An Education in Greatness: Learning While Being Fiscally Reasonable

I have spent my last few evenings watching a dvd series produced by The Great Courses, a company who tapes American teaching professors lecture on various topics that might be of interest to the average learner. As part of my professional development, I decided to pick up two of their courses to improve my understanding of the classic novels that I might want to read in the future and those that I want to know more about. While none of these are inexpensive – even through one of their many frequent sales – in comparison to what would be spent in a university level course, they are a steal, and if one actually commits to a regular schedule they can be quite illuminating. I have been watching J. Rufus Fears, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, and while he killed me for the first lecture and a half [slow, plodding and full of repetitive hand movements] I warmed to him. His style became compelling, and I have now sat through lectures on The Iliad, Marcus Aurelius, The Koran, The Gospel of Mark, Gilgamesh, Beowulf and Exodus with great interest. In fact, I used key ideas from last night’s lectures in my classroom today as I explained Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to my own students.

I loved to take classes in interesting topics. From philosophy to fine art history to English literature, I sat through years of university-level lectures and was as happy as a clam. Now that I have been teaching for 12 years, I miss the engagement of sitting in a hall hearing the teacher profess while students sharpened their knives for each other and him. I do not miss the know-it-alls-who-know-nothing or the is-this-on-the-test?s or those who take their personal grindstone into the class to make others feel worthless because they do not understand their burden of religion/race/gender/sexuality/social class/politics. What I miss is the challenge of understanding the big ideas; I miss peers who care deeply about learning and who want to talk in an exploratory way.   However, short of taking an expensive workshop at Oxford in England designed for those of us who want those post-study vanity courses, the next best thing might be digital lectures, and appreciate the convenience of such auditing as long as the lecturer is competent and engaging.

I continue to ruminate about the Hasselblad CFV-39. I know the files are superior to what I could ever hope to accomplish with my Canon 1DmkIII [39MP versus 10MP], but my client will never see that resolution different in a 3×4 inch product shot, so what is the point? The point directly relates to the technique required to deliver a brilliant digital image when the tolerances for human error become so minute. Two years ago I took a Hasselblad University 101 workshop, which was a day long look at the H3D series of cameras and lenses. I remember that at the time I had been looking at Phase One backs [had an abysmal Vistek demo] because I had purchased a Mamiya AFD camera, and I wanted to see what Hasselblad had to offer. My technique was awful, my photo attempts were awful, but I decided to sell the AFD to buy a Hasselblad 501 C/M to improve my skills.

Two years later, my technique is getting there and the technology continues to improve in positive ways. Unfortunately, price has not improved, and therein lies the rub for a part-time professional photographer: how much work can I physically do to compensate for the costs when I only have so much time after my day job? From my own experience, it would cost about $500 a month over three years to pay off a loan for such a piece of gear, and while that is probably even with what work I do, I would be working for the privilege of owning such a back; no profit.

Still, the two photos of food within the blog are crops taken from a small part of the actual image – perhaps 1/10th of the image. Unlike any other system I have used, the resolution is pin sharp and life-like with the CFV-39 and my CFi lenses. The colour is pleasing and muted. I am confident that the files are robust and able to be edited multiple times for re-use.  I will just have to dream for the time being, and I am certain that the next time I revisit the idea of purchasing a digital back for medium format the technology will have advanced so far that I will wonder how I ever could have considered spending so much money for what might become worth so little once it is driven off the showroom floor.

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