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The new Canon 5D Mark IV will be hitting the retail stores shortly. The specs, subject of much rumor and speculation, may or may not be out there although at this point it’s more likely that currently available details are accurate.

It’ll be a good camera, with a higher resolution sensor and no doubt some tweaks to mark it out as an upgrade to the Mark III.

I have the Mark III. I also have the Mark II. In absolute terms the Mark III is a better camera than the Mark II. A more sophisticated auto-focus system, better movie handling, ergonomic improvements. Still, when I went to South Africa earlier this year, it was the Mark II I took with me. I judged it to be a camera I could afford to lose more easily – a real consideration in crime-heavy SA. Fortunately that never happened. What did happen was that I realized that the Mark II was giving me images that were just as good as those from the Mark III and that all the so-called enhancements really didn’t matter at all. The Mark II’s autofocus was entirely adequate, the ergonomics just fine, the camera was and remained a joy to use and at no point did I wish I had the Mark III with me instead.

I also took the equally old Canon 7D with me as a second body. Again, this is a camera whose age marks it out as quite obsolete in digital camera terms, but it too provided me with entirely satisfactory photographs.

This was an instructive experience. I get caught up in the latest and greatest. I can’t help myself. I read reviews and follow product releases. I read the specs. I look at the specification comparisons available on a number of web sites, list of numbers and values that improve – if that’s the right word – as the latest editions become available.

It seems like a blind alley. Not totally worthless, for there are meaningful improvements in sensor technology, not so much in resolution but signal to noise ratios. I judge that as the single most important improvement in digital camera technology. Movies are fine, but not my area of interest. As for in-camera HDR, vignetting and distortion corrections, those are nice but not essential. Yes, autofocus has become much more maleable but I’m used to manual focus now or using single point autofocus and have no problem getting my images to be focused the way I want them. Sometimes it’s better with the older, simpler, technologies – unless carefully monitored, modern autofocus systems can lead you astray.

I don’t think I would even be thinking this way were it not for going back to film photography using manual cameras, some without even a light meter, and controls limited solely to shutter speed, focus and aperture. Shutter speeds, moreover, that seem absurdly slow by modern standards. Maximums of 1/1000 or even 1/500 seconds. Even using the sunny 16 rule, an exposure judgement based solely on how things look to the eye, I get perfectly exposed negatives.

No wonder I question the real value of the comprehensive computer technology built in the latest cameras.

Still, I also acknowledge that it is much easier for a beginning or inexperienced photographer to get good photographs as soon as they pick up the camera these days. That’s important. In the old days, it took a lot of learning and experience to get good photos. More learning and experience than most people who take pictures really want to embrace. That’s the real advance in camera technology – not from my point of view – but from the general point of view. And you can’t knock that.