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Shut the fuck about about battery-independent cameras

Posted 6 April, 2007 in Op-Ed

If I hear one more person bang on about how fully manual cameras are so superior because you can shoot without batteries, I’m going to puke. This is one of the most bullshit arguments I’ve ever heard, and is usually trotted out as a preemptive defense of paying too much for a camera that does too little.

It’s true that if you run out of batteries with a battery-powered camera, you have to stop shooting. No batteries, no picture. But … this just in … no film, no pictures! You have to carry film anyway. Batteries are small and light, and you can fit several in the space of a single roll of 35mm or medium format film. If saving such a negligible amount of space were really the paramount concern, you’d be shooting a compact digicam with as big a memory card as it would take, so stick a few extra batteries in your bag and shut the fuck up already.

This argument is normally accompanied by people working themselves into a fetishistic lather about what "precision photographic instruments" these cameras are. This is also a load of shit: well-adjusted mechanical shutters can be off by 1/3 to 1/2 a stop and still be considered perfectly in-spec, which is enough to blow an exposure on slide film. Battery-driven electromagnetic shutters are far more accurate. I’d think that anyone who pays that much for "precision" equipment and wanks to MTF charts would (and should) be aware of this, but apparently this is not the case—at least not among the people I’ve seen discuss Leica and Hasselblad online. (You think 1/500 on your Hasselblad V-series lens is really 1/500? Not likely.)

None of this is to say that they’re bad cameras or that people are stupid for using them. What I am saying is that every camera is a trade-off, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the areas in which a given one comes up short. And there’s certainly no reason to lie to yourself and others just because you paid a lot for something: stay with us in reality, no camera system is perfect. Your Leica M [6 or earlier] is great in many areas, but it’s lacking the exposure precision most people claim. Your Hasselblad sucks for unobtrusive candids and animals because it sounds like a fucking shotgun. Just admit it. Doing so doesn’t take away from its strengths or mean you wasted your money.

I have and use many all-manual, battery-free cameras (including a Hasselblad 501C/M, lest anyone be tempted to write this off as sour grapes). They each have their virtues (or I’d get rid of them), but the ability to shoot without batteries is not among them.




I have a RB67 and a Canon TX. Both of them don’t “need” a battery.

But when I shoot slide film, I do kinda need to figure out the exposure. So something needs a battery.

Actually, even with B&W film, I still tend to prefer having an exposure meter. Film always looks better when properly exposed. :P

Having said that, there are certain advantages to non-electronically-powered shutters. The battery on my TX is a button cell and lasts for years and it’s easy to carry a spare. And I don’t have to worry about sucking a battery dry with a ultra-long exposure. But this has very little to do with being able to shoot with no battery.

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