Another Reminder of the Downside of Free

View From The Dugout

To the marketing departments of the photographic industry, I am classified as an “enthusiast”. Someone who buys a DSLR camera, a couple of steps above a point-and-shoot, without trying to make money with it. If you’ve seen the occasional Photo Posts on this site, you’ll understand why I’m in that “not making any money” category.

In addition to posting images here, I’ve also been a member of the photo sharing site Flickr since 2005, an eternity in Internet time. Once the king of photo sharing, they have been eclipsed in recent times by Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and other services.

It is from these two perspectives that I’ve been very interested in reactions to recent announcements from Flickr’s new owners about how they plan to change things.

Spoiler alert: people get very upset when a company cuts back on the features of their “free” product in order to make a sustainable business.

The company that bought Flickr1 plans to limit free accounts to storage and display of only 1000 images. Which is a substantial drop from the one terabyte of storage Flickr began offering five years ago. Pro users, those of us who pay $50 a year for the service (up from the grandfathered rate of $25 for old-timers), will get “unlimited”2 storage, plus no ads and other benefits.

In the age of everyone carrying a smartphone with a lot of memory, one thousand photos is not a lot. You probably have at least half that many on your device right now. Your kids are likely storing many more. But how many of those pictures are worth displaying? Be honest. How many are actually good enough to show the world, not just your relatives and friends?3

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens to Flickr going forward. More than anything I would like to see more and better activity in their communities. There are a couple worth an occasional visit but most I’ve seen have been inactive or full of spam for years.

However, even if you don’t use or care about Flickr, this should serve as another of your increasingly frequent reminders that free is not a valid business model. Someone has to pay for the bandwidth, lots of equipment, and all the people supporting it (and you).

Almost always, at the “free” level of any web service, your cost is going to be limited functionality and a whole lot of uncertainty.


Image is one of my more than one thousand images in my Flickr account, a view of Nationals Park in DC from the home team’s dugout.

1. Who bought it from Verizon, which obtained it as part of buying the remains of Yahoo. Both owners largely neglected both the site and its community.

2. I’m always a little suspicious of anyone offering unlimited anything. Just read the fine print on your phone company’s “unlimited” data plan to see the limits on unlimited.

3. Who probably don’t want to see them either but are too polite to tell you. :)

Photo Post – New Orleans

Earlier this month, some friends and I did a short trip to New Orleans. Just because it’s an interesting city.

Here are a few of my favorite shots. More are in this gallery and you can see Kathy’s images from the trip in her gallery.

Shattered Tablet

Every New Orleans visitor guide says to visit a cemetery or two. This shattered tablet is from Lafayette Cemetery #1.

Rue Royale

A postcard shot of Rue Royale, one of the main streets through the French Quarter.

Clown

This rather creepy clown was in the window of a French Quarter art gallery. Imagine putting that in your house.

The King

One of the many items in Mardi Gras World, the company that builds floats and other structures for the many, many celebrations in New Orleans and other parts of the world.

Photo Post – Photowalking

On the first Saturday of October, photowalks are held all over the world under the umbrella of KelbyOne, a photo training organization. This year I was the co-leader for a walk from the Rosslyn area of Arlington across the Key Bridge and across the Georgetown waterfront.

It was a fun morning and below are a few of my favorite shots from the walk. More are in this gallery and for another perspective, check out the set from my co-leader Kathy. Her image are probably better.

Georgetown Waterfront

The Georgetown waterfront, looking across the Potomac River from the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge.

Crew 2

Most Saturday mornings in good weather (and sometimes bad), you can watch college and high school crew teams practicing on the Potomac between the Kennedy Center and the Key Bridge.

Chair

Looking down at the strangely green water in the C&O Canal in Georgetown. The color and the chair caught my eye.

Scarlet

Detail of a sculpture called Scarlet on the Georgetown waterfront. Looks like a collection of stuff that washed up from the River to me.

Photo Post – Alaska

One of the reasons for the big gap in posting around here this summer was because during the first half of August, we were off cruising the inside passage of the Alaskan panhandle. Although I’m not a fan of large cruise ships (and the time trapped “at sea”), the scenery was spectacular as advertised.

Below are a few of my favorite shots, and more are in this gallery. I have some 360° images still to be posted.

Golden Gate Bridge

We sailed out of San Francisco and under the Golden Gate Bridge, but just barely since this is a huge ship.

Creek Street

Creek Street in Ketchikan. All of the small towns in which we docked had a Disney-esque tourist feel to them. This felt more genuinely historic than the others.

Lake Mendenhall

Most of the back half of the trip was spent under cold, gray skies. That still made for some interesting images, like these very low hanging clouds around the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau.

Tracy Arm Fiord 7

One of many incredible views as the ship cruised up the Tracy Arm fjord. Huge mountains with long waterfalls, magical clouds, and, not seen in this shot, large chucks of ice in the water.

Coffee Service

I just found it amusing that, while observing some absolutely spectacular natural beauty, passengers could still buy their expensive coffee from that cart in the lower right.

Camera Shopping

Photo of two cameras

This post is long and rather geeky. If you have no interest in interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) and/or my process of buying a new one, it’s time to move to the next item in your RSS feed.

As you may have noticed from the photo-related posts around here, and especially if you have followed the link to my photo site, I make a lot of pictures. If you dug a little deeper, you would find that most of them were taken with a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. I also use a smartphone camera, of course, but most often those wind up on Twitter, Flickr, and other sharing sites with no processing.

My current camera1 is now more than six years old, which, considering it’s been well-used on a dozen major trips, lots of shorter ones, and plenty of local photowalks, is getting up there in age. When I bought it, this model was considered “entry-level” in the world of ILC cameras, as was my previous DSLR and which I used for seven years.

So, I’m shopping for a new camera, a not-at-all simple process as well as a potentially expensive investment.

One complicating factor is that the technology has made some major advancements since I last did any serious camera research. Another is that I’m ready to move up a category, to something that might be considered “intermediate”. And that means more complex options.

However, the biggest issue I’m dealing with are the titanic developments in mirrorless technology coming from camera companies. Mirrorless will almost certainly become the standard for ILCs in the future, but we are currently near the beginning of that shift. Although the basics of shooting with a mirrorless camera aren’t really different, there are still some key differences between them and traditional DSLRs. And some important features still lag behind.2

All of this is why I rented a mirrorless camera last week and did a lot of shooting with it.3 Renting gave me a relatively inexpensive opportunity to play with the new technology, along with experience with the new operating system of a different camera brand.4 Plus a whole lot of buttons, dials, and joystick, all of which I couldn’t possibly learn in just a few days. But it was fun trying.

Of course, everything above is just about the camera. Buying an ILC system also means there are new lenses to consider, lenses that can also be very expensive. Although, I have friends who are really into camera equipment and own four or five different pieces of glass, in addition to a couple of bodies, my needs and wants are simpler. I will start with just one general purpose “travel” zoom lens and maybe add a second “prime” lens later.

Anyway, the bottom line to this long rambling post is that I won’t be buying anything right away. My current camera still has some good life in it, and budgeting for a whole new system will require some additional savings.

But the big unknown in my decision-making process is that the industry has not heard from the two big guys in ILCs. Canon and Nikon have not yet released “serious” mirrorless camera systems. They seem to be close. Both are expected to make some big announcements about their new equipment very soon, possibly at Photokina, the huge international photography show in September. The new systems aren’t expected to be widely available until next year, but knowing something about their plans will be good.

In the meantime, I’ll do more research, keep adding to my piggy bank, and continue making many more pictures with the cameras I have.

The common wisdom, of course, is that the best camera is the one you have with you. And that it’s not the equipment that makes great images, it’s the photographer.

However, advanced technology and understanding how to make the best use of it can make even better photographs possible.

Thanks for reading to the end of this rant. If you have any thoughts or experience to contribute to my search for a new ILC, I’d love to hear them. Or if you could benefit from what I’ve learned, I’m happy to help. Either way, please leave a comment or tweet at me.


1. The one on the left in the photo is my Canon Digital Rebel T4i. It was released in June, 2012 and I bought it not long after in advance of a big trip. The camera was unique at the time for having a touch screen, something that is now common on most ILC, but was by no means state of the art. BTW, no irony in the fact the picture was taken with an iPhone.

2. If you’re interested in digging deeper into the differences, this post from Tom’s Guide is a good place to start.

3. The one on the right is the rental, a Sony A7 III. That model was released in April of this year and is considered one of the best intermediate mirrorless cameras available right now. A few photos from experimenting with this camera are here. More to come.

4. Unlike computers, every camera company has their own OS. Like computers, all of them are very similar but just different enough to add another layer of difficulty when moving to a new camera.