Casting our minds back to a few years ago, a small compact camera was not to be taken too seriously - at least not by professional landscape photographers who were in the business of making large prints and sought high resolution.
In those days, the functionality in a compact camera was not too sophisticated - the classic point and shoot. Whilst they were excellent for quick response photography, they would not have been appropriate perhaps for many professional assignments.
Things have changed. With DSLR's, many within the photographic fraternity are marching almost in a hypnotised state towards the 'Megapixel God'.
The camera manufacturers seduction technique has worked; within minutes of a new version of a previous DSLR appearing, many of us are finding ourselves, if not committing to a purchase but certainly pondering an upgrading; if upgrading is the right word? The Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 is a perfect example. Both models, it has to be said, are excellent in my opinion.
A few of those same manufacturers have been busy increasing the megapixel size and the functions of their compact cameras to such an extent that some of the more high end compacts are not far off the price of many of the low to mid range DSLR's. Furthermore they have many of the same functions, although the inability to attach filters has often troubled me. I have known of the system that attaches to the base of the compact cameras and that works to a degree but essentially, most folk use the compact camera without filters and adjust in post-production.
It is now most certainly time to take the compact camera seriously. I thoroughly enjoy my Panasonic Lumix LX3 and have made some very pleasing images (at least to my mind) with it. I have a filter attachment, which allows me to use a neutral density graduated filter (albeit a slightly restricting circular one) along with a polariser, a uniform ND and an infrared. If I choose to make a stitch panoramic, I have been able to do so which has resulted in a perfectly acceptable 50MB file allowing me to make a good size print with fine resolution and definition.
We also see guests attending Light & Land workshops with sophisticated compacts, as well as the DSLRs, large and medium format cameras you might expect to see. We even run workshops these days specifically aimed at the 'compact' market as there's so much you can get from one of these little cameras.
The features on many of the top of the range compact cameras should be taken note of. I do not care for the some of the more absurd functions such as 'smile recognition' etc but the crucial usual suspects of manual, aperture priority and shutter priority are there in many and my LX3 has a much cared for feature of multiple exposure which I enjoy very much. This used to be a feature in many SLR's and it has been carried across to a few DSLR's. There are the usual folk who have said to me that of course, the multiple exposure technique can be done in any image manipulation software (not as well in my view) but I have always been an 'in camera' sort of a fellow and anyway would prefer to be outside than in.
I have long upheld my mentor Ansel Adam's great statement of 'recognition and previsualisation blended together in a single moment of awareness' and have always maintained that the image is indeed hopefully recognised as having the merit of being photographed long before the camera comes out of the bag. The compact camera is with me all the time; it attaches to my belt and many is the time when I have seen a potential image (often with a reportage feel) that in the old days would have evaporated before me and yet now, not only am I able to have a go at making an image but I may be able to do so in under 5 seconds.
Having never been the sort of guy who has the camera around his neck all the time, today's compacts suit me very well indeed - and now I am making images with it that I have some confidence in and which I am enjoying.
I frequently come across chums who enjoy playing the 'comparison game' by making A4 images of a subject that has been photographed with a DSLR and also with a high end digital compact camera.
As little as 5 years ago, the difference was detectable. Now? You decide.
Charlie Waite was born in 1949 and worked in British Theatre and Television for the first ten years of his professional life. Throughout this period he became fascinated by theatrical lighting and design. Gradually the landscape and the way it can be revealed to us through light and shade stole him away from the acting profession.
Over the last twenty five years, he has lectured throughout the UK Europe and the US. He has held numerous one man exhibitions in London, including two shows in London's National Theatre and three at the OXO gallery and held further solo shows in Tokyo, New York, Carmel and in Australia, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. He has published 27 books on the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany; all exclusively of his photography.
Charlie Waite is now firmly established as one of the most celebrated international landscape photographers. Aside from his own photography, he also enjoys introducing photography to others. Through his company, Light and Land the leading photographic tour company in Europe, Charlie Waite and his specialist photographic leaders, all at the very top in their field, run worldwide workshops and tours dedicated to bettering photography.
All images in this article © Charlie Waite