Monday, May 2, 2011

The affordability of cameras

I'm writing of two kinds of affordability here. And as I'm trying to learn to use my Nokia E7, I'm quoting the dictionary there: "afford: 1) to be able to spend money, time etc. on something; 2) to be able to do something without causing oneself trouble, difficulty etc."

As an example of the first kind of affordability, Markus found a really good price for the Panasonic LX3: 254 euro including postage. That is quite a deal. Here in Finland the best I have seen is 336 euro. Markus bought a really good camera for that price!

Of the second kind of affordability (which is related to the term "usability" but not quite the same) I had today an interesting experience.

I was taking a photograph of some flowers (see the last photograph above), and I had an intensive feeling that it was not me but the camera which was taking the photograph. Or rather, it seemed as if I and the camera were one being, and the camera part of that being was taking a photograph.

This fits nicely to the discussion about abstract vs. real found in the book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud, which I mentioned yesterday. Namely, human beings use very simple models of themselves and the devices they use. For example, when we ride a bicycle, we don't use a model including all the hundreds of little details - instead, we rely on a cartoon-like model of the bicycle, which is enough for us to control it.

As a sidenote, this brought to mind Andreas and his excellent photographs of bicycles - and a specific posting on the character of bicycles: "Yes, bicycles may be sad, they may be lonely, but most of the time they are very cool toon characters showing off the Roger Rabbit way." - Bicycles and comics really go together!

McCloud also mentions our own faces as an example of a simple model (or high abstraction). When we see other people smile, we see lots of details, all kinds of wrinkles etc. But how do we know that we ourselves smile when we don't see our own face? Here also an abstraction applies - we use a very simple (cartoon-like) model of our face to know what emotions we are showing.

In addition to making simple models (abstraction), we also identify with the tools we use. For example, if we are driving a car and someone hits us from behind with they car, we may think "He hit me!" instead of "His car hit my car."

Coming back to photography, being able to make a simple model of the camera - that is, to abstract it - and to identify oneself with the camera may be something every photographer needs to do. At least this is what I'm doing.

And this is also why the affordability of a camera (second meaning above) is important: the camera must allow the abstraction to occur and also not break (at least too easily) our identification with the device.

As an example, for me the automatic preview of a photograph on the LCD breaks the identification immediately - I guess this is because that is a thing which never happens with our eyes. And this is also why I want to be in control when taking photographs: aperture priority and none of that fancy "intelligent automation" for me, please.


Cedric said...

Ah… a LX3 for 254 euro, I'd like that, it is double that price here.

I can relate to your experience with the camera. The boundaries sometimes get blurry.

Also I enjoyed what you said about abstraction. I have come across this concept before and I have wondered if somewhere at some subconscious level there is an awareness of a connection we may have to all things, which makes us see such things as extensions of ourselves.

Sven W said...

The ability to abstract from a real world situation, to develop a simple model, then apply that model to good effect is something [intelligent] humans do all the time. It's a way of managing complexity.

But the pendulum swings: once we become competent with the simple model then we refine it, adding back complexity.

But in some ways, how I use a camera -- in a physical sense -- hasn't changed much in the last few years. But I believe my approach to * photography * has evolved; for example there's more complexity in the compositions and editing techniques. Some of my images even have a degree of ambiguity, rather than a cut-and-dried "I saw this" look about them.

Juha Haataja said...

@Cedric and Sven: Good points!

I guess the rational mind is just a very small part of the stuff that makes us work, and I feel a sense of wonder when there is a glimpse below the surface. But how to develop a way of being "connected", that is the question. This usually escapes me.