KISS. Keep it simple, stupid, as a wartime US Navy motto has it. I always try to but recently a comment appeared on my ‘Why I Use Micro Four Thirds’ video saying that the whole point of Micro Four Thirds was compactness and simplicity, to reduce gear. The writer was very certain of himself and his views in a way that I can only envy.
In fact, one part of me agreed with him but another part strongly resisted his premise. The point of MFT to me is that it is simple and compact – if you want. A Panasonic GX7 with a 17mm f/1.8 Olympus lens is about as simple as it gets. But if your interest is in photographing wild life then that camera lens combination won’t get you far. You’ll either spook the animals or make a meal for them. So a much more complicated set up with a long lens, tripod and maybe remote control might be more appropriate. MFT can do that, too. A Panasonic GH4 with Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 zoom and its converter is far from compact or simple – but it is still comparatively so and that seems to me to be the point.
I like looking at and doing all kinds of photography. Street stuff of people, landscapes, insects buildings and portraits, musicians and still life, it just goes on. My correspondent seemed feel only one type of photography had any value or meaning and that was what could be done with simple equipment. It reminded me of a person I travelled with once who regarded himself as a music lover but would only listen to Dixieland jazz. That myopic view is not so much a love of something as, at best, having a very small comfort zone, at worst a symptom of OCD.
Look at the wonders of NASA’a library. Is that not photography? The World Press Picture awards? Oxford Scientific’s work. Are they not photography? They are not made with simple equipment. I think that an obsession with using ‘simple’ gear is just as much an obsession with gear as someone who collects the stuff. When you see a picture you like, how do you know how many cameras the person who took it has? Do you care?
To me, it’s all in the picture. You like it or you don’t. It’s often interesting to know what camera was used for a picture. It doesn’t actually tell you much because most pictures could have been made on most cameras. But It would be wrong to say it tells you nothing. In my case, I’d been training as a photographer for about 3 years when I first started looking at Henri-Cartier Bresson’s work. I was interested that he used what was then known as a miniature format camera – 35mm to you and me. The smallest acceptable format for a press man at that time was 6×6, usually in the form of a Rolleiflex and that was what I was using.
While my newspaper would never accept the results of such a camera, knowing that camera Henry Carter’s work was done on told me that the results from such a camera ought to be acceptable. The Leica M3 and 50mm lens that he used matched my Rollei for angle of view – both being standard lenses – but the Leica’s relative compactness and speed of use with its thumb lever wind made it a much better camera for photographing things reportage style, as they happened, rather than watching what happened and setting it up to happen again press photographer style.
In that sense, my correspondent was right. It is about compactness and simplicity. The problem with the purist view is that there is more to it than that. The camera and lens that is good for street work will not necessarily be the camera for a war situation. Here is a shot I took during the first Gulf War in Tel Aviv. It shows a Patriot missile zapping across the skyline (it actually hit the incoming Scud missile just where you see that blip. For this I had a motor drive equipped Nikon camera permanently set up on a tripod with a 24mm F2 (I think) lens on a tripod. As soon as the air raid siren went off, I could go out on the balcony and wait for a shot. Basically, just press the shutter button and fire at 5 frames per second hoping for the best. Here’s the shot.
What, I wonder, would my purist friend have done in this situation? How would his one camera and lens fits all solution have worked? I had to have more than one camera ( I had 4, actually) or else I couldn’t have left one out on the balcony. It had to have a fancy wide-angle on it. And a motor drive. And a tripod. Purist it is not, yet in the context of its use, it is as simple as I could make it.
I am unashamed to say that I use whatever combination of equipment I feel is necessary to accomplish an end. It is all Micro four Thirds, though. At its simplest, a GM5 with 17mm F/1.7 Olympus lens. At its most complex, my camera bag with f/2/8 zooms and 2 camera bodies, macro lens, filters, lens converter, spare SD cards…and there’s probably more.
I’m always put off my stroke by people with utter certainty in their lives but I feel better after writing this. There is far more to photography than any one individual can define. It is about making images but what is the harm in enjoying great technology at the same time? Of saving up and getting that new lens, the anticipation of it arriving, trying it out for the first time? Who is t say that it won’t improve your photography?
We’ve always had puritan photographers but I sometimes think they are more about stopping other people’s fun than promoting better photography. The Micro four Thirds philosophy is not about compactness and simplicity in itself.
The thinking behind it and the reason for its growing popularity is that it can do pretty much anything a DSLR can but will always be smaller and lighter. Not small, note, but smaller, not light but lighter. There are two ways of using smaller, lighter. One is to save your back. The other is to carry a bigger range of equipment.
I use MFT for both depending on my mood and needs at the time. My correspondent prefers to limit himself and his gear and that’s fair enough. But when he remarks that ‘you don’t need fancy equipment if you know what you are doing’ it rankles. Is my Nikon on the balcony fancy equipment? If you want to photograph missiles, no. If you want to photograph people in the street, possibly.
But surely it’s the picture that counts. In a lifetime in photography, I have never seen anything that convinces me that owning and using a lot of equipment makes you a bad photographer. Even less so that owning one camera and lens makes you a good one. It just sounds like petty snobbery to me.