Sigma, Cindy Sherman and pricing models.....

I read, with great amusement, the announcement of Sigma's newest DSLR camera, the SD-1.
It looks like a very well designed digital camera body.  They claim that the body is carved out of magnesium and is weather sealed.  It will bang out 44 megapixel files at five frames per second.  It will take a full line of Sigma SD lenses.  It has a three inch, 460,000 LCD on the back.  I like the little strap lugs.  But the aspect of the announcement that brought a smile to my face was the revelation of the MSRP.  The price of this camera, sans lens, is just under $10,000.  The rationalization (and I think this is such a far stretch that it could only have been thought up after a long evening of heavy, heavy drinking...) is that the three layers of APS-C sized sensors each record pure color for each of the RGB colors instead of using a Bayer Filter with Interpolation for digital capture.  This also does away with the need for an anti-aliasing filter which, in theory, should make the files sharper.  When you do the math this way (3x15 megapixels = 45 megapixels) you can say that your camera captures the same size image files as the Medium Format digital cameras on the market.  Indeed, if this camera made images just like a 40 megapixel Phase One back it might  be worth less than half the price of the Phase One.

But all things are not equal.  While photographers like the high res files provided by MF cameras they also like and use the depth of field effects provided by a large sensor.  And the Phase One sensors are nearly four times the size of the SD-1 sensor.  Another benefit of bigger sensor wells spread over a larger surface area is that lenses don't have to be designed to ultra high tolerances in order to deliver the goods to the sensor as a whole.  To get the same system resolution in the SD-1 that you'd get with a big Phase One sensor you'd need lenses that were computed and manufacturer to be at least four time higher resolution.  Much better corrected for CA and other issues and you'd need much tighter tolerances because all geometric physical deviations would be amplified by a factor of at least 4.  (Quick.  Some engineer check my work here.....).

I've used Sigma lenses.  Some of them are good.  None of them are good enough to make use of the implied resolution of this sensor system.  Maybe a few of the Zeiss lenses.  Perhaps the M series Leica lenses (which would not work on this camera) but not the typcial 18-250mm zooms.  So, what were they thinking?  Will we ever know?

Here's a scary thought for all of us nay-sayers:  What if it really does what it says and we have so much gear hubris that we can't let ourselves believe it?  Naw.  Size is size.  But you have to admire their courage for putting it on the market this way.  Now when they drop the price to $4900 it will almost seem like a bargain....

So, ten thousand dollars for an APS-C camera body.  Now I think we have a real handle on just how bad inflation really is in America. ( proffered as a joke...).

With that in mind let me move on to the other interesting news of the week:  The world's highest priced photograph.  A Cindy Sherman self portrait (mise en scene) sold at auction in New York for $3.9 million.  Everyone on the web is outraged.  The "pro" forum on DPreview is bristling with "photographers" who are frothing at the mouth and exclaiming that "no photograph is worth that much money!!!!"  Even normally open minded Mike Johnston at the Online Photographer opined that the pricing was probably the result of ridiculous pissing match on the part of two collectors with too much money on their hands.

I'll take the opposite side.  I think Cindy Sherman's work represented the vanguard of work that pried open the museum market and made collectors and curators consider photography as a real and bonafide part of the art world and all that entails.  The spoils go to the pioneers.  Just as Steve Jobs and Apple reap the benefit of being first and best in the tablet market (and make billions!!!!) Cindy Sherman was part of the first wave of photographer/artists whose photos were about an idea, a manifesto, a dogma, a thought instead of being purely representative.  With Cindy Sherman, Sandy Skoglund, and a handful of others it became okay to make art about a thought instead of about a thing.  And this opened the door to current masters of the large inkjet prints who, incidentally, are getting up to half a million dollars a print for large works.  And those works haven't withstood the tests of time, nor are they revolutionary in the same sense as their predecessors of thirty years ago.

Why is a Rembrandt worth one hundred million dollars?  Why is a Van Gogh worth forty million dollars?  Why are Leonardo da Vinci paintings priceless?  In a sense, it's because they represented a giant tectonic shift in art which reflected a related shift in culture and society.  They are a visual artifact of our collective evolution.  They are our monolith on the moon in the movie,  2001 A Space Odyssey.  These works are the signposts of change in our civilizations.  That's why they are prized.  They are prized as ideas not as paper talismans.  And the world market now sets their price.  Can you really argue with the power of ideas?  Isn't that what drives corporations from Xerox to Apple to Google?

The idea moves all people forward.  How to put a price on that?

So.....back to work.  I'll need to sell a lot of photographs and videos if I'm going to get on that long list for the SD-1, let alone my own copy of a Cindy Sherman.

One last thought.  It's not important that we all own a Cindy Sherman but it is important for art in general and photography in particular that our culture is still able to celebrate expression and art as having value.  That's the real meaning of the auctioned Cindy Sherman photo.  Now just think how much more it would have gone for if she'd made it really, really big.......