Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Learning Curve

There is a line in a song by Robert Earl Keen which goes, "The road goes on forever and the party never ends." Well, it's not exactly the right words I am looking for but it's what describes it very well. In years past, even just a few decades ago, you could continue learning until you decided to slow down or stop learning. The amount of new knowledge was small so that you could take respites and catch up when you were ready.

But not today, as it has been for about the last 20 or so years, with the advent of more and more electronics into our life. So that even the simpliest thing isn't anymore. You see I was there when the first HP calculator was introduced. An engineer in our office paid $400 for one and touted as "the" replacement for the slide rules we used. Little did we know then it was the start of the escalating speed of technology.

And photography was just on the brink of changing. The latest cameras were almost entirely mechnical with electronic light meters. In the fall of 1969 I bought a Minolta SRT-101 with a 58mm f1.2 lens and was off on my hobby to later become a passion, without knowing where I was going or where it would lead me. And large format photography was pretty much consistent from the 1950's with some better cameras and lenses, but mostly what you learned when you started worked throughout your life.

Fast forward to today and it's a totally different world. Almost. Large format photography is essentially the same. You can't change it too much without totally abandoning it. But that said, there are totally digital 4x5 cameras (Sinar) which require a laptop computer to work with it. The focusing and front-back movements are still mechnical (they have minuterized those parts yet to use motors), but the rest is electronic. But you can still use the time-tested straight 4x5 camera.

But that still doesn't change the fact the learning curve doesn't stop anymore. Even with a simple Horseman 45HD you still have to plug your brain and mind in to see and capture image. Otherwise, you spent $4-5 per sheet for some expensive lesson - or worse, WTF moments. It's the choice you make, think or not, and live with the results.

With the advent of digital cameras, computer, photo processing and printing technology, and it's a whole new world where if you stand still you become old in a year or so. Where before you upgraded your cameras every 5-7+ years (some pros still use 10+ year old cameras because the top models have always been supported by the companies past the introduction of new models), now you plan for a 3-5 years life span, partly because the companies simply don't or can't repair them after they've been replaced.

And my point? Well, having retired to pursue photography, I've fallen on the road of the endless learning curve. I'll be learning my computer system and photo processing and printing tools for years, not including upgrades every year or so. I'll be using my digital camera system till it breaks and I have to replace it, but in the meantime it has more features than I can ever imagine using.

And the key is that it's a party, and you can either enjoy the journey or sit by the roadside and watch the rest of the world pass you by.

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