Measurebation

Here’s a little theory called peterb’s postulate of preoccupation: “For every possible topic on which one may wank, there will exist a community of wankers that wanks upon it in the most obsessive and self-absorbed way possible.” And yes, I am well aware that this very weblog is, in fact, perhaps the paradigmatic example of obsessive and self-absorbed wanking over videogames. Believe me when I say that it hurts me more than it hurts you.

Today’s subject is photo equipment wanking. At least two times now, psu has made reference to the fact that I love to needle him by saying “Wow, your camera sure takes great pictures!” I do this because we both know it’s not true, but also because I hear it a lot from people who are, innocently, trying to offer a compliment.

And that’s OK. Most people don’t really have any idea how a camera works, much less have a grounding in art or photography. They look at pictures, they see one they like, and they want to say something nice. There’s no reason to get too upset when someone says this. But there are people who should know better, people who should know that the creation of art is almost entirely due to the vision and determination of the artist, and only peripherally a matter of tool, but who at some point focus on the minute differences between tools instead of on technique. “Camera X has .3 more megapixels than Camera Y! Look at the differences between these two photos of a test grid when I look at them in 1200 times normal size!” The best word I’ve heard for these people, which I wish I had coined, is “measurebators”.

Most of us have been that person at one time or another. There’s a sort of absentminded, very male pleasure one gets out of talking about which car is fastest, for example, while conveniently ignoring the fact that even if you were driving a Ferrari, Michael Schumacher could probably beat you by driving a Toyota Corolla. Photo.net is full of these folks. I mean, check out this guy, who I can only assume is homeless and living under a bridge in LA with a laptop and wireless Internet, doing nothing but obsessively explaining to potential shoppers why they should buy Canon instead of Nikon digicams.

Recently, I decided to buy a digital SLR camera. So of course, I was inflicted with temporary measurebation sickness, worrying myself to death over the tiniest of details. “The Canon has a tiny bit more resolution! But the Nikon can sync the flash to a higher shutter speed? Whatever shall I do?

Fortunately, I got better, because I remembered: for all intents and purposes, the consumer-grade digital SLRs are effectively indistinguishable. If you are a bad photographer, the features on the camera are not going to improve your composition, use of light, or timing. If you are a good photographer, for 99% of your work, the differences in interface are not going to make the difference between getting a shot and missing it. And if you’re a mediocre photographer, like me, well, who the hell cares what sort of camera you want to spend too much money on?

I was deciding between the Nikon D70s and the Canon Digital Rebel XT. I went with the Rebel. I did this because I liked the JPEGs that I got out of the Canon more than the D70; they’re a bit more saturated and the sharpness felt right. Of course, since now I’m only shooting in RAW, because otherwise psu will make disparaging remarks about the size of my penis, this turned out to be a silly reason. I liked the small size of the Rebel also, but not enough for that to be a deciding factor. It really doesn’t matter. Effectively, whichever one of these cameras you buy, you will get nearly the exact same photos. If you believe otherwise, you are deceived.

For those of you who absolutely can’t survive another day without me telling you what to buy, I will give you this handy chart. Obey its dictates and then you don’t have to obsess over everything like I did.

Kneel before Zod and buy the camera I tell you to buy. If you… | …then you should
—|—
already own Canon or Nikon lenses| buy the same brand as your lenses.
Like smaller cameras| buy the Rebel XT
Hate smaller cameras| buy the D70s
Will use flash often| buy the D70s
Will shoot in low light with no flash| buy the Rebel XT
Don’t want to buy any extra lenses| buy the D70s
Will only ever shoot in JPEG| buy the Rebel XT
Don’t know what you want| buy whichever one is cheaper

One piece of advice that people give constantly that you’ll notice is not on this chart is “you should visit a camera store and then buy whichever one feels better”. I’m a bit of a contrarian in this: you can’t possibly get the feel of a camera from just pawing it for a few minutes at a store, or even by borrowing one for a few days (I know: I tried). It just doesn’t matter. Whichever one you get, you’ll get used to it.

So there you go. Let me make perfectly clear, that in my opinion, the above chart is actually completely useless. If you’re choosing between the Rebel XT and the Nikon D70s, unless you already have a set of lenses that fits one camera or the other, you should just flip a coin and buy one at random. You will save yourself a lot of time and second-guessing. If it turns out later that you don’t like your choice, you can just blame the bad penny.

Or, if you really want, you can blame me.