TECH’d IN THE HEAD
Curiouser and curiouser: welcome to the camera format wars, final rendition.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
IF YOU WANT TO SIMULATE THE EXPERIENCE OF LEAPING OUT OF A PLANE WITHOUT A CHUTE, then get into the business of predicting trends in photography. The boneyard of critical writing is crammed with the carcasses of wizard wannabes who boldly pronounced what the Next Big Thing in camera tech was going to be. Still, even given that caveat, there are some big tectonic shifts in Camera Land that even a dullard like me can see coming.
Smart people call these shifts “inflection points”. These are the folks who get great grades on term papers. Me, I just say, “hey, is this anything?” Whatever your wording, we seem to be at such a place as of this writing , which is early 2022.
Little more than a decade after the introduction of the first mirrorless cameras, prognosticators great and small now seem uniformly confident in predicting that this is the year that DSLRs go on life support and the family calls in the priest. Recently, no less a cadre than the venerable PetaPixel predicted that both Canon and Nikon would end their commitment to DSLR development and model introduction in 2022. And, suddenly, they are far from alone. The argument goes that, just as SLRs were a forward leap in convenience and performance over rangefinder cameras, so mirrorless does what DSLRs do more accurately and far easier. Normally such forecasts would be largely a matter of opinion, but something new has been added.
That “something” is the fact that more manufacturers than ever are closing the DSLR product line on both ends, both discontinuing older models with no comparable successor and in bringing fewer new models, especially entry-level-priced models, to the market for the first time. And then there is the raw science, which says that, minus the bulky box-and-mirror part of DSLR’s viewing apparatus, lenses in mirrorless cameras can be placed extremely close to the focal plane, affecting sharpness, low-light performance, chromatic aberrations, and, yes, the total curb weight of the unit. This also means that your older DSLR lenses, with adaptation, might well work better on a mirrorless body. Other factors in this sea change include people like myself who are going to mirrorless in order to upgrade to full-frame for the first time, and figure they might as well go with a format that manufacturers are now throwing their full weight behind.
You and I both know several “I’ll never” people who will stick with their chosen format until the last dog is hung, and mazel tov to them. Shoot what you want, love what you shoot, etc. However, when the makers of a particular tech are cutting back on new models of it, even going so far as to reduce choices and support with the existing models in that format, including their best sellers, it might be time, as they say in Hollywood, to strike the set.
The 35MM SHRINE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
MY FRIEND PAUL IS GONE, but I am holding a small part of him in my hand.
He passed late last year, adroitly avoiding the current Great Hibernation and all its horrors. By that time, he had survived a hardscrabble farmer’s childhood, the armed forces, half a dozen skin cancer scares (the farm years’ legacy), several strokes, a fused spine, and nearly eighty years of other scrapes which he largely dismissed with a wide smile and a cackle of a laugh. Before the turn of this year, however, he finally met an enemy that was too big to side-step, and now he is gone.
I hold a part of him in my hand because his wife and friends recalled, in the grief-driven process of finding homes for his various possessions, that I liked to make pictures. And so Paul’s camera gear….including lenses, brackets, cases, bigger cases to hold the smaller cases, cleaners, filters and flash units…became mine. I wasn’t chosen for the higher purpose of carrying on his legacy, or even understanding what he did with all this stuff. But it’s mine now. Much of it, I can’t practically use, but absent even one photograph of us together after a seven-year friendship, these gizmos are, now, rather sacred to me.
Annie Liebovitz and other shooters have made entire sub-careers photographing the personal belongings of people, from Emerson to Eleanor Roosevelt, that are themselves beyond the reach of portraits in the classic sense,. The gloves Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theatre. Annie Oakley’s performance costume. Paul’s cameras are like that to me. They can’t resurrect him the way a picture would, but they are talismans that summon a part of his spirit nonetheless.
Paul was an exhaustive student of rock ‘n’ roll, taking his youthful love for that music to a scholarly extreme. He didn’t just worship Buddy Holly:he traveled to Texas and became personal friends with Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena, a relationship that moved her to give him several ultra-rare studio recordings that you’ll never find in any textbook or collection anywhere. He could rattle off the personal histories of every one-hit-wonder in Top 40 history, and, coming from my own background in pop radio, I knew he was dead-bang perfect on every detail. He was also a natural gift for any kind of technical analysis, having worked as a TV repairman in the 1950’s and for IBM back in the punch-card era, and so I can easily imagine him applying that same degree of precision to the making of pictures. The quality and condition of the gear also argues for his orderly mind, as in the case of this pristine Canon A-1, the company’s first-ever SLR with fully automatic exposure, a camera from the 1970’s that is still influencing every element of camera design in the twenty-first century. I may never be able to make pictures with it. But it makes memories for me, even as a 35mm shrine sitting on a shelf.
I often read the user’s manual, and wonder if Paul needed to. After all, he seemed to live his life as if he had already figured out the instructions all by himself. In the end, his brain did all the best kind of work that people usually credit a camera with. That means that even if I never snap a frame with Paul’s camera, he’s already taught me, through his friendship, a vision that transcends gear.