10.19.2017

Four and counting...down.


There was a time when even photographers in smaller, secondary markets maintained gloriously large studio spaces. At one time Austin was one of the cheapest cities in which to live in all of Texas. Finding a centrally located, converted warehouse studio of 2500 square feet and 14 foot ceilings was relatively easy and cost far less each month than the mortgage on a mediocre house. It was also an age in which photographers could justify keeping scores of different cameras. After all, a view camera makes a lousy action camera, and a heavy duty studio view camera is a hassle to take on location when compared to a folding field camera; even though both took 4x5 inch film. 

We stocked two kinds of view cameras. When it came to medium format there were multiple Hasselblad cameras (some with built-in motors and some without) and a full complement of lenses. But we also had a Mamiya 6 system (complete with a back up body) for shooting fast, in the street. We had a free flowing supply, more or less, of SLR systems and always a Leica M system with bodies for each lens. It seemed that there was always a special niche that only a certain kind of camera would fill. But then we were jacks of all trades. We might be shooting architecture for a shelter magazine one day, food for a cookbook the next, and always the portraits and product shots which were the bread and butter. We filled in the gaps with event photography, done with 35mm cameras.

When we started buying Kodak professional digital cameras we sloughed off formats, one by one. First to go were the 35mm SLRs. They were followed by the medium format stuff while the 4x5's and the Leica hung on through the first decade of the new century. In place of the film cameras we subjected ourselves and our checkbooks to a seemingly endless flow of digital cameras, each just a hair better than the ones that came before them. 

I think, in our collective consciousness, we all were working under the presumption that the prevailing "gold standard" was always going to be the big print, the double truck spread in a printed, glossy magazine, the trade show graphic the size of a house. We chose our new range of digital cameras accordingly and, working under the "big print" presumption we stocked in a range of cameras, from fun ones to serious ones. When our history told us that 40 by 60 inch prints would always be in vogue we believed in the race for infinite megapixels. And truthfully, there's still tiny niches here and there that make use of as much resolution as a photographer and his camera can conjure. But those niches shrink daily. And they provide commerce for a few thousand skilled workers, worldwide. 

The rest of the world is coming to grips with the reality that our last century understanding of photography is quickly becoming obsolete. The precious, physical manifestation of photography; as embodied by the fine print, is quickly (very quickly) coming to a close, replaced by work shown on multiple screens. We are out of the gallery and onto the phone, and we're not likely to head back. We are looking at multiple images from a shoot instead of one "keeper."

But even more of a change is the embrace, by consumers and the marketplace, of video. If you are already looking at a screen why wouldn't marketers use a more compelling medium, one that can hold a consumer's attention for minutes instead of seconds while delivering multiple messages, or more in-depth messages? Galleries are vanishing. Magazines devoted to singular, fine images are evaporating, while V-logging and video content across the web is proliferating. The writing isn't on the wall anymore, it's on the screens of hundreds of millions of people who are voting with their clicks.

So, after all the years of camera collecting, diversifying and niche-ing I'm in the process of finally finding a "multiverse" solution. I've sold off everything but a couple of Panasonic GH5's, a G85 and an FZ2500. All my current cameras are capable of providing files that are more than sufficient for any electronic display use and, in the case of video, a performance that shames larger and more expensive DSLRs. While they can't compete with cameras like the D850 and A7Rii in sheer resolution they are just as good (or better) for color discrimination and tonal response. 

I may be wrong. I could have misjudged the market. There could be a revival of super high quality magazines, printed on heavy, glossy paper stock. They could re-take the imaginations of new generations --- but I don't think so. Attention spans are shorter and budgets much more constrained. The future, as far as I can tell, is firmly wedded to a series of encounters between art and screens. 

The Millenial Generation has more or less invented the idea of "access instead of ownership". If the infrastructure were in place to facilitate quick and reliable rents of all the different gear I work with I would consider picking the camera I want to use for each job. But, then again, I'm trained by my own history to want to work with my own core selection of gear. But I watch young photographers order a lens from lens rental for a specific project and then happily send it back. They get the use of a specialized piece of gear without the deep investment. They dodge the risk of "opportunity costs." They can spend their money on something other than a $2,000 lens they might only use a few times a year.

A number of newly minted photographers borrow or rent their lighting as needed. And for most the idea of back up equipment is kind of silly because their experiences with most digital cameras is that they've never experienced a complete failure --- as we often did in the film days. 

So, the benefit to me in consistently shrinking my overall equipment footprint is that I now have perhaps the best video cameras under $10,000 on today's market. I have cameras that are smaller and more efficient. Files sizes that are effective but not bloated. And a family of menus that is mostly logical and consistent from model to model. 

I'm steeling myself for the online backlash of people insisting that my equipment change is just ADHD or G.A.S. or a short attention span. But what I think is important, at least to me, is that with each shift we are making our inventory smaller, more rational, and much cheaper. Might not be the pathway a gear collector would take but from a business point of view it's an approach that cuts opportunity cost. And one that leaves me largely debt free. 

If you can do satisfying work across two media with one set of cameras and you can do it with cameras and lenses that are smaller and lighter, and much cheaper, why on earth would you keep in permanent inventory what are quickly becoming niche-y specialty cameras whose full potential you might use only a few times a year until you ultimately decide that they too have become obsolete?

Of course, all of this supposes that your are using your cameras to make a living, have a need for 4K video, and have come to grips with the idea that the market is constantly shifting away from our old paradigm. If you do photography for fun you are best suited using the stuff you have right now until the parts fall off and the rubber grips turn toxic. A few more pixels won't buy you much more pleasure...

This is the first time in over 30 years that I have had only four cameras in my possession. It engenders a great feeling of freedom and lightness. There's more space. Fewer choices. Less to decide. Now I need to winnow down the lights..,.



23 comments:

runbei said...

I'll share a few thoughts just because: different strokes. I have a Canon 6D plus possibly the world's best portrait and ultrawide lenses: the 135/2 and 16-35/4; also a couple of very good workaday bangaround lenses: the 24-105 and 70-300.

I'm very often tempted to go small-mirrorless because I know what fun those cameras are, and what great results they give in adequate light. But my circumstances force me to be able to: (a) shoot in the dark, (b) crop like the dickens, and (c) leave the best possible raw work behind for posterity to dick around with. So: full frame.

And before you ask, yeah, you bet I would love to have the a9! But: bucks.

Browsing thousands of photos on Flickr, taken with the 6D and various lenses, I note that very, very few are worth bookmarking. To me, the easy access to image recorders of all kinds spells: an ocean of bullshit hiding a very, very rare few pearls. The iPhone 8 Plus isn't going to magically empower anybody to capture photos that I will want to save and return to again and again because they nourish my soul. It's the same reason I bookmark and subscribe to very few sites (including VSL).

So evolution is not revolution, that I can see - it's just the Internet all over again, empowering a few geniuses and a trillion illiterate sociopaths. I feel no duty to embrace the spew.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

You refer to video as "a more compelling medium, one that can hold a consumer's attention for minutes instead of seconds". Interesting.

For me, video doesn't have *any* impact at all. Answer quick: what do you remember from your favourite movies? Cary Grant being chased by an airplane maybe? Or the ever-so-sweet Audrey Hepburn on a scooter in Italy?

There are far less moving images being burnt into my brain than there are "stills". But then again, maybe I have too many photo books, and not enough movies. Or I just shouldn't consider myself as that average...

Tom Judd said...

Interesting observations Kirk. And for a working professional, you are
right on. Minimal, but carefully chosen, equipment makes good sense. But
you probably do have to pick your specialties and stick to them.
When renting, lenses are the obvious choice. The good ones are expensive,
and many are rather specialized. But probably not so much for camera bodies.
Reading how you familiarize yourself with each new camera, and set up its
many options to suit your workflow, it sounds like renting a camera would
seldom be a proper option.

Mike Rosiak said...

But what about the really important stuff? I want to know about the food. What is it? Where is it? Does it taste as good as it looks? (And it really looks delicious.)

Stan Yoshinobu said...

Interesting! Back to smaller sensors... Seems like video and social media output are major drivers. And in the worst case, you can repurchase or rent.

I am down to two cameras for similar reasons (EM1.2 and Canon G9X compact). I may add another m43 body, but It depends on how much I need video and how I adapt to the EM1.2.

Ron White said...

Kirk, I see you winnowed down your meal as well..... I don't shoot assignments, just my fine art work and I'm down to one camera and lens that is always with me and another (with two lenses) that I've used the last two years for charity events. Very, very close to reducing to One.

Mark Davidson said...

I just shot another commercial job on the FZ-1000 and have decided that if I could have a 16-35 effective focal length zoom with a leaf shutter on a 1 inch sensor I would dump all my FF Canon gear in an instant.

And if I could have that 16-35 on a shift base plate I would be in heaven.

The bulk of my work is architectural and the plain truth is that 20MP is fine for the shelter mags and nuts for the web.

Small, quiet and full flash sync that would allow me to fill a warehouse with light from a $40 Speedlight. What is not to love?

MO said...

Did You sell your sony fullframes to? Good for you!

Cheers mads

Kurt Friis Hansen said...

ITSS (It's the Story, Stupid)

You are on to something, but is it news?

It's always been about telling a story. The better told, the bigger the audience. You can do it with a single image, but it's more of a God given talent (GGT). Video is a bit easier to get across, if you're good (the IYG effect), but… look at the typical YouTube product (YTP); sound is heavily compressed (I virtually always have to lower volume between 10 and 15 dB in order to not scare the neighbors too much) and in most cases not even related to the story, the scenes or individual cuts. No sound side "Hitchcock" (SSH or SSSA = Sound Side Sir Alfred) is the norm. No original sound (NOS) either ('cause it's really, really, REALLY hard with the consumer products manufactured today). The perpetual "yada-yada-yada" or "umpa-umpa-täteräää" in variations interspersed with "rumbleYAHOOOrumbleYAHOOObongbong" is tedious. If "Einheitsbrei" ("Uniform porridge") is wanted, at least imitate one of the masters, like James Last (I personally hate him, but he invented and mastered a whole big band genre - also called "wall of sound" - to perfection).

On the other hand… who needs video, sound or images at all? For centuries, nay millenia, the good stories have been produced in most settings and even under dire circumstances with not even a camp fire in polar nights. Stories capable of producing vivid images. Without anything but words - here not even a sound or pause to emphasize a point. An example? An example:

There is a wonderful story about how yodeling was invented (one of very many versions, not all fit for public printing, wonder why ;-):

Yodeling was invented by a Swiss postman on his way back to the post office, hurtling down a mountain track. Somehow he got his big toe trapped in the front wheel, and the basic "rhythm" of yodeling was invented:

"yodde-yodde-yodde…."

From time to time, the bike hit a stone, affecting the body part(s) in contact with the saddle, thus leading to the creation of the intermittent crescendos:

"….yahoooayiiiiooww…."

Any true male knows, what I'm talking about. Most people can grasp the predicament, and smile while their "internal movie house" (IMH) plays the scene - often forgetting to render the both serene and majestic landscape; nothing is perfect. No media. No physical product. Pure "conjecture" and imagination. Probably unique for each individual.

Most images on public display are - in contrast - boring in themselves. Often extremely so.

If you've seen one "(S)LoDoF" (Super Low Depth of Focus) image, you've seen most. Not all, but most, and there's long and far between any remotely original use of SLoDoF in todays world. The same applies to most schools of photography. Even the golden ratio has to some extend become tediously boring, since nearly every photo contest participant (PCP) within hurricane distance has exactly the same approach on this matter, as well as on most other pre-defined "photographic rules". Don't get me started on "SOPIWTSATYGWLTOBAHH" (sexy or pornographic images with too skinny and too young girls with large tits - or behinds - and high heels ;-)

But I love some of the interesting new views on landscapes and sights, that the odd lucky tourist with a smartphone just happens to produce once in a while. By pure chance. Even a point-and-shoot owner has luck once in a blue moon, but the costlier the camera the "seldom'er" the creativity seems to become today.

And that's were professional story tellers shine, whether using pencil, pen or brush, oral tradition even gestures or in need of other, more mechanical contraptions. The cost of the tool has very little direct effect on the story, but some tools may ease creation, production and distribution to a wider audience.

Regards

Kirk Tuck said...

Wow. Kurt. That's a prodigious comment. Loved it. All true.

Kirk Tuck said...

MO, Hey Mads, the Sony stuff is all sold off. I've got some extra body caps and lens back caps as well as some batteries left over. I'll find a nice home for them soon. It was a fun romp with the Sonys. They are fun, good cameras. The GH5s suit me better....

Dave Jenkins said...

Wow, Kirk! So you got rid of all your Sony stuff? Amazing!

I just sold the last of my Canon equipment and have re-outfited myself with a pair of Fuji bodies and five lenses. The whole kit in my old Domke F3X bag weighs about eight pounds.

I totally disagree with you about the impact of videos vs. still photos. In fact, I avoid watching videos. But you gotta give the clients what they want or find some other business to be in. Glad I'm mostly out of commercial photography these days, but I loved it while I did it.

Your comments about studios made me nostalgic for the great space I had from 1993 to 2000 in downtown Chattanooga. The shooting room was about 20x30 feet with a 12-foot ceiling, a large darkroom with a King Concepts processor, and a nice space for office and meeting clients. All for $600 per month. Those were good days.

George Janik said...

Now Kurt be a good boy and eat all your vegetables (fruits really). There are people starving and would love to have those 2 tomatoes.
I think you did too good a job on that plate...I'm off to make myself a tomato salad:)
George

Kirk Tuck said...

Dave, Amen. Those days of big spaces and low, low rents were so much fun. And we got so much work done. My first remark about Panasonic GH5 versus Sony anything is that it's easier to color correct the flesh tones on the GH5s. That's a workflow plus. Always interested in Fuji but too scared to dip a toe in that pool.

Dave Jenkins said...

I don't think Fujis could by any means replace the Panasonics as your working system, but I believe you would really enjoy an X-Pro with a 35mm (52mm equivalent) lens as a walking around/fun camera.

Leigh Miller said...

Well said...

Gato said...

Most interesting. These last few days I'm trying to push myself to post my full frame Sony gear to ebay. The times I use it are just too far between and few.

FWIW, over the last 6 or 7 years I have bought 3 FF systems and sold 2 of them. The story has been the same -- I buy a camera and a few lenses, I marvel at the detail, I wish for more and better lenses (and sometimes buy a few of them). Then I stick the stuff in the closet and it sits there depreciating for a year or so before I get around to selling it. Luckily I'm retired on a limited budget so I buy used and shop hard. Overall, once I sell the Sony stuff, I expect I'll very nearly break even. I actually made a small profit on some of the Nikon stuff.

My last real job was shot with a Panasonic FX1000 -- the advantages of real high speed flash sync easily offset the tiny sacrifice of image quality compared to a larger sensor.

As a side note, I'm listening to BBC news as I type (via Amarillo public TV) and they are touting vertical video for their mobile subscribers. The migration continues.

JR

Kenneth Voigt said...

You are the absolute King of self delusion. I give you 30 days.
your friend, Kenneth Voigt, San Antonio

MO said...

I get it Kirk :) I think its the right pick for you to :) i still would recommend looking into a speedbooster and 1-2 fast primes for shallow dof.

less is more i mentioned my cutdown in another post reply, so not gonna bore people with that again ! But it makes me concentrate more on the outcome and have a good effect on the fun off it all.

Ian Kirk said...

Eat your tomatoes up please Kirk......

mikepeters said...

Yup. Been using M4/3 full time commercially since May 2013 and haven't looked back.

The Panasonic bodies matched with any lens made in the past 100 years or so is a good thing. It is as much as most everyone needs for print resolution in the real world. It's the real sweet spot in terms of size, weight, and price. For working stiffs it's a great kit to own.

I keep thinking I'll just rent a camera with higher resolution when I need it. And over the past four years, I still haven't needed anything bigger.

So, welcome to the club. However, the people lugging around the big full frame dslr cameras will give you the stink eye, relegating you to the idiot club for using such a toy. But, the joke is on them when their spines collapse from the weight.

Kirk Tuck said...

This is my third round with Panasonic and I think it'll stick for a bit. No back problems here!

Daryl Davis said...

As always, a very thoughtful and well-written article. Thanks, Kirk!

My problem with m43 always was with ergonomics. I owned both E-M5 versions. I found the viewfinders squinty and fatiguing, the bodies cramped and fatiguing. And I was forever hitting some little button that changed something I didn't want changed (I have the same problem, to a lesser extent, with Fujifilm X digitals, not at all with my Nikon D7100). But video's becoming more of a thing for me, so I'm thinking of the GH5. And yes, my back isn't what it used to be: another consideration, as I find I prefer having different bodies to swapping lenses.

Full Disclosure: I'm not a pro. In my life, I've been paid for one event and had one photo licensed for publication. I have no market, so it's easy for me to say that, for me, my photos don't exist until they have been printed (I only print my best). Though I do publish to the web, the idea that my images might only be seen on a cheap-ass, big-box, color-shifted LCD panel, makes me want to lock myself in my study with a bottle of vodka and a Luger.

I shoot events, as a volunteer, for a couple of jazz programs my twin daughters are involved in. I charge a little above actual print cost on the middle school band's annual group picture. At the end of each season, I give prints to the kids of individual candids I've taken through the year. The digital generation love the physical prints! Last year, several of the kids were carrying Fujifilm Instax cameras. I'm thinking of picking up a Speed Graphic and some New55 film, and doing some old-school work for them.

Last year, I made one of my best photos ever. I captured the jazz band's lead singer, Francine, at the moment of peak emotion in her solo. I knew what I wanted, camera was on a tripod, focus and exposure set, and I waited. I did a monochrome conversion, printed it 20 x 16, and gave it to Francine at rehearsal when I delivered the group prints : her reaction was worth every dime I've spent on this hobby since 1982. Her mom thanked me effusively at the last concert of the year. I'm not sure a digital upload would have had the same effect.