I come from a large extended family. This sort of thing happens to east-europeans. My Dad is one of twelve kids, and twice a year, our extended family tries to get together to meet, greet, and generally spend time with a fantastic group of people. Gossip figures highly, as does really REALLY good food. New babies are particularly popular.
Riding over these get-togethers like surfers on an ocean swell are a series of overarching macro-stories – tales that are too long to have their beginning and end in a single event. These macro stories often manifest as friendly rivalries between my father and uncles.
Since I was little, the great sibling rivalry has been an arms-race in cameras. The Russians and Americans had nukes, but the Lebar family has cameras. Lots and lots of cameras.
My uncles and my father all fancy themselves to be pretty good photographers. I think that photography appeals to them because they are so two-brained: creative and technical, though not in equal amounts, and not identically across siblings. Photography can be a very a very technical art form, and I think that’s the appeal to them.
One year an uncle would show up with a rangefinder, so the next get-together would find another brother showing up with an SLR, and maybe the next reunion would (and did) find my father bringing his SLR (with integrated metering right in the viewfinder!) and TWO lenses, one of which might be an incredibly long zoom. Then a long and frequently heated group debate would ensue about features and quality.
It was a game of one-upmanship, and the winner every year was usually guy with the biggest camera bag. The prize was bragging rights.
Sometime in the last ten years this changed. One year my Dad brought his little Sony digital camera. 5 megapixels! he told his brothers, and watch this: 3x zoom! They looked suspiciously at his dinky little plastic camera, and then down at camera bags full of glass. Then he told them the price, and they all looked down at camera bags full of expensive glass, and needed a stiff drink. The battlefield had changed: bigger was out, and smaller was in.
Predictably the next event had them all vying for the smallest-camera award. This one was the size of a deck of cards, had 5x zoom AND 8 megapixels. That one was barely thicker than 3 credit cards, and admittedly only had 3x zoom, but it was still 8 megapixels and cost half of what he’d spent on his least-expensive lens for his Nikon FM-2. A third had a camera a bit larger than the rest, but it was 12 megapixels. Can you imagine? 12 million succulent picture elements inside this package, he told them, and 12x zoom.
The whole thing is really funny.
Every year I wonder what they’ll show up with. I also casually look around at what my cousins are shooting with, just out of curiosity. Other than myself and Sarah none of my generation seems to be that much into photography, so they tend to show up with pretty simple point-and-shoots, which totally do the job for them but leave me feeling like there’s a lot of image quality going wanting. We tend to buck the small-camera trend and show up with our Canon Rebel XT. Inevitably it gets borrowed by one uncle after another, and many pictures are taken. We email them around afterward.
Some time soon, we’ll replace the Canon with something a little more modern and a lot smaller. The dSLR is great, and takes great photos, but it’s a major pain to carry around, and I miss a LOT of great shots because I don’t have the camera with me. The fallback is my iPhone, but it hardly counts because of it’s terrible image quality and size.
Thankfully the world has finally produced cameras I’ve been looking for: small enough to carry around, with compact interchangeable lenses and fantastic image quality. The press is calling them “EVIL” cameras. Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens cameras. I like it. My current favourite, both for size and for the awesome retro look that reminds me so much of my Dad’s Pentax Spotmatic F, is the Olympus PEN E-P2:
I wonder if we’re about to have another shift in the Lebar family camera cold-war.