#882. The Un-Camera

By Adrian | Opinion

Jul 26

Dear Susan’s contributors have varied photographic interests, taken with varied equipment, but often with a unifying aim to avoid the obvious, and often taking an independent path to interesting photography.  A couple of years ago, Dear Susan founder Pascal wrote about the concept of “undestination photography“, to eschew the cliched and instagrammed spots over-run with marauding tourists and their selfie sticks, and instead try to find somewhere interesting that’s a little off the tourist’s over beaten track.

Come Outside. Honor 10 Lite, edited with Adobe Photoshop Express for Android.

Recently in the comments of DS I came upon the idea of the “un camera” – cameras of so little consequence or significance that they basically fail to exist in the minds of most photographers.  The internet is full of authorative advice about what is the best equipment for a particular task, telling the uninformed what they need to photograph whatever was asked about, but often with little understanding of what the questioner actually needs.  Landscapes need an ultrawide angle lens, even though they turn detail into tiny specs on a far distant horizon and need careful use to ensure compositions maintain foreground interest and a sense of scale.  Portraits need an 85mm f1.4 lens, even though such wide apertures require exceptionally careful composition to ensure you don’t end up with a subject with only one eye in focus. 

Dragon Staircase. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS

Similarly, forums and blogs abound with camera advice about what is absolutely mandatory for any task – the Ricoh GR1 or Fuji X100 are absolutely the camera you need for street photography; full frame is absolutely better than APS-C format; the Nikon D850 and Canon EOS 5Div are absolutely the only cameras that are professional.  I’ve seen questions clearly from amateurs who were asking about a good first camera being advised to buy a full frame model costing several thousand dollars because it will take the best photographs.

Gothic city. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS

Since the internet opinion makers hold such influence over many other people’s beliefs, what results is a kind of consensus group think, where everybody is absolutely convinced about what is best, and also what’s not worth using.  Enthusiast photographers often end up with very strongly held and inflexible opinions about what they think they “need” – views which often have little relevance to the capability of a camera to create photographs.

Spiral. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS

When I thought of the “un camera”, the Sony A3000 immediately came to mind.  It was an consumer grade camera at the entry level of the company’s E mount mirrorless range, and was unique as it featured a DSLR-style body which was reportedly intended to appeal to buyers in developing markets, who favoured the SLR style but wanted a very low priced camera.  When I discussed it with a very friendly sales assistant at a Sony Store in Singapore, I was told that although they had stocked it for some time, he’d completely ignored it and never once looked at it.  Surely the mark of the ultimate “non camera”?

Relax. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS.

The A3000 is essentially a hollow plastic SLR style body shell which contains all the parts from the tiny Sony A5000, which was the evolution of the previously successful NEX-3 series of cameras – so it has pocket sized internal parts in a oversized sumo-suit. Sony user forums were full of enthusiasts who hated it because it wasn’t what they wanted it to be.  They had decided what Sony should make was an E mount APS-C camera in a “pro-grade” enthusiast SLR-style body. Since the lowly A3000 was an E mount camera that looked like an SLR, they couldn’t accept it for what it was, and busied themselves listing the must have specifications for a £1000 camera.

Pool Of Moonlight. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS.

It didn’t have twin control dials.  It didn’t have an articulating rear screen.  It didn’t have PDAF on sensor focusing, and could only shoot 3fps.  The grip was too small.  It was too plastic and felt cheap and needed to be made from alloy.  And finally, the 0.2Mp EVF was too low resolution and too small, and you had to press a button to switch between EVF and rear screen. Apparently, it was totally unusable, and most definitely not what they had decided that they needed.

Distant Horizon. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS

The picture below shows the DXOMark scores for the very inexpensive 20Mp APS-C sensor found in the A3000, compared to a couple of full frame cameras from about a generation before it’s release.

DXOMark sensor ratings

Now, obviously larger sensors are always better at signal to noise ratio than smaller ones, because you can’t bend physics, but the sensor in the A3000 equals or betters the dynamic range and colour depth of both full frame cameras.  The funny thing is that the A3000 can take surprisingly good photos, even though it was very very cheap.  The Nikon D3s cost $5500 at release.  The Canon EOS 6D cost $2000.  My Sony A3000 cost £239 as a kit with an 18-55mm kit lens, a battery, and a charger.  Of course, I am not saying that the A3000 is a better camera than the other two – but it is technically capable or taking pictures of similar quality in good light at a fraction of the cost.

Broad Church. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS. In camera multi-shot HDR.

“Un cameras” are those unloved cameras that are ignored by many, and hated by some.  Nobody covets them, or even wants them, or even notices them, but perhaps surprisingly to some photographers who are very very sure about what camera they need, non-cameras can actually be used to take a decent photograph.


On the arbitrary scales of how enthusiasts measure “good” cameras, the A3000 is terrible, and yet I find a certain joyous simplicity in using it.   The handling won’t suit the knobs-and-buttons brigade as it has a rear scroll wheel and about 6 buttons.  It does have a physical mode dial, the buttons can be customised, and an “Fn” menu can be assigned to a button and allows 6 functions to be put on a menu at the bottom of the screen.  As a result, I just control as few settings as possible, leave everything else in “auto”, and make life simpler by using some automated features such as in-camera multi-shot HDR and panorama stitching.

Colour Block. Sony A3000 with Sony E 35mm f1.8 OSS.

The enthusiasts who couldn’t cope with the idea of having to press a button to switch between the screen and EVF obviously never use live view in bright Mediterranean or Asian sunshine, where I will happily press a button to use a 0.2Mp EVF instead of having to try and compose on a near invisible rear screen.  The lightweight hollow plastic body is surprisingly comfortable to hold, and is so light it can easily he suspended by a wrist strap. Drop it and it will probably bounce – and if it does break, it won’t break your heart or your bank balance.

Ocean Panorama. Sony A3000 in-camera sweep panorama.

Now, it’s not a high ISO monster, so you can’t shoot at ISO 25600 – I would say ISO3200 is the boundary of it’s comfort zone.  You can’t use it as sports camera, as the CDAF focusing can’t really handle motion.  Nobody is going to try birding with it, as the EVF isn’t good enough and gives an indication of composition and structure rather than fine detail and expressions in large group shots.  But… for general pictures, it’s a remarkably capable camera, and the files it produces are good – which ultimately is what really counts, isn’t it?

It’s Fabulous! Sony A3000 with Sony E 35mm f1.8 OSS.

Everybody seemed to hate the A3000 when it came out, and I don’t really understand why. Once you get over the bucket lists of what enthusiasts said it must, should or had to do, what’s left is basic and does the job.  I used it for a few days when visiting Barcelona, and never once did I think “I wish the EVF had more pixels”.  Never once did it matter when I was trying to compose a frame.  It’s a compositional tool, not 4K cinema.

Highlight of the Day. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS. In camera sweep-panorama.

I think some enthusiast photographers become spoilt and inflexible – the grip is too small, it doesn’t have a front control wheel – as cameras and photography have become more about the male collector gene and basking in the reflected glory of spec sheet and conferred status, and little to do with the essence of photography.  At worst, the A3000 is a cheap family camera to make memories, at best it could be a creative tool to tell stories and make art.

City on Fire. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS.

I think we should all go back to an entry level camera from time to time, to try and remind ourselves what is really important about the pictures we take.  We often cling to our expensive “professional” cameras for emotional reasons as much as for what they can achieve. They confer on us a belief about the type of photographers we are, and perhaps about the importance of the photographs we are taking. We think they make our photographic lives simpler because of all that they can offer, convinced that “taking control” of all the little buttons and dials will make the picture better, yet they often make the photographic process more complex.

Look Up. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS. In camera multi-shot HDR.

Less isn’t more. More is more, apparently – but perhaps more camera leads to less fun? Does having a manual dial or the size of the grip make our pictures better? Perhaps more camera leads to less creativity when we worry about resolution, settings, and capability more than story telling, beauty and art?

Looking For Beauty. Sony A3000 with Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS.

I hadn’t used my A3000 for several years, because more expensive cameras with more pixels and more specification were more… exciting. When I use a basic camera, my expectations are often so low that when the photographs look good, I’m surprised and pleased. Without many controls, I keep it simple and enjoy taking photographs. These cheap modern plastic cameras have considerably more processor power than put man on the moon, but are apparently unsuitable because the grip isn’t the right size. Shouldn’t we worry less about techno-whizz-bang, stop hiding behind specification and status, and be more concerned about photography?

Sky High. Honor 10 Lite, edited with Adobe Photoshop Express for Android.

Photos in this article were taken with a Sony A3000 using in-camera jpeg modes or processed from raw using SilkyPix Developer Studio Pro 9. Some pictures were taken using the Honor 10 Lite phone – because phones that don’t cost £1000 can be “non-cameras” too.


Pascal adds

Adrian kindly offered me to add a few words to his post, but what could I say that would make this wonderful post any better? Nothing I can think of. In a sea of techno-centric drivel, reading something as intelligent and beautifully illustrated as this feels sooo right.

So, just a few words from me. Yes, an EVF is a compositional tool, not a wide screen TV to watch a film on. Yes, images are what matter. Yes, it is super important to recognise that complex cameras spoil the fun and put quality out of the financial reach of too many artistically gifted and deserving people. No, this doesn’t imply high end cameras are a bad thing. Only that they should focus on image making, and that it’s refreshing to see a cheap, simple camera like the A3000 punch so far above its price point in areas that matter.

Samsung Galaxy S9 camera

If some young photographer is being discouraged by the stupidly complex and expensive standards being set today in this (suicidal) industry, I hope he finds this post, and newfound inspiration with it. Thank you Adrian.


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  • philberphoto says:

    Adrian, great pics, and strong post! You make your case very eloquently. Camera gear today is so much more often an object of desire rather than an object of function…
    My favorite pictures are Looking up! , Highlight of the day, and Dragon staircase. Please keep on shaming us for overspending and underachieving…

    • Adrian says:

      There’s been a recurring theme that I haven’t had much time, opportunity, or interest in photography, which for me is so often influenced by travel. When I have had the opportunity to travel, the focus has been relaxation and well-being rather than photography and the heavy bags of equipment and itineraries that can entail. As a result, I’ve been using smaller lighter cameras often with kit lenses. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t make much difference to the quality of the final result – and if on some measure of technical quality (e.g. dynamic range, signal to noise ratio) the pictures aren’t as good, I don’t really care, and I’m not convinced anyone would really notice. As Pascal points out, it’s not that more expensive cameras may not have advantages – I wouldn’t give up my A7S for extreme low light work or my A6500 for events and continuous shooting. I’m not trying to be an evangelist for cheap cameras as a universal solution for all, nor to shame anyone about their choices – but I do question whether the modern photographers obsession with what they have decided is “important” actually makes much difference in general photography. I’ve got a longer holiday later this year and plan to take the A3000, A5100 and a couple of lenses so I can enjoy my holiday more, rather than turn it into something that resembles a military mission.

      • NMc says:

        Thanks for the post it makes me want to go on holiday.
        Another point regularly raised about simpler/cheaper cameras is that they often take people back to the beginnings of their photography. A kind of nostalgia for simpler times and fun, before we got all invested in gear or started to overthink things. Being good at photos rather than fun in photography. Arguably one of the things phones should be good at.
        I just don’t find phones in any way fun, they seem to bring a lot of banality and hunger for something unattainable to people’s lives. Phones seem to be the cigarettes for the early 21st century, and unfortunately it is the built in cameras when mixed with the social media that is the nicotine.
        Regards Noel

    • pascaljappy says:

      +1 on that Dragon staircase. Master shot !

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I’d scarcely reached the middle of the second paragraph, before I collapsed laughing. SOOOOOOO true! Thanks a million, Adrian, from installing common sense in this endless discussion over gear!
    I actually have four cams, these days – I’ve had more in the past, but that’s what I’ve cut back to now.
    Two are my “yin & yang” pair – they are alter ego’s of each other – essentially, as far as I’m concerned, they are one & the same camera, except that the features I want for some of my photography are on one of the two bodies and the rest are on the other body – a bit like changing magazine backs, really – rather than changing cameras.
    The other two are pretty much what you’re suggesting – pocketable – simple to use (one has a lot of functions on it, but the manual is almost incomprehensible, so I mostly use it almost like a “point and shoot”). And a base level Nikon pocket camera – which I’ll be lucky to keep, because my wife’s camera has quietly died while we were in Prague recently, causing her to burst into tears and demand that I take all the rest of her shots for the remainder of our trip – so she’s now staked a claim to it and I expect to lose it shortly.
    I can’t say my two pocketable cams cost only $200 – partly because I’ve no recollection what they cost anyway. But I can say they were cheap – especially compared to the rest of my gear.
    And really, they DO take remarkably good photos. I often take them instead of my regular gear, because of the convenience factor. I certainly make use of them in planning photos with the more expensive cams. And I still use them both to the exclusion of my “main” cams, for certain other purposes – so the baby will be sorely missed when it gets “pinched”.
    Sorry Pascal – nice try – but I don’t think cellphones really fit – with prices now soaring up to $2,500 or thereabouts! And as Adrian has reminded us, we can”t beat the laws of physics – so cellphones by their very dimensions will NEVER “replace” cameras. They might “approximate” them – but they are doomed to go on till the end of time, as a placebo – a cardboard cutout. As I said to Pascal some time ago, it’s “amazing how far those contraptions have come. Does anyone still make phone calls on them?” Image quality depends on all sorts of things, but “tricking” the system with features like AI and all the other crap that goes into the design of cellphones does not produce an end product capable of gunning photography down. If cameras disappear, it will be the result of an economic decision rather than an aesthetic one. As someone with a dachshund said to his dog, when it barked at my dobermann, “You can’t win this one, Napoleon!”

    • pascaljappy says:

      Jean-Pierre, you’re right. These days, high-end smartphones have become so expensive and complex that they can no longer be considered non-cameras. My most pleasant camera-phone ever was the Galaxy S6.

      I will, however, risk the wrath of 99% of the world population by suggesting the X1D comes a little closer 😀 😀 😀 Yes, it’s super expensive, and it’s high-resolution and all. But it’s low on features, slow by modern standards, very simple, very low performance (in termes of AF speed, frame rates …) and 90% of the proposition value. So, no, I can’t call it a non-camera in Adrian’s definition, but it feels like a low-tech high-IQ parallel in another segment of the market.

      Unrelated, but nice profile photo 🙂 Cheers

      • Adrian says:

        Tsk Tsk Pascal – I can’t let you get away with the idea that the Hasselblad X1D is a “non camera”! It’s the very antithesis of the idea, for those who obsess about pixels, build quality, premium materials, and of course Ming and his obsessive-compulsive photographer’s opinion about exactly how the controls should work and what the shutter response feels like. Alas, it becomes exactly what my article rallies against – the photographers obsession about things that ultimately don’t make the pictures any better.

        You have fallen into my trap with your “simple controls” analogy, which is exactly the same argument that Leica owners would use with their “it feels like an extension of my hand” nonsense and their belief that a “proper” camera simply must have a mechanical shutter speed dial and an aperture ring and all the years of mythos and hyperbole about how it’s the only tool for a certain type of photography. If people like, want or enjoy that, it is absolutely their right to do so – but unfortunately it plays to a culture I tried to describe that photographers are very inflexible in their absolute belief about what a camera simply has to have to be considered “good”.

        They really wouldn’t like an A3000 (or any similar camera) for it’s plastic build, lack of controls, small EVF etc but those things are precisely what I’m beginning to think don’t really matter. When I photographed with film, I often used low end SLRs because they were smaller and lighter and had a wheel I could set the aperture with and I was happy – the emulsion that came back from the print lab looked the same, as the camera was simply a box to let the light in.

        My view is that *the* most important thing about a digital camera is the sensor – and all this fussing about grips and dials and build quality is perhaps little more than (male?) ego and collector-gene obsession. I would perhaps be so bold as to say that if someone considers themselves a photographer, and also believes they cannot take good photographs because of the eye relief of the viewfinder or the material of the body or the number of knobs, then perhaps they are not a very good one? I do understand that certain types of camera can make certain more specialist photography easier – sports, for example – but for the type of static pictures I’ve presented here, I really don’t think it matters very much if one lets go of all the emotion about what one believes a “proper” camera is supposed to be and can be more flexible in approach and attitude.

        None of this is said from a standpoint of superiority, nor condescension, and ultimately as amateurs we should do whatever makes us happy and inspires us to create. For me right now, that seems to be not caring very much about the camera, and in fact just enjoying the simplicity of something basic and being able to take photographs that make me happy with such a modest tool.

        I really appreciate your closing comments to my article, and want to second your thoughts – I wanted to write about the idea that photographers who didn’t have access to the latest expensive camera could still make art and express themselves with humble tools, but thought it too pretentious and perhaps a little arrogant (I don’t regard myself as a great photographer, far from it) – but I’m glad you said what you did, as I too would hope that my thoughts could inspire others to pick up a camera, any camera, either expensive or modest, and so something wonderful with it that makes them or others happy.

        As a parting shot to this over-long comment – why doesn’t a manufacturer make a medium format camera that’s build like an A3000? A really modest, inexpensive, basic camera, that’s just a box to let the light in to a nice sensor?

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Do these articles ring any bells, Adrian? (Appeared in DP Review this morning – two of the only three articles IN this morning’s post!)

          Traveling light: The ups and downs of the Canon EOS M100 in Mexico
          Published on Friday, July 26, 2019 at 1:00:00 PM

          Reviews Editor Carey Rose went to Mexico on a vacation and brought a tiny camera that takes about the same photos as the comparatively huge Canon EOS 80D. Not bad.
          Video: Shooting video with a Vest Pocket Kodak camera lens from WWI
          Published on Friday, July 26, 2019 at 12:20:00 PM

          Unusual lens guru Mathieu Stern acquired a Vest Pocket Kodak 127 film camera lens last used during World War 1 and subsequently shot a little video with it.

        • Kristian Wannebo says:

          > “.. and what the shutter response feels like..”

          The shutter *button* feel has an impact on how much movement of the camera you induce – even after longer practice.

          ( And don’t forget that Ming uses his cameras professionally – those things that don’t make pictures better can be time savers or decrease the risk for mistakes.)

          But that doesn’t change that I think you are absolutely right, Adrian!
          – – –

          As to controls,
          the simplest and best I’ve had was on my main camera in my film days: a rangefinder 6x6cm Superikonta (w. 75mm/3.5 Tessar). The shutter speed and aperture rings were coupled by an EV scale and a built-in exposure meter gave the EV. So you could quickly change the speed / aperture setting without changing exposure.

          • Adrian says:

            Precessional = paid for
            Amateur = not paid for

            The opinion of the former is no more valid than the latter.

            Emporer Ming is the perfect example of obsessing about things that don’t make any difference to the final picture.

            I was always struck by his continual damning of the Sony E system – surely a decent photographer could still take good images, regardless of minor annoyances about controls?

            I remember seeing a stunning informal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II taken by Lord Lichfield with a Contax pocket camera (on film).

            I’m tempted to say that all this obsessing about grip size, body material, buttons and dials is a complete affectation, and an excuse by people who if they had real talent would stand by their work, not by bitching about the tool.

            • Kristian Wannebo says:

              > “The opinion of the former is no more valid than the latter.”

              Of course, Adrian!

              Only the pro has also *other* concerns than making good photos, like being able to work fast, like having gear that suits his muscle memory to minimise the risk of mistakes, like saving time by getting RAW files that need less post-processing…
              ( – or (s)he might not be able to pay the bills at the end if the month.)

              And Ming has, if I remember rightly, always noted that he reviews gear from his needs as a pro, not as advice to any photographer.

              I agree, though, with your criticism of reviews, that they too often focus too much on irrelevant stuff!
              ( And too seldom say that this or that feature only matters in very special cases.)

              • Adrian says:

                I shouldn’t really single out Ming – I’ve never met him, and I’m sure he’s a decent guy – but his reviews of equipment exactly play to the mentality I describe in my article. First he favoured Nikon as the only camera system that could take decent photos, then the Leica SL, and latterly Hasselblad (perhaps for financial and contractual reasons). The Leica SL and Hasselblad X1D are perfect examples of the obsession about things that don’t really matter, and their price tags put them well out of the reach of most potential owners. Too many photographers are too obsessed with their perceived equipment “needs” – possibly fuelled by an internet culture which makes them believe things are “important” to them – rather than obsessed about photography.

                I totally understand that some tools suit some uses – I would let use my A3000 to cover stage events, when an A6500 is a more capable tool – but too often it feels as if enthusiasts and writers hide behind this as an excuse to justify their desire for expansive male jewellery, because as men we are too often swayed by perceptions about materials, engineering, quality and feel. It’s why men buy expensive cars because they believe they are “premium” and therefore “better” than something cheaper and possibly more capable, because it flatters their ego.

                I find cheap cameras refreshing because they relieve me of the tyranny of worrying about things that don’t matter, and from recent evidence take pictures of near equal quality to more expensive equipment.

                The “non-camera” is ultimately not worrying about the tool, and enjoying the photography.

              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                I’m not protesting against your description of what’s important for photography and of how too many emphasize other stuff. I’m agreeing.

                I just think Ming Thein *is* one of the few who keeps pointing at what *is* important.

                He has never emphasized gear, on the contrary he has written many articles about how it’s several years since most cameras reached the “level of sufficiency” as he calls it.

                He has quite a few times published essays showing that a simple P&S or a phone can make just as good photos as any camera (so long as you stay within its technical limits).

                He has in detail compared the photographic output of differently sized sensors – thus seeing the camera (as you so well put it) as a box to let the light in – and pointed out the different advantages of small and large sensors.

                He has written many articles on what is essential in photography without mentioning gear.
                – – –

                Now to his reviews:

                Ming has always maintained that he isn’t blogging in order to review gear – except that he now and then shares his experience with gear that he has acquired
                (or very rarely loaned) mostly for professional reasons, i.e. to solve problems his clients give him, *efficiently and economically* in addition to photographically.

                Right, then he describes not only the photographic essentials but *all* aspects he has noted that help or thwart him – with his preferences – in using the camera as a quick and efficient tool.

                And why shouldn’t he – his readers aren’t only “just” photographers (for whom he emphasizes that most all cameras can make good photos, as noted above) – but also professionals with similar needs as his. For a pro a camera is also a tool that has to perform easily and reliably in these or those maybe very special circumstances – and then *all* aspects of a camera *can* become significant.

                [ In pre-industrial times craftsmen often made their tools themselves – for the simple reason that only then these became a perfect fit for their hands and so allowed them to work with better precision and more efficiently.]

                — * —

                For us “just” photographers this – as you, and also Ming, rightly say – isn’t necessary!

                ( Ming has occasionally written reviews intended mainly for amateurs, e.g. of the Fuji XF1. Yes, he described all the handling details, but he mainly wrote in detail about aspects of the photographic output of its sensor and lens, also compared to some similar cameras.)

                Only, enjoying a camera also as a tool can induce one to use it more often, and perhaps with better results – as you also say regarding your Sony A3000.

                — * —

                [ You mention Ming’s writings on Hasselblad cameras.
                He wrote that he started using them because enough clients asked for higher quality files (probably for very large detailed prints) to make the investment profitable. And that he found that the H’blad RAW files needed far less time at the computer – also a money saver besides giving him more time to photograph.
                He never reviewed any H’blad gear while (later) working for them.]

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        ROTFLMHAO – you are too kind – you should see the rest of that photo – taken when I decided to celebrate my 40th by entering a body building competition. At that stage, I had a 31 inch waist and a 47 inch chest – and in that photo, all I had on was a bright yellow pair of Speedo’s. In that era, it was no longer possible to camouflage my continental (and other) mixed ancestry, and they used to call me nicknames like “Mexican Pete”, “Al Pacino”, “Serpico” and “Scarface”. Age has mellowed my appearance – considerably!
        I can relate to your feelings about the Hassy – I’ve been ogling them for half a century (my Bronica was a “faux Hassy!), but I’ve never had the cash.
        It’s not high res. just because it’s expensive – the reason is simply [mostly?] its format.
        And I don’t regard price as the factor that resolves this discussion anyway. Adrian is talking about a deeper malaise in photography – a kind of flight from reality. It reminds me of people my age buying a car like a Lambo, because they always wanted one when they were young but couldn’t afford it – and to make themselves look perfectly ridiculous, because they simply CANNOT need it (most of them can’t even drive the bloody things properly), they go out and buy one, just because they CAN afford it. When they’re way too old to enjoy it.
        Not saying that about your Hassy – you don’t need the skills of a racing car driver to use a Hassy. What DOES illustrate the same point I make about the “tottering-by-gently” generation swapping their 2CV for a Lambo, in the context of photography, is NOT your Hassy. It’s people like that idiot who plonked himself at a table next to mine in Montmartre (of ALL places on earth – teeming with pickpockets & similar!), with a companion who shared his vices, and between them they had EIGHT effing Leicas, complete with that red dot which SCREAMS “opportunity” to the crims. And I can’t believe any amateur photographer on this planet needs 8 Leicas, to go on a shoot in another country.

  • Pascal B. says:

    Dear Adrian, the quality of your pictures around your no-nonsense article is impressive. Brings us back down to earth and reminds me I was able to take acceptable pics with a Nex 5N with inexpensive manual lenses bought on EBay. Thank you for a great article!!

    • Adrian says:

      Thanks for your comments. I’m as guilty as anyone for buying and using expensive cameras in the belief they will somehow make photographs “better”, and forgetting my previous contentment with simpler, cheaper tools.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hi Adrian – I should have said this at the outset, and then shut up – it’s easier to train performing seals, than it is to train old people to shut up, though.
    Just noticed the opening line – you said it all, in one word – “opinion”. This has become a disease sparking social discord all over the place, during the past half century. Of course it has always been there – but less offensively “in yer face” all the effing time. But of late, it has become HIGHLY offensive. I blame the social media – a whole generation out there has lost the niceties of social intercourse and good manners, and plunged into attacks from their perches in the secret recesses of Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    There was a time when two people could meet and have a civilised conversation about their cameras. Take a genuine interest in each other’s gear. Find it “interesting” – or perhaps even “fascinating”. Then wander off and keep taking photos – each with their own gear.
    You can still find a residue of that golden age, amongst the senior photographers. They don’t go round denigrating other people’s gear – instead they offer newcomers to the hobby/profession an opportunity to share – to share their knowledge and experience – even, as I’ve found from time to time, taking time out on a perfectly friendly and civilised basis, to offer their advice.
    Not so the “opinion-itis” crowd. Do as they say, or they’ll shoot you. With a stream of negative criticism, or a scream of “I love me” bragging about gear they have and you don’t.
    But in sites like DearSusan and Ming’s blog, this doesn’t seem to happen. Instead we ponder life’s issues and have adult discussion.
    And isn’t this so much more pleasant than endless sniping?

    • Adrian says:

      Don’t forget Kirk Tuck – I think Pascal or Paul interviewed him, and he always comes across as very reasonable and affable in hospital s blog. Credit to Hugh Brownstone too for his vLog, which is always thoughtful and interesting.

      A couple of British friends who have different political views to mine have both commented recently that discourse has now become shouting other people down – something I’ve been increasingly aware of for a couple of years here. Ironically, one of them once started banging the table and told me to stop talking when he disagreed with me.over dinner, and didn’t seem to understand why I didn’t really find this acceptable behaviour.

      The thing I dislike on forums most of all are the amateurs who are so insistent that their camera *has* to have – it always strikes me as a first world set of problems that a camera isn’t suitable because, for example, it’s made of plastic. It makes me feel that the people saying it aren’t really photographers interested in making images because the tool had become more important than the result.

    • Adrian says:

      Don’t forget Kirk Tuck – I think Pascal or Paul interviewed him, and he always comes across as very reasonable and affable in his blog. Credit to Hugh Brownstone too for his vLog, which is always thoughtful and interesting.

      A couple of British friends who have different political views to mine have both commented recently that discourse has now become shouting other people down – something I’ve been increasingly aware of for a couple of years here. Ironically, one of them once started banging the table and told me to stop talking when he disagreed with me over dinner, and didn’t seem to understand why I didn’t really find this acceptable behaviour.

      The thing I dislike on forums most of all are the amateurs who are so insistent that their camera *has* to have (insert arbitrary list of features, handling characteristics, and specifications here). It always strikes me as a first world set of problems that a camera isn’t suitable because, for example, it’s made of plastic. It makes me feel that the people saying it aren’t really photographers interested in making images because the tool had become more important than the result.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        But of course!

        I came into this sideways (right back at the very beginning).
        Several ancestors/relatives (including two great aunts and my eldest brother) who thought they were artists, because they could draw – unfortunately their drawings, however “good” in the sense of producing an “accurate picture”, lacked artistry – they always looked painstaking, forced, whatever! Plus a mother and the other brother, who seriously WERE artistic – both with their own style, and thankfully I still have mum’s first oil painting, hanging in this room.
        Then a couple of great-great uncles who were pioneers of photography, and a father who was nuts about photography from the early 1930s (when he joined the workforce) until his death in 1960. Once again, eldest bro’ (who thinks he knows everything) held himself out as a great photographer – arming himself with a Leica (ring any bells?), sneering at my gear (ring any bells), and driving everyone nuts whenever he pointed his camera at them (ring any bells?)
        I know it’s appalling to say so, but I was a shy, reclusive kid, locked in a world of my own, with VERY few outside friends. So I made my own way. Shy goes hand in hand with lacking in self confidence – something I know is ridiculous, but it’s taken me a lifetime to deal with it. And as a direct consequence, although I enjoyed drawing and water colour painting and pastels, I hardly ever showed them to other people and in general terms, felt I could never be a “good” artist. Photography appealed to me instead, as a means of creating images, without worrying about my artistic shortcomings or my self-perceived inability to create a good image.
        Then spent most of the rest of my life, after the age of 10, with a camera in one hand and my lifelong love of music in the other. From around my late teens, on, I often found myself mixing with other photographers with similar interests – not, however, identical – mine was more artistic, theirs was more capturing the moment (kind of like street), and I was often the recipient of criticism (not “comment” – negative stuff!) because I didn’t do what they would have. So I drifted off on my own – a re-run of my isolation in childhood.
        Yeah I know this is boring – but I’ll get to the point in a second or two.
        My other interest was/is music. I couldn’t envisage living in a world without music. I think I’d shrivel up or disintegrate. By the time I was three years old, I was demanding the chance to learn to play the piano. Twenty years later, I’d spent 5 years at the local conservatorium. 70-odd years later, I sit here with my HiFi on, or the FM classical music programs, or a selection of stuff I tune into on the internet, listening to various different performers. And like the man said – still learning, because unless you are still learning you have already died.
        My love of music gives me a different perspective on the subject of your post, Adrian.
        Photography is largely an exploitation of the laws of physics. Music may need a kick over the finishing line in some areas, from the laws of physics, but it is essentially artistic – whenever it’s not artistic, it’s as flat as a pancake that a steamroller has just passed over.
        How does this relate to topic?
        Simple. When I listen to “great” music and “great” performers, I have no control whatsoever over my response. It triggers a physical reaction, stemming from the combined effect on my auditory & emotional senses and my brain, translating into spasms in the muscles around my ears. I can’t “fake” it. I can’t “control it”. It just happens.
        And that’s pretty much how I relate to art – paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures. Photographs, too**.
        Another thing my love of music has taught me. When I left home, 50 years ago, and headed off on my own personal “life’s journey”, I started out in a city over 3,000 kilometres from home and my piano. I joined a local music group – we played classical music, and rehearsed together as a small orchestral group of about a dozen of us, every Friday night. Obviously I wasn’t going to airfreight the piano there, or buy a second one – so instead, I selected a relatively low priced instrument – a piccolo. To play “good” music didn’t require spending a fortune – it required spending time practicing. Ring any bells?
        So when someone comes at me with bagfuls of expensive junk, I find it very difficult to keep a civil tongue in my head. Easier now than earlier – age brings wisdom, even if you go bald or grey or lose your teeth instead. But I still have to control myself, to avoid unnecessary unpleasantness. And there’s no point – I’m happy (so long as they shut up), they’re happy, so what is there to say?
        ** [There’s an example in your article, Adrian – as you can tell by all these comments, I’ve been coming back and coming back, over and over again. I’m gob-smacked by one of the photographs you have included in this article. Completely blown away by it. Now we can turn that into a competition – everyone has one chance to win, and till the end of this week to identify which photo it is! 🙂 🙂 ]

        • Adrian says:

          What do we win if we guess correctly?

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            How about a print of one of my “better” photographs, in exchange for us leaning on Adrian for a copy of the winning photograph from his selection?

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I come to think of another non-camera, the first Canon M. “Everyone” found fault(s) with it. When the price dived (sometime after a firmware update improved the AF) I bought one in order to have a longer reach than my Fuji XF1.
    ( Magic Lantern gave it exposure zebras and focus peaking then found only in pretty expensive cameras plus (which I never tried) Auto ETTR and more.)
    Cons.: The only dial is too sensitive to pushing and then easily changes its function unnoticed.
    Pros.: Most everything else, and a good enough sensor.
    ( Plus: no mirror slap or shutter shock, so I can forget about some critical shutter speeds.)

    Now I’ve a used M5 (after my XF1’s shutter broke for the second time in three years).
    Cons.: No averaging exposure meter, even the matrix one is too biased to the focus point – so I rely on the histogram.
    ( No more exposure zebras.)
    >> And too many dials!
    Pros.: I’m now mostly finding the right dial.
    The DPAF is precise and fast and the focus point very easily moved.
    And: The above, the better grip and the EVF make me (like to) use it more often!

    • Adrian says:

      The Nikon 1 system always seemed like a non camera too – perfectly ok within the confines of its sensor size, and very capable, but damned by feint praise.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Right! 🙂

        Sad though, that the better sensor they later introduced never appeared with an EVF (to stabilize against one’s face).

        There has long been another obsession, with fast burst rates, first 5, then 8, 10, or 20fps. None enough to catch a facial expression!

        And then Nikon 1 introduced 60fps, loved by birders together with the handy 70-300mm.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    The game’s up.

    Sorry, Adrian – no winners!

    The photo is “Distant Horizon”. One of the most brilliant photos I’ve seen in ages.

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Pete
      Thank you very much.
      I showed that one to Pascal after my trip, who also liked it – I commented to him that I’d had a moment of Valerie Millett looking out to sea, and liked the subtlety that this cheap camera had managed to produce.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        “Liked”? I nearly fell off my chair, when I saw that photo! It has an ethereal quality that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, in a photo with a marine subject. Maybe I’m nuts and need to evaluate a large print of it, before I’m really qualified to comment, but to me, it’s one of the best photos ever.

        • Adrian says:

          I fear you are being far too kind Pete.

          It was taken from a hill in the evening, about an hour before sunset with the sun was behind me, so the light was less aggressive and with less contrast than during the day. The Sony Zeiss E 16-70mm f4 OSS it was taken with is often maligned on the internet, but for a zoom, I find it very good overall (zooms are rarely “perfect”, and become excessively large and heavy when they try to be), and with the A3000 did an excellent job of capturing the light.

          If you are actually correct that “it’s one of the best photos ever” then I will retire from photography now, sell it to Ikea and greetings card companies, and live off the royalties. Alas, I don’t think that’s going to happen!

  • Steffen says:

    There’re different tools for different needs. Problem is, most people don’t know their needs and, hence, ask in forums or watch YouTube. Instead they’d better gone to a camera store and tried all out.

    We’re at a state where every camera is absolutely capable of delivering stunning images and lenses make the only difference – if any.

    Of course, cheap cameras have their benefits (risk-friendly shooting due to easy replacement, often lighter and smaller, more discrete). And most expensive cameras target very niche requirements (high print-resolution, ergonomic for large/heavy lenses, rangefinder, weather sealing).

    And then there’s fanboy-ism: emotional attachment to a brand. Often connected with low self-esteem. They put a tremendous effort into their buying decision, are now very connected to the brand and proud, and when someone else now comes up with another idea/opinion/suggestion/brand, you not only attack their brand but also their decision and finally themselves.

    When it comes to reviews, they all live from affiliate links and the higher priced products you buy, the higher is their revenue. Also when every camera and lens is good enough, you can only talk about the grip’s depth or the resistance of the shutter button. Also, don’t forget our US friends! They still have the mindset of bigger is better and heavier is more pro. Unfortunately, US influencers have the highest reach and therefore it may seem the whole community is mad. But it may be that it’s only the US folks, the land where DSLR was still a think until just recently.

    • Adrian says:

      For fear of being accused of stereotyping or even some form of racism, I didn’t mention the issue that many commentators are American, and the market there is perhaps a little “unsophisticated” (most expensive = best camera, biggest and heaviest = best camera). I don’t disagree with anything you say.

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