Robert Zajonc tells us to stop being wusses and that we’ll just get to love anything we own.
Mere Exposure Effect.
Mr Zajonc, leading voice in this theory of human psychology, tells us that the more we are exposed to a stimulus, the more likely we become to enjoy it. My past experiences with Sony tend to prove otherwise, but there again his theory has us covered as it mainly applies to neutral and positive stimuli, to which Sony ergonomics of the bad old days did not belong, by any stretch of the imagination.
So, to sum up, to end the cycle of gear selection torture that many blogs, youtube channels and media have turned into a (profitable ?) business model, mere exposure effect tells us to simply buy anything that’s not bad and just use it. Eventually, we’ll get to enjoy it.
The elegant thing to do would be to end the post here. That, after all, is the important – scientific – takeaway for all of us: stop fretting, buy anything decent and have fun with it. And, whatever the pundits write online, there isn’t a single bad camera or lens on the market today. So, the end.
Instead, let me be a spoiled brat for a minute.
If we want the functionality of taking photos, let’s just buy phones. They do 99% of that job perfectly well (for us amateurs). But when we buy gear, it’s for more than just functionality. We expect some pleasure, fun and satisfaction from the outlay, on top of the removal of difficulties.
My last posts discussing gear-selection gave a very objective set of rules for making decisions about whether or not to purchase that next piece of gear. This might lead readers to think my decisions are all rational and rule-based. And while I do try to make that true in my pro life, nothing could be further from the truth in its more recreational corners, in particular when it comes to HiFi and photo. Emotion and desire rule the day here.
In my case – and in the case of many others, I’m sure – Early Exposure (not an official psychology term, but a specific aspect of the theory) probably takes precedence over Mere Exposure.
Our emotional preferences, such as taste in partners, music, art, and various other aspects of life, tend to be strongly influenced by repeated exposure during our early – formative – years of life. For example, I believe we are drawn to partners who look like whoever we were exposed to at an age when we became receptive to sensual charm. Specialists in the room: please confirm or counter this statement 🙂
This would suggest searching for gear that influenced you positively when you first became infatuated with photography. Was the photo on of lions chasing prey in Africa, HCB’s observations of human quirkiness, a Sally Mann 20 inch contact print, a small carbon print of a 1950s fashion icon, an Instawham snapshot … What was the associated gear?
Two moments stand out from my 4 decades of wasting electrons and halides in search of photographic bliss :
First. At uni, a microelectronics lab had just bought electron-beam microscopes and no longer needed their fantastic darkroom equipment. They gave me the keys, no questions asked. And, eventually, I made a great print. By accident, but great nonetheless. That instant, I understood that post processing was more than half the equation for me. So my gear needs to preserve data above all. Much like the initial Leica Monochom, that stunned the great unwashed media with its low contrast and gorgeous RAW files, cameras that don’t clip and offer huge bit depth are what rule my world. Fix it in post, as Marques Brownlee says about the Pixel 8. Of course, all of this was in b&w, hence my continued infatuation with mono.
Second. The Mamiya 7. Hands down the best camera ever made, in my book, even though it is a rangefinder. Almost as sharp as my 4×5 but far cheaper and more pleasant to use (I’m not much of a tripod wielder) and, more importantly, 6×7. Dubbed the ideal format, and not without reason, 6×7 offers a rendering that’s much sharper and dreamier than 35mm but not as fine-arty as large format. The perfect compromise, to my eyes. And probably because the photos I loved as a kid were made using that sort of format.
Now, I would give a politician’s lung to get my hands on a digital 6×7. I’d give the pair for a Mamiya 7 and the labs to process my film. Let’s face it, digital cameras are mostly software and people creating them don’t seem to have developed (!) the same sensitivity to aesthetics as film stock chemists. Sorry devs. And just like most EVs are as much fun to drive as a smoothing iron, digital cameras are nowhere near as pleasant to use as their, über simple, celluloid-based ancestors. But, owning 2 Mamiya 7 bodies in the “recent” past has shown me how difficult life can be out in the boonies with no one local to talk to about your rolls. Film is a no go, and a man’s got to breathe, even a politician.
Digital it is, even though the absence of grain makes file look sterile, and unnatural, like being an anechoic chamber. No natural place on Earth has no noise. No natural sight on Earth comes to resolution limits in the way digital does (fluglily and lifelessly, that is).
Both those origin stories and corresponding constraints lead me to what I feel is the Mamiya 7’s spiritual successor: the Hasselblad X1D. The X2D is better in every measurable way, but doesn’t call to me in the same visceral fashion. Nor does anything else I can think of on the market today, except for cine cameras (Red Raptor, anyone?) that bring back the same focus on aesthetics and preserving highlights as film did back in the day.
But what about you?
Can you think of any lustful aha moments early in your photography “career” that might still influence your tastes years or decades later? If so, my recommendation would be to focus on similar gear. As similar as you are likely to find, anyway.
And that’s not blogging fluff intended to elicit comments.
Lacking a clear definition of photographic values or a sense of aesthetics, most of the market and the media cling to the easiest wieldable alternative: quantitative measurement. That made plenty of sense when the limits of digital were severe compared to film. But these disappeared a long long time ago, and it’s been at least 5 years since we reached peak-sensor, i.e. sensors have not made any progress since then (possibly longer) and have at best maintained quality while adding AF spots and smaller pixels. Mostly though, they haven’t even done that. Software saved them, is all.
So, it is my true belief that you should look back at your early photo years to identify the things that stirred your loins then and can make you happy today. That gear makes a good starting point, both emotionally satisfying and intellectually valid. From there, add bits and bobs thinking about how those make your life easier (removing important limits and other problems, as described in previous posts).
I’ll now return to waiting for Hassy to release a 42 Mp 6×7 camera with perfect highlight management and true 16 bit depth. Or for any other brand to create a camera with important modern features (SSD, IBIS) but not the quantitative surplus that serves no purpose for some of us. A boy can dream.
PS2: All photos made in the forest around the little village of Collobrières. More soon about this area. This forest is the closest I’ve come to Fangorn outside of fantasy pages.
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