Choice, sufficiency and intangibles

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Nobody needs one of these to tell the time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want one.

The incredibly strong and polarizing responses to the Hasselblad Lunar post in the last few weeks have lead me to think a bit more about why exactly people are so riled up about it, even those who aren’t going to buy one. I’ve even had people who’ve never commented on any of my other posts before either leave comments on the site, Facebook or Flickr – or in the case of a couple of people, email me and openly question my sanity and whether I have a financial interest in Hasselblad (!)

Firstly, I have zero financial interest in any camera company. I was in private equity and M&A for many years before turning pro; I would never invest in a camera company because the business has such incredibly low margins and high risk that any potential returns are simply not worth the risk. There are other reasons, but it’s not necessary to go into them here. The only financial interest I have in any camera sales are referrals via Amazon, and that’s both constant across all camera brands, as well as completely irrelevant here simply because you cannot buy a Lunar from Amazon.

Now that I’ve cleared up my personal position, lets take a fresh look at things. Clear your mind and try to be as objective as possible for the next thousand or so words; put aside your personal biases and preconceptions for the moment. And ultimately, remember that you are always free to vote with your wallet.

Let us begin.

I’m going to start with a bit of an analogy: the auto industry. In the early days, everything was quirky and heavily manufacturer-dependent. You might not always find the accelerator and brake pedals in the same place from car to car, for instance. To drive one effectively – and end up at your destination without breaking your car or your passengers – you really had to know your machine. Today, with few exceptions, the accelerator is always on the right, the brake is always in the left, and the stick between the seats controls the direction and speed of travel.

Cars have reached a point of development where not only so they all operate the same, but they are increasingly looking the same, too. For getting from A to B, pretty much anything will do the job just fine – yes, a Bugatti Veyron can get you there faster than a VW, but to do so requires some skill to operate and seriously diminishing returns in cost terms and general usability. That said, under most driving conditions, the VW will be easier o operate and produce exactly the same outcome. (Hell, my wife’s VW Polo will happily do over twice the legal speed limit without breaking a sweat.) For most people, it’s not necessary. But that doesn’t stop you wanting one, no matter how impractical and expensive it may be. At a more achievable level, plenty of people buy BMWs or Mercedes over Hondas; they don’t fundamentally do the job any differently (ironically, I’m writing this post on my iPhone while waiting for my car to get a new battery*) but we still want one anyway.

*And here’s a good example of sufficiency – I would prefer to write this on a proper keyboard with my 27″ monitor, but I’m certain the content and message of the article wouldn’t have been any different. The same applies to using a pen and paper, etc. I can make do just fine with something less, but I would prefer to use something else – and do so, because I can.

Your car choice is as much a personality statement as it is a tool. You probably use it every day, so you want it to be comfortable, familiar, and perhaps have some of the conveniences that might matter to you – it could be a third row of seats or wheel-mounted shift paddles. A mom of three is going to have very different requirements from a professional race driver. Even within our budget and specification requirements, there are often myriad similar confusing choices; I hate car shopping because you never get to try one for long enough to decide if it works for you or not in the long run.

The moral of the story is about sufficiency. Once we have achieved sufficiency, we then have choice. Once mass penetration has been achieved, proliferation is the only way that such consumer markets can sustain themselves, especially when most buyers are only going to make one such large purchase every few years. The investment required to develop a complex consumer product is enormous; I have no doubt that a new sensor easily runs into the millions, if not tens of millions.

As much as I like quirky products as much as the next guy, there has to be some commonality or economies of scale to make these products sustainable in the long term. I don’t want say Brand X to produce the perfect camera for me only to find that they go bankrupt three years later, leaving me with no upgrade path or after sales support. I want them to be able to survive and continue evolving the design. If that means the sensor has to be one bought and shared with other brands – take the 1/1.7″ prosumer compacts for instance – then so be it. I’d rather be able to buy a Ricoh GRD IV with the same sensor as the G15, S110, XZ-2 and LX7 than be stuck with the GRD I because the company went under making its own sensor.

Such competition is not a bad thing. It forces manufacturers to improve their product and make a compelling argument for the consumer to choose it over similar alternatives. This is a buyer’s market; if there were only one or two products in this category, we would be forced to buy them if we needed the functionality – regardless of whether we liked it or not, or if the rest of the camera was an ergonomic disaster. I, for one, don’t like the the feeling of being at the mercy of the manufacturer. Why should I hand over my hard-earned money if you don’t deserve it – don’t earn it yourself – by making something that I want to buy?

Photography has always been about making pictures. It still is, but a lot of people have now confused it with equipment collecting. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you know you’re a collector and and don’t pretend to be a serious and competent photographer just because you own some exotic lenses and cameras.) We have now past the point of sufficiency for the vast majority of uses – getting from A to B in the automobile analogy – but the difference is most consumers don’t know that. If you lose control of a 300km/h car, you’re probably going to lose your life. If you lose control of a 50MP camera, at worst you get an enormous blurred file. This lack of consequence I suppose is the root cause of a different psychology in most consumers; you want more if you can afford it.

But like with cars, we all want choices, individuality – look how strongly people identify with their camera brands. They are an extension of your personality, your choice of camera seems to have become a semi-religious thing that must be openly defended and fought over on Internet forums. I’ve seen people who are normally sensible, rational individuals in their real world dealings become infantile zealots. It’s almost a wonder that there aren’t riots and lynchings a Photokina – you’d never see a trade show of all the world’s major and minor religions without things descending into primal chaos.

Yet this is what photography seems to have become for most people. Just as there are religious extremists who give things a bad reputation, there are also sensible moderates who are decent individuals who just get on with their lives and contribute meaningfully to society. Cars, religion, cameras. We now have a choice, and lots of them at that. You don’t have to buy one particular car because it has a lower chance of exploding than another brand; nor do you have to switch religions because one now offers you slightly faster resurrection than another.

The ability to make a free choice according to one’s personal preferences is a first world problem. Pick whatever camera that suits you – both in technical requirements and personal aesthetics/ ergonomics – and just use it. If you don’t like it anymore, get another one, but don’t think that more of something will improve your personal skill level; at best it might make you want to shoot more, which is what will up your game – not more fps or megapixels. If you like to shoot with a large DSLR, then do so, and don’t attack others who prefer compacts. One won’t give you improve composition over the other, that’s down to the driver. There will be people who don’t understand why anything more than a compact is required; others who don’t go smaller than medium format (I know both) and still others who swear that Leicas give them a certain feel. But all of them have one thing in common: they will shoot more with a camera they enjoy using. This means if somebody wants to cover their camera in gold and vajazzle it because they think it suits their personality, why not? It may not be to our personal tastes, but I’m almost certain that they’ll probably produce better images with it than an ordinary camera simply because they want to use it in the first place.

The only reason this is becoming such a hot issue in the photography world is because the proliferation of choice is now reaching a point where it’s noticeable. Not every camera has to be black – you’d probably be mortified if you suddenly found that Honda now only made cars in one color – just as you also don’t have to buy it. But there will be somebody who does, and those people will put some small contribution back into the industry which will eventually let the manufacturers produce something that might well be perfect for you. Without these products, we face a period of stagnation and lack of choice – and I think we can all agree this is something nobody wants.

I don’t have to like every product, let alone buy it – and neither do you. But I think for the industry to survive and grow, products like the Lunar are necessary – and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of them in future from other brands. I say let the manufacturers go wild, and let the market make it’s choices; I’m almost certain that they know what’s going on in the general market sentiment (or at least they should if they’re worth their salt) – but at the same time, I double Bugatti are going to make a budget hatchback for those who complain the Veyron is too expensive, and if you can’t afford a Lexus, there’s always Toyota. In the meantime, I’m going to appreciate the good problem, pick up a camera that feels good to me and get on with the business of making images. It’s the main reason why I hate making camera recommendations – I’m sure a 5DIII is capable of as good or better images than a D600, but I know I won’t be able to make them because the way the camera feels and operates is simply counterintuitive to me. I’d still be stuck trying to think about which button to press, and as a result miss a shot that a seasoned Canon shooter would have nailed. Personal preferences matter.

Ultimately, if your photo is good enough, nobody is going to care what you shot it with – but if you hadn’t brought the camera with you in the first place, or didn’t feel like shooting with it, then the image would never have happened. And that definitely does make a difference. MT


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  1. I thought it was pretty funny that a few comments after the article the religious zealots, although somewhat toned down, were already espousing their equipment’s virtues over (insert manufacturer) (insert derogatory remark) (insert model).

    I think half of the damning comes ironically from being so happy with what you have. When I got my EM1 and 12-40 I honestly thought for a while everyone else in the world was crazy using anything bigger. Two years later at a photoshow with all the latest and greatest cameras I was still utterly unimpressed with what was on offer. So as you said that EM1 becomes representative of what I like, which in turn means if you slate it, you’re kind of slating me and my taste. As I’ve gotten older now I don’t take such offence. I just see those that feel the need to slate other perfectly sufficient equipment, as caught up in that crazy worship cycle. Maybe today more than ever religion has fallen by the wayside and so people are unknowingly exercising a similar desire to praise and condemn??

    Anyway. I still get gear lust, but after a couple of weeks it usually goes, or shifts and I’ve realised now it tends to come more when I’m not shooting. It’s almost as if subconsciously I think buying a camera will make me shoot when just getting off my arse will.

    Still, there’s no denying a new camera or lens will get you out shooting (albeit an expensive way), and can certainly open up a new world, I think at the beginning of ones photography journey it’s important to explore to find what works for you. But probably equally as important is knowing when to stop. New gear now I find just distracts me from the shooting I’ve become good at.

    Another though provoking article, thanks Ming!

    • 🙂 I think it’s because too many people associate personal identity with what they own instead of what they can (or in this case, probably can’t) create – photography is about making photographs, after all…

  2. Tim Taylor says:

    An interesting book on the subject of choice is “The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less” by Barry Schwartz. Not written toward photography but choice and how “the culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction”. As a web developer/designer this is an important obstacle in completion of online transactions in many cases. The same can be true of we as photographers. Not talking about commercial or professional photographers but those of us have choices to make that may impact us from a pictorial and financial viewpoint.

    I understand why commercial photographer make their choices as it influences their income. It truly is a tool for those of you making a living from it. But for the rest of us we are in a state of constant turmoil due to choices. And it isn’t getting any better!

  3. I think the zealotry that is fueled by internet fora and blogs is less about whether Nikon/Canon/Sony is better than Leica/Hasselblad and more about justifying upgrading or switching systems. It’s similar to having a friend who recently bought and redecorated a new house. They are always very eager to invite lots of people over… less to show it off, but more to prove to themselves that it was money well spent once they receive the obligatory compliments from visitors. The metaphor also illustrates how style and preference are largely personal decisions and can’t be uniformly justified, even if it comes at a great financial expense.

    If it were really about “sufficiency,” arguments would be much shorter and easier to resolve. This is somewhat easier to prove when it comes to lighting than cameras/lenses, but it should go without saying that great photographers made images with far less sophisticated equipment than what is available now.

    That said, once it comes to evaluating “rendering” or “look” in trying to justify buying x vs. y lens, it’s not worth even participating in an argument.

    • Agreed. Bottom line is there’s nothing wrong with paying more for something you enjoy using, but don’t use it as an excuse for greatness (or mediocrity).

  4. Love this blog post Ming! I might refer to this on my flickr post so that my contacts can get a chance for a good read. This is exactly why I’m sticking to what I have and make the best out of it. That is my main photography resolution for 2013. I know I’m not a collector, there’s no stopping me from being one if I can afford it later on but for now I want to photograph so that’s what I will keep on doing. Thanks for this most insightful post. Cheers!

  5. Rene Verboomen says:

    Hi Ming, first time I write something, sorry to be so late.
    I enjoy reading you, especially the last “Choice, sufficiency and intangibles”, this one I agree 100%, bravo.
    Had your Photoshop Workflow, interesting but shaking, very difficult to watch and follow, and the sound is very bad, I would suggest you to do just a written “how I do it” one.
    On the Hasselblad subject, it is a pity that nowadays it seems silly to invest, for an amateur, in a $5,000 or $15,000 digital camera that you cannot sell (for a decent price) two or three years later when outdated, like with a film one.
    With Nikon I change every 2 years or so since the Nikkormat, F1,… and I don’t feel like I have lost so much, provided I sell just before the new release, which is not that hard to guess. Really enjoying the D600 today 🙂

    • Hi Rene – could you describe what you mean by ‘shaking’ on the Photoshop Workflow? It’s a direct screen capture with a professional mic, so I’m quite surprised at what you’re seeing since nobody else has given this feedback – I wonder if you might have gotten a bad disc, and if so, I can send you another one.

      I think there are two options with digital: either upgrade every new model, and lose a little bit each time – or only upgrade when the camera dies every five years. Either way, it’s become a consumer disposable rather than durable goods, and be prepared to write off whatever you paid for it by the time you hit the five year mark. They really don’t make them like they used to.

      • Rene Verboomen says:

        It is the pointer that is shaking a lot while you talk. And I had to put the sound to the maximum. But it’s OK.
        My choice is to lose a bit and upgrade if the leap is significant and practical, like the d600, not for the D800 with its huge files. But again I am a good amateur selling some of his landscape pictures and doing paid portrait occasionally. I give a try to street now, you gave me the temptation to do so with the 85mm f/1.8, amazing combination, just setting the ISO to obtain a fast shutter speed.
        And back to the subject (does camera matter?), the 2 photos I sell the most were taken with a Canon S90 printed at A4 size!

        • Ah, the pointer is because I’m demonstrating…sound has been fixed on later versions – one of the encoding settings we not turned to maximum.

          The D600 is actually not a bad choice for landscape, as is the D5200 or D3200 – you need resolution, dynamic range and color fidelity. Weight isn’t advantageous especially if you have to travel far to get to your destination.

          Not surprised at all: I bet the S90 was the one you have with you most of the time…

  6. Ming….I love your site, your writing, and your art work….

    But Im not a big fan of this article….there are 2 things coming through in it for me….a) use the right tool for the right job…..completely agree with this one….

    RANT ON:
    But the underlying message is to just consume, buy more, spend because the desire to spend is reason enough….I think to buy a flash watch or a bugatti veyron or the latest greatest leica, just because you can, requires such a short sighted, here-and-now, oblivious-to-the-social/global implications world view that frankly disgusts me. The affluent lifestyle that you, your readers, and myself are blessed to posses is an enormous privilege, and with that comes a responsibility to understand how that fits in the global picture, and make informed and ethical decisions….the days of blind consumption, outrageous luxury and justified-by-desire purchasing are numbered.

    I find the human creativity and engineering involved in something like a veyron astounding…but I personally think the guy behind the wheel is so out of touch, so disconnected from the global community he/she is a part of…has their values completely out of whack, and I pity them for it….

    Buy a new camera, wear a watch, take advantage of the internal combustion engine….but there is so much more about choice then simple affluent desire…

    (written on my Lenovo laptop, chosen specifically for its longevity and its ability to be upgraded and repaired easily…as opposed to the dead end fashion statement that is Macbook Pro etc..written on day 14 of a 72hour Permaculture Design Course, where my self and my partners ave been educating 18 vibrant students on how to make these kinds of informed, paradigm shifted decisions…)

    Keep up the thought provoking work, but listen more to the artist in you Ming, and less to the overly rational, overly self justified consumer


    • Actually, I agree with you. From that point of view, you know one of my ‘big things’ is that the gear doesn’t matter. This goes two ways: use what you’ve got, or buy what you want, be happy, and just go and make images. BUT: it doesn’t mean conspicuous consumption without reason, nor does it mean consumption for the sake of consumption. And honestly, if anybody made cameras that were actually designed to last and had the right materials, and were perhaps modular and upgradeable – we wouldn’t find ourselves in the position of having to buy another one every two years. If film was all there was, barring accidents or mechanical failures or theft, I’d probably shoot the same Hasselblad or F2T for my entire career. But if we didn’t, then there’d be no money for R&D to make the ‘longevity camera’ etc…so in the end the marketeers get their field day, and it’s up to us to vote with our wallets.

    • David Babsky says:

      Oh! Oh! ..I’ve risen to the bait..

      “..written on my Lenovo laptop, chosen specifically for its longevity and its ability to be upgraded and repaired easily…as opposed to the dead end fashion statement that is Macbook Pro etc..”

      Floyd, this reply is written on my MacBook Pro, not because it’s a “..dead end fashion statement..” but – look beyond its outer styling – it runs such a stable operating system. Mine’s a “late 2008” version (having handed on my previous models when I wanted to upgrade ..but they’re all still doing valiant service for different members of an extended family, and one veteran 12 year old ‘PowerBook’ laptop still earns its keep as a boat’s navigation computer). I upgraded this “late 2008” as my Christmas present to myself, with an extra 4GB of RAM (doubling it to 8GB) and swapping its upgraded 500GB disc drive for an even faster solid-state 1TB drive.

      This thing is just the opposite of a “..dead end fashion statement..” ..each of the last four years I’ve upgraded it, and it just gets faster and more capable. Every now and again Apple updates the operating system – generally without demanding newer hardware to run it on! – and it just becomes as good as a newer machine every year. It’s easy to swap out the battery, the memory and the storage, and to slot in even higher spec components.

      You may see a “fashion statement”; I see a robust, dependable laptop, “chosen specifically for its longevity and its ability to be upgraded and repaired easily”, which has never crashed – since 2008 – and which I put to sleep by closing the lid when I’ve finished with it, and which I haven’t restarted since its Christmas ‘upgrade’ restart. It just goes on and on and on ..editing photos, and video, and text, and a website, and delivering web pages ..and it runs Windows too if I really need a Windows-only program.

      As with choosing a camera: look beyond the outer skin, and see if it really does do the job. My MBP will easily do its job for another two years, at minimum. It’s not a fashion statement; it’s actually a rugged workhorse. You may want to reconsider your “..informed, paradigm shifted decisions”, or, even just possibly, your opinions.

      • I’m finding the newer hardware/ OSes just don’t seem to be stable. My mid-2012 Mac Mini is fast as hell, but the wifi card is so unreliable I had to buy an Airport Extreme to serve as a signal booster and local network hub. And don’t get me started on iPhone 5 issues…I bought it because the home button and battery on my well-used 4 gave way, and now I have a new phone that can’t hold a signal and barely makes it through half a day without charging. I admire their product and UI design, but it seems that real-world QC has gone out the window of late.

        As for Lenovos/ Thinkpads: I’ve had my fair share of these working in consulting and finance, and can only say they were slow, unreliable, and very, very heavy. I think I went through six machines in as many years – with no computing demands heavier than Powerpoint and Excel.

        Moral of the story: nothing’s perfect, we just have to make do.

      • David Babsky says:

        Ming: I stopped at 10.6.8 (two OSes prior to the latest) because I wanted to keep using older programs. So I can’t say anything about the very latest OSes. I’m still using my old iPhone 4 (not even 4s) because it works so perfectly well, and I saw no reason to upgrade. I had an earlier Mini, which I gave to my brother, or to someone else, but that had no wifi – or any other – problems.

        “..can’t hold a signal and barely makes it through half a day without charging..” ..turned off Bluetooth? Turned off Push Notifications (unless, of course, you use them for editing here)? ..Done a restart? ..Apart from those suggestions, I dunno.

        “..but” – as Floyd says – “there is so much more about choice then simple affluent desire..” ‘Course there is. That’s why I bought (; my Beloved bought for me..) an old cheap’n’cheerful upright FED (camera) at a flea market the other month. And I don’t discard ..I keep on using!

        • 10.6.8 was the most stable of the lot, IMHO. That’s what I ran on my 2010 15″; it got a bit too slow to handle D800E files even fully maxed out, so I got something with a bit more horsepower – can’t say I really like 10.8 that much though. I don’t know if it’s a Steve Jobs thing, but everything since him seems to have had QC issues in one way or another. That said, both of my 11″ Macbook Airs have been stellar – I wrote most of the site to date on the first generation one, before replacing it with the last one so I’d have something lighter and powerful enough to do editing away from home on.

          As for my iPhone 5 – BT is off, Push is off, restarted, constantly kill background apps, hotspot is off, wifi is off…I suspect it might be our local networks – they never update infrastructure so the phone seems to be constantly hopping from tower to tower. Had the same problem with my iPhone 4 in the past; in KL it gave me a day and a bit, in Hong Kong and Tokyo – albeit with a bit less use – nearly a week.

          I trade in or sell on to let somebody else enjoy it 🙂

      • Risen to the bait indeed!!

        Dude, I have used Apples all my life for the same reasons you stated….I was referring to the new ones…the new direction Apple is going, iMacs, Macbooks etc is, you want an upgrade, buy a new machine. Need a new battery, buy a new machine….

        Im running Linux Mint and couldnt be happier with it. Using Aftershot Pro (which has taken some getting used to) for my photo work, and so far couldnt be happier with the Thinkpad. Fast, strong, reliable. The right to tool for my job. Glad your 08 Macbook is the right one for you.

        In my original post, I was talking about the new ones. So chill.

      • Not to mention the built in software obsolescence post Jobs Apple is introducing….even if you wanted to you couldnt install Mountain Lion onto your 08 Macbook….even though it can theoretically possible….

        But please dont miss the point of my post….Im not Apple bashing. You have turned this right back around into the kind of discussion Ming was highlighting as pointless in his article….Brand A is better then Brand B…NO! Use the right tool for the right job….

        Admittedly I did bring a brand comparison into it at the end, with out adequate elaboration…..I was just getting at the new path of extreme built in obsolescence that Apple is now treading….which ‘in my opinion’ is one of suck short sighted greed and complete lack of vision….I now choose to part with my hard earned dollars in a different way…

        Oh, and I am a farmer….my old white macbook got absolutely thrashed in the field. My new Thinkpad is like a solid lump of granite….I actually had it depart my farm vehicle at 40kms/hour and go cartwheeling across the stony paddock….only thing that happened was the battery came out. 🙂

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      Floyd, really I don’t think photographers are going to ruin the world. Do you know wich percentage of the world population are interested on buying the last cameras ? If you want to be consequent with your ideas you must not go over an auto, you must no have a tv, etc.

  7. The dogs bark and the caravan passes, Sage Arab saying.
    Do not worry about what they say, never used a Hasselblad.

  8. Lennon said, “I’m an artist. You give me a f—ing tuba, I’ll get you something out of it.”

    Great stuff as usual Ming. Truth.

  9. Jorge Balarin says:

    Today I did pick up my eight years old daughter from the school with her mini “Olympus Tough” in my pocket. It was snowing and I didn’t want to carry my D700, because also I was supposed to carry my daughter’s school bag. She did some shots of her school heavily covered by snow and she gave me her camera. I did shoot all the way home (we were on our feet), and what a pleasure it was !! It was so easy to take the camera from my pocket and shoot. I know the IQ will not be the best, but as you said, it was an excellent composition excercise that regularly done will make me improve. I need to buy the RX 100 : ) Greetings, Jorge.

    • As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you! I used to shoot with a Panasonic TZ3 quite extensively because of the great lens and wide range of perspectives available – it was also pocketable, which helped. I never printed large from it, but also never needed to. To this day, it holds the record for my most-used compact – easily 10,000 shots…

  10. Adam Czuprynski says:

    I think you mean bedazzle, vajazzle is the act of bedazzling your lady parts.

    Just FYI

  11. Jeff Smith says:


    Well said! And if the Lunar helps keep Hasselblad as a going business – terrific!! Personally I may never buy any Hasselblad, but I like knowing that I can do so if I choose to do so. Jeff Smith

    PS One can collect what they think are neat cameras (I have recently bought a Rollie 35, a Minolta H-iMatic 7S, a Mamiya 16 Automatic and Minolta 16 II) and still be a real Photographer too. I don’t use any of these old cameras for taking photos, though the Rollie and Mamiya 16 (if I can find some film) might stir me to dabble in film again, just for the nostalgia. I just like these old cameras because each in their own way was/is a well engineered and long-lived photographic too; they range from 45 – 60 years in age and they all still work,

    As for the the camera I do use for photography its digital (RX100) and on the whole is quite a nice tool for taking photographs. At their essence all cameras are just tools for capturing the images we want to capture or create,

    Having said that I doubt very much if the RX100 would still work in 20 years and if anyone would want to collect it as a fine example of a photographic tool, which it is. But I suspect that in another 20 years someone would still like to collect the Rollie 35, (and it will probably still work too). In 20 years (no, realistically make 2-3 years max) I know I will be using something other than RX100 as my photographic tool, but hope that my modest collection of vintage cameras is still with me too.

    • Completely agree with you: digital is more of a tool than the film cameras ever were. If one breaks in 20 years, the only way to keep it running is going to be scavenging parts from another one – there’s no way we can repair damaged PCBs easily. But if a gear or lever breaks in my F2 Titan, I’m sure there’ll be somebody with a lathe who can still make me another one.

      The success of an image boils down to properties that are independent of the medium: shoot well with one tool, and you can probably shoot well with anything.

  12. Philip Gee says:

    Ming. A coherent article which to me says know thyself, be comfortable with what you have and make it work until the pips squeak! You saved me from chasing a Nikon D800 when I have yet to make my 700 really swing and just slow up from always thinking that the next marketeers dream is the one for me!

    • Thanks Philip – glad you’re seeing the light! That said: if you do actually legitimately need something – a macro lens for closeup work, for instance – then buy the one that works for you. Don’t try to make do, because it only works up to a point…

  13. Another cogent and well argued article. Sometimes peoples adherence to a particular thing, in this case camera or camera system can come from their own financial and emotional investment in it. Other peoples criticism will often simply reinforce their view because what is the alternative really. It would be refreshing if we could all discuss our different choices without rancour or even use other peoples choices and admire their positive qualities. I remember my brother-in-law wanted to start and run a car yard. I asked him why and he told me that simply wanted to be able to drive as wide a range of cars that he found interesting without having to commit to any one. I have a D800E and an OM-D and use them for different purposes. I also have a Leica D-Lux-3 from years ago which tends to turn up in my pocket as often as not. At work I use a Canon 5DIII. I appreciate their differences.

    • Steve Jones says:

      Paul, your last sentence is the best comment on this topic ever.
      Appreciate the differences. I like that thought..

    • Thanks Paul. I think there’s a difference between an emotional choice and defending that illogically vs a rational one and just having a lot of equipment to suit the task – it’ll be more if you shoot lots of different subjects. I can’t use the same thing for stealthy reportage, commercial watch photography and architecture…I wish I could, but it simply doesn’t exist, sadly.

  14. Peter Boender says:

    Personally I think that all this proliferation is way beyond being noticeable. It’s getting to the point of decadence! Sure, to each their own, and it’s good to have choices. I drive an Audi, but I’m certainly not jealous of the guy (it’s always a guy, isn’t it?) with the Veyron, just as I’m not jealous of the person with the Hassy Lunar. If you can afford it, and makes you happy, go for it! Good for the economy, since the more expensive items tend to have a higher yield. But my problem is this: All this proliferation costs effort, time and money. Not only in design and engineering, but also in marketing and manufacturing. It’s nice I can buy a dark-red Nikon D5200 with color matched kit zoom lens, but why would I need to? Like Henry Ford said: “You can have any color you like, as long as it’s black”. I don’t think he sold one T-Ford less because of it. In my opinion these resources could be better spent towards better camera designs. I am very convinced there’s not a single camera brand out there that knows exactly what consumers want. I’m not talking more megapixels here. There’s a lot to be gained in User Interface design (menus and buttons!), better matching lens choices (yes, I’m looking at you Nikon for DX; Panny ond Oly are getting it right for mFT) and all sorts of usability features. In this respect I’m a follower of Thom Hogan’s mantra “Cameras should be modular, programmable and communicating” (He’s been writing about this since at least 2010, read a compilation here: I wonder which camera brand will dare to take that step! In a tight market they could make a difference!

    • There was no choice with the model-T; people didn’t complain because there was not really any competition. Witness Apple and the iPhone for an example in a newer industry. I actually tried to start a camera company back in 2011 which was going to make just that: compact, mirrorless, full frame, programmable professional body. But our hardware partner got cold feet, and sadly it never got off the ground. Agreed: nobody gets it quite right. I like Ricoh and Nikon’s UI; Leica’s build-feel and solidity; Nikon’s general ergonomics, and Sony’s innovation. A neat hybrid doesn’t really exist, sadly – so we keep buying new cameras in the hope something will one day hit the spot…

  15. Bengt Nyman says:

    Dear Ming,
    Your sufficiency dictates deliver more signs of conflict and confusion than constructive conclusion. You cherish the OMD and wish you could master the 5DIII. To top it off you shoot symbols of affluence with a Nikon D800 while admiring the new clothes of the Lunar. You are one confused puppy, Ming, and a hell of a photographer. Just shut up and shoot and show us what a photograph should look like.

    • Peter Boender says:

      I’m sorry Mr. Nyman, but I find your choice of words in stark contrast with the carefully and well-chosen words of Ming Thein. Apart from the message contained within those words. Have you ever considered that your strong use of Americano may be off-putting to people from other parts of the world (well, may be even to those from the US)? Ming Thein maintaines a blog. The essence of a blog is writing about a particular subject, in this case photography. If you don’t appreciate Ming Thein’s contemplations and reminiscence, may I suggest you stop reading the blog and just look at Ming Thein’s Flickr stream, where he indeed shows he’s an excellent photographer? And no, Ming Thein is not my personal friend. As a visitor of this blog I would just appreciate a certain level of decorum.

    • Not quite, I enjoy using the right tool for the job. I shoot commercially and my clients have expectations about image quality, which is why I use the D800E; medium format is not appropriate or practical for high magnification, but the resolution is required for large output. They are tools, not luxury goods. Depreciation is horrible, and I only own them because they make my living. And no, I don’t wish I could master the 5DIII, I find the menus poorly laid out and confusing – an ergonomic disaster. I can make an image with whatever I have to hand, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best tool for the task. 🙂

  16. Perhaps some people like to justify their reasoning for buying into a particular system…………….rather than going out and actually using it……

    • Well, there’s nothing wrong with buying something if you like it – that’s a legitimate reason in itself. But deluding yourself otherwise is like being in denial. 🙂

    • I think @Mark is right, that’s the main reason for the raging arguments on forums. To expand a little: Buyers who aren’t photographers (but want to be, or think they do), who have bought a camera based on a comparison of specifications and some brief handling, want their choice of brand endorsed so they don’t feel they’ve bought the wrong one. Negative comments about brand X are seen as a personal attack. Someone stating that they prefer Y because X doesn’t do [some function] is read as "You’re an idiot because you bought X."

      In the Linux/Unix world there have been the equivalent of holy wars over which text editor (vi or emacs). In Australia I understand they are like that over cars (General Motors or Ford). In all cases those most zealous are missing the point entirely: it’s a camera/car, you bought yours because you like it, that someone else bought something different has no impact on your enjoyment of yours!

      • “that someone else bought something different has no impact on your enjoyment of yours!” Precisely! But lack of security in their own choice – perhaps an inability to make the photos they want – is what leads to the need to get defensive.

  17. This article reminds me of the quip: I can tolerate everything except intolerance …

  18. On a light note, Bugati Veyron is a VW (as designed and developped by VW group).

  19. here here Ming…I also think it’s getting a little over the top at the moment. Each to their own. I have settled with the OMD and love it…and it’s the smallest sensor out there and gets a hard time as a ‘toy” camera!

    • Not to me, I shoot it on assignment for certain things, and do most of my teaching/ workshops with it…

    • Steve Jones says:

      Plus one. I’ve got Leicas but I’m loving shooting the OMD too.After being fairly unimpressed with digital for about seven years or so the OMD was the one that had me reaching for my wallet! No regrets at all.
      I DO love the combination of M lenses with film but I’m not convinced I’d get vastly superior results with a digital M over a digital Olympus, so will stick with my M6 TTL / OMD combo. It seems to give me something of both worlds depending on what I’m shooting and what mood I’m in.

  20. Roger Wojahn says:

    What a great article Ming! You see the ego relationships that people have with all objects: Ford v. Chevy, Nikon v. Canon. This wine versus that one. But since we have different values we can’t say one is better than the other, we can only say that we prefer one or the other. As you rightly suggest, we should use what we prefer because we will take our camera with us and make beautiful photos. I have a great fortune to be able to shoot a Leica, but if I lost everything tomorrow, I can make great photographs with any camera available to me. And that’s the beauty!

    Keep up the great work! You are an inspiration to us all.

    • Thanks Roger! Of course even if you are lucky enough to have them all, you can still only say ‘I prefer’ on most criteria because not everything has an objective, quantitative answer (some things do, like resolution, dynamic range, and noise. Others, like tactility or ergonomics, don’t).

  21. Good article, I like it. I also like the watch too!
    Thanks Ming

  22. Interesting article. I wanted to mention Leica and ask your opinions. Hopefully you can answer without getting into problems with your sponsors. It’s just that no other brand seems to engender such a religious following as Leica. Both from collectors and serious photographers (such as yourself). Now there’s no doubt in my mind that they must make some pretty nice cameras (I’ve never even seen one in the flesh, let alone owned or used one). And that they may well be very good to use for all sorts of reasons.

    So my question is this : are they really that good? I mean, eight grand for a body? Lenses that go from a few grand up to more than 10! I read so much talk from serious photogs claiming that Leicas have something special, the “Leica Look”. Often all I see in photos purporting to show this “look” are out of focus street shots or over-bokehed shots of nothing (I am sure you know what I mean) that could just have easily been taken with an rx100. And they don’t even have autofocus!

    The lenses seem to be even more expensive than Zeiss (don’t get me started on Zeiss 3D pop – there was a thread I read recently where someone did a load of test shots between a Zeiss lens and a cheap zoom. He asked for people’s opinions as to which was which, and surprisingly, nobody wanted to pick which was the Zeiss. Until the poster said which lens was which, at which time loads of people admitted that they knew all along which was the Zeiss, criticized his testing methods and so on…)

    So I am curious as to your take on this.

    • I’m not sponsored, so don’t worry about it. Everything is handmaide, which means that tolerances might vary. Bad ones are really bad, and good ones are amazing – sample variation plays as big a part as technique. I’ll say that I’ve seen really poor lenses and outstandingly excellent ones – the troubling thing being that both have the same optical design!

      I’m not convinced there is a distinct look – in the film days when most images weren’t processed heavily afterwards, maybe. Today, no. Achieving consistency across equipment is one thing I strive for to give me flexibility in my tool choices. If venture to say my images have MY chosen look rather the anything endowed by a particular manufacturer or piece of equipment; some gear makes this easier or harder to achieve, and I choose accordingly for the requirements of the job. There is definitely a difference in lenses, but it requires some training to see and definitely can’t be discerned from web jpegs. Where Zeiss shines is the very high transmission afforded by their coatings – you will see this practically in higher shutter speeds when compared at a given aperture to other lenses. It’s one of the reasons – aside from optical quality and build – I own about a dozen of them in various mounts.

      Leicas have advantages and disadvantages: I like the amount of immediate control they give you over exposure and focus; they’re as close you’re going to get today to a mastic mechanical camera. I don’t like the other compromises – high iso image quality, reliability, speed – in the M8/9 generation; we can only hope the new M addresses these things.

      As for autofocus – I think the D800 fiasco has shown that it isn’t always a good thing: only if it works. Personally, I’d much rather have a good manual focus system. I don’t have focus errors with my Ms (providing rangefinder calibration is on), F2T or Hasselblad – but the AF cameras all require a few ‘insurance shots’. That should say quite a lot.

    • I think the Leica ‘magic’ is also in the fact that it is (these days) a rangefinder. I personally own a Voigtlander Rangefinder and I admit that it has such a different way of using it that, subconsiously, I choose this camera over all the other (very good) camera’s I own (all 70’s film loading camera’s bought on Ebay in the days they cost almost nothing). This type of camera is not always usable though due to its inherent design.

    • David Babsky says:

      I’m not Ming, but this box is marked ‘Comments’, so here are mine:

      In the ’30s and ’40s – that’s a long time ago! – Leicas were the small, pocketable, precision-engineered cameras you could carry anywhere, and with a choice of several interchangeable lenses. But being precision engineered, they were expensive. Many companies made their own variants or copies, generally cheaper, but many weren’t as dependable as proper Leicas.

      In 1954 they changed to a larger, heavier, more complex design, and the companies which copied Leica decided not to bother copying the new ‘M3’, but changed to making single-lens reflex cameras, which almost finished off the slow-to-respond Leitz company, as it then was.

      Until the digital-sensor Leica M8 and M9, a Leica was just a box to hold film: the lenses were the important components (a film box doesn’t impart a “look” to a photo) ..and not many other companies bothered making bodies to accept Leica lenses, except perhaps for Minolta’s small ‘CLE’.

      When the new-ish Leica company (the one which had rescued the Leica name from bankruptcy) produced their own digital cameras (instead of re-badged Panasonic cameras) then – obviously – the camera body of the M8 and M9 became an important part of the photo-making process, because of the characteristics of the sensor which was/is built into the body. The M8 and M9 didn’t, or don’t, have great dim-light capabilities; I don’t think most people generally shoot faster than ISO 1250 with them (I don’t) because their higher ISO shots are just very ‘noisy’. The rangefinders’ focus becomes less accurate with longer lenses, so their focusing system is really back-to-front: very accurate with short focal lengths – when great accuracy isn’t needed because of the inherent depth-of-field of ‘wide-angle’ lenses – and less accurate with longer lenses, when you really need greater accuracy because of their shallower d-o-f! Leicas have always been restricted to 135mm maximum focal length because of this inherent inaccuracy ..and they’ve never built a rangefinder which accepts zooms. So instead of one lens which does many things, Leica rangefinders have always needed several different lenses if you want to take several different views (wide-angle, normal, tele, etc). The lenses are extremely well made – and thus expensive – but you have to juggle several if you don’t want your pics to all look alike. (The ‘new M’ will accept all manner of lenses including zooms and longer focal lengths because it’ll have “live view” on the rear screen and on the (optional) plug-in electronic finder.)

      The metering on the M8 and M9 has been pretty crude, though the new M promises to provide more accurate metering. And, of course, there’s been no autofocus, no depth-of-field preview, no really close focusing, focus is always on a teeny central section of the finder, and playback has been excruciatingly slow.

      Some of the lenses – such as the current 50mm f1.4 – give truly magnificent results, without flare, with high resolution, with very soft out-of-focus highlights, and bitingly sharp detail. You can now buy several other digital bodies which accept Leica lenses, e.g; Ricoh GXR with the M mount, Cosina/Epson R-D1, adaptors to fit Leica lenses on NEX, m4/3 cameras, and so on.

      The current Leica management has shamelessly traded on the legend of the old Leica film cameras of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s – completely different devices – and their copywriters use hype to an extraordinary degree to imply that nothing else is as good as a Leica. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they?

      Most of it is pure hokum. Leicas are heavy for what they are, they’re severely restricted in what you can do with them (we’ll have to see about the new M, but the current M9 / M-E is really a dinosaur: just a 1954 camera with a 2009 sensor inside), and if you haven’t used one, you’re really not missing anything. Unless you have – as Ming says – a particular affinity with a particular camera, your pictures aren’t going to be any better with a Leica than with a Sony, a Ricoh, a Nikon or Canon, a Pentax, a Fuji or any other brand. The notion that only Leicas take great photographs is woefully misleading and truly dishonest piffle.

      • Thanks for weighing in, David. The strength of RF’s being accurate at wideangle is actually good if you want to shoot with fast wides – something DSLRs don’t do so well with because of the phase difference diminishing with increasing angle of view – it’s also why you see most AF errors when shooting wide, but not when shooting tele.

        The M8/M9’s metering is 70/30 centerweighted, which is fine; the problem is that it gets confused very easily by bright point sources in the frame; this causes the meter to expose for the point source and yield a basically black exposure – go manual at night. As for the sensor being 2009 – actually, the M8’s sensor is a 2005-2006 design, and the M9’s is just the same pixel architecture but expanded. I played with the new M at an event recently – if the much better LCD is anything to go by, both of these issues have been well and truly fixed; the new sensor actually looks quite promising. However, it’s the ability to accept a huge variety of lenses via adaptors that’s going to make this a very interesting camera for a wider audience.

    • “are they really that good? I mean, eight grand for a body?”
      Leica made its name with some great photographers, and leverages that history and prestige in its marketing as a luxury product. But, a camera as a tool is only as good as the craftsman using it. As a tool, it’s very expensive, and outclassed on most technical levels by peer cameras. Go back to 2009 and Imagine if Nikon or Canon released their top-of-the-line uber pro model with the M9 full frame CCD!–they’d be out of business–only Leica can sell that can of snake oil and have its fans and reviewers swooning. However, it’s the only digital game in town if you want rangefinder focusing and manual everything. It’s a matter of tastes and values.

      “I read so much talk from serious photogs claiming that Leicas have something special, the “Leica Look”.”
      I used to think the same until I went back to my old negatives and digital files–somehow time and distance had vaporized that “Leica Look”–more like that “Leica Noise” on an M8 at ISO 640 or higher. IMO “Leica Look” is a lot of baloney (and yes, I’ve shot lots on the 35mm Summicron v. IV and the 28mm Elmarit Asph.). On older lenses, the “Look” was caused by uncorrected distortion/aberrations that are romantically called “lens signatures” by fanboys. Or it’s because the lens is shot wide open, resulting in shallow depth of field–I got the same effect with a *Sigma* 28mm/f1.8 (all of $160 used) on a Kodak SLR/n (no AA filter!) and various Nikons–center sharpness terrific, high contrast, with depth of field roll-off into blur (or bokeh, as is fetishly called). Yeah, the “Leica Look” for $160. LOL.

      Remember that good photographers can make good/great images with almost anything. The camera is a tool and too often, too much credit is given to the tool and not the craftsman. Reminds me of the viewer who says–“great picture, you must have a nice/good/expensive camera.”

      • I beg to differ. I definitely didn’t give the M9 a swooning review (you can read it here) and I agree that there’s almost no difference between the way my Leica and other brand files look. Any real differences are down to hardware types – AA/non AA, CCD vs CMOS, UVIR filtration etc. Good photogs can create excellent pictures with anything, just as we can get from A to B via foot, bus, a jalopy or a BMW…it’s just nice to have a choice, realizing that in itself is a luxury.

  23. Nice well thought out article Ming. Thank You!

  24. how do u get dust out of your macro shots?


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