Simple shooter

I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance yesterday about cameras, their complexity, and why we can’t have nice things. Let’s face it: the manufacturers have decided what we’ll get and insist we’ll like it even if we don’t. We must adapt, because they won’t and they are the source of the technology. It’s not like anyone is going to build their own digital camera. Okay, I might have decades ago but I no longer have the eyesight or dexterity to take apart a camera and put it back together the way I want.

So the future is ‘mirrorless cell phones’ (so to speak), like it or lump it. This is because none of the people designing the equipment are photographers. From what I’ve seen they don’t listen to input from the profession either. I mean, having the controls you use most right at your fingertips when in “shooting position”? Nah, bury it in some menu sub-directory nineteen button-pushes deep. Oh but make sure it has blue tooth, wifi, and digital ‘filters’ that will be used only once when trying out the camera and then never again.

What the fellow I was talking to wants is quite sensible, really. Leave out all the battery-wasting features and make a simple, carry-it-anywhere camera for getting those shots you might not get if you don’t have a camera with you. Or even if you do. If we’re going to be honest about it, cell phones are not the easiest things to shoot with. Too complex, too much to do to even get the camera active. He wanted a “one-touch-on” device, and it’s a great idea.

Other features would include dumping autofocus. GASP! How can you do that? Well you go back to the ol’ days of fixed-focus. It’s easier to do now with small sensors: semi-wide angle lens (about 35mm equivalent) with a fixed aperture that gives depth of field from a reasonable distance to infinity. No, you do not need to focus to 1mm. Nor do you really need that limited D-O-F (I will not use the ‘B’ word) provided by a large aperture. You need a quality ‘piece of glass’ that does the job under most circumstances.

Zoom? Zoom is a crutch. And that’s from someone who uses it consistently (because getting closer to subjects is not that easy for me and I need a crutch). There is something of a paradox in the insistence of an “XX” zoom included with the DSLR and then selling “prime” lenses because they are sharper. (Hey, Canon: I need a 32mm EF-S lens that doesn’t cost 5 times what the camera did, okay?) The fact is we can put a 20MP sensor in our theoretical camera design and have 4X digital zoom capacity right there because you do not need that super-high resolution. Saves on lens bulk and expense and battery consumption from yet more drive motors.

Okay so now we place some more limits on this camera like no ultra-high speed ISO ratings. Why are you trying to shoot in the dark anyway? It all gets too ‘noisy’ above 800 I find. But a selection of ‘normal’ speeds is okay, and with the permanent aperture (f8 probably) we just give a reasonable range of shutter speeds (remember we can have image stabilization here) and all is good. This would probably cover 90% of the shots taken by 90% of people. Really. Even more if they are better versed in photography.

While I’m at it, can I complain about SD cards that are only of huge capacity now and slow down noticeably the more content you have on them even if they are “class 10”? Seriously even the 16GB cards turn into unresponsive slugs before they are half full of photos. I’d hate to have to rely on any larger capacity one. But back to the camera.

Do we really need an LCD screen at all? On something so simple, surely an optical-only viewfinder would suffice. They used to make them like that. It would be nice if it could do waist-level/eye-level finding too. Okay, I suppose a basic screen for reviewing pictures wouldn’t be too much. But none of that touch-screen nonsense. We’re after simple and effective picture taking.

Most of us in fact probably do have some camera that gets assigned this take-along task. Some inexpensive point-and-shoot bought for a few dollars that does the grunt work when we’re out and about. Maybe spots things we want to go back to with the expensive equipment and reshoot in different ways. I know I do. And so far there are still some cameras like this available, although they are still more complex than what we’ve just described. The manufacturers will tell us “no one wants such a thing”. Well maybe they would if we could teach proper photography and not this technological kiddies’ art that is everywhere these days.

Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old ex-film photographer than no one should listen to.

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This picture? This is what you see when the alien spaceship lands in the desert. If I hadn’t had my point-and-shoot we’d never get this evidence of visitors from outer space!

(Okay; it’s agriculture lights in the next valley being diffused and coloured by heavy mist, as seen through pine trees with the zoom on the Nikon P610. Just about the opposite of what I’ve been talking about here.)

The stupidity of smart phones

Note: this posting is only vaguely related to photography, in that you can use smart phones to take pictures. Mostly it is about using them as phones, so if you’re looking for another photography article … well this isn’t it.

Consider the following scenario: I’m in the big city, going to the airport to pick up my returning wife after an absence of nearly three months. I’m waiting in a parking lot for her to ring my cell phone and say she’s arrived so I can nip to the pick-up zone and whisk her away. Romantic, eh?

My phone doesn’t ring. It’s way past time for the plane to arrive. I try calling in the other direction, and am told that my “plan” doesn’t have the ability or credit to do that. What? I’m sure I’ve called her before, even from the city to our little town. Now it doesn’t work when we’re both out of town but still in the same city? The one day in three months I need the phone to work, and it doesn’t!

Herein the background: I don’t use my phone much. About once a week when I’m in town doing shopping I check in at home to see if there’s anything that’s been forgotten. This possibly makes me unique in all the world. Certainly it is within my family, as they (like so many others) all seem to have had their phones surgically grafted to their hands. Oh and my phone is an old Samsung Rugby; rugged and dependable but not ‘smart’. I hardly use the thing, and when I do it is only as a phone. As such, my “plan” is pay-as-you-go with automatic monthly top-up. Frankly for the amount I use it I’m getting ripped off anyway, and I’m sure they count the minutes faster than any clock does.

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What I have is more than I need and costs more than it’s worth. Especially when it doesn’t work.

Suspecting the problem was the “plan”, I went looking for an alternative plan. One that specifically mentions ‘long distance’ usage, for example. I looked at different carriers, different plans, and different phones. It came down to the basic Canadian problem of “up yours, consumer!” which we experience in so many things. All the carriers offer the same poor choices of bloated, expensive plans fluffed up with “services” that in reality cost them nothing more to provide. Services I don’t need and don’t want, such as text and data. Like E.T., I just need to be able to phone home when I’m away. Even the so-called “emergency” phone plans were crap – no different than what I’ve got and no cheaper either. Quite the racket they’ve got going, eh?

When you see the phones offered, you understand why. The only non-smart phone is an awful quality Alcatel thing that has nothing but bad reviews everywhere. The companies all but demand you buy a smart phone, because that’s what they make the most profit on.

Well I won’t, because I’ve seen too many of them and the results of their use. They are poor quality, cumbersome to use, and fragile as a thin-shelled egg. Almost everyone I know has one, and they all have tales of broken screens, dead batteries, and failed functions. In the meantime, as they go through phone after phone with repeated expensive upgrades to the ‘latest and greatest’ model, my Samsung keeps working (except when the service provider decides to not allow it). It’s got dents in it, people. Dents that would be instant death for a smartphone. That’s the kind of conditions it has to endure if it’s going to be my phone. (Related: the contractor I worked with last year had a cracked screen on his; said he has to get it replace three or four times every year when it finally gets to the point of not working.)

As with the plans where they minimally hike service and maximally hike prices, so are smart phones and endless road of meaningless “upgrades” dedicated to emptying your bank account faster than you can refill it. They have made the technology addictive to the simple human mind, convincing people that smart phones are a necessity to life. So much so that people forgo food and rent rather than do without the latest improvement. It’s the electronic equivalent of crack cocaine, and when you challenge the phone addicts they become defensive and angry in just the same way. Try it and see. They’ll trot out all the good aspects of having a cell phone, insisting those justify their expense, and ignore how over-blown the contribution to society really is.

That slab of silicon silliness you laid out hundreds of dollars for (or got ‘for free’ when you signed the deal with the digital devil – think about that) is worth a fraction of the price in terms of both what it actually contains in equipment value and what good it does. There’s nothing to it like as insidious in some sci-fi story about purposefully programming the way into the human mind; there doesn’t have to be. The marketing heroes of technology have just pushed the usual brain buttons and got the results the shareholders want: millions of addicts willing to spend any amount of money to be “up-to-date” by the artificial social standards set by the companies selling the drug.

And they don’t take good pictures either. 😉

Addendum: got a message saying they’d whipped more money from me and ‘refilled’ my minutes. Number of minutes used last two months: ZERO. I’m so glad I’m paying for that.