Friday, May 1, 2009

The Soul of a Tool

One of the main reasons I stuck with Pentax when I upgraded my camera last year was because they have something no other manufacturer can claim - This guy right here:

NED BUNNELL: Op-Ed thoughts by the Spa

Most professional photographers are going to buy into the Canon or Nikon system, primarily for their pro features, broad lens selection, accessory line and their rental and repair support base. It's hard to argue the economics of that decision. Looking toward the future, I almost switched systems myself, but in the end I think I would be hard pressed to find a better philosophical fit for the type of photography business I want to build than the one embodied by the President of Pentax Imaging USA. Why does that matter? It's something a bit difficult to put into words, but let me try.

When I'm building, wood working, drawing, writing, gardening, etc. I simply love the feel of a quality tool in my hand. There are a select few tools I pick up from time to time just to hold - To feel their weight in my hand. There is an energy to them that comes from inside of me. It's nothing mystical, they are simply tools that I've made a conscious decision to fall in love with for one reason or another. When I pick up those tools they trigger an emotional connection that helps me do better work.

One example is my chisels. I have several good quality bench chisels that hold a razor edge and shape wood beautifully but there are two Japanese chisels that hold a special place in my heart. They don't really make a better cut than my other chisels but I have this romantic notion that they were hand forged by a master tool maker sweating over an old furnace in an ancient village somewhere in the mountains of Japan. That's probably a misguided notion I know, but when I'm working on a piece of wood that I want to infuse that spirit of craftsmanship into, the romantic notion I associate with those tools helps me tap into that same mindset inside of myself.

Again, it's nothing more than a decision I've made to feel a certain way when I pick up a certain tool, but it's a powerful ally in tapping my best effort. The same goes for my cameras. That's why it matters that Pentax has a president like Ned. I have the distinct impression that I would really enjoy shooting the breeze with Ned as much as I would enjoy shooting images with him. When I visit his blog, I halfway get the impression I might even get the opportunity some day, he seems that approachable. As a result, my cameras actually feel a little more approachable. It's one of a hundred things that make my Pentax bodies feel like they were made with a little more personal thought and craftsmanship than the average DSLR. It doesn't really matter if it's true, it only matters if I fall in love with them enough to believe it's true... to feel it's true.

There is a tiny green tomato popping out on one of the vines in our garden already, the first fruits of spring. Ned's got a little friendly contest going on his blog for the best tomato image and I'm already putting a lot of though into it. I'll shoot it with my Pentax of course, and it will be something special because I will be using a tool I love. A tool that helps to bring out the craftsman in me. My cameras don't have to connect to every electronic device I own. They only have to connect to my soul where the pictures really happen.

It would be hard to buy a bad high end DSLR camera these days from any manufacturer but finding a camera body that helps you make that connection goes far beyond finding a good tool. The next time you pick up your camera, ask yourself how you could start to develop that tool connection for yourself. You really need to find a way to fall in love with that thing. It's more important to your images than you might think.

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