How to take your toys and not yourself seriously

At least once a month I make a print and mount it on the front door of my apartment.

Because I live in an artist building, this is a fun way to share what I’ve been up to with my neighbors as well as keeping my printer nozzles unclogged and ready for action.

A week ago I selected an image that I liked and made a 17 x 22 poster for the door. It was only after affixing the print to the door and closing the image in Lightroom that I noticed the image was made on my little Canon G9 “point and shoot” camera and while the G9 is a talented little fella, most of my peers wouldn’t make a print that large for display or sales. Yet, at a proper viewing distance, perhaps 1.5 times the diagonal or about 41 inches, this is certainly not a garbage print. This revelation brought me back to a point that I’ve been subconsciously ruminating on for quite a while.

I bought my G9 in January of 2008. It was a purchase that was hard for me to justify as I try to purchase only tools that will do some hard work for me with an eye toward useable saleable prints as an end result. Generally that has meant upper prosumer DSLR’s and professional glass. While purchasing the DSLR’s for their large dimension pixels I expect the industry will increase features and image quality faster than I can wear out a body so it makes no sense to buy at the top end of the camera body pyramid to impress peers or clients either for that matter. Top quality lenses on the other hand continue to work hard for you providing superior image quality throughout their lifetimes and for that reason are a smart investment. The G9 didn’t quite fit this purchase criteria (indeed it has been superceded each year by a newer model with more impressive specs and better image quality) but on the other hand it was touted as a good substitute for a DSLR when one wanted to travel light for a day trip or quick jaunt away from home and in the end, that made it a valuable addition to my kit; indeed I could have a camera with me all the time. In the end the G9 has been one of the best little purchases I’ve made in some time. Still, I tend to describe it as my “toy camera” to photo centric friends, clients and others who inquire. I then usually follow up the first description with, “It’s a point and shoot however it’s a very good point and shoot. All of this seems much like I’m downplaying its virtues and justifying it’s capabilities at the same time; a mixed message for sure. And in my quiet moments I’ve asked myself “Hey Cheatham, why the disclaimer, the subtle relegation of the G9 to second class citizenship?”

In its default factory configuration and fully closed, this metal bodied small footprint wonder is only a little larger than a pack of king sized cigarettes. At the advice of a few friends and well known photographers mine wears a Canon Conversion Lens Adapter and a lens hood combination that helps control flare and makes it look at first glance like a small rangefinder.

In many ways, that is how I and a few others use it; like a weird small rangefinder only with a view camera back instead. The eyelevel viewfinder is partially obstructed even without the lens hood, and with the accessory hood it’s useless. On the other hand the combination is light, flexible, unobtrusive and capable of great image quality at ISO 80 and 100.

This leads to a second observation from an interesting source. At a photo workshop sponsored by Hunt Photo, a Hunt representative who would certainly have access to a wide variety of camera products as well as discounts that could be helpful in purchasing his choice of working gear was sporting a G10 around his neck. In passing he pointed to my G9 and his G10 he said, “one tenth the price of a Leica!” Clearly he was making a quality comparison and although I don’t think he was saying the quality was equivalent I do think he was saying there was near comparable image quality to be had here for a substantial reduction in cost. With the G9 capable of great 12 x 16 inch native prints at ISO 80 and 100, to this I would agree. Indeed, Mitch Weiss, another close photographer friend tends to correct me a little when I “pooh pooh” the G9 as a “toy camera”. He basically reminds me that it is a pretty good photographic tool in its own right. What then is my problem?

If I were to sit me on the couch for questioning, perhaps I as patient would own up to some self inflicted insecurity about my photo peers with the $5,000-$8,000 pro bodies taking me seriously. On the other hand, if we’re looking at prints and not each others photo jewelry then the only valid criteria is “does this image work?” That indeed changes everything. Plus from the business perspective, I have an additional 4,000 or more for paper and ink to make prints. If I as patient were criticizing my ability to make meaningful prints with this imaging device then I would have to say that

  • All cameras have their strengths and weaknesses
  • I have seen images by others that certainly meet very critical standards (Go to Darwin Wiggetts blog,  “The Daily Snap” categoryto see great images, many of which are G11 shots)
  • I have made, printed and sold images from my G9 that certainly meet very critical standards

I guess as much as we all know about the principles of the game and extole the virtue that “it isn’t about the box, it’s about the photographer”, we (or at least me) can still be vulnerable to moments of festering equipment lust. Still, it would be a good exercise for me to stop calling my G9 a “toy” camera. My friend Ted Dillard has published three books with his. He just calls it a G9. And I don’t think he’s upgraded yet. (See his initial enthusiastic review here.)

Even better, I have a big show coming in November. Maybe I’ll make a whole room full of powerful G9 prints.

1 Response to “How to take your toys and not yourself seriously”

  1. March 11, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Fantastic piece Arni, and in my opinion required reading for anyone just getting into photography. You touched on a big pet-peeve of mine, the (oft-forgotten) recognition that photography is more about the person than the equipment. While certain limitations may exist with some gear, it is very likely that someone who has the gift of good vision can make a great image in spite of whatever shortcomings a camera might have.

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March 2010

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All Photographic Images ©Arni Cheatham, Segami Images and Eyes and Ears, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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