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15 June 2020

Time flies while you're having a good time. And one morning you wake up and realize time has expired, the game over, the score settled. We had that feeling this weekend.

Sockets. The real action is always in post processing, even if you're just capturing a JPEG. This iPhone shot was processed by Painter's Lens on the fly.

Regarding our toolbox, that is. What, we took stock, are the cameras we use, the lenses we like, the lighting equipment? How about the scanners and printers? And, while we're at it, what about the software?

Has time expired?

The answer to that is usually in your checkbook. Which may have to consult your credit cards before getting back to you.

We've run our operations on a very strict diet for many years now. We sometimes wonder if we mistakenly took a vow of poverty.

You may find it interesting to see what we rely on.


We've managed to ride the hardware wave without missing the big swells. We never did get into full frame sensors because we like long telephotos and both APS-C and Micro Four Thirds have distinct advantages there.

For that matter, as our three dSLRs1 weighed us down, Micro Four Thirds2 proved its gold in weight. We're glad we caught that wave.

Lenses, for us, are like socket wrenches. The camera just a handle.

It was especially gratifying to be able to use our 1970s primes3 on both systems. And to experiment with the creative optics concocted by Lensbaby.

Our most recent camera system has been the smartphone4 and that's been for us what it has been for everyone else. Fun and convenient. The digicams have stayed in the drawer.

And everything still runs on its original battery. We keep them charged and they still power our cameras with room to spare.

We've toyed with the idea of adding a full frame mirrorless5 to the stable but full frame is a leap we're still not prepared to make (other than in film after we refurbished our 1970s film bodies).

Our hesitancy has to do with our computer systems, which are both pretty much maxed out in terms of performance and storage. We'd be rebuilding the entire system to move from 12-Mp image files to 24-Mp or larger image files.

Yes, we're running current software on 10-year-old hardware. Well, except for the SSD we installed in the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

That day is coming.

Our main machine is a Mid-2010 vintage 17-inch MacBook Pro running an external monitor. Our backup system is a 13-inch MacBook Pro from early 2011. Our external drives are nearly full 2-GB WD Passports.

The scanners survive. An OpticFilm 135, a CanonScan 9000F, a Microtek ArtixScan M1 (rarely used now). A Canon MG8100 all-in-one is online too, if perpetually out of ink.

The other printers are a DNP DS-620A, an Epson R3000 and a Canon Pro 100, none of them very busy.

We won't catalog all the accessories6 lying around. They never seem go out of style, though. Lighting is lighting, although we do use a small LED7 for close-up work in addition to our strobes8 and monoblocs9.


If we're not fashionably up-to-date on the hardware end of the equation, we make up for it on the software side. We're unusually current on dozens of high-end applications9, all of which continue to run on our ancient hardware.

The operating system may be the one piece of software that will require new hardware. High Sierra is as current as macOS gets on our MacBook Pros. When applications start requiring something more, we'll have to move.

We've always felt that software is where the best minds are engaged, moving the goalposts. Where hardware engineers make incremental improvements to their products, reinventing the wheel, programmers roll the wheel out of the way for the kids to play with while they repurpose cooking oil to fire up jet propulsion. To Mars.

As we've been demonstrating on Photo Corners for years, software has made a dramatic difference in image quality over the years.

Ironically every little improvement from perspective control to dehazing to better selections has been dismissed by many who get chills over every little hardware tweak they read about.

It's as if they think, "If a camera can't do it, it doesn't matter." But it does matter. Quite a lot.

Perspective control is, perhaps, the most obvious example. Except for a Perspective Control lens or a view camera, it wasn't possible to correct converging verticals in the camera. So we turned a blind eye to it until software delivered the goods. And now, if you use it, you can't be without it.


All of which reminds us of the last time we visited our ophthalmologist. After we did the individual eye tests, confirming one eye sees distance and the other close up, we noticed neither was as sharp as when we looked at the eye chart with both eyes.

When we asked him why that was, he laughed. "Ah, there's this thing called the brain," he said. "It can make use of the information from each eye to construct a better image."

It's a bit of a metaphor for gear and software, the software being the brain that takes what the gear gives it and makes something of it. Which is the whole trick to computational photography, as far as that goes.


So we're in no rush to update anything that isn't software. But we're prepared when the time comes, which would be an equipment failure of some kind.

The computers have been the most fragile. Our current two have stayed in harness the longest of any we've had (which makes us nervous). A lens or two has failed but lenses can be replaced or repaired (whichever is cheapest). Only one digicam has died.

We can't imagine a reason we won't be able to enjoy photography for many years to come. But the old human body is frail, too. Eyesight fails, joints grind away, the spirit dies.

Which might seem an altogether too somber way to conclude a review of our toolbox. But in this game, as in life, you have to be honest with yourself. Or who are you kidding?

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