Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Expensive disposable cameras.

Ken Rockwell has a way of riling people.
I first started reading his writings about three years ago when his site, turned up in an internet search.
The Californian is opinionated, shamelessly self-promoting and has a tendency to present himself as a scientist, “real photographer” and latter-day sage and philosopher.
He likes to pepper his articles with scientific terms and jargon.
But for all of that, I like him. Rockwell calls a spade a shovel -- even when it’s sometimes a rake.
Over the years that I’ve visited his site I have seen his tone and almost blind worship of the merits of, particularly Nikon, digital cameras change and watched his enthusiasm wane.
It was therefore not all that surprising when Rockwell called Nikon’s latest flagship camera, the D3X “disposable.”
This 24.5 megapixel machine boasts more options, buttons and software than was used to put Apollo 11 on the moon. It also comes -- without a lens -- with an approximate R100 000 (US$10 000 approximately) price tag. There is a comprehensive article about it here.


The fact is, Rockwell has got it right this time. All digital cameras are in effect disposable, much like computers. The 10 year-old, top-of-the-line digital SLR that cost a similar price back then, is today, pretty well worthless.
Every time a new generation of DSLRs arrives it invariably has a different version of RAW that is not backwardly compatible with the previous firmware version. And, while it is true, software vendors like Adobe quickly introduce new editions of Photoshop that are able to handle the format, it is yet another expense.
It is a fallacy that digital is cheaper than analogue. Right now, a roll of Fuji colour film costs me about R13 when I buy it in a pack of three. Developing costs around R25 and a 16-base scan of a roll of 36 exposures comes in at around R25. That is a total of R63 or R1.75 per image.
“Ah,” I hear you say, “But you still have to buy Photoshop.”
No you don’t. There are plenty of free alternatives that do the job of photo-manipulation and re-touching just as well and I could just as easily do the necessary adjustments on the lab’s computer.
The truth is, I hate sitting behind a monitor sorting through hundreds of digital images. When I shoot film stock, I shoot fewer images and the computer work is so negligible it takes only a few seconds per image.
But what about quality?
Nikon’s new wonder camera is the first DSLR to have a sensor that is...wait for it...exactly the same size as a frame of 35mm film.
There are differing opinions on what resolution 35mm film is capable of capturing, ranging from 15 to 25 megapixels. I don’t know, I just know it’s enough. I also know film has a higher dynamic range and can capture more detail, particularly in the highlights.
Let me lay my cards on the table and say right here: I am not anti-digital in any way. I recognise, the convenience, the superb image quality and all the other advantages.
I guess, like Rockwell, I am trying to say the prices charged for an item likely to become obsolete in just a few years, are ludicrous.

Screwing us

The camera manufacturers are screwing us. There is no way on earth the Nikon D3X -- and the equivalents from the other manufacturers -- is worth R100 000, or even R30 000 for that matter!
Consider this. A new analogue, Leica system will probably come in at about R50 000 (still way over-priced) but it will still happily be taking quality pictures 50 years from now, long after the current crop of digital cameras is just a footnote in history.
And, if history is anything to go by, the Leica will sell secondhand for the price it was bought new, effectively making it free.
Digital camera makers have done a wonderful job convincing us that, after the initial investment in equipment, our picture-taking is free.
The world is littered with similar marketing examples: “free” cellphones, a free holiday when we sign a contract etc.
As they say, there is no free lunch. The first hit is free - then you’re locked in and have no option but to purchase over-priced manufacturer-only, non-standard rechargeable batteries, flash-guns that only work with that particular model, new wireless remote triggers, “upgraded” software...the list of never-ending expenses is endless.
And all to produce and image that is the same practical quality as that produced by my 25 year-old Nikkormat bought for R200. Let’s not even talk about the quality a used medium format camera system I saw advertised for R5000 will dish up!
I for one will not be dumping my film cameras.

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