The size of the equipment

This article isn’t about words. Sorry! I couldn’t come up with a word-based excuse for it. It’s about cameras, but it’s about something you don’t need to be an insider to appreciate. Because it’s about the size of the equipment, and how much it means to some people.

Recently, the photo news site PetaPixel published an article about Donald Trump’s presidential portrait. They weren’t focusing on how the picture looked – though there are things that could be said about that. They were talking about the equipment used to take the picture. You can get this information from the digital file. The camera records it and anyone with the right software can see for themselves.

The thing that seemed amusing at first look was that the camera used is one that was released in 2007 and is no longer being made. It’s out of date in its technical specs. Why not use the latest, greatest equipment? If you’re the Donald?

A thing that caught my attention was that it was shot at a comparatively high ISO (allows for faster shutter speeds but sacrifices some image quality, especially in older cameras), even though it was shot with a wide aperture (which itself allows for higher speeds). Why do that?

But I know the answer to both questions: If you’re the Donald, it’s gotta be huge. It’s gotta look impressive. And the camera he was shot with was huge. Huge. And, even more important, the lens he was shot with was HUGE. Big and impressive and professional-looking. (I recently had some things to say about “professional“…)

The camera was a Canon EOS 1DS Mark III. See it on DPReview: It’s 15 cm by 16 cm (about 6 inches by 6.5 inches, the size of a dinner plate but thicker) and weighs 3 pounds even before you put a lens on it. It’s not up to current professional standards: 21 megapixels and top ISO of 1600. I have a camera sitting on my desk that’s the size of my (admittedly large) hand that blows it out of the water (and costs a lot less). But my camera is not impressive looking. The Canon EOS 1DS Mark III is exactly what the average non-photographer thinks of when thinking of a pro photographer’s equipment.

And then there’s that lens. If you think the camera is huge… I mean, no, it’s not the hugest lens you can get. But anything huger is not really appropriate for a portrait photo. See it on DPReview: It’s 20 cm long (that’s 8 inches), and it weighs more than three and a quarter pounds. Altogether, the equipment used to shoot Donald Trump’s presidential portrait weighed more than 6 pounds and was (once you add the body thickness to the lens length) almost a foot long.

And when you’re shooting with a rig like that, you need to shoot at a high shutter speed to make sure you don’t have motion blur – if you’re not using a tripod (as you should!) or the subject won’t stand still. In this case, the shutter speed was 1/320 of a second, which isn’t all that high – apparently the photographer didn’t have a full studio lighting setup, but I doubt that he/she was a currently working professional photographer, given the old equipment – but it’s enough to compensate for shaky hands or a moving subject.

So there it is. The reason for the rig (and the shutter speed and ISO) is that Donald got someone – maybe a friend or family member? – with a big, impressive-looking camera to shoot his picture, but whoever did it was not a studio pro and did not use studio lights or, probably, a tripod. Possibly it was a retired paparazzo. Maybe the camera was Donald’s own. Given that he’s using an old unsecure smartphone to tweet with, and given that his idea of quality is my idea of fugxury, that seems plausible.

Just by the way, PetaPixel also gave the info on the cameras used to shoot Barack Obama’s official portraits. Both were shot using Canon 5D bodies, which are slightly smaller cameras that still produce similar image quality to the 1D. (They’re still bigger than my Sony a7ii or a Leica, but they’re very versatile and are preferred by many professionals.) The photographer, Pete Souza, used the model that was most current at the time: the Mark II and then the Mark III. He shot the portraits at 1/125 of a second at much smaller apertures (for greater depth of field) but at low ISO for good quality, which means he was using proper professional lighting. Oh, and the lenses? Both comparatively “long” focal lengths – 105mm first, then 85mm, which is a standard portrait length – but much smaller than the lens used for the Donald. The one used in 2012 was only 3.3 inches long. But I really don’t think Obama felt he had anything to prove with the choice of photo equipment. He just let his official photographer use what was best according to his expertise.

9 responses to “The size of the equipment

  1. Reblogged this on KathyPowers1 and commented:
    The Donald continues to compensate with the bigliest camera size and lense. This is the best!

  2. Hahaha. I love it! Thanks for the chuckle.

  3. We have a major communications problem in our society, and so I appreciate your regular postings, which help us understand the very words that we use. It is contradictory to your more noble efforts, then, to go on these rants about the current U.S. president, especially when they have nothing at all to do with the subject of your blog. At a time when everything we say and do is politically charged, your scholarship is an oasis of sanity. Please keep it that way.

    • A rant, as you ought to know, is a loose emotional outpouring of invective. I have presented a lively but not angry or invective-filled analysis of something that caught my interest, since I also have an interest in photography (as should be evident by now). You have not used the term rant in the standard way but rather as a denigration of something to which you take exception (and did you have another article in mind as well, since you say “these rants”?).

      If you think you can isolate language from the rest of the world, you are deceiving yourself or being disingenuous (and given that you say you discern a major communications problem in our society, I’d suspect the latter). The use of language is intricately involved in the politics of our day, and many of my word tastings touch on general political principles, though I try to keep them timeless by avoiding specifics (for instance, my just-posted piece on phonemics and the recent piece on lackadaisical both include veiled commentary on current politics and society). But the question of form versus function is always germane to language and linguistics, and since I also have an interest in photography, I took a particular interest in the question of why someone in his position and with his resources would have the portrait done with such an inappropriate piece of equipment. The likely answer being that he has a strong emphasis on how things look (see for instance Keeping up appearances rather than considering substance and effect is a problem we are not dealing with appropriately in our society, in words as in other things.

      There is nothing noble in standing by and pretending to be beyond or above the most important issues of our time, and certainly nothing noble in counselling others to hold their tongues just to keep a certain appearance. You are of course free to disagree with my perspective, and I appreciate a well-reasoned response to anything I say, but I do not think it is a valuable use of discourse simply to tell someone to shut up. If you don’t like seeing commentary on politics, it’s very easy for you to skip an article at the first naming of a current politician (and don’t worry, this has likely been the last for quite some time), and you can even pretend that my other articles have nothing to do with politics and society – though you’ll be missing some of the point if you do.

  4. While Aristotle does say that man is a “political animal” (Pol. 1.1253a), I do not agree that everything has to do specifically with American presidential politics. You made a good point within the subject of your blog in the post on “populism, populist” (Dec 28, 2016). Here, though, you depart from your expertise twice: first, to pretend that a camera from 2007 is somehow unusable (some commentators on that article would say otherwise), and then to make a psychological assessment based on the use of that camera. That, my friend, is the very definition of a rant, since you depart from your regular, steady, course to make an illogical series of conclusions, whose emotional source is betrayed by your use of bold and italics.

    You have, I feel, grossly overreacted to my comment, summing up my appeal as “telling someone to shut up.” Such an expression contributes to the decadence of public discourse. I am not being “disingenuous” just because I do not see the connection between humanity’s political nature and the need to respond tit-for-tat to every provocation. Indeed, holding oneself aloof from that kind of exchange is already a kind of political defiance, the very kind that our society needs and for which I thought I had subscribed to your blog.

    • Peter, you have made several errors.

      First: Photography is in fact an area of my expertise. I have been a photographer for more than 40 years (I generally don’t do it for money, but I do know what I’m doing very well), and I am also well informed as to the state of the art and the requirements of the trade. It is evidently not an area of your expertise, as you are relying on comments on an article (people who stay current with photography online know that the comments are not a good neighbourhood).

      The camera equipment in question is of course usable; a good photographer can take a good picture with a 10-megapixel pocket camera. But the same good photographer can take a better picture with more appropriate equipment, and it will have better handling of the image and more usability at a variety of sizes (incidentally, there is other quite obvious evidence that the photographer was not very good: the white balance is badly handled, for one). The camera in question is oversized for the purpose, and the lens doubly so; it’s like using a riding mower to mow a lawn that is 10 feet by 10 feet. It’s so large as to be impractical. Six pounds of equipment and one foot long is quite difficult to hold steady if you don’t have it on a tripod, and the most reasonable explanation for the shutter speed is that he was shooting hand-held. An 85mm or 105mm prime lens is optimal. I did explain this.

      There’s a difference between a camera that can do the job if it has to and a camera that is a good choice. The EOS 1DS Mark III is, in fact, outdated. Usable, yes, but a good working professional probably won’t be using it for that job, and if he is, he’s unlikely to use that lens (if he can afford that lens he can also afford an 85mm prime), and if he does, he’ll put it on a tripod if he can. And, again, when you are hiring a photographer to do such an important job, you are normally going to hire one who has appropriate – and reasonably current – equipment and knows how to use it; this includes a proper lighting set-up, and it also includes a camera that gives enough resolution for optimum versatility and has a fairly current sensor to minimize noise and expand dynamic range, and a lens that is best suited to the job. None of this was the case in this photograph. Yes, of course you can use a 1964 Porsche to take your camping gear down a gravel road to the campground, but that doesn’t mean you should, and if someone is selling his services as a hiking guide, you’ll doubt his expertise if he shows up with a 1964 Porsche.

      You seem to think it illogical to conclude, from questionable choices of equipment and settings, that there must be a factor involved outside of the usual considerations. That much is, I have to tell you, very good reasoning. It’s true that it’s a leap of inference to say that it’s because Trump prefers how things look, but that is among the most reasonable explanations.

      Second: The very definition of a rant, since you haven’t bothered to look it up, is – I’ll take it from M-W here – “to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner” and “to scold vehemently” and, transitively, “to utter in a bombastic declamatory fashion.” Your use of the term is incorrect, and as it is a loaded term, you are in fact using it abusively. That you pretend otherwise is dishonest on your part. You are projecting on me an emotional response; indeed, you have twice told me what I was feeling when writing this article, and you have been wrong twice. I wrote it with the motivation firstly of figuring out why the photographer would use that equipment with those settings, and secondly of writing something that would make amusing reading, which is why I write with a lively style. But while you feel that you can make a psychological assessment of me, at the same time you want to chastise me for making one of someone else. The psychological assessment you say I make is in fact a speculation of motives based on a known fact: Donald Trump does pay great attention to appearances, often over substance; you need only to look to his own statements to find this out.

      You have come here and told me, somewhat patronizingly and using an inappropriate charged term, not to talk about something, but you object to this being characterized as telling me to shut up. You present yourself as having the authority to tell me what is and is not suitable for me to put on my own blog. You have characterized something written in my usual lively style (you say you read my blog, but you seem not to recognize my style), but not angry or vehement, as “these rants.” You have now used assorted other deprecatory language – “grossly overreacted,” “illogical,” “need to respond tit-for-tat to every provocation.” This last is particularly curious, because the original article was not in response to a provocation at all. If you are characterizing my response to your comment, then at least you admit implicitly that your initial comment was a provocation; it was certainly written in a provocative manner. But I am not giving you tit-for-tat; you have come, and have made certain imputations, and I am well within reason to correct some and counsel in regard to others.

      Here’s a little lesson in pragmatics: Interactionally, you are presenting yourself in a higher-status role, counselling me in a way that implies that you know better than I about my own business (and now presuming to tell me what the definition of a word is – when you haven’t even bothered to look it up, which means you expect me to accept your self-presented authority), and characterizing me in terms that present you as the more rational and self-controlled person. Naturally, I am not going to accept your authority and characterizations here, and I will receive such an approach as high-handed and provocative. Your further response even more strongly reasserts the role you are trying to play and the role you are trying to cast me in, and I am even less inclined to accept it. The problem is that you lack the knowledge base to do it – you’re attempting to correct me on things I know much better than you do – and you have no basis to claim the higher-status role here. It is in fact an invasion and insult to do so.

      At any rate, this is my blog. I know what I write and why I write it, and you have no basis to tell me I don’t. If you don’t like what I’m writing, you’re free not to read it, and you’re free to disagree with the substance of it, but telling me not to write on a certain subject is an inappropriate assertion of unearned and ungranted authority over discourse, and it is precisely that kind of attempt to assert control over what may and may not be said that is the greatest threat to public discourse.

      I have spent far too much time on this now. I won’t be spending any more time on it.

  5. Kristi Anderson

    Speaking of populism and populist, and boy do we need to speak of them, your site’s word index list contains the entry “populism, populist” but clicking on it in the list doesn’t work in the usual manner. The following message pops up: “Nothing Found. Apologies, but no results were found for the requested archive. Perhaps searching will help find a related post.” There are of course other ways to find that particular Word Tasting, but I thought I would mention it because people looking for that particular word(s) entry must be able to quickly find and read what you wrote. Read, and think about, and re-read, and know the correct meanings of the words. As you said at the end “I think we owe ourselves and everyone else a duty to make this use of populist and populism unpopular.” Oh, by the way, have you Word Tasted “knee-jerk”? If not, perhaps you’d consider it. Some of the commenters might recognize themselves in it.

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