One day we went on an annual report shoot with these cameras. I'd been hoping that the new (at that time) Nikon 12-24mm lens would arrive before I left and I got the phone call from my lens merchant just a few hours before the flight. The lens came in quite handy. The images looked great, even as 16x24 inch prints on the walls of the company's HQ. Guess the primitive nature of the tools was not enough to hamper our ability to do the work.
It sure looks like Samsung is winding down their camera sales everywhere in Europe. I suspect we are next. Does it even matter?
Disclaimer: I was part of the Samsung Imagelogger program until the Fall of 2014 when I decided to concentrate only on shooting cameras that I liked enough to spend my own money on. As part of the program Samsung sent me cameras and lenses to shoot with. I worked with the NX300, the NX30 and the Galaxy NX before resigning. I have had no connection with, or affiliation with, Samsung or their P.R. agency since that time. We parted ways on good terms and I have good feelings about the U.S. Public Relations company that represents the Samsung camera division in the U.S.
It's strange to see a company start to fold up its tent in a product category and begin to decamp. Especially a company that is relatively new to a market, as Samsung was to the middle and upper end of the camera market. Their products were not on my radar prior to the introduction of the NX300 camera. I was contacted by their agency and offered that camera and the kit zoom lens they offered with it. In exchange, they asked me to shoot with it and post a couple of photographs to their social media site once a week, if possible.
When they came out with the Galaxy NX camera, the mirrorless interchangeable lens model sporting an EVF and a bunch of connectivity options, they sent me that camera and also offered to send me to Berlin to shoot it and to attend the IFA show and the launch of the Samsung smart watches and tablets. Along with the kit zoom lens I also was loaned the 85mm f1.4 (killer lens) and the 60mm macro lens (the one I liked the most in their entire collection). I always considered the Galaxy camera a work in progress and I was probably not the right candidate to embrace a highly connected camera. It was one of the first cameras to run a full on Android operating system and that came with its own issues. Initially, the start up times for the camera were very long (nearly 30 seconds) and the camera did shut down sometimes in the middle of shooting. The flip side is that the camera had bluetooth, wi-fi capability and cell network capability, along with being able to use most Android apps. Even Candy Crush.
The major selling point of the camera was the ability to stay connected anywhere. It may have been a journalist's dream in that regard as an editorial shooter could deliver images, while shooting, anywhere in the world that there was a cellphone connection. But the miscalculation by Samsung was that this interconnection capability was enough to balance out the less than stellar AF and operating issues of the camera as a camera. Another fault, and one I mentioned in articles I wrote here, was the mediocre quality of the EVF. I must say though, if you were a shooter who liked to shoot tethered to a large TV screen, or if you are part of the new contingent of photographers who actually likes to compose and shoot using a rear screen instead of a viewfinder, this was a camera that did those things like very few others. I mean really; it had a five inch screen on the back and the quality of that screen was pretty darn good.
But for a traditionalist who just wanted to turn on the camera and shoot it just didn't make the grade. The huge rear screen and always on Android system running in the background sucked hard on the battery, and even though it was a huge battery my shooting style meant having two to shoot with minimum.
I'd heard of the NX1 long before I left the program but it kept being delayed and I was too busy to learn yet another menu system and start building yet another lens system so that is when I left the program. I will admit that I was a bit jealous as some of my former fellow Imagelogger members started getting their NX1's and little collections of very good zoom lenses to accompany them.
It seemed as though the company learned a great deal from cameras like their Galaxy NX and were determined to make their mark in the camera world. But like the previous camera (the Galaxy) it seemed that the delivered camera was a work in progress and would become only a good, reliable shooter after a series of big and complex firmware upgrades. I considered it a number of times when considering new video solutions but always, in the end, the new h.265 codec stopped me from investing.
Now we've seen a cascade of announcements over the last month telling first Germans, then the Dutch and now the Brits that all the Samsung cameras are being discontinued in their respective countries. The latest post from DP Review seems to me to imply that all of Europe will soon be eliminated as a market for that company's cameras. A far cry from their commitment to become one of the "big three" camera companies in the world.
How did everything come apart for them? I can sum it up quickly. The previous products and their shortcomings sunk the NX1 before it was even launched. The heavy handed "Ditch the DSLR" campaign sent a condescending and easily refutable message to knowledgeable current camera owners and their focus on distribution through big box stores instead of supporting specialty dealers too were also causes. But I'll be honest and say that I never expected a wholesale surrender.
I presumed that Samsung was closing in on understanding a successful mix of features and operational "must haves" and would iterate a less expensive, streamlined and highly functional NX2, push some more lens options into play and begin to get some real, broad market traction. Their biggest marketing error was to emphasis non-photographic features like connectivity before they had convincingly hammered home their quality imaging proposition. If, instead of selling a camera style (mirrorless), they had focused on creating a brand image of a highly capable photographic creation tool, they would have (in my estimation) had much more success.
If they had put the NX1 and the 85mm 1.8 lens into the hands a gifted fashion photographer and used his or her images in ads that extolled the quality of the artistic tools and how well they worked to realize a vision they would have moved the conversation from the novelty of sending your picture to grandma to making photographs you could eventually send to paying clients and publications.
The "Ditch the DSLR" campaign that ran here felt more like condescension and scolding to me and less like suggesting some rational course in camera buying. If you already had selected a DSLR such as a Canon 5D3 or a Nikon D750 it's pretty likely you did not do so in a vacuum of information. You likely weighed all of the options and were also happy with the style of camera you selected. You would need to be unsatisfied with your initial purchase to even consider "ditching" it and starting over again, with all the attendant costs and learning curve.
Had the NX1 launched with a codec similar to the one used in the Panasonic GH4 many videographers who chose to sit on the sidelines and watch would have been gleeful about the video qualities of the NX1 and rushed to buy it. The choice of the new, unwieldy codec was in large part the mortal wound on this camera amongst movie makers. And the sad thing is how easily this could have been avoided if the company had listened to end users instead of engineers. But this is ever the issue with technology companies that are not marketing companies. How else to explain that they can make great sensors, some of the industry's fastest processors and their own line of screens but can't make a dent in Apple's dominance in the cellphone market where Apple continues to earn the vast majority of all profits (irrespective of market share) in that industry? The simple truth is that Samsung's marketing, and their reading of affluent markets, continues to suck hard.
In my estimation, the writing on the wall for their camera division is pretty clear. They are selling through inventory, country by country and then shuttering their camera operations. In the U.S., if inventory is there, they'll wait until after the holidays to make their announcement. Once the north American market shutters they'll dump the remaining stocks in east Asia and, I guess, call it a day.
I'm sad about this because they finally got a bunch of stuff right on the NX1 and what they mis-read they could easily remedy in the next one or two generations. On the other hand, if I were running a division for a worldwide company and I could see that we'd been selling into a bubble that was now bursting I'd be running for cover as well. There is such a thing as opportunity cost everywhere. The more cash they poured into a declining camera market the less cash (and bandwidth) they have available to drop into other markets.
We jaded photographers take companies like Nikon and Canon to task for what we perceive as flaws in their marketing strategies but it's clear to see that the bedrock of their marketing is not aimed at showing the features of a product but showing their products as solutions to make better images. And to do this they put their cameras in the hands of the very best people out there and use the images wisely. And everywhere. You can't market a camera in the same way you market a large screen TV our a washer and dryer and expect to reach the hearts, and then the wallets, of passionate hobbyists. And in this regard "passionate hobbyists" also includes nearly every working pro. We buy the promise, not so much the cogs under the hood.
Will Samsung's exit make a difference one way or another in the camera market? I can only speak to the north American market and I'll say that at most it will be a tiny ripple. They aimed most of their efforts not at the most engaged in our hobby but those who most likely price shopped and were impressed by lists of features and performance metrics which really had little to do with the emotional process of making photographs. I will miss the two lenses I spoke about. They were very, very good. Just as Nikon had a good run of letting an Italian company design their most successful camera bodies Samsung should have left all the branding decisions and creative decisions about feature lists to an objective and talented partner. I can feel it in my bones. This will be a division that was killed by its engineering department and product managers, not by lethal lapses in the products themselves.
The two images here are among my favorites from the entire year of shooting in 2013. I did them with a camera that fought back and the two wonderful optics supplied with it. Because of that I will always remember the system as one with great promise.
Finally, given the complexities of the camera market and the sheer amount of capital investment it takes to start a camera company from scratch I think the real tragedy here is that this may be the last attempt by anyone to start a single use camera company from scratch. We may have niche product makers like Go-Pro and DXO come in and out of the markets but we may never see a new contender for the higher end of the conventional camera market again--- and that's a bit sad to me.
A final note. It will be one of the ironies that surfaces every once in a while if the NX1, after it's discontinuation, becomes a cult video production tool. Coveted for video features that were good and a codec that may just have been too far ahead of its time......
I'm heading up to New Jersey next to make photographs at a large industrial concern that manufactures technical products for worldwide sale. When I talked to the advertising agency about the project they indicated that our primary mission would be to take portraits of the company's executive leadership team for use on the website and, since we would already be there, we would also spend a day taking photographs of the nuts and bolts and spaces of the business. The idea, as I understood it, was that all of the images would be used on the newly re-designed website but might also be re-purposed for other media. And it's those last four words that tend to paralyze me when it comes to choosing which cameras and lenses I'll want to pack.
When I listened to the production manager from the agency describe the project my focus went immediately to the Olympus m4:3 cameras and lenses; after all, we'd be packing to fly, and then travel to the actual location and the size and weight savings of the smaller system would be noticeable. We carry on our camera gear and that means we have to spend hours shepherding it through airports, on and off rental car shuttles, and in and our of hotels. Not to mention porting the gear around large factories. The lights and assorted lighting support gear goes into wheeled cases and is checked luggage. It's only at transition points that the burden of the lighting stuff really comes into play.
I envisioned stuffing the two EM5.2 cameras into a smaller Domke camera bag, along with a spread of lenses that would give me the equivalent of 24-130mm in focal lengths. If we decided to do big still lives or interiors I would feel pretty confident putting those cameras on a tripod and revving up the high res mode. I've tested it and it really works. Add to that the beautiful Olympus files and it's really hard to consider leaving them behind.
But.....there's always the specter that we'll get to the location and the client will lead with a request that we shoot some of their people or working processes (things that move cancel out the hi-res advantage of the OMD) for use on trade show graphics or large posters. It's happened to me before....and with the very same agency. You can armchair quarterback and say that we should lock all uses down before we step out of the studio, but that's not realistic.That's not the current market.
That fear of failing to deliver the enormous, high res file, leads me to alternately consider choosing to go with the big Nikon cameras instead. They aren't as quick to work with and they weigh (comparatively) a ton but they do provide a 36 megapixel image that's hard to argue against when you need sheer resolution along with subject motion.
I'm "test packing" today in anticipation of a week out of the studio. I'm packing two alternate variations and I must say that, from the outset, the Olympus is winning the "comfort" contest. Later this evening the Nikons will win the "bulwark against fear of failure" contest. And by Sunday afternoon I'll be so confused that we'll be back to a coin toss.
This is my cautionary tale against having so many competing systems sitting around your studio. It's nice to tell yourself that you are prepared for any undertaking but the mentally tyrannical nature of choice is a real anxiety provoker and time waster. I actually have nostalgia for the days when I had no money and no real choices other than the single camera I had in my bag. I had so much more free time when I didn't have to decide.
Is it really a question of technical performance or is it the illusion of what might still constitute industrial standards, and playing to client expectations? Will we ever figure it out? Probably not.
Some cherish one format over the other. I see the formats as style neutral.
Camera choices, yes. But the tripod is a non-negotiable necessity.
You can always pack a bigger and better camera and more expensive lenses but does it really
make any difference to many of the projects we do that rely more completely on
our vision for the lighting and our rapport with the people we meet? Is the higher res process cost effective? Is it time efficient?
How small can you pack? How much can you carry?
More importantly, how much will you use?
Will the format and image size really effect the final result once everything is shrunken down and compressed for website use? Is medium format film capable of eliciting more of a feeling of
flakiness? Will the differences show up?
Can we get there from here with the stuff we need for a good shoot?
It's all just part of the agony of traveling to do photography for a living in modern times...
In the end it's the subject that drives the photograph, not the camera.
Does that mean I should take the Olympus cameras? Hmmm....
I did the image above many years ago for a very good art director. It was the middle of the 1990's and the trend of the moment then was the same droll, pursuit of imaging perfection that seems to come in waves. The client came to me to talk about shooting ideas, and shooting them in a way that took the "preciousness of perfection" out of them.
We started by identifying the parameters of the project. We needed to shoot facing pages for essays about finance. We looked at different things I'd shot over the years, in different styles. I showed the AD some images shot on 4x5 sheet film and she liked the format but thought a conventional treatment would be too clinical. Too artificial.
Then we looked at some work we'd done using Polaroid Type 55 instant film. The Type 55 film was shot in our 4x5 inch Linhof TechniKarden camera and we generally tossed the resulting print away but coveted the resulting negatives instead. The tonality, the grain and the general rendering we got from those negatives was so different from the conventional black and white films of the day. You would shoot the Polaroid film at $5 a throw, and when you found an image you liked it was important to do one version with about a 2/3 stop overexposure in order to create a negative thick enough to print well, with detail in the shadows.
We'd take the negatives and print 16x20 inch prints that showed all the handling and emulsion flaws of the negative because they gave such unique results. The client and I wanted to go further so I took the images from these negatives that had been printed on Kodak's double weight, Ektalure G surface paper, and I used Marshalls Transparent Oil Paints to color tone the images by hand. The resulting prints were rich with grain, detail and subtle color. It's hard to present that in 2100 pixels on the web but I can't help you there.
After we figured out how we'd shoot the project we started assembling props and putting together constructions in the studio. We spent a day shooting, a day making contact sheets for final selection and a day printing our black and white prints. The painting on the prints took another two days. Of course, if we'd have been happy just pursuing technical perfection we might have been able to wrap the whole project up in only one day by shooting color transparency film and having it scanned.
But both the client and I understood that we'd just be part of the ongoing homogenization of commercial vision if we only reached for sharp, in focus, and color correct imaging. We wanted to create artwork that pushed a little harder and transmitted a different feeling out to the viewers. We need to work the ideas into pictures the way potters work clay. And we wanted the little flaws, and odd grain structure, and suggestions of color, to help create a completely different creative palette.
There is some zany, adolescent idea that somehow each previous generation of cameras and lenses somehow hampered our "artistic" and "creative" visions and kept us from doing the work we really wanted to do. That the state of the art in photography gear two years, or five years, or ten years ago, worked as a tragic impediment to some amazing potential vision that could only be realized by the most current "breakthroughs" in the most recent equipment catalogs.
Of course, that's nonsense. The tools have nearly always been available if someone really had a vision to fulfill. But the pursuit of perfection in most art is a red herring, a detour down a rabbit hole by people who are insecure about the quality of their creativity. They look for material talismans of power as a substitute for real vision. And they'll always be looking for the next iteration of magic bullets with the rationale that only, finally, when the perfect camera and lens come along will they be able to translate their creative vision from the ephemeral reaches of their brilliant minds into a physical manifestation that finally has value.
If quality was really the foremost consideration, instead of convenience and the sybaritic pleasure of researching and purchasing new, expensive gear, then many of the reformed I.T. gearheads who have reconstituted themselves as photographic experts would gird their loins and be out shooting with the 4x5 and 8x10 inch technical cameras we grew up with. They may choose to be shooting with big film or they may be shooting with digital backs but, of course, from a technical point of view, anything less than an 8x10 on a solid tripod is a self-deluding compromise in itself.
Here's an idea: Next time you convince yourself that only X miracle lens will do the job, and only when grafted onto whatever the 24 by 36 mm format camera du jour might be, stop in your tracks and go buy an 8x10 view camera and a box of ISO 50 transparency film. Learn to load the film holder and learn to figure out bellows factor and overall exposure and then shoot with real technical perfection instead of convincing yourself that your Nikon, Canon or Sony actually represents the actual state of art in imaging.
If technical perfection is at the heart of your pursuit and most of your images are of things that don't move, you're just cheating yourself by not going all the way in. That Nikon D810 or Sony A7r2 is real nice but it sure ain't the real state of the art. There's so much more to it than just a high resolution sensor in a miniature camera...
What am I thankful for today? Understanding that creative thought matters.
Just found this and I like it: http://photothunk.blogspot.ch/2015/01/on-taste.html