ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER
By MICHAEL PERKINS
EVER SEE A MASSIVE KITCHEN WHICH STILL SEEMS STRANGELY CRAMPED, all because its counter space is crammed with too many single-task devices? You know what I mean. The congestive collection of chromed, shiny gadgets that perform really cool things, but only one thing,apiece. The bread machines. The Olive-coring pokey gizmos. The cheese slicers. Many of them were last year’s hot under-the-tree item, and just as many are soon consigned to the attic, the garage, or (sob) the garage sale. Some people approach cooking as if it’s an art. Others see it as all about the widgets.
You see where I’m heading. Some of these same kind of people, once they buy a camera, amass a mountain of photographic toys, all over-specialized, all amazing in their way, in the service of making pictures. Lots of these playthings have a kind of World’s Fair/Oh Wow novelty quality to them, and, in the short term, are mesmerizing. Few of them transform, or even form, your style as a photographer.
I’ve written before of the “tilt-shift” attachments commercially sold under the name Lensbaby. Mount one on your camera body and you can pivot the lens head up, down, or sideways to selectively keep sharp focus in parts of your images, choosing which parts to fuzz out of focus. Lensbabys are a cheap alternative to a dedicated tilt-shift lens, just as many lens adapters are a cheap alternative to a dedicated fisheye. In both cases, they deliver acceptable (not good) versions of effects that most people will only use occasionally. They are hard to use precisely and require a ton of practice to deliver the desired result. Oh, and did I mention that it has a fixed f/5.6 aperture? Good times. Like threading a needle in the dark? You’ll love Lensbaby.
Lensbaby has benefited from the fact that (a) most of us want to do some kind of freaky thing occasionally, and (b) most of us won’t do the freaky things with enough regularity to justify shelling out, as the French say, ze beeg bux. But witness the speed of technology. Now, instead of investing anywhere from $90 to $350 for a Lensbaby, itself a cheapo compromise from a real tilt-shot lens, you can purchase an iPhone tilt-shift app for (wait for it) $0.99.
That’s a scant seven years after the introduction of the first Lensbaby, and, although the apps obviously don’t address the needs of DSLR cameras, you run into two inconvenient truths. (1) Most people will never desire this particular photo effect regardless of what camera it’s achieved on, and (2) the niche for tilt-shift photography, even for DSLR shooters, is smaller than the list of high school chess club presidents who also became prom kings.
The point? When it comes to a single-function photo toy,wait until the technology delivers that puppy to you at the bottom-line price. One is the loneliest number, speshfully when it comes to paying large coin for a mere novelty.