On the photographic experience of varying camera types

Ever since the rise in affordability of compact cameras, Normal People have been able to snap photos with ease. Some more serious amateurs and professional photographs have always shunned these people, these compromisers, these people who lack artistry.

But do they? Surely one can be just as much of an artiste sporting a phone, a compact, an SLR, or a Hassleblad medium format with a digital back costing far in excess of £10,000? An application on the iPhone that works through the profound medium of finger painting has proven that talent trumps tools easily, with work created on it making the cover of The New Yorker on several occasions (its creator was even invited to speak at the launch of iPad).

And what of the experience? How does the photographer relate to the subject, the photographee, with each format? How does this impact the final, finished feature?

When trying to photograph some bread, I proudly, triumphantly marched down to the kitchen with my Canon EOS 300D (a digital SLR), my Canon Ixus 95 IS (digital compact) and my Nexus One (a, ahem, mobile telephone, lamentably lacking rotary dial). The bread was arranged, the sun moved into position and I began.

Pointing the precisely poised glass of the 300D, focused onto the six megapixel sensor behind it, I switched to manual mode and happily experimented with the settings until I achieved the right image: brown glossy crust, curled grease-proof paper just so… And the whole time I was staring through a tiny window onto the world, one covered with crosshairs and information about f numbers and such. The photos would turn out to be the only satisfactory ones I took, but there was a wall, as solid as it was transparent between the bread and I.

This has struck me on holiday, too, when I’ve realised at the end of a day I haven’t actually seen anything properly. Beautiful photos fill my secret digital archive, occasionally, proudly parading out in times of rumination, but they are of things I often haven’t seen.

Taking up the Ixus, I turned it on, configured its more minimal interface and looked at the bread through the large, bright pict-screen. Immediately there was a difference: I could see the bread on the screen, but I could also see the bread. So the pictures at the end, despite four extra megapixels, weren’t anywhere near as satisfying, I had a deeper involvement with my subject. I saw it, I actually changed the composition before taking the photos, it was there at the same time.

I’ve noticed the same when using the Ixus outside, in the Real World. I never quite like the photos as much, but I remember taking them more clearly, I remember what I was photographing with more feeling. A depth of experience.

And I haven’t had to lug an extra few kilos of mass around with me (who wants to carry a brace of lenses anyway?).

The Nexus One’s turn came and went. Unlike the Ixus before it, it wasn’t as involving. For reasons that currently escape me, it just wasn’t there, like a date with someone attractive, but without the extra attraction.

Hamlet can often be found debating to be or not to be, whether to use his SLR or compact. OK he can be found mumbling about being firmer in the flesh, but if he wasn’t such a miserable sot he might be debating over the external memory his SLR would give him, or the pointer the compact would provide to his internal memory of the thing.

Art; is it what can be seen and compared, or is it what occurs inside as a result of the exposure? (And, am I wearing shoes like Carrie Bradshaw?)

Why is it no one sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?

Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Dorothy Parker (1926)