#817. Monday Post (04 Feb. 2019) Are you Picasso, or Da Vinci?

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Feb 04
Construction time

These days I have been getting shots from Pascal, comparing the output from his “Bigger is Better” Hasselblad X1-D with the formidable Zeiss Otus 85mm to that from Hassy glass on the same camera body. Also comparing shots from Dallas’ Nikon bodies and 4 lenses to my Sony-with-just-one-lens on our joint and delightful walkabouts.

Hard times

I am struck by the importance very minor levels of relative performance take on in such comparos. The structured bokeh, the grain, the spatial presentation, you name it. Are we just running out of major differences, and having to resort to smaller criteria in order to justify our giving in to GAS and to our “boys like their toys” lust? I mean, are such concerns serious?

Cold times

Obviously DS needs to come to the rescue of readers who have such impure thoughts and provide a gateway to their moral salvation while they continue to enjoy our joint hobby.

Minimal times

One thought furthered this theory: the sheer enjoyment I get from some pictures even if they are beyond weak from a technical performance/gear point of view. I unreservedly admire portraits by Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, better known as Nadar (1820-1910). Look at his portrait of Russian anarchist Bakunin. I would give all my pictures, past, present and future, in exchange for shooting just one picture like that. And s*d the fact that it is about as sharp as a 3000-year old rusty spear.

Bakunin, by Nadar. The stuff of legends.

So, is it that, when one has a subject as strong as Bakunin, giving what I would call a “subject-led” image, then gear performance matters less? Whereas, if one has a crafted image, or “tog-led” image, then it matters more?

Confusing times

I then looked for analogies in the world of painting, and it reversed my line of reasoning. Think Renaissance painters, the infinite delicacy of their art, the undefinable I-don’t-know-what that makes the appeal of Mona Lisa, the countless shades of chiaroscuro. Isn’t that comparable to the minute differences due to gear that I mentioned in opening?

Delicate times

And next, think of a much more brutal (in all senses of the word) painting style, like that of Picasso’s Guernica. Does it rely as much on the minute and the infinitesimal? I rather think not.

Brutal times

Then I knew I could relax. Yes, we are harping on the very, very minor, and the cost can be quite, quite major. Yes, it is possible to make some very striking pics with very limited gear. In Nadar’s time, because nothing better existed, today with smartphones.

Simple times

But if someone (or yourself) thinks you are overdoing this “gear-thingy”, just think of yourself as a modern-day Da Vinci or Rembrandt, and thumb your nose at Picasso and Klein!

Time to sign off, get up and leave…

PS: Pascal keeps getting requests for bike shots, even though it is my obsessive compulsive disorder and not his. He told me in no uncertain terms to incorporate one in my post so that he gets off the hook. Here it is.

Bike shot time

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  • Philippe another cracker article, well done sir. I agree totally you can get superb images only using minimal gear, many times I go out with 2 extra lens in my bag and never use. I’m not sure if I’m lazy or connect with what I getting on that day, being honest 9/10 times I’m bone lazy and can’t be bothered changing. As for, who am I, that’s easy, just me enjoying what photography brings.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Well actually no – I’m not any of those guys – I’m just ‘me’.
    AndI have to agree with the thread you’re spinning, Philippe, if I get it right.
    When I started taking a serious interest in digital, there was so much stuff about “digital noise” that I thought it must be one of the seven deadly sins, so I had to make sure I eliminated it. Now, I hardly ever worry about it.
    Sharpness of lenses causes some angst – I changed macro lenses after struggling with the one I originally bought – but most of the time I couldn’t care less.
    The Canon PowerShot has a built in zoom, which is pretty bloody useless beyond about 85mm equivalent – but that’s not as important as that might suggest, because I use that cam to scout how to set up for a serous shot with better gear. Who the hell wants to lug a tripod and all their best gear to a location, just to scout how & where to take the shot? The meta data from this beast gives me all the info I need, to go back and do the job properly.
    “Minimal times” appears to have a slight halo around the subject – right now, Philippe, I am waiting on the arrival of an email explaining how to open some post processing software I bought last week – if it performs as promised, it might get rid of the halos for you – I’ll keep you informed.
    Anarchy must have been a highly paid profession – Bakunin seems to have a pearl tie pin and a gold watch chain, as well as an overfed tummy. I’ve heard of photographers back then deliberately smearing a lens with vaseline when doing portraits, to get a softer image.
    All up, this is an interesting and thought provoking post, Philippe

  • John W says:

    Phil – You don’t have to be a Latter day Nadar with subjects the magnitude of Bakunin. Have a look here. Wendy and Russ are former teachers and friends of mine. Some of the images are made crappy gear or no camera at all ,,, so what then the question of “Gear”.

    Have a look here –


    I think it was Stieglitz who said “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept”. Ultimately, it comes down to what works aesthetically works and who cares what gear was used. If it doesn’t work aesthetically, who cares what gear was used.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    How do I include a photo/illustration in my comment? – I have one that I think is perfect, for this topic.

    Bum – this will do, instead:


  • David Mack says:

    Good afternoon to all from Oregon;

    Being there with a camera is 90% of the task. Old but still very relevant. We can quibble all day about this or that being better and technology has certainly added to the “finer points of technical quality” but is it worth the effort/cost/benefit? These discussions remind me of love making. Most of us can make babies, just some are really very good artist, and enjoy all the finer points as often as possible. Many of us may not appreciate the “finer points of experience, but we get a good product. A really great photograph will always be in the eye of the viewer, since we all see the world differently. I would gladly trade all of this new wonder tech for the skill to produce a photo as good as the giants of the past. To me, a really well focused image somewhere in the photograph, preferably on the subject, is the most important technical aspect. All other factors are only supplemental to the elements of creative art. Better sensors, more pixels, tricolor, etc are just enhancements and certainly don’t make a “average photo” great; so carry on, I enjoy the banter, but really??

    What about the scene assessment; what did you see, what were you trying to capture, which lens did you use at what F stop and why? Was it worth the effort and did you succeed? What would you do differently if looking again. I walk around in urban environments or my yard, shooting my Nikon 850 with a 50mm wide open at close and hyper-focal distances just for skill testing and growth of “seeing” but having really super detail in focus, does not art make.

    David Mack

    • philberphoto says:

      Well, I am not sure that I fully agree with “being there with a camera is 90% of the task”. I have taken countless walks with other ‘togs, and our results have never been 90% common. It is more a WYSIWYG thing. See not, shoot not, get not. Conversely, some people, when given lemons (bad scene, bad light) make lemonade. Others make mojito!

  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    Enjoyed this post very much, Philippe, as well all DS discussions of photographic art. And BTW, thanks for including the bicycle. :))
    Side note: I bought a 4×5 camera many years ago that looked like someone had deliberately taken steel wool to then center area of the lens. I assumed that was done during the “wooly period” of photography and didn’t waste any time replacing it with with an undamaged period correct lens. Never did care much for artificially induced wooly effects in landscapes or portraits.

  • immodoc says:

    Hi, I am neither Picasso nor Da Vinci, but a humble hobby photographer, looking for a nice present for myself every now and then …

    Of course, “Super-FF”, called MF by some, caught my attention. But the performance appears to very much the same:


    A future 100 MP Fuji might tempt me. — However, thinking back to how little I used my MF cameras ROLLEI 2,8 GX (6 x 6) or
    Fuji GS 645 (6 x 4,5) I am not so sure.

    For the time being, I ‘ll stick to my trias Leica M9, Nikon D800, SONY A7R2 … —

    Of course, I wish lots of fun to the happy Hasselblad and Fuji owners (and users) !

    • philberphoto says:

      Well, I would say that “performance appears to be very much the same” depends on what each person’s needs and expectations are, and would be challenged by more than a few here. On the other hand, with the three cameras that you have here, I am certainly not going to feel sorry for you! If they are all you need/would like, then just have fun!

  • PaulB says:

    Hello My name is Paul

    I’m a Pascavinci. Not to mention a camera (lens) junkie!

    If I could emulate the work of one past photographer and be pleased, it would be Eugene Atget. When I do landscape and documentary-ish photography I have a similar style; one of my instructors even mentioned it. But the results are not quite there.

    Which may be a reason why I am a good, better, best, gear junkie.


    • philberphoto says:

      Paul, your mention of Atget makes me want to share with you a recent discussion I had with Dallas. He makes some remarkable pictures of Paris, some of them with a defintely “retro” look that is full of charm. He sent me one such picture, and I told him that “it doesn’t quite do it for me”, because he had shot it wide open (f:1.4) or close. Old pictures are (also) defined by the limitations of the gear of yore, and fast, sharp lenses didn’t exist. So pictures shot wide open with such lenses (think: very thin DOF) can’t quite pass as retro replicas. But if he closed down his lenses and maybe smeared them a bit….:-)

  • PaulB says:

    Hi Philippe

    I agree, technical perfection may not yield the soft (old) look that we admire from the old masters.

    Considering that large format was the format of choice, stopping down to f32 or f64 was also common.

    In addition, I have made a soft focus filter using a UV filter and hairspray. It worked well for portraits. It probably would work for the vintage landscape look as well.


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