Photography In The High Speed Switch Generation

In my grandparents’ era, it was fairly typical to make choices in your late teens and early 20s that were for the long haul.

A career, a partner, a home, a car (and the garage you bought it from and had it serviced at), a bank account and more, were all were chosen with the view that they would be what you committed to for decades – and some, your whole life – with little question.

One’s camera choice was similar.

Those with a keen interest in photography would likely invest in something for a lengthy career (however amateur), a machine they could bond with through multiple adventures over years, if not decades.

And even when they did change, they would more likely get something of the same brand and range so they could get further mileage out of the gear they’d already invested in and grown to know and love so well.

These days, we’re hooked in a high speed switch generation.

I follow certain websites on money and budgeting over here, and in all kinds of areas of life the underlying advice is the same – “if you’re paying too much, switch to something cheaper”.

Broadband, banking, insurance, utilities, phones, digital TV services and a whole host of other services are fiercely competitive and consumers are urged to stay vigilant and not pay more than you should or could be paying.

Indeed there are whole other services, apps and websites built around comparing different services and products en masse, and choosing the best value for you with as little effort on your part as possible.

There’s little loyalty from the consumer, and with good reason, as the majority of companies offer better deals to new customers than those who’ve paid them loyally for years.

So how does this culture of serial switching impact us as photographers?

Well, we could of course just ignore it all, and stick with the camera we’ve been using the last 5, 15 or 50 plus years in blissful ignorance.

(I have one specific reader in mind when I added “50” to the numbers in the last sentence.)

But the difficulty is how to ignore it, when this switch mentality has become so embedded in our psyches now, that it seems normal.

I like to think I avoid it better than many, but still in the last decade we’ve had perhaps three different broadband providers, three or four different mobile phone networks (and phones), four or five banks, and at least half a dozen car insurance companies.

Now I don’t regret switching to save money and/or get a better service, it’s something I take great satisfaction in.

But again it’s the kind of state of mind it puts one in that concerns me.

That everything’s fleeting, transient, and can be ditched in a heartbeat for something new. Our bank, our insurance provide, our phone, our relationships.

It feels dangerous, unsettling, and like it’s eroding our capacity to commit, and enjoy what we have, without forever having one eye on what might be a “better” or cheaper option.

It makes us feel permanently dissatisfied, seeking something else, perhaps even ungrateful of what we have, or at least taking it for granted.

With cameras, I’ve reached a point where a handful of cameras I own have made thousands, some tens of thousands, of images in my hands.

Enough to help me feel committed to them, and that I’m not too caught up in the switch mentality, regularly chopping and changing.

Plus all of my cameras bar one I bought used, I’ve never been caught in the upgrade parade, buying a new camera every time the next model came out – or even more often.

To an extent, this switching extends to the way we process, store and share the fruits of our photography passion these days too.

Someone shooting 35mm film and developing and printing themselves in say the 1930s, probably wouldn’t be going through a radically different process 50 or 60 years later.

But my main tools today – Snapseed for processing, SD cards then Google Drive for storage – didn’t exist just a handful of years ago. Who knows if I’ll still be using them in a year’s time, let alone three or five or 10 years from now?

The processing tools are almost as likely to be “upgraded” as the hardware.

Does this factor make us any less secure or content in how we photograph in the current age?

What are your thoughts? How influenced (or not) is your photography by the high speed switch culture we’re immersed in, and is this a good thing or not?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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19 thoughts on “Photography In The High Speed Switch Generation”

  1. Dan, I get what you are saying, but with specifically cameras in mind… your missing one important part of how things have changed… electronics, yep good old tech…. in so much as with many of the older cameras from decades ago, people brought them and brought into the brand, knowing that nothing would go wrong due to electronics, we had such folk as camera repair people, or mechanics of cameras to choose another title back then who would gladly repair a camera, giving it extra years of service, the idea of swopping and changing didn’t really exist to the point that it does now… as moving forward say over the last 40 yrs, one of the major reasons for people swopping out their old camera for the most up to date one is that they now know that cameras and tech in general is not built to last like the old mechanical cameras were, much of it is now built to a price point as we know, and if something goes wrong (and it does more often now) then because we live in what is deemed to be a “throw away society* its actually “expected” that we will need to change our cameras in say2 or 5 or 10 yrs time, as spare parts will of long been thrown out for that model, I would love to be able to buy into a brand and say this will last me my entire time I have left on this earth… but I already know that there is no camera out there that will be able to fit that bill, thats why we go on this roundabout of madness, Best Regards Lynd.

    1. Excellent points Lynd. Our disposable society, plus the relentless march of planned obsolescence are two major factors in why the camera you buy today probably won’t be usable in a decade, probably much sooner. Phones are even worse, the only reason I stopped using my iPhone 5C after only three years was the OS would no longer update, certain apps wouldn’t update, and it was increasingly slow. If I had been able to just stick with the software it had on it from day one, I’m sure it would have gone years further, but the software (and hardware) developers of course don’t want you to only buy a phone every five years, so they force them to become obsolete long before then with software updates.

      Physically, there was (and is) nothing wrong my old iPhone. Yes perhaps the crucial difference between old mechanical film cameras and electronic ones was the electronics being more difficult to service and replace, but now the problem has evolved into the software too and what I’ve just described.

  2. In my grandparents’ era, it was fairly typical to make choices in your late teens and early 20s that were for the long haul.

    Perhaps I am channelling the spirit of your grandparents. I still have the Sony alarm clock I bought in 1986 for college, and 25 years later, the same wife I met at that same college. 🤪

    But seriously, I tend to find a brand I like and stick with it, and if it ain’t broke, I don’t replace it. I like Fuji cameras. I like Apple computers and products. I like Sony electronics. I like Lands End clothing (20+ years now). I like Honda/Acura automobiles (30+ years). I haven’t changed my cellular or cable provider in decades. Everyone once in a while, I’ll “test-drive” something else, but I don’t purchase.

    My next TV will be a Sony. My next computer/iPhone/iPad/smart-speaker will be from Apple. My next car will be a Honda/Acura. When my jeans wear out, I’ll buy another one from Lands End.

    1. Love that you still have a Sony clock from 1986, brilliant! Well done with your wife too. Me and mine are just about to have our sixth wedding anniversary, we’ve been together 11 years, so a way behind you.

      I generally go with brand loyalty too, once I find stuff I like. VW for cars, Sony for TVs, Skechers/Nike for trainers, Fat Face, Mountain Warehouse and Berghaus for clothes etc. And mostly Pentax and Panasonic Lumix for cameras.

    1. Thanks for this Robert, what a great story. I kind of miss my iPhone 5C (though I still have it), it was the optimum size for a phone I think, my latest (Relame) is amazing but just a bit big. If more people did this and used their phones for longer before being forced to upgrade it might slow down the pace of updates the manufacturers churn out. Trouble is these days too many people are utterly seduced by new tech, interwoven with the power of advertising that generally tells us “go on, treat yourself, you deserve it”, which we fall for time and time again, as we struggle through life looking for some kind of rest, stability and peace! Plus of course the upgrade cycle of tech like phones seems to becoming ever shorter, whereas a decade ago you could use a phone for at least five years before the software had evolved too much and made it obsolete. These days it seems more like 2-3 years.

  3. I love the experience of a new-to-me old camera, but increasingly I’m settling on the stable I will shoot regularly. They’re mostly SLRs: my Pentax ME, my Olympus OM-2, my Nikon F3, my Nikon F2. And of course my new Nikon Df. These are my long-haul cameras and I will invest in them to keep them working for the rest of my life.

    1. What about the Df Jim, or anything else digital. If that broke down beyond economical repair would you try and replace it with another the same or go to a new(er) model in the same range?

      1. The Df is out of production now. If it dies, I won’t buy a used one to replace it. I will probably move on to mirrorless at that point and invest in all the new lenses I will want.

  4. Spot on. Life and its trappings in general have definitely transitioned from an attempt at permanence to fleeting existence. It’s like we used to be tortoises and now we are mayflies.
    For me the dissolution of the estate brought the message home with a large hammer, as it was impossible to retain things that had been in the family not just for years or even decades but indeed more than a century.
    Cameras were a large part of that. I’ve never felt the urge to upgrade to the “latest and greatest” of anything, and have become even more cynical about it as newer products seem to offer less “bang for the buck” than the old ones. Let’s be frank: much of the tendency to change is not to get a better deal but because we are being sold on the notion that we should change for its own sake. And this extends even into politics where people will vote for the challenger not because they think he’s better but because they believe the incumbent has been in office long enough. Like redecorating a room when you get tired of the style.
    It’s a silly way to live.

    1. Yes, mayflies, great analogy Marc.

      I guess it’s finding some sense of evolution and learning and growth in our lives that’s meaningful, without that change simply being the camera we use or the car we drive or the clothes we wear. It has to be deeper than that.

      Oh and let’s not start on politics, I think the major motivation for voting for anyone from local parish council up to prime minister over here is “they’re not as bad as the other candidate”. It’s like being given a choice between a mouldy apple or a mouldy pear and being forced to eat one. Neither are appetising, but you’d pick the least repellent of the two. A depressing state of affairs, and why there’s such indifference to politics here. There’s no-one to truly believe in and throw your support behind.

      1. Yes indeed. We have four parties here in Canada and they’ve become so identical in their horribleness that come next election I may not vote for the first time in over 40 years.

  5. I managed to get off the latest and greatest camera carousel very early in life, setting my Kodak Brownie 127 aside when given the use of my father’s Leica IIIc, and stopping right there. Having a number of friends and relatives who did buy new cameras over the years, I was exposed to an endless stream of film cameras, culminating in my wife’s Nikon F6, and then digital point and shoots, DSLR’s and mirrorless ending with the borrowed Fuji X-T20 I use for “scanning” my negatives. Fortunately, I guess, I never bonded with any of them as I did with the old Leica.

    Getting from the film in the camera to the print on the wall was a more circuitous journey. For years I wavered between sending my film out for developing and printing – easy but not very satisfying – and doing my own darkroom work – tedious but I preferred the results. Unlike my single minded approach to cameras it took me a number of false starts and dead ends to finally arrive at the scanning and printing process I use today. It is so fast and easy, and I like the results so much, that I can’t see changing anything more in the foreseeable future.

    1. Ah maybe that’s the secret Doug, have friends who are addicted to camera upgrades so you can try out their older cameras when they get a new toy…

      Sounds like you have found an excellent approach to scanning and printing that’s taken a while to get there but now seems almost unbeatable, and to an extent, future-proof.

  6. Oh yes, and electric cars. Except we haven’t quite figured out what to do with the batteries when they die. The life of the car is of course limited to the life of the battery. As for me I still use the camera system I bought into in 1984 (Contax 139Q and it’s siblings), I have been driving the same car since 2005, and our home is full of old technology of every description. I have always looked to repair rather than replace, which minimises my contributions to landfill. Folks talk breathlessly about climate change and environmental degradation, while the sales of large SUVs rise year on year. But, at least in my part of the world, we have found in the past year we can get along quite well without regular and frequent international travel, so perhaps we may yet become wise!

    1. Yeh I read an article about electric car batteries the other day (and indeed batteries from other devices like phones) and how there’s a whole new market emerging in the dismantling and regeneration of them. I can’t recall which, but some of the big car firms already have facilities in place to take in old batteries and recycle them, and are starting to use this as part of their whole production cycle. Which is reassuring. I think a number of factors have been overlooked in the race for mainstream electric cars, and whilst they’ve solved some ecological impacts of petrol and diesel cars, they’re created others, like the disposal and recycling of batteries, and the obvious fact that they need electricity to charge them, which may not be generated in a particularly green way in the first place.

  7. I tend to find things that work for me and I stick with them… if I don’t or if I can’t, I tend to go back to them.
    I just bought a guitar with a mahogany body and maple top because I find that this gives me the sound I like best.
    I stick with Pentax and optical viewfinders when it comes to cameras, because it gives me the shooting experience that I like. I like the APS-C sensor format because I can still get a good depth of field if I want but I can also get a whole face in focus at reasonable apertures. And I have all these wonderful old lenses that were made when optics were an art (and Pentax engineers often tried multiple things before setting on a solution for a lens design, and considered so much more than just sharpness at flat field levels).
    I like to stick with cars for many years rather than lease and get a new one every 2-3 years like other people that I know.
    I like cast iron pans that last for generations.
    I guess I never signed up for the high speed switch generation.

    1. All sounds good Chris. I think the challenge often is trying enough of a range of products in one category to get a good feel of what’s out there and what suits you. Somewhere between buying the first thing you see on impulse and just persevering with it even if it’s poorly designed and not giving great results, and at the other extreme, constantly trying different options in case there might be something fractionally “better” than your current favourite(s).

      I agree about APS-C, the depth of field and general image quality can be fantastic even (or especially!) with a 15 year old CCD DSLR and decades old lenses.

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