Today I was in a local photo shop during a lunch break from work and spotted what I thought was an EOS 1. Seeing as I've been fumbling around with my Canon AE-1 circa 1976, I thought that I might see just how far the 35mm photographic industry has come in 28 years and give Canon's top of the line camera a try. To my surprise it was the EOS 1D Mark II (they look so similiar). Now, not wanting to look like the uninformed and out of the vanguard loop analoger that I am, I decided to go with it and feign an interest in the camera. The salesman handed me the camera and I literally stared at it for about 3 seconds without a clue as to how to even turn it on. Finally I pushed enough buttons to get the thing going and spent the next 45 minutes fiddling with it.
Now let me just say that this is not an anti-digital thread, whether the camera captures latent images on film or converts light energy into electric signals is beside the point and had no impact on my experience with the camera.
What did shock me was the weight of the camera. I don't know the exact specs, but it weighed a ton. After about ten minutes my arms started to get tired. From my guess the lowest shutter speed that the camera could be hand held at would be about 1/125 with 400 ISO film.
After a while the salesman told me that I should go outside and track cars with the auto-tracking focus and continuous shooting mode.
Now I have never gone fishing with dynamite or dear hunting with a bazooka, but I think that the experiences might come close to shooting a camera, at what the salesman said, was about 8 fps. Overkill doesn't begin to cover it. I found that at the end of 2 or 3 second continuous bursts I was gritting my teeth. I felt like a German machine-gunner on Normandy or like I was in the middle of a live-action version of Doom. Photography didn't enter my mind; all I could hear was the clack-clack-clack-clack-clack of the shutter. The experience was made all the more surreal by the reflex mirror flapping up and down with each exposure. Through the viewfinder the whole world seemed to be one big night club with the strobe light turned up to psychotic.
After I recovered I figured out how to turn the shutter back to single exposure and proceeded to take a few shots (a plant here, a car there) and guess what... a camera is as a camera does. As far as 35mm technology (or the equivalent in digital word) goes, the bells and whistles are nice, but they just seem to over power what I love about photography, the uniqueness of each shot and the single moment that each shot is taken. Cartier-Bresson famously named it the “decisive moment”, but you can call it whatever you want. It is those moments that I so enjoy about photography and it is those moments that are obliterated when you are shooting off 8 pictures in one second. I would rather spend the time and money to train my eye and my body to recognize a perfect shot and release the shutter in a spit second than rely on the camera to machine gun a scene or subject into submission. Call me old fashioned and afraid of technology, but it just seems counter-productive to taking good photos. I know there are those on this site who might think shooting with a 35mm SLR is too fast in the first place; that it doesn't force you to slow things down and really take in the scene that is to be photographed and I would agree with them. 35mm photography often persuades the photographer into rushing things, yet at this point 35mm is all that I have. So I will continue with my little manual Canon and hope that I can train my eye like Cartier-Bresson so that I don't need 8fps and tracking auto-focus.