I’ve been thinking lately. Thinking a lot, in fact, about a lot of different things. Adhering to the general focus of this site, let’s start with cameras.
When I founded Casual Photophile in 2014 I had a very clear mission. I would write about cameras. But I wouldn’t write the What. I would write the Why. In my mind, there was a clear distinction. Specifications, yes, sure, great. Burst rates and eye-relief and rangefinder base length, of course. But I didn’t really think that any of that matters. What the camera could do didn’t matter to me. What the camera does, did. So I would write about that – why the camera matters.
I did that for a long time. I’m still doing it. And enjoying it, and I think you all are, too. (More than three million of you visited this site last year and that is mind-blowing.)
But I had a look at the archives for the site the other day and I felt something interesting that I’ve been feeling for more than a year now – I’ve not been super interested in cameras for a while. I know. A shocking proclamation from a photography website’s Chief Professional Camera Liker, and one which warrants deeper exploration.
If you were a visitor to this site in the earlier era of Casual Photophile, say between the years 2014 and 2019, you enjoyed a veritable cornucopia of camera reviews. I was shooting a different camera every two days, and writing about the special ones every week.
My writers joined in, and we covered all of the big guns and plenty of the lesser-knowns (though at the time, even the big guns were still quite underappreciated). I remember when people didn’t even recognize the name Minolta, and when the Nikon F3 cost $40. I remember when medium format film was weird and everyone called it 120mm (a phenomenon that hasn’t completely died away even though every “real” film photographer now owns a Mamiya 7II – don’t they?). But I loved it, back then.
I loved the Nikon F3 and F2 and F4, and oh, man, have you seen the F6?
I loved the Leica M7 (though I never wrote a thing about). I loved the Leica R5. I loved the Leica Q2, and yeah, that was digital. I love digital.
I really loved the Minolta CLE.
In fact I really loved every camera that worked well and was beautifully made, and my Nikon SP 2005 Limited Edition is staring at me from a shelf on the other side of the room right now and I really loved that one.
And then some things happened.
Regular readers of this site may know that I’ve had a tough year or two. As it was for many of us, for me 2020 and 2021 were years filled with more pain than I’ve ever known. Many of us faced new and unprecedented financial stress, emotional suffering, mental worries, and physical challenges. Some of us went through all of the above.
I wrote an article touching on some of those struggles way back in February of 2021. This was a period of time when (and I write this next line with an analytical logic devoid of melodrama) I was in the deepest depression of my life. That article was the most personal article I’ve ever published on this site, and I published it (as is the case with every article I publish) on the chance that it might have been of use to at least one individual human reader. Happily for me, it helped me figure things out, too, some of which are being ultimately expressed in this article, today’s article, the one you’re reading right now.
More than any other mechanism (be they actual mechanisms, like cameras, or of the coping type), the camera helped me through this challenging time. It offered a temporary way to escape the daily worry. It provided tasks to accomplish at a time when my mind couldn’t stop dwelling on personal loss. It gave me a reason to get out of the house and get physically moving again, and it helped me to refocus on what really matters.
But I’d be lying if I said that the old enthusiasm was still there. Holding a camera used to fill me with happiness. Actual happiness. Pretty amazing, for a camera. But for a while there, I mean, the only time I used a camera in the past couple of years was for work. Except for that vacation I took a few months ago. Incidentally, that was the beginning of figuring all of this out. You can see today’s article’s ideas as a through-line in that older vacation article. Interesting! Is that interesting?
Anyway, I just wasn’t into cameras and that’s weird.
Earlier this week, I published a guest article by Johnny Yokoyama that was all about Digicams, old digital point and shoots from the turn of the millennium which often topped the spec sheet with a whopping 1 megapixel. In that article, Johnny introduced us to digicams and explained what we need to know about them. But here’s the important part; he told us why the digicam matters.
The article was great. People loved it, statistically. For me, personally, the article came at a great time.
It really struck me as I was editing the piece. I imported Johnny’s sample shots into Lightroom for the usual workflow of meta-tagging, file naming, exporting at the right dimensions, and midway through I just sort of stopped and turned off the part of my brain that was working, and I just flipped through his photos for about twenty minutes.
Lo-fi. Low resolution. Soft corners. So many flares. Is that sensor actually broken? They were really, objectively bad quality images (Johnny’s words). Except they were great pictures. Totally great. And the reason they were great is that Johnny had pointed his terrible cameras at what matters. Friends. Places explored. Experiences. Travel. The home. The earth. Life and people living it.
[Sample shots from Johnny’s article on Digicams]
I’ve been missing that. All of that. And it’s really hit me this week that I’ve spent the past couple of years thinking that the camera didn’t matter anymore. But I think, maybe, that it matters more than ever.
In that article that I wrote way back in February 2021, I wrote a line that I think is pretty poignant, and I repeat it here because it may be useful to certain readers.
“I’ve found that even the worst cameras end up pointing at what’s important.”
Johnny’s article and (I cringe to write this) the personal healing that’s happened within me over the past six months or so reawakens that idea in me. I really feel like I need to hold a camera again.
Now, I know that plenty of you out there have had it just as bad or worse than I have over the past while. So, I’ll say the tired thing again.
The camera matters. It really does. And if anything of this article has resonated with you I hope that you’ll pick up a camera, any camera, and see what it ends up pointing at.
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Thank you so much for this. This is the real meaning behind our photos. When looking at film cameras, we often think about it in the GAS mindset. But at the end of the day, any camera, whether it was is a film camera or digicam or our phones, we need to point them at what matters. At our whys. Cameras matter because they help us capture the important moments, people, and places. Again. I LOVE THIS ARTICLE and I am glad you are working through your demons.