Why you should stop relying on your phone, and buy a nice camera
January 26, 2015 3:16 AM   Subscribe

Like beer and pop music, it was easy to make do with what’s cheap and available, only to look back on a life of Dave Matthews and Bud Light and wonder why I’d gotten by on “good enough.” Because I am aging, and because I have the memory of the original Tamagotchi, I am profoundly grateful to have these clear, high-resolution photos of the people I loved and love.

the photos from my 35mm camera — the ones that aren’t over or underexposed, of which there are admittedly dozens if not hundreds — are like hand-sized windows into my past. I can see details I’d forgotten in adulthood: the greasy bangs, the Sharpied backpacks, the "I can’t believe we ever looked like that" soft skin, and how even the most beautiful amongst us looked then like a child dressed as a 40-year-old.
posted by craniac (125 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't really get the point of this. We have more decent photos than ever in history (as well as just more photos). The article even admits that a smartphone will be good enough for most people, and better than what most people have ever had before. Hanging this "better cameras are better" piece off a comparison with smartphones seems kinda pointless.

Most of us are happy with our OK photos of people and memories we love. Given that 99% of viewings will be on Facebook anyway, worrying about quality seems pretty irrelevant.
posted by howfar at 3:30 AM on January 26, 2015 [17 favorites]


See also the argument about books vs. e-books. It's an interesting argument, very fertile terrain, emotionally charged. But in the end, the Venn diagram will have haters and lovers of both, as well as a fat middle of "whatevs".
posted by chavenet at 3:50 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


I started carrying a small camera again for situations where it's feasible - my phone can do the thing all right, but if I should need to zoom in on anything it's no good at all. Same for low light. I never know when I might have to take 300 emergency pictures of the moon and my phone just can't handle that.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:57 AM on January 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


I like the idea of having a nice camera, but I also agree with folks who say the best camera is the one you have with you.
posted by orme at 3:57 AM on January 26, 2015 [24 favorites]


Yes, what orme says. I was the guy in our crowd with the 35mm camera (a Minolta SR1) back in the early 1970's. Took lots of photos that I'm happy to have now. But frankly my old iTouch can take photos nearly as good.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:01 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a good camera. It doesn't fit in my pocket when I go for a hike, though, and it weighs a few pounds which is weight I don't want in my backpack.

My phone, on the other hand, does fit, and also gives me time, maps, and when there's signal it gives me the ability to communicate. So there's that.
posted by azpenguin at 4:08 AM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I actually don't place much, if any, value on the quality of photos of my loved ones. My sister-in-law sends me photos of my niece periodically, and I love them, and some of my favourites are a bit blurry or a bit grainy. Making them not blurry or not grainy wouldn't really change that about them, because what I love is the expression on her face or the silly thing she's doing or just the fact that it's a picture of her. Technical quality of the photograph is so far from the issue as to be irrelevant.

I'm not saying that everyone should be taking the shittiest photos possible with their iPad, but my while my Samsung Galaxy Note might not take better pictures than a recent dSLR, it takes substantially better pictures than any real camera I've ever owned in my life. I also don't want to compose my shots and adjust the aperture, et al. I just want to take the shot and get back to doing whatever cool thing prompted me to want to take it in the first place.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:18 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Meh.

I have a NEX 6, and a couple nice lenses. I used to have a big canon rig with a 17-50 2.8 zoom and all that jazz. I also have an iphone 6.

I think we're one iphone generation away from any photo viewed on a screen smaller than an HDTV being distinguishable. You get full manual control now, the low light performance is frankly ridiculous. The autofocus is faster.

I'd also put the photos from my iphone up against any of the crappy drug store prints of my childhood and adolescence my parents took. Sure, if i could get the negatives(which probably don't exist anymore) and use my coworkers kabillion dollar film scanner i could probably squeak more quality out of them. But as it is, the phone photos look worlds better than the old glossy, blurry film prints made by some guy baked out of his gourd*.

The quality argument is falling apart. The last big holdout is different focal lengths or zoom, and rumors are saying they're on that one. The biggest thing for me though, is how good photos look straight out of the camera. You can edit them, and there's powerful tools to do that right on the phone. But with each phone, i feel the need to do that less and less often.

There's also the whole camera that's with you thing. I don't even go to the freaking bathroom without grabbing my phone. Its with me 24/7 everywhere, even if i'm asleep. See an opportunity for a cool photo in some random circumstance? go for it.

These photos are from all the previous iphones. My adventure with the 6 has just begun, and it's WAY more capable. High contrast close up with flash and reflective things? sure. Challenging lighting and low light? we got you(look at the water! this was taken at like midnight in moonlight!). extremely wide dynamic range situations with super bright lights and poorly lit stuff? a solid outing. Overcast daytime stuff that still manages to have great colors, and just lush detail? ok. Shockingly good macro that looks like it came out of my old canon and a nice lens? BAM. And that's from an iphone four.(at most 4s, which i may or may not have bought at that point). Cool atmospheric night time stuff? uhuh**.

There was a dearth of landscape-type shots in my folders of photos, but that's an operator error issue... not a lack of capability.

I'd rather get print-quality photos i'll look back on fondly for years, of great memories than not get them. And that's not even getting in to the fact that my mirrorless camera is delicate, finnicky, and just generally an extra thing to think about and deal with. Now, even in instances where i'm like "yea i'm gonna take photos" i don't always bring my Big Camera. It's also worth noting that every time, every time my phone is faster at actually taking a picture that's in focus and "good". If i can sit down and lock the focus and bla bla the NEX will win by a noticeable but not huge margin in most situations. But by the time i've done that, i can shoot several compositions and exposures, essentially "bracketing" with my iphone. yawn.

Real Cameras are increasingly becoming trucks, or vans. They have specific jobs that very few people actually need them for. A lot of people think they need a truck or a van, when they really just need a station wagon to stretch the hell out of this analogy.

Pretty much, ooooook dad.

*i used to live with a guy who had done this for years, dude was as high as snoop dog 24/7 back then. and often on other stuff too, and/or drunk. so was everyone else who did the film. it's like being a pizza delivery driver who never has to do any actual driving. If photo processing machines were nuclear powered, we would have had many three mile islands in this nations history.

**this was literally a barrel of burning sludgy liquid feces. the police made me put it out.

posted by emptythought at 4:21 AM on January 26, 2015 [24 favorites]


Meh, iPhone camera is still better than those disposal cameras, or my first digital camera.
posted by discopolo at 4:22 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feared that if we stuck with iPhones for casual photography, then the best moments of the rest of our life would look like fuzzy adver-porn shot by Terry Richardson.

They look like that inside your head anyway.

I felt exactly like the author of this piece a year ago, but mainly because I still find that smartphones want to pause for a little thinky-time before they take a photo for some reason. If a camera does not capture the image at the precise moment you press the shutter release button (or as near as a human can tell) then that thing is a camera-like object but not a camera.

Having said that, I now have an entry-level Nikon DSLR gathering dust after being used for maybe a dozen times. You can't get the genie back in the bottle now that we all walk around with camera-like objects in our pockets.
posted by colie at 4:26 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is why I always bring a large-format collodion wet plate process camera and portable darkroom to parties
posted by oulipian at 4:31 AM on January 26, 2015 [46 favorites]


mainly because I still find that smartphones want to pause for a little thinky-time before they take a photo for some reason.


Some smartphones do this. Part of the reason i sold my LG G3 was this dumbness. however, no iphone since 2012 has had this issue. even in pitch black darkness, in which the only object a camera can even capture is my laptops dim screen, there is no perceptible delay when i tap the shutter button on my phone. even if i mash it really quickly, i'll just end up with 30 boring photos of my screen(in focus!)

It is indeed an infuriating thing, but it's no longer a real issue depending on what phone you buy.
posted by emptythought at 4:32 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've been wanting to learn to use a real camera for decades and finally asked for a Sony NEX-6 for my fiftieth birthday last year and it really is a much better camera than any phone but there's a much steeper learning curve on how to really take advantage of its capabilities. I struggled with it over the summer and then enrolled in a photography college class at the local film school and started taking pretty great pictures and am having a wonderful time playing with the camera and annoying my Facebook and G+ friends with artsy photos.

That said, you can take good enough pictures with any modern phone and that's all most people want or need. Most people don't give a crap about depth-of-field or white balance or whatever and just want to document the moment.
posted by octothorpe at 4:34 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I never know when I might have to take 300 emergency pictures of the moon and my phone just can't handle that.

If you're taking emergency pictures of the moon, we are probably just shy of the point where there won't be anyone left to like them on Instagram.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:35 AM on January 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


I also don't want to compose my shots and adjust the aperture, et al.

One of these things is not like the other.
posted by fairmettle at 4:42 AM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


My teen daughter has started messing around with my old Polaroid 690, for which film is available again. She obviously does phone Instagram for selfies and all the usual stuff, but kids look at old-tech photography as something in a whole different category. The noise the 690 makes when you press the button and it chucks out the photo is incredible.
posted by colie at 4:42 AM on January 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


mainly because I still find that smartphones want to pause for a little thinky-time before they take a photo for some reason.

Yet another one of the subtle ways in which the iPhone just works.
posted by fairmettle at 4:45 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's both more and less here than initially meets the eye. "Better" and "worse" are not objective, single-factor qualities in a camera. iPhone cameras are excellent in many ways, but they lack some qualities of other, more technically capable cameras.

What does this mean for the average person? Not necessarily anything inherently negative. iPhone cameras are excellent given the circumstances, and they have the added advantage of always being on your person. iPhone photos can look good when printed at 5x7, and that's that.

But, there is still something to be said for casual snaps taken with the bigger guns. When printed, the differences can be quite striking. I recently went abroad so that my son could meet his great-grandparents. I almost always lugged around my DSLR. I am so, so glad that I relied on it much more than my smartphone - just as I am also glad that I brought my smartphone. The DSLR pictures are quite obviously better, especially in low light. Great-grandpa and great-grandma do not have to be blurry digital blobs, nor do we have to have flash blasted in everybody's faces.

...

As for Terry Richardson: he is a disgusting creep, but his photos are IMHO quite fine for what they are supposed to be. (Sidenote: IIRC, he uses a Panasonic GF2 with the kit lens.) In terms of talking about bad photographers, I'm not sure why he should be the exemplar: he's a shitbird for reasons outside of his actual photography.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:47 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have never been the guy to take family or party photos. I still can't get it together to take pictures with my phone, and it's a brand new phone with a really good camera (One+ 1). Like Emptythought, I have a Nex 6 (well an a6000, same camera). That's what I take photos with. I've been waiting for the day I could carry around a small camera and a handfull of lenses and get all the shots I want.
It has arrived, I love this little thing. When the day comes I feel I need full frame, I'll probably go with an a7. That day is not yet here.
Take pictures with your phone. You're at least getting pictures.
There are lots of options on small really great cameras though when you're ready to move up.
posted by evilDoug at 4:51 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm stoked about full-frame digital cameras. This is the future. There have been some in the past but they were very costly and large pro SLRs. There are now consumer models with smaller bodies and lesser price. They are still not cheap (around 2k for kit) but within a few years they will be more affordable. You hardly need a flash since the sensor is so large and image quality is amazing. After full-frame becomes standard, I guess medium format sensors in a compact size will be the holy grail.
posted by stbalbach at 4:55 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just carry around plaster of Paris and bandages to do a live casting of your loved ones. You can then fill the molds for three dimensional representations of a moment in time.

And don't just fill them with whatever epoxy or concrete is handy. Go for something fun. Chocolate or marshmallow is nice.

It worked for Pompeii.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:58 AM on January 26, 2015 [11 favorites]


I mostly miss optical zoom when I use my phone camera. Then sensitivity in low light. Other than that, I don't see much point, and I always found point and shoot digital cameras (I can't justify the cost of an SLR) are annoying to keep supplied with charged and ready batteries.

Maybe the newer cameras are better, since a lot of them have included rechargeable batteries like smartphones.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:03 AM on January 26, 2015


"For now, I’ve limited my storage to a 16GB SD card. The small amount of space forces me to dump photos onto the hard drive once a week or so."

and

"After harvesting the good stuff, I compile the truly precious photos into a desktop folder, which I’ll eventually have printed into a book."

This guy just likes doing things the hard way. Which is fine. (Why a folder on your desktop? You can't make an album in Picassa / iPhoto / Aperture / etc?)

I love my DSLR - it years old at this point, but still takes great photos. I like to take it out around town once in a while when I have time to kill. I'm really glad I took it on my last trip to NYC. And I can definitely squeeze a better picture out of it, on average, than I can with my aging iPhone. But wow, this argument is 4 years out of date.

The cameras (and the software) inside of your smartphone are optimized for the very common use case of taking photos of your family and friends right now. They're great at it. And they fit in your pocket and hold a charge all day long. They also can conveniently back up your photos on the internet. Oh you can print them too if you want.

This article should have been posted on vinyl.

I've enjoyed playing with this app "Manual" for iPhone. It gives you direct control over focus, exposure, white balance and what not. If you're feeling arty you can get arty without lugging a lot of gear around.
posted by device55 at 5:13 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Get nice versions of the things you care about having nice versions of. For some people, that's cameras. For me, that's yarn, cheese, and workout clothes. That's all there is to it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:28 AM on January 26, 2015 [25 favorites]


Most people might not care, but for those who do, depth of field and control over aperture and speed makes all the difference in the world.
posted by signal at 5:48 AM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yet another one of the subtle ways in which the iPhone just works.

Yeah, for those of you who haven't experienced the camera on the 6+, it's really amazing. I've taken quick shots of my 3 year old son, who is a whirling dervish of motion, and they've come out clear.

Of course a good DSLR is still going to be better, but as has been stated upthread, the best camera is the one you have with you. There are moments in my son's life that would have been impossible to capture if I'd had to jump up and go fetch the "good" camera.

The only people I know who lug around a big DSLR are already photography nuts.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:57 AM on January 26, 2015


I just got a new ZS40, a point-and-shoot from Panasonic. (About which I got great feedback on AskMe; thanks, everyone!)

The reason I am willing to tote it around besides my iPhone came to me as a revalation recently when I looked at the negatives from my old Kodak 4000 Disc Camera. This item puts the lie to "the best camera is the one you have with you" (which I still say all the time). In a word, the images suck. The negatives are the size of a baby's fingernail, and the camera's pollen-size lens means they are grainy and fuzzy, even when taken in good light outdoors on a clear summer day.

Am I glad I captured that moment? I guess, but my aging eyes and fading memory rely on cameras to add details, not make things even hazier.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:02 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


(That sounds a little fighty on re-read; I just want to make the point that the improvements across the board in the past few years have made every camera better than most cameras from back then, and that some compromises are just terrible.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:05 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some people get by just having vague low resolution opinions about what other people should do others prefer to be way more specific.
posted by srboisvert at 6:05 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


the photos from my 35mm camera — the ones that aren’t over or underexposed, of which there are admittedly dozens if not hundreds — are like hand-sized windows into my past.

For many people, photography or its attendant gear are the furthest thing from their minds, but they still want to take the occasional photo (less occasionally these days, now that the camera is always with them). The current generation of smartphones take photos that are, by orders of magnitude, far better than anything they would have gotten out of the consumer 35mm point and shoot film camera that they would have purchased (and been happy with) for the purpose "back in the day."

I love my DSLR, but what works for you, just works. And the stuff these these days, camera phones, point-and-shoots, mirrorless and SLRs, works pretty damn good. It's an embarrassment of riches.

I'm endlessly amused by the various filters people apply to make what's otherwise a very decent phone photo look like a badly overexposed Polaroid. It's almost like they're saying "but this picture is TOO good...let's dial up the suck by 10 per cent or so." But hey, to each their own.

And yeah, the phone's usually close at hand, and not in a cupboard somewhere.

Just carry around plaster of Paris and bandages to do a live casting of your loved ones.

Meh. We just have them bronzed.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:08 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a camera supposed to launch recently that took in far more light/depth of field information than is visible normally in a single shot, and then you would be able to manipulate the image using it afterwards? Or did I dream that?
posted by colie at 6:12 AM on January 26, 2015


I read this article this morning, and was surprised by the force of the pushback in the comments (and the comments on Metafilter here as well). I don't think he's saying anything very provocative, but people seem to be interpreting it as provocation. It's an argument for a high-quality camera, not that you're an inferior entity if you aren't interest in having one (or prefer the conveniences of a phone camera).

It's not that big a deal to carry an SLR. The best camera is the one you have with you, but it's not a big hassle to arrange for that to be a camera. But only if you want to, of course! Not everybody has to.

I'm fascinated by comments like rmmclay's above:
I was the guy in our crowd with the 35mm camera (a Minolta SR1) back in the early 1970's. Took lots of photos that I'm happy to have now. But frankly my old iTouch can take photos nearly as good.

It's something that comes up in the comments on the article as well. "Nearly as good." We've gotten very used to that measure in our digital media. Music fidelity, photo and film resolution. It's so strange that we consider it an achievement to have a (not inexpensive) camera that's "nearly as good" as the ones we used forty years ago.
posted by distorte at 6:17 AM on January 26, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think people are reacting in negative ways to the article's headline (and the title of this Metafilter post), which includes the words "you should." People do not like to be told they're doin it wrong.

But it's worth noting that the headline was almost certainly not written by the article's author -- and the article itself does not include the words "you should." In fact, this is the closest it gets to recommending a course of action: "I do suspect there are people like me who unwittingly forgot the pleasure of good photography because their phone made things easier and it captured images well enough."
posted by Mothlight at 6:28 AM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


The best camera in the world is the one you have with you. And that pretty much sums up why phone cameras have become the default. That being said, what the writer says is correct. The larger sensor size in DSLRs is what gives you great quality (and the ability to make big prints, when you get a real keeper). Also phone gives you optical zoom, but not a real change in focal lengths like an interchangable lens camera does.

That being said, I'd like to put in a good word for a DSLR brand that you probably haven't even considered: Pentax. Pentax DSLRs have one huge advantage over the other manufacturers, particularly if you are not made of money: Their DSLRs are backwards compatible with lenses back to the beginning of time. (Slight exaggeration). I can pop on a Pentax K-mount manual focus lens from the late 70s and have accurate metering with the push of one button. With a small adapter I can use great screw mount lenses from earlier than that. (You should feel the buttery smoothness of focusing a built-like-a-tank Takumar lens.) You can build a whole arsenal of lenses for the price of a single new AF lens. If you want AF, well you can put on Pentax AF lenses from the 80s-on also. Pentax also has in-body image stabilization, meaning that you can have image stabilization with any of those older lenses you put on also. No need to pay for image stabilization over-and-over with each new lens. If you like to check out what a particular lens is capable of you can see example taken with that lens on Flickr by checking out the Flickriver Pentax Lenses page. (You can do the same thing at the Pentax Photo Gallery by clicking the cameras and lenses link at the top right. Choose a lens and hit "Go". (No affiliation, just a very happy user.)

Phones cameras are fine for Instagram and Facebook (and other web use) but the writer is correct. For the important images in your life, you can do a lot better.
posted by spock at 6:28 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just, please. Turn the flash off.

I'm really not a photo snob. I've drastically dialed back the amount of photography that I do, largely because I don't want to be "that asshole with the camera at the party," but also because I've got a "good enough" camera in my pocket, don't want to bother carrying around the full DSLR rig, and because there's a pretty good chance that somebody else is already documenting whatever it is that I'm doing.

Good photos are the ones that are important to you. The quality of the photo does not need to correlate to the quality of the memory.

With that out of the way: Bad flash photography is still like nails on a chalkboard to me. Nobody looks good with a tiny flash pointed at their face. Use a big, powerful flash (indirect if you can!), or find a better way to compose your shot with the available light in the scene. For me, this is still the biggest drawback of compact photography -- contrary to some of the comments above, I don't think that most phones or compact cameras have very good low-light performance.

Also, try to give a damn. This also sounds snobby, but I swear that it's not -- it only takes a few seconds to think about the composition of a shot. I'm currently shopping for furniture on Craigslist, and still can't figure out what the hell half of these people were thinking when they photographed their old furniture. If you're taking a photo of the front of a dresser, make sure that you can clearly see the front of the dresser.
posted by schmod at 6:29 AM on January 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


A friend's father recently died. I'm at the age where that starts happening a lot. Anyway, friend noted that his father left behind thousands of slides, without any narrative. If they'd talked about those pictures before his father died, they might be worth something. As is, there are probably a few gems in the chaff, but the collection as a whole is just taking space.

I recently sold my DSLR and lenses and such. The body was aging, the glass was still really nice, but there was little to no chance of me bothering to upgrade that body. And I've let my point-n-shoots die in favor of my cell phone camera.

The act of being a "photographer" rather than grabbing snapshots removes me from the scene. The camera is big and heavy and intrusive. Rare is the location that hasn't been photographed by people who have taken the time to stake out that scene for the perfect light. What matters more than the place is the memory of who I was sharing that place with...

... and, I've got thousands and thousands of well composed shots that I could either spend time organizing or reminiscing over, or I could be going out and having new amazing experiences.

And if you look at the pictures that accompany that article? Yeah, buy a couple of postcards or the inevitable tour book. Slap that in a closet. Half a century from now when your heirs are loading stuff from your house into the dumpster, they'll say "oh, [parent] went to [place] that one time..."

Or take a few pixellated shots of people doing stuff and find a way to share the experiences.
posted by straw at 6:46 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a good camera.

The best camera is the one you have with you when you see the shot happening.

The current gen iPhone cameras are exceptional. You do you flexibility and the flash isn't very good (hard given that it's less than a cm from the aperture) but I've gotten a lot of good pictures because I had the 5s in the pocket in a situation where I wouldn't have had the DSLR.

Nobody looks good with a tiny flash pointed at their face.

There's exactly one time to use a direct flash -- when your subject is strongly backlit. Ideally, you make sure that this doesn't happen, but you take the shots you see.
posted by eriko at 6:49 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's two things that make a photo crappy (or good): the quality of the equipment and the skills of the photographer.

It's true that a good camera is still (and probably will always be) a better piece of equipment than a phone, primarily because of the lenses. No matter how many pixels they squeeze onto the ccd in the back of your phone, the tiny-ass lens just doesn't hold up to having well-ground glass in front of it.

But the biggest difference between those crappy old photos that your parents or grandparents took, and the photos you and your children take is that everyone is now taking pictures all the damn time -- and sharing them with everyone else! So we're all basically taking a long master-class in framing, lighting, filters (or #nofilters) etc.

I have sixteen rolls of film my grandfather shot when my dad was growing up, representing about ten years worth of photos: One roll would cover Christmas, Easter, and birthdays for him and his seven siblings. If Christmas came out blurry? Too bad.

Smart phones have Pretty Good Cameras. But who cares? We're all taking much, much better pictures, which is far more important.
posted by heyitsgogi at 6:52 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


My hands just aren't steady enough to take non-blurry photos with my phone in anything other than exceptional light, so I need a heavier, better camera.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:58 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I hit an online deal on one of the newish micro 4/3ds cameras thinking it'd be small (was the smallest) and I'd get a fast "pancake" lens so that it'd actually fit in a pocket and real no flash photos would be practical. Camera is really great but when I went looking for a lens, eek, $4-700 was way outside my budget. But a real camera still makes sense for edge conditions, underwater, long zooms, ultra close (flower) closeups, fast moving sports.
posted by sammyo at 6:58 AM on January 26, 2015


I've got a nice Canon SLR up in the closet somewhere, but I wouldn't even know where to get the film developed since my favorite shop went out of business a few years ago. I also have a few digital point and shoots, now ranging from "not nearly as good as my iPhone" to "just marginally better." But what I like most about the smartphone camera is that I don't feel like a tourist when I take a picture.
posted by malocchio at 7:17 AM on January 26, 2015


I have a great camera with great lenses. I have an iPhone. I have a small child.

Sometimes I "schedule" actual photo shoots of her so I can have some high quality pictures but 99.9% of the time I take pictures with my phone, because it's my phone that I have in my pocket and not my camera when she crawls over and tries to drink out of the cat bowl.

Look, photography is awesome. I love it, I wish I had more time to do it. But there's photography as art and photography as mementos and only one of them (arguably) requires an actual camera.
posted by lydhre at 7:20 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've purchased 2 cameras in the last 10 years in the hopes of being an incredible photographer. A Nikon SLR, and a compact Sony that cost somewhere north of $600. I've taken a handful of really exceptional images on both of them, but probably in excess of 5-600 truly memorable images on my iPhone. The iPhone captures what I expect and hope to see in the final image 90% of the time, and what little I don't get can be added with a little simple post-processing in Snapseed. With the Nikon or Sony, my success rate was closer to 20%, maybe 40% if I had time to really set up the shot.

This debate reminds me of the early days of CD's v. Vinyl, and more recently hearing Neil Young tell me I need a PONO player to really hear true quality digital music. My pictures from childhood are as grainy as moon landing stills and yet they convey such meaning. My current pictures from trips taken far away or just downtown for pizza with my girls are no different. I doubt they'll ever hang in a museum, but as I get older, looking at them drift across my screen brings me great joy. And they never would have existed if I had to remember to stuff a camera in my jacket at the last minute, or god forbid something as big and unwieldy as a small appliance.
posted by docpops at 7:30 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


The best camera is the one you have with you

Interestingly, there's a similar maxim in the amateur astronomy community, which goes like this: The best telescope is the one you actually set up. There's a lot of fun discussion about computerized drives and Barlow lenses and equatorial mounts and so on, but in the end, the most expensive amateur telescope in the world can't grab a single photon if it's still stuck in your garage because you don't want to haul out the 30-pound tripod and hunt for the extension cord.

The party-line advice for newbie astronomers asking what to buy is to direct them towards a nice pair of binoculars or something like this which I have and which I can set up on a picnic table and use to look at the rings of Saturn in about 20 seconds.

So yeah, use what you have on you already.
posted by math at 7:31 AM on January 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


straw: "I've got thousands and thousands of well composed shots that I could either spend time organizing or reminiscing over, or I could be going out and having new amazing experiences."

My husband has a DSLR and likes to take Photos (as opposed to me and my snapshots). My kid's school had a project where they had to bring in a photo of them at their favorite park. After a quick glance through facebook and my own photo folder, I couldn't find one of his FAVORITE park, so I sent one of his SECOND favorite park to the printer. My husband was like, "Why didn't you look on my computer? I have 10,000 photos on my hard drive!"

"Uh ... because you have 10,000 photos on your hard drive, dude."

Also, sidenote, my children now own an indestructable digital camera for kids that is better than the first digital camera I owned. It cost like $30. My first digital camera probably cost $300. Theirs can add hotdogs to people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:41 AM on January 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's weird because I'm at a point where I think the next 'nice camera' that I buy will be one that also happens to be a phone (I'll be posting to askme later for recommendations). I've been shooting for over a decade with my trust DSLR as my only camera and while I've picked up new lenses along the way there's really no reason to upgrade the camera itself to the next year's (or decade's) model because 'if it ain't broke'... but now as part of an ongoing project of mine I'm realizing that my requirements for my next camera purchase are 1. can encode GPS coordinates in my photo's EXIF and 2. is the kind of camera that I can always have with me and the best cameras for those use cases are called smartphones. I'll still probably lug my DLSR and lenses to most of the places that I go to when taking pictures is my intended activity but even there I think I'll still shoot some with the phone because it lets me to do things that the DSLR can't like establish GPS coords for the shoot and allows me to get something posted to my tumblr immediately rather than waiting until I finally remember to download-sort-upload at home.

I know my experience doesn't match that of most people but it's worth keeping in mind that while the author and others may look at their iPhone pics and wish that it was sharper or had prettier bokeh that when I look back at mine I feel something very similar but I wish I had the latitude and longitude or that I had posted the photo right after it was taken instead of a month later because to me, and for the kind of photos I take, contextualizing the photo with time and location are important parts of what makes that photo special.
posted by metaphorever at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2015


I once got a "simple" point and shoot digital camera. It was totally beyond me, mostly because I didn't care about photography, only getting a nice photograph. And all the pictures I took with it were terrible. My Iphone camera? Take 20 pix of whatever, one comes out looking good. Now I am happy.
posted by k8oglyph at 7:46 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Theirs can add hotdogs to people.


Egads, no human should have that much power.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:04 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


This Camera is the Best

The best camera
Is the one you have with you.

The best camera
Is the one you have with you.

The best camera
Is the one you have with you
When you see the shot happening.

The best camera in the world
Is the one you have with you.
And that pretty much sums up
Why phone cameras
Have become the default.

This item puts the lie to
"The best camera is the one you have with you"
Which I still say all the time.

The best camera is the one you have with you,
But it's not a big hassle to arrange for that to be
A camera.
posted by rory at 8:29 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you have been scanning year-after-year of family memories off of 110 film instead of 35mm the experience might be a little blurrier.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:33 AM on January 26, 2015


(rory, your post made me do this.)

This Is Just To Say

I have used
the cameraphone
that was in
my pocket

and which
you were probably
going to tell me to ignore
in favor of a fragile, complicated DSLR with external flash and diffuser

Forgive me
they were ridiculous
so awkward
and so clumsy
posted by wenestvedt at 8:34 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


jacquilynne: I actually don't place much, if any, value on the quality of photos of my loved ones. My sister-in-law sends me photos of my niece periodically, and I love them, and some of my favourites are a bit blurry or a bit grainy. Making them not blurry or not grainy wouldn't really change that about them, because what I love is the expression on her face or the silly thing she's doing or just the fact that it's a picture of her. Technical quality of the photograph is so far from the issue as to be irrelevant.

Semi-related: Understanding the Impact of Video Quality on User Engagement (PDF of the full report); image quality (and lag) isn't as critical when the viewer is engaged. I imagine this is different for still images because you can sit there and gaze at all the details (the greasy hair, the sharpie on the backpack), but that's probably not the majority of photo viewers. I imagine that most people see a photo of a familiar moment and recall more details than could be captured in the photo - the feelings of being in that particular time, the people who were there, the conversations that were had, the experiences lived. Photos are just a screenshot of life, an incomplete record of a fleeting moment, in some cases capturing the wrong thing, but bringing back more memories of that moment in context.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


negatives from my old Kodak 4000 Disc Camera.

Yeah, the photos from our old 35mm camera are great, but the phone camera equivalent back in the 70s wasn't a 30mm but instamatic 126 or 110 type rigs.

We have boxes of old photos from the 35mm and the instamatic. The 35mm photos are wonderful but the instamatic photos are el-shitzo. Shakey, blurry, grainy. Very low resolution. Worse than the worst phone camera photo in every way.
posted by flug at 8:41 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


All that said, I rather despise my crappy original Droid camera, except when it produces accidentally interesting photos. Too often, the color balance is terrible, and I don't even know where to start trying to regain some normal color tones, besides manually adjusting individual regions of a photo. It reminds me to carry a halfway-decent camera more often. Still, I have taken over a thousand photos with my phone in four years, some of which I really like.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:48 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


All I wish is that someone who makes android phones could figure out how to get their collective thumbs out of their asses and put a camera on a phone that is at the level of iphones.

Seriously guys, just step up your game.
posted by Ferreous at 8:57 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there's a major difference between smart phone photos and "real" cameras that is not mentioned here: mindset.

It has been my observation that people with camera phones press the camera icon, hold it up for maybe a second, press the button, and...done! Most don't even review the shot.

Those with a "real" camera tend to really look at a scene, fiddle with settings, compose carefully, and fire off a few shots and then review intently.

I surmise the second method is going to result in "better" photos. The former take snapshots; the latter take photographs.

Note: agreed about the filters on many cameras and processing applications; many make the photo look like it was shot through dirty cheesecloth or at the red light district. There's even one called "Grunge."

Note: Every time I see a football game and constant sparkly flashes up in the stands (thousands of them), I think, "Yep, those are all people who set their point-and-shoots on "Auto" and have no idea how to use their cameras. Are they thinking that little flash is gonna light up the things down on the field (instead of the back of the head of the people directly in front of them)?
posted by CrowGoat at 8:57 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Semi-related: Understanding the Impact of Video Quality on User Engagement

Yes! I work closely with our social media coordinator, and it absolutely kills me sometimes when her instagrammed shot of a hand holding a product over a cluttery desk gets twice as many likes as a high-quality product shot I took with our nice pretty camera and lens. I'll travel out of my way to find the perfect backdrop for the product, and then carefully edit and color correct, but does it matter? Not always. Sometimes, our customers just respond better to the personal intimacy of a kinda crappy phone picture; I think it seems more authentic and less like advertising.
posted by redsparkler at 9:02 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a world of smaller cameras like the A6000 mentioned earlier and micro four thirds stuff by Olympus and Panasonic that will fit in a large pocket and take DSLR quality photos. If you buy something a few years old you'll pay about 1/3 of the cost of the Fuji X100T mentioned by the author and get comparable results, in my opinion.
posted by craniac at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2015


There are apps for doing more advanced photo things. Camera FV-5 is good for actually setting things like ISO, exposure time, etc for phone cameras. Those things though have always been out of the range of most camera users, even going back to dedicated digital cameras and film.

Most everyone is point and shooting now and they were doing the same before.
posted by Ferreous at 9:04 AM on January 26, 2015


Are all you people extolling the iPhone's camera aware that there are (1) other smartphones, and (2) other smartphones with even better cameras?

I just got the Denim update for my Lumia 1520 with the new camera firmware and it runs circles around every other phone camera. Blew my friend's iPhone 6+ out of the water, and as to the 6 or any iPhone before it- they don't have OIS. Worthless. Every Nokia WP with PureView has had OIS since the 920.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:13 AM on January 26, 2015


From TFA

The camera has a permanent fixed lens, meaning I can’t replace its lens with another lens. This is okay because I never learned to use lenses in high school and also because photography is expensive, and if I get in the habit of buying lenses, I will blow through my salary like the candles on a birthday cake.

LOL that's why I finally sold my Hasselblad. I mostly used my 35mm camera with a 70-210mm zoom. The Hasselblad equivalent was the Schneider Variogon 140-280mm zoom, which was insanely expensive, something like $2500. That is equivalent to about $11,000 in 2014 dollars, although you can buy a used one today for $2500. If this lens was anything other than Hasselblad kit, it would be worth $25. That's kind of what happened to my Hasselblad, I paid like $2k for the whole rig and sold it for $2k ten years later. But it was frustrating to just have the 80mm standard lens. Even my photo professors said the Hasselblad ruined me, I used to work around a subject, moving the camera around until I found the right angle. But I mostly used the Hasselblad on a tripod, with manual metering. It was like moving to a view camera. And I carried that rig (including tripod) everywhere I went. Even today, 40 years later, my left shoulder is lower than the right, from the weight of carrying that camera bag.

But the photos I took with my Hasselblad when I was a kid in art school, I'm still using them today. Over the years, I used them at my professional jobs in prepress, demonstrating the resolution of our high end drum scanners and what they could do with a really high quality 120mm color transparency. And then I used those scans to show the quality of our 1st-gen Iris inkjets. Now I occasionally make gum bichromate prints from those same files, to demonstrate the unique quality of my printing process. I am getting bored of those old photos, but I know their technical qualities in extreme detail. And when I look at the photos, I can still remember taking them, and can visualize everything around me at that moment.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:21 AM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, but you have to use windows phone.
posted by Ferreous at 9:29 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


All the manual controls in the world are useless if your camera is unusable above ISO200 and has no perceptible depth of field.

You can also take extremely good photos with an iPhone by taking a moment to compose the shot, and poking the screen until everything looks good. You just need to take the (5 seconds of) effort.

Technical acumen is extremely overrated when it comes to photography. It's good to have, but you can be a very good photographer without it. Instagram works well, not because of the shitty filters, but because the selection and application of those shitty filters makes you (briefly) think about the photo that you just took.
posted by schmod at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


colie: Wasn't there a camera supposed to launch recently that took in far more light/depth of field information than is visible normally in a single shot, and then you would be able to manipulate the image using it afterwards? Or did I dream that?
Yes, and it takes advantage of long-known optical principles (basically, it's holographic), and is likely to remain a very-high-end piece of technical curiosity.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:35 AM on January 26, 2015


This is why I always bring a large-format collodion wet plate process camera and portable darkroom to parties.

Some of my favorite portraits are ones I've taken at parties at my house, with a large format camera and a polaroid film back. They are not something that could have been taken with a phone's camera.

...that being said, yes, the best camera is the one you have with you - but it would behoove people to learn how to use it well (it doesn't take much searching to find good advice that is easy to follow).
posted by combinatorial explosion at 9:36 AM on January 26, 2015


I haven't read the article or comments here yet, but I'd just like to point out: The best camera is the one you have with you.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


If one more person says the best camera is the one you have with you, I'm gonna put their head through that window.
posted by The World Famous at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


CrowGoat: I absolutely agree with you about your general point that mindset and intention being one of the the most important, and most often overlooked, aspects of good photography. A careless shot will only look good by accident but even a moment of consideration to framing, composition or just thinking about what you are taking a picture of and why can do a lot to make a generic photo into a good photo. But, dammit, the fight against obsessively reviewing photos right after you take them is a hill I'm willing to die on. I'm not saying it doesn't have it's place. I will check that my exposure is set where I want it, or if I'm in a situation where I have to be sure that I got the shot because setting it up again would be a hassle or if the subject wants to verify that the shots I took make them look good but 99% of the time reviewing photos just takes you out of the moment and makes you miss the next shot. It doesn't matter whether you're shooting with a phone or a DSLR if you are looking at a screen you aren't actually taking any photos at all. Those posed family photos will still be there when you get home to review and cull but that moment right after the posed shoot where everyone is hanging out and wearing their real genuine smiles instead of the posed ones, you only have one chance to capture that and it would be a shame to waste it looking at a screen.
posted by metaphorever at 9:46 AM on January 26, 2015


Having thought about this a lot, I actually recently picked up a point and shoot (a used Canon s100).

One thing to consider is that the bit about compromise devices. Yes, they'll eventually (might already be) good enough - but an off contract iPhone 6 Plus is like 700-800 USD. Plus it's a silly size, plus you might not care for iOS. The Canon s100 was released 4 years ago and is like ~120 USD now - and probably still a more capable camera. Since MeFi likes to argue - you can do the comparison yourself here or on flickr or read a comparison someone else did here. Even a 6 Plus won't keep up with a Sony RX100 mk whatever, or a Panasonic 4/3rds format. That gap will likely continue to exist at least to some degree because while cameraphones are evolving, so are cameras.

But whatever works for you - for most that's their phone. I agree with the author in that I found something missing with cameraphone's shots.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2015


If one more person says the best camera is the one you have with you, I'm gonna put their head through that window.

In any case, surely the very bestest camera is the one your talented photo enthusiast friend has with him or her.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


The best comment is the one that leaves with you.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:04 AM on January 26, 2015


If one more person says the best camera is the one you have with you, I'm gonna put their head through that window.

Yeah, I got sick of that crap way back in art school. They used to say that a great photographer could make great photographs even with a crappy camera. And some students deliberately sought out crappy cameras and crappy processes to prove that point. What a waste of effort (and more rarely, a waste of talent).

But this idea of "the camera you have with you" is stupid. That's not photography, that's photojournalism. It is the difference between taking pictures, and seeing photographs. Photojournalism is keeping a camera available just in case something happens that is visually striking or an important event. It is the hope for a once-in-a-lifetime shot. That rarely happens. Photographers sometimes talk about "the decisive moment" but this isn't an expectation of a decisive moment presenting itself, and you happen to have a camera ready. This is the result of an artist who can see photographs and make photographs. Even the mundane can become high art in the hands of an artist. But photojournalism is merely bearing witness to an event. Even a technically crappy photo can be a Pulitzer Prize winner if the moment is significant enough. And in our personal lives, those significant moments may be meaningless to others, and thus the photographs are dull to anyone but ourselves. But photography is an art because the photographer has learned his process in such detail that he knows the entire range of possibilities that the camera technology can offer, and he has the experience to know how to best apply them. To use just any old camera you have with you, is to narrow down the possibilities of expression, which nullifies most of the photographer's talent and expertise.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: "In any case, surely the very bestest camera is the one your talented photo enthusiast friend has with him or her."

Nope, the best camera is still the one that lets you put hotdogs on people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2015 [12 favorites]


I was just thinking, we used to have these debates back when there were only film cameras, usually it was a debate over Leica vs. Hasselblad, but mostly it was Nikon vs. Canon, because that was what people could afford. But even within one camp, with a unanimous opinion of the superiority of their camera brand, there were debates over the best film. I was a Plus-X/Ektachrome guy, I preferred to trade film speed for higher detail. But eventually I learned the Zone System, which goes through extreme technical detail and personal experimentation to prove that the best film is the one that best expresses your photographic intentions.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:17 AM on January 26, 2015


Again, most people are doing neither fine art photography, nor photojournalism. They are just capturing things that they either want to remember or share. Unless we lower photojournalism down to "sharing pictures of a cat doing something silly"

Who cares if the image of your kid with a bowl of cheerios on it's head isn't the worlds best quality, it's just a touchstone for the moment. In these instances, yes the best camera is the one you have with you. No one wants to sit through your vacation slide show besides you because it's not emotionally resonant to them.
posted by Ferreous at 10:18 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to use Pentax as well and they had some very nice cameras. But the Nikon-Canon duopoly ended up being all-powerful when I was in the business (a dozen or so years ago) because they had each had such a big body of pro users to test out new stuff on, feed back, and to mercilessly punish their cameras all day every day.

So this big gulf emerged between Nikon and Canon's fantastic consumer cameras (which were based on what they had been selling to pros for 5 grand just three years previously) and everyone else's. Has Apple now 'disrupted' that duopoly? (Speaking as someone who uses an Android phone with a simply appalling camera on it).
posted by colie at 10:43 AM on January 26, 2015


I actually wrote a little thingy for a forum/blog I frequent about the ultimate niche camera: The Sigma DP2 Merrill.

Imagine every argument made for the iphone on the ease of use/quality spectrum and reverse it.

Also, the Sony RX100 (any of the 3 generations) produces absolutely stunning photos and fits in your shirt pocket. It's pretty much the only camera I recommend to people these days. It's a feat of engineering nobody has caught up with in many years.
posted by lattiboy at 10:51 AM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, and here's a full-size sample for the DP2M. Make sure to download and view at 100%.

Look at that, and then go on about your iPhone being as good as pretty much any small camera. Keeping in mind the DP2M is a quite compact little beast.
posted by lattiboy at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Technical acumen is extremely overrated when it comes to photography. It's good to have, but you can be a very good photographer without it.

No. Photography is a technical medium and without technical skill you are merely taking snapshots. Or as we used to say in photo class, "takin pitchers."
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:01 AM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Until relatively recently I was Very Serious about photography; I used it as a medium to think, to sketch, and occasionally to produce finished work. I have an identifiable look that took years to develop build, traceable through periods of work.

I'm reluctant to get rid of the old-school gear that taught me what light was all about, even though I don't really use it anymore. Most of that is because when the situation calls for it, I know I can pick up my F3 and load some Fujichrome and muscle memory will take over.

The camera I have "with me" right now is a 5S, and with an inexpensive Otterbox I don't worry about taking it hiking, or kayaking, or whatever. I've often thought about buying a compact, fixed-lens digital like the X100 or RX100, but finding myself in situations and places where a photograph exists beyond the capability of my iPhone is less frequent, and I'm okay with that.

I'll probably buy one of those nice compacts, especially if the in-camera chrome emulation profiles are pretty good and I can skip Lightroom for everyday photos. These days my biggest obstacle about photo technology is having to use a computer as the bottleneck to making prints at the level of craft I've spoiled myself with. That's the tacit advantage of Polaroid; all the mechanical and chemical complexity that designed the system results in that nearly-effortless act of press shutter, receive photograph, share photograph.

That's what photography is missing in 2015. That's why Instagram has taken over— it's the closest thing to the Polaroid experience we have right now.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:02 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


"That being said, I'd like to put in a good word for a DSLR brand that you probably haven't even considered: Pentax. Pentax DSLRs have one huge advantage over the other manufacturers, particularly if you are not made of money: Their DSLRs are backwards compatible with lenses back to the beginning of time. "

My main DSLR is a Pentax k10 DaShiv gave me about five, six years back. I recently ran into a guy who had the same camera while we were both out at an event (Ciclavia, I think), and had that moment of secret knowledge, where the first thing out of each of our mouths was about how much of a workhorse those cameras are — they're sturdy as shit, have pretty great lenses, and are pretty quick.

And the biggest advantage over an iPhone? I have an iPhone 5s, I like it fine, but it's a wide angle lens, like pretty much every cell camera. Not only does it distort faces, but it means that zoom is always going to be sketchy on it.

It's just funny to read all these GOOD ENOUGH GOOD ENOUGH LALALALA about cameras that doesn't really happen with a lot of other digital tools — very few people are insisting that their iPad has replaced any need for a real (music) keyboard, even though you can get pretty good with one and do a lot of cool stuff with it.

I shoot with all sorts of stuff, from plastic-lensed toy cameras to my recent bout of learning how to shoot a massive 4x5 camera made for architectural photography. It aligns with what I think is a kind of common-sense philosophy I try to bring to the art I make: There are very few tools that are better across the board, but there are a lot of tools that are superior for specific things, and choosing a tool that helps you get the effect that you want is part of the process of making art. Whether that's getting the '80s crystalline synth from a Yamaha DX7 or getting the unmistakable ghostly look of real IR photographs, or getting a bunch of quick, sharable snaps immediately with an iPhone, the tools you choose matter — there are trade-offs with every single one of them, and they all affect the results you get.
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 AM on January 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


"No. Photography is a technical medium and without technical skill you are merely taking snapshots. Or as we used to say in photo class, "takin pitchers.""

Yeah, but there are huge differences in what that "technical skill" looks like. Three examples: Gary Winogrand, Andy Warhol and Terry Richardson.

Richardson uses cheap cameras and ring flash specifically to overcome a lack of technical skill, and he still gets a bunch of great images. His skills are more about what he chooses to shoot, and how he edits down his work to some really memorable shots.

Warhol had a lot of technical skill in printmaking and commercial photography, but his polaroid work is specifically about eschewing that and he still got great shots by having a great eye and an almost monomaniacal dedication to taking the "wrong" photos.

Finally, Gary Winogrand's technical skill was almost entirely from taking tons and tons and tons of photos, and his skill was almost entirely about timing and ambient lighting. He almost never developed any of his own film, almost never printed any of it, and worked almost exclusively with a Leica 35mm. He would have been completely flummoxed trying to light a studio for a Hasselblad.

(The biggest advantage that I think film confers through its constraints is that you learn a lot more quickly what shots not to take — without digital punishing you at all, it's easy to keep making the same mistakes.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2015


The best X is whatever the Verge covers in between the time it's introduced on the market and the time they publish a bad review of it. Their editorial effusiveness tends to last only a few months before they recant and endorse the opposite viewpoint, so this essay was just … more of the same. In a few months they'll be singing the praises of some phone camera and talking about how it makes SLRs irrelevant. Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by fedward at 11:28 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like beer and pop music, it was easy to make do with what’s cheap and available, only to look back on a life of Dave Matthews and Bud Light and wonder why I’d gotten by on “good enough.”

Camera snobs are only slightly more tolerable than beer snobs or pop music snobs, and that almost completely because some of their gear really is pretty cool.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:48 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I spent a few years in photo school, have several top of the line DSLRs, two GoPros and tens of thousands of dollars in lenses and lights and everything else. I sell and show my work regularly. I use my iPhone 6+ for the bulk of what I shoot, because it's good enough. I've never had a drive to print any snapshot I took on the phone at 30x40, and if I feel like I need to, I'll bring the Canon.

But seriously, this argument really is pretty moot at this point. Most "real" photographers I know are really happy to have something tiny and pretty good in their pocket so they don't have to bump their DSLR off of everything all the time.
posted by nevercalm at 11:48 AM on January 26, 2015


It's just funny to read all these GOOD ENOUGH GOOD ENOUGH LALALALA about cameras that doesn't really happen with a lot of other digital tools — very few people are insisting that their iPad has replaced any need for a real (music) keyboard, even though you can get pretty good with one and do a lot of cool stuff with it.

To extend your music analogy a bit, photography for most people is more akin to how people used to do audience bootlegs of Dead shows on crappy tape recorders than it is to creating new music. The point isn't to create art, or even to capture every nuance of the art that is being created, but to simply capture the general feeling of the moment that the recorder themselves was a part of. You knew a dozen other people were going to record the same show, and maybe theirs sounded better than yours, but yours was yours, damn it.

Those who do think of themselves as creating actual art are generally going to get better results with larger sensors, a wider selection of glass, etc. But that's not what photography is to many people.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


My main DSLR is a Pentax k10 DaShiv gave me about five, six years back. I recently ran into a guy who had the same camera while we were both out at an event (Ciclavia, I think), and had that moment of secret knowledge, where the first thing out of each of our mouths was about how much of a workhorse those cameras are — they're sturdy as shit, have pretty great lenses, and are pretty quick.

I used to have a Pentax K10D. That camera is bananas, and nowadays, it's dirt cheap. I've since upgraded to a Pentax K-5, but outside of stuff like video and live view, it's scary how merely incremental the improvements have been. That's a compliment to both cameras.

Pentax the company has their quirks, but for most people who just want a DSLR that just works, they've got the best value in town.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:14 PM on January 26, 2015


The best phone camera isn't even in the same universe as a decent real camera with decent lenses, especially if you do wildlife, sports, macro or many other specific kinds of photography. That said, a phone is probably fine for most people and most stuff that most people take pictures of. Pro quality isn't required and most people can't tell the difference and aren't viewing the photos in a way that makes it apparent (e.g. making large prints).

Everyone who says their phone is fine for them is totally right. Anyone who thinks that any phone is technically comparable in any way with even a consumer DSLR and decent lenses has no idea what they are talking about. It's like saying "The free apple earbuds sound just as good as nice pair of studio monitors for the stuff I listen to."
posted by snofoam at 12:37 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, my dad had a ton of Nikon gear and a darkroom in the basement and the photos of me and my sister from the 70s and early 80s are amazing.
posted by snofoam at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2015


I think the disconnect here comes from the very divergent way in which different people approach "photography".

If you're just taking documentary-ish photos of your friends and family as a sort of memory enhancement, the better to remember things by later, or share it with people who weren't physically present, then sure, there's nothing wrong with a cameraphone. In a few years, I think we're going to see cameraphones move away from taking distinct 'stills' and 'video' and move towards capturing very high-res (like 10+MP), high-framerate (24+ FPS) video, and then letting you process it either into static images or typical-resolution video or animated GIFs or whatever as part of the 'sharing' process. Lots of people almost do this already, by just having burst mode on all the time and always holding their finger down long enough to take a series of frames.

There's nothing wrong with wanting photos of your family to send to your relatives, or photos of your friends doing funny stuff to send to other friends. But it's really barely 'photography' in anything except for the most technical sense of that word—okay, yes, an image is being recorded. But it's not approaching photography as an art form, by which I mean, there's generally no intent to try and produce something that stands alone.

It takes quite a bit of effort to go from an image which has meaning to people who are familiar with the context and subject matter, but little meaning to anyone else, to an image which conveys some sort of emotion or idea to an unprompted viewer.

Now, sure, you can take really amazing, artistically meritorious photographs with a cameraphone (or a shitty plastic-lensed 120 film toy camera, or a Polaroid). And some people actually produce better work with some degree of artificial limitations or enforced simplicity. (The obnoxious Instagram filters so beloved by hipsters for their artless bar selfies are basically aping a legitimate style advanced originally by Viennese art students who developed an odd fascination with cheap Soviet-bloc film cameras designed primarily for family snapshots. Irony abounds.) But as with most endeavors, it's generally easier with the right tools. And a cellphone's camera—due to the miniscule size of the image sensor and associated optics—is never going to give you the degree of quality or control that you can get out of a larger device designed solely for that task. But if you don't need it, that's cool. There are tradeoffs in everything.

It does seem to me, though, that the camera companies have been resting on their laurels for a few years, and that if the iPhone scares them out of the lull that the industry seems to have fallen into, great. A purpose-built camera shouldn't just be slightly better than a cameraphone, it should be miles better; it's frankly embarrassing that there's even a discussion that they might be equivalent. (I blame video; the DSLR manufacturers got blindsided by the number of people who started using their products for video and had to suddenly learn how to make camcorders, which they really knew nothing about. This took several years and a few product generations to get right, during which Apple et al advanced cameraphones quite a bit.) I hope that the current trend towards very high-quality compact cameras is evidence that they're going to start increasing the gap again.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I bought an excellent DSLR, and it sits and collects dust. I also carry an Iphone with me everywhere, and rarely take pictures with it.

I believe that one can easily ruin many experiences by trying to capture them. Our last vacation we took maybe 10 pictures, and I don't regret that number at all. My memories are rich, vivid, and complete. Not having pictures doesn't change that a bit. Very little time was spent thinking about looking back at the experience, rather we were in the moment living it.

The best story I can think of that explains this, is a friend was out on the river and saw a bald eagle begin to fly by. She said she was so busy trying to get the camera on her phone to work that she pretty much missed seeing it. In trying to capture the experience she lost it. The more you try to hold on to sand, the more it runs through your fingers.

So, when you get married, make the photographer take only candids. Never interrupt a good moment to take a photograph of it. Your life will be much richer when you are not a slave to the acquisition of tangible representations of ephemeral things.

Don't get me wrong, if the experience you want to have is being a photographer, then by all means enjoy yourself. But, if you are capturing and thus sullying a spontaneous moment due to a fear it will be lost, I would suggest putting the camera away and seeing every thread in the tapestry of life as it is woven.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:22 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyone who thinks that any phone is technically comparable in any way with even a consumer DSLR and decent lenses has no idea what they are talking about. It's like saying "The free apple earbuds sound just as good as nice pair of studio monitors for the stuff I listen to."


I don't think anyone has tried to say that? Most of us here are saying that our phone cameras have gotten really quite good for daily life stuff, like capturing our kids doing something cute.
posted by Fleebnork at 1:23 PM on January 26, 2015


Don't get me wrong, if the experience you want to have is being a photographer, then by all means enjoy yourself. But, if you are capturing and thus sullying a spontaneous moment due to a fear it will be lost, I would suggest putting the camera away and seeing every thread in the tapestry of life as it is woven.

Words fail me.
posted by spock at 1:26 PM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I believe that one can easily ruin many experiences by trying to capture them. Our last vacation we took maybe 10 pictures

Why ten, then? If taking photos can truly ruin experiences, why risk that by taking ten of them? Why not five, or one, or none at all? Is there some rule of thumb we can use to know when it's okay to pull out the camera versus when we'll be ruining our experiences?
posted by tonycpsu at 1:45 PM on January 26, 2015


I think in 30 years there will be way more people that wished they had done annual offsite backups of their photo library than people that wished they had bought a DSLR.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:04 PM on January 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


> "...this picture is TOO good...let's dial up the suck by 10 per cent or so."

previously on the Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic.

I'm thinking that what I need isn't a full-frame camera (next year), but a 4x6 archival printer. Something the kid could use from his iPhone, too. A basket of prints is better on some levels than a hard drive full of bits.
posted by morganw at 2:14 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


"To extend your music analogy a bit, photography for most people is more akin to how people used to do audience bootlegs of Dead shows on crappy tape recorders than it is to creating new music. The point isn't to create art, or even to capture every nuance of the art that is being created, but to simply capture the general feeling of the moment that the recorder themselves was a part of. You knew a dozen other people were going to record the same show, and maybe theirs sounded better than yours, but yours was yours, damn it.

Those who do think of themselves as creating actual art are generally going to get better results with larger sensors, a wider selection of glass, etc. But that's not what photography is to many people.
"

I think that's actually a really good analogy. There are all levels of bootleg live recordings out there, including the (kinda obnoxious sea of bluish screens) ubiquitous iPhone videos. And there's a big difference in what you'd choose depending on what your aim was: The cell videos are for sharing something like the experience right as the experience is happening. But if you're wanting to go back and listen to the show again, they're kinda a crappy tool. And you can go up from there, with the guys posting up their stereo mics in the audience all the way to soundboards to the live-in-studio album. Live shows for rock are very rarely worth listening to again unless you were there, or the show itself is exemplary in some way (I have Nirvana bootlegs of a couple songs that evolved into really different compositions by the time the albums came out, and they're interesting because of that despite the crappy fidelity).

That's even more salient when he's talking about going back to these images years later: Cell phone pics tend to be something that are of the moment, not a comprehensive archive. Most folks don't organize them in any coherent way, there's very little concern about archival storage — somebody upthread wondered why the author didn't just use Picassa or something. With the death of Google Reader, who really trusts that Picassa will be there in 10 years? Hell, the world is full of file formats and digital storage options that are essentially more obsolete than contemporary negatives. I found a couple jaz discs in the last office move and I have no idea what's on them or why we have them (especially since we didn't officially start as an org. until the jaz had been discontinued for a couple years), and have no real desire to go through the legwork to find out. On the other hand, I've sorted chromes from photographers from the '90s and 2000s that are still super crisp, despite being chucked in a random box for a decade.

I think the crux of the article is that people tend to not realize the trade off in lack of archival access when they use cell phones versus dedicated cameras. I'm getting married in a couple months and have recently been trawling through Facebook, looking for old photos of the two of us as a couple. We've been together more than a decade, and while I've gone through a handful of phones in that time and have only dubious shared archives, I was lucky to be shooting film (and getting that film scanned) for a lot of it. While that means fewer pictures overall of us together (because I was shooting them, so tend not to be in a lot), they're much easier to work with and I'm really glad to have them because the phone-only shots that we have are so sparse that it's kind of depressing. Some of that's because of bad tagging, some of that's because I'll randomly find 100 shots of the same night with two photos being good and the rest a slog, and some of that's because a $45 Minolta XG-M from 1980 is small enough to take with pretty much anywhere and sophisticated enough to get great shots without a lot of brain involvement.
posted by klangklangston at 2:22 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Don't get me wrong, if the experience you want to have is being a photographer, then by all means enjoy yourself. But, if you are capturing and thus sullying a spontaneous moment due to a fear it will be lost, I would suggest putting the camera away and seeing every thread in the tapestry of life as it is woven."

Sullying a spontaneous moment? You know that cameras don't literally steal your soul, right? There are times that I specifically put the camera away (though I always have my cell) because I don't want the burden of documenting something, but in general I see far more great shots than I can ever get anyway, so… 
posted by klangklangston at 2:29 PM on January 26, 2015


I believe that one can easily ruin many experiences by trying to capture them.

To each their own and all, but this has never been my experience and I don't think that there's really some general truth there. A "ruined" experience to one person is a "guess I'll do it differently next time" to the person standing next to them.

And it also discounts the significant lengths to which many people are willing to go solely for the purpose of taking a picture. When I was younger, stupider, and more committed to what I thought of as art, I repeatedly froze my ass off just to be in the right place—or what I thought was the right place—at the right time for a particular shot. (Later, I found that the amount of physical misery involved in taking a photograph doesn't actually make it better. The universe doesn't assign points for effort.) But the "experience" only happened because I wanted the shot; therefore there's no way that the camera could have 'ruined' it, practically by definition.

At a lesser extreme, anytime somebody pulls the car over and gets out, or walks up to the top of the hill instead of stopping halfway, or does anything else that they wouldn't otherwise have done, in order to take a photo, and in doing so has an experience that they wouldn't have otherwise had, it's pretty hard to say that the camera could 'ruin' what they would have just ignored. To the right person and in the right frame of mind, having a camera makes you far more aware of your surroundings than you would otherwise be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:31 PM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


schmod: Technical acumen is extremely overrated when it comes to photography. It's good to have, but you can be a very good photographer without it.
Do you also believe understanding color theory is overrated when it comes to painting?
Instagram works well, not because of the shitty filters, but because the selection and application of those shitty filters makes you (briefly) think about the photo that you just took.
Instagram works well because it has capitallized upon the public's desire to have "fancy" photographs that appear to be well-taken, even though the same photographer took them as those crappy shots on that other site. I don't believe your assertion that people think more about composition, framing, lighting, et al before posting to Instagram, any more than posting to Facebook makes them better writers.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:36 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't believe your assertion that people think more about composition, framing, lighting, et al before posting to Instagram, any more than posting to Facebook makes them better writers.

I think this would be true because of the instant feedback you get in terms of your art in the form of likes and favourites.

I feel safe saying the vast majority of people feel happy receiving likes or favourites, and consciously or unconsciously will skew their postings towards the kind of images or posts that will garner the most likes or favourites. "Good" art and posts get rewarded, while bad ones get punished. Over time, this is a learning process of sorts.

(for various definitions of "good" - perhaps, it's a lowest common denominator of photo and writing appreciation, but I'm definitely seeing the correlation between the like counts of good photos and bad photos that get posted on Facebook)

In the past, without such an immediate feedback mechanism and without a platform that allowed you to widely peruse other photos and writings created by your peers, it was sometimes difficult to figure out what you were doing right or wrong, and what to aspire for / what to avoid doing.
posted by xdvesper at 2:52 PM on January 26, 2015


I dunno, I have an iPhone 4S and I have a Canon S95 and I like to use them for different things. These days I mainly take pictures of food I cook. The iPhone sometimes just seems to frame things better, or maybe the perspective/lens is less weird. However, 90% of the photos I take indoors are blurry because my thumb moves the phone when I take the picture. It's just awkward to hold and take pictures with. The Canon is almost never blurry because I can hold it steady. And I can set it in this mode where it takes extremely sharp pictures of close up things and makes the rest blurry, which is nice for food photography.

While traveling, I prefer the Canon no question. Easier to hold - I've even taken blurry pictures with the iPhone outdoors because it is awkward to hold steady, let alone in low-light conditions - and the pictures just look "better", for lack of a better word.
posted by pravit at 2:59 PM on January 26, 2015


I believe that one can easily ruin many experiences by trying to capture them. Our last vacation we took maybe 10 pictures

I learned that lesson in high school, when I took photos of football games for the school newspaper. You can either take photos, or watch the game, but not both. I have no recollection of those games now, but I can still remember taking photos.

I recall recently on MeFi, there was a discussion of a photo historian who was saying this exact thing (but alas, despite extensive searching, I cannot locate that discussion). She said that people take too many photos, and thus they devalue the good photos. People are too focused on recording their life rather than experiencing it. It would be better to take fewer photos, and focus on the experience you had while recording them. Damn I wish I could find that discussion.

This reminds me of the recent thread about decluttering the KonMari way. Her book talks about photographs specifically. She says:

Photographs exist only to show a specific event or time. For this reason, they must be looked at one by one. When you do this, you will be surprised at how clearly you can tell the difference between those that touch your heart and those that don’t. As always, only keep the ones that inspire joy.
With this method, you will keep only about five per day of a special trip, but this will be so representative of that time that they bring back the rest vividly. Really important things are not that great in number. Unexciting photos of scenery that you can’t even place belong in the garbage. The meaning of a photo lies in the excitement and joy you feel when taking it. In many cases, the prints developed afterward have already outlived their purpose.
Sometimes people keep a mass of photos in a big box with the intention of enjoying them someday in their old age. I can tell you now that “someday” never comes.


I am especially pained by this problem. When my mom died, my siblings raided the estate of everything of value, except the family photos. My mom already made each of them a scrapbook of the best photos. But she left behind boxes full of hundreds of miscellaneous photos and I am supposed to sort them and divide them fairly amongst my siblings. I threw them in a closet and ignored them for the past ten years. Nobody misses them.

But one thing I did notice. My dad loved photography, he always tried the latest and greatest prosumer photo systems. There are tons of vintage Polaroid photos, and I remember those early cameras quite well. And he tried everything, even the stupid Kodak 110 formats and crap like that. But no matter how many family photos he took, he regularly took us to a professional photography studio and had portraits taken every year. No, not like a school photographer, a serious photographer whose collection is now curated by the local University. It is clear that this photographer's commercial work, like portraiture and architectural photos, paid for his artistic work, and even supported his research in technical fields like medical photography.

But that is all past history. Today, the photography business is uneconomical. Since everyone can take pictures on their cell phones, photographs are cheap and ubiquitous, and therefore worthless. The last time I tried to get a local gallery to sell my alt-process photos, they said the top end of the photo print market is about $300 (and the gallery gets a 55% commission). Nobody will pay real money for archival, fine-art quality prints in any medium, when they can get a cheap inkjet print that will fade away within a few decades. Even photographers prefer inkjet prints since they are so cheap and profitable. But my Gum Bichromate prints cost more than $150 to print so at $300, I would be selling them at a loss. Before inkjets wiped out the print market, medium size gum prints, even from a no-name artist like me, would sell for a minimum of $800-1200, but more like $2k-3k for the very large format prints I make. Nonetheless, I have just spent my last few dollars buying supplies for one last attempt to make new, even larger prints, and make money at it. And it will surely fail, I will be ruined economically. Then I will be forced to give it up forever, just at the point where I have reached the highest level of aesthetic and technical achievement in my career.

I bought an excellent DSLR, and it sits and collects dust.

I would be happy to relieve you of that problem.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:46 PM on January 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


I love my iPhone 4S photos until I look at them on a big screen. They're still fantastic photos a lot of the time, and I'm glad to have them. But there's a certain point where a tiny lens that has been unprotected in my pocket is just not going to ever stand up to even a little big bigger lens that has not been getting all gunked up. I have a Canon PowerShot A630 point and shoot from like 10 years ago with 8MP that's got a terrible screen, slow autofocus, and lots of other drawbacks, and it's bulky. But its giant lens (compared to a phone and most point and shoots today) and ability to shoot full manual combine to take photos that are incredible compared to the iPhone. It's nowhere near as good as the big, newer DSLR, obviously.

But all I have to do to remind myself not to rely too heavily on the iPhone for photos I hope to cherish years down the road is take that 10-year-old Canon on a family outing, ignore what its pictures look like on its own terrible old screen, and then look at the gorgeous photos it takes on a nice big monitor. It's like listening to a real CD of an album I'm used to hearing as mp3. It's easy to forget the difference, but the more accustomed I get to the lossy version, the more stark the contrast is when the comparison is made head-to-head.
posted by The World Famous at 4:17 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


"At a lesser extreme, anytime somebody pulls the car over and gets out, or walks up to the top of the hill instead of stopping halfway, or does anything else that they wouldn't otherwise have done, in order to take a photo, and in doing so has an experience that they wouldn't have otherwise had, it's pretty hard to say that the camera could 'ruin' what they would have just ignored. To the right person and in the right frame of mind, having a camera makes you far more aware of your surroundings than you would otherwise be."

I understand some of it — like I said, I've made a conscious decision to pare back on some of my shooting in certain situations so that I'm more able to focus on being a part of something than documenting it. Similarly, while I used to love going to a bunch of shows and writing about them as a music critic, at a certain point I just wanted to go to the show and enjoy it and not have to worry about capturing the set list and describing all of it on a notepad.

Cameras are distancing devices, and tools that take conscious intent. That doesn't mean that there's no way to be a part of something while still shooting it — Iain McKell has a lot of great shots of crowds and riots from inside them, and I think his overall desire to be a part of his subjects ends up compromising some of his later work because he shoots like his audience also has that intimate connection and doesn't need as much context.

"Do you also believe understanding color theory is overrated when it comes to painting?"

It can be — I think that's less of a gotcha than you think, at least as its framed here. I think that great painters tend to have an intuitive or visually-learned sense of color theory rather than formal color theory. Certainly, there's plenty of amazing paintings that existed prior to our current understanding of color theory.

"Instagram works well because it has capitallized upon the public's desire to have "fancy" photographs that appear to be well-taken, even though the same photographer took them as those crappy shots on that other site. I don't believe your assertion that people think more about composition, framing, lighting, et al before posting to Instagram, any more than posting to Facebook makes them better writers."

Social media usage positively correlated to increased literacy.

I think that Instagram aesthetic comes down to a dog's breakfast of mistaken authenticity claims filtered (no pun intended) through nostalgia, with a healthy dollop of the fact that a lot of those filters do end up making the underlying photo more interesting, not least because they can blot out a lot of flaws. Where I think they can fall down is when you have a specific image in your mind that you want to capture, and knowing how to use your phone as a tool to realize that can be made more difficult by the soup of filters. It's great for people who just want a nice looking, colorful picture that has overt signs of human intervention, but it's not all that great for people who have a specific vision to achieve (unless that vision is to make Ryan McGinley-sexts).

"I recall recently on MeFi, there was a discussion of a photo historian who was saying this exact thing (but alas, despite extensive searching, I cannot locate that discussion). She said that people take too many photos, and thus they devalue the good photos. People are too focused on recording their life rather than experiencing it. It would be better to take fewer photos, and focus on the experience you had while recording them. Damn I wish I could find that discussion."

That gets a little too close to Luddism for me. I think that part of the devaluation is that most photos now are pretty decent, on a level that we didn't see before except from at least hobbyist photographers. Kinda like how there's more decent bands on Bandcamp than you'll ever be able to listen to if you live to 100. Where I think it can hurt is that people aren't going back and reviewing those shots — there's no return to the work to learn from mistakes. So you get some of the benefits of taking 10,000 shots per year, but not as much as if you actually tried to learn from taking 10,000 shots. Likewise, I think a general hole is that they don't really teach you what shots not to take — there are things every day that I see where I have that flash of "I should shoot this!" before realizing that I've shot something similar with whatever kit I have with me, and that it didn't work for whatever technical reason (e.g. with phones, that it's a superwide lens and so anything that's more than 10 or so feet away and needs a tight framing has to happen with cropping, and it gets crappy in a hurry). That's something that the 4x5 class I was taking really did a great job of honing — I got six sheets of film per week. If I fucked one up (and I fucked up nearly all of them for the first several weeks of class), that was it — all I had was the opportunity to meditate on what I wouldn't fuck up next time. (Finally figuring out that the film holder wasn't seating properly almost made me cry with joy because I'd gone through everything else and was worried about a bellows hole.)

"The last time I tried to get a local gallery to sell my alt-process photos, they said the top end of the photo print market is about $300 (and the gallery gets a 55% commission)."

That's of mixed comfort for me — the only real prints I've ever sold (not $5 postcards) have been about that range, but selling anything is such a pain in the ass and selling one print generally doesn't earn back the money spent on alt-process stuff.

(I will say that I regularly see stuff sell here in LA for far, far more, but LA's a weird beast and I still don't really understand selling art at all, let alone here. I've seen what looked like student photos of "vintage" toys sell for $5k, and tattooed nudes in bunny masks sell north of $10k.)

"Then I will be forced to give it up forever, just at the point where I have reached the highest level of aesthetic and technical achievement in my career."

The only people I know who are making money at that either have some rich patron who loves their shit or are able to teach enough classes in the technique to defray their materials cost.
posted by klangklangston at 4:31 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


That gets a little too close to Luddism for me.

No, not really. Her suggestions were more like an exercise in mindfulness. Experience the event, be mindful, take it all in, see the photo, and then take it as a documentation of your mindful state at that moment. This is a lot closer to what I experience as a photographer, that what most people do when they are taking lots of snapshots.. And this was definitely no Luddite, IIRC she was an RIT professor and this was a 3 part NPR news segment. I really wish I could find the MeFi discussion of it.

But anyway, this is mostly irrelevant to fine artists, who have a whole different set of problems.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:09 PM on January 26, 2015


Can't make rent; spent $600 on postcards for show.

#FineArtistProblems

"No, not really. Her suggestions were more like an exercise in mindfulness. Experience the event, be mindful, take it all in, see the photo, and then take it as a documentation of your mindful state at that moment. This is a lot closer to what I experience as a photographer, that what most people do when they are taking lots of snapshots.. And this was definitely no Luddite, IIRC she was an RIT professor and this was a 3 part NPR news segment. I really wish I could find the MeFi discussion of it."

That makes a lot more sense. I don't know if I'd necessarily locate it in "people take too many photos" so much as "people take dumb photos without thinking." But part of why I like photography is that as someone with ADD, it's good practice to take a moment to be patient, gather my attention and think about what I want to get from the shot.
posted by klangklangston at 5:32 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyone who thinks that any phone is technically comparable in any way with even a consumer DSLR and decent lenses has no idea what they are talking about. It's like saying "The free apple earbuds sound just as good as nice pair of studio monitors for the stuff I listen to."

Nah, what's made the conversation interesting is that the "included headphones" here have gotten as good as say, $50-100 headphones from a good manufacturer instead of $20 walmart headphones.

It's not that they're as good as a DSLR, which in this case would be say $200-500 headphones, but that they're Properly Good now, to the standards of what was a properly good midrange consumer non-dslr camera from half a decade ago or so.

The fact that it takes something like a rx100 to "beat" them is very impressive. There is no other compact camera that can catch up to the rx100, it's basically the intermediate point between compacts and something like a mirrorless(which basically match SLRs in every way).

I'm not surprised that a lot of discussion doesn't reflect that, as it happened very quickly and suddenly. It's essentially been 2-4 years since this went down depending on how you want to look at it.

If you went back in time 4 or 5 years and showed me some of the photos i posted came from a phone, i wouldn't believe you. Look at the year over a year improvements here, and the current state of the art therein.

People are missing the point here by setting the bar very high. Of course it's not a DSLR, but it's good enough to even impress someone who owns and uses one(or something equivalent in a mirrorless).

It's also worth noting, in comparison to stuff like the DP2 or rx100 that yea, an iphone is $700ish off contract, but you're getting a Pretty Good camera that just a couple years ago people would have happily paid $300 or so for(and would have likely gotten very good reviews if it was small, like the casios did back then) and a pocket computer. On one hand you're being forced to buy it all together, but you're getting more for that money than some comparisons seem to be charitable of. You also have the ability to do post and edit/retouch those photos, manage the storage of them(including moving them off that storage and backing them up), etc.

It's definitely worth discussing that yea, it's not a DSLR, but you're getting a really honestly very good camera as a pack in with stuff you probably wanted or needed anyways. Some people buy the phone for the camera, but if they're in the market for the phone and choose it because of the camera, then they needed(or wanted) a phone anyways.

This is a bit of a sea change that these capabilities are coming standard. The earbuds aren't so great of an example. It's like buying a new laptop because you needed one, and getting a pretty nice projector and a nice soundsystem with it included in the box... or something.

If the pattern continues as it has, in two years these cameras will be twice as good again. It's not so much that i think they're already at that point(nor do i think anyone was seriously positing the "vs a dslr" thing), but they're better than any of the compact cameras i ever owned, even in the late 2000s.
posted by emptythought at 6:36 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Throughout the 20th century average people took an awful lot of photographs with cameras like fixed-focus Kodak Brownies and I don't know that they felt especially deprived. "Good Enough," in other words, is not a new concept and convenience almost always wins. Decent smart phone cameras are sort of the modern equivalent of the Brownie. They're cheap, easy to use, and good enough by contemporary standards. We should celebrate things that enable huge numbers of people to record important moments and/or express themselves artistically. Moaning about phone cameras not being as good as big-sensored dSLRs, complaining about "crappy Instagram filters," or even expressing disgust at photography being "devalued" seems to me to be missing the bigger picture.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:08 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Get nice versions of the things you care about having nice versions of

Yep. For me, this is acoustic guitars. Good ones make the sounds I want, cheapo mass-produced ones usually don't*. And when you care about something and invest time in it, you start being able to hear the differences, and they start to matter to you. But friends who are primarily songwriters want something to strum behind a song, and a Yamaha APX or something like that does them very well.

My photos have always been "snaps", a photographic record, and a cellphone camera does very well for that. I have been very glad to ditch the camera gear.

Oh, and the other thing this applies to is beer. Especially, this last weekend, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout ;-)

* Although, quality being a bell curve, I have played one or two very cheap instruments that were wonderful, as well as, it has to be said, a number of very expensive ones that were TPOS.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 7:32 PM on January 26, 2015


Throughout the 20th century average people took an awful lot of photographs with cameras like fixed-focus Kodak Brownies..

That is a misconception. The vast majority of consumer-grade cameras were folding bellows cameras, until 35mm came along. Those 35mm cameras were even more complex to operate, and were usually high quality precision instruments. I have some antique family photos in 6x9 format from this type of bellows camera and it is obvious to me that the photographers had more than casual point-and-shoot skills.

Moaning about phone cameras not being as good as big-sensored dSLRs, complaining about "crappy Instagram filters,"

I have recently started to see "crappy instagram filter" type treatments of photography in high end fashion magazines, from photographers who ought to know better. This is faux nostalgia, trying to make photos look like the crappy old faded photos in your family scrapbooks. But those old photos never looked this crappy on purpose. When high end photographers are using sophisticated photographic technology trying to look like amateurs with Instagram filters, who are in turn trying to look like faded or overexposed photos, something is fundamentally wrong.

or even expressing disgust at photography being "devalued" seems to me to be missing the bigger picture.

Pray tell, what is this bigger picture I am missing? The photographers in that article have collectively produced more volume of printed images than the entire population of amateurs throughout the entire history of photography. I mean literally, they have produced uncountable tons of paper with photos printed on them. They are the last of their kind, and are being replaced by amateurs with iPhones.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:10 PM on January 26, 2015


I'm not sure I understand the desire to take personal, non-artistic photographs, no matter the mechanism. Is it to overcome a poor memory? I could see having early-stage Alzheimer's and needing some simple way to jog my memory about what my house looks like or something, but if you have a working memory, what's the point of photographs?
posted by nerdler at 5:33 AM on January 27, 2015


We've gotten very used to that measure in our digital media. Music fidelity, photo and film resolution. It's so strange that we consider it an achievement to have a (not inexpensive) camera that's "nearly as good" as the ones we used forty years ago.

Quite often technology will take one step back in one dimension in order to advance two steps forward in another. For example, audio cassette tapes were a step back compared to vinyl, but had the advantage of being portable. VHS was also a major step back compared to film. Digital cameras are a step back in terms of image fidelity but offer lossless copying (after the initial encoding step), ease of transmission, massive amounts of storage on tiny storage media compared to film and other benefits. Isn't it so strange that people act like these benefits don't exist?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:39 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


So many interesting perspectives in this thread!

Nobody's saying that you should feel bad for using your iPhone camera, nor even that the iPhone camera is anything less than excellent for what it is.

The comparisons to things like high-quality yarn and guitars are spot-on. Nobody needs to prioritize cameras. However, just as with yarn and guitars, those who have the interest and the resources can tell the difference between "okay" and "better than okay".

This article comes from The Verge, a tech website. The article is geared at people who either have, or would consider getting, a Real Camera. That group of people has shrunk, due to the continuing improvements of things like the iPhone camera.

What the article is getting at is the fact that iPhones have replaced standalone cameras for many people, but this replacement comes at a cost. It's a justifiable compromise, and for most people, it's a compromise well worth making. However, it's a compromise nonetheless.

Other technologies may be more cumbersome in some ways, but they still offer some significant advantages. So, if you love taking photos, and you have the resources to geek out a little, remember that you have options beyond the iPhone. If you can train yourself to use something better, you will be rewarded. NO PRESSURE ON PEOPLE WHO DON'T HAVE THE TIME OR THE INCLINATION TO DO SO, seriously seriously seriously.

And it's not a vinyl vs. CD thing. You do not need highly-refined ears to tell the difference, especially if anything involving a telephoto lens is involved.

Anyway, I would bring the article into some more optimistic territory. These are all good problems. We live in amazing times. The tiny sensor of the iPhone can produce incredible images. But, even better, there are so many highly refined camera designs which exist in the continuum between iPhones and large format film cameras. Cameras which are tailored to their own specific set of purposes.

Not just DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, although those are also obviously excellent. Personally, I think people are making a mistake if they're buying an interchangeable lens camera, but they don't want to spend the time and money to make it work for them. Even the smallest of these cameras is still not quite pocketable - or, it may be pocketable if you have big pockets and you use a pancake lens.

No, I'm talking about things like the Sony RX100 compacts, the high-quality Sony RX10 superzoom, the Panasonic LX100, the Ricoh GR, and so on. Also things like GoPros, and the quirky Sigma DP series, and the Black Magic video cameras. Cameras which justify themselves because they can do things your iPhone can't do.

I dunno. I still get a kick out of finding my father's old 35mm prints, including casual snaps. He was not a super duper professional. And yet they all still look so, so, so much better than anything I've seen on an iPhone.

...

Casual snaps can be the best. I read a quote in Lacan at the Scene in which the author talked about how casual snapshots are the photo form most prone to spontaneity and formal experimentation. I hate how the whole Lomography thing turned aspects of that style of photography into a marketing mission for overpriced junk. iPhone photography can be magical, because people are taking photos thoughtlessly, while in the moment, within certain reasonable technical limitations. It's great when people can get that kind of energy from the expensive tools as well.

...

I would also like to give a shout-out to the fact that sensor sizes vary so much nowadays. It's so cool! Cameras can be tailor-made to make appropriate compromises. There is NOTHING magical or "correct" about the so-called still 35mm "full frame". It was just a standard. It is just as much of a compromise as the iPhone sensor or the Pentax 645Z sensor or whatever else you can think of.

...

For most people, I would compare cameras to something like men's clothing. You can get perfectly good cheap clothing at a lot of places. However, snobs, connoisseurs, and relevant professionals will be able to tell why some things really are better than others - not just aesthetically, when the material is better and when the fit is better, but also in terms of durability, and so on. Most people do not have the money, time, and interest to follow this kind of thing too obsessively. And...that's fine. You can buy a perfectly good suit at Men's Wearhouse. But, if you really want to dress to impress, let alone if you are a professional who either needs to look sharp or who needs others to look sharp, then you are going to be acutely aware of what's what.

I'm also reminded of Neal Stephenson's rant about how operating systems are like power tools. Constructions workers need different tools than Joe Schmo.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:06 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast: Nobody's saying that you should feel bad for using your iPhone camera, nor even that the iPhone camera is anything less than excellent for what it is.
Except the subject of this thread.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:31 AM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


some say the best camera is the one u have with u..
posted by threeants at 11:35 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have an RX100M3, and it has made a world of difference for me. I'm no photographer, but my casual shots ("takin pictures" as mentioned above) have improved drastically. It is one more thing to carry, but it fits nicely in a coat pocket, and takes incredible pictures in low light compared to a camera phone. It really makes a world of difference. It also includes easy-to-use wireless transfer from camera to phone, so it's easy to post pictures casually.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2015


"I'm not sure I understand the desire to take personal, non-artistic photographs, no matter the mechanism. Is it to overcome a poor memory? I could see having early-stage Alzheimer's and needing some simple way to jog my memory about what my house looks like or something, but if you have a working memory, what's the point of photographs?"

Really? You have such a memory that you are able to accurately represent, say, pictures of your friends in high school in totality? And not only that, you have such powers of imagination that you ask friends and family to simply describe their activities when you weren't present and you're able to accurately mentally render them?

That sounds like the Platonic bafflement at the spread of writing versus memorized speech.
posted by klangklangston at 11:51 AM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


The vast majority of consumer-grade cameras were folding bellows cameras, until 35mm came along.

Wikipedia says there were over 150,000 Brownie cameras sold in the first year of production alone, and Kodak kept releasing new models until well after WWII. (The Brownie 127, which is the most common one that I've seen around at thrift/antique sores and the like, is just listed as having sold "millions" during its 7-year run in the 50s.

I find it very hard to believe that bellows cameras were ever produced in numbers approaching that. Bellows cameras are just not built for mass production; the Brownie cameras were designed for that from the outset.

The 4x5 bellows camera could probably be fairly called the DSLR-equivalent of the first half of the 20th century; it was what you probably used if you were somewhat more interested in the craft of photography than the average person. (I would argue that after WWII, prior to the 35mm era, that midrange/hobbyist mantle passed to the TLR 120-film cameras like the Rolleicord, with only portrait and some very dedicated news photographers keeping 4x5 alive outside of the 'fine art' world.)

The Brownie was the iPhone camera: cheap, ubiquitous, "good enough". And, like cellphone cameras, most of the photos ever taken with them were pretty meaningless to anyone except for the immediate friends and family of those pictured; it was the first camera system that had a cost-per-exposure low enough to make snapshots practical.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:17 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I find it very hard to believe that bellows cameras were ever produced in numbers approaching that. Bellows cameras are just not built for mass production; the Brownie cameras were designed for that from the outset."

Well, not only were there bellows brownies (#2), but there were plenty of mass-produced bellows cameras, even extending to the early Polaroids.

"(I would argue that after WWII, prior to the 35mm era, that midrange/hobbyist mantle passed to the TLR 120-film cameras like the Rolleicord, with only portrait and some very dedicated news photographers keeping 4x5 alive outside of the 'fine art' world.) "

Both Army and press photographers in the Vietnam War carried 4x5s. (In a recent photo class, I ended up talking to a vet who hates 4x5 because he had to lug one as part of a pack.) In the '70s, the Time Life (maybe just Life? I'd have to go back and check) series on photography condescendingly described 35mm as a new trend toward "miniature" cameras.

" And, like cellphone cameras, most of the photos ever taken with them were pretty meaningless to anyone except for the immediate friends and family of those pictured; it was the first camera system that had a cost-per-exposure low enough to make snapshots practical."

You're right there — specifically, it was the camera that coined the term "snapshot."
posted by klangklangston at 2:32 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find it very hard to believe that bellows cameras were ever produced in numbers approaching that. Bellows cameras are just not built for mass production; the Brownie cameras were designed for that from the outset.

It appears you are thinking of view cameras, but I am referring to handheld folding cameras. In any case, Kodak even mass produced view cameras. I have used one, 8x10 film is really expensive.

The 4x5 bellows camera

Yes, like the Speed Graphic. Here's a picture of me operating one in 1974. Did I mention I have a BFA in photography, which involved hundreds of hours of study of the history of photography?

But once again, you are thinking of view cameras which are professional tools, and the matter at hand is consumer products.

I assure you that the vast bulk of consumer grade cameras were folding cameras in formats like 2 1/4 x 3 1/4, rather than box cameras. Have you ever used a Brownie? I have. I assure you that the photographs are definitely NOT "good enough." They are crappy cameras and they take crappy pictures. That is why people use modern fixed-focus box cameras, they like how crappy the pictures are.

I admonish you not to put much faith in Kodak's marketing claims about millions of brownies, they were prone to huge exaggeration.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:42 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


From way, way upthread: I still find that smartphones want to pause for a little thinky-time before they take a photo for some reason.

This has been addressed multiple times already, but I just wanted to add this link for people who might not have seen it: since the 3GS days, iPhones have been buffering photos from before you press the shutter button. (As confirmed recently.)

Bonus: link starts with, quote, "The best camera is the one you have with you and which has a f/1.4 normal prime."

(My utterly gorgeous 100 mm f/1.8 Canon macro lens barely gets a workout these days, because guess what, the best camera ...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:47 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


iPhones have been buffering photos from before you press the shutter button.

Apple has explained that the iPhone camera buffers pics and uses the gyroscope to detect the most recent pic that you were holding the camera still. This is a brilliant idea, and well implemented. This was a problem in small film cameras like the Minox spy camera, or even the Kodak 110 film cameras. They were so small and light, just pushing the shutter button jarred the camera and blurred the shot. Apple solved that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:00 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have my grandfather's old Minox and it is pretty fantastic.
posted by The World Famous at 4:07 PM on January 28, 2015


I prefer the Tessina. It's really hard to take good pictures with a Minox 16mm, even one of the larger models that you can actually grip. My friend with the Minox I used occasionally, amazed everyone with the sharp photos he took. One day, I asked him how he did it. He went into his studio and came back with his Minox attached to this.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:08 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


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