Spirited Nonsense and Neutral Reality.
The camera on the left is a Panasonic G3. It features 16 megapixels of resolution, pretty clean files up to 1600 ISO and it weighs next to nothing. The lens on the front of the camera is very sharp and has beautiful tonality. The camera on the right is a Canon 1DS Mk2. If features 16 megapixels of resolution, pretty clean files up to 1600 ISO and it weighs a ton. The lens on the front is a Zeiss ZE 85 mm 1.4. It's sharp once it's stopped down one and half stops and it has beautiful tonality.
The camera on the left cost me $550. The camera on the right originally retailed for $ 8,000 but I bought it well used, in the middle of last year for $1,800. There are differences between these cameras and similarities. They both turn out really nice files and the files look really nice on my monitors.
If we use our knowledge base from 2005 and earlier then the one on the right is the camera to have. But if we are open minded, cognizant of market changes and willing to make a go at understanding the impact of technological development, the camera on the left can be compellingly argued for.
I just read two different discussion threads on a global photography website. One thread praised the advances in cellphone cameras and noted that a flood of images from citizen cellphone-o-graphers is supplanting traditional photojournalists around the world in supplying content for news oriented websites, magazines and newspapers. The gist of the article was that the 8 megapixel files from the cellphone are acceptable to editors far and wide. The argument is that once a certain technical threshold is crossed the content trumps the device with which it was captured. I'll buy that. So, the new professional in the field of photo-journalism is the guy or girl who is in the right place at the right time with the minimally acceptable or better equipment. Access being the prime feature. In one camp the prevailing thought among amateurs and hobbyists is the vindication of their talents by the eradication of a profession and its replacement by free operators. And it's all made possible through the de-evolution of technical necessities. Pixel content is less rigorous than printed content. And more forgiving which lowers the barriers to entry while sheer quantity allows the editors and art buyers to crowd source their way to competence.
The other, opposite argument I read concerned what constitutes bare minimum necessities in a "professional" camera. The unwashed majority vociferously insisting that no one, NO ONE could be deemed a "pro" unless they were equipped with a camera that outperformed all previous cameras in the history of modern, digital photography. The camera would have to shoot at high frame rates, focus in the dark, see in the dark, withstand nuclear blasts, electro-motive pulses and as much rain and mud as you could possibly throw at it. The pro camera would yield files as smooth as ISO 64 film from an 8x10 view camera but it would do so at 25,000 ISO. In their world all pros shoot with enormously long and complex lenses. They must have, at a minimum, lenses at 300, 400 and 600mm that open up to f2.8 in order to put "cluttered" backgrounds out of focus. All zooms should be f2.8 or faster. No professional work could conceivably be done with anything less than a full frame sensor. And not just any sensor but whatever tomorrow's sensor is, today.
The later camp compiles their information based on what they read in magazines about photographers who seem to all have contracts with Sports Illustrated. The first camp seem to derive their information from the legions of starving pros who are trying to "own" the mobile niche of telephone photography in order to sell gee-gaws, lectures and software packages. "Actions!!!!!" Even the word feels like we're all moving the game forward....
So, what's the reality? I'm thinking it falls in between and also lives with the outliers. Paul shoots his architectural stuff with medium format cameras and incredibly expensive optics from the Black Forest and the mountains of Switzerland. I shot books today for a very large corporation using a nice little micro four thirds camera. We're finally living in a time that gives truth to so many of the mythological sayings that have been dreamed up in the service of explaining photography. "Horses for courses." (which I hate) means you get to choose precisely the best equipment for your task as Paul does. "It ain't the arrow it's the indian...." (equally offensive) is the tactic I pressed into service today. The final destination for my images will be the corporation's website. The camera was less important than the lighting, the angles and the post production. Perhaps we could have even shot this one with an iPhone given total control over the lighting and aperture.....
With the emphasis shifted to post processing and to web use the truisms about what constitutes professional gear are rendered silly and anachronistic. The knowledge, taste and point of view are important. The brand or size of camera are much less so.
Given the use by my client of the final images today the camera I reached for was a micro four thirds camera with the stunning 45mm 1.8 Olympus lens (although the 40mm 1.4 would have been equally good......). The full frame camera I used on the last go around was not as successful. Why? because we were working close but with a longer lens and the depth of field was a critical aspect. When shooting a book it's usually important to keep the entire product in focus even though you are shooting at an angle to show dimension. The smaller format with the shorter focal length delivered a more convincingly sharp file that required less work than its full frame cousin.
Tomorrow I have a portrait shoot that will require very narrow depth of field and the smoothness that comes from lots of detail. I'll use a full frame camera for that. But I could probably make an equally good photo with a fast, long lens on the smaller format if I toss in some time for post processing.
The bottom line is that no one outside the field, or even outside your business, really knows what the hells is going on. If you are basing your business plans as a photographer on what you read on forums you are pretty much doomed to failure. You might make a unique selling proposition out of the flexibility and portability of smaller cameras. You might have a style that depends on a larger format camera and it may be a style that appeals to an affluent niche.
But it's never a good idea to try and fit all of the pegs into a single round hole. It never works out well.
Right now my money is on the smaller cameras. They lower the barrier to entry, deliver proficient and efficient results and they require so little investment that they become disposable. That lowers the momentum to resist change when paradigm shifting technology innovations destroy existing markets. And they are more fun to tote. But, being conservative, I'll hedge my bets by keeping my premium, full frame cameras and prestige lenses handy. Handy but probably undisturbed...
I've been writing about small cameras for nearly three years now. I think the things we've discussed here are starting to come to market fruition. I know the smaller gear is demanding more and more of my mindshare. What about you?