Musings on Photography

A small point

Posted in art is a verb, Canon Powershot G9, process by Paul Butzi on January 24, 2008


Over on Luminous Landscape, Nick Devlin has written an in depth account of his trip to Japan with the G9, well worth reading if you’re considering buying one of these beasties. You will note that Devlin repeats much of what I have said (and others have said) about the G9 before.

The point I’d have people take away from Devlin’s excellent account is that what’s wonderful about the G9 is not that it produces images as noise free as the nearly noiseless EOS-5d (it doesn’t), nor the images are on a par with an EOS 1Ds mk III (they’re not), or even that the G9 is small and light enough to go with you everywhere (I’ve had a fair number of cameras that were smaller and lighter).

The point is more that the G9 is the first easily available camera that was, on all these scales, good enough. It is not the best in image quality – there are many cameras that beat the G9 on image quality. It’s not the best on noise – most DSLRs in the current crop beat it. It’s not the lightest camera nor the smallest. But on all of these scores, the G9 stacks up as ‘good enough to be used for serious work by serious workers’.

I think that’s where the puzzling over the G9 comes from in the reviews I’ve seen written by what I’ll call the ‘non-photographic’ reviewers. They look at the G9 and conclude that, when compared to the best cameras point by point the G9 is often bested by some other camera. What they’re missing is that we can’t take photographs with a camera that consists of Camera A’s noise free sensor, Camera B’s low light sensitivity, Camera C’s lens, and Camera D’s control layout. They’ve missed the fact that although DSLRs beat the G9 on noise and image quality, even a small DSLR won’t fit in your pants pocket. They’ve missed the fact that although there are other small cameras that fit in your pocket, they all have hard to use and frustrating controls.

We can only make photographs with a camera that actually exists, and which we can contrive to have with us when the need to make the photograph occurs. Every camera is a compromise, and the interesting thing about the G9 is not that it’s without compromise but that it’s a particularly interesting set of compromises – a set that never dips below the threshold where some particular aspect of the camera becomes a deal breaker.

The G9 has not replaced my EOS-5d – I still routinely grab the 5d when I’m heading out the door to make photographs. If I could have just one camera, it would be a low noise, high resolution DSLR like the 5d – in fact, for something like 18 months, the 5d was the only camera I used, and I didn’t feel much pinch.

Being a DSLR replacement is not where the G9 is interesting. The interesting thing about the G9 is that it’s let me extend my photography into a place that was hard to reach before – photographs of quotidian things and places where the photos were hard for me to get previously because the cameras that were convenient enough fell short in some other way. Because it’s on every level Good Enough, I now have the G9 with me and make those photos.

And, to put it in the words of Harry Callahan, that makes it just a bit easier for me to use photography as a tool ‘to regulate a pleasant form of living.’

3 Responses

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  1. Mike Mundy said, on January 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    I guess that this falls into the category of “the G9 doesn’t have X” complaint, but I really, really want to have a flip-out LCD screen for street shooting. I know that the earlier G-models had this feature. Interestingly enough, some SLRs are now featuring tiltable screens.

  2. Bron Janulis said, on January 24, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    “And, to put it in the words of Harry Callahan”


    I’ve always felt an affinity with Callahan, his gentle images, but never really explored them. Now I have good reason to.


  3. Billie said, on January 25, 2008 at 7:27 am

    Are you following this blog?
    He has been a B&W photographer but with the G9 in hand, he is posting a lot of color images…..everyday. Interesting to see how he is using the camera.

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