Yes, The Camera Matters

Yes, The Camera Matters

2560 1707 James Tocchio

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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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • 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.

    • Thank you Tiffany! I’m never sure about it when I publish personal articles like this one. But as I said in the piece, I always do in the off chance that they’ll resonate with at least one person. Looks like you’re the one! I hope you have great times the next time you’re holding a camera. Thanks again.

  • Of course camera matters.
    So why genius photographers such HCB have only Leica, …
    But for beginners, I think it does matter too much, there is more flexibility.
    Herbie Hancock plays Fazioli, piano matters …
    Number one tennis player plays Head, it matters, but not give exception visa …
    A beginner with a Fazioli grand piano concert will make noise with a 300.000 $ dollars, many years later it will be better to play a Fazioli, the same for cameras, but other great pianists prefer a Stainway, … piano matters.
    Camera matters.
    After many years SLR, I have tried and adopt RF, after many cheap RF, I have bought Leica, and finally after many tests, I have decided to use M3, … this camera matters for me and provides me the best.

  • You have many articles here about kids.
    When we give a camera to a kid, what he/she does want?
    Taking pictures, have freedom, seing their images.
    Leica, Nikon, … they dont know so much, but to see their images, to see the results they matter. The images from kids surprise me every time.
    In fact, we have to take our cameras, any cameras, and just take pictures in a free way.

  • Great article and pretty sums up what the last couple of years has been about. Especially like the bit about turn of the millennium digital cameras. I still shoot a lot with my Leica Digilux 2 and its 5 mp and small SD card and 400 ISO. But that amazing 28-90 lens!! Sometimes prefer it to my M3.

  • The first part felt like a love letter to our cameras and the second part like a love letter to ourselves. Can’t think of a better way to introduce a new year!

  • So does this mean you’ll be writing more camera reviews again James? I really enjoy that content. And honestly, 5 or 6 of your most popular posts of 2021, per your own site, are camera or lens reviews. So I’m not alone in being as interested in the “What” as much as the “Why”.

  • Your greatness continues.

  • The joy I get picking up my F2, smashing that advance lever, and the satisfactory percussion of the mirror/shutter is nothing short of therapeutic.

    I also love seeing all the images of friends and family pop up on frames I throughout my house, even my my mundane attempts at “art”.

    Everything in this article hit home, all the best to you as we muddle through another year of this.

  • Sounds like you are burned out on running this website. Things change, people change. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe its time you handed the job off to someone who still is infatuated with cameras like you once were? The website’s emphasis on the philosophy that shooting casually with a cheap camera with cheap film liberates creativity is a valid one, but to do so completely without care of basic principals of photography, is kind of a waste of time after a roll or two. That concept is already fully developed ad-nauseum by Holga-tography. Perhaps you should approach a fully automatic camera as the way to go for such a spontaneous. creative endeavor. Wait, that is now called digital photography… Oh well, I guess the only novel value of the website is crunching through those same old resolution specs and pesky technical details…

    • Are you the same John from the comments section of the linked Casual Photophile article below? This comment a much shorter and more cryptically worded version of the same accusations and opinions spewed in that previous comments section, with less overt vitriole and contempt for the author. If the quality of the camera/lens reviews and the standards/knowledge of those who take their time to write and share their passion on Casual Photophile are not up to your high standards, then why don’t you write something to post here that is of adequate quality? Personally, I like the diverse experiences and experience levels of the authors who do take the time to contribute to this site as much as I like reading about the technical details of the equipment they use. If James excluded content that wasn’t meant to appeal to a broad array of photography enthusiasts, it would be an awfully sparse site, don’t you think? I think it’s time for you to try another angle, instead of just being salty.

    • I honestly want to respond to your comment in a constructive way and have a conversation, but you’ve so badly missed the entire point of my website that I struggle to know where to begin.

      • James, this is not the first time this particular commenter has essentially crapped all over your site and the authors who contribute content to it. If there was a way to block this person from continuing to troll you and your readers, I would implement it ASAP. This person appears to have nothing nice to say, no matter what the occasion. Trying to constructively respond to them is not worth your time. They are gatekeeping, pure and simple.

  • If it was mine, I would change it to a peer review image sharing photo website with stricter requirements for commenting membership. Make membership requirement the successful upload of a focused and properly exposed 640×480 original picture of camera/lens used and a casual photograph. Allow self policing with personal messages and upvote/downvote member responses. Only a few really want to learn, most just want to opinion-ate and show-off their knowledge and gear.

  • The Digicam the new Holga?

  • I have said many times that I only read 2 photography websites. CASUALPHOTOPHILE and JAPANCAMERAHUNTER.
    These days there are also 3 articles from Japancamerahunter which match this excellent article (Sorry I havent said before).
    FOMAPAN 100 CLASSIC 35MM (pictures are very great) this is a review about a great film which is not expensive
    IN YOUR BAG: 1723 – ANDY M (from Mississippi) a wonderful bag which shows that camera matter and do not matter at the same time, maybe
    What I like from this article one more time, it is because it is made by someone like Bellamy Hunt who have passion, who consider photography as the best hobby, when they review a camera it is when they have really tried the camera, but firstly they make images, also when times are difficult.
    During these 2 years I have more used my mobile phone than my cameras because all these problems with Covid19. These days I have made a great picture of a possum in our park only with my old LG G5 2016. Manual mode, raw, zoom, voice shooter to reduce vibration, and my friend who are with me here, have said “Whaouu this old mobile phone make great pictures”.
    I have tried these days also to make pictures with one of new mobilephone, the LG V40 ThinkQ and I have realised that the differences enter these products and actual one’s are not very big. My G5 make very very good picture resolution in the late evening under clouds 5312×2998, size 4.56 MB. I can see the details of the eyes of the possum, I have quickly adjusted the speed because my G5 is at 50 iso.
    What I mean, these old digicams too produced, produce good images.
    The point is, if camera matter, the most important is not there, it is: to have pleasure, to enjoy practicing photography. Reason why if I love my M3, but I prefer often to take my Canonet because it is light, compact and very good. Now my pleasure it is to walk light with a camera. If there is something I can take a picture, but I dont want to carry too much. So the bag 1723 the Andy M is a good example of one idea: light, compact … = pleasure !!!

  • Love this piece, James. Love it.

  • Dear James,
    Well, what a splendid philosophical thread! The film bloggers are driven by ‘Brand Blindness’ fuelled by the hackneyed paradigm, ‘German Engineering’
    Here’s hoping they take heed of your wisdom!

  • Thank you very much for this article. Indeed the past 2 years were very challenging. Recently while in lock down here in South Africa, I took the time to page thru some RAW images not yet processed and I stumbled across images taken of good old friends lost to Covid during 2021. Obviously this leading to different emotions: on the one hand sadness but on the other, so glad that I have taken these photos to be able to cherish the memories. Different topic: lock down pushed me to concentrate on macro/close focus photography mainly around the house – gave me great pleasure and assisted greatly in the mourning healing process and keeping me occupied, preventing from going crazy during this incredible time. Does the camera matter? I totally agree with you! The camera probably never thought that it could be a healer too.

  • Either way, this article is rich. It even calls for many comments. The strength of large companies over time is also to survey consumers for improvement. We are far from the self-satisfaction specific to certain areas which would like the world to be at their feet, only give them compliments, show their eyes in a different aspect of general reality, close their eyes when they take territories, islands, systems which are not themselves, which have never been theirs, …
    Freedom of expression is a problem for them, as in their social media system where denunciation or police control can lead to arrest or deportation, it is historic, … during some revolutions they posted writings on the poor punished, they still do it, sometimes just their neighbor,… they find references, point people out, a method of denunciation.
    Criticism is part of progress. The current criticisms of our system for managing the planet may allow us to save it and to save ourselves. We call it: freedom of speech.
    This does not exist with some.
    Fortunately, what I like more about this site is the intelligence of James who is capable of respect, tolerance, listening, but above all who knows what he is doing, who found the concept , who perfected it.
    Why so many come to this site, because the articles are excellent.
    I push myself to try and write one, but I lack the courage. Still, it’s not too complicated I think, you have to believe it. I’m thinking about it. What I see here is that there are a lot of people out there who can write interesting things about their photos, cameras, passion for photography, practice,… just give it a go. Already many new ones have written. I think of female photographers, I love their photos. I always write a little note to encourage them because I love this artistic sensibility of our sisters.
    James is very smart. He knows where he is going. He knows our interests. The comments reinforce its work and its action.
    If in some areas people are sidelined because they criticize political party lines, here I don’t think so,… look at Australia, the tennis super star can appeal, speak out free from his hotel … this is a democracy.
    Perhaps the freedom of expression targeted by some totalitarian systems will be one of our last freedoms, along with pandemic-free health.
    I can only encourage readers to try and post more. I will do it, it will take me a while because I have to find an interesting theme.
    James has created something exceptional: a place of common passion, but not a sect, or an ideology, he is a man deeper than that!

  • James, wonderful thoughts. And, as you suggested, it can be any camera. For me, it’s always been the photo/memories that I capture…family, friends, travel. Life matters. Having albums, prints, files are wonderful to reflect on periodically. They confirm where you’ve been and sometimes they help guide you to where you want to go with your photography. In my case, taking a picture everyday is like a vitamin. The simple act of seeing something of interest and photographing it keeps me happy/sane and my mind sharp…important at my age. Guess what I’m saying from my experience is the camera matters, but it’s the photograph that counts:)

  • James, thank you for this article as well as many earlier ones. I discovered Casual Photophile in the spring of 2019. I had just bought a Minolta Maxxum 7000i and jumped back into film photography after many years. The articles on this site struck me as having a literary quality not found on other photography sites.

    I bought the 7000i to take pictures of my garden, but then soon realized that having that camera changed the way I see the world, see life.

    One day, I passed through a mostly abandoned cemetery on the way to buy a camera. For some reason, that experience lingered with me far longer than it should have. And it stayed with me until I went back with a camera and photographed those scenes that I kept thinking about. Afterward, I wrote a brief essay about that experience and how it affected me.

    I let the essay sit for a year, ignoring it. But, in the end, I felt a need to publish it. The eventual outcome was my blog EarthSunFilm, and that essay became the post: “The People By the Side of the Road.”

    I completely agree with you. Looking through a viewfinder and pressing a shutter button can be life-affirming, life-changing—the specific camera is not important.

  • Glad you like it. Please consider it a small repayment of the enjoyment I have received reading Casual Photophile.

  • Sorry to hear you have been going through hard times James. I think the positive therapeutic side of photography comes from simply getting out and seeing. While the machine in your hand may well influence how you see it seems crazy to me that some people seem to believe that high end equipment is a must to take good images and to enjoy the experience. Yes the clunk of a Hassie makes me smile, but so does the click of some obscure op shop find. I am selling a swathe of cameras at the moment, can only use one at a time. Going out at night requires you to know your equipment rather than fumble around looking for strangely placed buttons and dials. That takes the enjoyment of seeing away, all you see is the thing in your hand and your anxiety about if it will do what you want! Mind you the results can be good in unexpected ways at times. One mp. or wildly out of date film are just as much fun as anything else in the hobby. I think people should just blaze away and look at the world while we are still here. The precious people with Leica’s and khaki shooters jackets just leave me with a grin, and a photo, I just hope they are seeing, rather than wanting to be seen. It is not that serious, enjoy seeing while the world and it’s people are still in a beautiful place.

  • The whole point of photography is to freeze a moment and a place in time….what is unremarkable today will in the future be a thing of wonder. The camera is the tool, and there are many tools for different tasks. I love to capture landscapes, but my images of people, events and the everyday stuff of life will likely be of more interest in years to come. If they survive, which is one of the reasons I shoot film again. I found your blog when I rediscoved film photography. Please keep it up.

  • This article is totally spot on. I’ve been getting quite frustrated with my film photography over the past few months, as it rarely feels like I’m able to take images that are ‘good enough’ – while munching through increasingly expensive film stock in the process.

    The Southern Hemisphere summer Christmas holiday time has given me a chance to decompress and reprogram, and remember exactly why I got into film photography in the first place. For me it was originally all about capturing memories and visual waypoints through life. It shouldn’t matter if they are ‘crap’ photos (indeed, most of them are), but what does matter is investing time in carefully pointing my camera(s) at, exactly as you say, ‘what matters’. In this way I record where I have been, who I was with and what felt in a far more meaningful way than throwaway snaps with my iPhone camera could ever achieve for me. It’s good to remember this, rather than constantly fixating on largely negative facile comparisons with many far better photographers.

  • Nice post. The past two years have been rough on everyone; you certainly have my sympathy. To the extent photography can and has helped you, that’s wonderful.

    Shooting my vintage film cameras takes me outdoors and inspires me to contemplate natural beauty. Few things are better than that.

  • This article resonates on many levels. For many the balance of life has been altered in ways that expose truths about our often unhealthy relationship to things like work or even just living life itself, but the very catalyst that enables these realizations also feels like a limiting factor in remediating the issues. Two years of a pandemic have, at times, made it really hard to see the value in personal pursuits and hobbies. All the while, it feels as if time is being taken from us. I for one very clearly feel a huge reduction in just the shear number of memories made over the past two years compared to years prior. The camera represents something very interesting in this conflict. On one hand a curse, representing the yearning for capturing pre-pandemic levels of experience and connection, and a listlessness in the face of a reality devoid of that possibility. On the other a blessing, representing the possibility of capturing life as it is- the camera as a tool for rectifying Pandemic Time and appreciating what’s in front of us.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio