Give Your Photos a Life! Modern-Day Camera Reviews and the Death of Photography

Am not saying I’m a good photographer. Just average. Newer cameras — and older ones for that — easily surpass my and many photographers’ capabilities.

BTW, what’s about to follow is pure heresy for some, asking that I’m hanged, drawn and quartered. Still, in dubio pro reo…

There are the basic rules though no one should ever, ever ignore. It’s first and foremost the lens that counts, stupid.

Just an average photo with questionable focus, exposure, framing; shot with an old, average Canon G11. Still, there’s an emotion to it. The photograph somewhat lives.
Rather a good lens on a sub-par camera than a sub-par lens on a good camera.

Good glass lasts, cameras don’t.

In the world of camera reviews, however, glass doesn’t seem to matter at all.

Most reviewers don’t even mention what lenses some of the often clinical, sterile test images are shot with.

Right, reviews are here to prove technical aspects.

You read the review and you’ll know the exact nature of a pixel down to the level of the atom. But you’re left clueless about what this great technology has to do with great photography.

Or does your photography improve the way technology does?

Many modern-day reviews are the death of photography, really.

Good photography is not only about ultra sharpness and no noise. It’s about content, it’s about evoking an image, an emotion in the mind of the beholder.

This is not to say we don’t respect all the hard work and dedication going into elaborate reviews.

Sadly, many reduce photography to purely technical aspects.

What, for the love of photography, has a great image got to do with what the human eye can’t see in most cases.

It’s suggested a camera is mainly about standard studio scenes.

That’s a pixel peeper’s wet dream. Keyboard warriors find those single imperfect pixels in a composition of millions and millions of pixels. And hell breaks loose.

You start suffering the moiré, noise and artifacts syndromes — even though none of these imperfections ever destroyed a good photograph.

You’re getting concerned about chromatic aberration and aliasing… if you listen closely you can positively hear how Henri Cartier-Bresson turns in his grave.

Rightly so, you’re concerned, but what makes an image look bland is neither moiré nor noise nor artifacts nor aliasing nor chromatic aberration.

These days anyone can do a testimonial shot that shows that a camera can do ISO 100,000 at 1/8000th to get a perfectly frozen action shot in dim light.

That, however, is mastering technical equipment. That’s not what good photography is about.

But who’s to blame when we’re reading too many reviews demanding technically perfect demonstrations.

Run!

Technical perfection looks, well, perfect. But it can border on the sterile and emotionless.

It is said that evoking an emotional response with a photo is the hallmark of great photography.

If that is so, I’d argue that the artistic execution of a photography carries more impact than technical perfection.

But that’s what camera makers are giving us. Nearly perfect cameras.

Faster, better, higher.

Am not saying don’t upgrade. Photography and upgrading aren’t mutually exclusive. On the contrary.

But ask yourself, how much does faster, better gear improve your photography.

Canon and Nikon are engaged in a digital techno war, launching similar products at similar time frames aimed at similar target groups ready to upgrade every two to three years.

You’re promised less and less moiré, less chromatic aberration, more processing speed, and so forth. And how exactly does your photography improve?

Honestly, what are you after: technology rather than photography?

Despite new cameras, a good camera will not degrade over time. Why wouldn’t a good camera today not make a good camera in ten years?

It’s the market and the business and the gadget-culture that demands new models in a fast pace. Not photography.

Care about better photography?

Go learn the basics.

Wanna upload 100 “keeper” photos a day?

You don’t need top gear for that.

A great guitarist can play any guitar.

Ironically it takes even great photographers such as Alex Webb 20 years to produce a few dozen real keepers.

Allow the artistic, the technically imperfect.

Allow images to breathe.

For the sake of photography, give your photos a life.

  • Thank you for the fresh and down to earth perspective on camera reviews. It’s sad to read the posts of some forums with members waiting to create good photography until the next big camera comes out, what camera has more noise or blah blah blah.

    Good photography is good photography. Want to upgrade your photography? Upgrade the brain.

  • PWL

    You are correct-up to a point. The photographer is probably the major factor as to whether any photos is really good in the ways you have mentioned above–but a good camera is a major factor, too. I think “lab tests” of cameras and lenses, and comparisons of resolution, noise, etc, do help you to determine whether a particular camera or lens is right for you. After all, to use your guitar analogy, it’s a lot easier to sound good on a Fender Stratocaster than it is on a Sears Silvertone.

    But that being said, one shouldn’t get too wrapped up in those “tests” After all, it would be like saying Leonarda Da Vinci was a great artist only because he used a superior quality brush…

  • Johhny

    That’s called progress. We discovered antibiotics, we flew to the moon, cars use 5l of diesel for 100km ride.

    A camera is a tool. A better camera can provide better image quality, better autofocus speed, better shooting speed, higher ISO, less noise better SNR and so on.

    Why not use the best tool if you can? Or better yet, the tool which has the best price/quality ratio?

    Sure, we can use cameras made 30 years ago, shoot film, develop films in wet rooms, play with chemicals. But why we wanna do that? We also live in tents, ride horses instead of driving cars, use horses instead of tractors, use steam engines instead of diesel/electric, use traditional medicine instead of antibiotics, use kerosene lamps instead of electric bulbs.

    • Johnny, guess the point this article is trying to make rather is:

      Every little progress in technology improves one’s photography?

  • D.B.

    Well said.
    It appears the whole ‘photography thing’ has been driven by the technology obsessed gear heads these days, who demand the latest the fastest the most ‘powerful’ piece of gadgetry they could find and afford. It’s got nothing to do with the photography itself, the kind of photography you and I and the likes have been accustomed to for many years in the past.
    There’s unfortunately not much that can be done to change the shift from emotional and photography “by mind” to the one that is taken by the latest and greatest camera hardware’. Blame the Y-gen and constant emotionless drive for the instant result and gratification? Blame the exponential digital tech evolution and developments? Blame the iPhone-type gadget fiddlers who pretty much perceive the latest in camera equipment in a similar way as their phones, pads etc?

    I don’t believe there’s anyone to cop the direct blame…but the world of photography would be much nicer and more enjoyable to many a photogs if there were more Web sites about the actual photography like The.Me and less of Dpreview.com and the likes, that’s for sure.

    • It’s a boon to the industry, even more so as anyone who stops upgrading doesn’t become a lesser photographer… Photography today is a lot about marketing. Again, invest in good glass and try to stick with a good body for a few years… I myself am the worst example, however, am changing cameras all the time. Got my eyes now — finally and hopefully — on something that’ll stay with me for a while. But who knows. For my wife it’s shoes and bags, I love photo gadgetry!