Time to rethink the camera

In the long list of long overdue posts, this one sits right at the top. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but the recent releases of the Nikon D4 and D800 have certainly brought this to the forefront in my somewhat scattered brain. Note that I will be mostly talking about Nikon, but my observations can be carried across the board and apply just as well to Canon and the others. I just happen to be shooting Nikon. For the moment.

So the question here, is, what’s my take on these brand spanking new beasts? Will I upgrade? Do I feel compelled to upgrade?

In all honesty I couldn’t care less about either camera, nor do I feel that I missing out by not getting either. Now don’t get me wrong, they are both really, really good cameras. They are certainly better in many respects than my current workhorse, the Nikon D700. That said, I don’t think that either one makes me a better photographer, nor do they get more clients or bigger paying jobs.

I can hear you saying “But, Younes, they have super duper awesome video capabilities” (that’s right, that how I imagine y’all talk). My answer: I don’t care. I am a photographer first and foremost, and don’t get me started on the photo/video combination – a lot of people do it, most people do it poorly. There is a world of difference between being a photographer and making movies, and simply owning a camera that can output some amazing video quality won’t make me Steven Spielberg, but I digress.

“But how about the super duper awesome 36 bazi-gazillion megapixels?”. I have long wished for that, but rarely anymore. My question to you is what would you need more megapixels for? If it is to be able to crop post-capture, my answer is simple: learn your craft and crop by composing your images better. If it is to have the ability to print life-sized replicas of your beautiful self, then my question to you is how often do you do that? In fact, I’ll ask the question differently: what size do you think your camera can allow you to print at? I can tell you that I have comfortably printed 24×36” images from my 12 megapixel camera (NOTE: that’s the attached image above). I have licensed a 6MP –image that was printed as a 12 meter mural. Yes, that’s twelve METERS! All of this and I haven’t even talked about the extra computer power you’ll need to deal with the 75MB raw files…All the sudden, your $3000 camera turns into $3000+ new computer ($1500)+more backup ($500)= $5000…not so appealing all the sudden?

Ok, so what else? The D4’s insane high ISO is sure to sway you…I rarely shoot in complete darkness, but I have to say that the ISO capabilities of the sensor are intriguing, but at the body size and price, I am not really that interested, yet. So, enough rambling Djounes, what would make you want to upgrade? What’s it gonna take?

The point I am trying to make here is that camera companies have been engaged in an endless race to give more. A lot more. Always more. You have got to wonder however, where you get to the point of diminishing return. I personally think we have in many ways. Certainly, when it comes to megapixels, we probably have, and the trend that sees the high-end pro models with less megapixel count (D4, Canon 1DX) seems to confirm that.

Thom Hogan, who really initiated all this thinking, has some fantastic suggestions for the future of the camera and I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree. The jist of it is that small incremental improvements, like we are seeing now, are not going to yield much at the end of the day and that it is high time to rethink the concept of the SLR.

Here are a few things that could use some work:

-        Form factor: I realize that pro-bodies need to be sturdy and reliable, but do they need to weigh a ton? I am sure there can be a happy medium there that will allow me to do my job without breaking my neck and back.

-        Wireless capabilities: am I the only one who finds it outrageous that my $3000 camera needs a $500 add-on to have wifi, while some of the low end compacts have it integrated from the get go. The same goes for GPS for geo-location. If my tiny phone can do it, I am sure there is room in for my camera.

-        Modular components: do we really need a new body every upgrade cycle? Sure, your body can take some beating, but for the planet’s sake and for my wallet’s, how about upgradable sensors and other components. You may say that Nikon is in the business of making money, not saving you some. That’s fair, however, having modular components can actually be a great source of revenue for the manufacturer’s as well. Today, there isn’t a chance I can afford both the D4 AND the D800. However, I may in fact be interested in the D4 high ISO capacity at times, while being more drawn to the D800’s higher pixel counts on other jobs. In the case of modular sensors, I may actually buy one body, but both sensors! One for each different job. Something similar could happen for Infrared capable sensors, so and so forth.

-        I did have other points, I swear, but they escape me right now…I will get back to them when I find them. In the meantime, I hope this spurs an interesting discussion…

On a completely different topic, over at doublespace, we have some images from our visit to Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, in, you guessed it, Barcelona.

What makes you tick?

What tickles your fancy? Floats your boat? What’s your cup of tea?

I mean photographically. What brought you into this into the first place?

The Swiss Alps' ruggedness left me speechless

I was reading my buddy’s Corwin Hiebert’s ebook “Your Creative Mix” and I have to admit it got me thinking more than anything I’ve seen or read lately. I don’t really want to go through the actual ebook (and suggest you check it for yourselves, it’s really worth it), but one of the big eye-openers for me was Corwin’s discussion about “going pro”.

I am sure many of you have asked themselves this question before (do I/should I/I gotta go pro?). It certainly has been THE question at the centre of my life for the last few years. Corwin’s provocative approach to this question really got me thinking, though.

“”How do I go pro?” I’m willing to confess that it’s probably a semantics issue, but I’ve seen this question torment inspired and talented photographers and I feel that it’s a reflection of a dangerous mindset of “not quite having arrived[emphasis added].”…“I’ve never heard a Web designer or a stylist ask that question! They do what they do because they love it and they eventually start charging money for their services—it’s not some giant chasm they have to cross.”  —Corwin Hiebert

What I realized is that I (and possibly some of you) got it completely wrong…It’s never been about going pro when you think about it. (I know this is sounding more and more like a rant but bear with me, I am going somewhere, really). When you dig deep down, it’s not about putting the label “pro photographer” on your business card, it’s not about making a living at it. In fact it’s not about taking pictures for a living.  I got so caught up in this “going pro” thing that I think I was heading towards the very thing I was trying to escape from. You see, I already have a job that pays well and that I don’t like too too much. Got that covered, thank you. So, really, do I want *any* job as a photographer, just so I can say I am making a living as a photographer? Think about it. Is it why you got into it?

So, why am *I* into it? It’s for the love of mountains and nature. It’s for the love of travel. Most importantly, it is for the creative outlet it provides me. Whether it is finding patterns in nature or the curves of an exciting new building, setting up a lighting scheme for a shoot or discovering a new culture, photography is a constant challenge for my senses and my imagination (and I mean the fun kind of challenge). This is what I love, this is what I live for. Nothing gives me anything that comes close to the thrill of photography.

However, in “trying to go pro” at all cost, I have to admit, that the notion of “making a living” started taking precedence over the “having fun” part. I found myself slowly heading towards the path of getting a job that didn’t pay well AND that I didn’t like that much. That wasn’t the plan, was it? That’s what I am thinking at least. If I am going to live the dream I want it to be the right dream.

So for now, I am going to take a deep breath. It means going back to basics, enjoying what I do, having a blast doing it!

How about you, what’s making *you* tick?

Reversing the curse

20090712-palouse-panorama-sunriseI found it! That’s it, the search is over.

Ok, let me backtrack, for the past year or so, I have come to believe that I have some sort of curse. I just can’t find good light anymore. I know, I know, you can make great images in any light, but come’on we all know that great light is what will put you over the top.

This curse was never more obvious than last week as I travelled around Washington state: I just couldn’t buy good light if my life depend on it! To make matters even worse, the day after I left, Jay Goodrich and Art Wolfe headed back to Rainier (without me of course), and guess what…light just materialised out of nowhere; the proof: HERE.

But my search has ended today, all I need is buy myself a llama or two…Ian Plant said it, and frankly I need to believe him.

Hangin’ tough

Well, I came back, battered and bruised, literally. My long week-end had a lot of good and a healthy dose of bad.

First, the good…Four days off work. Met with Photolife editor-in-chief about future plans for the magazine and me as a regular contributor, shared ideas, had a few laughs. Drove 700 clicks, landed in one of the most beautiful areas this side of the Rockies: the Charlevoix mountains. The sight was one to behold. The air was clean, the water abundant. Saw more wildlife in a morning than all year around Ottawa. Great horned owl. Porcupine. Black bear…can’t even remember the rest. Hiked-up one tough trail that overlooks the whole area. The view…no words to describe it.

Then it all came down crumbling. Was it the solitude? the isolation? The fatigue? All I wanted was to be home right then, not in an hour, not in a day. What was I doing? What’s this photography thing all about anyway? Who am I fooling? Is my photography worth anything? Am I on the right track? Is there a track? Needless to say, I had more questions than there were answers (actually no answers at all). I hiked back down to the campsite, sort of slept, got up in time for sunrise…no sunrise, just drab clouds, yet again. Folded my tent. Headed back home, dazed and confused.

I just got home this afternoon, questions still going around my head. I sat down at my computer, did the usual time wasting. I then remembered a post I read a while back that pointed to this video, by Zach Arias (you can see more here http://www.zarias.com/?p=284). I had meant to see it, but never did. I guess sometimes life has its reasons. It was just what I needed. Sorry for all the moody post, I needed to vent. Thanks for listening.

Pay the writer

I know it’s a photography blog, and no I am not a writer (though, thinking about it I made more money with my writing than with my photography so far…go figure, may be I am looking at this the wrong way…hmmm…see how easy it is to lose focus! Gosh I wish I could concentrate more). Anyhow… Let me first give credit where credit is due: I owe this superb find to my fellow photographer Gary Crabbe.

Having started in photography very recently, I know all too well how tempting it is to accept any publication offer, even if it is for free. You think “what the heck, no one knows me anyway, any publicity is good publicity, let’s go for it!”. As crazy as it may sound, you should resist the temptation as hard as you can, for your own sake as well as for those who make a living out of it. Too many people expect to get just about everything for free. I have no problems doing pro bono work, I even encourage it. However, it has to be for a cause you deem worthy, not to help another business promote theirs at your expense.  But instead of rambling on (like I usually do) and explaining the what and the how of this story, I would simply like to point you to this video featuring American writer Harlan Ellison. I simply couldn’t say it any better. (There is some swearing involved, so use at your own risk).

Like in all my posts, I love to hear your feedback, so please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts!