The Complexity of Modern Cameras

The above YouTube video is by a favorite content creator, Alex Kilbee. He is an excellent photographer and a great teacher. It is definitely worth the watch. If you have not watched the video, then I suggest you watch it first. Then the following will make more sense.

Although I think I am a bit older than Kilbee (heh), I grew up with a simple mechanical camera and film. I was young and had little money to spend on equipment, so I made do with what I had… A body, a 50mm lens, and two aftermarket lenses — a 35mm and a 135mm. That was my kit.

I shot semi-pro back in the 90s with a pair of Canon AE-1 bodies and a few lenses. I made a few bucks, helped out some students and bands, and had a blast. Then I moved into the digital realm and got sucked into the quagmire of increasing cost and complexity.

I set my cameras aside nearly 10-years ago and used the iPhone for snapshots. Last year I was so busy I decided to pick up my cameras again so I could do something creative while hiking with my dog. I upgraded the Fuji X-T1 to the X-T5 and was astonished at the increase in quality and complexity, although the latter camera was far more refined than the former. I also picked up a Fuji X100V and found that to be the camera I carried most of the time… because of its simplicity in comparison to the more capable and more complex X-T5.

And therein is the key, I think, to Kilbee’s thesis for the video. I (we) need simplicity to focus on what is important, the image and working the subject. Digital is nice because the incremental cost of shooting is minimal whereas film is a real expense for each frame.

So, now I find myself with three old (but new to me) cameras: A Bronica S2A, a Nikon F2, and a Contax TVS point and shoot. Why? I have two reasons… well, perhaps three reasons.

First, I really like film. I am not shooting for hire or for publication; I am shooting to please myself. It is a creative outlet.

Second, there is a simplicity in the cameras. The point-and-shoot has some settings, but the camera mostly handles everything once you drop the film cassette into it. I find it an easy way of having a film camera handy when something interesting shows up. The Bronica and Nikon are simple, but capable cameras. The Bronica has no metering system — an external meter is required. The Nikon has a metering prism that uses a center-weighted meter. Both require the photographer (me) to set the shutter time and aperture. This is how I learned when I picked up a camera all those decades ago.

Third, I am learning to ignore the complexity of my digital cameras. The X-T5 will do a bagillion things in any number of ways. The X100V will do half a bagillion things in few ways. I find that setting them up for auto-ISO and auto-shutter speed, setting up back-button focus, adding one or two favorite custom settings (film simulations), and then running the aperture to create the depth of field I want is sufficient. I then forget about every other capability of the camera and just run it.

Aside: I run a black diffusion filter on my X100V — the smallest amount of diffusion possible. I find that this filter, coupled with a film simulation (Reggie’s Portra 400 and Tri-X are my favorites), provide a filmic look to the resulting JPGs. The filter also makes the X100V weather resistant, which is a bonus. I also keep the RAW files handy (sometimes) in case I want to experiment with different film simulations after the fact.

Kilbee is absolutely correct about the complexity of modern cameras and how that complexity can interfere with making photographs. It is one reason I am experimenting with film once again. But I also know that I will continue to use my digital cameras because they are capable of great images. I can dumb down the images with appropriate filtration and post processing, although I do not enjoy post processing.

The bottom line is to stop fiddling with all the camera options, pick a few to set up the camera so it works for you, then get busy looking at the world around you and making photographs.