How Low Can LowePro Go?

This might seem like a relatively trivial point considering the state of the world, but something which has been irking me with increasing frequency is the use of certain words and themes in photography and the marketing of photographic equipment.

What prompts me to write this today is seeing the mini-site promoting LowePro’s latest camera bags, the ProTactic 350AW and 450AW.

For the sake of clarity, I’ve been a long-term fan of LowePro and use their bags almost exclusively now. I have a large roller case for one of my portable studio lighting kits, a shoulder bag for occasions when I just need a few pieces of kit for a specific job, a belt pack for when I can really whittle things down, and my current workhorse, a small rolling backpack. So it’s not as if I don’t like their products, but the marketing angle taken for these bags seems to positively encourage a connection between photography and combat.

Starting with the product name, why has the word “professional” been conflated with “tactic”? Tactic could be a reference to football, but let’s be honest, all the text and visuals surrounding these products are nudging us into thinking about confrontation otherwise the models would be shown freezing to death in the February sleet on the touchline at the grounds of Tottenham Athletic FC (I know nothing about football, but I used to cover it for various papers so I know the pain of photographing a deep-winter evening match).

Screengrab from LowePro ProTactic camera bag mini-site showing two models in distressed urban setting taking photos.

I see four camera bags, only two photographers. Perhaps two fled when things got dicey.

The models used in the stills on the site appear to be “shooting from cover”, even though they’re dressed for an evening at a trendy loft bar rather than coping with some kind of urban riot, but that’s just slick marketing and I have to give credit for them not being dressed in desert boots and camouflage.

The text reinforces the macho, military messages with the phrase “Mission-Critical Access” which I take it means these bags have zips with which to access the various internal compartments. Really? Mission-critical?! How about weapon-ready compartments for putting your cameras and lenses in? Or an ammo pocket for memory cards and batteries?

There’s a video to accompany the marketing. It’s got some young, trendy-looking photographers leaving their studio apartments, traveling by skateboard and motorbike so they can get some mission critical shots of erm… graffiti, or accessing the top of a high building (hopefully legally) to take photos of lightning on the city skyline while drinking latte from a flask (or is it freeze-dried army surplus broth?)

I don’t like photographers referring to themselves as “shooters” and I’m uncomfortable with companies marketing their equipment or accessories in a way which promotes photography as some kind of conflict game. Last week I watched McCullin, the documentary on Don McCullin’s life as a photographer of conflicts and famines. He didn’t mention what bags he used in Vietnam, but I suspect he didn’t buy ones called War Junky 101 or something.

It’s in poor taste to harvest phrases from such terrible events as wars and commercialise them to attempt to make photography seem cooler by associating it with conflict which, while seemingly still very much in vogue, is definitely not cool.

Inflated Claims

Here’s an interesting statistic (sorry, I meant to say “here’s a statistic” since statistics cannot, by definition, ever be interesting); while the Retail Price Index shows inflation to be up to 3.7 in December, on camera and video camera equipment it’s dropped by 17.8% (according to the BBC).

Interesting, in a cure for insomnia sort of way, but bear with me. This is going somewhere.

Prices did rise in 2009/2010 due to the strong Yen, or weak Pound, I’m not sure how these things work, but even if the currency markets reversed, that’s a heck of a difference. And while other luxury electricals also suffered deflation, none of them came close to this figure.

So what’s going on? Professionals hurting so bad they’re making their kit last longer? Amateurs getting fed up with shelling out for more pixels every 9 months? Micro-stockers finally realising they can never recoup the cost of their kit?

I doubt if any of these factors could have this kind of effect in isolation, but put the professionals, amateurs and wannabe micro-stock photographers together and they account for the entire market.

The figure reported by the BBC doesn’t separate video camera prices from SLR/compact camera prices, and I’ve no idea what’s happening in the video market so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist.

But if prices have tumbled, and may still be tumbling, what are camera manufacturers doing to fight back? Personally I think their tactic is to use advertising to mine peoples’ gullibility to new depths.

This example is a quote from a Samsung press release regarding some new lenses, “These are products that a professional photographer would be proud to use, but we make them so easy to use that a novice could get amazing results every time.” No matter what the lens is pointed at? Wow!

From various Olympus blurbs for the Pen series of cameras, I quote: “Loved by pros, Made for you” and “Itching to take professional photos but intimidated by SLRS?”

If you haven’t detected a trend yet, here’s the strap-line for the Sony NEX-5: “Performs like a pro, feels like a compact.”

What the manufacturers are trying to say is that with their latest piece of electronic wizardry you too can take photos like a pro. I can’t recall which manufacturer used the strap-line “Take pictures like a pro, but without the hassle” but it struck me that there was a new shift in emphasis here. Trying to convince people that it’s the camera, not the photographer, that takes the picture. If you just have the right tool. If I had the right piano, I’d be composing like Beethoven. Doesn’t matter that I don’t know one end of a keyboard from another.

But it isn’t just the public that are being wooed with ever more ludicrous promises. Note this nonsense from Zeiss’s press release for one of their lenses:

OBERKOCHEN/Germany, 01.09.2010. : A woman is sitting at the bar of a dimly-lit cafe. Lost in thoughts, she doesn’t notice the glass of wine the bartender places before her. From a distance, a photographer tries to capture her mood. He brings her face, which is leaning toward her phone, into focus. Everything around her becomes a blur, and the lights in the background coalesce into a wild “dance” of diffuse shapes.

This shot will only work with a fast lens with short focal length and harmonious bokeh. Carl Zeiss introduces a new lens for just such images: the Distagon T* 1,4/35.”

The press release should continue, “shortly after taking the shot, the photographer is wrestled to the ground and kicked senseless by undercover security officers mistaking him for a terrorist/pervert.”

Oberkochen? Overcooked more like. My tip, don’t believe the hype.

man wrestled to ground by police

Bob knew he shouldn’t have tested the new Zeiss lens in the ladies’ changing room.