The Perfect Camera

Tustin, 2014 #ricohgr
Tustin, 2014 #ricohgr

“Technology is the best when it is invisible.” – Nassim Taleb

I have these utopic dreams of a “perfect” camera. I want a camera that makes photos that are ultra-sharp, yet soft, affordable, yet fits in my front pocket, yet has tons of megapixels, yet can zoom to see anything but wide enough to shoot interiors. I want a camera that has unlimited dynamic range, that operates like a film camera (with the convenience of digital).

This camera doesn’t exist, and will never exist.

So what is truly a “perfect” camera? Well, a typographer/designer named Beatrice Warde had it figured out in 1932, in her essay, “The Crystal Goblet or Printing Should Be Invisible”:

“Type well used is invisible as type, just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas.”

The perfect camera should be the “unnoticed vehicle” for the transmission of images, ideas.

Emphasis on “unnoticed.” The bigger our camera, the more “noticeable” it is (both to yourself, and to your subject). Also the more you need to fiddle around with technical settings (aperture, focus, shutter-speed) the more you need to think, and the less invisible the camera becomes.

This is why I like to shoot digital photos in “P” mode (where the camera chooses the aperture and shutter-speed automatically), with center-point autofocus, and keep my ISO high (1600) so I don’t have to think at all when taking photos. I disappear in the act of making photos, and focus more on capturing moments that are meaningful, to focus on composition, and the “idea” of the image.

The more I think about it, point-and-shoot cameras (and smartphone cameras) are the perfect cameras for street photography, personal photography, and 99% of photographers out there.

The perfect writing tool

Seattle, 2014 #portra400
Seattle, 2014 #portra400

I think if you look at any artistic field, you will always see this over-obsession about the tools necessary to do the creative act.

For example, I love to read and write. Yet I am never satisfied with the tools or devices I have. I always seek to have the “perfect” device for both reading and writing.

For reading, I will try to “optimize” by using a Kindle, my smartphone, my laptop, or an iPad. But whenever I read a book on any of these devices, I am aware that I am using a certain device for reading, and therefore the book never becomes invisible. Yet when I am reading a paper book, the book itself becomes “invisible” and disappears into my hands.

When it comes to writing, I have tried all different tools for writing. I’ve used paper and pad, laptops, iPad + keyboard connected, iPad touch screens, and my smartphone. I’ve also used tons of different writing “apps.” But the most “invisible” technology is using a laptop (with a physical keyboard) and IA Writer (it has something called “focus” mode which helps me focus on writing one line at a time, so the rest of the text becomes slightly “invisible”). I know a lot of authors who prefer writing on paper and pen, but I prefer typing because I can type much faster than I can write (so the process of writing becomes invisible to me). I am able to write with a stream-of-consciousness, with no barriers to putting ideas onto (digital) paper.

Use the least-cumbersome camera

San Mateo, 2015
San Mateo, 2015

The goal of photography is to focus on the act of making a photo, not to focus on the camera itself. You want the camera to become invisible.

And an “invisible” camera can mean different things to different people.

For some people I know, they prefer using DSLR’s— because they are so used to the menu-system, and they can shoot much quicker without having to think.

For others, they prefer film rangefinders— because it helps them stay focused on the act of shooting (and not worrying about looking at the LCD screen).

For others, they prefer smartphone cameras— because you can just point-and-click, and the camera is always in their front pocket.

For others, they prefer compact cameras (like me), because they are easy to carry everywhere, are small, unobtrusive, and are ergonomic (easier to hold in the hand than a smartphone). Otherwise, I would probably just shoot with a smartphone in my photography.

So the next time you buy a camera (or decide which camera to use)— don’t think about megapixels, don’t think about sharpness, don’t think about image quality, don’t think of dynamic range, don’t think of ISO performance. Think about convenience, ease-of-use, compactness, lightness, and the least “friction” necessary to make a photograph.

Think less, shoot more.

Sincerely your forever-gear obsessed friend,

April 5, 2015

Articles on camera equipment

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