Stubborn Versus Adaptive

One problem I encounter over and over again in working with others is that people think something should work in a particular way, but essentially refuse to accept how it actually works. If you’re that stubborn type, you’re going to fight your equipment, and thus fight to get the photographs that you want.

For example, Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have somewhat different approaches to autofocus. These differences start in the way the data is obtained, move to the algorithms the processor is using to evaluate that data, and even migrate all the way out into the nomenclature and menu items the cameras shows to the user. 

Expecting one brand of camera to do the same exact thing as another brand is foolhardy. You have to adapt to what you’re given, not try to force it be what you want. I’m tempted to invoke Darwin here, but some of you will just say that I’ve somehow added politics to the site (wouldn’t be true, I’d have just added more science ;~). 

Another example that’s not so much technical as it is preferential in nature is the DSLR/mirrorless debate. Both sides of the argument tend to be wrong because they’re arguing stubborn preconceptions. The oft-stated “EVFs are (somehow) inferior” isn’t always true. The oft-stated “Optical viewfinders have no downside” is also not true. 

So my first question to you is “what are you being stubborn about?” And are you sure that stubborness is justified?

I get it. The tech world moves faster and faster and it at first seems impossible to keep up. The fantasy that everyone wants to believe is that “new tech should work just like old tech, only better.” This is where I’ve had a different perspective than most others for 50+ years now: I kept being exposed to new technologies and ideas that would allow for something to be done that previously couldn’t be done, or differently than it was done before. 

I see change as inevitable and desirous. Invetible because if the new really does allow for new capabilities and performance, the world has an infinite appetite for that. Desirous because I can help invent new tools and procedures that allow me to do things easier, better, faster, and more creatively. Who doesn’t want to be citius, altius, fortius? 

My next question is “are you adapting to what you’re given?” 

For nearly 50 years I’ve had to continuously adapt to Nikon’s ever-changing autofocus systems. New modes, new algorithms, new controls, new nuance, new performance, new pretty much everything. Here’s the thing I’ve noticed along the way: many of you don’t want to adapt. You just believe that a new autofocus system should simply do the job better than before and you shouldn't have to change anything you do. In fact, the most common thing I encounter these days is that people think that “the next autofocus system they get should just do everything right without any input from me.” All the talk about artificial intelligence and machine language is exacerbating that.

When ChatGTP first appeared publicly and ushered in a new age of Artificial Intelligence (there have been many such ages over the decades), the most common thing I heard from others was that it was going to put so many people out of jobs because the AI could just do it all. No, we’re not at the singularity yet. What we really have are modules that understand language really well (both input and output), and which can dip into a huge database for information to use in the conversation. What I’ve found the so-called chatbots really good for is brainstorming or refining a smaller idea into the seed of something bigger. I’ve already adapted to using them (I even have one installed on my watch that I talk to). This is actually making me more productive, not less. 

But the key is that I adapted. The same is true for my use of the Z9’s autofocus system, which is arguably state-of-the-art. During my month-long break I took some time to look at a year’s worth of my Z9 images. The more recent ones are consistently better focused than the earliest ones. Now some of you will jump in and say “of course, that’s because Nikon issued so many firmware updates.” Nope. With really only one exception (the ability to program the DISP button and add another way to control the focus system), virtually all the focus improvements were all about me adapting to what the camera does, not the camera getting better. 

Indeed, I recently presented a 7-step program to better Z9 autofocus to a group of students. (No, I’m not going to present it here for free; some things I charge for. Moreover, it’s more hands on than I can do on a Web site, and involves my own battery-powered bird. Really. ;~) All seven of those steps are really about you adapting to what the camera does or can do. 

Wanting something to work the way you expect it to work is only going to cause you frustration. My mom gets frustrated with her Tivo’s user interface—and quite rightly so, as the Tivo UX has been on a constant regression towards terrible—but no amount of shouting at the remote will make it work better. 

And since I’m speaking of user interfaces and adapting, I’m going to lob a few grenades over at the spaceship in Cupertino: UI that is unseen is really hard to adapt to! Special gestures and regionalized response when the region isn’t shown and the gesture unknown are almost the antithesis of the old Xerox PARC designs that catapulted Apple out of the II days. I can adapt to what I know about, but the number of unseen, undocumented, unknown things in macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS are way beyond absurd. It’s like there’s a giant game of Myst being played across the Apple ecosystem by everyone just trying to figure out how to control their Apple devices. 

But adapt to all that unseen Apple UX garbage that came from Ive-enforced minimalism we must. Our only other choices are Android copies, UNIX command lines, or the Windows Doesn’t Know What It’s Paradigm Is solutions.

Let’s bring this back to cameras. You just bought a new camera. Did you read the manual? Probably not. Best case, you glanced at some sections of it. Particularly if you just upgraded within a brand (it has to work the same, right?). Did you get any specific training on the new camera? Heavens no, that costs more money (or at least time). Did you consult any friends who have the same camera about things you should try? You keep saying no! That’s the definition of stubborn (or a two-year old).

Fact is, you took the camera out of the box, plugged in the mostly-depleted battery and a card, and then started trying to take photos. You casual browsed the menus to change a few things. You took some more photos. Somewhere within the first hours you started complaining about something. Congratulations, you are of the stubborn variety. 

Let me let you in on a little secret: the reason why I started writing books wasn’t to make money, get famous, or get assigned a Dewey Decimal number. No, book writing was my way of proving to myself that I had learned and adapted to think like the device I was documenting. This grew out of a practice I started in college, which was to try to put what I was learning from my professors into my own words. In the process of doing that I learned a great deal about what I didn’t know ;~). Which meant more learning and adopting, and then a rewrite. 

At Infoworld back in 1980 and Backpacker in 1996, I did the same thing with entire editorial staffs: we learned, we contemplated, we adapted, and then we documented. That’s still my goal today with the bythom sites. 

While it may seem that I’m stubborn sometimes—my lamentations of Nikon’s UI failures are notorious, and I’ll repeat them until they’re fixed—in actual photography, I’m 100% adaptive. The tool in my hand is what I have, it’s what I’ll use, and I must figure out how to use it to best effort. That should be your goal, too. 

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