So why am I writing about this? Two reasons: 1. Canon has just announced a camera that I think will have a profound effect on the bottom end of the professional photography market and maybe the entire market. And, 2. I've just done a few jobs wherein I used point and shoot cameras to supplement my traditional DSLR's with good results.
Let's start with the Canon announcement. The camera is called a G11 and will replace the Canon G10. The 10 is an emminently usable gem of a camera that packed 15 megapixels onto a small chip with really convincing results-----as long as you shot your photos at ISO 80 or ISO 100. When you sauntered off to higher ISO's you got more and more noise as the density of the sensor started working against low noise.
Everyone who has used the G10 loves it except for the noise. They love the form factor and the very good image stabilization and the very high resolution. But almost to a person they remark that Canon would have made the perfect camera if they had resisted the "megapixel race" and just kept the sensor at 10 megapixels. Apparently Canon listens. The G11 will have a sensor with 50% fewer pixels and the pay-off is a promised two stops increase in performance vis-a-vis sensor noise.
So, in a matter of weeks you'll have access to a small camera with these benefits: 1. A fast, sharp lens. 2. A very quiet operation. 3. Low noise up to at least 400 ISO. 4. A professional hot shoe for all kinds of flashes and flash triggers!!!! 5. Raw file capability. 6. Fast shutter response. 7. A flash sync capable of going all the way up to 1/2500th of a second. And finally, 8. A solid metal body.
Assuming that your style of photography is the "captured moment" or "street" photography or even work in the studio with continuous or electronic flash lighting you could do a ton of work with one of these cameras......all for the princely sum of less than $500 (US).
I've used a Canon G10 for many photographs. For a while I made it a habit to shoot professional work with both a D700 and, if time permitted, the little guy. And sometimes the G10 worked better. More depth of field, easier to use live view mode, etc.
If you've read my ramblings over the past few months you know that I am continuing to explore the idea that, as we go further and further into the web as the outlet for our photographic work, the concept, execution, lighting and subject rapport will trump the physical superiorities of expensive professional cameras. Content will finally become about content instead of being about craft.
The barriers to entry into professional photography have always been multi-tiered. The first line of defense in the preservation of the professional space has always been the myriad complexities of operating the machinery. But the real magic has always been the ability to think and be different from everyone else and to be able to express that genuine eccentricity in your work. Craftsmen seek perfection, artist seek expression. The craft used to be the country club dues that allowed one into the inner circle where opportunity lay. Now it lay all over the place but because the barriers are falling, one by one, the entry level "craft" intensive work has become commodified and adhering to the laws of supply and demand the market is consistently lowering the cost to the final user.
But, and this is important, the price of creativity has not become commodified because there is no way to replicate it. Art and vision is like a virus that replicates itself each time mankind in general find a "solution", a "formula" and a way of making current art a commodity. That's the magic of it all. People will pay for vision before they pay for craft. If you can combine them both without letting craft set oppressive boundaries you'll have chance at the winner's circle.
Coming full circle I see the G11 (and all the copycat cameras that are sure to come) to be a change that reduces the weight and structure of photography making the process more transparent. The hope is that this will push down the formalist restrictions of the process and free up the vision of the user.
I used to be a camera snob until I set up some lights and a 14 megapixel SLR in a mixed light set up and looked at the previewed image on the back of the camera. One of my clients took a shot with his iPhone. The iPhone snapshot looked better. Now I'm up for anything that works.
I mentioned a project I worked on earlier in the year using a point and shoot camera. It was for a client who need some landscape imagery for use on a web site. I shot wild flowers and roadways and overpasses and landscapes. One day I shot everything with a Canon SX10 camera. The 28mm equivalent lens on a 7mm sensor gave me sharp and detailed focus on flower right in front of my face and kept the monolithic road constructions a hundred feet away very sharp.
I shot with the P&S because the work was supposed to be used only on a website. The client called and got permission to use them in another project. My client is a ten year veteran of the business and can read files as well as I do in PhotoShop. Her monitor is as well calibrated as mine. If she looked at the image at 100% and found it usable I certainly wasn't going to question her judgement. Bottom line? The image looked great on a spread in an annual report printed on glossy stock. Really great.
I'm buying two of the G11's (cameras should always travel in pairs.....) and I intend to use them for any professional job I come across that would be improved by their unique properties. In fact, with the exception of jobs that call for very narrow depth of field looks I can think of few instances where the cameras would not be competent.
Finally, I sat with a photographer this afternoon who has done much work in Europe for National Geographic Traveler. He was showing me a story about shooting London with cameras that cost under $1,000. His camera of choice (this was a few years ago) was a Sony V3. His work was wonderful. Street shots full of movement. Challenging lighting. Interior shots. Even great dusk shots.
He had hedged his bets by shooting some shots with a Canon 1DS camera (state of the art at the time). While the bigger camera was better at very high apertures most of the street scenes and general images were equally good on either camera.
It's a brave new world. It's time to be brave about separating our perceptions about cameras from our intentions about art. I'd love to hear from people who are shooting professionally with cameras like the G10.