I know that there are no perfect camera in our photographic world. There aren’t any best camera either. The same go for lenses. In fact, all machines ever invented in our world have their flaws. Even humans have flaws…
The good thing is that camera makers continue to improve the imperfects. Slowly, but they do work on it.
In 2001, I was thrilled to get my hands on those 2.6 megapixels. I bet you, too, remember that feeling. Back then, we didn’t have anything larger than 4 megapixels until Canon made a huge leap in resolution with the low noise, low power consumption, 11 megapixels Canon EOS 1Ds toward the end of 2003. How many megapixel did the Nikon D100 have? Six stinky megapixels. Still, I was so happy with my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F505V because there wasn’t that many DSLR for me to compare with.
Before I type up this article, I spent 5 weeks on dissecting the digital cameras in my possession. All 52 of them. I thought that I have learned all about digital cameras, but then Nikon comes out with their D800/E and the D4. Technology makes my head spin.
In 2006, I was one among the crowd who wished that camera makers would employ Dynamic Range, improve Noise Reduction, give higher ISO. Cameras now have all our wishes and even offer more. A lot more.
But we are still talking about limitations whenever a new camera is announced.
Why is that? From the turtle-speed to milisecond AF, multi zone focus and we’re still not satisfying? Will we be satisfied if they give us an AF system that surpasses the speed of light?
Let turn our time machine back to 1930s. How fast do we think the shutter speed on Walker Evans’s camera would go? What lens did Dorothea Lange use to get the creamy bokeh effects? Hah! If we have seen the cameras they used during their time, we would be grateful for all the photographic gears that we have today. Not many of us have the time and the patience like those photographers before our time did. Below are portraits of the Master who created some of the iconic images of the Great Depression era. Would any of us willing to trade our Canon EOS 5D MK III for a 4×5 Graflex? I don’t think so.
I guess that the most compact—and the best—35mm systems during the early 1930′s was the Leica A and the Leica II series. The Leica II is rather important in Leica’s history since it’s the first Leica to have a built in rangefinder, with shutter speeds from 1/20th to 1/500th of a second. I don’t think that ISO higher than 200 existed then. So how did war reporters like Robert Capa captured the Spanish War? Not to mention that Capa didn’t have a zoom lens with high speed AF to capture the image below in 1939.
Most likely, the main reason for them to choose Leica over other brands was the high quality optics, dependable mechanism and simple to use. Back then photographers relied mostly on their skills and experience. To them, cameras and lenses were photographic tools which helped them to transform their perceptions into images. Many of us think about cameras and lenses differently these days.
Although Capa’s camera didn’t have multi zone focus or ETTL light metering, this shot below showed accurate exposure and precisely focused. Without a concrete knowledge of photography, he would have missed this fantastic image while fumbling with the camera settings.
Robert Capa might concern about high ISO, but did he care about Dynamic Range or better Noise Reduction when he grabbed a shot similar to the one below? No. Technical terms like Dynamic Range and Noise Reduction didn’t exist in his time.
I bet that Capa, HCB and David Seymour discussed about cameras and lenses just like we do. But I think they rather enjoyed talking about their photographic adventures and the images they took more than arguing over which camera had faster shutter speed. Magnum Photos would never existed if its founders were total gearheads like many of us today, don’t you think?
Considering advanced technology opens a new photography epoch, will practical methods like hyperfocal distance, zone system are still useful or they will become fossils in the next 20 years? Highly advanced technological developments make me smarter than I used to be ten years ago, but they also kills my photographic knowledge. I become more depending on my high tech gears. Like dinosaurs, what I had learned in photography school years ago slowly disappeared. This makes me ponder what will the next generations of photographers learn in future photography classes?
Until next time, my friends. It’s time for me to get a whiff of the mildew from my collection of the Life Library of Photography books again.