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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”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

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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A Warning
Old 1 Week Ago   #1
Bill Pierce
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A Warning

It’s funny. Digital cameras are too complicated and too simple. Compared to film cameras with their basic shutter, f stop, focus and film advance controls - and maybe a built in meter, the digital cameras with a plethora of dials and buttons and a near infinite series of menus and submenus are incredibly complicated. Put them on program and autofocus, just push the button and they are extremely simple.

Indeed, their complexity is such that many folks understandably revert to the simple point and push “program” mode and let the camera make the important decisions about the basic shutter speed, f stop, focus and film speed. I sympathize, but I do think when the picture is published the camera should get the credit line.

I am perhaps a little less enthusiastic about the image quality of the Leica M digitals than many, but I use them, currently an M10, because the controls are simple, allow me to make the important decisions about the basic settings and then spend time concentrating on the subject. I also use Fuji cameras with the selector buttons turned off. And I rarely change my basic menu settings during a shoot. Come to think of it, I rarely change them before I start a shoot from the personalized settings I have found work for me. The big change is going to continuous auto focus and multi frame bursts when I’m photographing my dog or football.

This Spartan approach to my digital cameras came about because I found myself spending too much time happily scanning menus and twisting knobs and spending too little time looking at my subject and the frame I was placing around them. And, yes, I’m ashamed to admit it, I was shooting in program mode.

When an elderly working stiff can be seduced by menu mania and program mode, it is his duty to warn others and, yes, to consider giving the credit line under the photographs to his camera.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #2
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You have camera geeks and you have photographers. I don' think there is that much overlap. The camera geeks constantly futz with menu settings and chimp and produce little of value. The photographers set their camera to their preferences, leave them alone, and concentrate on the image. I think it has always been this way.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #3
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I just purchased a Pentax K1. I bought it because I have many lens that fit the K mount, and because I have had 3 previous Pentax digital cameras. I thought this last reason for buying the K1 would make the learning curve quicker. I have given up: I use manual, have histogram showing on playback, and set my wanted ISO and aperture, and change shutter speed to control the histogram. I'm not going to get into all this crazy stuff that I will never use and don't want in the first place.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #4
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It's embarrassing... I've an MA in photography, so folk are always asking for help with their cameras or want me to take a photo with their point-and-shoot. And I'm clueless!

Despite learning photography with digital not film, I do what you guys do and ignore most of the functions and controls bar the basics!
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Old 1 Week Ago   #5
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I'm in agreement (and also someone with a photography degree who's clueless about what's out there). I like having the basics—buttons and dials for my essential functions like exposure/ISO, focus, drive modes and really little else. I was using a D850 for a project not long ago and completely overwhelmed, especially by the WiFi and in-camera RAW conversions which are mostly useless, but since they're there, I feel the need to utilize them somehow.

I appreciate some of the soft (i.e., non-hardware) functions built in to some cameras, like multiple exposure, slow-sync flash, etc that are sometimes buried in menus. But most of the time it's a lot of features and settings I either will never, ever need and just provide mental clutter, or worry if I don't tweak, I won't get the best image. The color and fine focus settings of the D3 come to mind.

Don't get me started on trying to get focus modes to work; definitely something that, 90% of the time, I spend more time trying to figure them out and hoping the camera won't outsmart me than if I just did it by hand. This weekend I took out my white-elephant D2x to a bicycle race, and almost every shot was out of focus, weirdly exposed, or both. Switched back to the M8, and almost every one was a technical keeper.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #6
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Another down side to the complex multi function cameras is that it is so hard to determine if the camera is functioning correctly of if it's gone insane. Especially true if buying used equipment. How can a buyer know if a complex camera is working correctly?
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Old 1 Week Ago   #7
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My digital cameras all are very simple. Generally they are set to A mode and auto ISO. For 95% of my photos I have nothing to do on the camera, I focus and set aperture on the lens according to intent and liking. Opps, I am using adapted manual lenses, typically a digital camera has autofocus, is even more simple(?). Sometimes S mode is called for, fixed or higher ISO than auto ISO goes up to, sometimes I use the self timer, now and then the in-cam panorama. All is very easy to set.
I don’t see much complications. Cameras are simple in use and offer extra possibilities. Extra possibilities don't make normal operation any less simple but if used, specially if used scarcely, may demand a bit of effort
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Old 1 Week Ago   #8
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Wait till the Konost shows up.

Then our problems will be over.

It will be pure simplicity, just like the good old days.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #9
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I agree, and this is why I think it's actually more difficult for beginners to properly learn photography nowadays. Digital cameras have the benefit of instant review, but are so complex in operation that most beginners just put the camera in full auto mode, and then don't really learn the technical part of of photography.
A Pentax K1000 for example has 3 things you need to learn, while a basic digital SLR has hundreds of things to adjust, learn, memorize, etc.
I started out with a Pentax K10D, and that was my primary camera for 3 years. I'm fairly tech savvy, and I learned a lot in those 3 years, but most of what I learned was just how to operate that particular device. Once I started shooting with meterless manual film cameras, I started learning so much more about photography.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #10
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I too have been disappointed by the needless complexity of the digital cameras I have tried.

Colton's comments are spot-on. When they make a digital as simple as the K1000 I'm in.

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Old 1 Week Ago   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
...... Indeed, their complexity is such that many folks understandably revert to the simple point and push “program” mode and let the camera make the important decisions about the basic shutter speed, f stop, focus and film speed. I sympathize, but I do think when the picture is published the camera should get the credit line.

....... yes, to consider giving the credit line under the photographs to his camera.
Bill: I am disappointed that you are equating "credit" for a photo to the ability to correctly set f-stop, shutter speed, focus, and ISO. Is that all there is to making great photos? Certainly you do not think so.

I simply do not believe that your significant lifetime success as a photographer came from your ability to correctly set f-stop, shutter speed, focus, and ISO. Do you not agree there is something in your eye, your soul, your intuition that is the primary "credit" for photography, not simple adjustments?
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Old 1 Week Ago   #12
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I don't use program mode, but I was under the impression that the most important aspects are framing / composition and compelling content not shutter speeds and aperture choices.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #13
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Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
I don't use program mode, but I was under the impression that the most important aspects are framing / composition and compelling content not shutter speeds and aperture choices.
generally sure, nevertheless aperture and / or shutter speed may constitute defining factors
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Old 1 Week Ago   #14
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Bill is entertaining!

I remember how I watched Annie Leibovitz DVD and realized what she is still glueless about the gear. It is left for assistants.
Our elder daughter was the same with her venture in professional photography.
She left it without knowing what exposure is. Yet, she was capable in using of M mode and compensated TTL flash. I used her setting to take our passport like photos and it worked better than I usually have camera set for.

And here is opposite side. Those needs all of the settings in camera, then they need days to manipulate it PS by multi core CPU as RAW 50MB file to produce some over processed, unnatural dross...

Personally, then I want to be 100% sure without chimping, I use S16. And it is still the same on digital. ISO, aperture and shutter speed... Actually I only learned about exposure after switching to digital and M. I have tried program mode initially and it was giving me skunks.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #15
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I have a few digital cameras, and when I purchased each one the first thing I did was read enough of the manual to know how to set the camera for aperture priority, how to make ISO settings manually, and how to set center point auto focus. That's it. And they are all still set that way.

I find digital cameras way too complicated for my aging brain to comprehend.

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Old 1 Week Ago   #16
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Two thoughts: 1) I just got a new long-zoom P&S. There are buttons on the damn thing that I just could not fathom, and I'm pretty good on this kind of stuff. Camera has a button marked "4K"; what does that do? Well, this happens as new features are introduced before they are fully worked out. I'll extend Bill's point to say just avoid such products.

2) In the old days, to make a high quality image, you had to nail the exposure, have color worked out, etc. Today, my digital cameras let me work on the image without worrying much about exposure, and color balance. Instead, the camera's automation is pretty good, and any errors are protected by the wide dynamic range and RAW capture. I can focus on the image, and sort out a lot in post. I like this kind of automation and the hardware that powers it.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
I don't use program mode, but I was under the impression that the most important aspects are framing / composition and compelling content not shutter speeds and aperture choices.

I believe I reached a point of rapidly diminishing returns several decades ago in improving the quality of my photos by choosing appropriate shutter speeds and aperture choices. Yet I believe improvements in my eye, my soul, and my intuition have continued.

About ten or fifteen years ago, I first began using either aperture priority or shutter priority in determining exposure. But I always noted what the camera suggested for both aperture and shutter and made evaluations if they were what I would have manually chosen. Then I made manual adjustments if I thought they were necessary. Now I find I often use Program mode but still look to see if I agree with the program decisions, again making manual adjustments if needed. I still never shoot blindly without checking the camera suggestions. To me, that transition has been similar to moving from an automobile with a manual shift transmission to an automatic shift one.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #18
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All true, but I find it nice to have some settings programs set up such a studio flash with perfect white balance, shutter speed etc. That way no need to root through menus to change things and the F and SS can be locked on Nikons.

The leicas can also have some specialized user settings but they are not so difficult to change as with Nikons.

When it come to real world use, put the camera on M 99% of the time.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #19
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All those complicated settings are there if you need their functions.
Luckily, I don't.
Occasionally, I play with multi-exposure and other effects.
My digital Nikons and Fujifilm-Xs are always set the same way: Daylight WB, raw files, etc.
I set the stop, ISO, and either I or the camera meter sets the shutter speed. About 50% of the time, the camera meter is incompetent and I have to take control of shutter speed.
Being able to instantly switch the ISO setting is the miracle of digital.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #20
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Bill Allard takes on a few students each year. I think about 8. Recently, he had to require a portfolio to be submitted for review for acceptance. And, all students must use their digital cameras in manual mode during the course work.

It seems many have the $ but can't cut the requirements. Also, those too advanced, who he doesn't think will benefit from his shepherding, are rejected.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #21
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It would seem that at the heart of such a discussion is the difference between a craftsperson and an artist. The two are not mutually exclusive —that can complicate matters. I'm guessing that each person's viewpoint regarding this topic is influenced at least somewhat by a couple of things.

1.) Whether they look at photography as an art, a craft or a combination of both.

2.) Whether they look at themselves as an artist, a craftsperson, or a combination of both.

I'm guessing that how they feel about their mastery of those aspects that truly matter to them regarding their art and/or their craft enters into the mix along with how they view others and their work.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #22
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The automatic functions on many cameras will DO their thing, even if person sets!
Check your data after exposure..
I believe that 3x"F's" all reqd!
Find,Focus,Frame and push button..
Sadly all those menus, histograms, shoot RAW are unnecessary..
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Old 1 Week Ago   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kuuan View Post
generally sure, nevertheless aperture and / or shutter speed may constitute defining factors
So important that they deserve credit for a photo? I've never seen this information included in a museum or gallery. Only other photo nerds care about technical specs.

Let's be honest here... It's not hard to figure out how to make a proper exposure in manual. It's also not hard to understand what a photo looks like at f1.4 and at f8. Equally, why we use a shutter speed of 1/500th vs 1 second.

Now I use shutter priority to ensure I don't get shake on the street. A friend of mine thought this was silly. He was more concerned with bokeh. Well, I had to remind him that shutter speed is connected to the aperture and if I want to go wide open, I use a faster shutter speed. Etc. The cool thing about digital cameras is one can be in manual mode and use auto iso. This allows you to have the best combo for your photo and just let the iso run up and down to compensate (as long as you trust your cameras high ISO capabilities). I think the only problem with program is that it might choose the wrong combos and you get unusable images.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #24
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Digital cameras are simple. People complicate them.

I'm always confused with a new camera. But once set up to use it as I like it, it becomes stupid simple. All those modes, all those focus settings, all those function buttons, all those "Art" modes and film simulations are worthless to me. Every camera I use is set the same so every time I pick up a camera I know what to expect. Set this way, the camera becomes a non-factor when taking pictures.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #25
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Quote:
Digital cameras are simple
I agree. Just set it up as per your requirements and most digital cameras will be as simple to operate as a Leica M10, for a fraction of the price.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
I agree. Just set it up as per your requirements and most digital cameras will be as simple to operate as a Leica M10, for a fraction of the price.
Which is fine until you want to do something else with it. I use a Sony A7II underwater but needed to copy some slides the other day. It took me 5 minutes to go through and reset everything because the camera would either not focus, not take the shot or do something else that I didn't want it to. The problem is figuring just how may parameters need to be reset if/when you need to change things. If the camera could understand my frustration it would probably be aware of what I thought of its parentage too. (I hold a degree in photographic science but we never covered the complexities and idiosyncracies of mutiple (pointless) menu cameras)
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Old 1 Week Ago   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
Digital cameras are simple. People complicate them.

Very true and I use two Sony cams who ,as we know, don`t have the best menu system.

I switch between App and Speed priority (depending on static stuff or the horses ) and leave the ISO on Auto.
The camera sorts it out leaving me to do the photography.

When I pick up my M3/2 and 4 …. then I have to start thinking about the technical stuff.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #28
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Well,... having spent half the night reactivating my house's central heating, I can say:
—— I wish they wouldn't build in these f**** menues that are obviously made to drive the consumer *BONKERS*!
OTOH, it is a fabulous central heating: I can switch whether it works fully automatically (the fuel is wood pellets in that case), or I can feed it with logs, manually.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #29
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This is why I like to shoot the M10 or until a short time ago the Leica X1.
These are my only digital.
I shoot digital like I was used to shoot film, single shot, aperture priority, iso manual selected most of time, rarely chimping (only in the beginning of a shooting if light is difficult).

My wife shoots a Nikon D5100 and a D-109: both easy to shoot once they are configured but...if by accident you touch the wrong button (even worse if you touch two of them in some cases) you are lost...

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Old 1 Week Ago   #30
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I also rarely change settings.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #31
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I have an 80s manual focus film rangefinder (a CLE). I find it as fast, and more straightforward and simple to use than my digital Ricoh GR. I think for 30 years (except arguably for digital sensors, and I've abandoned even that) features have been added to still cameras that have no real advantage, just to compete in the technology arms race.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
So important that they deserve credit for a photo? I've never seen this information included in a museum or gallery. Only other photo nerds care about technical specs.
no, and I did not mean to say that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
...The cool thing about digital cameras is one can be in manual mode and use auto iso. This allows you to have the best combo for your photo and just let the iso run up and down to compensate (as long as you trust your cameras high ISO capabilities).
when using adapted lens, as I do, S mode + auto ISO is doing the same. Aperture set on lens, shutter by wheel on camera, camera chooses appropriate ISO

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
I think the only problem with program is that it might choose the wrong combos and you get unusable images.
this is, as I see it, "revers-confirming" what I had tried to say and actually we are in agreement, that, rather obviously, besides framing, composition and content often a specific aperture and / or shutter chosen is required to make a photo work
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Old 1 Week Ago   #33
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I understand now kuuan. I guess I always think these types of posts tend to think that if you understand how to use manual mode, you are a genius and that your photos are automatically better. Let's face it though... How many kids really only use program mode when creamy bokeh and sharpness are the fetishes of the internet amatuer on forums? It is not hard to learn how a shutter speed or an aperture works. There are even simple info-graphics showing people this now...

http://www.seeyoubehindthelens.com/2...cs-or.html?m=1
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Old 1 Week Ago   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
Bill: I am disappointed that you are equating "credit" for a photo to the ability to correctly set f-stop, shutter speed, focus, and ISO. Is that all there is to making great photos? Certainly you do not think so.

I simply do not believe that your significant lifetime success as a photographer came from your ability to correctly set f-stop, shutter speed, focus, and ISO. Do you not agree there is something in your eye, your soul, your intuition that is the primary "credit" for photography, not simple adjustments?
Yeah, absolutely. Nobody cares about your craft or camera's settings when they look at your photos.

I admire the craft of people back in the day who used to hand hold slow film with narrow latitude and nail exposure with a sharp image because there was no alternative. If people want to re-create that now by using vintage cameras and slide film, that fine.
In no way is it a required trait for taking a good photo though.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
To me, that transition has been similar to moving from an automobile with a manual shift transmission to an automatic shift one.
That's an interesting analogy. Both cars will get you from point A to point B. Yet there is definitely less skill involved in driving a car with an automatic transmission than there is in driving a car with a manual transmission. When you arrive at your destination, few would ever know whether the car you drove to get there had a manual transmission or an automatic transmission nor would they care.

Just like some people want to have more involvement with their cars and the driving experience than others, some people want to have more involvement with their cameras and the photography experience. But once your photographs have been captured and presented to others, just as with the car scenario few would know whether the camera was in some automated/programmed mode or fully manual. Nor would they likely care.

The only ones who do seem to care are the "car guys" and the "camera guys". Everybody else is just glad that you arrived at your destination and that you have some nice photographs for them to look at.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #36
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If people want to re-create that now by using vintage cameras and slide film, that fine. In no way is it a required trait for taking a good photo though.
Some people treat shooting film or manual exposure as if it is a virtue. It's not. It is just one way of doing things. It carries no normative value.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #37
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Some people treat shooting film or manual exposure as if it is a virtue. It's not. It is just one way of doing things. It carries no normative value.

Exactly ….
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Old 1 Week Ago   #38
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Some people treat shooting film or manual exposure as if it is a virtue. It's not. It is just one way of doing things. It carries no normative value.
Virtue no. A way of doing things which can be very useful though. Using skills to take an image only works in one's favour when it yields an image that would otherwise not be viable (say by taking it by shooting on auto). But like the fish that got away that's not easily quantifiable. What surprises me is that people expect automation to work but forget that if shooting manually they only need to change settings if the light changes. There are different ways of working and some work well for some but not for others. But don't get caught in the trap of thinking that one method suits all because it doesn't. FWIW I am faster using a fully manual, simplistic camera like a Leica M because I can shift the few controls fast and easily. My A7II on the other hand I find a very slow camera to operate because of its overly complex control menus.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #39
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FWIW I am faster using a fully manual, simplistic camera like a Leica M because I can shift the few controls fast and easily. My A7II on the other hand I find a very slow camera to operate because of its overly complex control menus.

I use manual M bodies too as well as an A7s and A7R2 and this just isn`t so .

You don`t need to go into the menus if you want to change the things you change on an M body .

The menus only give you additional options if you require them.

I change speed and /or aperture and both are quickly changed on either body.
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Old 1 Week Ago   #40
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My A7II on the other hand I find a very slow camera to operate because of its overly complex control menus.

hm..I don't have the II, but my A7 has five wheels. 3 wheels for the main settings, that is front and back wheels for aperture and shutter speed and a third on the back of the body, around the 4 way cursor, setting the ISO. On top of the camera are the function wheel and to the far right, very well located, the exposure compensation wheel. That, imo, makes normal operation about as easy as it gets!
Additionally there are dedicated AEL button, drive mode button, WB and "display" buttons ( turning on /off histogram, level indication asf. ) + 2 more configurable buttons, an MF/AF lever, the Fn button opening fast access to 12, configurable settings, find all those quite practical too
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