Saturday, March 7, 2009

The best tool for the job?


One of the most common conversations and questions one hears from wanna be photographers is around the subject of which is the 'best camera'. In fact there is a well known site dedicated to digital photography where the forum section is rife with comments from users of any particular brand of camera attacking other brands.

If half these forum users actually spent time using their equipment rather than talking about it, perhaps the quality of their images would improve.

Does it really matter to an individual which brand of equipment is used by someone else? Who cares what your friends use? Is it of such great importance that Mr. A uses brand X while Miss B uses Brand Y? Who gives a toss?

If the tools that you use do the job that you need them for, why care what anyone else uses? Furthermore, because you don't use another brand, does that really mean that it is inferior to your own choice?

Having said that, does that mean that one can't hold strong views on the ability of certain tools? No. Brand loyalty is a fact of the commercial world. Being satisfied with the purchases one makes and the subsequent ability of the equipment is actually vital. No matter what anyone says, we all have preferences which are based upon experience.

Likewise, the reputation of a company and its products can be severely damaged by just a few unfortunate occurrences.

For instance, the past year or so saw damage done to the reputation of Canon with severe focus problems in the 1D system. Those problems and the response of the company to those problems left a sour taste among many hard-bitten professionals.

Similarly, the length of time it took Nikon to produce its first so-called 'full frame' digital SLR, the D3, left many long time users less than happy.

In both instances many users decided to 'swap camps' and purchase the other brand.

This sort of thinking flows down to the amateur, where serious money resides for any successful company. It is in the realm of those amateurs where a lot of the petty 'brand wars' resides. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that these folk actually have large parcels of shares in the respective companies and therefore their well-being is dependent on the success of the company.

Now- none of that is to say that the tools are unimportant in the picture making process as some would have you believe. One should always try to use the best tool available.

If you shoot sports photography then there would be little point in trying to do so with a compact point and shoot. You would use equipment that aids you in doing sports photography. Similarly, if you worked exclusively in the studio, you would use the tools that best enable you to do so. If hand held low light work is your main area of concern, you would of course choose the camera that performed that function better than its competitors.

Don't get me wrong. I have used a particular brand for the last 28 years.  The brand has served me well.   During that time I have also used (and owned) many other brands and formats of cameras.  So I am fairly well entrenched in that one brand - Nikon.  It is not a blind loyalty, but one based on empirical information.

I do recognise however, that the main competitor, Canon, does have some wonderful equipment, particularly in the lenses.  They make good gear.   End of story.  I would not be confident however, about a lot of other brands.

The past few years have seen the end of some famous brands and serious shakeups in others.

Minolta disappeared to be reborn as Sony.  Sony have done remarkable well.

Just recently the company that tried to save Rollei, (Franke & Heidecke) filed for insolvency. Thus ends one of the all time great cameras.

Goodness knows how long Pentax will be around.

Leica recently announced the end of production of its current R-series cameras.   Perhaps they will replace it with another, or perhaps concentrate on the M-series as well as the larger format S-series.

That alone raises a serious question concerning Olympus.  While all other companies are following the trend toward bigger sensors due to the painfully obvious better quality of a larger sensor, Olympus chose to throw all its efforts in producing a system based upon a smaller format sensor.

Yeah, it may have sounded like a good idea a few years ago, but come on - a sensor with quarter the area of a 35mm image? Expecting that it can hold its own in image quality against larger sensors? Sorry folks. Unless some radical new technology comes along that will dramatically improve the quality, you have to be looking at a dead end format. Argue it anyway you like Olympus, but you're starting the game with a handicap.

Still, their cameras do perform well for certain uses. It's just that for serious blow up work, and especially high ISO work, they are at a disadvantage.

If a company lags in adopting new technologies it will not be long before it starts to feel the adverse results of such tardiness. Furthermore, the economic climate these days is such that even the largest of companies needs to show caution. It is a serious juggling of fiscal responsibility and spending to develop new equipment.

Who will be the major players in a year, or in two years?  Though I hate to say it, I tend to think that there may be more who disappear.   It is not a large stretch of the imagination to think that in a couple of years there will be the 'big three'  -  Nikon, Canon and Sony.  Any others will more than likely be bit players if they have survived.  Of course, there are no guarantees that any of the 'big three' will survive either, but they have more of a chance than the others.

So, what is the best tool for the job? What actually is the best camera?

That's an easy one to answer.  The best camera is the one you have with you that does the job you need to get done.   Simple.

Aside from using Nikon I also use a compact point and shoot camera from another manufacturer, Panasonic.   I rarely leave my front door without a camera on me.  If I don't take one of the more serious tools I will be carrying said compact.

The images on the post today were taken with that compact while I was on my usual evening stroll/run. They are not great works of art. There are obvious limitations to the image quality.

However - plainly I could not have made the images without having a camera with me. Therefore, the best camera for me at that time was my little compact.

I heartily recommend getting a compact camera if you don't already possess one.   Take it everywhere.  Who knows when the opportunity to use it may occur.  Perhaps then you will agree with the above comments on it being the best camera - at that time, at that place.

Oh, one more thing - brand loyalty can be a fine thing. Just stay away from those whose loyalty is a blind loyalty and who are concerned more with equipment than actually using it for its intended purpose.  Get out and make images instead!

Stay safe.

1 comment:

  1. So
    If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with?
    If they happen to be one and the same thing, you are a lucky person. But yes, I agree completely. Use what you have with passion instead of wanting something that, in all honesty, may not actually be the answer to your photographic woes.
    I am glad that it took me several years before I could own the camera I wanted. It meant learning to use the ones I had and making the images happen with them. It was the best lesson I could have learned.