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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Along for a Great Ride

by Steve Rosenblum

Steve Rosenblum, Lust, 2004

What is interesting to me about the responses to "What's Your Whack?" is that most people have not included the price of their computer equipment in their estimates. I suppose that one could argue that we all would buy a computer and monitor anyway to use for other purposes, and so perhaps we need not count the cost of the computer equipment with our photographic costs any more than we count the cost of the mortgage to pay for the house that the computer sits in. However, I think that is probably a false way of thinking about it.

The biggest expense associated with photography in the digital age is Moore's law. Not so long ago the only "hardware" you needed was a camera, body, lenses, and a darkroom. The only "software" you needed was film, paper, and darkroom expendables (or you could pay someone else a modest sum to do this for you). Arguably, once you acquired a good set of "hardware" you really never needed to replace it unless it actually broke and could not be repaired. You certainly could keep using the Leica M3 and 50 mm lens that you bought in the '50s even now and keep updating it merely by trying new films, chemicals or paper—a very inexpensive proposition. The film was the "sensor." The darkroom was the "processor."

Now, of course, if you want a new sensor you need a new camera body and perhaps new lenses to match the new sensor. I am just an amateur, but my DSLR path has been Canon D30—>D60—>20D. Then I decided to shift to lighter "prosumer" models and went for a Digital Rebel—>Rebel XT. I have used each of these cameras for perhaps +/- a year, and then sold the previous body at a substantial discount. I have steadily worked my way through the Epson wide carriage photo printers as they have improved. I am on my second dedicated film scanner and third or fourth flatbed scanner. I am on my 3rd color profiling package. Because of the quality of the Macintosh computers I have used, I have been able to upgrade them "only" every 3–4 years. It is true that I would still need a computer even if I was not a photographer, however I am sure I would make do with my laptop, and not go to the trouble of having a powerful tricked-out desktop computer. I am also on my 5th version of Photoshop.

I have no idea how much all of this has cost me (I haven't even mentioned the lenses) but it is easily tens of thousands of dollars. There is no way I can justify what I have spent on this stuff based upon my creative output during this time. I shudder to think of what my per print costs really have been for true "keeper" images. I am fairly certain that I could have kept a top notch fine art photographer and a master printer on retainer to photograph and print whatever I wanted during this time for what I have paid.

So why have I done it? I am not sure. Obviously, I can afford it or it would have ended long ago. But, I think the real reason is that I have really enjoyed the ride. I have lived through and been a small part of a genuine technological and creative revolution and it has been truly energizing and very stimulating. I feel as though I have lived through the progression from horse and buggy to manned space flight all compressed into a mere 5 years or so. So, I may not be a hot shot test pilot, but it has been thrilling to have a seat on the plane, even in the back. And it has been, and continues to be, quite a ride!



Blogger Mike F said...

Steve said "It is true that I would still need a computer even if I was not a photographer, however I am sure I would make do with my laptop, and not go to the trouble of having a powerful tricked-out desktop computer. I am also on my 5th version of Photoshop."

I'm not at all sure that's true for everyone - or at least it isn't true for me. I do all my photoshopping on the laptop I otherwise use for all the other things I need it for (all employment-related). In computer expenses related only for photography, I probably spent AUS$500 more for a scanner than I otherwise might. I made do with PS Elements (plus Richard Lynch's tools) at less than AUS$120 for the longest time, and only bought full PS CS2 when I got a one-time-good-deal at AUS$300. I've probably bought extra disk capacity to the value of maybe AUS$200 or so. So that's "only" AUS$1,100 or so more than my original estimate that didn't include computer equipment. While a fully tricked-out high-end desktop machine might be nice, I for one, haven't spent that money (else I wouldn't be able to afford lenses).


12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I _do_ use my laptop for all my photography; a 1Ghz Centrino with a 10.4 inch screen. It's fair to say I would not have chosen this computer had photography been a part of my purchasing decision, nevertheless it manages to do the job quite nicely.

I have no scanner - I never shot film, so what would I scan? And no printer - the few times I have wanted a print I've just gone to a large camera store nearby and had them print it out for me. As an observation you can get quite a few good-sized prints done for the cost of an inkjet and consumables, especially if you factor in the redo's you occasionally need to do yourself, but which you of course don't have to pay for when farming out the work. If you aren't printing a lot, and you're not a color-space management demon, it's probably cheaper to have your stuff printed, and the quality will be as good or better.

As for software, I use Gimp, UFraw and related open software. Good enough for me and it doesn't cost me a dime.

3:38 AM  
Blogger CKWork said...

I think it depends where you are at a given point in time. For the most part (aside from extra hard drives), my photography has grown into a PC setup that I was already using for other purposes. However it is beginning to feel the strain and this has been perhaps the only reason I haven't moved from a 1.6 crop camera to a full frame. The Canon 5D is very tempting, but I fear that the extra file size will be the straw that breaks the camel's back meaning pretty much doubling the real cost of the camera - not to mention all the hassle.

Obviously an upgrade will be necessary eventually, but it does mean that the next step will need to be a major improvment in image quality and/or functionality - on its own, a few extra MP will do me more harm than good.

5:49 AM  
Blogger stevierose said...

Here's the thing: the fever has subsided and the curve has flattened out. What I actually use now: A Fuji F30 as a carry around pocket camera (because of excellent high ISO performance) and a Canon Rebel XT (350) with a Sigma 30/1.4 lens. 98% of the time I use a 3 year old 12 inch Powerbook G4 computer. I feel no need to "upgrade" to the new Rebel XTi (400).

What has happened? First, the technology has matured to the point that I don't feel that buying other stuff really offers me anything that I need. I have enough resolution and low light perfomance to handle the style of photography that I enjoy. I think that it will take a camera that makes a serious improvement in dynamic range to tempt me, and I won't buy the first one out of the shoot. Secondly, as others have mentioned, I feel a need to simplify and get back to the photography and away from obsessing on the technology. I find myself looking longingly at the Olympus OM gear on my shelf, but I just don't want to deal with film anymore.

This maturing of the technology and shift in attitude may have real implications for the industry as well. Once everyone has a digicam that can make great photos up to 8x10, the camera companies will once again be dealing with a market in steady state.

10:10 AM  
Blogger - 0 - said...

Why'd you do it (besides technolust)? Possibly because of a detailed level of control that you never, ever had with film.

With film hardly anyone ever delved into the arcane, difficult, expensive and time-consuming business of color developing or printing.

Even b&w, which is fairly easy to develop, required involved procedures to mix chemicals, agitate/develop, rinse, fix, dry (and keep dust-free), cut, sleeve and track negatives -- even before doing anything so prosaic as scan or even contact-print... which require their very own procedures and voodoo.

Digital shooting is a convenient means to the end of digital processing and digital printing. There's a lot to learn, and it's not a cheap hobby, but it offers a whole new vista of opportunity and control that we simply did not have before.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Ian Rees said...

The Leica M3, Nikon F5, Linhof-Technika, etc.. all represent the peak of a fully mature technology. They are the result of decades worth of development. That is why they could be used for 50 years: there were no major improvements worth the cost of upgrading.

What we're seeing right now with dSLRs is not really about Moore's law per se (which is specifically about complexity of same-cost integrated circuits over time), but plain old traditional advances in both economics of producing more complex cameras, and improvements in camera engineering. I fully expect to see in the next 5-10 years the M3 of digital cameras. The point where the technology behind it is fully understood, all engineering problems have been solved with optimized solutions, the cost of manufacturing/fabrication facilities has been fully paid off, and the market is stable. A mature technology, where only small, incremental improvements are realized in the future. I expect a dSLR I buy 5 years from now to have the robustness and life expectancy of an M3 or F3 or whatever "classic" camera you choose.

Fortunately I don't have enough money to buy every upgrade :) I have a Sony P&S from 2001, and a D70 from 2004. I have a fancy Mac laptop and nice display, but these are dual purpose for my job, so I didn't pay for them. I don't have a printer, and probably never will.

6:36 PM  

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