An essay in praise of imperfection and cameras.
I’ve always wanted and lusted after the “perfect” camera. But it doesn’t exist, and never will. Thank god, or else there would be no innovation in photography and cameras.
For example, let’s say this so-called perfect camera was invented. We would be stuck in the stone ages… forever.
Let’s say the film 35mm Leica M2 was the “perfect” camera. If we saw it perfect, we wouldn’t have innovated and made a light meter in the camera, or the smartphone camera, or the medium format digital camera, etc.
We need imperfect cameras to drive innovation in photography.
Who is the slave and who is the master?
But for us as photographers, it is fucking stressful. Why? Every 6 months there is a new camera. Our camera is never good enough. We’re drowning in choice. We have too many cameras, we don’t even know what to shoot with. We feel like our cameras are holding us back.
We have become the slave of our cameras, instead of the camera being our slave.
Technology marches on and doesn’t care about us
It’s not our fault. We are human, with human biases. We prefer the new (Nassim Taleb calls this “neomania”— we are always crazy for the “new new thing.” We exaggerate differences, instead of noticing similarities.
But what should we do when it comes to the (very stressful) choice of knowing what camera to buy? Here are some ideas.
“IT’S A FEATURE, NOT A BUG!”
First of all, know that all digital cameras and film cameras and phone cameras are imperfect. And that’s okay. That’s what makes them perfect. Their imperfections… ARE BENEFITS, not bugs!
Or in Silicon Valley talk,
It’s a feature, not a bug!
For example, people hate film because it’s slow to develop, process, and see your image. But… that’s the FEATURE! That’s what makes shooting film fun. We get the SURPRISE and the excitement before seeing our images. This is the genius and innovation with the LEICA M-D, a digital camera with no LCD screen. ”Chimping” distracts us from the picture making process.
For the thrill of shooting film, buy FILM NOTES.
For medium format film cameras, it is hard to shoot with, and slow. But that forces us to SLOW DOWN… and enjoy the more zen process of photography.
With a digital camera with slow autofocus, it might force you to just shoot more static objects… and focus more on your composition. This might be a GOOD THING for your photography, not a bad thing.
Love being the under-dog
A psychological trick for myself,
I feel cooler using shittier gear, than using the best gear.
Why? By intentionally adopting “inferior” technology and camera, I can SHOW OFF that I am skilled, and can make good photos with a crappy camera. Thus, one of the reasons I like to brag I shoot with a $600 RICOH GR II camera, or compare my phone pictures to a medium format film camera.
Digital cameras always get outdated and very quickly. Therefore, always buy the cheapest digital camera with the best specifications. Think of VALUE with cameras.
Also, consider… what are you going to think of buying that new camera, 20 years from now?
- Good thing about film cameras: it will work well in 20 years, the same.
- All digital cameras will be horribly outdated 20 years from now. Thus, don’t buy expensive digital cameras. I think the best value digital camera now is the Fujifilm XT-XX series (The Fujifilm XT-20, with the same sensor as the more expensive counter parts, and much smaller).
- If you are gonna buy an expensive digital camera, make sure it is “modular”— has inter changeable lens or sensor system. For example, I would buy a digital medium format PENTAX 645Series, that will last a bit longer than other camera systems. Also it means don’t buy a Leica Q, Sony RX-series… any expensive non-interchangeable lens camera, because it’s like buying an expensive iPhone that will quickly get outdated in 2-3 years.
- Prefer classic designs: Ricoh GR has a classic design, and so does Leica, and Olympus Pen F. Classic designs are more usable, and therefore probably less likely to get “outdated”. The human hand isn’t gonna change. Therefore, we need classic designed cameras, that fit well in the hand.
- Don’t get suckered by the newest hyped up digital camera. Sensor technology is always in a state of flux.