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Useless Camera Features

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Think of a master photographer whose pre 1980 work you admire. Maybe Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Eugene Smith, David Bailey, Eve Arnold, Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton or my personal hero Sabastiao Salgado. Think of your favourite image from their work. The one you come back to time and again, linger over and aspire to. The one that strokes your emotions in some way. See that image in your minds’ eye.

What is it that excites you? Is it the composition? The magnificent light? The sublime subject and how exquisitely the photographer captured it? How did they do it?

Did Cartier-Bresson use Sports Mode to capture the man jumping over the puddle? And 90% of Sabastiao Salgado’s work is against the light; surely he must have used backlit mode. Did Yousef Karsh switch to portrait mode for his iconic portrait of Winston Churchill? Did Ansel Adams use landscape mode in Yosemite National Park?

All of them had nothing more than a shutter, an aperture and a focus ring, and with these three humble controls they stole our hearts.

One useless feature on one of my cameras is dynamic range adjustment. Why would I want to change that? Why is it there? I can supposedly adjust the focus of individual prime colours. I have never once used this nor have I met anyone who has. Then there’s a colour chart to fine tune white balance by a fraction of a degree Kelvin, which is unnoticeable to the eye and even if it was, there’s only the uncalibrated LCD to check it with. There are others too. What are they for? Why are they there? These features are the purest form of useless bullshit imaginable.

Now don’t get me wrong. All digital cameras take great pictures regardless of brand. There are no crap cameras because they’d be all over social media in an instant and no one would buy them, so camera makers only make cameras that do an amazing job of capturing light onto a sensor and making an image from it. That’s what a camera does. That’s all it does.

But they also flood those same cameras with ridiculous, unnecessary features which results in endless menu options which make finding the features which are valuable harder to find and the camera confusing to operate. Psychological, business and theological studies have all proven too many choices causes us stress and pain. So why do we act like sheep and keep insisting on more of it. Yes you do insist on more. If your last camera was still working OK, why did you ‘upgrade’ it?

And who has time to wade through a camera manual written by technically brilliant people who know nothing about photography? Only about ten pages of a camera’s manual talks about something you need. The rest is an exercise in egotistical chest-puffing and talks about MK 7’s new feature that lets you adjust the crynamule amplitude by pressing Function > Menu > Control > Display and rotating the multi selector dial. Arse-water of the worst kind.

Is there a place on the market for a more streamlined camera. One with all the extraneous bullshit features striped back to the ones we need. The photographers I spoke to at the Photography Show seemed to think there might be. Personally I’d love it. Photography would be simpler, easier and quicker and allow photographers to concentrate on photography instead of fighting with their equipment. My first professional cameras were Bronicas and they didn’t even have a battery, never mind a light meter.

I guess my message to you is, stop listening to the ‘voices’. They’re hard to ignore because we’re bombarded with them. And if you’re starting out in photography, which of the thousand voices do you believe? Stop listening to rumours on forums and the person with the loudest ego at camera club. Ask yourself powerful questions about how the wonderful images of yesterday were made on the most basic of cameras. If you want advice, please please please seek out people like those in the video. They’re not merely rehashing someone else’s theory. Ask someone with experience who Walks the Walk doing photography every day for their livelihood.

If you trust me, then let me be your coach and show up on one of my online courses or come to a workshop or seminar. The power to stop being confused is and always has been in your hands. Cameras Don’t Take Pictures, you take pictures.

Cameras are tools and nothing more. What is it they say about bad workmen and blaming their tools…

Best wishes until next time

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