Wednesday 28 March 2007

Should the photography fit the camera or the camera fit the photography?

I've finally given up on trying to fit my Nikon D70s/18-200 VR combo in my shirt pocket. I like taking pictures, but because of this behemoth I don't always have a camera to hand. I've been keeping an eye out for a decent Point and Shoot Compact Camera with manual controls, RAW and a zoom with 28mm on one end, and that can slip in my shirt pocket. So far I've not found such a beast that has quality in all its areas..

So I recently went shopping to pick up a Fuji F30 (no RAW, no 28mm), which was highly rated, but ended up getting a Samsung NV10 (10mp) instead. It doesn't have RAW or 28mm either but it does have manual controls and a truly amazing interface that allows you to get to everything in the menu within a second! Apart from the main difficulty all Point & Shoot's have with ISO (ie anything much over 100 is dreadful) it has already let me get shots that would have passed my cameraless pocket by previously. It obviously doesn't compare to the better lenses/bigger sensors on dSLR's but a shot from this type of camera is better than none.

I suppose I should go a little under the 'hood' and give a bit of background as to where I'm coming from. After college in the mid 80's, and a not insignificant investment in SLR gear, I was convinced that the only good picture could be taken with a camera that had the glass, the controls and the quality necessary to take a great shot. In the late 80's I read a article about Irish Times Photographer, Peter Thursfield. He admitted to the heinous crime of always carrying a Nikon 35mm Compact in his pocket for 'grab' shots, he even admitted that some of these shots were published in the Irish Times!

This attitude blew me away and forced me to re-assess what photography was about. Up to that I had thought it was about the equipment but here was this esteemed, and successful, photographer saying it was about the picture, the moment! Miss the moment and you miss the picture.

So now, at the end of over 2 years research into the perfect P&S, I finally said "f**t it" it's time to get off the fence. I now have a tiny camera, made by a fridge manufacturer, whose menu system is the most amazing I have ever seen but which already has let me take shots I would have missed and my creative street photography is the better for it.

You can read a review of the Samsung NV10 on DP Review here: Samsung NV10 Review" and I've put some shots from the Samsung up on my Flickr site". These are ones that I could not have taken with the D70s, simply because I wouldn't have had it with me. And I have to say I'm enjoying it

My inspiration for a small, unobtrusive cameras came from the work of Henri Cartier Bresson.

FROM WIKIPEDIA - Cartier-Bresson exclusively used Leica 35 mm rangefinder cameras equipped with normal 50mm lenses or occasionally a wide-angle for landscapes.He often wrapped black tape around the camera's chrome body to make it less conspicuous. With fast black and white films and sharp lenses, he was able to photograph almost by stealth to capture the events. No longer bound by a huge 4×5 press camera or an awkward two and a quarter inch twin-lens reflex camera, miniature-format cameras gave Cartier-Bresson what he called "the velvet hand [and] the hawk's eye." He never photographed with flash, a practice he saw as "[i] coming to a concert with a pistol in your hand." He believed in composing his photographs in his camera and not in the darkroom, showcasing this belief by having nearly all his photographs printed only at full-frame and completely free of any cropping or other darkroom manipulation -- indeed, he emphasized that the entire negative had been used by extending the area reproduced on the print to include a thick black border around the frame.

Cartier-Bresson worked exclusively in black and white, other than a few unsuccessful attempts in color. He never developed or made his own prints. He said: "I've never been interested in the process of photography, never, never. Right from the beginning. For me, photography with a small camera like the Leica is an instant drawing."

"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotif." — Henri Cartier-Bresson

I once read that he was able to focus his Leica and choose the correct aperture/shutter while the camera was still in his pocket! I'm afraid I have to rely on auto focus/auto exposure.

You can see some of Cartier-Bressons images here. and a 1 hour programme on him can be see here. or by clicking on the play button below:

All Point and Shoot Compact Cameras are a compromise, but the Samsung gives me a level of immediate control that was I feel is more important for the type of shots I want to take with it. I'm searching for the 'Decisive Moment' ala Cartier-Bresson, so a camera that's easy to keep with me is important and one that allows me change the settings quickly is important and one that is quick is important, otherwise no shot is taken.

For me I suppose the question is 'if you can't have the quality AND the good shot, which one would you go for'; I've gone for the one that allows me to take the shot. Remember this is my second string camera, the SLR is my first so when I need quality I use it. The problem with SLR's though is that it's hard to keep them with you all the time, hence the P&S.

So far I've been using the Samsung in 'touristy' places and I find that I'm being completely ignored. This is exactly what I want, the D70s garnered too much respect. It changed peoples attitude, drawing attention to me and making them think that they were 'ruining' my shots. Clearly tourists shots aren't as important to the masses!

I suppose the thing on my mind is, do you make your photography fit the camera you have, or do you make the camera fit the photography you want to take. There's no good answer to this because, as I said, all P&S's are a compromise.

I'm trying to leave behind my focus on pursuing 'absolute quality' in terms of equipment and am trying to concentrate on the 'decisive moment'. The Samsung has helped bring fun (with a little touch of danger) back into my photography. Will I capture it? Once in a blue moon maybe, if I'm lucky.


Julie said...

I'm fortunate enough not to be into street photography (!) and am generally able to take my camera with me when there is a possibility of being able to use it - I have a Canon 350D whose delicate proportions are lamented by many, but for me it's ideal with the small, light (and very cheap) 50mm f1.8, which allows for some fantastic low light shots that a p&s just couldn't handle. Although not pocket sized, it's certainly less conspicuous than the bigger DSLR's, and has the advantage of zero shutter lag. Maybe a possibly middle ground for someone who can't afford both DSLR and compact camera...?

Anyway, to the question I wanted to ask - how does the Samsung behave in terms of shutter lag? I had a very early Digimax (3mp I think) and I just couldn't get the hang of the time it took to actually take the shot after pressing the button, and I expect this would be particularly frustrating for street shooting where you are trying to capture a moment. Have they improved much since then, or do you have to work around that?

DigitalBeginner said...

Hi Julie,

The lag is pretty short. Remember that most of the lag with any digital camera is mainly due to the camera waiting for the focus to lock and, to a lesser extent, for the exposure to be read. Another delay is waiting for the camera to turn on. I keep the camera strap on my wrist with my finger on the power button. When I see a potential shot, the camera is powered up by the time it gets to my eye. The focus/exposure delay is negligible and the firing of the shutter is almost instant. Your 350D will definately power up and focus faster, but I don't have any pockets big enought for such a small digital SLR :-)

Graham said...


I would tend to agree totally the camera should suit your photography style. I've seen so many people go out and buy big SLRS with big 500mil lenses and then wonder why they can't get good street shots ( street seems to be the main area of contention ).

People change when they see the camera. They put that photo face on. It's gets even worse if you use the Canon "white lens" they then assume you are a pro working for a paper. When i do street shooting now with the 350d, the battery grips off, the small 50mm goes on and notbody is any the wiser.

I guess that proves the point that I am making the camera suit my photography.


Alan Duff said...

Having recently read about Alex Majoli I agree that it's all about the person behind the camera rather than the camera itself. Plus the more discreet the better.

If you aspire to be the next Cartier-Bresson meanwhile, should you not be carrying a Leica M8?!

DigitalBeginner said...

Oh I wish, Alan :-) :-). And don't think I haven't thought, dreamed, obsessed about the possibility!

Tony said...

Hi Dave,
I got the NV10 as a christmas present from my wife last year and have had so much fun with it. I note your point about having the camera ready on your wrist awating to take that perfect photo. My interest in photography has increased so much using this camera. I have posted some of my better photos on my blog - - for all to see. One question though do you or any other bloggers know of any good courses in Dublin that will help improve my amateur skills of digitial photography and that incorporates a crash course in Adobe Photoshop CS? Good luck!

DigitalBeginner said...

Tony, we run a Digital Photography School that runs courses in the greater Dublin area. Check out