If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.”  Thomas Sowell

We live in a polarized world, one full of contradictions and rivalries. Us vs. Them. It seems there are two sides, two sets of “facts” for every issue. Pro and con. For and against. Good luck finding any topic, any issue (and a great many non-issues), over which we can't be divided. Good vs. evil. Freedom vs. tyranny. Nature vs. nurture. Coke® vs. Pepsi®. Ford vs. Chevy. Boxers vs. briefs. Republican vs. Democrat (insert your country's political rivals here), VHS vs. Beta (irrelevant now). HD vs. Blu-ray™ (ditto). Fox vs. reason. Sword vs. pen. Canon vs. Nikon. Mac vs. PC. It's at list without end.

I'm making my point with dichotomies, but many of these pairings have third or fourth elements on the fringes: Chrysler®, Ricoh®, Tea Party, Microsoft® Windows Vista®, Linux. These have their adherents and get headlines, but are rarely consequential in the grand scheme of things.

It seems to be our nature to argue for the choices we make, to defend our decisions, however indefensible, sometimes with unpleasant consequences.

The purchasing decisions we make aren't immune to this. Photography, like many other pursuits, requires an array of equipment and materials, much of it expensive. Camera bodies; lenses; tripods, heads, and accessories; computers and software; printers. Nobody likes making expensive mistakes. We feel compelled to justify our buying decisions by insisting Brand X or Brand Y is absolutely the best; anyone who'd make a different decision must be ignorant or stupid. People will stick with a brand even when they've had disappointing experiences, often just to avoid having to admit they chose poorly, or to avoid change. “I'd never buy anything but <insert brand name here>”, is a common statement, even though far too much money and time may have been spent over the years on repairs.


As a serious hobby photographer in the 1970s I used Topcon camera bodies. These were heavy-duty camera bodies, built to last. They weren't cheap. The company had some innovative, if a little odd, products; the oddness was perhaps appealing for reasons I can't explain, which only proves that emotion plays a part when making purchasing decisions. I bought a new Super-D (for some reason called the D Super outside the U.S.), with the “standard” 58mm F: 1.8 lens, for $500.00. That was a lot of money in 1973. (I sold it on eBay 25 years later for nearly $400.) I bought a very used RE-2 (D1 in the U.S.) sometime in the 1980s, which I still have around here somewhere. I liked these cameras, and they served me well enough. They didn't come with bragging rights, however, since most people I knew then had never heard of Topcon. It was Minolta vs. Nikon in those days, with the pros almost exclusively shooting Nikon. Canon and Pentax were the also-rans then.

In 1998, in preparation for what I expected to be the vacation of a lifetime, I decided to buy a modern camera. I did plenty of research, talked to everyone I knew who had more than a passing interest in photography, and got some help from a professional photographer. Nikon and Canon were the mainstream choices, and I eventually settled on a Canon EOS A2e and a pair of Canon-branded zoom lenses. I used the camera heavily for the next nine years. I experienced one significant out-of-warranty failure of the camera body, which I was able to repair myself.

My lenses were inexpensive, but surprisingly good. I still use one of those, the perfect lens for hiking: 24-85mm F:3.5—4.5, small, and light. The other lens, which I sold some years ago, was the world's first image-stabilized lens. It seemed a little bit magical at the time. I replaced this with another Canon lens, the 100-400mm F:4.5—5.6 L, also image-stabilized. At the time no other company made a similar lens. Once I'd determined its focal lengths were what I wanted, there was no brand decision involved.

I wasn't an early adopter of digital image capture. I waited until images from DSLRs were clearly superior to scanned 35mm film (I use a Nikon film scanner). I waited longer until I could afford a DSLR with a full-frame sensor, that is, a sensor the same size as a 35mm film frame. That criterion limited my choices to two cameras, both from Canon. One of those was nearly $8000, an impossible obstacle, so the choice was made for me. I've had my EOS 5D since early 2007. The camera has been a delight to use. Every Canon owner complains about the overly convoluted method to enable and disable mirror lock-up (come ON, Canon!), but Canon is showing no signs of pulling its collective head of of its collective ass on that issue, so we continue to be stuck with it. Otherwise, the camera has, so far, been simply excellent.

Computers and Operating Systems

Prior to moving full-time into photography, I worked for a couple of decades in “IT”, Information Technology. I worked with computers, servers, and networks, and performed hundreds of operating system installations on all manner of computer hardware. I wound up that career working in software development, and software testing for the Windows platform. I worked extensively with all versions of the Windows operating system up through Vista. My job required a reasonably thorough understanding of the under-the-hood workings of Windows and Microsoft's development systems. In short, I was at least fairly competent working in the world of Windows.

About the time Vista was released, my personal desktop computer, which I used for slide scanning and all image processing, had reached the end of its useful life. My old Windows XP box had performed well for several years, but would not run the then-current version of Adobe® Photoshop®. Given my history with Microsoft and with PC hardware designed to run its operating systems, you'd think my choice would be obvious—a new Windows system. But I was leaning heavily toward the Macintosh and Apple's OS X, perhaps because of my history working with Microsoft products. I want the computer, and therefore its operating system, to be invisible so I can concentrate on the job at hand, which in my case is image processing and printing, and maintaining my Web site. Endless patches and updates to fix security problems, the hassle of fixing those patches when they fail to install properly, constant nattering by Vista's User Account Control (one can't even change the time or date without UAC rearing its head), driver compatibility issues, and anti-virus and anti-malware programs sucking up CPU cycles to run their scans of my hard drives, were among the list of annoyances I wanted to avoid. While many of these things are better today with Windows 7, that OS didn't exist when I had to make my decision. After many hours of research, I made a decision. In February, 2008, I bought an 8-core, 2.8Ghz Mac Pro, stuffed it with memory and hard drives, loaded up Photoshop CS3 (now CS5), and hoped for the best.

I knew the Mac would not eliminate some of the grievances listed above from my computing life. There's no doubt the Mac suffers from many of the same issues plaguing other systems. Mac ownership ties one to Apple, Inc. in ways that sometimes leave me wondering why any sane person would use a Mac. The Mac Pro was expensive, but the argument that Mac users are ignorant (or plain stupid) because they spend more for their computers is a specious one if the total cost of ownership is considered. This is especially true if one includes in that total cost the hours needed to maintain a Windows system and keep it safe to use. I've now used the Mac for several years; there's no doubt my computing life is better with the Mac. I can be unconcerned about how or why it works, what goes on under the hood, and who or what might be trying to attack me. I spend far less time maintaining the Mac than I did with my Windows systems. I spend my time as a Photoshop user, rather than as a computer user. You may have a very different experience, and you're welcome to believe any anti-Mac hysteria you might hear or read. As of today, using my Mac with its OS X 10.6.8, I know I've made the right choice. I am unconvinced Apple's newest OS X, 10.7 “Lion”, is right for me. It may be Apple's Vista, or it may be the beginning of a new and great way for computers to be. While the early adopters bash it out, I'm sticking with what I've got.

I should note we still have several Windows XP computers in use here, and a Windows server hosting RAID 1 storage for all our photo files. This works just fine with the Mac as the original source for those files. I do occasional IT work for people and businesses in my area. About half of that is for Windows users. I have no overall bias against Microsoft or their operating systems. I simply choose to use what I think is the best tool for any given job; for me that's most often the Mac and OS X.

Us vs. Them

That's how I chose the primary gear I need for my photography, or perhaps, how it chose me. Your choices, and your reasons may be very different. Whether your reasons are based on research, planning, past experience, and real-use considerations, or based simply on hearsay and rumor, you've made your choices and defend them as you think necessary. That's as it should be. It doesn't make different choices better or worse.

Mirrored Mallard, Northeast Ohio, U.S.

This 2001 photo was made with a Canon body and lens on Fuji film. Scanned with a Nikon film scanner. My gallery prints are currently made on a Canon large-format printer. This equipment combination has worked well for me. It may for you too, but you'll come to your buying decisions your own way.

In the end, regardless of your goals, when looking at a fine art print you can't determine whether the image was captured with Nikon or Canon (or other) cameras and lenses, or whether it was printed with Canon, Epson, or HP printers. This stuff is all “that good”. The technologies involved aren't radically different from brand to brand. The fringe brands have their devotees, and they too have their reasons. It's more fun, educational, and no doubt healthier, to be agreeable about our differences.

August, 2011

All products and brand names mentioned are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. My attempts to get all the ® amd ™ symbols in the right places are surely inadequate.