Friday, August 5, 2011

Glory to Technology

Building a new parking facility and bookstore at LSU
As our Health Science teacher said when we were in Junior High School (now called Middle School) it's no use to complain about the Facts of Life.  Similarly, in a week where the only slight comfort is reading about what they tried to do to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937, I see no point in more talk about economics.  And I wonder whether they'll still be printing many books by the time that new facility (see caption) is finished (but it probably was approved and budgeted a decade ago).  Great building cranes have been in use, too, for a half century and though they're really impressive theirs is not the glory, though when I took a niece from eastern Washington state with me to Europe, she loved the cranes against lovely blue skies; that was in the 1980s when building was everywhere.  And the last time I could traipse all over cities, in 2002, my first, little digital camera boasted only 2X zoom: it could register a building crane, but just that, and I had no young niece with me to provide enthusiasm.
The Glorious Technology again is the combination of miniaturization and power.  A portable reel-to-reel tape recorder weighed as much as an L.C.Smith office typewriter.  During the Vietnam War families sent their voice recordings on cassettes.  But then came the Walkman, the first machine to record using AA batteries.  Today, for all the horrors of improvised explosive devices and clouds of hot dust and all, finally (for the moment) soldiers in current wars do not lack for IT: it is even possible to watch the birth of one's baby in real time (if only you can live to raise the child), and you watch it on a device the size of a Cartier cigarette case.  Similarly, cameras with extreme telephoto lenses, even in the 1960s, were nothing for any but the most rugged tourists to tote.  If they were zoom lenses, they were even longer, heavier, and more expensive, besides needing strong tripods for longer exposures as you zoomed and zoomed.
Six years ago I bought my first mini digital pocket camera, and I just decided to see what Nikon had done between my S1 (5.2MP and 2X zoom) and today's S9100 (12.1MP, 18X zoom--f.3.5 to 5.9 zooming 4.5 to 81 mm, which is like 25mm and 450mm on a 35mm film camera!).  And they were in the same price range, neither kiddy junk nor too expensive.
So my general view of that crane is as wide-angle as an old 25mm lens would be; you can just make out the crane operator's cabin in the middle of it.  It was taken at 4.5mm.
The next one seemed to me like what a Normal lens (like 50mm) of my youth would have framed; it was taken at 10.9mm:
I'd have been pleased to get this with any of my film cameras.
The third one seemed to me to be making a very bold demand on the little pocket S9100; I had never had a camera with a lens to take this one; it was taken at 34mm:
This tells me more than I ever guessed about these cranes
Finally, I moved to the extreme of the zooming thing (which is right in front of the taking button: how's that for thoughtful design?).  That is 81mm, and that is what, as I look at the little camera, about 4" X 2" X 1" (with the lens withdrawn to nearly flush with the face of the camera), and then at the image, even when you see it reduced from 4000pixels to 1500pixels, larger dimension--that is what seems to me a glory of technology at its best.
That cabin is nearly as large as the cab of a large semi, a big 18-wheeler
Now the question is, why should the humble tourist not have in his or her pocket such a little glory of technology and perhaps learn to see better by using it?  I taught History of Photography for over a decade, and I truly believe that cameras are for learning to see.  Sure, you can do it with a pinhole box (it is harder with a Hawkeye!), but with this kind of tool, it seems to me, that everyone's innate capacity for true seeing must be enhanced.
Is this my newest toy?  I shall learn by playing with it.  I needn't try to buy what I can neither tote by myself nor afford to pay for.  A powerful zoom for my DSLR?  I shall leave that for the young.
P.S. Click on these images to make them full-screen.
P.P.S. No, I'm not doing this just for Nikon.  There is a class of these really good miniatures, all about the same price, each with its own special features.  The reviews are careful to explain what each emphasizes, and all the major brands are good in their own ways.  I have had Nikon cameras since 1965, and I understand them most easily.