Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In This Modern Market (I Am Suffocating)

Abuzz with the persistent nagging hum of a regiment of bees or incoming locusts, the internet has been alarmingly enthusiastic in recent weeks, a slew of smart marketing techniques and vagary that culminated this morning in the official release of Nikon's newest magnum opus, the Df. I would be lying to say I wasn't wrapped up in the image being sold by the Df's cryptic, subtle campaign myself. It was a bit of marketing genius, selling not a camera, but a fantasy. Those ads didn't sell you a camera with a rattling of specifications, they barely showed the camera at all. They sold the perception of a lifestyle, a grizzly guy in Scotland camping in the woods by the beach, wandering wistfully through old castles and enjoying scenic overlooks of old cities. Were they ads for a travel agency, we'd all be booking flights to Scotland right now. Instead they were ads for the Nikon Df, and by association we're all, collectively as photographers, salivating at the promise of interesting lives if we only have a Df in our hands. By proxy, the camera makes us interesting people who do and see interesting things. Fantastic marketing - their advertising leads should get bonuses for the next 3 years.

I've been waiting all year for the "right" camera to be released, the next upgrade to my increasingly antiquated (or so my concept of technological progress tells me) camera system. In general, the digital imaging marketplace has undergone a strange sort of surge in product innovation - everything released this year has seemed a strong march forward from the systems of yesteryear. At least in the mirrorless market. And I genuinely hate stating that because it's a subject that causes a level of division in major photography circles that inevitably degrades into the crudest name-calling and capslock rants, but it's bare naked truth denied most often by the masses who allocate some measure of self-worth in the model and brand of camera they're shooting (and let me clear this up now, your worth as a photographer is never in the gear you're shooting, so please, value yourselves as photographers for more than the engineering prowess of a board of men in Japan). With new sensors, new processing engines, the abandonment of the AA filter, integrated WiFi connectivity, incredibly sized high resolution EVFs, blistering CDAF systems and now even on-sensor PDAF... I might go so far as to say this is the first year in which the march of progress in the mirrorless marketplace officially outpaced the CaNikon foundations that served as the bedrock for camera technologies for the past decade. As such, my proclivity toward nostalgia has me staring longingly at the Df, less in a genuine longing to handle the camera for sake of superior functionality, but more for desperate desires to handle that style of camera one last time.

This has been a marked year of change in the digital imaging marketplace, and the longer I sit on my hands and refrain from the urge to upgrade, the happier I am that I've held back and exercised restraint. While the technologies released this year are clear and logical upgrades for each brand's niche engineering ethos, those new innovations are also very young, fragile and amorphous in their introductory state. One more iteration to work out the bugs and perhaps then they will stand as safe and sound investments.

But then there's the Nikon Df. There is nothing new there. An homage to a familiar ergonomic standard abandoned some decades ago for being unwieldy and inferior. Dials and knobs for ISO and EV and shutter speed, ancient technology long usurped by multi-use mode dials and (P)rogram auto modes that do the math of exposure for you. An antiquated sensor, lauded for being the heart of the flagship D4 yet already eclipsed in performance by the likes of the D800 which also happens to boast an autofocus system well beyond the capabilities of the Df. Every aspect of the camera is a clear regression. No video, no integrated WiFi, no new technologies here. A clear cut poor investment in every sense at its price point. Yet it's still oh so difficult to defy the thought, "If only I had a Df, I could be that handsome, interesting grizzled man in Scotland".