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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

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Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 04-20-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Less

There are times when I am a little confused by our photo community. The Leica M10 is criticized for stripping away features and simplifying operation. Although I don’t own the camera and haven’t even used a ‘borrower,” I think it is probably the camera's greatest asset.

Most camera manufacturers would think I’m an idiot for enjoying a camera that offered fewer menu options and no motion picture mode. But the truth is my menu settings are the same for my professional work and my street photography, two very different kinds of photography. Come to think of it, since I’m an old dude, I use to use the same film cameras for both work and pleasure and they didn’t have menus. I just want to be able to control the focus, the shutter speed and (sometimes) the f/stop. I kept a couple of menu items on individual function buttons on my digital cameras - and then realized I never used them.

There is no question that the motion picture features on some of the newer digital cameras, Panasonic in particular, are excellent and considerably cheaper that the ballpark $100,000 you could drop on an Arri Alexa. But tools are tools, and at times it’s an advantage to have a hammer or a saw and not a combination hammersaw that has to be set up before being used in hammer mode or saw mode. This is especially true if you are just a hammer person or just a saw person.

Sometimes I think things get added to a camera not to make it better, but as a selling point. Now that feature motion pictures are being made with cell phones, I wonder what our “real” cameras will have to have added to them next and whether those features will, in a sense, get in the way of just taking pictures. As David Vestal said, “Less is not more; less is less.” And that’s kid of nice. As always, your thoughts….
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Old 04-20-2018   #2
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I'm very happy with my version of less.


M-D and Coffee
by Vince Lupo, on Flickr
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Old 04-20-2018   #3
Bill Clark
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I like less.

If more, I get confused easily.
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Old 04-20-2018   #4
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I don't understand how taking the video feature feature out of the M10 makes it simpler to use. If you have a M240 and you don't want to use the video feature you just don't use it and ignore the menu options related to it. It's not in the way. In fact, you have to go out of your way to use it. Are people so lacking in self control that they can't stop themselves from futzing with the menus every time they pick up the camera? Is that what this is just about?
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Old 04-20-2018   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
. If you have a M240 and you don't want to use the video feature you just don't use it and ignore the menu options related to it.
You can do it. That's because you are of strong moral character. The rest of us just can't resist menus.
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Old 04-20-2018   #6
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Those who want more features and those who want less are simply different groups of people. And then there are those who want yet a different thing or simply can't make up their minds. I'm in the latter camp, so I think I understand both positions, the allure of a tool designed to do exactly what I need and nothing more, and having possibilities for future explorations.
Wanting less is mostly an issue that's only in our minds. Unless the video button is placed so that it gets inadvertently activated or the menus get convoluted, but that's simply bad design and could be solved. How hard can it be to ignore functions we don't need? I think it's an issue for us who idolize cameras a bit beyond their value as tools, and we're in the majority on gear websites, but for many other users it's a non-issue. We don't complain that the washing machine or a piece of software has functions that we don't use as long as they don't make it overly complicated, do we? Such is the nature of mass production, a product needs to fill the needs of as many users as possible and we don't usually complain about it as long as the functions we need aren't compromised. If it weren't so, everything would be much more expensive. Although... I think because this phenomenon is so big among Leica users, they might eventually understand that they can charge a premium for a simple software mod that hides a lot of unwelcome features.
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Old 04-20-2018   #7
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Quote:
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You can do it. That's because you are of strong moral character. The rest of us just can't resist menus.
i'm putting this on my tombstone...
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Old 04-20-2018   #8
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You can do it. That's because you are of strong moral character. The rest of us just can't resist menus.
It's got nothing to do with moral character. I just have no interest in video.

When is the last time someone complained about too many buttons on their blender? Who is unable to stop themselves from pressing every button every time they use it? Maybe I don't want to know. But it does make you wonder.
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Old 04-20-2018   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
You can do it. That's because you are of strong moral character. The rest of us just can't resist menus.
I can ignore noise on the street at night and get to sleep just fine, but I’d prefer it if there was no noise. I don’t ever feel like joining in the noise making.
Camera menus are the same, they are noise that I can ignore, but my life is easier when the menu doesn’t exist.

One of the reasons I shoot menu less film cameras. I can’t affor the M-D, but that’s my idea of the perfect digital camera.
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Old 04-20-2018   #10
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I have two DSLR's that have the "movie making" feature, and in six years, I've never tried it. I guess it works, but it is of no interest to me. I like how my Nikon Df only makes pictures.

As I get older, I like things simpler. Maybe I get confused too easily. My favorite cameras to shoot are cameras older than I am, with just shutter speed, aperture and focus. You can change the ISO by purchasing different film.

I realize the new whiz-bang digital cameras can do more things than my Nikon S2 or my Leica iiiC, but really, I just want to make pictures.

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Old 04-20-2018   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
When is the last time someone complained about too many buttons on their blender? Who is unable to stop them themselves from pressing every button every time they use it? Maybe I don't want to know. But it does make you wonder.
Well, some people just like simplicity and minimalism... you don't care, but others do... it is the reason that there are many different designs in the world.

Now, I would think Leica understands that the M is just not going to be used as a video camera often and it is a purists camera. The closer the M is to a film M, the better it will be received in this community.

And I don't think the general public gets attached to blenders like people do camera gear. Is a camera tool? Yes. Do people get emotionally attached to them? Yes.

BUT by the way... here are some blender resources that sound very similar to camera talk:

https://www.choice.com.au/home-and-l...ders-thermomix
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Old 04-20-2018   #12
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
There are times when I am a little confused by our photo community. The Leica M10 is criticized for stripping away features and simplifying operation.
Really? Where... it seems anyone that like a digital M has nothing but positive things to say about it.

Quote:
Most camera manufacturers would think I’m an idiot for enjoying a camera that offered fewer menu options and no motion picture mode.
I'm not sure it is the manufacturers... I think it is the general public who would think this. I'm with you though. I like a more streamlined product.

Quote:
But the truth is my menu settings are the same for my professional work and my street photography, two very different kinds of photography. Come to think of it, since I’m an old dude, I use to use the same film cameras for both work and pleasure and they didn’t have menus. I just want to be able to control the focus, the shutter speed and (sometimes) the f/stop. I kept a couple of menu items on individual function buttons on my digital cameras - and then realized I never used them.
This is true for me as well... outside of formatting memory cards, I rarely go into my menus. It still bothers me how convoluted they are anyway and I'm not going to lie... I'd prefer them to have less features.

Quote:
Sometimes I think things get added to a camera not to make it better, but as a selling point.
Exactly why... not other ways to sell more to the mainstream than keep adding. We, who like minimalism, are a niche.

Quote:
Now that feature motion pictures are being made with cell phones, I wonder what our “real” cameras will have to have added to them next and whether those features will, in a sense, get in the way of just taking pictures. As David Vestal said, “Less is not more; less is less.” And that’s kid of nice. As always, your thoughts….
I think there are people that actually use the features we don't care about. Then there are those who don't care and ignore. Then there is a sub-group that uses every feature just because the camera has it and they feel they need to know their camera 100%. Me, I'm in the shutter speed, aperture, focus, and VF concentration only... that stuff that has always mattered.
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Old 04-20-2018   #13
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And I don't think the general public gets attached to blenders like people do camera gear. Is a camera tool? Yes. Do people get emotionally attached to them? Yes.
That's a whole other discussion.
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Old 04-20-2018   #14
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I got a blender with a single switch.

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Old 04-20-2018   #15
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Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
I don't understand how taking the video feature feature out of the M10 makes it simpler to use. If you have a M240 and you don't want to use the video feature you just don't use it and ignore the menu options related to it. It's not in the way. In fact, you have to go out of your way to use it. Are people so lacking in self control that they can't stop themselves from futzing with the menus every time they pick up the camera? Is that what this is just about?
A significant improvement of the M10 vs M240 is that it's less bulky for all who cared about the original M3 size in hand. To squeeze everything into the M10 body size the battery had to be smaller to free up some cm3 of space. The smaller battery doesn't provide sufficient power for video. And the sensor isn't heating up as much when you only shoot "stills". If you want a video function get a different camera not a M10.
I have a Q and never used the video function, ever.
Waiting for the MM10, no video required either.
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Old 04-20-2018   #16
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Ignoring is an action. I would rather not have to ignore. If I’m a lesser human because of this, fine, as long as I get my way. So thank God for my M2.

The sound of typing can lull me into near hypnosis or potentially jolt me into a violent rage…all different types walk among us.

Oh, and if I used digital, I would greatly applaud any camera devoid of video…it’s a vile gangrenous inclusion; and it’s OK to hold such strong repulsion; as it’s a nice distraction from the more substantive repulsion I harbor for my current government.
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Old 04-20-2018   #17
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Sometimes I worry that I'm gradually losing touch with current technology, since it seems increasingly confusing. The Mac is fine, though, no problem. It's all about the human interface. But I am often confused by the dishwasher, the microwave, the VCR/DVR, electronic features in the car... And what about smart phones? I use some features but ignore most of it. I would toss more apps, but the phone won't let me dump the standard stuff.

I appreciate simplicity, and I'm with Vince above and Godfrey, Dan, Robert, and some others in faving the M-D. I would use the complicated stuff more if the interfaces were made to simulate analog controls.
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Old 04-20-2018   #18
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I'm not sure where problem is...
GoPro has single button to press, this is it.
And many of my cameras have auto mode. And so almost every new camera has.
It provides most simple operation possible and it actually works most of the time....
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Old 04-20-2018   #19
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My nikons have lots of features I don`t use. Digital Leicas seem about right.

Then again JPEGS I can control are handy once in a blue moon.
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Old 04-21-2018   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug View Post
Sometimes I worry that I'm gradually losing touch with current technology, since it seems increasingly confusing. The Mac is fine, though, no problem. It's all about the human interface. But I am often confused by the dishwasher, the microwave, the VCR/DVR, electronic features in the car... And what about smart phones? I use some features but ignore most of it. I would toss more apps, but the phone won't let me dump the standard stuff.

I appreciate simplicity, and I'm with Vince above and Godfrey, Dan, Robert, and some others in faving the M-D. I would use the complicated stuff more if the interfaces were made to simulate analog controls.
And there’s a warning...

Favouring simplicity is fine, and I get why people like digital Leica Ms that strip cameras down to the essentials of photography.

But it’s important to familiarise ourselves with contemporary culture and changes in technology - drones, digital cameras, video, Instagram, Uber, Taylor Swift, augmented reality, the concerns of generation Z, charcoal icecream...

I’m not saying you have to like, let alone use, these things. But as we age, the less we interact with the new and unfamiliar. The pace of change of culture and technology (the latter being increasingly driving the former) is becoming ever faster, and older generations are being cut off and disenfranchised.

Take my parents... They’re both in their 80s and becoming more and more isolated and lonely. Neither is interested in technology, and they can no longer do the things they want to: my mum went to the cinema but came home upset - you now have to buy a ticket from a machine, and she couldn’t work out how; they don’t own or know how to use a computer, and had to stop doing volunteer work because of this; they can’t use their new TV - my brother has to go round to help with the remote control; they can no longer buy film locally, so stopped taking photos - I bought a basic digital camera, and despite an afternoon showing her how to use the essentials and writing simple instructions including how to get prints from the local shop, she couldn’t get used to it (first time she’d used anything with a screen menu, and buttons that changed what they did depending on context did her head in).

And it’s not just technology that they’re out of touch with. It can get embarrassing at family gatherings, as culturally they’re stuck in the past and say inappropriate things around younger generations. Assuming that female partners are financially supported by the man is just a bit eye-rolling, but my dad is frankly toe-curling when he makes jokes about race (he’s not actually racist - he’s English but my mum’s Chinese).

So, I make a point of keeping abreast of changes in culture and technology, and make sure that I’m wholly aware of anything important, and can use it.

I don’t feel the need for a smart watch but I know how they work, how to use them and what I can do with one...
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Old 04-21-2018   #21
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I have no fears to get socially isolated when I try to keep things simple as I´m used to.

So if I can use a Mac why should spend lifetime with more complicated systems?
When I want to photograph I use the tool that serves my needs. That may be individual
but one thing that never happened in my life was a step forward from "learning" boring
manuals, menues or stupid user interfaces.
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Old 04-21-2018   #22
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Last time I was in the market for a new camera, I read a lot of online reviews. When reviewers began listing features with assessments of how they functioned, I found I was saying, "Doesn't matter to me" over and over. I just didn't care much if there was 4K video or the method used to change AF points or the sensitivity the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Once I skipped those unimportant-to-me points, there wasn't much left of the review to read. Epiphany time! No one cares what is important to me because I'm not the target audience. I'm just a photographer.

But then I had another epiphany! You can set up the camera and ignore features as easily as you can include them. Just because it's there doesn't mean you must use it. And I use all my cameras the same way so I can make them simple and more useful for my purposes. Multi-function buttons are programed for No Function, custom menus are blank, Wi-Fi and movie mode are Off, etc. Simple.

I can resist menus.
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Old 04-21-2018   #23
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Leica's less costs more.
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Old 04-21-2018   #24
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Ignoring is an action....
This. why am I not allowed to delete menu functions that I neither like or want, such as video?
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Old 04-21-2018   #25
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This. why am I not allowed to delete menu functions that I neither like or want, such as video?
Because that would require an additional menu function? Seriously, most cameras have quick menus where you put the options you use so you don't have to go into the main menus. Of course to do so, you need to spend a half an hour when you first get your camera to set it up. For some, that is too much bother.

It's a bit like cable TV. Hundreds of channels are available but I only watch six. My choices are probably different than yours. I set up my six choices on the quick menu. I don't loose sleep over the others. I'm glad the cable company doesn't make the choice for me. I guess some people go through every channel every time they pick up their remote or worry about all those channels they aren't watching, and wish they had fewer choices. I think that is a personal issue rather than a technology issue.
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Old 04-21-2018   #26
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Less is more..esp if you don't have to work for it..
But if you really want less..just get a view cam..and plop a sheet at a time in there..and you are done..
But then there is a lot of work involved..and who wants that..
Laziness and simplicity go hand in hand..with certain cameras..
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Old 04-21-2018   #27
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Ignoring is an action. I would rather not have to ignore. If I’m a lesser human because of this, fine, as long as I get my way. So thank God for my M2.

The sound of typing can lull me into near hypnosis or potentially jolt me into a violent rage…all different types walk among us.

Oh, and if I used digital, I would greatly applaud any camera devoid of video…it’s a vile gangrenous inclusion; and it’s OK to hold such strong repulsion; as it’s a nice distraction from the more substantive repulsion I harbor for my current government.
I have pro level Nikons with video. Do not know if it works.

Just replaced a non repairable D3 that got some water damage. $1000
with 2000 clicks. So I am back to low use pair. Minimal stuff on them and they are built like tanks.
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Old 04-21-2018   #28
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There's something delightfully whacky about the notion of consuming one's way to simplicity!

But personally, I think if a person wants reduced distractions and internal noise, the most direct path is to own less:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYaxgVcgHLU
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Old 04-21-2018   #29
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But personally, I think if a person wants reduced distractions and internal noise, the most direct path is to own less
At this time, I own less and during the past two years I have stopped buying things. It is a rewarding experience.
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Old 04-21-2018   #30
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I recently bought a camera that gives you less. A Leica CL (film, not digital). Though it has a meter like the later model M's, it's a smaller body, meant for only two lenses, the Summicron-C 40/2, and the Elmar-C 90/4 (or the Minolta versions). At least that was the marketing philosophy behind it. Folks quickly learned you could use a lot more M lenses on it than Leitz recommended.

I first thought I'd just use it as a two lens kit, but then found I could realize my wide angle visions buying into the Voigtlander line-up of lenses. Later on I plan on getting a ZM, for those times when something more substantial to hold would be nice, plus gaining that wide rangefinder baseline.

So trying to do with less, has made me want to do more. It's a habit I picked up a long time ago. You might not always need a certain feature in your gear all the time, but man is it nice to have when you do.

I don't mind cameras with video modes, as every once in a while I like to rip off a short clip of what is going on around me. But video requires some compromises in camera design, and if it's not there, I'm not going to worry about it. Maybe Vince can sell me his M-D when he gets too many miles on it.

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Old 04-21-2018   #31
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The treadmill I fight is the urge to pack my other two lenses, more film, filters, etc, etc, etc in a bag large enough to contain my two cameras - making me more inclined to leave it all at home. More is definitely less with me. If I can control the urge down to my IIIa, one extra roll and 50mm lens I'll carry it almost everywhere.
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Old 04-21-2018   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
I'm not sure where problem is...
GoPro has single button to press, this is it.
And many of my cameras have auto mode. And so almost every new camera has.
It provides most simple operation possible and it actually works most of the time....
I think I'm with Ko Fe on this one. All my digital cameras have a Program Mode and I use them that way a lot.

If I don't get what I want I change it to Manual Mode, usually pretty easy as well.

But...if I can't figure out how to set my aperture, shutter or ISO after turning to Manual then I either sell the camera or give it to one of my grandkids.

I think that is why I like Pentax and Leica so much.

Pentax is easy for me because I have used them for so long that adjusting aperture and shutter is second nature now. I don't think it has changed since the first ist D came out.

Leica because adjusting aperture and shutter can be done in my sleep. It has never changed.
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Old 04-21-2018   #33
Bill Clark
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“Pentax is easy for me because I have used them for so long that adjusting aperture and shutter is second nature now. I don't think it has changed since the first ist D came out. Leica because adjusting aperture and shutter can be done in my sleep. It has never changed.“

Excellent.

You can pay better attention to what’s the objective is in front of the camera/lens.
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Old 04-21-2018   #34
jsrockit
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Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
At this time, I own less and during the past two years I have stopped buying things. It is a rewarding experience.
I moved to Chile from NYC and only brought my clothes, my cameras, my computer, and my books... the books are the true albatross. But I love them... However, really this is all I own now.
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Old 04-21-2018   #35
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I Ebayed most of the junk I was dragging through life years ago. It felt like I had been released from an anchor with a heavy chain. It's too easy to convince ourselves that we really need that one more thing.
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Old 04-21-2018   #36
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I Ebayed most of the junk I was dragging through life years ago. It felt like I had been released from an anchor with a heavy chain. It's too easy to convince ourselves that we really need that one more thing.
Fortunately, menu options are lightweight and don't take up much space.
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Old 04-21-2018   #37
TXForester
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I don't mind extra features. I sometimes use them. Most of the time I use a digital camera like a film camera. Shutter, aperture and ISO is all I need to control. So a digital camera that makes changing them as easy as changing shutter and aperture on a film camera is fine for me. I could live with less.
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Old 04-21-2018   #38
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Fortunately, menu options are lightweight and don't take up much space.
It's the weight of the instruction manuals that gets me down.
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