Choice, compromise and creativity

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What do these two things have in common, other than they’re from (very, very loosely, give or take a decade) the same era?

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By way of comparison, these two are again similar, but lacking the the one thing that makes the first pair unique: and it isn’t age.

I’m talking about compromises. A compromise is when you’ve got to find a workaround or accept some limitations; the interesting thing is most people don’t notice them because they seldom ask of their tools anything beyond ‘normal’ design specifications. Our first pair – a Nikon F2 Titan and Ford GT40 – are both incredible pieces of machinery, but so purpose-honed that unless you’re willing to wrest control and be on the ball all the time, it’s going to wear after a while. And even then, you may not technically get better results in some cases than the more modern (and more mainstream) equipment. (Let’s not even talk about the cost.) Our modern pair, on the other hand, has everything 99% of the population will need: ease of use, performance, affordability, and reliability. I’m sure that given the choice, none of you would choose an original GT40 race car as your daily driver – unless you’re a period racer, I suppose. By comparison, a Canon Rebel/ three-digit EOS will do just about everything most people will want to do with it; you won’t have to worry about pesky things like focusing or metering or even having only one sensitivity for the next 33 shots, even though it’s now dark outside. And you won’t worry about where you park it or how you handle it or if you scrape a bit of paint off.* Likewise, the Polo GTI seats four, has folding seats for extra load, a perky engine, fun handling, surprisingly frugal consumption – and will allow you to lose your license in just under 7 seconds.

*I admit I rarely shoot the F2T/Noct combination because frankly, the small possibility of scarring it frightens the crap out of me.

This brings me to today’s topic of discussion: I wonder if choice is spoiling creativity and skill development. I’m going to get to this a roundabout way: let’s take a thought experiment example. For the last couple of years, depending on which magazine you read, the Car of the Year spot has been contested by the BMW 1M Coupe and the Porsche Cayman R; both are excellent drivers’ cars (I believe, not having had the fortune to drive either – it’s not the kind of thing you can get a test drive in here), but both have flaws. The question is, if money weren’t an object – which would you buy?

Absolute performance on the limit isn’t really a question for either car – nor is it something exploitable 99% of the time anyway – so we’ll leave that aside for now. Let’s take the 1M first: it’s small, but still seats four (in a pinch), has ample luggage space for a weekend (or an assignment’s worth of gear) and a very healthy amount of low end and midrange torque. Having driven a diesel for the last four years, I can tell you that it makes an enormous amount of difference to normal-speed tractability and response. However, it is manual only, the handling can be a bit lairy on the limit due to the torque and short wheelbase, and the looks take a little getting used to. If you lived in the middle of a mountain pass, I don’t think the former would be an issue, but if you live in a city like Kuala Lumpur where the traffic is so bad that any journey takes an hour in constant stop-start traffic, that third pedal might get a bit tiresome.

Then there’s the Cayman R: arguably, the handling is more precise, and well, it’s a Porsche – so it looks fantastic. Until you sit there in traffic and try to disappear into the car because everybody is staring at you and your rear wing. This car can be had with a PDK (double clutch robotised manual with paddles) gearbox, so there’s no third pedal. It has an automatic mode. But the engine is strictly naturally aspirated, so you have to rev the crap out of it to get any power; at low speeds, it feels, well, slow. (I’ve driven a regular Cayman S, and yes, that feels very sluggish below 5,000 RPM. Above that, it’s magic – but you can’t drive like that every day.) There’s also precious little luggage space, no extra/ emergency seats, and the fixed-shell racing buckets. It’s not exactly the easiest thing to get in and out of.

The obvious question in this case would be simply why not get something more practical, but perhaps just a little less focused? Simple answer: because it’s just not the same; because you just know that you settled. I think this is a problem for obsessive personalities like mine: if I decide to buy something, I hate the idea that I have to compromise at all; whether it’s cameras or cars. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have either the 1M or Cayman R – but the reality is that I’d probably be annoyed most of the time because I have to sacrifice too many things that actually matter to me.

The same goes with cameras: many of you will recall the Nikon Coolpix A vs Ricoh GR battle from a couple of months ago; both are fantastic cameras and very focused pieces of equipment – much like the 1M and R – but they’re similarly compromised. (Don’t ask me which is which, because I have no idea. I suppose the R would be the GR, and the 1M would be the A…) Only having the option of one or nothing makes the choice much simpler: you simply live with it and make it work for you. It’s only when you’ve got two very similar choices that things become tough. In the end – I still haven’t bought either camera. I believe they call these ‘first world problems’.

In general, the more you care about the result (caring about the journey only makes things worse), the more you care about your tools; the diminishing returns are very, very steep. In practical terms – let’s say web viewing and small prints, a pro-grade prime isn’t that much better than the kit zoom, but when you can tell the difference, it bothers you. (It’s why I have eight 28mm-e options; or at least that’s what I tell myself anyway.) Collectively, we photographers have a tendency to look to the limitations – deliberate by design or otherwise – of our gear to find excuses for why an image isn’t as good as it should be. ‘If only’, we say. But, if we only had one camera, a fixed-focal lens and ISO 100 film and didn’t know any better, I’m sure we’d find a way to make it work. Actually, not only would we find a way to make it work, I’m sure most of us would make some pretty amazing images, too. And a viewer would see the image rather than technical deficiencies.

Choice and consumerism have turned all of us into a bunch of lazy whiners**: there are many cultural stereotypes around this, but I feel it to be true. I’ve got to consciously catch myself before buying yet another piece of equipment (none of us are immune) thinking that it might result in different output: it won’t. Opening my mind would probably work much better. In the creative industries, limitations are actually much easier for humans to work with than a completely blank slate – simply because they both focus our thinking and rule out impracticalities that we shouldn’t waste our time on. Try it for yourself: it’s much easier to write an essay on a given topic rather than just ‘write an essay on anything’. The more limitations we have, the more we stretch ourselves, and the better we tend to do. Perhaps that’s why I find my hit rate with the Hasselblad and one lens – 12 shots – much, much higher than a D800E with a 24-120. I’m forced to think.

**The car industry is even worse than the camera industry: not only are there more choices, there’s even less distinction between them. D800 vs D800E was tough enough for most at the time; can you imagine if the D800 came in SE, Luxury, Executive and Sport trims, and if some options were interchangeable between some lines and not others? The forums would die of sheer server overload. “Should I buy a D800E Sport with the leather grips or a D800E Luxury with the Handling Package?” “Does anybody have photos in daylight of Midnight Black vs. Imperial Dark Blue side by side?” etc.

That said, I don’t really want to do my thinking while cursing my heavy twin-plate racing clutch in traffic. To the car enthusiasts amongst my readers, I’ve got two questions. Firstly, for entertainment value – money/ practicality being no object – what car do you think would suit me? And secondly, more practically…what would you pick for a) fun b) fast c) easy to drive in traffic d) has practical load-carrying ability e) has some style f) is affordable and g) preferably doesn’t drink like a sailor on shore leave? 🙂 MT


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  1. Great article, Ming. I like the way you mix metaphors here. Cameras and Cars always go well together with this group!

    I couldn’t help but think about match racing and how it tends to make you a better driver / sailor. In any kind of open class racing, where you can bring any kind of gear you want, people tend to focus on finding the last bit of technical performance, possibly to the detriment of great racing technique. On the other hand, when you come to class racing and everyone has exactly the same gear, then you really begin to hone your skills as a racer. For a couple years I campaigned a Star boat where every boat in the class was from an older (read affordable) era, no one could have brand new sails, and the racing was all about one’s skill. It taught me more about racing than any other type of racing I’d done. I find with my photography, that if I take a bag with options, I’m constantly changing cameras and lenses and missing the big picture. Alternately, when I bring one camera and lens out with me and use it for weeks at a time, I get much better results. Every few weeks, I change the combination so that I don’t lose my ability to understand how to use the various bodies without thinking to hard. And you’re right: when I’m left with nothing but an iPhone, I can still get some photos that work well.

    On the car note, well, it’s hard as a hard-core Porsche lover not to recommend the new Cayman. I’ve owned several 911s over the years and am using the GT-3 as my daily commuter. The GT-3 is absolutely the most amazing performer I’ve ever driven and is equally the most impractical car I’ve ever owned. Driving out of a driveway, even on a 45 degree angle, the front end scrapes and a wheel lifts off the ground. You can never get it out of 2nd gear in town and it’s so powerful, you could could kill yourself without having total awareness and smoothness. The new Cayman, on the other hand, is what the 911 used to be. Over the years, the 911 has gotten so stretched that it doesn’t feel like the earlier iterations. The power in the new Cayman is much higher than the old 911s, it’s perfectly built, has tons of power and yet you don’t need the third pedal. It’s got enough room in back to toss a few things and is as fun to drive as anything you’ll get in. I’m actually thinking about swapping the GT3 for the new Cayman myself.

    Having said that, the VW GTI is an awfully practical / fun / sporting car. It may not be as sweet looking as the rest but it sure fulfills some of the other requirements. Subaru’s new WXR comes out soon. It’s supposed to be quite capable and fun also.


    • Thanks Roger. One make series auto racing could be fun but boy is it expensive! As for the Porsches…far, far out of my budget. Though the new Cayman S would probably be in the running if not for our silly import taxes; they’re about $200k here without any options. That probably buys you a GT2, let alone GT3. That said, the new GT3 (and Chris Harris’ review of it) looks awesome…

      I’ve never liked the Golf GTI. Something a little soulless about it, perhaps. The kind of car people buy when they want performance, resale value and don’t care about character. Can’t help thinking what your choice of car says about you etc…

      • That’s shocking, Ming. It’d be hard to buy a bicycle with that kind of tax! Thanks for the head’s up on Chris Harris’ review. So solid. My 2007 was one of the first iteration of the 997 series and the only year that it had the sunroof. Like the Leica M (manual) I have to say I love the stick and the normally aspirated motor. It’s a thing of beauty. I totally get your feeling about the GTI. Objectively it makes a lot of sense for performance on a budget but I could never own one either!

        • Bicycles are tax free. Few ride because of the weather 🙂

          Here’s how our local car landscape looks in USD:
          VW Golf GTI – imported – $75,000+.
          BMW 320i petrol, bare bones – locally assembled – $80,000.
          BMW 320d M sport – locally assembled – $85,000.
          Porsche Cayman S, bare bones – imported – $200,000+
          BMW M5 – imported – $320,000 (!)
          Porsche 991, bare bones – imported – $300,000
          Ferrari 458 – imported – $500,000+ (no idea exactly, they’d probably take one look at me and ignore me).

          At least it’s not as bad as Singapore, I suppose.

  2. Though I shot with D4 a lot last year, I used D800E more frequently since I bought it earlier this year. Recently really into the Zeiss 100/2 makro, great lens and great colour, as you’ve reviewed. I’m still in the “gear-head” phase (pretty early in the photography journey I suppose) and been considering a Phase One maybe later this year. Not sure if you have any experiences using PhaseOne and how do you think it compares to Hasselblad in general?

    • I think suppose is probably the most important thing when moving to medium format digital – and only Hasselblad has decent local presence; I can’t even get access to the other brands here. Honestly can’t say.

  3. Very interesting topic, I have spent months thinking about compromising in cars & cameras… so sorry for a longer reply 🙂 . For me, sports car means rear wheel drive and if possible, limited slip differential and manual transmission. Toyota GT-86 (also sold as Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ) is the best example of affordable, yet “real” sportscar today. It lacks power a little bit, but it is the best you can get. What a pitty, there have been many cars like that a few years ago (Honda S2000 for example), but not any more. Nissan 370Z or some US import (like Camaro) might also be considered.

    As a sports car is only a toy for me and I dont make so much money, I have always owned a used sports car – currently an RX-8 (, which is an excellent and beautifull car, but requires lot of attention (and petrol). It is a four-seater and a compromise in power, but as by the GT-86, an acceptable one. On the other hand, the Polo is not a sports car at all… just regular car with stronger engine.

    I have also thought about real real sports car when buying the RX-8 – my friend was ready to sell his race car built on base of Mazda RX-7 for a fantastic price. With 350 horse powers, carbon hood, only 2 Sparco seats, no ABS or ESP, loud exhaust and so on. Sharp as a razor, fast as a lightning. But I have realized that it would end up the same way as it did by my friend – the car would spend most of the year in a garage because it is not suitable for daily driving.

    Again, it rings the bell – it is the same with the camera. Do not buy a DSLR if you are not convinced you will be ready to take it with you. A compact in your pocket is better than DSLR in your room, the… what the hell, even the Polo on the street is better than Bugatti in your garage.

    PS: I adore Rowan Atkinson for daily driving his McLaren F1 and other super-sports.

    • No worries. Tom holds the record for longest reply, I believe 🙂

      I hear the RX-8 also has very high oil consumption because of the rotor tip seals? Should be incredibly smooth, though. The Polo is definitely not a sports car. But then again, I’m not driving it, the wife is. I have a BMW E90 320d with M suspension that does the job quite nicely – RWD, lots of torque all over the rev range for town driving and instant acceleration, very frugal on fuel, reasonably well balanced and good handling, but just not that exciting.

      Completely agreed with your garage/pocket philosophy though!

      Rowan Atkinson can afford to fix the F1 if he crashes it. I couldn’t, even if I could afford the car in the first place 😛

      • The oil consumption by RX-8 is under 1 liter per 1000km, no real issue for me. The fantastic on RX-8 is suspension, steering, handling, responsiveness, balance, breaks… and design of both interior and exterior. I have not found any “normal” car matching this… Mazda is on Porsche level here (and only here).

        Engine is not so perfect. Goes more like a motorbike, not really exciting sound, not much torque under 4.000 (but enough for normal driving and you can go to 9200), high consumption, low weight, bad reliability. And yes, it has some uniqueness in it 🙂 .

        The car like F1 needs to be insured in the first place. I have used the Bean story to support my pilosophy. It has also helped me with a decision if I should take my brand-new D7100 for my holiday (partly sand & sea) or if I should preserve it in the box and use my old D90 instead… no way, to have the D7100 in a box would be a shame 🙂 .

  4. The GT40 photo is beautiful. I initially thought medium format. I was surprised to see X100 on your Flickr page. It’s almost enough to make me want to try another one. Besides the quirks I always seemed to want something a bit wider or longer. I love the tonal range and composition.

  5. Impractical = Shelby Cobra

    Pratical but still suitable to your criteria = Scion FR-S

    Of course I am a bicycle commuter who shares a car with my wife and pulls my daughter in a trailer behind the bike so they all seem extravagent to me;-)

  6. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Well, as no car _really_ fulfills _all_ your specs… 🙂 …

    a+b+d+e : Aston Martin used to build station wagons… ( – “Firstly” ? )

    All except d : Mazda Miata
    ( the boot ought to cope with a lot of photo equipment )

    – – –
    And in the future : Maybe
    ( Sadly, not yet in production.) ]

  7. John Walton says:

    This is going to sound completely prosaic. I drive a v6 VW Passat stationwagon, with DSG gearbox (basically the same deal as a PDK, but not as fast or flash), and I love it. Lots of room, fun to drive and not so expensive. The diesel Panamera would do me fine (a friend just bought one), but the price … I have, however, been considering trading for an Audi A4 S-Line Avant with the 3 litre diesel (they don’t make the S4 in diesel yet) – another friend has one and it goes like the clappers, and is cheap to run.

    Sad to say, diesel is the future. Just not mine just yet!

    My Leicas are a compromise, so I’m adding an 800E, which I will use either on manual or aperture priority at most … he says!

    • I think the Audi Avants are probably the nicest looking wagons out there; the proportions don’t look too back-heavy, unlike the BMW Tourings or Merc wagons. None of them seem to be popular here though; they’re not imported and there are only a small handful running around – probably brought in privately. I did try out an RS6 Avant recently (the older V10 biturbo version) – the way that thing moved belied belief considering we were loaded up and probably grossing about 2.5 tons. Prone to unpredictable snap over/understeer at the limit though, depending on how the 4WD system had torque shuffled; only then did it really make its weight felt (that and the insane fuel consumption, I suppose).

      • John Walton says:

        RS4 is more tempting – I no longer feel the need to drive “at the limit”. Too many other things I wish to do in life.

        • Like continue living it if something goes slightly wrong? 9/10ths still leaves you with a bit of margin. Actually, cars that feel quick but aren’t are probably more safe fun…but I have to say, those Euro sedans really remove all feelings of speed though – 200km/h feels little different from 100km/h in a Japanese car.

          • John Walton says:

            Well, I kitesurf, ski, paraglide, combine paragliding with skiing, cycle, ride my motorbike and generally live life outdoors when I’m not sitting in an office worrying about other people’s problems.

            Driving fast is fun, but I get other thrills I guess. I’m wary of other people spoiling my life through their incompetence (and vice versa, if I’m honest).

    • Audi A4 is a perfect family car, it is fast (and very fast in the performance versions, but the 3.0TDI 180kW is fully sufficient)… but there is not even the slightest touch of “sport” for me. It is comfortable, isolated, with distracted steering, heavy front causing huge understeer wherever you push the limits. It is like the D800E… switched to full automatic ;-).

  8. I used to work in journalism and got a Porsche 911 and a Chrevolet Corvette, each for one week, to test. Since then, believe it or not, I’m more convinced than ever that I just want a Mazda Miata again. I had one in the 90s. It’s about the feel of speed rather than the actual speed. I guess Lotus could give you that as well, being small and agile.

    With kids, a Miata is not practical right now. For fun and practicality, I always end up with the BMW 3-series, no matter how many other cars I test drive.

    • Interesting – did you prefer the Porsche approach or the Corvette approach?

      Agreed on the 3-series – I suppose that’s why it keeps getting voted car of the year by so many publications. But each generation loses a bit of soul and driver involvement, I think.

      • Michael Matthews says:

        Pardon the intrusion, but I must voice a resounding second to the Mazda Miata.

        My 2012 Miata strikes me as being a brand new 50-year-old two seat roadster, but with all the advantages of contemporary tech and quality standards. (Keep in mind that I’m old, therefore possibly delusional.)

        The Miata is precisely what the MG should have become rather than rolling over and dying in the face of U.S. emission and safety standards imposed in the 1970’s. It sits like my 1959 MGA — the driver just forward of the rear wheel and slightly above the rear axle elevation. The seat and its position are ideal, the steering wheel, foot pedals, and other controls exactly where they should be. It is responsive, perfectly balanced.

        Some limitations I have require the automatic transmission rather than manual. To my surprise the six-speed paddle shifter (or Tiptronic-like shift lever, driver’s choice) is not a slushbox. It’s much more like the sequential, nearly instantaneous gear change of a motorcycle. Who knew? I had dreaded the idea, thinking it would make the car a point-and-drive.

        For one who remembers the MGA as fitting like a glove and providing a blissful driving experience on the two-lane highways of mountainous West Virginia in the 1960s, finding the Miata an almost complete replication of that is astonishing.

        As much as my later MGB was a disappointment in the ’70s, the Mazda is a delight today. Drop the top on a warm summer evening and hit the ridiculously well-maintained two-lane rural roads of north Georgia: suddenly 50 years drop away.

        Maybe it’s a matter of imprinting, like acquiring a favorite musical taste at some point.

        • Haha, no worries. I actually went to take a look at one recently. The hard folding roof is great for out tropical downpours, but the boot is woefully small and there was very little low end torque; don’t know why but it reminded me of a base Boxter in some ways. It was also expensive enough that it’d have to be my only car…

      • To my surprise, the Porsche disappointed me and the Corvette exited me. But both suffered from the fact that you have to drive these cars really, really hard to get any real excitement out of them. Driving that hard is basically impossible on American roads. That’s why I prefer the Miata, which gives you a thrill without having to go super fast.

        I actually remember my first car with fondness as well, even though it was a dud motoring-wise. It was a Citroen 2CV, with only two cylinders – then the weakest car on the road. I loved it, because it was pure and made a real racket trying to get somewhere.

        Michael is completely right on the Miata. As a matter of fact, when I was searching for a fun car in the 90s, I often dropped by a restorer of old British cars, asking if he had something good for me. He kept telling me to forget about the old Italian and British cars (I test drove Maserati’s and other classics he had for sale) and just get a Miata: same or better driving experience and much, much more reliable.

        • “But both suffered from the fact that you have to drive these cars really, really hard to get any real excitement out of them.”

          Agreed on the Porsches. At low speeds, the NA engines have very little grunt at all; they don’t give you the kick in the back you expect from something that looks so fast on the outside…

  9. Just take along your OMD and pack it in to one of these:

    Click to access SP300R.pdf

  10. Don’t think I can recommend a ride for you Ming. Our taste in vehicles in is very different I think. I’m a bit jaded though. I spent 13 years as a GM mechanic and cars have lost their luster to a great degree. A mechanic buddy of mine concluded that modern cars are like bic lighters. I think this holds true for the majority of cars out there presently. To me there is very little soul in much of what is offered. Just based on my experience with the GM product line what I have found is it is becoming common place for an engine/transmission assembly to be wrapped in varying forms of sheet metal and dressed up with different levels of shinny bits of plastic to give the impression of variety. Modern cars are all very similar under the hood these days. Take Chevrolet or Cadillac, or Toyota or Lexus, The only thing that really separates them is marketing, bells and whistles, and perhaps some power train calibrations to very the performance (I kinda think the the camera business parallels this system to some degree as well.) But that’s just me….. Now vintage cars is a whole different story! I currently own a 1952 International Harvester pickup. It’s a straight six with a three speed column shift trans. Turtles fornicate faster than this thing moves!!! But it’s fun to drive. I imagine (I’ve never shot one) that it is a similar experience to an old mechanical film camera. You have to work to use it, but it slows you down and sometimes you end up seeing more of the world. So if i was going to get any car right now it’s a toss up between a 63′ Lincoln Continental (hardtop) or a 34′ Ford 4 door slantback with a flathead V8 (hey I need room for the wife and kids.) If I needed “speed” it would be a 70′ Boss 429 Ford Mustang.

    • Jeff, that oddly sounds like what happens whenever you take a hobby as a profession – I’m getting somewhat jaded with horology now that I see super-high end pieces on a regular basis; the ordinary stuff is far too pedestrian and the interesting stuff is less interesting and just as unaffordable as ever.

      Vintage is not a bad idea, actually. I’d probably have an old BMW but parts and maintenance here are a disaster. Asia is very much in the aspirational phase where everybody wants the latest and greatest, and now.

      Oh well, at least it makes used Hasselblad film gear quite cheap…

    • Tom Liles says:

      Woof! to the 63′ Lincoln Continental, Jeff 🙂

      Not really your type of car, I think, but I have a MAJOR weakness for ’69 Dodge Chargers. It’s a cliche choice and has been in a lot of films recently… but I grew up on The Dukes of Hazard [among other shows!], and this is the car for me. I wouldn’t paint mine like the General Lee, or anything, but that show scarred me for life. I don’t think I’m alone.
      [Apparently they went through a huge chunk of the sales stock of Dodge Chargers filming all the episodes of Dukes… to think what a goldmine they’d have on their hands if they’d just bought them, garaged them, and slowly began selling them, in pristine condition, now! I prefer that they used them though. Aristotle would agree with me.]

      I actually quite like modern Dodge Challengers. As a European, it probably isn’t the done thing to come out liking modern American cars like this, but there it us. And I do LOVE european cars, just a different love; you can love two women at once, for all naysayers: do you love your Mum, do you love your wife? QED. There are a few R/T “hemi”s rolling about Tokyo. Very handsome, to my eyes. I think it’s because I’m British, perhaps. While we’re known for small, light two seater sports cars; we also made a lot of HEAVY POWER cars, mixed with some elegance. The Jaguar XJS springs to mind. Every Aston Martin of the 80s and 90s. Rolls Royce and Bentley, of course. So, there’s definitely a strand of the taste that the Americans do so well in us too. I venture that most the Germanic peoples can feel it. And it is taste. I defy any aesthete not see beauty in the presence of any of those cars you listed, or the ones I did.

      I really love the Packard brand—because they fabricated Rolls Royce merlin engines for the Mustang P51 [and variants] aircraft. SIMPLY THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MACHINE EVER MADE BY MAN in my opinion. Have you heard the engine on those when they’re primed and fire up. Talk about scarred for life. But I don’t know much about Packard cars. Any tips on which are the ones to look at?

      And speaking of look at? The old Packard factory in Detroit—I would LOVE to go and see that in person. Amazing.

      • Actually, I can totally understand that. The sound of a big-capacity V8 is pretty unique. But if I had to choose 60s-70s era, I’d still go with a BMW 3.0 CSL…

        • Tom Liles says:

          Oof. Let me reflect your words: I can TOTALLY understand that. I feel like I want to do the double handed handshake for five whole minutes, with my eyes squeezed shut and nodding my head vigorously, to whichever designer came up with the forward leaning grill on the 3.0 CSL. Iconic, elegant in retrospect, but ultimately—pure liquid COOLNESS. Bravo!


          Want! 😉

        • Ming, to BMW purists this will most likely sound like blasphemy, but I always thought it would be cool to take an old BMW and stuff a current generation GM small block into one, oh say maybe LS2 6.0 (bone stock it pumps out 400hp, swap the heads and cam and your easily over 500.) That’s what you call a sleeper. May have a little trouble getting traction out of the hole……

      • Tom, I was never that much of a MOPAR fan but I would definitely rock a 69′ Charger! I’ve watched a few episodes of the Dukes myself! (That birthday you had, said you were 35 right? 38 here, so I’m thinking there are a few more shows we may have in common!) The Charger is my top pick for MOPARs, although I do remember seeing what I think was a 70′ Cuda at a drag strip once that looked just badass! It was black on black with deep tinted windows. It had big fat slicks stuffed up into the rear wheel wells and had real low nasty stance. That beast was belching flames and loud as hell. I could have driven that! Back to Chargers for a moment … If I remember correctly that badass vampire killer Blade was rocking a Charger for transportation!! I figure if it’s good enough for Blade it’ll work for me! As far as the modern cars, I would actually point out that of the big US manufactures I would say that Chrysler has taken more risks when it comes to styling in recent years. Their full size trucks have really stood out, not my style, but they definitely have a different look. The others that come to mind were the Magnum wagon and the 300. I’d be happier with the modern Charger if it was available in a two door, but for us dads those four doors are handy aren’t they? As far as the european cars there are some that get my attention. One of my buddies is a BMW tech so I’ve been copilot for a couple floggings. Nice cars. My old man had a 911 when I was kid. I think it was as 79, chocolate brown with tan interior. I’d drive one of those. Grew up watching Bond movies so I have to add the old school Aston Martin too! Had a couple of Mustangs, three in fact. Had 82′ 5.0 and a couple of 89′ 5.0s. Nothing crazy fast, but fast enough to get stupid with. Beat em like a rented mule!! For me I’ll settle for an unrefined American V8 any day. It’s the sound more than anything, but I’m not that sophisticated so I think it’s a good fit.

        You mentioned Packards…. I almost mentioned those above, but I’m not as familiar with Packards so I refrained. I could easily drive anything from the mid 30s to mid 40s. It was just the lines of the fenders, the grills, and I’m talking stock. No chopped up hot rods for me. I’ll take it as it rolled off the assembly line thank you. Watch Public Enemies and you’ll see the cars I’m talking about!!

        • Tom Liles says:

          Yes mate, 35—I think we’re definitely the same pop-cultural generation: if you watched CASINO ROYALE in 2006, and when the guy with the spectacles, one lens blacked out, appeared near the end in Venice… when you saw that you thought: this

          Major Coldsmith Briggs III! 😮

        • Tom Liles says:

          Nothing gurgles and rumbles and roars like the classic American V8s. Even if something could it couldn’t, if you know what I mean. That’s why we — the World over — love them.

          And I don’t see it as a binary either / or: I love it all. I want the screaming ferocity of F1 engines, the tiger-like rippling power and noise of Euro super cars—and the brutal, blunt, eats rocks, splashes brains on the concrete wrecking power of American gas guzzling juggernauts.

          I want it all!
          [while there is still crude in the ground]

          PUBLIC ENEMIES is great. A Michael Mann film, so you know I’ve seen it more than once 🙂 Let down a little by the supporting cast trying too hard, in my opinion: a lot of “tough guy” mugging and scene chewing going on. I like Johnny Depp, but he didn’t bring it home, for me, on this one. Overall, choosing the digital video look for a film set in that period was a strange — but legitimate — choice too. I’ll check it again, this time looking for those Packards!
          [And enjoying the set design—all those art deco / noveau and pre-mid century modern interiors! Awesome]

          On the subject of well made gangster films depicting that period, may I humbly present MILLER’S CROSSING. A must see.

          …I’m talking stock. No chopped up hot rods for me. I’ll take it as it rolled off the assembly line thank you

          YES! yes yes yes. +1. + 10. +10^10! Totally with you there. I die a little inside when I see what the latest rapper or sportsman has done to the wheels or interior of an old classic Rolls, etc… though, Rolls are such a parody of themselves — have been since the 80s — now it’s quite fitting I suppose.

          • It’s no different than what the football stars did to your home town back in England. Nothing sacred anymore……

  11. To answer your car question, I’ll give you the same answer I gave me based on a similar set of criteria: the VW Golf TDi.

    (a) Fun: you got it! The sport suspension, taut chassis, agile and well-mannered handling have you covered here. As an added bonus, the engine in punch in everyday driving situations, making the car feel stronger than many so-called sportscars.

    (b) Fast: it’s all relative, but it reaches 100 km/h quickly enough for me and I never fail to take off off-the-line first if that’s my intention. The car will cruise comfortably and silently at 140-150 km/h all day, and has plenty of power in reserve should you wish to accelerate to pass at those speeds. I have no idea what the actual top speed is, but the car is fast enough unless you plan on racing at Sepang.

    (c) Easy to drive in trafic: the punchy diesel engine takes care of you. I drive a three-pedal because that’s my preference despite trafic jams. If you want two pedals, they offer the car with an excellent DSG (dual-clutch automated manual). Excellent visibility, sensible and comfortable seating position, good stereo, the best phone integration I’ve experienced, and you can deal with any trafic situation.

    (d) Practical load-carrying ability: both in terms of space (the hatchback will engulf anything!) and that torque-rich engine will carry anything you could ever ask.

    (e) Style: a matter of taste, of course, but I find it looks modern, refined, and classy in a practical sort of way. Hard to find a better balance of positive attributes, IMO.

    (f) Affordable: again, it’s all relative, but I will assume a car in this price range is within your reach given your choices of watches, among other things… (I can’t afford a 9300 Speedy, let alone any JLC… and this car is something I can comfortable afford without breaking my back.)

    (g) Frugal: hard to beat that direct-injected diesel. To be honest, in trafic, it doesn’t do much better than most reasonably economical gas-powered small cars. On longer stints, though, the difference is impressive.

    Anyway, I’ve had mine for two years and continue to appreciate it everytime I drive it. I would still pick it today against all the competition. The only other alternatives I might consider in the short to mid term would be it’s replacement (due in 2015) or perhaps the 2014 GTI, based on the revised Golf platform, though in reality, I will keep this one for a while.

    Best of luck in your shopping. Happy to answer any questions you may have!



    • Thanks Claude. Sounds pretty similar to the 320d I’ve got now 🙂 Completely with you on diesel engines being the best of all worlds at the moment; I get comparable mileage to a Prius, but I can haul tail when required, too.

      Also, my current single JLC was actually a lot cheaper than the 9300 Speedy – Omega has gone crazy with pricing of late.

      • Ming, you seem to work hard and intelligently at what you do, and you are obviously very talented. No need to apologize if you can afford nice stuff! Good on you mate!

        As for cars, i can see how going to a VW might be a bit of a downgrade for you, except in the load-carrying department. As for me, seeing how nice the recent VWs are, I am more than happy to drive a VW and pocket the difference between it and a BMW (though I’m sure the 320d is very nice too!)

        Check out the newer generation Golf. It’s surprisingly upscale!



        • Sometimes I get the impression from clients that I have to be operating at poverty level before they’re happy…

          At any rate, the wife has a Polo GTI and I’ve got enough friends with Golfs; they’re all just slightly soulless and you’re always aware that you’re driving a hatch with a bigger engine and not something that was developed to drive well in the first place. The BMW feels better balanced than all of those, but at this point is four years old and depreciated to the point it isn’t worth selling. That said, even new, the Golf GTI and 320d aren’t that different in price because one’s fully imported and the other locally assembled – blame our silly tax structures again…

          • In any service industry, one has to be careful about letting clients be aware of his financial situation; this applies equally whether you are doing well or whether you are doing really bad, as people have prejudices in any case… It’s an art all in itself. As to how to separate your personal life from your professional life in terms of image, I unfortunately have no experience being an internet celebrity! LOL

            • I think honesty is always the best policy: otherwise any ruse might land up working a bit too well and attracting the wrong kind of people…

  12. Thomas Turnbull says:

    Definitely a second car, but… a Lotus ELAN from the 60s!

    Drove one once, wanted it ever since.

    As for cameras ~ the one I really wish I’d done more work with?


    Useful light, real love and happy trails!

    Tom Turnbull

    • That’s an interesting choice. There was a time when I thought the lines of the 80s versions were cool, but in hindsight, it hasn’t aged well at all.

      Recently handled a SX-70 for the first time and was very impressed by the folding mechanism…they really don’t make cameras this innovative anymore.

  13. Carlo Santin says:

    I call it choice fatigue. Present most people with too much choice and more likely than not we will not make a choice, or almost always second-guess the choice we make. Competition is good for the consumer. As a result we now have many many truly outstanding cameras available to the us, but then along comes choice fatigue. I’ve been contemplating a new digital camera for a while now and I am simply unable to make a choice. I’ve tried lots of them, liked most of them a lot, loved a few…but I cannot make a choice.

    Even in my own modest stable of cameras I already own…I’m beginning to feel I have too many. I still shoot a lot of film, and I’ve been buying 35mm film cameras because they are so darn cheap. I have too many now, and spend too much time trying to decide which one to take with me when I head out. Then there is the lens dilemma. Which lens to take? Honestly, I am tempted to let my wife decide which single camera and which single lens I can keep, and get rid of the rest (a task which would give her great pleasure). That way I could get back to the important stuff, like trying to make good photographs. I would probably be very happy with just my Nikon F100 and 50mm 1.8, nothing else (though the thought not having my Yashica TLR or my Nikon FE hurts me, and there I am back at square one). Yes, these are first world problems.

  14. sergeylandesman says:

    I think the problem of one looking for ultimate perfection in imperfect world. As for my choice in cars- BMW M 5 latest model.

  15. Tom Liles – I really, really enjoyed your post! Haha!

    • Tom Liles says:

      Thank you thank you! I’d love to say I’m here all week, but I’m only here until today 😦

      I’ll be back!

  16. Fabrice says:

    You surely need a small punchy electric car, like a Tesla, who have à lot of torque at low regime, no clutch and agile. 😉

  17. nothingbeforecoffee says:


    Geat piece, and more than a little thought provoking.

    We are I believe, living in the golden age of just about everything, in terms of consumer goods.

    Many point and shoot cameras today are better both optically and dynamically than those cameras used by the masters
    of days gone by and afford us many opportunies to exploit situations ( low light , motion ,weather ) that were not available to us in the past.

    The latest iteration GTI, would spank the pants off of a first iteration Porsche Boxter and carry the kids and load of groceries while doing it.

    As is often the case today, the functional capabilities of the objects in our possessions, often exceed our abilities to exploit them.

    As a long time car and motorcycle nut, I can say with certainty that most riders / drivers never come close to fully exploiting their machines… even during track days.

    In the same way, many photographers who lust after the latest and greatest blink boxes are, and will often remain, greatly out paced by their hardware.

    There is an expression among gear heads that goes… ” it is much more fun to ride a a slow bike fast than it is to ride a fast bike slowly.”

    I think there is real wisdom in this and I imagine the same thing is true of cameras although I’m not really sure how to state it.

    Finally, I’m about to buy a play car, myself . It will likely be an Audi TTS, with dual clutch.

    The dual clutch will allow my wife to feel comfortable on the few occasions that she will use it. The all wheel drive will help us deal
    with Nova Scotian winters .

    Will I feel compromised ? Not a bit. I’ll be too busy grinning my ass off.

    As Anais Nin once observed… We don’t see things as they are… we things as we are.

    Have a great day, Ming.


    • I don’t think I’d want to come close to what my car is capable of on the road, it simply isn’t safe. There are far too many risks – poor roads, other drivers, weather…

      Agreed on the illusion of speed though. The Lotus Elise I recently tested felt faster at 60kph with the roof down than my BMW does at 120.

      Enjoy the TTS, I can’t say I like the weight distribution – feels front heavy to me – but the interior looks wonderfully architectural and minimalist with the view of that uninterrupted window arch…

  18. Spot on, Ming!

    Ever since I bought a Contax G2 (a deliberate choice to leave the zoom systems for fixed focals) I learned to use primes only and, as a consequence, now dislike zooms. I use zooms when needed (for reportage) but for all other work I always use primes. And I really believe my pictures got better as a result.

    My usual practice is now to go for a shoot with a single prime (day to day nothing special work) or a small set of primes (usually 25/35/100 or 25/50/100). It works very nice, gives you limitations but indeed also focus and, in the end, you are not even perceiving this practice as a limitation.

    Many family and friends feel very limited without their multiple zooms or their hyper-zoom. I feel gorgeous with only my 35 or 50 :-).

    • I know what you mean – I’m juggling 28/85 all the time and wish I could just make do with one, but my eyes won’t let me 🙂

      • Iskabibble says:

        An article on how you use your 85 would be interesting. Uses away from the typical portrait sessions that these lenses seem destined to always be used at.

    • Steve Jones says:

      Ming, you only have so many years left to roam the planet. You’d better get on and USE that Nikon F2 titan while you still can. It’s going to last longer than you even with a few scars! When your mortality catches up with you it will feel better to look back on all the good times you had making pictures with it, than the times you were too frightened to take it out and did nothing at all with it. The camera and the man only realize their full potential when they are working together to create.Better to have one camera only and use it to it’s full potential than two dozen cameras you rarely use.

      • I will as soon as I have time – right now I’m up to my eyeballs with work, and there are a couple of rolls to finish in my various ‘Blad backs.

        Having one camera is fine if you’re a hobbyist, but it’s really no excuse to a client. Especially if you’re trying to play at the high end of the market…

        • Steve Jones says:

          Quite right. I meant to say to use the Nikon for personal stuff only. For clients it’s whatever gets the job done and makes them happy. I could imagine some giving you a horrified expression if you turned up with the Nikon! Ha ha!

  19. Tom Liles says:

    Oh Jesus, the GT40 makes me go weak at the knees. I have looked at your Flickr pics of them like a million times Ming. I’d have Ford GT bed sheets if my wife would let me. This car was on my bedroom wall for my entire childhood, went off the radar for a while through university, and has been a firm fixture of my psyche for the last decade or so…

    As you know I’m the proud owner of a Nikon F2 now [thanks Boss!]. Mine isn’t a Titan [my Boss is not that generous], and it is battered [his slightly stingy generosity showing through again]—which works out nice because I’m not afraid to use it and batter it some more –> though this is a serious lump of metal. I have nicknamed mine “Cromagnon.”

    So that first diptych just about ticks all my boxes. I feel like there should be coin slot somewhere that I have to put money into before a curtain sweeps shut.
    [or Liam Neeson appears looking for his daughter]


    I want to celebrate what Sascha said about his family car. When we were in the UK, I researched all the usual Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Golf, Audi A4, yada, yada, stuff… out of the blue, I took a chance on a Citroen Xantia. 500 quid. Yes, you read that right: 500 quid. A factor of ten cheaper than everything else I’d looked at. And cheaper, in fact, than my Sony Bravia X series television in the front room [I think the car has more R&D cost, moving parts and overall tech built in, amazing]. Cheaper than the SMEG fridge my wife wanted [and we couldn’t take to Japan]. Cheaper even, than the washing machine. Way cheaper than all our computing power. What a buy.
    The Xantia never missed a beat. It was BUTTER smooth, all time without fail. It couldn’t corner for anything. The turning circle was hideous. The interior was so bad it’s bad, not so bad it’s good. All the electrics worked, yes worked. It still had a tape player [actually very useful to me; I could listen to mix tapes I made when I was 14 and just wonder WHAT WAS I THINKING!? The hydraulics never ever once gave me trouble. It could even work up a respectable overtaking speed on the motorway. I love that car. Nothing but happy, satisfied memories of it.
    When we had to find a family car for us over here, I went looking for Xantias straight away. Import taxes and very little domestic appetite for that sort of thing here made it an impossibility, not just on cost: there just wasn’t enough of a used stock in the country or the service network to support. But because of the Xantia, Citroens are a fixture in my thoughts now. I’d love a C6 someday.
    [Yes, I’m a wafter when it comes to cars. Strange because I was skateboarder for most of my youth and all of my 20s and loved nothing more than VERY dangerous stuff at high speed: no seat belts, no padding, nothing—flesh smacking concrete and steel when it goes wrong. You break bones, snap tendons and rip muscles. It hurts. And we still do it. You need to be half crazy to get any good. But I like slow sedate cars. Go figure.]

    We ended up with a Japanese MPV. The car that quintessentially says “I’ve given up” in Jezzer’s words. And he’s right. But so what. Own it. That’s what I say.

    No car suggestions for you MT. I don’t know much about cars and everyone else has done a stellar job. Plus, I will never forget that lainer suggested you ride a unicycle. Not much room for gear: maybe you could train an Elephant to carry it all and follow you on a huge beachball or something 😉

    [on your way to the races to see your Arabic horses and hob-nob with the owner syndicate]

    • You can do some interesting things with an MPV if you try hard enough, just as you can with a point and shoot. I once had a very pedestrian Honda City with a woefully underpowered 1.5L lump; I drifted that downhill and could keep up with things a lot faster. Not going to do that again though, that was in hindsight one of the more stupid things I’ve done.

      The problem with the French cars is that I’ve always found the design a little too quirky; it looks great from some angles, but horrible from others, and in the end, the horrible really sticks in your mind. Ugh.

      I just put in an offer on a second hand 2008 Lotus Exige S240. We’ll see if it goes through…

      • Tom Liles says:

        Yeah, get the stupid things done while you’re still in your prime though, Ming. My personal driving best was getting a rentacar past 200 km/h on a rain-slicked autobahn.

        French Cars
        I know what you mean. But I commend them for at least going for it. And the French punters, and others!, for supporting them and doing likewise. But I’ve always liked off-kilter brands and design. Along with the timeless, inarguable quality ones, too.
        JeffC mentioned it, and I agree: big auto-makers in the US, Europe and Asia have all lost their balls completely and don’t really make different stuff or take chances. The degree of heterogeneity in the market today seems markedly less. That the corporate players [not the number of brands] is also less, seems obviously related. That SX-70 you were talking to Thomas [Turnbull] about, Ming; I can’t imagine anyone making it with a straight face, now. I’m not talking about a parody or a retro design; I mean the modern equivalent, done seriously. Which big name company management structure is going rubber stamp something like that? There is plenty of bonkers stuff out there. Kristian’s [Wannebo] link proves that in one fell swoop! No, but it feels like not so much serious-bonkers stuff from big makers; though reading through this thread, it seems plain that performance is getting ever better [and things really have never been as good].
        Modern computing ability must be one reason: off-the-wall ideas that previously makers had to put out there to “trial and error,” can be screened out via simulation as “won’t work,” before production and to a much much higher degree. But I think it’s really the taking chances angle… A culture of conservatism has crept in with the ever increasing power of corporatism in our times. Everything is an economic cost-benefit analysis or played by percentages. I don’t deal with business bods too often; but when I do I’m always struck how chicken hearted they are. No one, NO ONE, wants to take a fall. But the slightest victory and they are painting themselves atop the mount, bare chested and battle worn, one hand on the hip the other gripping and flying the flag: I did that. Though they wouldn’t say it so plainly, they’d probably say: I actioned three major projects for one of the biggest markets and through various synergies cut costs and increased performance in line with goals and targets and ensured outcomes for clients and customers. When these people let loose on the Microsoft Word I just want to run for the nearest high-up window and jump out. But anyway, it’s never them went it goes wrong [it will, 9 times out of 10]; it’s always them when it goes right. They’re chickens. They want a free lunch.

        When I say “they,” include me in it, and think “I”

        I know why we do it. There is a very real “failure is not an option” myth in air — in my view, fabricated by people who got lucky, succeeded and wanted to create the sense, with the cooperation of media, that it was all them and not mostly fortune and circumstance — and we all buy in, one way or another, into this myth and submit to it. It’s related to the Just Universe philosophy. But this myth is man made, works only because we buy into it: all these guys who are afraid of failure have to do is say “So what? I failed. So what?” Challenge a naysayer to lay out a coherent explanation of why failure is the exception, not the rule. The myth is a lot more fragile than we think, but it takes the tool of honesty to break. A hard tool to pick up: because when we do, we have to let go of a whole load of “achievements” and stuff that we think are ours, in order to allow for corollary of destigmatizing failure. Fortitude definitely necessary.

        This is not to say the culture of turning away from failure and condoning it — as you spoke about with Ian, Ming — is OK or should be strengthened. Not a jot. Just the opposite. That is just as corrosive and is killing us, slowly. In my view it’s just the same as the above myth, viewed from a different angle: it’s all about selfishly having upside with no down.

        Honesty. Humility. Fortitude. Solidarity. But most of all honesty. It’s all we need.

        [and then someone might make a digital SX-70 for me to buy! 🙂 ]

        Fingers crossed for the Lotus!!

        • Failure is good only if you learn from it, except in Asia, where you’re instantly denigrated and branded an outcast. Paradoxically it’s precisely when you have no choice that you force yourself to make it work; I suppose me, photography and this site is a good example, though that’s not to say there were no sacrifices along the way, nor did it require a lot of luck and a healthy user base. In today’s world, it seems that having something worthwhile saying isn’t as valuable as how loudly you say it.

          I suppose in that sense, I do view the French cars as a sort of failure; the design just doesn’t work. But clearly enough people are willing to give them another go that there must be something I’m missing 🙂

          My current diesel BMW 3-series isn’t exactly a speed demon, but I have managed to get over 1,000km out of a single 55L tank, with some range remaining. And practically, that’s quite a bit more useful. That said, I just put in a silly low offer on a 2009 Lotus Exige S 240, so perhaps the fun part might be remedied shortly…

          • Tom Liles says:

            Sorry Ming, missed you there.

            Yes, those French cars — things like the Citroen XM, the Xantia, etc — were a sort of failure. I don’t think you’re wrong there. But they were a good failure, a creative failure. I’d rather be inundated with honest failures like this [where they actually tried to do something] than boring failures that were entirely results of market research and playing the percentages and sharing platforms.

            But back to the French design… It’s all subjective and that, but come on, the Citroen C6. The classic DS. The 2CV, the old Renault 4s and 5s [fours and fives]. And, ahem, BUGATTI 🙂

            I’m flying the flag as best I can for the French here! An Englishman!!

            I’m seriously ON TENTERHOOKS now about the Lotus. Chances sound like 100:1 against, but not nil. What color?

            • Arguably the new Bugatti was designed by Germans…

              Chances are 100:1 against the Lotus. It’s in highlighter yellow, the kind of shade that really um…stands out. I’d probably repaint or wrap it at some point. I got to drive it today; I never thought I’d say this, but my BMW feels like driving a sofa in comparison. I’m impressed.

  20. On the one hand you have the GAS affected photographer who can never have enough equipment for every situation, on the other hand you have the purist who insists on shooting only with a 50mm prime. Both are traps that focus on the equipment.

    Jay Maisel uses a Nikon body and the 28-300, a long slow zoom. He prefers jpeg and hands the RAW files over to someone else. They would have him for breakfast in the dpreview-forums. But for him it’s convenient and good enough and it frees him up to concentrate on the seeing.

  21. I found this article almost scarily relevant. I have been looking to pull the trigger on a new camera for about 3 months now after my, rather bulky, D5000 sustained some damage. Every available forum, every camera shop in town and any vaguely interested friend, relative or stranger has been grilled on exactly which option they think would suite be best.

    Throughout this period of indecision, however, I have found myself shooting prolifically with the only “camera” available to me – a camera I would never have even considered had it not been my only option – my BlackBerry Curve. At first, it’s obvious limitations annoyed me. Soon, however, I found myself entranced by it’s simplicity. Having only ever owned a DSLR, I was taken by the fact that I now had a camera with me everywhere I went. Image quality may be horrible and the lens may be fixed (using the digital zoom was not an option) at an unknown focal length, but I didn’t care. I was shooting constantly and finding ways around the camera’s shortfalls. In many ways, shooting with this “crappy” camera has removed all pretension from my creative process. Going in with no expectations means that, when you do nail a shot, you can feel great knowing that it was all you! Even the process of having to email photos to myself to get them onto the computer forced me to pay more attention and be more critical, both when shooting (to keep total shots to a minimum) and making selections (to save time constructing emails to myself).

    I have honestly not had this much fun shooting since I first got my hands on my dads old K1000.

    I am no closer to deciding which camera to buy. Thanks to my BlackBerry experience however, I am no longer hung up about the fact that perhaps a $400 point-and-shoot would work best for me.

    If you’re interested in seeing some of the pics, check out my Flickr page.

    Thanks for a fantastic article!


    • Actually, this is like the ‘iphone exercise’ I set my students towards the end of the second day of workshops, once they have all the fundamental assignments complete. Everybody is always surprised how little difference there is between the phone camera shots and proper cameras – especially if you can also take control of metering. Fundamentally, composition is down to the photographer and the photographer only. So I’d say pick whichever camera catches your eye at a given time, so long as it doesn’t get in the way, I don’t think it really matters what you shoot 🙂

    • Tom Liles says:

      Matthew, I’m not sure if everyone else had a look; but I was curious, and did. And think you did a great job with the Blackberry Curve. I hate you 😀 Thanks for the link. Cheers!

  22. Harry Hancock says:

    Reblogged this on Harry's Blog.

  23. I actually couldn’t decide between the Ricoh GR and the Nikon Coolpix A. I bought both! Indulgent and redundant!! But I figure one will shake out as a preferred choice and I can sell the other at a reasonable-to-swallow loss while it is still the current model. That’s my rationalisation anyway! In reality it is a severe GAS attack.

    On the subject of cars, you demand your tactile pleasure – the feel of a Leica M, or a Zeiss ZM or ZF lens. ‘Haptactics’ as you put it. And you demand very fine tuned performance. I suspect the car for you is small, beautifully made and finished, a pleasure just to sit in, with all the controls well laid out, and very responsive to drive. I suspect something like a BMW M3, but for less dish, perhaps something like an Alfa Romeo Giulietta?… though it is… a compromise.

    • Act, that approach makes a lot of sense. The only problem is if you land up liking them both for different things and being unable to decide which one to sell 🙂

      I’m now thinking about an older Lotus Elise or Exige…that ticks all the boxes nicely.

  24. A great article. It is one of those questions.
    A couple of years ago, our family had grown, we needed a bigger car. I like cars. I spent 3 months in research to find the best value, best fun balance. Then I remembered my time jobbing at a big car rental, where I drove all kind of cars up to business class. After 2 months in that job I couldn’t care less what car I was driving, because they were just “compromise cars”. Even with 350hp (in 1990). But those horses weren’t interesting to me. I once drove an uncle’s charged Citroen 2CV in Rome, tuned to about 75hp…
    THAT was some experience.
    For me I found out, It’s all about passion OR function. We ended up with a big enough french family car. Very comfortable and smooth, very slow, very versatile. 1/2 the price of the german bunch. 6 yrs now with not a single fail, some dents and scretches and I don’t care, plus parking in Paris, Brussels or Naples (if you find a place) doesn’t scare me to death. That car became a good partner. With passion I would buy a 1973 Maserati Ghibli. But all those modern, fancy, pricey, but just affordable cars don’t match it for me. So although I am pretty sure the BMW is the better car in all respects but passion, I wouldn’t buy it. I would suggest the Cayman, or, even cooler, a Fiat Panda. There is NO better car for a big, no space, half of the people don’t know how to drive city. Period.
    Compromises often seem to be decisions that came from outside, not even the brain. At the end the compromise often is the priciest solution. Look at 5 star hotels. The cheapest room in a fancy hotel means burning your hard earned money within a heartbeat.
    I once owned a Sony NEX-5 for value reasons. It ended up at the bay after three months and I lost 150.


  25. I really did not need to think long on your question. Since you are familiar with Chris Harris, I think you may have seen this episode. Of course, I am talking about the Singer Porsche.

    Singer has taken the best of all Porsche 911 parts, then crafted a body shell mostly out of carbon fibre, to make the ultimate driver’s Porsche. Honestly, if I had this kind of money, it would be tempting to get one of these, unless I went for something eccentric like a Wiesmann or Morgan Aero.

    As for the other choices, for fun and fast, I would choose a motorcycle over a sports car, either a Ducati or an MV Agusta. Much like a hot girlfriend, or a mistress, I have a tendency to put up with the quirks because the experience trumps the annoying little things that remind you it’s not totally sorted. Of course the riding position is nearly like pleasuring yourself with both hands at once, so even a sports car would be a better choice in traffic, or for carrying things. The Volkswagen R32 would be a fun, fast, easy to drive car to carry all the gear I wanted to any location shoot, though it’s a bit of a sleeper in the looks department.

    • I just watched that segment last week actually – very interesting. For that kind of money…I’d get a vintage BMW 3.0 CSL. 😀

      Motorcycles are bad ideas in my part of the world due to oblivious drivers and torrential downpours without warning. My wife has been trying to convince me to get a Ducati, though I’d probably pick the S1000RR HP4 because it’s a physically smaller bike and easier to handle. Plus traction control will prevent me being a smear on the pavement.

      My in-laws have an R32. It’s fun, but front heavy and tends to understeer when pushed hard through tight corners. I admit, I’m very biased towards the RWD cars…

      • Paul Stokes says:

        What camera would you like to apply the Singer treatment to and what would you do?

        • Easy answer. Put a full frame square 6×6 sensor with the pixel architecture of a D800E in a Hasselblad 501CM; bin four photosites to give true RGB/Luminance information for each pixel. That would still net you 30MP of true non-Bayer resolution.

      • Michael Matthews says:

        If you have a beautiful wife who’s trying to convince you to get a Ducati you’re already living in the best of all possible worlds.
        Or you’re worth more dead than alive.
        Either way, life remains interesting.

  26. Actually since someone mentioned the Subaru BRZ (or Scion FRS), I realized that would be a good fit for your “more practical” car. You can get it in the automatic w/paddle shifters version, although I’m a strictly manual girl. My friend, however, is in love with the paddle shifter version. Personally, I am working my way up in the car world. First car was an ’84 Ford Escort that I grew up with, now I have a ’10 Hyundai Accent hatchback. I drive anything like a sports car though.

  27. Richard says:

    Hi Ming, although I’ve read you are a BMW fan, I would actually pick Mercedes C63 AMG for you for styling that would suit you (black or silver). For the car that does/has it all, Audi A4 station wagon. P.S. I thoroughly enjoy your work (photography, writing and site) – a sincere thank you from Canada!

    • My wife threatened divorce if I bought a Merc. But I have a good friend here who’s getting one, perhaps he’d let me take it for a spin if I ask nicely 🙂

      • Paul Stokes says:

        I’d agree with her not just from a styling angle or because Jeremy Clarkson bought one, but because unless you have super smooth roads you had better start making physiotherapy and chiropractor appointments.

        • Our potholes look more like cenotes, manhole covers are sunken 3″ into the road because when they resurface they just lay down a new bit of tar instead of scraping off the old one, we have random obstacles everywhere, and our speed humps are square. Definitely NOT the kind of thing you want to drive in Malaysia…in fact, I probably need a Race Touraeg or something.

  28. Ming,
    I totally agree with you on the limitation part. I simply don’t know what to shoot when you said “shoot anything” during your last weekend workshop. Hahaha..
    As to “what would you pick for a) fun b) fast c) easy to drive in traffic d) has practical load-carrying ability e) has some style f) is affordable and g) preferably doesn’t drink like a sailor on shore leave?”
    I seriously wonder does such a car exist??? The easy way out would certainly be one fun car & one practical car. Otherwise, I might just say the new BMW 3 series GT.

  29. Mr. Ichiro Sony says:

    Is the Nikon Noct really worth all the money you paid for it?

    • Value is relative. And historically it also seems rather depreciation-proof – if anything, appreciating – unlike the same amount spent on say a digital body.

  30. Paul Stokes says:

    My daily drive now that my wife has commandeered my Jeep Cherokee is a black Mazda 3 SP23 hatch. We bought this a year after I bought a Subaru WRX. The WRX has gone on but I love the Mazda. Its an automatic so it is easy to drive in traffic, though I generally pop it into neutral if I have a long wait. It accelerates extremely well, is ‘chuckable’ and forgiving i.e. you can take it quickly through the twists and turns of winding roads or around corners if you don’t mind a little drift. The back seats fold down and with the hatchback it has lots of room. It has some style, is far cheaper than either a BMW or a Porsche and how much it drinks depends on how hard you drive it. I still enjoy it and it still performs extremely well after six years. My only complaint is how close to the ground it is in terms of getting in and out.

    • Paul Stokes says:

      Additional point – I thought you had bought the GR, sorry the Cayman R.

    • Is the Mazda FWD or RWD? I have to admit FWD is rather less satisfying after getting used to RWD…

      • Paul Stokes says:

        The Mazda is actually a FWD but better than any other FWD I have driven. As with the acceleration and the handling it is really in a class of its own. Having owned a AWD and also a RWD and at one time a Saab FWD I would certainly put it on a par with the Subbie although it doesn’t have quite the prowess and my current RWD is the Jeep so comparisons probably aren’t fair to either. Only driving it will convince you one way or the other, but it is well worth trying. It’s all a compromise – now where have I heard that before.

        • Ah, I think it might share that trick front knuckle geometry with the Ford Focus – supposedly eliminates torque steer. Everything’s a compromise, no biggie…

  31. Oh my. I swear I hadn’t yet read this article when I left my comment on the Sigma DP3 post!

    I know Malaysian auto taxes are high, so my solution probably won’t work for you. I have two cars: a relatively practical car that’s still fun to drive (BMW E46 coupe), and a Porsche Cayman. And talk about perspective. Mine is the 2.7L base model, and the 3.2L S version feels like it has all the torque in the world! It is actually a fairly practical car unless you need to carry more than 1 other person. The 2.7 is slower than the 3.2, but its smaller contact patches let it move more so you can explore its limits at less insane speeds, and the long term maintenance is cheaper than the 3.2: tires, brakes, and even fuel economy. Its Aisin 5-speed gear box also feels more mechanically connected than the comparatively isolated-feeling Getrag 6-speed.

    The Toyota/Subaru GT-86/BRZ twins and the Miata also use this principle. Make the car’s limits lower, but make them more controllable and visceral so that the cars can be enjoyed in more situations. So many high-powered, heavy cars today need big fat tires to have reasonable dynamics that their limits can’t really be explored except at a racetrack by a trained, skilled driver (ie. not your everyday driver).

    As for what car might suit you, how about one of BMW’s 6-cylinder diesel wagons (“Tourings” in the EU)? It has fun torque and practicality, and it’s stealthy. A lot of American BMW fans wish BMW would sell those here. Or if we’re being totally crazy, convince Elon Musk to sell you a Tesla S. 🙂

    • Haha, no worries. it just went up about an hour before you commented.

      I have an E90 with M suspension, so that serves both practicality and fun. Though don’t talk about torque – the 2.0 diesel in my E90 produces about 460Nm after some light fettling; even the M3 with it’s 4.0 V8 feels a bit ‘light’ at lower speeds 🙂 I did look at the Cayman, though I loved the handling, it feels like you really have to wring the pants out of it in order to progress; it’s about carrying speed rather than accelerative kick. Suited for long sweepers but not so much mixes of town/ tight corners.

      A Tesla S would be fun, but nobody here could maintain it – so rather pointless. Would also love the anything with BMW’s 3.0 twin-turbo diesel, but it won’t run on the Euro 2M diesel we have here without clogging. I suppose I’ve already found optimum, then…

  32. Gary Morris says:

    Cars… My daily driver is a Ford Raptor. The only vehicle I know of that the wife and I can arrive somewhere in the evening dressed to kill after having spent the day far from a paved road exploring who-knows-what ruins we can find out in our corner of the southwest. Before the Raptor it was a Mustang Mach 1 (recently sold to my step-son) and a BMW 325i (hands down the best car I’ve ever owned/leased during my 45 years of driving). If it’s speed you want, I once had a neighbor who had an Ed Pink engine in a ’68 Chevy pickup. NOTHING on the road today could match that (maybe a Veyron). Also totally impractical as a daily driver. Toss up; BMW or Raptor. As for you camera lens combo… use it. You can’t take it with you! If its rarity compels you to tuck it away, then sell it and get something that doesn’t trouble you to bring it out into the open.

  33. Money no object? Probably a Panamera Turbo or Quattroporte S (I don’t like the Rapide much, but you might). Practically speaking? A Golf R or Scirocco R (the former has 4wd, the latter oozes style). Maybe an M3/M5 station wagon (not the dreadful X5/X6M SUVs) if you can spring for a little more 😛

    What do you drive now?

    • An E90 320d. We have ~200% import tax 😦 Even a Golf R runs close to $90,000; don’t ask about a Panamera Turbo. I tried an M3 and was disappointed with the lack of low-end torque compared to the diesel; it sounds great at full bore, but that’s a bit much when one is usually crawling in traffic. An M5 would probably the the ideal compromise, but that’s $300k.

      • Holy crap, cars are expensive there! The E90s are all fantastic, though I haven’t tried the diesel yet (the 330i I drove had delightful power buildup and handling). Maybe just go for a new 3 series? I’ve heard nothing but praise for them, and looking fantastic doesn’t hurt 😀

        • Blame our government’s need to protect our terrible local carmaker; they build expensive rubbish that people only buy because they are forced to for economic reasons.

          Didn’t like the new 3; the switch to electric power steering has completely killed the handling feel for me. Strange optioning also means you can only get the dynamic M dampers with certain other odd combinations of trim…

          • The Sport/Modern/Luxury rubbish? Yeah, I heard about that. Could you live with a used M5? Should be less than the $300k for a new one, and personally, I like the previous gen’s looks better (that, and its V10 makes for an incredible soundtrack). Have you considered having a custom turbo kit installed if you don’t like the petrol engine’s low-end torque? I’m not usually a fan of aftermarket modifications, but in this case, it might just be the best compromise.

            • They’re about $70-80k last time I checked. Still too expensive; plus cars in that price range have been thoroughly thrashed, with the associated maintenance costs that implies. These things are basically supercars, with supercar parts and labor prices…but oh boy that V10 is spine tingling. I heard one with a muffler delete and sports cats, and if you close your eyes, you could be at an F1 race. It’s aural heaven.

              • Makes sense, I mean, the engine itself is derived from the F1 cars BMW had back then, isn’t it? It’s too bad it’s so expensive, particularly upkeep (not that the maintenance on any BMW is cheap, but yeah, Ms tend to be much more so). Still, it’s been the ultimate four-door, every-day supercar since its introduction; I don’t suppose it gets better than that. Spring on it if you can find one in decent price/condition, it won’t be long before the V10s get scarcer and scarcer. With engine downsizing at its current pace, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamborghini became the last refuge of ridiculously big engines in a decade or so. The first time I heard an electric car play “engine noise” through a built-in speaker I cried a little.

                • I cried even more when I found they were pumping the sound artificially on the new M5s.

                  Actually, a smaller-displacement V10 – say 3L – could still sound awesome. But it’d probably have reliability/ complexity, torque and fuel consumption issues…

                  • A small-displacement V10 would probably eat through gas quicker than a Veyron at full-throttle, it doesn’t seem like it would be too efficient at all. That said, I still want one, particularly if it could rev to something like 9000 RPM or beyond. Speaking of which, have you considered a Mazda RX-8? Styling is controversial (to say the least) and the engine isn’t all that efficient, but from what I’ve seen (mostly Top Gear, haha) it’d be an awesome drive. I’m not sure what low-end torque is like for rotary engines, but considering it revs to 9400 RPM I wouldn’t count on much. Do you get the Nissan 370Z and Toyota/Subaru GT-86/FR-S over there? Those could work, provided they’re not too expensive after the import taxing and you don’t mind the back seats being designed for limbless children 😛

                    • It’s more for the sound than anything 🙂

                      Turns out the RS6 seems to eat through gas quicker than a Veryon at full throttle too; 6mpg(!) during hard driving is normal. Coming from a 35-mpg-stuck-in-crawling-traffic-diesel, that’s hideous.

                      I’ve driven an RX8 and have several close friend who’ve had one at one time or another; there’s no torque at all. At the price of that, the GT86 and 370Z, I’m better off with an older Porsche, I think. Anyway I just put in a lowball offer (which will probably be rejected, but hey, never hurts to try) on a 2008 Lotus Exige S240, so perhaps I might have found my solution…

  34. drbobbybones says:

    M6 Gran Sport “Coupe”. It has four doors and four seats (practicality). It is also reasonably comfortable on comfort suspension/trans setting. If you get a chance, put it into race mode and the transmission gets quicker and the suspension gets much tighter. The car feels fast at low speeds (lots of torque) and at high speeds (twin turbo top end). And it is really a looker, especially in person. The interior is top shelf as well–especially the quality and smell of the leather seats.

    This said by a guy who owns a Nissan GT-R. It’s funny and relates directly to your article above, because the M6 by all accounts is a better automobile than the one I own. But nothing touches the feeling of launch control in a GT-R, this side of a Bugatti or Lamborghini. Nothing touches the confidence it inspires in a corner at the limit of traction as well. The Black Edition seats make me feel like I am actually surgically attached to the car. But it is definitely not for everyone. My GT-R is like a Hasselblad, and the M6 is the D800E. For me, I just “feel” the Hasselblad more.

    • The M6 GC would be right up the top of my list if our import taxes didn’t make it about $350,000. 😦

      I actually think you’ve got the analogies reversed – the electronics in the GT-R make it more like the D800E, and the M6 (given pricing) like a digital Hasselblad…

      I admit though, of late I’m having an increasingly large soft spot for the Lotus Exige…an older second hand model might actually be doable.

  35. Your perfect car is black because the reflections are so nice. Nissan GT-R.

    • Actually…I bought light metallic blue because it was easier to clean, and the way it reflects sky is epic.

      GT-Rs are hideously expensive here thanks to our import taxes…not to mention thirsty and large!

  36. Epic:
    “can you imagine if the D800 came in SE, Luxury, Executive and Sport trims, and if some options were interchangeable between some lines and not others? The forums would die of sheer server overload. “Should I buy a D800E Sport with the leather grips or a D800E Luxury with the Handling Package?” “Does anybody have photos in daylight of Midnight Black vs. Imperial Dark Blue side by side?” etc.”

  37. Quote…. “The more limitations we have, the more we stretch ourselves, and the better we tend to do.” – I would very much agree on this statement. I won’t call it a compromise. We will tend to “improvise” to overcome the barrier.

  38. I’m a dedicated D800 user and have often wondered how my D800 and the Nikkor Noct f1.2 combination would work together. Your the only one I know of that owns both. Have you ever tried them together? Thanks, Terry

    • Not so hot at f1.2, even if focused critically. Really requires live view due to the extremely shallow DOF, focus shift and field curvature. The Noct is best used on a 12MP FX body, or film.

      • John Lee says:

        I am using the D800 with the Nikon 50mm f1.2. I bought it brand new and have only used it for a couple of weeks – so perhaps my copy is better than Mings 🙂 Wide open it was sharper than I anticipated. Photos look like there’s a weak soft filter applied to it. Nice for portraits and atmospheric landscape and cityscape. Even flower shots can look nice shot wide open of you like the dreamy soft effect. At f2.0, it is already damn sharp! The two different effects means that you get two lenses in one.
        However, bokeh is not smooth. If it is important to you then get a longer focal length such as an 85mm, as most 50mms I’ve tried don’t have great bokeh – including Carl Zeiss. Or, alternatively get the Leica Noctilux!
        Focusing using the focus indicator in the D800 generally works well – even at f1.2 – but it can take a while to get it spot on. When you do ….wow!!!

        • The 50/1.2 and 58/1.2 are definitely not the same lens – google ‘Noct Nikkor’ and you’ll see what I mean.

          My 58 isn’t soft, but it’s not super-bitingly sharp like the best aspherical optics; it’s comparable to the 85/1.4 G wide open at the pixel level.

          • John Lee says:

            Oh. I thought the original poster got it wrong as the photo of the lens on the Titan shot looks like a 50mm f1.2. I cant see if it says 50mm or 58mm. But it sure looks like the 50mm although I dont have mine in front of me to compare.
            Anyhow, I’m more than happy with my new 50mm f1.2. Great build quality, solid with nice heft, smooth and accurate focusing action ………oh and it takes a darn nice picture 🙂 I recommend anyone to get one while they are still available new – cheaper than a Zeiss 50mm, which I have also and love by the way. Compared to the Zeiss Planar the rendering is “smoother” and has less bite

            • They look physically similar, but trust me, this one is a 58.

            • Tom Liles says:

              They definitely look physically similar, John. I once thought I’d found Noct Nikkor DEAL OF THE CENTURY in a Japanese camera store. Asked the store attendant to break the lens out, I looked it over a little and went into a soliloquy on the legendary Noct Nikkor with my best “knows of what he speaks” face on. The Japanese sales clerk patiently listened, nodding every now and then. Then turned the lens over and pointed to the lens markings:

              That’s a 50mm 1.2 mate


  1. […] lens vs lens that brings home the bacon at Visual Science Lab + choice, compromise, creativity at Ming Thein + the anti-flash manifesto? at Visual Science Lab + on DSLRs and mirrorless at Sound Image Plus + a […]

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