New Shit

“Get out there and buy some shit. Hell, get in debt! It keeps the economy running smoothly. It’s what makes this country great!   …..What? You’re not in debt? Whatareyeh? Some kinda’ Goddamned communist?”

Went out and bought a new camera purs… uh, bag yesterday to accommodate the new, bigger lens that I bought last fall. Didn’t take long, ‘cause I don’t really like shopping very much. Actually, that’s an understatement -I hate shopping. Like just about everyone, I like having new shit, it’s just the ‘getting it’ part that I don’t like.

Every time I’m in a camera shop, I’m almost overwhelmed by the amount of choices that are on offer. There’s at least a half-dozen major camera brands; and each has at least a half-dozen more variations, plus myriad lenses, flashes, attachments, and tons of other shit you never even knew you needed.

Yay capitalism! Yay free market economy!

For decades, the two biggest players; Nikon, and Canon, would release a new flagship model about once every ten years. For about the last year of those ten year brackets, there would be speculation about what the next model would bring. Autofocus? Stepless metering? Higher flash synch speed?

Then, just before release, the camera company would send out a glamourously glossy, almost pornographic brochure, to all the camera shops, with the new camera on the front, and all kinds of propaganda extolling the marvels of the new forthcoming machine! 

Whew! Heady days, to be sure!

Nowadays, the major camera manufacturers release a new flagship model every two, to four years!

My main camera, a Fuji X-T2, released in 2016, which was for a time, Fuji’s flagship, will soon be two generations behind. Apparently, Fuji is on the verge of releasing an X-T4.

People want new shit.

So much so, that they’ll buy stuff sight unseen.

We’ve all seen the line-ups at Apple stores when a new iPhone gets released, yeah? It makes the evening news. Christ, I don’t know if they still do, but people even used to camp out overnight…. for something they’ve never even touched; let alone tried. There’s a video game store just down the street, and I’ve seen people lining up for a midnight release in winter that rivals the line-ups that people make waiting to get into a sold out show where I work, for a hot new touring act. (I’ll fess up here. For a while there, I got seriously into a couple of video racing games. Could play for twelve hours straight if I had the time, so I understand the allure. While I was playing, a new version of the game that I liked was released, so I pre-ordered a copy. It was my first, and only venture into seeing how these things are introduced to the public, and as soon as I jump out of these parentheses, I’ll explain myself.)

Seems to me like these things all come in an incomplete state. Unfinished. We’re living in a world of software updates, firmware releases, bug repairs, and ‘beta testing.’

The new video game that I pre-purchased, as I mentioned when I was back in parentheses jail, was glaringly incomplete. I guy whom I used to race with that I met online, agreed that the game was essentially broken. Sure, big parts of it played as you would expect, but there were some seriously major flaws in some very important aspects of the game.

O.K., I see your point, Joe, but you’ve got to understand, these things are outrageously complex devices, or software programs, and if you consider the various ‘platforms’ they’ll be used with, or the billions of possible combinations with which these things can be used, there’s bound to be some teething problems.

TEETHING PROBLEMS?!?’ When a camera company releases a CDN $3000. lens that wont even focus properly; when phone companies are releasing new phones that are causing major apps to crash; when video games are released that have so many bugs you can’t even play it properly….

And on, and on. Yes, I get it. These things are complex, but when colossally obvious errors like these are considered normal and acceptable, it makes me think that there really needs to be an increase in the amount of workplace drug testing.

Then, there’s the other buyer’s dilemma: Should I upgrade now, or wait until the new model comes out later this year…

“The next big thing is RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER… Therefore don’t ever buy anything!”

Buridan’s ass. You know, the donkey and the hay bales. Free will, and all that other nightmare-ish bullshit…

Alright, back to my camera bag. 

It works. 

Two zippers, two velcro pockets, and one clasp strap. No USB input for software, or firmware updates. There’s no Next Big Bag waiting right around the corner waiting to spring out at me.

100 metres from my house

I’ve never really understood how someone with a camera could run out of ideas. To me, there’s always something worth pointing a camera at. (Whether I get up off my lazy ass and do it, is another matter, though.) I hear people say things like ‘there’s nothing worth photographing here,’ or ‘this place is boring.’

Bukowski once said something along the lines of ‘It’s only boring people that get bored,’ and I tend to agree with him.

To me, it seems that there’s always things to take pictures of. If it doesn’t seem apparent at the time, I just haven’t seen it yet.

I’m forever finding things that I’ve overlooked, or either didn’t think of, and there are some things that I’ve gone back to shoot plenty of times, but still haven’t come up with anything that I like. But I’m never really out of ideas. I’m not saying that every idea is a good one, but sometimes, it all comes together, and I get something that makes me happy. 

The purpose is to get something that I’m satisfied with.

I live in downtown Toronto, that to be frank, is  rather nondescript. There’s nothing here that anyone would come to see or do, there’s no restaurants or shops nearby, and if it wasn’t for a major-ish intersection right in front of my house, no one would really know that the area even exists. 

That’s why I live here.

I suppose you could say that it’s ‘inner-city residential.’ Plenty of new Canadians mixed with second generation immigrants, and some (what the fuck do I even call myself? Canadian? Old generation Canadian?) folks like me. Apart from the occasional parking argument, or traffic smash-up, nothing much ever happens.

But, there’s still tons of things to take pictures of -at least as far as I’m concerned. 

I came up for the idea of this post, and thought, ‘instead of going out and shooting new stuff, let’s see what I’ve already got.’ Then, I decided that every shot had to be taken within 100 metres of my front door. 

Turns out, I didn’t have to go out and take some more shots. Everything was taken less than 100 metres from my front door. Most are considerably less -I erred on the side of caution.

The first shot is just a night shot of the usually busy intersection that I mentioned above. Typical long exposure of passing traffic, but because of the fog, I was intrigued by the possibilities. I just checked the EXIF, and I took it in 2007, at 1:37 a.m. It’s all about the fog, and the night exposure. Distance from home: 60m.

The second shot is the hydro pylon, like the kind you see everywhere. But, the sun was on the horizon, partially obscured by some evening clouds. One of those rare occasions where I let the scene keep it’s colour. Distance from home: 80m.

The next one, the snowy street scene, is one block over from me. This one was all about the dusting of snow that coated everything that morning. Also, I was looking for a scene that had a lot of depth to it that I could compress with the long (200mm) focal length I was using. Distance from home: 50m.

The shot of the tall grass, which I took on Christmas day just over two weeks ago, is just across the street from me, a couple of metres into the alley. I just had the idea of sticking my 24mm lens (equiv.) into the midst of it, and firing off a couple of shots. Distance from home: 20m.

And the last one, of the Brussels sprouts, (I cheated a bit here) I took at home. Distance from home: 0m.

So there you have it. It’s all right there in front of us. It’s up to us, who are holding the camera, to present something that we are satisfied with. 

It’s as hard, or easy, as we make it.

The romance

I remember exactly where I was. Rome, 1996, I think, on a via leading up to the Colloseo, overlooking  Palatine Hill. (Am I being pretentious enough for you here?  Well, in the words of the late great Billy Mays, BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!

I saw a somewhat portly, late middle-age man with glasses, and silver hair, walking around snapping pictures. I like to imagine him as German, because he had an old Leica M4 slung around his neck, with a  tanned Leica strap, and matching flip case.

That’s what I thought I’d eventually be.

I imagined a whole back story about the fellow. That he had a family, worked as some company stiff his entire life; that the camera he was wearing was something he bought as a young man when he started his family; that he was now retired and had gotten away from the wife on holiday, so he could spend time taking pictures…

Now, I never knew if I’d ever be married, and I never wanted to have kids, so there’s that, and for all I know, I could have been way off the mark with this fellow. 

He could have stolen the camera, was on the run for not paying child support, and taxes… Who knows? 

But it’s my fantasy, so I’m gonna stick with my version.

That’s the camera I wanted. I wanted a little camera that you had to hand crank Ilford HP5 through, that slowed you down as you were taking your pictures, so that hopefully, you put more effort and thought into composition. Limit myself to two, maybe three lenses, max.

At the time, I was shooting through my Nikon F3. Fantastic camera, yes, but the Leica, to me, represented minimalism, slower shooting, and just as important, classic styling!

I sort of got there, but not. 

If you know a bit about cameras, you probably know that Leicas are almost prohibitively expensive. Yes, they’re that good, but only if you are happy to shoot to their strengths.

I’m not a rich man -probably what you would call lower middle class, and although I probably could have saved up the ‘dough-re-mi’ over a couple of years, my photographic path never really intersected with Leica. When I went digital, there wasn’t any offerings from them, and a few years later, when they released their first full frame digital, it was nowhere near as good as the Nikon D700 that I already owned. They were pretty ‘slow getting out of the gate’, as far as digital was concerned.

In 2010, Fuji released the retro styled, and retro designed X100. 

To me, and plenty of others like me, it was a huge eye opener. 

Here was a camera that looked and felt like an old rangefinder, had most of the important controls outside of the camera in the manner of old film cameras, and produced very good images, as well.

You can bet I was interested. 

It received very good reviews. But, for the first and only time that I know of, those reviews came with a warning: The autofocus was slow; the menu was a pain in the ass… Which was strange. The reviewers seemed to insinuate that the greatness of the other features of the camera, somehow made up for it’s shortcomings.

Now I HAD to try it.

They were right. I bought one. 

It was a fabulous little camera. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest for certain things, but what it did do, it did exceptionally well. Besides, I still had my DSLR for more extreme shooting.

Since it’s initial release, there have been three other upgraded iterations of it; X100S, X100T, and the current X100F. I’ve owned the 100, ‘T,’ and currently, the ‘F.’ Apparently, there’s a new model coming out soon, but I really don’t see how they could improve much on the current X100F -pictured above. We’ll see.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of mine. It’s by far, my most used camera for street photography, and it’s the camera that I can just ‘grab and go’ with. It’s small, inconspicuous, and dead silent, if you set it up to be.

A while back, I picked up an attachment that converts the native 35mm (in full frame terms) down to 28mm. There’s also an adapter that will bring it up to 50mm. Who knows, maybe I’ll get that some day as well.

Leica owners are quick to point out the quality, and durability of their cameras, and lenses, and they are right to do so. It’s a fantastic system, and there’s a reason why they’re still around after all these years.

But, my little X100F beats the current Leica offerings in just about every way that’s important to me, at about a quarter of the price.

So, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully realize the dream that I had all those years ago, but maybe, I’m fine with a modified version of it.


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