Monday, December 12, 2005

Leica Guy Says Photography is Now Dead!

I recently started reading some essays written by noted Leica author Erwin Puts.On October 2,2005 he wrote a short piece entitled "time out!" which he began with this comment:
>I have received an EOS 5D for an extended study of the properties of >silver and silicon with a capture area that is now identical with the >24x36mm film format. This makes technical comparisons more easy to >conduct as you do not have to factor in a number of concessions.
>It is slightly amazing to read at the Canon site that they seem to have >rediscovered the classical Barnack format of 24 x 36mm as the new >standard for digital photography, in the same period where Leica >seems to abandon its own classical format.
[ end of quoted passage]

Whoa--he's put his site on hold to take time to investigate the SSI or solid state imaging capabilities of the newest Canon EOS digitial SLR! Erwin Puts writes a lot of lens reviews about Leica optics I'll never own,and he does it well. I find his lens reviews well-written and very descriptive, but Leica's ain't my thing,so I don't care about that line of equipment. But I have just discovered his essays ABOUT Photography, about SSI and SHI,and his essay about the modern prosumer and the modern digital hobbyist which he calls "Adam",and I feel as if I have been given a huge gift of understanding. I don't think I'd ever really considered his points of view about A. the prosumer and B. the new digital "Adam" and the basic difference between solid state imaging or digital photography, and silver halide-based imaging, AKA photography.
Here are links to two interesting essays written by Erwin Puts:
paradigm shift!

2004-the watershed year [a must-read essay by Mr. Puts, IMO]

I do have to really thank Mr. Puts for his observations on how prosumers and "Digital Adams" have changed the face of what I actually thought was "photography". But you see, as Puts points out, photography as we knew it in the pre-digital era, is now dead. Solid State Imaging has vastly different fundamental underpinnings, and now that digital is here, photography as we know it is dead. And that's the part I didn't really fully comprehend--that traditional photography is now dead,and the people who are practicing solid state imaging are in many ways, fundamentally different from those of us who consider ourselves photographers. Puts has given me what I consider to be valuable insight into the mindset of this new generation of people who are in it for the ability to make images AFTER THE FACT, in post-production, and who are more interested in doing their creative part LATER, in Photoshop. The prosumers and the new Digital Adam types are not trying to do the type of photography I was trained in; a type of photography in which the goal of the photographer is to capture a moment that is pretty much "fixed" in time, and which would have until recently,been "locked" into an emulsion on some substrate, in the very old-time ways of photo-graphy.
Susan Sontag may have written about photography, but she's dead now,so she has nothing to say about solid state imaging or digital photography. Ansel Adams said he harbored great expectations for digital imaging, but he never lived to see digital imaging make anything of itself. There really isn't a lot of criticism (in the academic sense) about solid state imaging or digital imaging that I've been exposed to; I'll profess that until last week I'd never really considered the influence of the prosumer camera buyers and the Digital Adam types over a field of endeavor that I thought was still "photography",only being done with digital cameras! I'd long been critical of Photoshop Jockeys, to use my own words, and about Digital Newbies, but I'd never really considered why my own views about photography and about cameras were sometimes so out of line with the views of so many of the modern internet "photography" people I've been associating with for the past few years. I knew that the signal-to-noise ratio, and the "my-dick-is-better-than-your-dick" type of juvenile crowing at places like dPreview has been growing worse and worse, but I basically attributed it to the availablility of low-priced,introductory D-SLR's like the Canon Digital Rebel,and then later, the Nikon D70.I'd sort of figured the new conflicts were really just reflecting a younger,more brash,more gear-headed type of photographer coming in. But that's not it...these people are not photographers...these people are the "imagers", the prosumers, and the Digital Adams. I thought that since so many of them used some of the same equipment that I did, that they too were also interested in photography, in the traditional sense. I had never understood why so many internet'photographers' were possessed with such fierce,blind brand loyalty to one brand or one specific MODEL of camera to the degree that acknowledging said equipment's weaknesses was considered tantamount to critcising their lifestyle,their children,or their religion. These internet 'photography buffs' typically confuse gear talk with personal criticism, they confuse their equipment with their egos (penises?),and so on. I thought it was about photography, but the discussions were really more about them trying to validate their egos by brand association. There are quite a few one-brand zealots, who are very intent on "proving" that Fuji, or Canon,or Nikon equipment is "the best",and these people are all over the web,posing as photography enthusiasts or as photographers; but for the most part, they really are NOT involved in photo-graphy, they are involved with high-tech toys and the latest computers and software applictions much more so than they are involved with cameras,or lenses, or lighting equipment,or technique and methods discussions,etc.
I've never was fully AWARE of my degree of mis-understanding of this massive, new wave of people who had been drawn to what I thought was still "photo-graphy",and which us lucky ones have been doing with digital SLRs since around 2000 or 2001.In the past,I had made disparaging remarks about internet forum people who as I put it,"went digital when the D70 came out" in 2004,and those who suddenly created web sites touting the Nikon D70, and so on. See, I've actually not understood these two new classes of people, the prosumers and the Digital Adams. I've failed to understand the strong tribal allegiance tendencies of the many new,wealthy,pro-active consumers who almost demands new gear on six-month product cycles with the newest features,at the lowest prices,constantly. I'd never understood the Digital Adams who are more interested in post production "imaging" than in being able to pre-visualize and to capture a desired image in the field or in the studio, using the camera as the MAIN tool. I never really understood the Digital Adam types.And now, thanks to Erwin Puts I've begun to see where these people are coming from.
Erwin defines the "Adam" in this quote:
>The 'adam' in the actual world of digital imaging is more likely to be a person who is keen on >using the newest technological tools and software programs. The more the burden of quality >imagery is shifting to the stage of image manipulation (which can be quite satisfying in itself), >the less important the basic tools like cameras and lenses will become. [end quoted segment]
See, to me, I've never really been aware of why I felt such a separation from so many people who are involved in digital photography. I almost never crop my 35mm or digital SLR images. I don't do a lot of post-processing work on my images. I don't look toward radical re-alteration of my digital RAW files if they suck,as a way to make something out of flat light,or haphazard snaps--I look for better material,better light, or a better camera position. I want a camera that allows me to control exposure very precisely,using old-school ideas about ASA, shutter speeds, f/stop, and focal length and associated angle of view control. I have a very old-fashioned set of ideas about how the mechanical parts, the camera and its lens, needs to function. I am interested in what used to be called "straight photography." Jerry Uelsmann I am NOT!

I bitch and moan about the camera because I do NOT share the view of this new-age Digital Adam guys who,as Erwin Puts puts it value COMPUTER re-arrangement of the pixel matrix more so than,as Puts writes "the basic tools like cameras and lenses ". I've always approached my photography with the idea that the 1)the camera,and 2) its lens, are the two MOST important parts of photography,followed by 3)knowing exactly where to position the camera and learning 4) WHEN to fire the shutter. To me, the camera and its lens are the control center, the nerve center, the BASIC and most CENTRAL tools. But the new Digital Adam guys all have learned,or accepted, that the camera is not the MOST-central part of photography, but that the real craft is now in the image-manipulation stage. Case in point: I like the Canon 20D because of its on-chip,pixel-level noise reduction at ISO 800 and 1600. I want to be able to shoot and have nice,clean,basically low-noise images right off the CF card. I LIKE the EOS 20D because it takes care of a lot of the post-processing headaches of pesky problems like noise reduction....a couple of die-hard Nikon web gurus each like to intone that a real digital photographer can overcome noisy images,and that part of a modern-day digital photographer's prowess comes from his ability to de-noise his Nikon-created high ISO files with Noise Ninja or Neat Image. Some of these new digital gurus boast that it's good to have the choice of NR on or NR OFF,and that removing noise is what separates the good photographer from the poor photographer,and apparently what in today's world separates the master from the novice photographer. I call Nikon-brand loyalty bullshit on that one! Canon's CMOS-sensored cameras have pretty much all had better on-chip NR potential than what Nikon has been selling in the same product classes,and I'll state my opinion that at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 the 20D is about as good as the Nikon D2x, but without all the hassles involved in de-noising each and every frickin' frame in post. I want to shoot images, not mess around with noise reduction all the time. I'm old enough to expect the camera to be a tool that just WORKS,and works great. If a $4995 Nikon does not work great at 1600 ISO and a $1399 Canon delivers the same image quality or better, with less work,well I give props to the Canon,and don't try and "spin" my dismay about the performance of the Nikon D2x at ISO 1600, or act like noisy sensor performance is somehow "better" than noisy sensor performance which a master-level operator can de-noise in Noise Ninja.
I'm a lousy Photoshop guy...I'm very poorly schooled in Photoshop. See, I've been laboring since 2001 under the idea that I was doing photography. I've never viewed things from the point of view that the way to get "quality imagery" is found at "the stage of image manipulation",as Puts so eloquently puts it. I guess that is why I am so confused by the attitudes of so many of the new digitial photographers who are so prevalent across the web and web boards and forums.
I've never really understood the prosumer and the new Digital Adam types. I'm so obstinate that I complain about half-stop shutter speeds and half-stop shutter speed and whole-stop ISO jumps on digital cameras. I'm so stodgy that I expect to be able to incrementally control exposure through third-stop ISO shifts on either my body or on my flash unit. I want a very HIGH degree of fucntionality and precision from my camera simply because I learned to do my photography with film and a good Nikon 35mm camera. I learned most of what I know all in the PRE-photoshop era. When things had to be done "just so", in the camera, with the camera,with the idea that things had to be based on meter readings. I've never been one to look to the answers in the image manipulation stage. Out of 2,000+ images of mine, I will crop about ten images. If the framing isn't right as I shot it, nobody sees the image. Nobody. It goes nowhere. I still labor away under the idea that 99 percent of what I shoot is total crap,and that out of 700 sports images, maybe four will be of real interest. I just don't think in terms of somehow being able to instill "quality" into images AT the stage of image manipulation. if the framing isn't the way I want it, to me the shot is a failure. If the exposure isn't very close to optimal, I'm perturbed. I shoot B&W images with the S2 and the 20D because they allow me to review my aptures on the LCD in , black and white!!! I use RAW mode, so I have access to all my bit depth, but I want the images seen as B&W,so I shoot them that way.
I guess I'm slow...I've been hanging out on the web,associating with hundreds of people who have a fundamentally different world view than I have...many of them younger than me, many of them much BETTER and MORE-skilled at photoshop manipulation than I am. I've never really understood this new breed of digital photographers, the prosumers and the Digital Adams. I realize now that I have been laboring away with self-imposed restrictions against cropping,against sophisticated retouching,against multi-layer image processing and fakery, and that maybe I'm expecting wayyyyyyy too much control and precision out of today's Digital SLR Cameras. There's no NEED to make the camera BETTER when everybody now knows that the image MANIPULATION STAGE is where the quality is put into the images. Right?
See...that idea is news to me. And I mean that in all earnestness...I've never quite understood the new breed of Photoshop jockeys, or those who are willing to use a cheap,low-end camera and to put up with its compromises only becasue they knoiw they can, LATER,create their images at the computer stage. I'd been happy to use the same four,old motorized Nikon bodies for the better part of a decade and a half,with nothing but routine service and needed repairs done on the same old stuff until the D1 came along and I figured I needed new camera bodies. Unlike the new Digital Adams populating the web, I never augmented my signature file with small photos of my entire line-up of lenses and bodies...I never filled out a dPreview profile with a list of gear a mile long, trying to build myself up via showing off a checklist filled in with the high-dollar,prestiege Nikkors...I don't have a cool "avatar" likeness of me with my 300/2.8 on a body...
I just want to do photography,but I now realize that photography as I knew it has been declared dead,and has been replaced by solid state imaging.Today's digital SLRs have been the among the very FIRST of their breed, while the 35mm motorized Nikons I grew up with were the product and evoluion of some fifty to fifty-five years of the development of the 35mm cameras,and about 20 years worth of Nikon-exclusive SLR development. The degree of refinement,perfection,and elan which Nikon 35mm film camera users have had since the late 1970's and early 1980's is still a few D-SLR model generations in the future.I'm not 100 percent happy with the state of D-SLR development and refinement in the lower-end bodies from Canon,Nikon,or Fuji,and have been very openly critical of camera body and camera control limitations. Because to me, photo-graphy is done at the camera stage more so than at the computer stage. To the prosumer and the Digital Adam, the image capturing stage is a passing thought, an "almost-good-enough-is-plenty-good" stage of the process. The value of highly-refined tools, camera and lens, is really of little concern to the new Digital Adam,who is willing to accept (buy and use) pretty crude tools in some cases,since much of his system involves imaging created or enhanced at the computer stage MORE so than at the image capture stage. The solid values of mechanical precision,optical excellence,and design excellence of the 35mm film camera era has been replaced by a black plastic, cheapie-bodied experience for many people.The Fuji S1 and S2 were so "plastic" it was simply a shock coming from old bodies like the FM, FE, FE-2,and F3 and the D1 to the all-plastic Fuji S1 Pro, and then the S2 Pro,since both those Fuji's were steps back to beginner bodies which I had never owned before. So many people were so enthralled at being able to make digital pictures that they were/are willing to overlook the mechanical shortcomings of inexpensive D-SLR cameras,and for them, this is the age of digital "imaging". Photo-graphy as I new it has,apparently, been declared dead. Wow....I never realized that.

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