Well it’s that time of year again, the season of consumerism and non stop spending. Which means the companies that make the photo gear we all use are getting ready to cash in as they’ve spent the last few months releasing their latest generation of pixel loaded, resolution driven toys that we all know and love.
My inbox is bombarded with press releases from companies telling me all about their new products all hoping that I’ll find them interesting enough to pass it along to you, I rarely do. But things really start to pick up in August, new cameras and flashes, new lens, new printers and software, all getting on the market in time for you to know about them for Christmas.
Technology has always moved fast, in the past we would talk about new film emulsions that were hitting the market or focus our attention on the improved auto focus that a certain camera may have or even the next enlarger released for your darkroom pleasure. We’ve always been presented with new things to buy to make us better photographers, as thought the equipment has anything to do with our own creativity. The difference is today we’re seeing the new technology appearing at an ever increasing rate, more pixels, high bit depth, better color…video! This cycle we’re in of ever changing and improving equipment is something that most of us have become accustoming to and got me thinking.
How good is good enough? I mean really, photographers are like kids, always wanting the newest toy to play with. If you belong to a camera club in your area, especially a professional camera club, then you know exactly what I mean. There is always at least one person who strolls into the meeting with the newest $8,000 camera that they’ll be using as a paper weight in about a year or so when his manufacture of choice releases their next $8,000 ego booster.
For as long as photography has been around, image quality has been almost entirely dependent on the material the image was captured on. In the past this material was film, a very inexpensive and infinitely upgradable material on the consumer end. When a new and better film was released, it worked in all cameras and thusly all cameras and photographers could benefit from it quickly and cheaply. Today however, we are trapped in a time when improved image quality is directly related to the camera. The image capture material is integrated into the camera and the only way to upgrade is to upgrade the entire system. This is great for camera manufacturers. Think of film photographers, many continue to use cameras that are decades old, heck until a couple months ago I used my trusty Mamiya M645 from the 70’s. Thirty years from know how many people do you think will be using their now new Nikon D7000? I’m guessing not too many if anyone at all.
For those that don’t know it I also do commercial work, portraits and wedding, editorial, etc. and until recently I created all that work with a Nikon D70 and a D70s, these cameras are about 8 or 9 years old, ancient by today’s standards, and since I bought them Nikon has released a number of other newer and “better” cameras. Now I’d be lying if I tried to tell you I wasn’t at all interested in all these newer camera and some of them I really thought about buying but when I sat down and really thought about whether or not I needed them the answer was always the same, not really. My D70’s continue to provide high enough quality for my uses, I can make a wonderful 30×40 portrait from one of their Raw image files, which is the largest size I offer so what’s the point. Part of the reason these cameras continue to meet my needs is the fact that for my subject matter, people, the software I have is able to interpolate skin tones very well. I realize that for many people their subjects may not consist of areas of mostly smooth, fairly solid toned areas and for them, particularly professionals making a living on their work, a more frequent upgrade may be a necessity, but for my own work it isn’t.
I have to be completely honest with you; I did recently break down and buy a Nikon D7000. I know, I know but the D7000 is a major advancement over the D70s and the image quality is good enough that I’m also creating my fine art images with it. The latter being the main reason I decided to upgrade, with film my timeline from image creation to finished print was measured in months and I wanted to be able to share my work in a much more timely manner. After doing an extensive amount of research and testing I’ve found that I can make beautiful 40 inch prints from the D7000 when paired with a sharp lens so I’ve started to retire my good old film camera. Before you start thinking I’m a hypocrite please remember that I passed on a number of upgraded cameras before going with the D7000 and I really do expect to be shooting with this camera for a number of years. Maybe the D10,000 will be in my future.
So the next time you see that newly released, high mega pixel beauty sitting in your local camera store and you reach for your credit card, take a moment and ask yourself “Do I really need this?” your answer may surprise you and besides, learning a new camera is a pain.