Should the photography fit the camera or the camera fit the photography?

March 28, 2007  •  Leave a Comment

I've finally given up on trying to fit my Nikon D70s/18-200 VR combo in my shirt pocket. I like taking pictures, but because of this behemoth I don't always have a camera to hand. I've been keeping an eye out for a decent Point and Shoot Compact Camera with manual controls, RAW and a zoom with 28mm on one end, and that can slip in my shirt pocket. So far I've not found such a beast that has quality in all its areas..

So I recently went shopping to pick up a Fuji F30 (no RAW, no 28mm), which was highly rated, but ended up getting a Samsung NV10 (10mp) instead. It doesn't have RAW or 28mm either but it does have manual controls and a truly amazing interface that allows you to get to everything in the menu within a second! Apart from the main difficulty all Point & Shoot's have with ISO (ie anything much over 100 is dreadful) it has already let me get shots that would have passed my cameraless pocket by previously. It obviously doesn't compare to the better lenses/bigger sensors on dSLR's but a shot from this type of camera is better than none.

I suppose I should go a little under the 'hood' and give a bit of background as to where I'm coming from. After college in the mid 80's, and a not insignificant investment in SLR gear, I was convinced that the only good picture could be taken with a camera that had the glass, the controls and the quality necessary to take a great shot. In the late 80's I read a article about Irish Times Photographer, Peter Thursfield. He admitted to the heinous crime of always carrying a Nikon 35mm Compact in his pocket for 'grab' shots, he even admitted that some of these shots were published in the Irish Times!

This attitude blew me away and forced me to re-assess what photography was about. Up to that I had thought it was about the equipment but here was this esteemed, and successful, photographer saying it was about the picture, the moment! Miss the moment and you miss the picture.

So now, at the end of over 2 years research into the perfect P&S, I finally said "f**t it" it's time to get off the fence. I now have a tiny camera, made by a fridge manufacturer, whose menu system is the most amazing I have ever seen but which already has let me take shots I would have missed and my creative street photography is the better for it.

You can read a review of the Samsung NV10 on DP Review here: Samsung NV10 Review" and I've put some shots from the Samsung up on my Flickr site". These are ones that I could not have taken with the D70s, simply because I wouldn't have had it with me. And I have to say I'm enjoying it

My inspiration for a small, unobtrusive cameras came from the work of Henri Cartier Bresson.

FROM WIKIPEDIA - Cartier-Bresson exclusively used Leica 35 mm rangefinder cameras equipped with normal 50mm lenses or occasionally a wide-angle for landscapes.He often wrapped black tape around the camera's chrome body to make it less conspicuous. With fast black and white films and sharp lenses, he was able to photograph almost by stealth to capture the events. No longer bound by a huge 4×5 press camera or an awkward two and a quarter inch twin-lens reflex camera, miniature-format cameras gave Cartier-Bresson what he called "the velvet hand [and] the hawk's eye." He never photographed with flash, a practice he saw as "[i]mpolite...like coming to a concert with a pistol in your hand." He believed in composing his photographs in his camera and not in the darkroom, showcasing this belief by having nearly all his photographs printed only at full-frame and completely free of any cropping or other darkroom manipulation -- indeed, he emphasized that the entire negative had been used by extending the area reproduced on the print to include a thick black border around the frame.

Cartier-Bresson worked exclusively in black and white, other than a few unsuccessful attempts in color. He never developed or made his own prints. He said: "I've never been interested in the process of photography, never, never. Right from the beginning. For me, photography with a small camera like the Leica is an instant drawing."


"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotif." — Henri Cartier-Bresson


I once read that he was able to focus his Leica and choose the correct aperture/shutter while the camera was still in his pocket! I'm afraid I have to rely on auto focus/auto exposure.

You can see some of Cartier-Bressons images here. and a 1 hour programme on him can be see here. or by clicking on the play button below:



All Point and Shoot Compact Cameras are a compromise, but the Samsung gives me a level of immediate control that was I feel is more important for the type of shots I want to take with it. I'm searching for the 'Decisive Moment' ala Cartier-Bresson, so a camera that's easy to keep with me is important and one that allows me change the settings quickly is important and one that is quick is important, otherwise no shot is taken.

For me I suppose the question is 'if you can't have the quality AND the good shot, which one would you go for'; I've gone for the one that allows me to take the shot. Remember this is my second string camera, the SLR is my first so when I need quality I use it. The problem with SLR's though is that it's hard to keep them with you all the time, hence the P&S.

So far I've been using the Samsung in 'touristy' places and I find that I'm being completely ignored. This is exactly what I want, the D70s garnered too much respect. It changed peoples attitude, drawing attention to me and making them think that they were 'ruining' my shots. Clearly tourists shots aren't as important to the masses!

I suppose the thing on my mind is, do you make your photography fit the camera you have, or do you make the camera fit the photography you want to take. There's no good answer to this because, as I said, all P&S's are a compromise.

I'm trying to leave behind my focus on pursuing 'absolute quality' in terms of equipment and am trying to concentrate on the 'decisive moment'. The Samsung has helped bring fun (with a little touch of danger) back into my photography. Will I capture it? Once in a blue moon maybe, if I'm lucky.

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