I hope I never find out.

How long will it be before the difference between all top end cameras will be so small in increment that the brand wont actually matter?

The second World War was a watershed time for photography. War correspondents and shooters needed a smaller, more compact camera that used the newly invented 35 mm colour film and thus sprung the Leica M3 in the early fifties. This was probably the most important camera ever with the exception of its successor (as a pro camera) the Nikon F. The range finder was replaced by the first significant single lens reflex camera. These two were the forerunners to everything, or just about.

Interchangeable lenses were now in play. They set photographers  free.

The Nikkor and Leica lenses were incredible, they had to be because the size of that roll of film that ran through these jewel like bodies was tiny in comparison to the sheet film of the day. It’s pretty amazing that the lens designs of that period are still being used today. Coatings might have improved, but the Nikkor 50mm F1.4 that fitted on the front of a Nikon F a half century ago, has never really been surpassed. 

Moving around the film brands of the time, one supposes they were all the same. After all lens, shutters and film were what it took to produce a pic. Not so. The essence of the picture was the film. Take Ektachrome 160. It had serious grain and a lot of blue bias, but you could push it through the developing process and get even more grain and stranger colors and higher ISO. Contrast that with the tight grained Kodachrome 25 and 64 and soon the difference, or more appropriately, the character of the film was revealed. The most popular pro film of the 60’s and 70’s, Kodak monochrome Tri X at 400 ISO, or ASA as it was called back in the day, could also be pushed to 1600 if you were shooting a rock concert. To this day nothing beats the tonal beauty of that film. There was film especially made for tungsten lighting and companies like Agfa designed their film for the muted tones of Norther Europe. 

The 35mm format owned photography, especially photojournalism. The SLR became the choice of enthusiasts.  But if you needed to shoot for bigger spreads or bill board size pics and the subject was static, medium (6x7cm) or large (4×5 inch and 8x10inch) would be the appropriate choice. 

 Each combo of these cameras, films and lenses produced a unique character – there was no post processing, no Lightroom or Photoshop and the only control you could use was at the helm of the enlarger in the darkroom. So you virtually chose your weapons for each assignment. The was no one size fits all.

 In the early days of digital the size, the nature or make of the sensor also determined the outcome of a photo. You could almost identify which camera was being used. The four thirds half size sensors responded in a different way to the light and in my experience were ideal for interior work. I loved the look even if the pixel structure left something to be desired. Next came the APSC cameras that again had a special look if you chose to use a little editing. The full frame chip took the whole process a little further. Now a 24mm lens was just that and the look achieved was almost exactly like its 35mm film predecessor. 

 The holy grail of one size fits all had been achieved, or had it? 

Lost in the mix was that character achieved with that film/ shutter relationship, that uniqueness of the early sensors that added to the artistic content. Sure you can fake it with the given software but its all starting to look the same. Unfortunate but true.

 Many of us hanker for that ultimate camera. It feeds our ego and validates our importance. All of us think the security of an excellent rig will somehow make for better pictures. Well maybe technically that’s true, but beware of what you wish for, because soon all pictures will have the same set of values. That’s pretty boring.  

 So If you have a camera or two that are a little different hold onto it, and most importantly use them. 

And never forget the most important component, the glass.

Pat Flanagan

Early four thirds format digital cameras had great colours and tone.