Lying Digital Bastards

Lying Digital Bastards

This is a photograph of my first serious camera. It was built in 1978. I bought it in 1996 for one hundred & fifty pounds from a pawn shop in north London. It still works fine to this day. Admittedly it’s a little dented and scratched, but I blame the previous owners for dragging it around war zones, volcanoes and rain forests. It needs a new battery and a roll of film but I’m basically good to go. Somewhere. Somewhere you can actually still buy a roll of 35mm film. Somewhere you can still get a roll of 35mm film processed and printed. Maybe Poland? Liverpool? The point is that this lump of brass, glass and metal is still working after 38 years. Impressive.  

It’s particularly impressive when you consider that my digital Nikon D3X recently suffered a complete and catastrophic failure after just seven years on this planet. That’s the same D3X which I bought brand new for four & a half thousand fucking quid. The same D3X which included the latest, state-of-the-art sensor board and custom functions and blah-blah-blahs but which didn’t include a lens. A full-frame 28-70mm zoom lens set me back another grand and a half. That’s the same D3X, then, which cost me six thousand pounds and lasted just seven years. That is not depreciation. That is fucking vapourization. My 12 year old German car cost less than the D3X and it is still working fine. My Italian scooter cost less than the D3X and that too is still running like a dream. And the Italians basically can’t build anything.

I sent my very expensive and very useless D3X back to Nikon in the UK. It was deemed “beyond economical repair” due to “humidity & liquidity damage“. Whatever that means. Maybe I dropped my very expensive Nikon camera in the sea and forgot? Maybe I popped my very expensive Nikon camera into the oven instead of a lasagne? How careless! Obviously my very expensive Nikon camera’s warranty had expired. The warranty only covered the first three years’ of “average” use. In a nutshell, then, Nikon only have to build a camera to last 3 years and 1 day in order to maintain their inflated position at the top of the reliability chain.

I have requested a private funeral for immediate friends and family. I’m going to send the bill to Nikon.

All modern cameras are lying digital bastards. They are incapable of telling the truth. In fact they are so pathologically untrustworthy that any camera set to full auto mode is about as useful as a North Korean spokesperson after a failed missile launch. In order to get any semblance of rational information out of a modern camera you first have to unplug it’s ability to predict. You have to turn your very expensive, sophisticated and “progressive” camera into something as docile and mute as a turnip. That is why you will see some of us waving grey cards and light meters around. We are not deranged. We are cultivating turnips.

The whole point of any camera is to capture the available light and colour in a realistic way. It is virtually impossible for any camera to master this fundamental function because all manufacturers have designed their cameras to recognise and accurately register mainly neutral colours. This is especially useful if you are predominantly employed to photograph stuff that is grey. Like England, for example. Or cheap trousers. Back in the real world of vibrancy and day-glo, however, auto white balance and exposure are rendered as accurate as a blind sniper.

The secret to faithful colour reproduction and accurate exposure in any photograph is to meter for something within the frame that is basically grey. 18% grey if you want to be pedantic. That in itself is a pretty simple concept. Unless you live on a Greek island. Unless you’re photographing a sports car in the snow or a fashion model in the desert. Unless you’re fucking colour blind.

Camera manufacturers have a habit of exaggerating their product’s performance. This is understandable. Just ask the CIA. Unlike the CIA, however, camera manufacturers are supposed to be all grown up and accountable. So in the future I’d like to see these random, puffed-up gimmicks abolished from all promotional material. In no particular order:

Usable underwater depth rating up to 131 feet:  not without a separate watertight housing it isn’t.

80 megapixels on a phone:  unless your phone has a sensor board the size of Canada instead of a pin head then you’ll never notice the difference.

Auto smile detection:  WTF? Useful if you’re photographing a kids’ party. Not useful if you’re photographing a funeral, a fashion show or a car crash.

Ultra High ISO:  it’s a low light setting that delivers images suitable only for social media due to excessive noise.

Red Eye Reduction:  note the word reduction rather than removal. The only way to successfully tackle red eye is to either bounce your flash or remove the blood vessels from your subject’s eyeballs.

Single servo auto focus: doesn’t work if your subject is wearing something white, standing against something white or surrounded by something white. Like a wedding.

Continuous focus tracking: as above. Or the subject is moving too quickly. Like a snail. Or the subject is not moving at all. Because it’s dead.

Any auto exposure mode: unless you’re photographing the Birmingham ring road.

An old analog camera was basically a solid black box which could bend the light. If we approach all modern cameras with the same attitude then we might just be able to defeat the lying digital bastards.

Route 666

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