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07-27-2011, 09:22 AM - 1 Like   #1
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A luddite reflects

(Note: It is my recent ownership of the Pentax K-5--and the extensive discussion of that camera on this website-- that has led to this posting.)


I am astounded by the change in attitude that photographers have undergone in recent years. I recall when in the late 1970s the Pentax MX was newly released; at that time virtually all professionals, and most serious amateurs, were shooting with wholly mechanical, fully manual cameras. The Nikon F2, Canon F1, the Olympus OM-1-- and, of course, the MX-- were what these ‘serious’ shooters typically embraced. (Photojournalists and many travel photographers were hooked on their Leicas.) And when asked why this was the answer was always the same: RELIABILITY.

A working professional simply could not risk down-time with the new breed of electronic cameras (Some of you may recall the initially reserved reaction to the Contax RTS.) Travel and nature photographers who were braving the elements--shooting on a freezing mountain top or in a steamy jungle--simply would not tolerate being shut-down by an electronic failure. And for this reason, many carried hand-held meters that were either immune to battery failure (like the Sekonic L-398) or capable of quick battery replacement.

Slowly, the electronic shutter and exposure automation were embraced . However, a mechanical back-up was considered mandatory. (Note that even that the ‘electronic’ Pentax LX still had mechanical speeds.) But my how times have changed!

Today many photographers--hooked on auto-focus and programmed exposure--seem not overly concerned when their cameras lock-up or suffer from ‘mirror-flutter’ or cannot focus accurately on their intended subject. Even some working professionals appear to take these shortcomings as ‘facts of photographic life.’

But my question is this: Have we, with our modern digital cameras, really advanced photographically?

No doubt the ‘digital revolution’ has in many ways made photography more convenient. (Though I think the convenience factor is greatly over-stated.) But when I think of the recurring cost of upgrading to the 'latest technology' and the frustration of electronic failures, I begin to question the nature of our 'progress'. And this questioning becomes even greater when I look at the final product--the actual prints--made from my aging mechanical cameras (Pentax MX and Contax S2), and my new digital wonders ( Pentax K-7 and K-5); when I do this I am led to ask ‘Has it all been worth it?'

I'm not so sure that it has.

(P.S. I never sold my vinyl LPs, and I am currently shopping for a high-end analog turntable.)


Last edited by Byrd-2020; 07-27-2011 at 10:46 AM.
07-27-2011, 10:07 AM   #2
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Amen, brother.

It seems like a lot of shooters rely too much on post processing and gadgetry.
07-27-2011, 10:11 AM   #3
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I tend to fall in your camp Byrd, The conveniences are nice but they can cause problems for you as well (I've been caught without a charged battery for instance after going someplace with my camera intending to take a shot - never have this issue with my old film gear)
I think the automation has made it easier for people to use SLR cameras, and technically good photo's (well exposed and in focus anyway) are more easily and consistently produced by people who couldn't operate a manual camera. Do I think it's improved the state of photography nope not a bit
Personally now when I travel I always have a nice old manual film body with me as well as my digital. If my digital fails/acts up etc I will still come home with images (albeit ones that will have to wait for me to get in the darkroom)
Focus issues don't bother me as I still focus manually 90% of the time

BTW I too still have all my Vinyl and in fact still buy a lot of stuff on vinyl (which frequently now comes with a digital download for convenience), can't remember the last time i bought a cd though
07-27-2011, 10:33 AM   #4
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Those film cameras are such a modern useless invention. The proper old-skool way to make pictures is to paint on rock walls.

07-27-2011, 10:43 AM   #5
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The early DSLRs were crap. I didn't change over to a digital camera until about 2008, when I felt they had finally caught up to the quality of 35mm quality. They have now surpassed that, with even the APS-C sensor bodies being capable of high quality enlargements that are just as sharp as enlargements made from a Pentax film body and a sharp lens.

The thing I that still bothers me is how much post work you really have to do to be able to get those quality shots. IMO, most straight from the camera jpg's have to be tweaked in some way in order for them to look right, whether it's color temperature or exposure. Now, with the right camera, this can improve greatly. I can't tell you how displeased I was with the K20D. Majority of the shots weren't exposed correctly, and I always had to set white balance myself before taking the shot, or tweak it afterward. Since getting a Nikon D700, I really found out how much more capable a different camera can be. With film, you had to get the right lenses, and if you were a capable photographer, could pull off a great shot with nearly any body. Today, it's the DSLR body that is more important to the shot than the lens.

I still prefer the days of film, where all adjustments were done before you snapped the shutter, and your work was mostly done. Now, nearly everything is done afterward and it's mostly all a complete PITA.

The thing about digital being able to see your shot right away and fix things during the shoot is mostly for amateurs, IMO, because whenever I shot with my 67II or my film Pentax bodies, if I took 100 shots, 98% of them were properly lit, exposed, or composed. For us mechanically sound photographers, the benefit of seeing your shot instantly is a tiny, tiny benefit to digital. I simply never wasted film when I shot it, and I knew what I was doing.

The other problem with the digital age is that everyone is a photographer now. Everyone who use to use point and shoot film cameras now have a much easier time with digital SLRs. Everyone is a facebook photog for hire now. When you look at their work, it's absolute crap. More people will pay a lot for crap photography than ever before.

All the HDR stuff is rather annoying, as well as the before and after ads for portrait software where every blemish, hair folicle, and freckle is removed leaving the model looking like a plastic mannequin.
07-27-2011, 11:00 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by K-9 Quote

The other problem with the digital age is that everyone is a photographer now. Everyone who use to use point and shoot film cameras now have a much easier time with digital SLRs. Everyone is a facebook photog for hire now. When you look at their work, it's absolute crap. More people will pay a lot for crap photography than ever before.
.
In Music photography at least they are paying less because all these twits give there stuff away for free (which is more than most of it is worth) just for published credit
07-27-2011, 11:08 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by K-9 Quote
...
The thing I that still bothers me is how much post work you really have to do to be able to get those quality shots. IMO, most straight from the camera jpg's have to be tweaked in some way in order for them to look right, whether it's color temperature or exposure.
...
I still prefer the days of film, where all adjustments were done before you snapped the shutter, and your work was mostly done. Now, nearly everything is done afterward and it's mostly all a complete PITA.
...
All the HDR stuff is rather annoying, as well as the before and after ads for portrait software where every blemish, hair folicle, and freckle is removed leaving the model looking like a plastic mannequin.
None of this is new. The difference between a great photographer and a good one often used to be how good they were in the darkroom, or how good their darkroom lackey was. Some of us still talk about dodging and burning - phrases from darkroom work. The Unsharp mask - another phrase from the wet darktoom. Airburshing has been around for years as well, except it used to really be done with an airbrush. Darkroom artists also used to remove things from prints and add them, and combine different negatives (HDR anyone?).
07-27-2011, 11:13 AM   #8
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I love the last two digital cameras I have used a D200 and now a K-r. there is so much that digital is better at. But I am also very glad that I learnt on a mechanical camera, Spotmatics at college. My favourite camera to shoot is a Hasselblad 500 C/M and I do use large format and toy cameras as well as my MZ5n. But saying that mechanical cameras is more photography than digital cameras is as pointless and incorrect as stating that digital is better than film (for what?)

As far as rock art goes I think that painting and drawing are still thriving and were never really photography at all. I realize it was probably meant as a put down to those who posted above.

I think that if I was to run a two day workshop on improving one's photography I would have one day where the students used digital SLRs so that they could benefit from the instant feedback and the lack of expense in shooting more to try different angles etc. The other day would be to go out with a roll of film (24 or 36) and spend the day to bring back the very best one can do with that limitation. It would not matter which order but the point is that shooting lots and shooting very selectively are both learning experiences. Some will just not want to do all manual shooting but I like that I can take the LF or MF camera out and for landscapes not really need a light meter even to take properly exposed images and know that they will turn out properly exposed (of course not all the time as would not try it in more challenging lighting conditions)

07-27-2011, 11:52 AM   #9
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The 70s were a long time ago - did you really expect the world to freeze at the peak of disco, short-shorts, and roller skating?

Life's a cycle though. 30 years from now the 20-somethings buying dSLRs today will be lamenting what photography has become.
07-27-2011, 12:02 PM   #10
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Digital cameras have created a similar situation in photography that rapid fire weapons and high capacity magazines created in the military/law enforcement community called "spray and pray." With the older weapons such as the U.S. military's 03-A3 Springfield and M1 Garrand or the revolver that law enforcement used, hitting your target depended on aimed fire. Then along came the M-16 with it's high capacity magazine and it became common in combat to just stick the rifle up over your cover and pull the trigger with the weapon on full auto (look at some of the combat video from Vietnam). Same with the Beretta and other semi-auto weapons used by law enforcement. They created a tendency to point in the direction of the bad guy and pull the trigger rapidly.

Digital cameras have done much the same thing. Where a photographer used to consider many things before he "pulled the trigger" digital cameras have created sort of laziness in photographers. When you had a roll of 36 shots, you were generally careful of how you used your film because there was only so much you can do to it in the darkroom. When you have the capacity for thousands of shots on one card, and the ability to do almost anything to it in the computer, it can promote the same "spray and pray" attitude. Point it, pull the trigger and pray. There's an old Southern saying that "even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then." Turn someone who knows little about photography loose with a digital camera and chances are, out of a thousand photos there will be a good one in the batch or at least one that can be manipulated into being a good one.

Don't get me wrong, I think rapid fire, high capacity is a good thing in both cameras and weapons. But still takes training/experience to use either. The problem is there are a lot of people calling themselves professional photographers who actually aren't. They are just shooters with a huge supply of "ammunition."

CW
07-27-2011, 12:06 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by K-9 Quote
The early DSLRs were crap. I didn't change over to a digital camera until about 2008, when I felt they had finally caught up to the quality of 35mm quality. They have now surpassed that, with even the APS-C sensor bodies being capable of high quality enlargements that are just as sharp as enlargements made from a Pentax film body and a sharp lens.

The thing I that still bothers me is how much post work you really have to do to be able to get those quality shots. IMO, most straight from the camera jpg's have to be tweaked in some way in order for them to look right, whether it's color temperature or exposure. Now, with the right camera, this can improve greatly. I can't tell you how displeased I was with the K20D. Majority of the shots weren't exposed correctly, and I always had to set white balance myself before taking the shot, or tweak it afterward. Since getting a Nikon D700, I really found out how much more capable a different camera can be. With film, you had to get the right lenses, and if you were a capable photographer, could pull off a great shot with nearly any body. Today, it's the DSLR body that is more important to the shot than the lens.

I still prefer the days of film, where all adjustments were done before you snapped the shutter, and your work was mostly done. Now, nearly everything is done afterward and it's mostly all a complete PITA.

The thing about digital being able to see your shot right away and fix things during the shoot is mostly for amateurs, IMO, because whenever I shot with my 67II or my film Pentax bodies, if I took 100 shots, 98% of them were properly lit, exposed, or composed. For us mechanically sound photographers, the benefit of seeing your shot instantly is a tiny, tiny benefit to digital. I simply never wasted film when I shot it, and I knew what I was doing.

The other problem with the digital age is that everyone is a photographer now. Everyone who use to use point and shoot film cameras now have a much easier time with digital SLRs. Everyone is a facebook photog for hire now. When you look at their work, it's absolute crap. More people will pay a lot for crap photography than ever before.

All the HDR stuff is rather annoying, as well as the before and after ads for portrait software where every blemish, hair folicle, and freckle is removed leaving the model looking like a plastic mannequin.
In May 2008 I got the K200d and since it worked out well for me, I added a K20d body in lat Sep. I was shocked that my K200d gave me better results, often usable out of the camera. Then I finally realized that it was the jpeg processing in the K20d. When I shoot raw, not a problem. Generally, my jpeg extractions from raw/pef by acr are usable without a lot of pp. The K200d can do decent jpegs in camera. The K20d can if the settings are tweaked prior to shooting, but I just shoot raw. There are a lot of folks that shoot quite well in jpg with the K20d.
07-27-2011, 12:11 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by cats_five Quote
None of this is new. The difference between a great photographer and a good one often used to be how good they were in the darkroom, or how good their darkroom lackey was. Some of us still talk about dodging and burning - phrases from darkroom work. The Unsharp mask - another phrase from the wet darktoom. Airburshing has been around for years as well, except it used to really be done with an airbrush. Darkroom artists also used to remove things from prints and add them, and combine different negatives (HDR anyone?).
I never did any of my own developing, and never, ever used a darkroom. I shot mostly transparencies, where exposure was critical.

QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
In May 2008 I got the K200d and since it worked out well for me, I added a K20d body in lat Sep. I was shocked that my K200d gave me better results, often usable out of the camera. Then I finally realized that it was the jpeg processing in the K20d. When I shoot raw, not a problem. Generally, my jpeg extractions from raw/pef by acr are usable without a lot of pp. The K200d can do decent jpegs in camera. The K20d can if the settings are tweaked prior to shooting, but I just shoot raw. There are a lot of folks that shoot quite well in jpg with the K20d.
If I remember correctly, the K20d didn't expose well in RAW either.
07-27-2011, 12:17 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by K-9 Quote
. . .



If I remember correctly, the K20d didn't expose well in RAW either.
That is a lot like saying a negative isn't exposed well. That could be me, the body, the settings or both.
07-27-2011, 12:55 PM - 1 Like   #14
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Being a luddite-luddite, I could point out that apart from making the photographic process more democratic, i.e. easier to achieve a good quality level, had photography in the mechanical SLR era really advanced from the earlier days? I love using cameras from the '20s and '30s, many without any metering or focus aids whatsoever. Manually coupled meter SLRs with coated lenses are a lazy luxury

More seriously, all automation breeds further problems (auto exposure brought us exposure compensation and eventually matrix metering) and complexity... but also extends the applicability of photography. Used to be you had to be pretty dedicated to learn how to do macro photography well. With digital the spray n pray tactic is correct, in this instance.

Also, I see that new capability in equipment brings new artistic esthetics to photography. SLR and retrofocus wide angles brought the wide angle view into vogue... Fast shutter speeds and fast lenses with accurate coupled focus aids brought shallow DOF into vogue. And so on... this keeps happening, and the more extereme forms of the prior fashion become dated looking.

Finally, there's one aspect of photography that is perhaps the most CRUCIAL and MODERN in concept, one that links it to both quantum physics and avant garde 'real' art. This is the selection process. It is one of the things that differentiates photographers - some of us don't want to edit our output (why's everyone looking at me )... my daughter gets this, I have trouble with this.

But when the two of us went to the Met Robert Frank Americans show, the role of this selection process became crystal clear. Frank shot more than 20,000 photos, which he successively culled down to the 83 published in the book. The show illustrated this process. Yes, Frank knew his technical stuff and knew how to elect to wield this knowledge. And many strong images ended up on the floor... but even with this the 20,000:83 ratio is strong stuff. Of course, he used Tri-X and FP5, and mechanical, meterless cameras.

A thought: had Frank used digital, maybe he'd have shot 1,000,000 photos, which he'd still have culled down to the 83... the 83 might be different than the ones he ended up with, but somehow I think the artistic vision would still have come through the same way. Or no?

Last edited by Nesster; 07-27-2011 at 01:22 PM.
07-27-2011, 01:09 PM - 1 Like   #15
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I think you may be generalizing a bit with the part about auto exposure and auto focus. Not everyone uses either all the time in the digital world.

The problem with autofocus is that a prism focusing screen can screw up your metering. I would love to have a good focusing screen on my K-x but I can't afford a screen that won't screw up the metering. If I had a good split prism I could do without AF.

And I don't have a problem with exposure. On my last vacation, it took me about 4 hours to organize, grade, and do all post processing on 1700+ photos. I did it on the plane ride home and had a slideshow ready to go by the time we landed.

Part of that is shooting RAW as mentioned above, but another big part is shooting in M mode. When you shoot in M mode, you get the same control that the MX gave you, with a big difference. Your thumb index finger do the work while your eye never leaves the cup, you can change iso without changing rolls, and at the end of the day, you do get more flexibility and control with digital.

Most of the time, a shutter, aperture, or sensitivity priority mode will give you the wrong exposure because it's trying to make a dark scene light, or a light scene dark. With manual mode you get to pick how much over or under you want it to be. Once you get acquainted with how your camera's meter works, you start using the EV dial a lot and then finally you just graduate to M mode.

Here's a picture that I think came out really well, reflects the reality of how the scene looked when I was there, and which required (as I recall) no post processing at all.


I think there's been a democratizing and commoditizing of photography. The fact that the number one camera in use on flickr is the iPhone 4 should tell you something - the fact that professional tools are in the hands of more and more unskilled and/or dispassionate people. So yeah you get a lot of spray and pray out of folks, but modern cameras haven't made it impossible to take pictures like you used to. Has it advanced photography?

I guess my point is, the advances that we've made sometimes fail (AF in low light, program exposure etc), but they don't often. When they do, a skilled photographer can still use his eyes and fingers to take a good photograph.
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