dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

— HAL9000

2012: The prediculuous

The new normal of lens testing (50/1.4 Nikkor on a D700).


January 5, 2012 (updated January 6, twice): Twenty-twelve may just be the year of photography fatigue. One can only wonder how long people who take pictures can stand to be bombarded with photographic sites, photographic blogs, test reports, the latest attempt by CanoNikon to get people to spend $6-8,000 on yet another flagship camera, and the attendant furor. Since we are only five days into this new year, Stella will exercise his New Year's resolution to cut out any pretext of diplomacy. The following is precisely what will happen in the photographic world in 2012.

As (now) written in the prophecy):

1. Nikon will release a D4. Canon will release the 1Ds Mark whatever. Their ardent fans will kill each other in arguments about which is better. They will devolve into side conversations about whether the entry-level BMW or entry-level Mercedes is better. Most people won't care and will move onto mirrorless cameras that are easy to carry (after all, we live in a world that is becoming perpetually less physically fit). Dumbed-down* D800 and 5D models will emerge. Even dumber** D400 and 1D versions will come out for the APS-C crowd. Stella will continue to view the Canon/Nikon conflict the way he views conflicts between some Ford and Chevy pickup truck owners: an abstract fight between people who actually have no legitimate need for the products in question.***

2. New pros will complain about how amateurs dumping images into the market, particularly stock, have "destroyed photography." They will do so despite (a) the well-known fact that stock itself is a bottom-feeding market; despite (b) the memo explaining that since the mid-1980s, photography in general (especially photojournalism) is a losing job proposition; and despite (c) walking by all the old coots muttering about how no one wants to pay for quality work anymore. Professional photography (not unlike law school) is to the 21st century what Marxist-Leninist communism was to the 20th: it's failing all around, but people still want to do it because the people that came before them "just didn't do it right." Is there a photographic equivalent to Albania? At least those communists haven't chickened out like the Soviets and the Chinese.

3. Kodak will go out of business... and come back. It pains Stella to think of how such a pillar of his photographic life could go like that, but like many other industries, Kodak got hit from two many directions at once. It may come out of a prepackaged Chapter 11 as Kodak LLC or something like that, not unlike what happened with General Motors and Chrysler. But even cars are a safer industry than photographic supplies; after all, there is no digital vehicle by which to email yourself. Not yet.

4. If Kodak dies, it will take film with it. People who believe that film photography would survive a Kodak liquidation are delusional. Governments all over the world prosecute antitrust violations to protect the price competition that keeps companies honest. Whether by illicit behavior or bankruptcy, the elimination of a major player in a competitive market makes it easier for the remaining major player(s) to price however they want. You can imagine what Fuji and Ilford will do, respectively, in the color and black and white markets. Yes, technically, someone will always be selling film in some microscopic volume (just as you can buy any number of technologies that the market abandoned). But price (let's estimate $6-8 for a roll of 120 following a Kodak exit), aggravated by a lack of a meaningful path to digital (see #8 below), will relegate film to history's scrap heap. To put it another way, you can still buy a brand-new, quality record player today. The cheapest price is now $1,200.

5. A memo new card size/shape will come out. You didn't think that SD and CF were going to dominate forever, did you? Sony is still smarting over the loss of MemoryStick, as Olympus is over xD. I predict that the excuse for this one will be related to video.

6. Fuji will indeed introduce an interchangeable-lens version of the X100. Like the Hexar series before it, a 35mm fixed-lens model (X100) will be followed by an interchangeable-lens model with 28, 50, and 90mm lenses. This is also exactly what happened with Contax and the T2 and G series, right down to the focal lengths. Hmm... is one band of engineers designing everything? Or is 28-50-90 a magic sequence in Japan? It was never a classic mix for Leicas (which never really had a good 28mm until the brand was starting to become irrelevant from a volume perspective).

7. Leica will release the 10th and final M series camera, perhaps called the MX - both because it will be the M10 and because M vs. X was popular dichotomy of flash syncronization when Leica last was technologically ahead with a camera (around 1959). As additional support for this prediction, MX was also the name of a delayed and abortive nuclear missile project in the United States in the mid-1980s. In the future, post-M series, Leica will use a hybrid viewfinder that will not use electronic aids but instead simply have a lens cap warning so that Leica's celebrity users aren't embarassed by pulling a Sue Charlton in front of the paparazzi.

8. The price of medium-format film scanners will ratchet up another 25-50%, and a clean Nikon LS-9000ED will cost $4,000 by the end of the year. The problem is that no name brands make medium-format scanners (absent FlexTight, which now comes with a bicycle to replace the car you sold to buy it...), few organizations fix them, there is no way to get all the resolution off the negatives without a good scanner, and a large number of people think their own pictures are worth archiving. The good news is that Mac OS 10.4 and Windows XP will remain popular, as these are the last two operating systems that run any quality midrange negative scanners. And because FireWire 400 is disappearing, Dell Latitude D600s will be the surplus sleeper of the year.

9. The last Fuji Frontier and Nortitsu film processing modules will be manufactured, accelerating the blessed countdown to the end of Lomography. When one-hour processing goes away, hipsters will smell color chemicals and understand their effect on the environment (color film is stabilized with formaldehyde....). The intentionally ratty look will move exclusively to smartphones. Stella is no fan of either way of achieving this, ahem, "unique" look, but postulates that if your style is based on bad film focus, exposure and processing, you're better off having a computing machine do the heavy lifting. One bout of carelesness in the darkroom, and you could end up with undesirable, normal-looking shots.

10. Old lenses will become the new Lomo. One of the most interesting things about the rise of mirrorless cameras is that their Japanese and Korean designers almost universally give them a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" mode in which the shutters can be fired without a dedicated, chip equipped lens. Bear in mind that these are the same manufacturers who (on paper) would tell you that if you ever tried to use anything but their optics that you would turn to stone. But all of these systems are open-source in their own way - once the female mount of a legacy lens is replicated (and most have been for years in cheap teleconverters and tubes) and once the male mount of a new mirorrless is reverse engineered, the only other part is a tube. This increasingly means that any lens ever made can be cheaply adapted to any mirrorless body that exists (or that will exist). The Sony, Fuji, Samsung, and Olympus bodies will increasingly live in two worlds: one with hypercorrected, ultrasharp AF lenses and one with the dreamy look we associate with past optics. Because back in the day, they wanted to make hypercorrected, ultrasharp AF lenses but couldn't.

11. Top commentators will realize that human children between the ages of 1.5 and 3 make far superior AF test targets to liquor bottles, landscapes, cats, highly textured old people, or parts of society that might end up on reality TV. And now that sites (collectively) have addressed virtually every technical and quasi-technical issue out there, people can get on with their lives. And taking pictures!


**Decontented with a smaller sensor. For whatever reason people buy small sensor cameras.

***Some people buy pickups to commute.

Postscript: what came true and when

Well, we're 3/10 just one day after this page was first written... not too bad. But these were the softballs.

1. Nikon announced the D4 (January 6).

5. Nikon adopted the XQD card in the D4 (January 6).

6. Pictures of the Fuji XPRO have leaked out (early January, though Stella did not notice them until the morning of January 6).