These days, when I go outside, I usually have my compact camera with me, which I have an affectionate nickname for, as if it was my buddy. It fits into a jacket pocket along with the lens and I try to bring another tiny wide angle lens to complete the set. That is all that my photography requires at the moment. No more.
They say the best camera is the one you have on you. It’s true. My best experience with photography thus far was with the equally tiny Fujifilm X-T1. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the quality of images I could get. It’s not a knock on the camera. There was just something off. I couldn’t get the snap out of the images and using filters wasn’t helping. Somehow, they always lacked the punch, the light, whatever. It just wasn’t there. But the experience of shooting something that came right out of my pocket whenever I needed it, had that b&w image preview in the viewfinder and generally felt nice and solid and soulful was great. I never got the same kind of feeling from carrying a Canon DSLR around.
It was similar with analog. I loved carrying my Leicaflex SL2 with me. I took it on vacation, outfit with the Summicron-R 50mm. A perfect little setup. Out of 2 rolls of film I took on a family holiday in Italy 70 shots turned out great. And no processing of a 1000 images on a computer necessary. What a win!
But the process… Expensive. Slow. Those Italian images I took to the lab. That was a good call. I have the prints, nice and easy. But doing anything around developing and scanning this stuff just didn’t turn my crank for the quality that I could produce. I would much rather spend that money and time on medium format photography. And that is where my Rolleiflex used to shine.
One time, I came across a blog by Matthew Osborne and I was blown away by the quality of work he produced with the Hasselblad V system. It looked kind of like the stuff out of my Rolleiflex, but better. Cleaner. Sharper. Clear across the entire frame. Well lit. I so wanted to be able to produce that kind of photography. Not to mention the subjects he was working with. So I sold my Rolleiflex, and got a Hasselblad instead. And then a couple more to sell and pay for the main one. And guess what! My photographs did get better in quality! The images I was getting in proper natural light and in studio were amazing! What a joy! I also bought a light meter, a prism, because I found the thing a little hard to focus at times and a scanner, to get the most out of those negatives!
And then I hit a wall. I could never really get over the problem with colours that came out on film. Then the occasional boo boo with development happened. Then I exposed some film by accident. Then the light seals started wearing out in the magazines. Then newton rings ruined a whole bunch of scans. It all turned into a very expensive and time consuming hobby I had no resources for, having a young family to look after. So it was an obsession of sorts that resulted in not much more than a few nice looking, original family photos.
Then I lost one job. Then another. Then I realised I’m crazy about photography but my images aren’t getting any better and I was spending too much time and money on all that nothing.
And then it dawned on me: I’m not just dissatisfied with my photography, but clearly my photography became synonymous with being dissatisfied with my life.
And no amount of top quality gear or new techniques were going to change that.
The great and awful deal with photography is, it is only as good as you can make it.
It’s only as interesting as you are. It’s only as amazing as your life is.
If you can’t find a way to do something really interesting, intriguing, insightful, compelling, fun, shocking, exciting, creative in your life, your photography sure as hell won’t get that way either.
And that’s a fact.
And no camera, no matter how freakin’ amazing the specs and the price tag is going to change that.
Just browse the Leica groups on Flickr.
You will be shocked at how many boring, pedestrian, meaningless and downright crappy snapshots people make with gear that costs more than annual income for many of us.
Having said that, I still miss my Leica M8. I could never really get to love it though. The raw images it shot were amazingly sharp, beautifully sculpted with the help of the classic Summicron 50. But the thumbing around to get to select the raw options and then removing the effects of the dead pixels in post processing was too much to ignore and ultimately made the experience a mixed bag. I miss that Cron the most. The R one is great, makes great pics on a Canon, but it’s just not the same experience and the images don’t have the same quality as my M8/Summicron combo. And, guess what – neither setup makes my photography any different. Because photography really is about art – it’s what’s inside you and what you have to say with your images, what you see, what you can show that will make you a great artist or a mediocre afficionado on your best day.
I really hope that someday, I will be able to aspire to the former. For now, my compact camera is all that is need to cover this afficionado’s needs.
I wish you reach the same nirvana with your search for the best camera much quicker than I did.