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Do Smarter Cameras make Dumber Photogs?

Did Ansel Adams use a 8 fps Autofocus 8x10  with eye control focus, TTL exposure,  a choice of 15 metering patterns,  a wide to tele  Zoom, with computer interface?? 


If you follow all the camera advertising thrown at you,  you know in your heart that the latest All Everything Kiss Your Bank Account Good-by Firstflex with its 5-2000/f1.4 APO Zoom is your answer to Photographic Nirvana. Your shots will never look so good, or be so great, as when you possess this latest computerized wonder.  You KNOW this is what you need.  Your pics will be better, automatically, because that wonderful camera will be doing wonderful things without you even having to think about it.

I mean, after all, that's what the ads tell you, and they don't  lie, do they??


So, you belly on up the camera counter, part with your hard won loot, and then go off to make the world forget Eugene Smith.    So  you  and your all everything camera take more pictures faster ---- so what?  

Are your pictures any better??   not likely.

Now comes the hard part.    Place all your new wonder pics on a table, and open up  books showing the works of Mr. Smith, or Capa, or Cartier-Bresson, Stieglitz, or Margaret Bourke-White.   Now then, Do your pics compare well with theirs???... as though I didn't know.   Possible of course, but not very damn well likely.


The amazing thing about this little test is that most if not all  of the above were  shot with NO TTL metering, NO Autofocus, nor motor drives or TTL flash, and heavens forbid, outdated lenses  no self respecting refugee from the monthly lens tests would allow themselves to be embarrassed with.

  How could they do it?  Do they know something you don't?  Yes, indeed, they knew how to think for themselves, instead of having the damned camera think for them.    

A good argument can be made that part of their greatness was because THEY DID THE THINKING, NOT THE CAMERA.    Funny thing, the more automatic features the camera has, the less the photogs have to think.  The less photogs  think,  usually the worse their pics, and the surer they are that they need the newer even more automated thingamajig to get better!  

What an amazing marketing scheme.    First you undermine the photog's ability with automation, then you sell him more stuff to overcome his new found shortfalls!!! 

Of course, there are exceptions.  If your application is fast moving and once in a lifetime,  such as sports or a political rally,  the photog probably is helped by the all everything the photog doesn't have to think cameras.  More shots equal more paychecks.  Just ask the  photographers chasing Princess Diana.  

On the other hand, if  you want  to approach photography as an art form,   perhaps a more intelligent and informed approach is needed.     Maybe the photog's images are bettered by taking the time to think,   more time to understand,  more time to SEE, more time to feel.     More time to become one with it.  What a weird concept.   Perhaps the Photog should understand what they are doing more the camera.  I know this is new ground for many of you, so just take a deep breath, close your eyes, and use the mantra of "AE is good, AE is good, AE is good" before daring to continue.

If you want to take lots of mediocre pictures quickly, modern cameras are great.   But if you want to take GREAT pics, the cameras need to leave you alone long enough to THINK.   What's that you ask?

In other words, the work of Weston or Adams probably would not have been nearly so memorable  had they been cursed with  an automatic exposure autofocus 4x5 or 8x10 camera  and a wide to tele zoom.    Imagine that, if you can.  Sorry Ansel, turn back over, I was just kidding. 

Photographers have to think to get the best results.  When cameras think instead of the Photogs, mediocrity is the usual  result.

I know a lot of you will disagree, and that is fine.   I would argue the point, but I don't have time since I have to go and try to figure out my exposure.    hmm....how does that f/16 rule work indoors?....I didn't say it was easy.


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Revised: November 26, 2003 Copyright  1998-2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.