Just Don’t Ask Me Which Camera I Used

Along my camera journey of the last few years I’ve simplified and let go in a number of ways.

In the earlier days of 35hunter, when I posted a photograph I would add a caption that included the camera, lens and film used, whether it was expired, what ISO I shot it at, and sometimes more.

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My Flickr stream is organised into albums – by camera, by lens, by film.

And on my MacBook, the fruits of each photoshoot are uploaded from camera and carefully sorted into a new folder labelled by date, camera, lens and so on.

You may have gathered I like things organised into neatly labelled boxes.  

But I’m letting go of this need more and more, which aligns with three main reasons –

1. I only want one camera.

The simplicity of just picking up my (only) camera, rather than have to choose one of my cameras from three, 13 or 33 is hugely appealing.

Ok so I might not be able to limit myself to just one camera (yet). But one film compact, one film SLR, one digital compact and one DSLR is very achievable. These four would each be so different from each other that the choice between them would not be difficult.

Plus lately the Ricoh GRD III has impressed me so much (and I’ve shot so little film this year) I’m seriously questioning whether I could sell everything else and use this little beauty alone.

Then everything that follows after taking the pictures becomes simplified – one main folder on my HD, one album and fewer tags on Flickr, no need for captions on 35hunter, and so on.

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2. I want all my photographs to have a consistent style and look.

We talked recently about whether all your photographs should look the same.

You will always get slightly different looking images if you use different focal lengths, different sensors or film, and so on. But overall, I believe it’s possible to hone one’s signature style, or distinctive voice with photography.

A major way of helping with this is to use less kit as above, and whilst maybe not abandon experimentation entirely, to instead experiment in more subtle, gentle ways.

Like watering a garden with fine droplets from a watering can, rather than a fierce blast with a power hose.

Or, maybe put another way, to be more kaizen – the Japanese philosophy of continuous incremental improvement.

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3. To the audience the equipment really doesn’t matter.

You don’t enjoy a delicious meal out in a restaurant then demand the chef tell you which pots and pans and knives he used to prepare it.

Admiring a wonderful painting in a gallery, we don’t typically ask about the tools or brushes – or even the paint – the artist used.

Reading a beautiful poem, we don’t question which quill or pen or typewriter or computer the poet used to scribe it.

The art speaks for itself, in the state the artist decided it was ready to be presented to us.

So why should it be any different for photography? Why shouldn’t any great photograph be able to stand alone, regardless of the equipment used to create it?

All of this might be summed up in one simple phrase – When I share photographs, just don’t ask me which camera I used… 

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How important is it to you to know which equipment you used to make which images? How often do you like to know these details for other people’s work?

Please let us know in the comments below (remember to tick “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

11 thoughts on “Just Don’t Ask Me Which Camera I Used”

  1. Dan, nice post….I especially like the colour picture… I think that if the viewer be led to a point where you they can “guess” what camera or even range of cameras have been used then the shooter has achieved their goal on a big scale…
    Personally I have no real preference as to what info the shooter lists when it comes to the model/make…. I do however prefer to have the information of the settings…. as for me this info helps me to understand the light at the time when the picture was taken…especially if the shooter keeps to the zero processing idea spoken about in the previous post….

    1. Lynd, thanks for your input.

      On your first point in a way I think the opposite. If you can’t tell whether the photographer used a phone camera, a cheap point and shoot or a Leica, then I think they have transcended any limitations of their equipment and reach a very impressive level of photography.

      Completely understand about knowing the settings though, and with digital the EXIF data of course makes this hugely easier.

      When I shot more film I did keep detailed notes on the camera and lens I used to shoot each film, and any further treatments or experiments (deliberately over or under exposing, redscale, cross processing, expired film, film soups etc). But keeping notes on aperture and shutter speed shot by shot was a step too far, even more me with my love of stats and organisation!

      So it does take longer to learn how adjusting the aperture and shutter speed affect the depth of field, motion blur and so on. These days with digital cameras, I think it’s easier to teach ourselves through trial and error and instant feedback. Lessons we can then apply equally when shooting film too.

  2. I think that with the requirement to want to be able to produce consistent images that having a single camera is available. If you don’t want to try other cameras then you don’t need to and limiting oneself to one camera is a creative exercise that will achieve benefits in learning to get the most of that camera; after all most of the early photographers didn’t have the choice, they only had the one camera anyway.
    You echoed a point I made in a post a while ago about the painter and brushes and I think the difference with photography is anyone can get acceptable results with a cheap camera (or phone) whereas not everyone can with a paintbrush. When they compare their shots with similar from more accomplished photographers they see the gear as the difference (rather than skill) so they want to know about gear so they can justify that difference.

    1. Great point, we are so spoilt for choice with cameras (and indeed with virtually everything else!) in the times and cultures we live in.

      If I’d been born a generation earlier, I would have only been able to afford one camera at a time, so I might have chosen something like a Spotmatic and 55/1.8 Takumar and stuck with it for five or 10 years. And no doubt been very happy with that choice, and learned the camera inside out, step by step, shot by shot, film by film.

      The difficulty now is balancing the investment versus the risk. And instead defaulting to something cheaper.

      I paid about £140 for my NEX a few years back, used, and I thought it was worth every penny given how much I used it. The Ricoh GRD III I paid £150 for used, which for me was quite an investment. Turns out it was also an excellent choice and I love it. The equivalent successor the GR II is now around £550 new though, something I can’t see I would ever be able to justify.

      But at the other end, picking up something like a Pentax ME with a 50/1.7 lens (or an equivalent Minolta, Canon, Olympus etc) for say £25 is almost too easy to say to no to. So we buy two or three or 10 or 20 of these low risk cameras, because if we don’t like them, then we have only invested £25 not five or 10 times that or more.

      Excellent point also about the thinking that most “amateur” photographs have – if I buy “better” equipment just like the pros have, I will instantly be able to make pro standard photographs. When you think about it, it’s obvious that the camera is only a small part of the equation, and the photographer is the largest factor. In the same way that if you’re an average driver, jumping into a Ferrari or Porsche or a Formula 1 car isn’t going to make you the next Lewis Hamilton. In fact you’re likely to be a worse driver than in your own car, because you won’t have the skills to make the best of use of the ability the car has. Same with cameras.

      But of course this isn’t want the marketing juggernauts at Sony, Fuji or anywhere else want us to realise!

      I appreciate too there’s a whole section (maybe the majority) of photographers that just like playing with new gadgets and so whatever their photographic ability, they will always be looking at the next camera Sony, Fuji etc release.

      1. And if you had that one camera with great glass there would (for the most part) be no reason to upgrade as the image quality advances were mostly in film which was a consumable and no big investment if you got it wrong. Now the technology for imaging is in the hands of the manufacturer so they need to create this throwaway attitude and stimulate the need to continuously upgrade. Working in the TV industry there was a, not too dissimilar, shift there too where we all had our TVs for years because the underlying technology never changed so upgrading wasn’t a consideration unless it broke down. Then HD came along and digital the 4k, 10k etc and each shift is driven by the manufacturers.
        I am settling down to being happy with what I have as it suits my needs perfectly and I don’t see any need to upgrade moving forward. I think I have the film cameras I want now for ‘daily’ use so any others are just to satisfy the collector in me 🙂

      2. SilverFox, yes I came across the term (and concept of) planned obsolescence a few years back when I was reading a lot about minimalism via people like Tammy Strobel (http://www.rowdykittens.com/), Joshua Becker (https://www.becomingminimalist.com), Courtney Carver (https://bemorewithless.com) and Leo Babauta (https://zenhabits.net/).

        It’s something I kind of knew about already, it was just good to give it a name and become more aware that a huge amount of technical “progression” is based on selling more gadgets, and worse than this older gadgets were deliberated made obsolete so users were forced to upgrade (or opt out of the whole gadget owning and upgrading cycle – easier to do with a film camera than anything digital).

        A part of me loves using what is generally considered very old technology in digital camera terms, like a 2006 Pentax K10D and 2007 Ricoh GX100 and getting great images with them. Not to mention enjoying their simplicity compared with new models with WiFi, GPS, laser tracking, built in microwave and whatever else…

  3. “having a single camera is available” should say “having a single camera is achievable” sorry I am all thumbs

  4. You seem to me to be tormented, racked by doubt! Recent posts have been rather negative (unintended pun).
    Relax, and breathe…
    Personally, I do want to know what camera and lens you’ve used. I like to know the brief details. I don’t really care how you organise your files, I’m not interested in your personal system. But I am interested in the photography. Cameras, lenses, film, etc. What you were attempting to achieve. That sort of thing.
    The one image that interests me this time round is the sky with ladder shot, the others are too black and gloomy for me. The ideas are mostly good, but the end result leaves me cold.
    But I like the colour shot. What was the thought behind it? Is it film? What camera did you use?

    1. Hi Adrian, thanks for your comments.

      I wouldn’t say tormented, but I have been known to over analyse from time to time!

      Currently on 35hunter, as I said whilst I no longer use captions and add the details of camera, lens, film, I do still link them to the original post in Flickr, so if you click on any image you can see the Flickr original (which does include those details).

      The ladder shot is on a stretch of the Bluebell (steam) Railway relatively local to me. (I don’t know where in the world you are, or if you’ve heard of it.)

      Public footpaths run alongside parts of the track, and here there are some old signals with a ladder next to them to access and maintain them.

      I’m always a fan of clouds too, so having a shot where a ladder appear to ascend into the clouds I thought was a good idea at the time, without wanting to be overly Led Zep about it.

      When I added this image when composing the post yesterday I wondered why the aspect ratio wasn’t 3:2, as it’s a 35mm film shot. I think there was some kind of glitch with the camera (Yashica Electro 35GTN) that mean frames were overlapping so I cropped out on edge a little. Something I hardly ever do, and even now the aspect doesn’t look quite right to me. I still like it other than that.

      This one was from the same photowalk –

  5. A great image is a great image, and it doesn’t much matter what camera captured it. If I had a show in a gallery, I wouldn’t put camera/lens/film on the little card next to each of my photographs. But for my blog and Flickr audiences, and to help me keep track of my cameras, I can’t see a time when I don’t note camera/lens/film on my images.

    1. Jim, very wise words, I feel exactly the same about the first half of your comment. And the second half, I will still save the details in Flickr, even if those details are always of the same camera/lens etc – this alone is much simpler than remembering/adding a different batch of tags each time.

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