my Cameras, my eX, and my eyes

when I was a kid my Christmas gift one year I was a Nikon SLR. Really entry-level because I was like 10. I’m trying to look for this camera called the EM on internet forums, and some of the forum people say it was crippled and useless. The baby Nikon set the shutter speed for you and you just turned a lens ring to adjust the F Stop thingie. It had a timer for group shots of unhappy families. A “bulb mode” where you could keep the shutter open for long exposures. I learned this camera growing up because it was my camera. I kinda figured out aperture and shutter speed and focusing because with this camera these were what you learned. 2 settings to mess with and each with it’s own button or dial. I could sense their interrelation enough to get by. But I couldn’t explain how to use two dials to set two settings, turn a ring and press a button: I just kinda did it and never had to explain it. 2000 while moving across the country I handed my friend Nik the Nikon when he asked if he could take a picture of a mountain or a canyon or something. I said “just turn *this* ring for F-Stop and turn *that* one for focus.” he considered this, “How do you know when it’s focused?” “When it’s not blurry.” But Nik grew up with disposable drug store cameras that included the film. Everybody did. I was a freak but how hard could it be? Well it crippled a normal person trying to take a picture with it and it was a really simple camera. The whole “setting thing” was kinda nerdy. Was I a nerd? Yeah, but I didn’t sit down and try to be one; over time I made mental notes to the effect that if aperture was *this*, and shutter speed was *that*, during *these* kinds of lighting and weather conditions, well then when the prints came back it would look like *that* most of the time. Rinse and repeat for a couple rolls and eventually forget about it, or at least it went into the background of my brain. I didn’t become a nerd who made a living as a photographer, or the kind of hobbyographer who would need to know this crap.

Using a camera that forced me to know a few things about “how exposure worked” was good for my brain. But it did not cause me to feel it was necessary to know fundamental stuff to develop my own style or take a great picture. (If I thought there *was* something that would help me develop a personalized vision I didn’t know it then, but now I’m certain it had more to do with the look and feel and handling than it did with the theory behind all that) What it *did* do was gave me an unexplainable fetish for chunky manual control-infested cameras that felt just right but were modern and digital also. But for that I would be waiting for a few more years.

While I waited I owned these:

Nikon D40

Nikon D5100

Nikon D300

Canon S90

Olympus EPL1 lite pen

Olympus Pen

Olympus OMD 1(?)

I felt like they were either blocky fiddly SLR stand ins, (the Pen felt like a blocky fiddly PEN stand-in) and I wasn’t looking for a SLR necessarily.

Like they were going the right direction but not there yet.

I’m not a photographer in case I hadn’t mentioned it before, but really liked taking pictures and had this need for *just the right thing* and I sold them all eventually. Some were more advanced than what I wanted, but I didn’t want a spec list. I wanted something that felt right. I’d have to wait a little bit longer.

While I waited for my dream-cam the iPhone camera went and got really good. When the X100 finally fell into my hands I just kept using the iPhone camera along with it. I’m endlessly fascinated by the fact that it was the iPhone that was what kept me occupied while I waited because the iPhone was nothing like what I was waiting for. My thinking about this is what led me to write down this series of observations.

The first time saw the Fujifilm retrofinder X I just had to have one hanging around my neck because I read somewhere it would make me be considered a forward thinking hipster who would bring gentrification to the small town I lived in where I (or anyone else living there) had never seen anything like the X in real life. No, really: I wanted to shoot it in manual setting mode and it was fun. My other cameras could go full on manual too the feeling wasn’t what I wanted and they seemed to get in the way no matter how often I tried. Something seeming to be *able* to be operated manually isn’t the same as something seeming to be *made* to run manually. (If I ever get a Leica M my head will probably explode). The Fuji designers seemed in touch with something that people wanted and weren’t getting. There is nothing I’m going to write here about the specs, that’s all been reported a million times and can be easily googled. What I’m referring to that the designers were understanding and that people were wanting isn’t about the specifications anyway. I won’t get anything else now unless a job came along with technical demands that I couldn’t meet with what I have. Sometimes I have to make a point of using the X though because it requires me to interrupt whatever I’m doing with the iPhone camera, but at least now it’s just the two cameras. Maybe I get more done than I used to without the distractions to play with. And I appreciate the aesthetic differences in what I produce looking at pictures from just the two cameras. With any more thrown into the mix I wouldn’t shoot anything, and I would never manage to get around to thoughtfully examine my work and polish with some post touches. I also am certain that finally as an adult starting ADHD treatment with a good psychiatrist has enabled me to actually take some pictures and then to examine them.

I’m left with my self-diagnosis of “gear-freak”, but I don’t want the flashiest or most status forward. The two cameras that I still own aren’t similar to each other at all. I was getting into this design philosophical area thinking about how do the iPhone and the X100 check the same boxes for me? The X is close as I’ve found to my ideal camera: the physical reality of using it, the tactile feel, knobs and dials to adjust. The other (the 6S at present) is the sort of thing I never thought I’d like as much as I do; it has nothing, no actual parts to handle and get involved with. What it has is just programmed to be there. It is so blank as to maybe possibly be several other non camera-related products at the same time. (the blank slate iCamera with arguably no physical parts has various companies now making parts like outboard lenses and accessories to put on it because why not) Also in my mind smartphone cameras were supposed to be an afterthought, but this never came true. In this instance the phone part could *be* the afterthought. It’s a better camera than it is phone IMO.

The thing I think they share is that both seem to stay out of the way when I’m using them. I take more pictures now than I ever have in the past, but the gear lust just stopped. My vision and photography has developed more in the last couple years than it had during the rest of my life combined and it seems to correlate to being limited to fewer tools. Stay tuned for more when later I’ll explain how to “own it” in regards to your style. Or rather more accurately how *I* have been “owning it* with regard to *my* style.

Like what you read? Give Thomas Cogley a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.