Rainbow fish art installation

Picture This! Bye Bye Blue

August 25, 2012

Scratch the surface of any photog or film type and there’s probably an inner Henri Cartier-Bresson trying to get out. There is a purity in street photography that’s hard to resist – that attempt to capture a fleeting, compelling moment. It’s bit of a Zen thing, a moment free of deadlines, iPhone interruptions and client briefs.

My inner Cartier-Bresson seems to wake up at six in the morning every summer on vacation. I know the family’s still asleep for a couple of hours – so I have a bit of time to myself. That’s when I reach for my little point-and-shoot camera, go for a walk and let the inner artist take over. It’s a great way to explore a new place or a new culture.

Now I’m not a total purist like my friend (and professional photographer) Roger Yip.  He’s got the digital Leica and the black & white aesthetic, so he’s a virtual new age Cartier-Bresson.

Paris cityscape photos

Me, I have a blue Canon PowerShot Elph 320. You might ask what’s wrong with a traditional SLR. While I love our Canon 5Ds for all kinds of reasons, standing in a small town European plaza with a big honking SLR just feels wrong, like you’re a step away from plaid shorts, white socks and caustic stares. A small point-and-shoot is different. You can slip it in your pocket and walk into situations unobtrusively.

Why blue? I chose the blue camera for the opposite reason – what kind of serious photog would buy a blue camera? I felt that if I chose a blue camera – I didn’t look at all serious – just like buddy with the SLR and the white socks, someone that no one is going to take seriously. Then you can slip into different situations without being noticed – it’s like having the invisibility cloak of geekdom. A handy quality when you want to take photos of the National Assembly in Havanna. To the bored soldier standing guard you’re just another annoying tourist.

What the casual observer would never quite pick up on is the type of quality you can get out of one of these cameras.  My Elph features 16 MB pictures.  That compares to the big Canon 5D. Sure the sensor’s a fraction the size, so you can’t achieve that beautiful soft focused background, but for documentary street photography the quality’s amazing. All from a camera that costs a couple of hundred dollars.

To co-opt an old saying, the proof is in the pictures.

Atlas Lampshade and Morning Boat on the Lake

While you can debate the level of my Cartier-Bressoness, I’m still blown away by the quality of the images, especially from a camera that fits in your pocket.

But as much as I like my little blue Canon, there’s a part of me that wonders if my morning walks are just a bit of a sepia toned trip down nostalgia lane. The best street camera for anyone is the one that’s in your pocket. While I love my summer walks with my Canon, in the real world it’s at home in my gadget drawer and it’s the iPhone I have in my pocket.

While the Canon blows away my iPhone 4 with its 4 MB images, I’ve still managed to get some beautiful pics with the iPhone.

Pantone bike and Giant Monster Hand on Car

And when my iPhone 5 arrives with is 8 MB image – that quality gap starts to shrink even more. Throw in apps like Pano, Hipstamatic or something as quirky as Percolator from the Apple store or their Android Galaxy equivalent and you have a pretty enticing camera & dark room combo all rolled into one. And then there’s the argument that the best photos are the ones that you can share. Canon’s working in this one. Amazingly, my Blue Elph has a WiFi capability. It’s just my inner Luddite holding me back from figuring out how it works. With the iPhone, I can send out photos instinctively.

In much the same way that today’s point-and- shoot’s make the home video camera obsolete, there’s a big part of me that wonders if point-and-shoot is a piece of history. Forget how is compares with a Nikon or a Leica, can it compete in a Galaxy or iPhone App world. For me, a bit of a purist, the line in the sand is the quality of the image. How long can camera manufacturers keep up that gap with the Smart Phone manufacturers? It’s an interesting question.

As much as I love the simplicity of my blue camera, the iPhone’s in my pocket every day and might stay in the pocket, even next year on vacation.

Visit Picture This! to read more blogs by Richard.


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