No, You Don’t Have to Take Pictures in Manual Mode

I saw something today in a photography group on Facebook that I found annoying. Someone posted a picture of a T-shirt that said, “Everyone is a photographer until,” then, below this phrase, was a picture of a dial on top of the camera set to M. In other words, if you don’t shoot in manual mode, you are not a “photographer.”

This is annoying, because it suggests that people who take advantage of the many wonderful features on their cameras are not photographers. It suggests that only those people who fiddle with dials and settings are photographers. It suggests that people who do things differently are not “real” photographers.

I started taking pictures on film of the 1970s, and I know how to use manual cameras and lenses. But, for the most part, I see no reason to do that today. I have fairly expensive cameras with lenses that include multiple advanced features such as autofocus, auto-ISO, exposure compensation, film simulations to create different looks from the photos I take, and much more. Why shouldn’t someone take advantage of these features? Do these people who shoot manual only shoot film? Because, if they are trying to be fundamentalist photographers, that is absolutely what they should do. This said, I do use manual focus at times; using my camera’s AF/MF mode, to ensure that certain things are focused exactly as I want.

This sort of attitude is not uncommon, as people who think they know everything want to shame people who don’t. I think the same people would say that if you use an iPhone you’re not a photographer, or even if you use a point-and-shoot camera you’re not a photographer. Only putting your camera in manual mode makes you a real photographer.

It’s not that big a deal, but when people who are new to photography see this it must be frustrating. And I imagine the camera companies don’t really agree with this; why else would they be constantly improving the features and technology that they put in their cameras? No, it is just another case of snob is him shared by people who like making fun of others.

I’d like to see these people in a darkroom with some negatives.

I think a better T-shirt would say this: Everyone is a photographer until Lr.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode #16 – Buying and Selling Camera Gear

Photoactive 400Do you have a pile of old cameras and lenses stashed in a closet somewhere? Or do you sell unused gear to make way for new goodies? This week, Kirk and Jeff talk about buying and selling your photo gear: where to do it, pitfalls to avoid, and more.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode #16 – Buying and Selling Camera Gear.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Why Apple Needs to Improve the Camera in the iPhone

Apple will announce their new iPhones later today, and it’s time that they improve the camera. Not the lenses or the software; that’s what they’ve done in recent years. Adding a dual-camera system is great, adding software features like portrait mode is interesting. But the iPhone camera is still only 12 megapixels, and many other smartphones have much better sensors.

Apple increased the size of the sensor with the iPhone 5s, five years ago, and the iPhone X has a slightly larger sensor. They moved to a 12 Mp sensor with the iPhone 6s; that was three years ago. Bu other manufacturers have sensors that offer much greater resolution. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41 Mp sensor, and phones from Motorola, Asus, Huawei and Sony have sensors around 20 Mp.

Megapixels aren’t everything; optics are incredibly important, the ability of a sensor to work in low light is important (though part of that is related to the size of the sensor), and the software that makes the photos from the sensor is probably one of the most important elements. The dual lenses on certain iPhones allow you to have both a wide-angle and telephoto lens, which is great when you’re outdoors, but I find that indoors, the iPhone often switches to a zoomed shot of the wide-angle lens, with poor image quality, when I tell it to zoom.

I would love to see Apple add a monochrome sensor; this takes black and white photos by collecting luminance data, and nothing else. It’s a lot better than converting a color photo to black and white, but in smartphones it is used to add detail and contrast to color photos as well. (Huawei has a few cameras with this, as do a couple of other manufacturers.)

As we’ll see later today in Apple’s presentation of the new iPhone, the camera is incredibly important. In fact, it’s one of the few features they can tout that average users understand and appreciate. People take scads of photos with their phones, and having a better camera can get some people to upgrade. But while Apple’s software for converting sensor data to photos is excellent, they are lagging in the quality of the sensor. I hope that Apple ups the size to at least 16 Mp today; if they went higher, that would be a very good selling point to get people to spend more on an iPhone instead of buying one of the new cameras that have been announced in recent weeks.

Update: not much new in the camera hardware, and some improvements in the software.

What They Got Wrong

From time to time, I check out videos by Ted Forbes, in his The Art of Photography channel on YouTube. This week, he has a video entitled What They Got Wrong.

Forbes comments on the recent introduction of new cameras by Nikon, Canon, and Fujifilm, and especially the reactions of users on the internet. The way people gripe about the features in these new cameras, the way they get into fights, as he says, about SD card slots.

The problem, as he says, is that “it’s like we live in this Ray Bradbury novel of this dystopian future where we have all these amazing tools and nobody creates anything with them.”

And he’s right. I hang out in some photo groups on Facebook, and read some forums, and most of the talk is about gear: what’s the best lens, what new features in this camera do I need, and, by the way, check out the great case or bag I bought.

One reason I started the PhotoActive podcast was to talk about photography and not talk about gear. It’s not that we don’t mention the tools – we recently had an episode about how to use a wide-angle lens – but that we don’t discuss specific items, we don’t obsess on new gear. The goal of the podcast is to discuss creativity; what you need to know to create, and how to be more creative.

As Forbes says, we have all these great tools, with far more features than the great photographers ever had, and most people don’t do much with them. To be fair, there is a group of people who are more interested in the gear, and that’s fine; if they want to amass a collection of lenses and bodies and discuss it, there’s nothing wrong with it. This is what keeps the photographic-industrial complex alive, and always will. But it would be great if more people tried to make photos that have something to say. There’s nothing wrong with documenting your family, your vacations, and your pets (I take lots of photos of my cats). But if you really care about photography, you need to try to do more.

I often say that the best way to learn about photography is by looking at photos. Not on Instagram or Flickr, and certainly not in photography magazines, but rather photo books by artists. I have reviewed a number of books on my photo website, but you can find lots of great books to inspire you and show you how photography is an art form. Instead of buying that next new lens, buy a few photo books, and get inspired.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode #15 – Time-Lapse Photography

Photoactive 400Time-lapse photography can create dramatic short videos – think about clouds zooming overhead throughout the course of a day or flowers blooming in seconds – but creating time-lapse videos turns out to be remarkably easy. In this episode, Jeff and Kirk walk through the process of using the Time-Lapse mode in the iOS Camera app as well as capturing time-lapse photos with traditional cameras.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode #15 – Time-Lapse Photography.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.