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Cameras

An interesting thing happened a few years back.

There were two new music formats out. MP3 and a DVD – Audio. MP3 won, and DVD -Audio is dog biscuits. Why? MP3 was convenient. Oh, lower quality than even CD but so what? I recall reading at the time to get the monty out of DVD – Audio you needed to go to Richer sounds with a dump-truck full of money. Or you could buy an iPodule.

Much the same has happened with cameras. What fundamentally is revolutionary about the digicam? Well my Sony Alpha 55 is much the same as my Pentax MZ-50 film camera in many ways. What is different is ubiquity and the price per shot. This laptop has a camera. OK, it’s only really for Skype etc but did I not see people with laptops round the sites of Paris using them to take pictures? Yes. Did I also see loads of people using tablets? Yes. or iPhones and similar. Forget the quality and feel the convenience. There has been an explosion in photography. And it’s just like download music. Dog cheap and dog rough.

Now here is something I hate. I was in this gaff in Paris. It’s gorgeous. The stained glass is kick-ass.

Now this is one of my piccies…

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That is from the big round window in Sainte-Chapelle. It is Christ presiding over the Book of Revelations. The full window has the Beasts and the Whore of Babylon and all the rest. I took it with my 300mm Tamron lens. Numpties were using flash on Samsung Galaxies. Seriously. Now you don’t have to be an f/stop philosopher to realise that photographing stained glass from the inside using a flash is an exercise in utter futility. But who cares? It costs nothing (near enough).

Now if we roll back time something weird happens. Now obviously an iPhone in many ways is a better camera than some wooden box that Lewis Carroll would use but I’ve seen his piccies and they are gorgeous. Technically brilliant. At some level the sheer cheapology of it has resulted in crapology. Back when Victoria was on the throne a photograph was expensive so folks took care. Now it’s cheap as chips and thoroughly automatic for the people so the quality has gone done hill like a cannon ball rolling off Mount Everast. In Sainte-Chapelle there were hordes of folk taking pictures with every form of gadget imaginable. And then there was me and a woman in her 20s with a Nikon DSLR who was holding it right – as I was with my Sony. The simple truth is our society has not coarsened morally as much as economically. I am as guilty as everyone else. I have taken puerile photos of puerile things. At high quality on my Sony with an 8 Gig card I can take 1000 photos. On my Pentax I can squeeze a roll to maybe 39. I can delete as I wish with the Sony too. I can feck around with the settings. It’s a nightmare when you review them. Umpteen piccies of the same thing from the same angle just with different ISO or exposure. And bear in mind the Sony has SteadyShot so for a static image I can get down to 1/20s sometimes and that is hand-held and still looks good.

I know I must sound like an old git but… I do have a point. The ubiquity of the image cheapens it because well, it is cheaper. On the Paris Metro (line 1) I sat opposite a Japanese bloke who was photographing everything. He grabbed a shot of the “stand clear of the doors” sign. Why? God knows. The image I reproduced above is of Jesus Christ on the last day in stained glass in a gorgeous late medieval chapel. One I think is worth more. Not financially but culturally. And no. I am not being a snob.

It’s like twitter. Back in the days of writing copperplate letters people had to think about what they wrote. Is it any surprise the number of celebs etc. who have posted on twitter something immediately regrettable? Or indeed even twitter addict Stephan Fry who felt the need to say he was stuck in a lift? If you don’t have to think then what you produce is either vile or banal or both. Mr Fry is clearly an intelligent chap so why such dross? He has the technodiction as have we all these days and he’s got it bad.

No, I don’t want to go back to cuneiform and graven images but we need to think before we shoot. Or tweet. Or whatever. Consider txt-speak. That wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t cheap as air. People would take time to craft a txt msg if it cost a quid a throw.

And yes, I appreciate as a blogger this is trivial junk. But it matters to me. To put it bluntly I wanted to share the above image with you the moment I took it. I hope you like it. It took about 15 mins to find it and I’m still not sure it is the definitive one! As I said, I’m just as guilty as everyone else of cheapening the image. And the letter and all the rest.

I can’t write English with a pen anymore. Seriously.

Another point. I learnt to take piccies on a seriously good optically (though heavy) Zenit. It belonged to my then girlf. It weighed a pig-iron ton. Of course I had to learn. I also had to do, as part of my physics degree, a photo course with Tony, the Nottingham University Physics photographer. Fascinating. It was a horrendous day in December and I slipped coming down the road on the ice and snow so I was soaking but he taught me the f/stops. Certain readers around here probs know how cold Nottingham is in winter. That is when I really got into piccies. Tony and Rachel. Tony was a nice guy and she was an uber-munt. But that is when I learnt. Greece was field practice. I have loved cameras for years and oddly enough I only really got into them once I got into SLR/DSLT territory. Before that I was a mere snap-shooter. Now I am not.

I have to say something mind. In 1996 I go up the Empire State Building early in the morning. NYC looks gorgeous and I have the Pentax K1000. And the film rips. That is an utter buggeration. I would have rather been anally raped by Lady Gaga with a 12 incher (actually if she uses enough lube that could be fun) than that happen. I got pictures of lower Manhatten and the Twin Towers at dawn but they no longer exist. Not like that is an option to go back anymore. Tnank you Al Queda! You can shoot a fourteen year old in the head in Crapistan (Now being treated in Brum) but can you build 110 storeys? Nicht. No you can’t. You can create chaos, slaughter and slavery. And no this is not Islam. Turkey isn’t like that. Sayeed (Mancunian Pakistani) at the corner shop ain’t either. His wife, a Mulimmah, wears a saree. I guess she is c.40. She looks very nice. It is flattering. It’s no burkha.

The depraved bastards. You know the 9/11 mob shaved their pubic hair to be righteous. I quite like (female – obviously) pubic hair but I also like the smooth look. The later is more fun for oral sex. But shaving is more morally righteous according to Big Mo. Certainly when moral righteousness involves making killing 3000 people more morally righteous than getting the Gillette out. They shaved to be righteous in front of Allah. Not shaving your body hair or killing 3000 people. It’s a toss-up innit?

I know where I stand here. I like piccies. I take hordes. I do not regard any image as wrong per-se. Being against graven images went out with the bronze age. I do think we ought to take care with piccies but is a nude image wrong or indeed any image. I posted an image of God. Call me. It is the fundamental (to me) idea of libertarianism. “Many things we should not do, but that shouldn’t make them illegal.”

Terrible photos should not exist but that should not make them illegal. Taking such shots is it’s own punishment after-all.

6 Comments

  1. ivan says:

    A few years ago I embraced the digital camera age and got myself a Nikon D60 for the simple reason I can use the telephoto lenses from my Nikkormat and it doesn’t cost a fortune in processing (colour).

    I have found that I tend to take more pictures with the D60 because I no longer have to worry that I will run out of film. Although there are a few drawbacks with digital cameras – two hour time exposures appear to be a no no without expensive add-ons.

    I do find it quite amusing that a lot of tourists to this area constantly point their phones at the mountains and then wonder why they don’t get very good pictures but that appears to be the way they want it.

  2. NickM says:

    Well, Ivan. It ain’t just digicams. I have an MSc in astrofizz so unsurprisngly I like looking at and takiing piccies of stars nd such. Now my old Pentax had a cable release that cost like two quid. For my newer Pentax (film camera) it’s an electronic thingy that cost like ten times the amount. And here is the utter kicker. I have the official Sony Remote for my Alpha 55 and that does lots of things but not long exposures. This is a shame. There is a third party device but then I’m not made of Jimmy Carr. Why I simply cant’t open the shutter, leave it, have a smoke lying on my back considering the eternal verities and looking at the firmament (not that that is easy in the rain-sodden NW anyway – in happier climes I have also had a San Mig and toasted Mr Armstrong) for half an hour with the sort of thing the late Fred Dibnah would understand but no! I have instead to use electrical magic out of East Asia and that is is beyond me as to the why. I will get the remote because the Sony does Auto HDR (how long for I wonder?) but that might look a bit Van Gogh.

  3. RAB says:

    Good post Nick, there are a million angles on this one, but I’ll start with Technology giving but at the same time taking away.

    It is generally considered that still the best sound reproduction you can listen to comes from a record deck with high class cartridge and stylus, coupled with a valve amp and high class speakers. This used to, and still does, cost the same as a mortgage on a small house. Back when 45′s were selling hundreds of millions a year, most folk had a Dansette with a ball of fluff on the needle. They couldn’t tell the difference, or if they could, they couldn’t afford it.

    TV used to be two channels in black and white, and one of your family (who had drawn the short straw) had to hang out of the window holding the aerial in one hand and the window ledge with the other to avoid the picture being a snowstorm or continually rolling over, and being told how good Hancocks Half Hour was this week later. Now, with HD TV I can see the blackheads in actors noses, I can pause the action or record it instantly to play back later.

    Remember the Betamax verses VHS fight? This is your basic, quality verses cost argument. Betamax was by far the best system, but it cost an arm and a leg. VHS was pretty standard but it would do for most people, because they could afford it and they didn’t really get to compare the difference.

    When Fox Talbot pretty much invented modern photography, it was the realm of rich amateurs with sheds (West wings morelike) who could process their own film. Artists and enthusiasts all. It took money and intelligence to persevere with such a hobby. And despite its limitations, it transformed our view of the world. No more blokes with Canvass pencils and paint being the arbitors of what an age looked like and emotionally felt like, hopefully we had an accurate representation of say the Crimean and American Civil wars.

    Then came the Kodak Box Brownie, in 1900, the first age of cheap as chips any fool can do it snapshots. But still the narrowing point was the processing. You felt limited to what you could shoot depending not only on your expertise, but the competence of the film processors you entrusted your work to. And it cost you an arm and a leg for only half the pics to come back looking worthwile.

    But now with digital I can film what I like when I like and as often as I like for next to nothing in cost. Then blow it up, crop it, Photoshop it and print it out half the size of God if I want to. Back in the days of Boots I would spend a fortune getting my prints developed, they’d be 6×4 and only 40% would be worth looking at.

    Some of us are artists and take our pics seriously, most are just making throwaway mementos for friends to stuff in Facebook, but that doesn’t matter. The mere fact I can go out today and visit somewhere, take great pics of it and email it to friends the moment I get back in the house is just truly a modern miracle.

  4. NickM says:

    RAB,
    Very thoughtful comment. I call it (the VHS/Betamax) thing the “Pigeon Principle”. Not an impressive critter the pigeon. In the Washington DC Nat Zoo they had bald eagles. Now that is the difference between a Cessna 172 and a Lockheed F-22. One is a puddle-hopper. The other is a supercruise capable stealth fighter that could out agile Jackie Chan in a phonebox. (It has thrust vectors). But pigeons are legion and the bald eagle – an awesome bird – is rare. It’s like the Nintendo Wii. It’s not a patch on the xBox360 or PS3 but it is cheap and kids want Mario and not Medal of Honour versions. Or even more so the success of the Nintendo DS portable series when the Sony was/is so much better. Moreover it’s more like the Amiga. OK, Commodore made a fucking hash of it but in the late ’80s/early ’90s it banged for buck better than a PC-AT or Mac. But it tanked. Ask Sam about this.

  5. Simon Jester says:

    There were Betamax recorders as cheap as the cheapest VHS – I know, because my family bought one. It was availability of content that really did for Betamax.

    The Amiga did pretty well for a while, particularly in the late 80s (I think I bought an Atari ST on the precise day that the Commodore surpassed it in popularity – are we seeing a trend yet?) – both it and the ST were vastly cheaper than the closest equivalent PC (something like £400 vs. £1,600, varying with time).

    But both Commodore and Atari failed to bring out new hardware that maintained this price/performance differential, while PC hardware kept getting cheaper and cheaper. Also, the PC’s base of existing business software also kept on growing…

  6. NickM says:

    Back in the ’80s/’90s I used to read Scientific American (back when it was still a serious science mag). Anyway there was this article on evolution that worked it’s way through the “Why are big, fierce fire-breathing critters rare and really mediocre ones everywhere” question. It used network analysis. Basically being ace on your own grounds is handy but it is nowt to fitting into the whole complexity of the ecosystem. Ditto PCs. PC won because everyone had them so everyone got them because everyone had them. Also the PC was open architecture and modular. So you get Compaq and HP and all the rest challenging IBM. The Amiga was hoist by it’s own custom chips and the catastrophically stupid idea of selling bridgeboards which effectively meant Commodore was saying, “Just don’t bother making biz software”. They simply didn’t dare to take on the PC head on. So great games, Deluxe Paint and nothing to take on Word or 123 etc.

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