every instance. I still use the G9 but know its strengths and keep it out of situations where it isn’t at its best. I’ve still got a 20D in my bag, and if I needed to use a third camera body I wouldn’t hesitate to pull it out. It’s even got a 6GB Micro-drive in the card slot! The camera works as good as it did the day I brought it home. As does the Micro-drive. If the camera you are currently using is a “fine camera” I don’t understand why you would be salivating over the rumored replacement that might or might not come next year. Put down the Internet and go take some pictures!
I think it’s wonderful that newer cameras can take pictures practically in the dark. It literally opens up more possibilities that we never could have imagined just a few years ago. But just because a photograph was taken with a certain camera or at a certain ISO or in the dark doesn’t make a difference if it isn’t an interesting photograph. So that part of the rules hasn’t changed. Newer cameras take bigger files than the older ones. But if all you’re going to do is post photos on Flickr or Facebook why do you need a 20 megapixel camera? If you have clients demanding and willing to pay for huge prints then that makes good sense. There are very few things I’m likely to do with my photographs that a 10 or 12 megapixel file won’t work for.
I always reaffirm that I am OK with whatever way a person chooses to enjoy photography. If a person loves to collect gear and have the most recent version of everything I think that’s great. If a person feels that a certain camera brand is important then that’s a good reason to own it. Some people love to use software, and I support that. I am a firm believer in everyone getting to do things their own way. I like to talk about my preferences not to convince others to think like I do, but to share my thoughts for those who are interested. Hopefully my photographs are more interesting than my thoughts!
It does concern me that it’s easy for people to get hung up on The Next Great Thing. I’m afraid that too often worrying about the right tool keeps people from just using the one they’ve got. A carpenter doesn’t sit around worrying whether to buy a new hammer or not. A new one won’t make the nail go in any straighter than an old one. But if he needs to drive a screw he buys a screwdriver. Some things matter, like making sure your saw blade is sharp. But that’s about maintenance, not whether something is new or not. Take care of the tools you have, use them for their intended purpose and replace them when they stop doing what they were meant to do. Or when something comes along that is so much better that you just can’t help it. In the mean time get out there and use what you have!
Oh, yeah. About that other thing. I bought an iPad. I hope to be able to read books and magazines on it. I’ve wanted one since they came out, but it took me a long time to convince myself that it was time to buy one. I bought a used (refurbished) one, probably just a few months before the next generation comes out. But I got a good deal on it and I think it will be just the right tool for the job. Sound familiar?