View Full Version : The Ultimate Camera, Lens, etc., etc.

18-Aug-2016, 17:04
The good craftsman appreciates a well-designed and well-built tool; it serves well, operates with precision, and endures. It may even be beautiful in its own way.

Yet, in these pages, and from the advice of sages in many avenues of artistic endeavor, one may find oft repeated the wisdom of those who have done the hard work to master technique and have created enduring art with the simplest of tools. In this spirit, I offer anecdotes from my own experience, in case they may possibly save, or rescue, an unknown enthusiast from the anxiety, wasted time, and expense of PSF syndrome—photographic super-gadget fixation.

Decades ago, after viewing an exhibit at Nikon House in Manhattan, I went over to ask a question of the gentleman at a desk, or kiosk, near the impressive display cases of Nikon cameras and lenses and accessories. There was a short line. When the man in front of me got his turn, he asked the following (my close paraphrase of details):

“Hello. I have the 28 f.2.8, the 35 f.2.8, the 50 f/1.4, the 85 3.5, the 135 2.8, the 200 f/4, and the 50-300 5.6. Which lens should I buy next?”

The other relevant experience that I have never forgotten, occurred at Olden Camera, then a nationally known photo store in the Flat Iron Building on Broadway. It was a typical busy Saturday there, and the lines at the counters were long enough that I had the opportunity to overhear the man in front of me educating his wife on the finer points of difference between rangefinder cameras and SLRs. He had it all down; he had read all the articles and spoke calmly and with authority about the difference in seeing and composing with the two. She was skeptical. When the man’s turn came, he asked to see both the latest Leica M and several lenses, and a Hasselblad 500C and several lenses. The salesman brought them, and the man tried them out one at a time. He was having trouble making up his mind between these two, "Rolls Royce" systems. At last the respectful salesman asked, “What kind of photography will you be doing?” Before he could answer, his wife immediately responded, with more than a little pique, “Just around the back yard.”

We photographers, of course, are hardly alone in falling prey to the allure of magical potions. Audio buffs have been known to sink into depression when the state-of-the-art system they had saved years to purchase was surpassed in the next month's magazine tests by 0.003 percent lower distortion in frequencies a dog couldn’t hear.

I’ll leave off with one last experience, from another art.

A German friend was a natural cook, the kind who could have excelled as a professional chef. He cooked unforgettable meals with a plain pot, a cast iron pan, and wooden implements (and helped cure me of my “ultra-professional saucepan” fantasies). One day in the mid-1980s when he was visiting, he and I sallied forth in search of a plain 12-quart pot and some wooden spoons needed for an additional kitchen we’d be using. No problem, said I; the anchor stores at the malls all have huge kitchen departments now. They have everything.

In three separate department stores at two malls, we searched in vain, finally finding a plain stock pot of adequate size, and a solitary set of wooden spoons—at Sears. On the way back to the car through the mall, we had to pass again through the first kitchen department we had visited there, where grand displays of extensive, color-coordinated (and grandly-priced) cooking sets of all manner filled the entrance. As we passed, my friend paused and turned around to scan the scene. After a silent moment, he looked at me.

“You know what all this is for? It’s for yuppies to take home and cook their frozen vegetables!”

The ultimate photographic tool? Your imaginative, creative mind.

Dan Fromm
18-Aug-2016, 18:10

18-Aug-2016, 19:06
Well put indeed.

18-Aug-2016, 20:08
It will prevent much confusion, and save much $$$ if the seeker does not fall into the "bling-bling" trap early on (and later)... A rig that is logical enough to someone that they can wrap their head around it, set it up without too much thinking, know the procedures well to be able to fall into a working routine, not carry (or have) more than enough gear than ever can be used or lugged around, and not have the rig get in the way of vision...

Weston complained is his "Daybooks" that his cameras were getting old, and he wished he could send them in for service... Now everybody has a much more extensive rig than his, but has the photos these days gotten better than his??? So tech isn't the answer!?!!! :-0

Steve K

John Kasaian
18-Aug-2016, 21:33
A great essay!

20-Aug-2016, 19:36
Over the past 15 years I have bought and used camera gear from every era. My oldest lens is from 1845; my newest is a 2016 Nikon D5300. I've regularly used 6x9 folders from the 1930s, Leica from 1940s, Kodak Brownies from 1900s and 1910s, Nikon F3T from 1983, Nikon D800E from 2014--on and on. The one thing I have learned from them is that photos come from the Vision, not the gear. If you can't make a compelling photo from a 1904 Brownie, you won't be able to do it with a 2016 Nikon D810 either. Once I figured out that my photography greatly improved, no matter what I'm using.

Kent in SD

Drew Bedo
21-Aug-2016, 05:31
LTUMATE LF camera, lens or outfit?

Of course we all know that there is no such thing.

Yet I have, what is for me, the penultimate camera, lens and outfit: It is what I have now . . .the next-to-last to whatever I get next!

24-Aug-2016, 16:16
When my friend and I had a gallery, we had more than one person come in to ask advice about what camera and lens combination to buy in order to make images like those we were showing. It soon became clear, after some questioning, that most of them were convinced that if they just bought an expensive enough rig for themselves, they would be able to achieve their ends.

Some were rank amateurs, but some should have had enough experience to know better. LabRat's example of E. Weston was a great one. Now when I'm asked, I just say: "Buy something you can easily afford; put in your 10,000 hours; then, if you still are in doubt, come back and we'll talk". Usually that ends the conversation and saves us both a ton of painful time. :>)

24-Aug-2016, 17:11
Whole Plate Gandolfi, Coated Rapid Rectilinear convertible lens in Copal shutter, Maxwell screen.

24-Aug-2016, 18:16
the ultimate camera .. it is certainly what is between the ears and those 2 things above your nose.
too many people think some camera and lens and boutique developer or film will somehow turn
someone who can't see allegory or metaphor or translate what might or might NOT be infront of them
into solid gold. too much emphasis on this forum and others, and magazines is the equipment, instead
of looking at artwork painting, sculptures, architecture, portraits ( painting and photographs ) olde photography
from the 1800s, art history and architecture texts, and then try to make sense of the world around them.
a lot of people believe just because they photograph a woman or man with no clothes on in some sort of
awkward or compromising or erotic position it is "art" or "great" because they did it with a giant camera ( or convinced.
paid the person to do it ) and it cost them a thousand dollars in gear and materials ... when someone could have taken a photograph
of the same person with a brownie box camera that was HONEST and full of life and it would have been 10,000x better.
there are no magic bullets, just thoughtful, literary, artful, allegorical, metaphorical ways of presenting things to make someone
who may or may not be looking at the image think about what may be or may not be infront of them.
you can substitute woman/man with no clothes on for landscape, architectural, street &c photograph.
the feat of making the photograph is far less important than the image itself ,,,

neil poulsen
25-Aug-2016, 09:52
Contrary to the husband and wire at Olden, one doesn't purchase the "ultimate" camera off the shelf. To really find that one camera (if it exists), one has to have experimented with many. And of course, a camera system can be the ultimate for one application, and terrible for another.

I've tried a few large format cameras and many non-LF cameras. I had a Deardorff 4x5/5x7 and a Linhof Color (Technika on a rail), each of which I used for a few years. Then in '94, I stumbled across an Arca-Swiss F at a swap meet for $450. With the experience that I had already gained, and after use, I knew that this camera was hitting my sweet spot for the type of work I like to do. I've since made accommodations and adjustments to this camera over the years, and if there's an "ultimate" camera for me, this is probably the one.

But, look how much time and experimentation it took to come to that conclusion.

Jim Galli
25-Aug-2016, 17:08
Since I make a living in photography it is not uncommon for folks to walk in my shop here at work and ask me to recommend which camera to buy. I tell them, they're like japanese cars. You can't really buy a bad one these days.

That said, I don't make any apology for owning cameras and lenses in the mid five digits. Combined. It makes me happy, and I've made a few keepers.

25-Aug-2016, 17:23
It's this one:
Just imagine you would own this and then sell it for US$ 2.77 million.......
And then you can buy yourself any camera you want, a superb darkroom, a life time supply of film, paper, chemicals and after buying everything you want you would still have millions to spend on other things.

26-Aug-2016, 17:36
too many people think some camera and lens and boutique developer or film will somehow turn
someone who can't see allegory or metaphor or translate what might or might NOT be in front of them
into solid gold
This is a very important observation. The subject of great art is never, in my view, what is "stated." As in poetry, the true subject is that which is unstated -- "what might not be in front of them" -- but which resonates in the mind and emotions. David Kachel, for one, speaks to this energetically in his blog. W. Eugene Smith spoke of the difficulty of tapping into the power of photography to "reach through the emotions to stir the brain," another way of expressing a similar idea.

26-Aug-2016, 18:08
Consider ultimate (which is imaginary) as contrasted with the rest. The scope of differences among adequate view cameras is not great enough to make a difference compared to the operator of the 'worst camera' to the best camera. The view camera is the essence of simplicity, the great equalizer.

The better operator makes the difference.

26-Aug-2016, 22:16
Nice tools do not make a great photograph...
...but they certainly don't stop you either. :)

27-Aug-2016, 05:29
Since I make a living in photography it is not uncommon for folks to walk in my shop here at work and ask me to recommend which camera to buy. I tell them, they're like japanese cars. You can't really buy a bad one these days.

... Combined it makes me happy, and I've made a few keepers.

If you make a living with a tool and understand the nuances of what it can do, you don't buy the least expensive one that can do the job. You buy one which will hold up to daily use, is reliable and can perform outside the 'normal' range when called upon to do so. Usually that means spending more. And if it makes you happy, so much the better.

As far as the 'keepers' are concerned, as Han Solo once said: "Don't get cocky, kid." :>)))

Fr. Mark
27-Aug-2016, 09:01
The guy in the line at the Nikon exhibit OBVIOUSLY needs a good macro lens and bellows...AND...a fish eye lens. He probably also needs some off camera flash equipment, a motor drive and a large capacity back that pre-flashes the film for the ultimate in film speed and a back up camera body. Only then will he be fulfilled.

I've seen some work I admire that was made with humble, home built pinhole cameras. Mine seldom make me happy, however, at least not at first. I've got a 5x8 print from a pinhole camera in my office I'm glad I have now even though I was not at all sure about it when I first printed it.

It was also a revelation to see how much easier it is to get a good 8x10 print from a 120 6x6 negative than from a 126 instamatic or an OM-1 and a further revelation to realize what camera movements could do.

I'm always tempted to join the arms race/gear acquisition syndrome herd, but the more of the LF work I do the less sure I am want to get into the computerized scanned side of it (Epson or DSLR as scanner either one) or optical enlargement being required for all my pictures. I'm finding that some pictures work at 4x5 and 5x7, but I really want to do more at 8x10, I think. So, my next move is probably to make a conversion kit for my Sinar P, then maybe a field camera in 8x10. All that said, I still really like the Rollei TLR's, too. So, I'm not getting rid of my LF enlarger just yet.

The best camera is going to depend on what you want to do.

27-Aug-2016, 14:20
The ultimate camera is the one that never lets you down, does everythig you need. In my case it's been a Wista 45DX for about 30 years. I doubt it was the best I could have bought, however it'd never let me down, I've never needed the extremes of it's movements. It's been heavily used and abused and needs some TLC and rstoration.

I'd buy another to last me into my last 60-100 yearfs using LF :D