#1018. Sound dreaming (of) the future of cameras

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jun 24

Imagine you could have the camera you want, any camera, any resolution, any feature set, any lens compatibility, anything … what would it be? To answer this for myself, I turned to my local HiFi retailer ๐Ÿ˜‰

   

Steve Jobs was notorious for ignoring such user input and one upping it with some far more visionary idea of his. And it’s true that users are notoriously bad at deciding what’s best for them given a total removal of feasibility boundaries. But I ain’t no Steve Jobs and what I would like to do in this brief article is seek inspiration from the (very similar) HiFi universe to fill some gaping voids in the amateur photography world.

Why HiFi ? Are the ideas in this post inflicted upon you simply because of a recent fit of HiFi obsession at casa Jappy? Well, yes ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰

But also because many photographers are keen music lovers (*) and will get my drift, coming from a common ground. (* we are privileged, at DS, to count amongst ourselves at least three contributors that are or have been deeply involved with HiFi, professionally. Leonard, Pascal, Philippe, you know who you are ๐Ÿ˜‰ And many more are passionate amateurs.)

Finally, because of this paradox : the more you read about a subject, the lower the signal to noise ratio you are getting from your efforts. Lenghty abstinence from a topic, any topic, prepares you for a wave of important new ideas when you finally open the floodgates. Whereas the daily dip into it merely exposes you to new opinions, many of which are unfounded and delusional, while the important tectonic shifts are more difficult to detect beneath all the opinionated and manufacturer induced noise.

 
I got caught out in the rain.
 

Blame my wife (again) for all the kerfuffle. A friend of hers gave her a vinyl LP as a present a couple of weeks ago. And she insisted that I unearth a turntable to listen to it, not realising what a seismic shift this could imply. I mean … a phono stage, for a start, where do I even find one of those? The only one available in the house is inside a mahussive Yamaha Home-Cinema 7.1 receiver that has been put into storage long ago. Hardly HiFi. Cables … ugh …

Anyhow, after a hasty repopulation of what had been made a clean and zen room through personal sacrifice of no little measure, the momentous time of listening came with me half expecting a bang and a puff of smoke.

Instead of which … I was floored.

   

We just stopped what we were doing, popped open a bottle, and started listening in awe. Less detail, far less detail, but effortless, gentle, subtle, warm, and so darn beautiful. When’s the last time tears clouded your eyes without watching Bambi or pulling up your trouser zip without proper precheck? I haven’t listened to vinyl in (literally) decades. That’s a mistake I’m not making again in a hurry. Some months ago, I received two virgin vinyl pressings from Japan in a box that never got opened. That changed that night and … wow. Wow. WOW.

Rediscovering that sound after such a long dry summer of digital was such a shock to my system that the rest of the evening was spent listening to all … 6 … of our albums (I’d given all of mine to my father with that smug certainty that bits had dethroned grooves for eternity) 4 of which belong to my daughter and are movie soundtracks, read on a 25 year old entry level Rega turntable that’s never been cared for ……………

But, what the new craving for audio gear has led to is an eye opening realisation that the HiFi world, since my last visit, has matured in ways that we togs could certainly learn a thing or two from.

Some of this is fueled by the harmonious coexistence of analog and digital in the audio world. Some of it is fueled by the old digitisation vs digitalisation debate that’s rattled my cage for too long.

 
I have a bird that whistles and I have birds that sing.
 

Digitization and digitalization

This repeat obsession has been touched on previously in this blog, but let me just write a quick refresher for those not yet exposed to my personal brand of neurosis ๐Ÿ˜‰

Digitization is the transformation of analog information into digital information. When you scan invoices to save them to the cloud, you are digitizing. When you use your mirrorless camera to immortalise a beautiful scene, you are digitizing.

Digitalization is the use of the digital file to some valuable effect. For instance, though character recognition, that scanned invoice could be saved to the cloud, not as a lifeless PDF but as a spreadsheet that can then start a new life in big data.

When your phone turns your selfie into this little homunculus, it’s digitalisation. But it doesn’t have to be that stupid. That is only what the photoworld has chosen to do with photographic files.

Has anything ever been more irritating?

Let’s now compare this irritating abomination with what the music playing industry has chosen to do with its zeros and ones ๐Ÿ˜‰ And, yes, I believe the two industries can make for a valid comparison, given that they are both hobbies that turn middle aged, well-off males into financially-deprived slaves, GAS and all ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ Both take us to emotional extremes, at both end of the frustration-delight spectrum, sometimes simultaneouly. And both can let us tailor essentially technical gear to our subjective and emotional tastes.

Now, let me start by saying that the same affliction for measurement and neutrality runs deep in the two arenas. During my random walk through websites known and new, I stumbled up some that review musical components purely by testing electronically them and without listening (or, at least handing out any listening notes). Please read that sentence again while I gently weep … Even legacy brands known for their sound signature all seem to have migrated towards greater neutrality and political correctness. And some reviewers seem to routinely stack up to 6 machines long a digital stream starting at their phone/tablet/computer right down to their DAC. Some must find pleasure in that. Me? Ahem …

However, pernicious industrial disease aside, the ecosystems dedicated to the amusement respectively of our sight and audition could hadly have evolved more differently.

 
The Play It Safe look
 

Let’s get this neutrality thing out of the way first. It’s fair to say that HiFi systems sound waaay more different from one another than camera systems look different or, rather, image differently. In, fact, the more you spend, the more you buy into a designer’s worldview (worldhear ?) Even accounting for the recent migration towards the center, standard deviation in the audio world is not only present but worshipped. How individual brands strive for their idea of perfect restitution is what draws the crowds to them.

Recognising that being ultimately neutral renders their gear ultimately boring, individual labs focus on timing or punch or gloss or transparency or airiness or harmonic truth or … or any combination thereof. And just like with frozen yogurt, the more toppings you want to combine (“I’ll have great timbres and superb high base control, please”) the more it will cost you. Compared to the 3 quantitative metrics the photography industry has managed to muster (resolution, speed, aperture) a touristy tour through audio neutrality feels like a stroll throught the natural history museum.

 
Fade into you
 

Prices. If you think an Otus or an X1D are expensive purchases, check with your physician before touring the audio world. For quite a few brands out there, 10 grand is entry level.

And why not, if you can? Unlike digital photography, upscale audio purchases will last you a loooooong time and retain their value far better. Ever tried selling that 3.5 grand camera 2 years after buying it? After ten years of that game, you’ve far spent more than “permanent medium format” or a reasonable audiophile upgrade path would have cost you. ‘coz yes, you can upgrade gear in audio, rather than chuck it in the bin ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

But, at the other end of the scale, others focus on providing as much sonic bang for your buck as possible and provide equipment in the tens of dollars that provide as much pleasure as stuff costing 3 orders of magnitude as much. Enjoyment is the main driver here and it comes in as many flavours as you care to imagine. Tactile pleasure, aesthetics, simplicity, steampunkitude (!), rhythm, elegance, resolution at very low level, utter clarity at sociopathic listening levels, dynamism, airiness, foot-tapping-sing-along-inescapability, relaxation, heck, the price itself …

What this hobbyist industry has understood that the photography world hasn’t is that it’s all about the customer and her/his preferences, personal likes and dislikes. Sure, the marketing equivalent of MTF curves exists, particularly for mass-market products. And it is probably every bit as unverified as in photographic circles. But brand loyalists gather around a sonic aesthetic, not around some irrelevant swervy lines they don’t even understand 10% of …

 
Midzone dip
 

And this leads us straight to media. Which takes me down the steps of that Natural History museum and straight into the city zoo. Here again, one can only be staggered by the number of options at our disposal to form an opinion. Even in the extraordinary jungle of products available, the scores of reviewers provide excellent geolocation beacons that clearly state musical tastes and matching gear for any review, so that the reader can immediately relate to and read or move on to the next.

And the vocabulary

Cross-sensorial analogies can be scary at first, but what options do we have to convey a sonic quality onto paper or pixel? What does fruity bass even mean? But tuning into this is part of the fun, right?

 
It makes me scream.
 

Over the months and years of listening to items and reading about them, you train your brain to the proper isomorphisms and form a very solid intuition of how some new item you can only read about will sound, in your room and system. That training in itself is a wonderful experience in that it forces words upon your impressions and, in turn, makes them more clear to you. Just like wine tasting across the planet makes use of a common terminology to convey a pallet of subjective tastes and aromas (you know what a mix of leather, current, and coffee means to you).

Some of my favourite lingo opposes legato to staccato. One reviewer uses the latter to denote an amps ability to deliver leading edge punch and great timing, using the former to qualify subtlety of tone, airiness and decay. Another brilliant acronym I can no longer find the author of (though I do believe credit goes to the ever readable 6moons.com) humorously opposes the “industry minted” PRaT (pace, rhythm and timing, Naim-style) to B.A.L.L.S to qualify the same set of (largely incompatible at affordable prices) rhythmic vs tonal qualities.

Photography needs better media than blokes happy to capture ten sharp images of some ugly pooch in 3 seconds, preferably in the dark, or capture charts in a basement, as if either was, in any universe, a relatable experience for everyday creative photography …

And photography needs better vocabulary to convey, with near certainty and at a distance, a sense of what to expect with respect to the subjective characteristics of some piece of gear in our temporary reviewer possession, if only for ourselves. This is one of the topics I would like to explore in our incubator sessions of the near future. Of course, we have photographs to support our impressions, but this in no way dispenses us of the fun of tasty vocabulary to describe them in ways we can all relate to.

 
Message in a bottle
 

But back to digitalization and how it could/should bathe our photo-electronic hobby as well.

Take streaming all-in-one devices such as the Naim Unity Atom or the NAD M10, for instance. Yes, so they play your digital files, just like your laptop displays your digital files. That’s 100% digitisation.

But how about integrating your file libraries with subscription-based online libraries from Amazon, Apple, Idagion, Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, YouTube and more. How about retrieving album art and presenting everything seamlessly ? Integration? That’s already one huge step up from our siloed market. Yes, yes, Sony’s short flange distance did allow the use of legacy lenses as an early proxy for a proper lens range, but their filter stack thickness is all you need to understand that was a temporary tactic. And just watch brave, brilliant Olympus being torn apart in the coming weeks. Today, it’s back to every man for himself.

And how about room measurement for best integration? Those mid range streamers will play music, listen to themselves and automatically adapt their output to remove resonances and bumps from the frequency curve you are perceiving. Compare that environmental awareness to the photo world’s inability to even produce accurate colours after two decades of digital products, and the gap between the industries is turning into a chasm.

 
Red (right hand)
 

Now, I’m not implying a total absence of digitalization benefits in the photo universe. There are little bonuses like 100% automatic backup / multiple shoot modes that simulate long exposures, HDR, … / instant sharing to friends and websites, on-device post-processing, and more. But the implementation of what is available is so often a ludicrous afterthought.

And I believe the mainstream manufacturer’s reluctance to address digitalisation and stay at the digitisation stage is one major reason for their losing so much ground to phones.

Take image stitching for example. I travel light, with just one lens, and it is often very useful to simulate a wider angle of view through stitching. When I do that with my phone, an automatic message from Google always awaits on my return, telling me “oy, mate, your pano is ready”. Which is always a pleasant surprise, since the whole idea has systematically slipped my mind, by that stage.

Compared to this, the whole traditional post-processing industry’s collective effort towards stitching is pathetic. Lightroom does a passable job of it, Photoshop is better, Affinity has its moments. And, if you really want to waste precious hours of your life on scripts and such, there are options for that as well. Provided you have downloaded your cards, imported and located the individual photographs, delved into the menus …

 
C’est pas l’homme qui prend la mer …
 

All of this applies equally to focus stacking. We could very conceivably let the camera make its exposures, blend low res versions in camera, allowing us to tune the depth of field (or lack thereof) to our taste via a slider, and send the adequate metadata to the PP software to replicate the exact thing in high-res.

And how about in-camera correction of third-party lenses? Even if soft corners can be beyond repair, correcting colour casts, vignetting and distortion really isn’t rocket science. How nice would it be to put that old Mandler Leica lens on the camera and be able to get the look without the drawbacks?

That’s almost inconceivable in a siloed industry in which every player wants to shelter sales from the neighbour. An industry that could be and should be thriving, if not for the shortsightedness of its corporate strategies. When market share trumps customer satisfaction, bottom lines get ugly fast.

 
Sunshine fills my head.
 

Another – closely related and tell-tale – sign of the profound differences between the two sectors is the number of players still in reasonable health. Consolidation has been the master key in the photo world. “One sensor to rule them all” sums up Sony’s strategy. Today, how many thriving manufacturers can you name? All those that are not billion dollar companies are on their way out and even the big boys are crumbling faster than shortbread in rooibos.

On the other side of the chasm, although I haven’t the faintest idea how well they are doing, the number of active companies in the audio world is simply staggering. Dozens, if not hundreds, of names come up in any in-depth search. Most of them quite small. And yes, setting up a sensor factory comes with a multi-billion entry ticket. But we’re long past peak sensor and in desperate need of more interesting ancilliaries and software.

What is very obvious is that the main drivers in those two universes could not be more different. One caters for individuality while the others standardizes and forces us into a stereotype (you know, those 20 fps sharp shots of black cats on coal sacs at night that no one in the history of consciousness – outside those sports pros that make up all of 0.01% of the customer base – has ever really cared about) through the use of do-it-all cameras and lenses. Surely, at somepoint, someone on the Titanic will look out the window at the big pointy thing ahead and will start to think differently. Surely. Or are sunk cost too much of an irony?

   

Let’s take another look at digitalization before I conclude and explain to my clients why I have not yet finished their work. Specifically at AI and Smartphone integration.

Deep learning has put advanced features such as style mapping in the hands of developers. Instead of generic presets, wouldn’t you like your photographs to look like they were made by Michael Kenna or Steve McCurry? For one of the major software companies, that’s easy. And isn’t that far more fun than another blend mode or layer mask option? Or, without plagiarising a famous artist, why not work on user-tuned monochrome conversions that don’t require hours of patient work? How difficult would it be to detect dust in photographs and clean up the frame with content-aware filling? Not very, is the answer, conditional upon a will to serve, though it is.

Another neat trick up AI’s sleeve consists of manipulating depth. Other algorithms let you alter the proportions of objects in the frame. How about we open the lab doors for those fun features to taste the fresh air and add creative arrows in our depleted quiver rather than constantly spin a meaningless quantitative hamster wheel?

How about automatic labelling? Some datasets have allowed algorithms to automatically detect 22 000 types of objects automatically in photographs. All of which is open-source because the AI community understands how much faster it can grow and make money by sharing resources, rather than lose at being protective, like the photo industry. How much fun would it be to see your photographs automatically labelled as they get imported? And how about star ratings? Train your software by rating a few of your photographs yourself and let it decide which of the next are 1 star, 2 star or 3 star, saving you 90% of the work associated with asset management?

 
Back to black (musical genius in its rawest, saddest, form?)
 

Some HiFi gear comes with remotes. Some has nice large, high-res screens to operate. Some does away with both and relies on apps instead. Yes, that rules out the 0.01% of the customer base that can afford 4 to 6 figure HiFi gear and doesn’t use a smartphone or a tablet. On the flip side, it simplifies the user’s life tremendously.

Why is the photo industry so adverse to simplification and smartphone integration? I have repeatedly advocated against the pitiful glass things their manufacturers call rear screens and in favour of smartphone tethering. And while fractional implementations do exist, why has no one simply abandoned haptics and ergonomics that both seem to originate from and able to induce brain damage – in favour of a good app. How much do 1 million rear screens cost? More than the 200k a really good app would cost?

Sony’s mind-boggling early forays into apps probably point us towards the answer. But, instead of abandonning them altogether, why not make them better and transition smoothly? This is not to pick on Sony specifically, I have simply not been exposed to the apps of other manufacturers. Besides, Sony engineering is staggeringly good. I seriously doubt that there’s anything the company wouldn’t be number one at if it wasn’t high on their list. Consequently, we can only conclude a lack of interest. And they are not the only ones. Zeiss, probably the only company to really innovate since the introduction of the mirroless camera, went the exact opposite way to what seemed like the best option: instead of a body with great ergonomics, compatibility with the huge range of world-class glass in their current and past catalogue, and control-by-phone, they chose a slippery shape with a rear screen and a fixed lens. I don’t get it.

 
Smoke City.
 

Then there’s worldview. My speaker cables were made by an elderly gentleman in Japan. He noticed that by covering quality copper or silver with a special type of oil, you could dramatically reduce edge current nasties that wreak havoc with signal smoothness. His website is a single pdf page in Japanese and I can imagine him working alone or with an apprentice on wooden tables with ancient, pedal-activated, machinery, day in day out.

Compared to this, there’s a Toshiba SSD factory without a single human being inside. The whole factory is one big robot. While that sounds very reassuring for preserving my social security number and bank account, it most certainly isn’t the worldview I want to support with my hobby spending. The stories we surround ourselves with are vastly more important to our happiness than the objects we surround oursleves with.

My bedtime stories tell the tale of smaller companies each in search of their sonic Grail and taking great care of their customers. Other think differently, but I have a hard time accepting a mass market treatment when purchasing a 4 000 โ‚ฌ/ยฃ/$ camera when people selling me audio kit at 10% this price have given me special attention. Incredibly, not one of the last 4 “photo” companies I have written to ever replied to me. Two days ago, the Naim marketing department answered my questions within hours. Something is most certainly rotten in the state of consolidated hobby markets, Horatio.

   

That vast difference between the two industries is all the more baffling when you consider audiophiles as content consumers and photographers as producers. To my untrained intuition, this should have naturally pushed photography towards the more creativity-friendly side of the modes-of-consumptions spectrum.

Which brings me to one of my main gripes with the digital era of photography. The easy propagation of images (and music) has made the emergence of platforms easier, and their huge scale of monetisation has hinged on the commoditisation of all forms of content, not just photography. This has led to a global desire to experience what Warhol would have termed 15 microseconds of fame, mostly by following standardised recipes.

It is extremely ironic that, in freeing us of a technical barrier to entry, digital’s contribution has led to a massive herding of creative potential (yes, there are exceptions …) rather than a fostering of diversity.

   

Why is that? And what can we take away from it to dream our cameras of the future?

First of all, the creative act in both industries is very different.

Hand a true audiophile the perfect amp and the satisfaction won’t last very long. Deep inside the DNA of audiophiles is the desire to build something personal and great, not buy and forget. While I’ve not read anything to support that claim, my guess is that assembling an art collection and assembling an audio system are much closer in spirit than audio and photography.

The creative act is building the system, and audiophile shops are basically curators of good gear, just like galleries are with photographs.

In both cases, the process is complex, expensive and deeply personal. A lot of thought, love and anxiety goes into both. Compared to this, clicking is instant and basically free. And camera manufacturers are trying their hardest to make it thoughtless as well. I would love to see photo shops acting like curators rather than selling everything they can get their hands on. But there just isn’t anything to curate. The differences between offerings are so wee, it would be largely meaningless.

 
 

A second idea that springs to mind is that we essentially listen to the work of masters and view the work of amateurs. No offence, of course, I include myself in this majority. There’s no comparing my dandelions with Snake River and the Grand Tetons.

Here again, the time and effort we are willing to devote to either is of a different order of magnitude. The dandelion photograph above or the pipe below probably won’t even make it to paper, but an Ansel Adams print would inevitably end up in a high quality frame costing far more than entry level cameras.

So, framing the debate around consumption vs creation might be putting the carriage before the horse. Maybe we are willing to assemble the best audio systems to hear the artists we value the most in the conditions we personally find the best. And, maybe if we valued our own work as much as Radiohead’s latest, our image-making kit would be far more personal, rather than dictated by media that mostly regurgitate glorified press releases.

   

And, obviously, we have been processed over decades to think about photo gear in easily mass-marketable terms.

The combination of all these factors into feedback loops that took the audio world and the photo industry further and further apart is my best explanation for the Jekyll and Hyde differences between two activities meant to engage creativity and sensory inputs. And the faster product cycles have only accelerated the process in recent years.

 
Fast car.
 

And this same process could swing the evolution of products and the ecosystem in another direction just as easily. It won’t. The incumbents would probably sink before they were willing to change their siloed strategies. Even smaller players such as PP software editors seem more eager to reinvent the wheel at every launch than to work on a common file format and complement one another.

Does that mean we can’t dream our ideal cameras? Heck no ๐Ÿ˜‰

   

Here’s my feature list :

  • 40 Mp is plenty, but make the sensor as large as possible.
  • Good EVF.
  • Interchangeable sensor backs, with a monochrome option. And why not a low ISO CCD one, let’s be crazy.
  • I wouldn’t mind buying the body and renting the back.
  • An open bayonet standard, like M43
  • An open file system
  • No rear screen, but a good mechanism to hold and tether a phone.
  • Good app allowing the basics (time lapse …)
  • Good app developer ecosystem (astrophotography, macro app …)
  • Lens calibration mechanism (why not a collaborative database).
  • Aperture rings on lenses
 
 

In a nutshell, the exact opposite of what we’re offered today : analog ergonomics and full on digitalization capabilities. That would undoubtedly make me …

 
 

Can you imagine yourself as a photophile in the same way as audiophiles consider their hobby? If so, what would you dream of? What specific niche would you love to occupy? What sort of hobbyist would you be? Mainstream? Obsessed with tiny artisans? More in tune with larger shops? Would you crave neutrality or a certain flavour? Would you keep your photography kosher or dive head-on into crossmedia?

 
 

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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    If I were to try, answering this post would take me a week. Virtually my entire life, ignoring things I’ve been forced (one way or another) to do, and ignoring the pleasures of the flesh, my sole interests have been music and photography.

    And like most children, I had siblings. One, the eldest, was treated as the wunderkind. The other two of us were very close, although our interests were quite different – and wunderkind was viewed by us as some kind of fault in our parents’ perception of the universe.

    Wunderkind took to photography at an early age (I inherited his Kodak Box Brownie, when he no longer used it). And instantly, knew absolutely everything. Which meant that nobody else knew anything. And then when he left school, bought himself a gramophone of some description and built himself a huge speaker box – larger than a bar fridge – and various vinyl LPs. So he also became the world’s leading authority on both music and audio.

    In the meantime, I took up photography – and I’d always been keen on music.

    As this charade played out, he decided that Leica was the sole camera manufacturer in the world and everything else was junk – openly sneering at my Zeiss Contarex, complete with the 50mm Planar, the 35mm and 135mm, three magazine backs and whatever else I could afford. I sneered back and ignored him.

    He then decided he knew everything there was to know, about both music and audio. I ignored that too – by that stage I had far better audio than he had, I’d matriculated in both piano and theory (counterpoint), and had spent some years continuing my studies, at the state Conservatorium, under the tutelage of the leader teacher there.

    You can probably guess where this led. Absolutely nowhere. The rest of the family is all dead now, there’s only him and me, and we haven’t seen each other for the past 27 years.

    By the way, he’s with you, on turntables and stuff, Pascal. I’m not. I prefer digi – in fact, I bought one of the first 5 CD players in this State – because I was fed up to the back teeth with the problems of listening to a vinyl LP – constantly having to get up and turn them over in the middle of a scene in an opera – or more frequently, if dust accumulated around the needle as it tracked in the groove (and this happens all the time – BORING!) No – I listened to the artificial substitute for a real performance for a totally different reason – brother was attempting to overcome his ignorance, while I was trying to hear how particular performers were playing a specific piece, and comparing it with others.

    And here’s the thing. All that junk is an electronic substitute for “music”. NONE of it is “real” music. Everyone’s free to choose their own preferred method of dosing on this artificial substance. Suggesting one artificial electronic substitute for the real thing is somehow “better” than another is crap, as far as I’m concerned. Because they are ALL artificial electronic substitutes for the real thing. And the only “thing” I value, in music, is the real one. That’s my “goรปt”, my decision, and my right. Anyone who wants something else is free to do so – quietly- elsewhere. Non-negotiable! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oh – and specifically for your amusement, Pascal. My speakers are ancient. Like me. When I purchased them, they were also being used by the London Royal Philharmonic, around the outside of the actual concert hall, so people who arrived late and were refused entry until interval could still listen to the concert. Monitors or something, they called them. So – moving forward 20 years or more – some of the gear needed replacing and my audio shop wanted ALL of it, so they could test what needed to go and what could stay. They were determined to prove to me that I needed new speakers. Speakers ranged in price up to some extraordinary figure – I think they maxed out, around $80 grand for a pair, and you could have bought a Porsche for less. But funny thing – they couldn’t – prove it, I mean. Instead, they succeeded in proving to themselves that NONE of the speakers they could have sold me would ever have performed as well as the speakers I already had. Even though mine were ageing.

    I mention that for a reason.

    Because it has relevance to the theme of DS. Which is NOT “music”. It’s photography. And for most of us, these days, that means “digital” photography. In my own case, it was a personal choice – I made the decision around 15 years back, to quite analogue and spend the rest of my life exploring digital. And to abandon B&W in favour of colour.

    Because – two things. Digital colour is better than most of the colour films ever were. And for the first time in my life I can do my own colour processing and printing, in the comfort of my own home. In this room, in fact. On this desk, actually! I don’t even need a dark room – let alone tubs of chemicals maintained at a pre-determined and constant temperature!

    So I have no interest in a lot of the bickering in the background.

    What does interest me parallels your views – with provisos.

    Number 1 – the AI of cellphones is all very “nice” for people who want snapshots, the old Kodacolor slide crowd. The results are at times peculiar. I don’t imagine we’re likely to see enlargements of them measuring 2×3 metres any time soon. But the unforgivable departure is this. Too much is NOT done by the photographer. Whoever wants to follow that path is welcome. I just hope they keep it to themselves. I prefer making my own decisions – I’ve been doing it since I was 8, and I’m recalcitrant. However awful my photos are, at least they ARE “mine”. And my sole motivation has been to create my own images – so this one is non-negotiable.

    Number 2 – I agree wholeheartedly that the photographic industry has let itself down extremely badly, by not adopting some industry standards. There are several Canon lenses I like – but they are useless to me, because I only shoot Nikon. Canon loses several sales. That makes as much sense as having your legs amputated, so you can enter a 6-day bicycle race. And I name these two companies simply because the example is familiar to me – but there are countless others in the industry, practically all the manufacturers have done it in the past, and it has done grave damage to their sales.

    Number 3 – I will concede 40 MP to you, simply because you are shooting with a Hassy. For most photographers, something in the range around 24-26 is quite sufficient, and shooting with more MP comes at a price. The D850 has 45 MP – which simply means it is “more difficult”, and often it is essential to shoot with a tripod. Where a D810 would deliver in roughly half the pixels, because larger pixels are more forgiving. (That’s an opinion from an experienced and highly regarded pro – not my personal opinion. Ooops – I guess it’s mine, too, now, because I also agree with it! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    Number 4 – I have a genetic deficiency. I have no “herd instinct”. I prefer to do my own thing. Cellphones would smother this. Another reason I choose to ignore them. They take over – that’s like the “Big Brother” approach to government, and I don’t like that, either. That said – it’s probably more peaceful and certainly less boring if I don’t go through your post, line by line. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind, but our audience would hurl things at me.

    Number 5 – this week I found myself regressing. I am tired of 4×6, or 8×10. I want “anything X anything”, whatever suits the image. I recently went back to using an external meter, and I am so delighted with it that I’m buying another – one suits the D850 and the other is ideal for the D500. And you know something? – the temptation to “chimp” has virtually vanished – I KNOW what I’m getting, before I hit that button. I sat down and thought “what ther . . .?” And then it came to me. I’d never had problems with exposure, through all those years with analogue. The convenience of a meter “in camera” must have swept me off my feet – because I didn’t pick up on this till the new meter went into action and I stopped using the camera’s. An external meter is generally “better”. Because it’s measuring the light falling on the scene, instead of the average of the light reflected by the scene.

    See? I’m still learning. Try that, with a cellphone! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now I’m going to stop – vacate the chair – hand over the discussion to Dear Susan’s other subscribers. And join my wife and pup in front of the TV.

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      You are totally right that nobody can decide for you what suits you, Jean-Pierre; that’s why I always relied on a listening session; hear, feel, decide; I never forced anyone to adopt a specific way… what would be the point? I often compare to instruments; having played piano for 2 decades, I know I prefer a Steinway D111 (if my memory serves, that’s old days…) for Debussy, and a Bรถsendorfer for Brahms; one airy, light, cristalline, the other one darker, fuller, etc. These are some sort of “objective” parameters; but then it’s only when a specific player tries an instrument that he can decide if he/she bonds with it… so many things are involved.
      Then, quality exists… if you leave the best restaurant, haing paid a fortune, for a Big Mac like experience, you can decide you are in love with the Big Mac… but there is a consensus that it is junk food, for a reason ๐Ÿ™‚

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        “. . . there is a consensus that it is junk food, for a reason”

        Yes. Quite. Unfortunately, all too often with photography there IS no “consensus”. And people are rushing off, buying “junk food” to capture their images.

        You should be writing this – not me. But a very obvious example is your Hassy. In the great scheme of things, it’s not really all that wildly expensive. People (some anyway) are prepared to pay VASTLY more than that, for a single telephoto lens. And depending what you wanted to achieve, it would be possible to buy a Hassy and several lenses for less than the cost of all my gear.

        Having done it – you can do things that the rest of us can’t – capture extraordinary detail in highlights, and far better detail in shadows. Non-debatable.

        I have a more eclectic selection of gear because I take an eclectic range of photos. My choice. “Greats” include the D500 – few would argue about whether it’s good, for the things like birds & animals that I mostly use it for. The D850 was “personal choice” – I felt I was bumping my head on the rafters at times with the D810, although I have to add that that is also a great camera. The D850 is not a competitor for the D500 – it’s best at doing what the D500 doesn’t – and better still, attached to a tripod, which isn’t always convenient. “Why” it needs a tripod is a longer discussion – but if you don’t want to use one, stick to the D810 – its bigger pixels can be more forgiving.

        Your turn – tell us about the lenses you prefer using on the Hassy – back in the day when I was using a 5×4 Linhof, I really didn’t care much about “which lens” – with that size format, the lens could be practically anything, and still give a great image!

  • philberphoto says:

    So many ideas, a proper discussion of which would make “War and Peace” look like an introductory essay…
    Let me just mention one, on this day, which will remain a sad day for photography, because it is the day that Olympus kissed its photo division good-bye. We knew it had to happen, too many players chasing too few sales, but to see them go is sad…
    So my contribution is this: that the audio industry went through pretty much the same trauma that is hammering its photo sibling. A wave of growth when analog changed over to digital, then a retreat as most users had by then purchased and weren’t in the market for innovations that basically weren’t there, or weren’t meaningful. And then the proverbial cliff as the business moved in two seperate directions: multimedia (think sound system for your TV/home cinema, the audio equivalent of video for photography), and ease of use and portability with the iPod and later smartphone, similar to smartphones-as-cameras. That slaughtered the middle-and-high-end audio industry. What exists today is much smaller, but, arguably, sounder (not trivial for this industry…:-).

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Spot on, Philippe!
      Selling HT was so easier that most previous “auditoriums” became HT demos… until they were wiped out by the large stores cutting the prices.
      But “good” Hi-Fi will survive; I have lived, in Switzerland in the 80s, the moment instruments stores were dumping pianos because “synthtetizers do that plus all the rest”… they came back to their senses ๐Ÿ™‚
      From the art of kimono making (the Gap of ancien Japan ๐Ÿ˜€ – hem, sorry) survived as a niche too… there will always be a few nuts like us to keep the flame intact ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Alan says:

    Wow! What an article. You must have time on your hands!

    ‘It makes me scream’ is particularly lovely. Me like it!

    Part of the issue is ‘commoditization.’ Generating a negative and going in to a dark room to coax it into a print or cleaning off an LP, putting it on the turntable and sitting back to enjoy it are qualitatively different than tapping on a phone screen or clicking your phone’s playlist. Different things much as eight ounces of Coke in a gallon plastic jug or a green glass bottle. Same sugary brown water but not the same thing.

    My dream camera? Definitely small like my Lumix gx85 but made even smaller by ditching the rear screen and integrating with a bluetooth phone or laptop. Brilliant idea! I’d be happy with three physical controls for shutter speed, aperture and ev. Maybe a couple of customizable buttons for the (very few) features I ever use. And no video. Don’t know if interchangeable sensors (backs) are a good idea, maybe just stick a lens mount on the back and call it another body.

    I like the open standard lens mount, that’s a big one. Gimme a usb-c port, a hotshoe, two card slots, much better battery life and a few more pixels (16mp is already pretty good) and I’d be happy. Maybe a square sensor to provide a bit of poor man’s lens shift and make future cropping more flexible.

    And ditch all the fancy in-camera editing and ‘scene’ nonsense, RAW only with processing on the phone or computer. Same with all the menus… all on the phone.

    Not sure if this is relevant but I recall a man I met in Crete while backpacking in the winter of 1979. He was an FM radio station owner from Burlington, Vermont, and had built his yacht, the Omega, on the hull of a Dutch canal barge and planned to sail it across the Atlantic with its one engine. There’s a theme here as his hi-fi system only had one speaker, i.e. was monophonic. He was very devoted to mono and enthusiastically argued that music had little to do with the sound output but was created in your head. It was more of a memory aid, I suppose, and not really music. As I said, not sure if it’s relevant but I like the story anyway.

  • Chris says:

    I found this soliloquy most satisfying.

    As you point out, there is often an overlap of interest amongst photographic and audio devotes. I’m one example, but of the $1k variant, not the $10k. [in both cases!] ๐Ÿ™‚

    My audiophile side has taken back seat in the last decade or three. As my interest in photography starts to, surprisingly, fade perhaps audio will fill in… if a sailboat doesn’t get there first!

    –C

  • Adam Bonn says:

    Thatโ€™s a great article Pascal

    Almost impossible to reply too, yet it demands attention!

    Iโ€™m not going to be able to add anything of tangible worth to this…

    Both camera and audio buyers are ultimately limited to what manufacturers are able to sell us.

    But what do we want to buy?

    Whatโ€™s the pleasure in music? A pleasing sound? Why is that sound pleasing?

    Ever buy an album you didnโ€™t particularly like when it came out, but X number of years later you relented and pulled out your wallet?

    I have! But why?

    I think because ultimately music represents a physical incarnation of an abstract, a set of feelings around an event at a time in a place thatโ€™s personal to us… the song on the radio when XYZ happened. The music you heard on the first date with the person that became your spouse. etc etc

    We form similar emotive bonds to each other but over different songs

    The Hi-Fi equipment is our best attempt to recreate the clarity we (imagine we) heard at the time and still hear in our heads.

    And the camera?

    How did we all learn to love the pictures?

    Everyone knows that is a true craftsman. We owe it to their craft to listen to their songs in the best possible way.

    But photography is different… because if (say) Hendrix makes us spend big numbers on an audio system (not a guitar), then (say) Ansel makes spend big numbers on a camera (Not an original print)

    We spend to enjoy the work of musicians, but we spend to (in my case feebly) recreate the work of photographers

    So as photographers (sic) what are we paying for?

    Are we not ultimately wanting to relive the clarity and joy we felt when we first started seriously making images?

    And just as the audiophile is basically restricted to whatโ€™s available on the market within budget (and home acoustic space) the camera buyer faces similar restrictions

    Few camera brands seem to appeal to our emotions, they appeal to our sense of VFM, better, faster and sharper and all for not much more money than the last model..

    This makes sense… camera makers are basically trying to keep the interest of folks who wanna play like Clapton, but do well to be good enough to be average buskers… so they desire to automate so much and offer more and more tools to assist us with the capture.

    So what should camera makers offer (to finally and spectacularly fail to answer your question)

    Iโ€™ve no clue!

    But I know this… Iโ€™ve sacrificed owning easy to shoot cameras and I find the joy of a passable shot far more rewarding knowing I actually had to figure stuff out to get it.

    A mediocre digital product trumps a polished one for me!

    (But yeah, some sort of modular system that can be dressed up or down and controlled by an app would probably be a good starting point. And these things have all kinda been done… just not by the same firm in a concise product iteration)

    Cheers

  • Hank says:

    Great post – a (sort of) manifesto.

    I am rather bored with most digital photographic devices because they simply try to emulate analogue photographic machines. While I understand the need to a device to “record” a scene or event, I have one of those already in my phone. I want a digital device that can exploit ALL of the possibilities that digital can offer – computational photography, if you will.

    I do not need a digital version of an analogue camera – I have plenty of analogue cameras which do that job very, very well. I enjoy using those for their as-built purpose.

    What I do want is a “camera” that can expand the possibilities of seeing and experiencing. Instead of making all the things I used to do in the darkroom “easier” (today’s digital camera), I would like to do more things, different things, never-before-seen things.

  • Frank Field says:

    Pascal –

    A lot to digest here! Just a few bits and bytes in reaction.

    First, Steve Jobs was a tremendous visionary for Apple, no doubt, and involved in direction setting for the company in the way all too few CEOs are today. Sadly, he failed to develop a bench of visionaries who would continue to propel the company after his passing.

    It is true that companies can over-listen to their customers and over-focus on protecting their position in the market, rather than growing the market. Those who do continue to add features and enhancements that seem to add more complexity than real value and become targets for those who leapfrog with the next generation of products. See the work of Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen circa the late 1990s in titles such as “The Innovators Dilemma.,” a volume full of stories of just how a company that leads the market in generation X of technology never does so in generation X+1. Hello Nikon; hello Canon.

    I’ve been surveying the (lower end) of the HiFi market for some gear to replace a 20-year old system that is on its way out. I’m struck by the number of boutique vendors out there. I suspect the market sustains boutique shops because products have a very long life cycle to amortize development costs that are not all that large in the first place. Too, the HiFi market does have its share of absurdities. My favorite are the multi-hundred dollar speaker cables made from very, very, very precious metals.

    Frank

  • NMc says:

    Pascal
    Big read thanks for your effort, just a couple of points,-
    Musicians often have very basic sound systems, perhaps they do not need as much help the โ€˜listenโ€™, or perhaps they see performance and live music as completely different to reproduced music. Perhaps not a good analogy because the can get all in a twist about particular instruments or stings and such.

    I think printing is probably where some of your answer lies. Imagine purchasing a printer that has a more restricted but optimised output, such as mono only, glossy only or matt only. Obviously we will need app support for intelligent and comprehendible integration to photo processing, colour calibrators and libraries, as per your article. The question is, are we willing to accept some โ€˜restrictionsโ€™ or perhaps consider a walled garden approach as per Apple systems to get this?

    As for my perfect camera is would probably be an updated Ricoh GXR system with an oversized sensor to allow different ratio imaged from within the lens imaging circle as per the Panasonic LX 100.
    Regards Noel

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Thanks for the “pro” label :), but I consider myself as a lifetime “amateur”; a music lover forever, gear in itself never got me very excited.
    Seeing more and more photographic website making incursions in the audiophile world, I think I can share a few things here now ๐Ÿ™‚
    Basically, I find your point very valid.
    – You are amongst the rare persons with a blog focused on the “feeling” photography involves. So yes, the analogy between matching a lens and a sensor is the same.
    Another blogger discovered that 24Mpx full-frame sensors are a good choice for legacy glass. But very few I know give importance to the final expression of the pairs…

    But in Hi-Fi, the immense difference is that you need to connect a soft (CD, file, LP, whatever), a reader, a dac or a phono, an amplifier, speakers, cables, the racks etc; so assessing the real potential of any component takes ages; I conducted more than 14000 listening sessions in my life (that was the count in the database more than 10 years ago before I abandoned it with Windows), and yet I discover things everyday… and fail often before I get “that” magic, regardless of the budget.
    And we didn’t start looking into both acoustics (recording venue and the listening room); having been recording myself, you learn a lot, using headphones than speakers, knowing your microphones choices and placement, etc.

    Your epiphany with LP gave me a friendly smile… I never abandoned the LP, and refused to sell CD players for 8 years, until they could beat my cheapest turntables in musicality (in those years, Thorens TD166 Super MkII with a 100 bucks Goldring!); is has been the same with servers! It took me ages capable of enough emotion, and even today in the 15k range, they don’t beat yet the musicality of my favourite players (but I know only two brands that satisfied me fully since 1992…).
    To make it – very – short: affordable turntable can offer musicality, but it costs to improve the performances; affordable CD Player offer the opposite; but then a good Phono preamplifier costs too; at the end, the “entry” price for both is similar.
    As for servers, I rejected them all until now, except for a super cheap little thing that is not so performing but so increcibly singing that everyone around me adopted it… luck happens ๐Ÿ™‚

    And as you personally experienced, testing a component outside of his optimum matching contexts simply doesn’t work.
    So my perception is that Hi-Fi is not offering dozens of thousands of product because they “got” the customers’ needs to have their personal tastes satisfied, but simply because the entry ticket is still possible for a single designer, because Hi-Fi has fascinated people forever (I never could explain that, considering is is an already niche market shrinking with time…), and mostly because 99% of it is simply grossly overpriced crap, and nearly no “pro” takes the time to find the magical matchings…
    How can I be so sure? Well, when three decades of customers’s visit in my own auditoriums, with all my products totally matched, end up with a 98% adoption rate, if I am in a self-delusion, then we have had a collective one in 8 countries ๐Ÿ™‚

    Tastes exists, of course, but only after we have sorted out the good from the bad, achieved the final balance, and got that elusive magic giving goosebumps to any kind of person on any kind of musi. Well, to be honest, I never tried to achieve something convincing with violent music, like heavy metal et al, simply because this is the only kind of music I never listent too ๐Ÿ™‚

    The very few “pros” sharing the same passion, dedication and non-commercial choices in each country I know of tell me they have the same outcome; but yes we live “in another world”; and money is not the point here, a 3k system can sound magic!
    Customers ready for this approach are a minority too; most are “brand-glued”, the same way as with camera brands, or “category-glued” (transistor vs tube, analog vs digital, you name it…); those religious ones don’t interest us ๐Ÿ™‚

    And as for review, all insiders know that there are so many fake reviewers, you would be shocked; the system is called amongst us the “lifetime loan”: I let you play with my gear for free as long as you write great things about it; for the “influencer”, a free great system; for the brand, top advertising.
    When we can name 5 honest reviewers per country, we call it a day ๐Ÿ™‚
    Honest not meaning agree with our choices, but simply writing unbiased about what they do, hear and conclude…

  • Alan MacKenzie says:

    All this chit-chat encouraged me to buy a new (used) turntable and revisit my old record collection. What a revelation after 30+ years of CDs and, even worse, mp3s on earbuds or usb speakers. This would become an expensive obsession if it wasn’t for the scowls I received for spending $65 on the turntable and for re-arranging our living room. Thanks for the inspiration!

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