OT: Of cars and cameras

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Race girl

In many ways, the two industries are frighteningly similar: technologically complex, requiring huge capital investment for relatively small margins, enormous marketing machines, some semblance of ‘celebrity’ endorsement, and ever shrinking improvements just waiting for whatever technology is just over the bend (hybrids, Foveon sensors, etc.). Perception over substance rules, too. And there’s a lot of crossover between the enthusiasts of both – I have a huge number of students who are also petrolheads. But there are enough differences that one could learn from the other, I think…

For most, a car is a necessity. A camera is not. Multiple cameras or cars are almost never a necessity unless you are a professional – I suppose that’s more like running a fleet of hire cars rather than being a race drive, to be honest. (I cannot think of an obvious photographic equivalent to that – weddings against advertising hotshot or Magnum PJ, perhaps.) So, for most people, a car buy is driven by need rather than want: you might want the convertible but go with the van because you have four children and a dog. But the difference is that because of the size of the financial commitment – both relative and absolute – a lot more effort is given to being objective about that choice. Even if most people wanted to buy multiple cars, they couldn’t – especially not in Malaysia, where our wonderful taxes to protect the local car brands mean that a basic Honda costs more than twice what an average employee makes in a year – before tax. If you have to take out a ten year mortgage on something, you’re going to make damn sure it’s the right thing.

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I suppose that means the vast majority of car buyers buy the closest thing to what they need that fits in their budget; few buy what they want because it might not exist (e.g. a convertible minivan) or they cannot afford it (e.g. a Rolls-Royce). And in any case, much like modern cameras, modern cars are all so good that there are very few true dogs out there – and most of the time, their fatal flaws do not manifest themselves at normal city speeds. You have to be doing something very stupid to get into trouble.

This is of course NOT the case with cameras: though we have the same bewildering array of choices, aftermarket enhancements, pushy salespeople, slick marketing crap and the rest of it – the reality is that function is often so obfuscated that the buyer isn’t really even sure of what they need. I blame part of that on a lack of buyer education by anything other than marketing; I blame the other part of it on the average buyer’s unwillingness to learn. You can afford that medium format thing, so why buy a compact even if that’s what really fits your needs and skills best? There are plenty of Ferrari drivers who could probably benefit from a little instruction; the number of crashes due to driver panic is a strong testament to that.

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Seeing red

Speaking of Ferraris, a couple of months ago I had the opportunity to test a 458 Italia. I’m not a novice or inexperienced driver, but it was clear from the first stab of the pedal that it was a machine that’s capable of things far, far beyond my level of skill. I think I used third gear once, half throttle, and that was about it. An unscheduled meeting with the scenery or another vehicle was the last thing I wanted to do in a car that – in this country – costs the better part of US$750,000 after taxes. (If we paid US prices, a mid-level 3-series would put you into a new 911 Turbo.) Interestingly, this odd pricing structure forces people to get far more out of their cars than in other countries – you make it work because you have no choice. That said, the standards of driving are abysmal – going out on the roads during peak hours is like doing battle in molasses. I suppose a ‘skill tax’ on cameras isn’t going to work, then.

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They say you’re not a true petrolhead unless…

I am thankful not to derive all of my income from photography, but even so, there’s absolutely no way I’d be owning a 458 in anything other than 1:10 scale RC or my dreams. On one hand, that makes me sad, because even that limited window into what the machine could do was a glimpse of enormously exciting potential – but on the other, I’m glad I won’t be frustrated in the traffic molasses. The Z4 I currently drive is just as fast as the 10-year old little hatchback in the next lane if nothing is moving. And that driver probably has more cabin space, too. It goes fast enough to blur the scenery, perceptually seems twice as fast with the roof down, and if I turn off traction control, go sideways very easily. But I don’t do that, because I like my license and tyres are expensive.

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I know my limits – I think few people upgrade their brakes first before anything else…

Unlike cars, I probably do have the experience and skill to get the most out of whatever camera I use, hence the recent 645Z purchase. I know my output needs it, too – the Ultraprints are demanding mistresses. I can drive the F1-equivalent of cameras and probably post a pretty competitive lap time; I can justify having an entire race team because well, that’s my business, and that’s what my clients are paying for. Does this mean I drive F1 on my days off (assuming I have any to begin with)? Sometimes, but most of the time, no. I don’t need to push the limits to have fun; I can do interesting things with a moped (iPhone, I suppose) or a Golf GTI (I suppose that’d be a Ricoh GR). Or I’ll go with a vintage Ferrari (Hassy V), or even abandon land altogether and take the yacht out (Arca F-Line 4×5″). But how many camera buyers have really mastered their equipment, much less push the limits on a regular basis? Very, very few, I think.

Here’s an interesting idea: much like the car buying world is self selecting based on income and need, I wonder if a camera company that only sold cameras by merit would work: we make the best possible camera for that target audience2 at any level; but in order to be eligible to buy the next level up, you have to show that you’ve mastered what you’ve already got. There would be a team of experienced and respected photographers – pros and amateurs – to decide if you made the cut or not. And you would have to sell us back your old one. We’d probably have to charge a lot of money because we wouldn’t sell any and we’d have to pay the curators, but I think it would probably be the only time when the quality of the images really does correlate with the quality of the equipment. You don’t see hobbyists entering Le Mans or taking check rides on 747s; the commitment is simply too great. Yet there are still a lot of entrants, and I’m sure all of them are making some sort of justifiable return – be it financial or advertising. Perversely, I actually think such a camera company might do quite well. MT


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  1. Fantastic photos. I would love to get an Aston Martin. I had a Audi sports edition years ago and absolutely loved that car. I gave it to my daughter and the rest is history.

  2. When I was a teenager, I lusted after exotic cars. In my 30’s I bought a Porsche and enjoyed it for a few years before I sold it at a small profit. For the last decade I’ve driven an Audi A8. I like it because it is comfortable, luxurious and safe. But over that time, my passion cars has steadily declined. My next car will likely be very reliable, modest and pedestrian.

    Photography and the other arts offer more opportunity for individual expression than simply buying and driving a fancy car. For me, art is now of much greater interest. The thing I find surprising is how reluctant I and others are to take risks. Unlike driving an automobile, one can safely use a camera (or paint a painting) in all kinds of “risky”, experimental, unorthodox ways … and yet, paradoxically, most of us are afraid to do just that.

    • Very true! With increasing traffic and decreasing free time…I find myself much in the same position.

      • To be clear, I still enjoy the shapes and sounds (and driving feel) of certain cars, like the GT-40 in your lead photo, I have simply lost most of my desire to own one.

        • The maintenance and attendant issues like insurance, parking, practicality, traffic etc. tend to put one off…

          • A friend had an Aston Martin Vantage, and he had to jump through hoops to get the car insured here in the US. Apparently, it’s considered special enough (even though he bought it used for less than a new 911) that normal insurance companies won’t cover it. He finally got one of those special vintage car insurance companies to cover it, but the policy stipulated that he couldn’t drive the car for more than a few thousand miles a year. Sometimes it’s better to just admire other people’s cars.

            • Ouch – that sounds like a pain. Vintage cars are impossible to insure in Malaysia; anything over 25 years is considered special even if it’s just a beat up Toyota…

    • Jacques says:

      I know it is a little late to jump. This is a very interesting comparison, probably because we can all relate. I too was a car enthusiast in my twenties and thirties until my mid-fifties when I sold the Jag. My actual car is much more pedestrian, a 2001 Chrysler 300M. Last year I drove a whoopee 4,800 km. I probably did as much on my bicycle. I live in Canada by the way, we have winter…

      The passion for photography is stronger than ever. This post is unusual in a way that it discuss the “feel” of the camera. It is rarely if ever mention in reviews. I can’t speak for Nikon but there aren’t that many Canon bodies that do not feel plasticky anymore. The crappy ones seem to get crappier while the few good ones are becoming horribly expensive. My old 50D feels way better than the subsequent 60D and 70D. Even my wife was able to feel the difference. The ergonomic also went down to the drain.

      This is my first post to this site by the but I have been following it for quite a while. It is very interesting.

  3. Seabisquick says:

    I think another apt comparison is in the world of bicycles. Talk about an industry where sufficiency has been long achieved! Yet it doesn’t stop the legions of people who go buy a carbon fiber racing bike to ride on the weekends. And there’s a widespread gear snobbery among the enthusiast class. People are always obsessing over the lighter, fancier spec bike/components that they want, and inventing subjective (and largely imagined) measures such as “ride quality” to justify it because there’s no functional difference unless you are competing professionally at a high level (and then it’s really just about shaving a fraction of a percent off to gain a few seconds). The whole industry thrives on making people think they need a $5,000 or even $10,000 bike when a $500 one will be all they need. So perhaps on a desire/sufficiency price ratio, photography manufacturers could be seen as models of restraint. 🙂

    • $500 to $10,000 is the difference between a competent basic DSLR and entry medium format – just like cycling, the human – brain or muscles – makes far more difference than a few grams in one component…

  4. Extremely whimsical and entertaining, Ming. I love the camera / car crossover pieces. No matter how many times I hear it from you, my blood still boils when I here about the usury enforced by your government. Time to make a move to So Cal, brother! Say hi to the tribe at dinner tonight. Miss you all!

    • I’d love to, but sadly getting into your country to live/ work is nearly impossible for me. Dinner is on Friday, but will do!

  5. iskabibble says:

    Interesting. I thought you were a full time photographer. Have you ever published what your day job is?

    • I am a full time photographer. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that about a zillion times on this site. It doesn’t mean I can’t have investments or other secondary business interests though. And no, I have no intention of saying what those are.

      • iskabibble says:

        Pardon me for misinterpreting your writing. My mistake. At least I gave you another chance to be snitty again.

        • I don’t think protecting one’s own business interests and not disclosing confidential information is snitty.

          • iskabibble says:

            Nor do I think that protecting your confidentiality is snitty. You simply could have replied in a manner that was respectful and with tact, (“I’m pretty sure I said a zillion times…”). But the chip on your shoulder gets bigger and bigger each day. That much is clear with each passing post.

  6. When I see that Ford GT40 ( replica ), I wonder what anyone is doing with that car in KL? My idea of KL is wall to wall 15mph traffic and long ( 200yd ) straights in the countryside full of chickens or donkeys crossing the road. Am I right here? So, those cars are just to show other people how wealthy you are and that they should be envious of you. We do the same thing with cameras.

    • It’s not road registered and it IS track prepped – it’s a racer. You wouldn’t drive that in traffic because it’d overheat and catch fire after sitting there with the engine on for half an hour and no airflow.

  7. Martin Fritter says:

    Very enjoyable post. I tend to regard cameras as more akin to musical instruments than cars. I regard both – cameras and instruments – as kind of time machines. I’ve been sitting at the piano bench for sixty years, working on the same practice stuff using the same hands and so on. My Lieca M2 is, for me, kind of like owning a Hamburg Stenway A. (My M6 is more like a Yamaha.) Of course, the technology of acoustic instruments doesn’t change much. I’ve never adjusted to the haptics of the electronic ones. If I ever do get a Hasselblad SWC, I suppose I’ll regard it as a four-string Bechstein.

    • That’s also a good description. I have a wooden ear, so I’d be the last person to speak on music/ instruments with any level of intelligence 😛

  8. Nolan Haynes says:

    I take it that you are probably referring to a structured and focused marketing of cameras like Sony has done here? http://store.sony.ca/-mirrorless-cameras/cat-31-catid-Alpha-Mirrorless-Cameras;pgid=93dkuA1z7cKRp02wtPsbUv7I00005qyHZK6x;sid=8_TrTTl9NtLvTWrHJqqZSaF3nLiuPPBGvTFySQzl

    • No, because they still leave it fully open to the buyer. And the product doesn’t match the marketing hubris; not even close.

      • Nolan Haynes says:

        Good points there. A graduated photographer’s purchasing system would definitely help in that case then. There will be outliers though.

  9. Tom Liles says:

    I wonder if a camera company that only sold cameras by merit would work…

    My snap reaction to that was: never in a month of Sundays. Just the judgement panel aspect would, accurately perhaps, be labelled as photographic nazism.

    But then I thought again and I can see an angle of this working. All the photo-blogosphere bile from applicants being judged worthy or not to own would create so much news and comment around the brand… I suppose it’s the kind of buzz, negative or positive it doesn’t matter (no such thing as bad press, etc.), the kind of buzz marketers dream of. And the gimmick proper — having to be worthy of owning one — I agree, would make that camera the thing to own. It might even spill over into the industry, e.g., we only hire photographers who shoot “[brandname].”
    It’s a long shot in practice, but conceptually not so hard to see an angle where this, in time, could be a seriously decent low volume, high margin brand—a strong brand.

    How you’d create such precision instruments to spec. though is an unknown, and at some point you’d certainly have to get OEM bits from someone—using too many would lay it open to the kind of ridicule something like the Hassleblad Lunar, etc. gets (rightly).
    Leica was mentioned in jest — and I had a chuckle at that Mark! — but just on sheer price alone, perhaps PhaseOne is actually as near as dammit this brand already. I’m very sure not so many enthusiasts own a P1, and the user pool is basically all NFL/F1/top tier sporting analogy of your choice. Defacto, you have to be as good, or convincingly good enough, to own one.

    Be very nice to have a consumer level beginner camera like that though. I started with my wife’s Nikon D60, which I still can’t stop borrowing half the time, and it was supremely close to being just right for a beginner. Yet all the things Nikon thought it put there to help me just confused me and got in my way as I was trying learn… Many of the things that I didn’t know I wanted or needed weren’t there — which I didn’t know at the time precisely because I didn’t know, if you get me — but looking back I’d absolutely want the beginner me to have had those things.
    What I didn’t need: all the scene modes; all the help and hints in camera; all the different focus modes; jpegs…
    What I did need and didn’t know it: basically everything that’s on an F2; plus a dedicated ISO dial; plus a proper resolution back screen, perhaps with peaking on playback—this is to understand if I focused correctly, or not, and focused where I thought I had (it was a total shock to me to find out focus boxes and AF sensors aren’t the same shape; almost as big as the shock of subjects that looked OK on the back of a tiny low res back-screen being hideously out of focus on my home computer screen; as a total beginner you have NO idea why these things are)… And lastly, and most importantly, an accompanying book on photographic “how to.” No expense should be spared on that and it should be considered as part of the camera in the design brief. The first chapter: Exposure Triangle. Notice how with F2 controls, an ISO dial and nothing more to get in the way and confuse that would be easy to work along with. Chapter2: Framing/Composition/Focus; with a basic idea about light hitting the sensor and how to control that, and why, and therefore having cultivated a basic grip on making a non-wildly clipped (at either end) exposure, the next thing is to work on making a picture of the scene in front of me…

    And that’s about 90% of photography in two or three chapters of a well made and professionally bound, keep forever, book—with an elegant camera which’d surely remain a cherished item for many years afterward, even after the user had gotten to to the top of the mountain and could pass the test for the best camera on the roster…

    Almost any of the current generation Exmoor sensors in there would be more than enough… 12 to 16Mpx. Sensor size doesn’t really matter because that kind of thing is for the next level up; but we want 10stops at base, readily useable 1600, useable 3200 (3200 maybe a locked option until passing a midterm competency test? 🙂 ). But two things—an uncompromising optic bundled with it, talking never have to buy that FL again good; and an absolutely uncompromising viewfinder, I mean F6 level good is the least. Photography is about seeing. If we can’t even do that through the finder, what is the point?
    Mirrorless, or avec Mirror it really doesn’t matter. It would definitely have to look cool though. Not joking. Beginners are so condescended to with shoddy D3300 and Canon Kiss (“Rebel” elsewhere?) type plasticky horrid bodies and “you’re the bottom of the heap, and we’ll let you know it” (un)design. The cheapest Apple looks cool. The cheapest Bose looks cool… The cheapest [new camera brandname] should look cool. Iced out, frozen. Honestly, as a beginner this frustrated me perhaps the most, my camera didn’t look the part or cool and being unself-assured about photography I quickly clamored for something that looked more like what people who know what they’re doing used.
    I think this feeling has stuck with me 🙂

    So a camera company that targeted someone like the 2013 me — interested, educated, monied (relatively); but a beginner — would do OK I think. But that targeting would have to be about spreading the gospel of photography, not targeting about easy money like Leica targets Russian oligarchs on shopping binges at luxury malls.
    I think your idea sounds like that — since it’s based on merit — which is why it could work.

    Until the World and its ways caught up to it!

    • I think what you describe exists in the Sigma Merrills/ Quattros; that’s probably about as close as you can get to anti-brand snobbery and buying something purely for the imaging potential. As for Phase One – no point if you can’t buy it in the country you live in…

      • David Challenor says:

        Hi Ming, Thought provoking as usual. Strange you should mention the Sigma Merrills at this time. I have Leica M´s,Sony RX100, Olympus EM1 and Nikon D´s cameras and have just bought the Sigma DF1 and DF2.. Funny thing is that in spite of their slow response time and limited options etc.. the Sigmas have a picture quality seemingly far better than most of my other cameras, I am getting a perversely warm feeling about these cameras.They are so small, light and basic that I start to enjoy my photography again. Gone is the complication of long menus , multiple control set-ups with dozens of buttons, who’s function I sometimes forget. Just a simple plodding camera with wonderful picture quality.Very much an anti-snob camera.Cannot suggest a car analogy. Thanks for sharing your philosophy and making us all think.David

        • Tom Liles says:

          Ming und David, interesting that you both thought of the Sigmas…

          Before we go any further, just remember though that this was a hypothetical about the camera you can only buy on merit (after being granted one by a panel). I’d said it’d be nice to have the entry level version (and yes, there wouldn’t really be much need for a panel to grant of one of them—perhaps just an application process and you’re in; next level you meet the panel, or whatever…)
          The Sigmas you can buy irregardless of merit. And they don’t have F6 level good — at the least — finders 🙂

          But back to them. I actually wouldn’t make that characterization—I’ve owned and shot and shot and shot two Sigma DP Merrills (DP1M, DP2M), gave them up; then rejoined the Foveonista fold a month and a bit ago with a DP3M bought at the silly prices they sell new for now. So I know these cameras, and as a premium entry level camera to be sold on merit? Not so sure myself (ironic this, as DP1M was my first ever (semi)considered camera purchase when starting out!).
          Two main reasons why not—1) the exposures you get from a Foveon are unlike any other camera, and hence learning the ropes on one of these isn’t optimal; every camera is different in its way, but the differences between regular Bayer cameras is one of degree not type. 2) The Foveon equipped Sigmas are also very unforgiving cameras. Giving a rank beginner one to learn with would be akin to the prototypical macho Dad throwing his unschooled child into the deep end of a swimming pool. Photography is hard enough for beginners without having to contend with much of the off-the-wall stuff the Foveons throw at you: weird magenta/green blotching; banding noise; pedestrian CDAF; overly retrievable highlights, and only a world of hurt in the shadows; hue shifts; power consumption issues; and 2b) let us never forget the living hell of Sigma Photo Pro…
          For those who have a bit of a clue and know what’s waiting on the other side of all the foibles and hard stuff, the Sigmas are amazing; and that’s principally why I had to go back. I missed the orange skin and limpid clarity 🙂 No, but as you guys know well, you just cannot get some of the stuff they do with anything else; tonal considerations aside, the brute acuity is a big one. It’s (grudgingly) worth all the hassle to me, but I wouldn’t encourage a beginner to learn as I outlined above on one. And even for myself, it’s only a part time thing; going back to Sigma I knew and intended that this camera was going to be a real once in a while camera… once a month, etc., tops. The converse was a small part of the reason I originally parted with the 1 and 2—they were bought envisaged as being main cameras for me, but once I began to master the regular DSLR type camera (wife’s one), they didn’t have a sizeable place in my shooting habit, and before I knew it, I’d bought my own DSLR… The main part of the reason I sold them was I’d just had enough of SPP, plain and simple. For a once in a while experience it’s tolerable, but as a practical tool for everyday use — and you bet I was (I had to) using it everyday, I had four batteries and I’d get through the lot each day, which amounted to something like 200 to 250 frames per day, depending how my luck was — as that kind of heavy use software tool, SPP, absolutely no way, forget about it. It was so bad I sold both cameras. I don’t have four hours each evening to do what takes less than an hour on Adobe friendly RAW data (in Adobe software with better and more tools).
          Even after all this I’m still a diehard Foveon fan.

          I made the analogy way back, and this is the place to bring it up again, but I do think Foveons are the Alfa Romeo experience of photography. Temperamental, infuriating, don’t work ever so well—but when you hit the spot, not much is better. What’s more, you can’t call yourself an enthusiast if you’ve never owned and shot one; and unlike Leica, often touted as a true enthusiast’s camera, there is not much of a financial barrier to entry—that is the true enthusiast’s camera. I bought a brand new DP3M at a major electric chain for 42,000 JPY about six weeks ago. That was cheaper than normal, but normal is still 53,000 JPY or so. Our wives will never believe us, but in cameras ~500 USD is nothing. A P1 battery plus charger probably costs more. Second hand DPMs are John McEnroe YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS level cheap.

          What I actually had in the back of my mind as I wrote that comment above was mechanical Leicas — steady! — of the 50s/60s. I recall reading an historical Luminous Landscape review of the M8, from when it came out, and the dude who wrote it — some guy, I can’t remember, a real photog, a fashion photographer, type of guy who’d wear white t-shirts and drive a red Ferrari and have blondes on each arm — he said just having a Leica in his hands took him back to his youth, learning photography, when he’d rent out a Leica “On Photography” book from his local library—and that was his photo school. It must have been a good book. I had that in mind. The Leicas of the time, too, were pretty much as I prescribed: about shutter/aperture/focus… high quality, though simple, with first rate optics that saved up for and bought once didn’t need to be upgraded. In my version I wouldn’t stickle for RF and in fact an SLR design may be better — hence the F2 reference — but anything goes… it’s a simple, but very high quality, machine. And we’d bundle it with an accompanying “how to” book—and I really meant that that should not be an afterthought but a piece of literature designed with as much budget and energy as the camera. It’d only need three or four chapters, but those chapters should be magnum opus level definitive and detailed (and well written! Ever read a Sony handbook!?).
          The historical Leicas sounded like they had a high brand status even back then, but unlike now, not the rentier outlook and pricing. They certainly couldn’t have been cheap… but not the same price as a car, etc.

          I think the 21st equivalent of that, for learners and entry level enthusiasts, would be good. Something stripped down, high quality, and serious (serious about photography, not profit margin).

          P/S Ming, on the Quattro… I’ve been into the stores, time and again, to pick that body up and play with it and I just do not get the grip. I saw the line-pair cutaway that the Sigma chief leaked out before the Quattro release — where it’s shown out-resolving, comfortably, a D800E — but all the IQ in the world is not worth it for a camera that I can’t hold right in my hand, no matter how I try to find a natural grip. I bet there’s a knack to it; and I always applaud Sigma for being the nail that sticks out — quite un-Japanese in a way — but this one feels like a bridge too far. I picked up a Rolleiflex 6008 AF series camera with the shutter grip thing the other day, and that is haptics, and different, and the kind of bonkers, but meaningful, thing Sigma should have done. Still, it’s too early to say, but I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be. I doubt beginners would go for it either…

          Now then! Brazil Germany kicks off in 2.5 hours—do I take the sleep or all-nighter it?

          • An interesting post, Tom. Since I picked up a bargain Nikon D3 a week or two back, my Merrill has hardly seen action at all…yet when it does, I’m still floored by what it outputs. I think your comment about being a “once in a while” camera has something to it; while I used to use the Merrill all the time to shoot pretty much everything, going “back” to an optical finder, superb high ISO performance and very quick autofocus is definitely a different experience.

            I had a look at the Quattro too. The reason I’m not (now, at least) interested in one is that I can’t imagine that it makes the same leap in IQ over the Merrill DPs as the Merrill DPs did over…anything I’d used up to that point. First time I saw a Merrill file, it was like a genuine step forward as far as my eyes could see; it was visibly and clearly superior to anything I’d seen up to that point. I just can’t imagine the Quattro doing it again, however good it is. I’m prepared to be wrong, but…time will tell.

            PS Brazil – Germany? I foresee a national day of mourning in the host country.

            • Tom Liles says:

              Ay up Mark!

              I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head with the Quattro. I can’t be too hasty since all we’ve got in-store is the back screen (which, too, only felt marginally better than the Merrills), but I couldn’t really get that like-a-virgin thrill, the IQ bump a first time Merrill experience gives. The “Oh? Wow!” thing 🙂

              I also have a D3, Mark, and though I doubt mine was at such a good price as you paid for yours, it was a steal. I got it last year, found one here in Tokyo with only 7,000 — yes 7,000 — shots on it, no box, a light scratch or two, but all the periphery present and correct, being sold for 178,000 JPY. For a year ago that was a good, good price. It didn’t have the buffer upgrade which seems to turn many Japanese punters off (as do the cosmetic things you so rightly mention). And this purchase is perhaps the one I’m most proud of and happy about. Still my most used camera today.
              I got one for the grip and finder, really that’s all my initial purchase was about—before that I’d tried a D7000, and before that I used my wife’s D60… The D7000 grated the most as it was a pricy thing to me, at the time, even at the used price I bought at; no doubt the image quality was good, much better than me (and why I went back to that sensor with a CoolpixA; the 2014 Tom can wield that power a little better) but the haptics and finder seemed so poor and incommensurate with the outlay. At any rate, I quickly realized that these two — haptics, finder — were big ticket items to me… more important than resolution or extra features. But shopping around, you just can’t find a zero-compromise body and finder on anything less than a pro-grade camera. That seems like a huge hole camera makers are intentionally not filling.
              A D3 was an audacious thing to do for a beginner, and indeed I had to swallow some mild brow beating and disbelief both from the shop staff that sold it to me and people around me (guys in my office were like: you with one of them?), and I had no idea or immediate need for the very advanced features in it (which I still consider things I can yet improve on using). But the haptics were great and the finder was as good as it gets. SOLD. I’ve grown into that camera, and it has been supremely kind to me every step of the way. I use it for simple work related photography — fashion portraits for web output and modest size prints, product shots for web output, blog snaps and so on and so on — as well as for private and personal stuff (random shots of the back of people’s heads and empty car parks, etc). I’m adamant that I’ll never sell it, but I fear the day where it gets relegated to being a stay at home family camera draws ever closer… An aside on that: I bought a cheapo D2Hs the other month (24,000 JPY or something; and I had to dig for that one—but I found it, and only 16,500 clicks on it), and that has turned out be AWESOME as a family snaps machine; not compact, ISO 800 is about the limit for quality — but family snaps are usually in the daytime so in reality this is a non-factor — and those two are the only drawbacks to it. And heavily heavily outweighed by the massive massive benefits it offers over regular “family camera” choices—how many family cameras have a battery that lasts 2,000 shots, an integrated vertical grip, almost full frame AF coverage, with tracking, and like 8fps or whatever it is. Only the V3 comes close, and I came close to getting one—but the price was about double what I can afford. The D2Hs’s 4 Mpx resolution, by the by, is neither here nor there to me. It’s very acute, and I’ve had some success up-ressing as far as 7 and a bit Mpx. It kills everything else I’ve ever tried for home-life photography, save the D3, and I’ve tried every camera I’ve ever owned.
              You might know it was “Tanabata” (七夕) recently, the 7th of the 7th, and last Saturday my daughter’s kindergarten had their annual Tanabata event, I took the D2Hs fearing I’d really regret doing that and it’d be luggage (and I have two other kids, a 3 yo and a 1yo, and all that bumpf that they require in tow), and I don’t use straps on integrated grip bodies, I just carry them in hand—it turned out to be no problem at all. I was shooting it one handed with my 1 yo in the other arm by the end. This was its first outing as a family camera and I’m assigning it that duty permanently now—with a DX 35 1.8G on it, job done.
              (I’d originally got the D2Hs as a work-blog camera—I mainly take posed blog portraits, so-called “coordinate” clothing set up snaps, of shop staff that work in my company’s retail operations. Resolution is a non-factor since output is only to screen at 560px width maximum… and where the D3 falls short a little is focus box coverage; wanting a full-body, and it has to be full-body, portrait with the eyes clean sharp is incompatible with a focus array that stops at someone’ chest in portrait orientation. Shop guys and work always demand heavy bokeh — though I’m trying to wean them off it with examples of other composition — so focus and recompose is quite treacherous. I found out about the D2-series and the focus boxes almost to the edge of the finder frame… they had the integrated body, they had an interesting sensor which I’ve been dying to try for ages, and they just look cool for God’s sake—hence Tom gets one.)

              Anyway, the D2Hs stormed the Tanabata event and I think I wrong-footed the event photographer there, with his D5200 and quaint zoom lens—it was one of those, look at you, look at me, now look at you, now look at me, BOW! moments. I only take pictures of my kids, but I can’t wait to compare what I got to the type of photo the event guy took (on a serious note: I’m not even close to their level—they shoot straight to jpeg and do this thing day in and day out, and know what parents want and what sells; I’m just interested to see the kind of angles and comps I went for versus what I guy who does it professionally does).

              Mmm. But using a Sony A7 a lot recently — and I got a battery grip for it, it’s another level of good to me now — and having better shot discipline and understanding how to extract lens resolution and general IQ a little better of late, the D3 is wobbling from its perch as my principal “work” camera. 24Mpx does better for me than 12. The AF system on the D3 is unparalleled in anything else I’ve got, though, so that keeps it a firm #1 for the moment… but I can see the day coming where I want a Nikon body with the finder and haptics of the D3, that I must insist on, but more resolution. And by the by, more resolution for me is about more sampling—which looking at recent real-world camera results means more dynamic range and more edge acuity.

              So maybe next year’s Tanabata, the event guy can bring his D7100 and zoom and I’ll rock up with a D3 and perhaps the 50G on it. And imagine the arm muscles shooting that one-handed with a two year old on the other arm will generate 🙂

              • P/S 1-7 冏

                • Mine was 138,000 yen, paid a further 36,000 for a 70-300…so about the same as you did for yours, but including a lens. Don’t know about the shot count, but the price for the body is some thirty thousand less than the cheapest I’d seen anywhere else. Came with box (don’t need it), strap (useful), battery and charger – what else could one need?

                  As for resolution, I almost never print at all, let alone large, and almost never earn from shooting (wouldn’t pass up the chance, but not going out chasing it) – so this is a sweet spot for me in terms of cost vs what you get in return.

                  Taking it to the Nagoya sumo basho next week – an annual pilgrimage (if that’s the word; I can walk to the prefectural gymnasium in ten minutes from where I live), but I’d always shot it with a D7000 (and once on very high ISO film as an experiment) up until now. Looking forward to seeing what the D3 can do in its element…probably better than Brazil did today, at least 🙂

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    D3 will romp that Mark. I honestly haven’t found many applications — in my limited use, granted — that it can’t do. And do well at that. I shoot fabrics a lot and it’s actually my main camera for that since both of the higher res Sony A7 and AA-less CoolpixA moire a lot on me. The D3 almost never; on the rare occasions it does, the usual tricks of changing the camera-subject distance ever so slightly or (nuclear option) a slight defocus of the lens seem to work better than on other (digital/Bayer) cameras (I have) too.
                    While I wouldn’t call it “filmic” the files have a very organic feeling compared to the lingering syntheticness higher resolution digital bodies seem to give or the marmite flavored data from Foveons (which, back to the moire, had been a serious contender for me given the amount of fabrics I photograph—and they were awesome for it, until it came time for colors to look accurate… Well, no, I’m just not good enough to p-p excellent color accuracy into my Foveon output, but I can get much closer to good results with regular Bayer data and Adobe workflow. So I just go with what works I suppose).

                    I think you did very well on your price there. And by the by, you can check the shutter count with something as easy as Apple preview—-just open a NEF in preview, command+i to pull the inspector up, look at “exif” in there and shutter/absolute shot count should be listed. D3 shutters are carbon-Kevlar rated to about 300,000 by Nikon though (with some users getting un-official counts as high as 400,000 before unit failure) and Nikon still replaces shutter units as part of the “overhaul” package, which puts you back down to 0… 300,000 to go. So shutter actuations on pro Nikon bodies is perhaps more important as a measure of how much the rest of the camera has been used. The overhaul, while I remember, is about 50,000 JPY so you don’t have to worry about meeting the end of the shutter life meaning it’d be cheaper to buy another camera than get a knackered one fixed. Better value than what happens when a cam-belt goes on you in a car!

                    After reading your reply, Mark, I was chastened a little since I’m exactly the same as you—not a professional image maker and not a print-man… So it made me step back and wonder why I’d be talking about wanting more resolution (in an integrated grip body). I already have a 24Mpx A7, which is a fearsome amount of resolution, and I don’t objectively even need that (though I bought the A7 for the haptics/size and a new experience)… Then again I read endless comments by photographers saying they just don’t encounter moire with the 36Mpx sensors and I’m dying to try that. But won’t since I’m genuinely skint now and will be for a while (in a savings cycle now). I didn’t like the grip on the D800 series and the finder wasn’t for me either… The A7r — poor man’s D800 — never appealed to me at launch (over the A7) but I won’t get into the A7 and A7r as I could literally write an essay—long story short: if they made an A7r Mark2 I’d be interested (now), and hearing the grip has changed on the D810 plus the ISO64 plus the supposed better AF system I’d love that BUT the D810 is about a factor of three more than I can hope to afford so it’s a question of robbing someone or winning one—I found an official Nikon photo competition for amateurs living in Japan, the runner up prize is a D810 with kit lens (don’t want) so I’m going to have a plug and see if I can get second 🙂 First prize is a monstrosity, a limited edition Df which they’ve somehow managed to make uglier than the standard issue Df already is. Go take a look at the Nikon jp homepage if you’re interested Mark—worth a go.
                    (I’d link to it here but on the iPhone on the train and the iOS update has killed 3G performance on my 4s and I’m scared to leave this WordPress text dialog!)

                    OK, enough rambling—next up Holland Argentina!

                    Peter (Boender), we’re hoping your boys can do it. Hup!

          • The entry-level shouldn’t have any qualifiers to prevent you from purchasing at all. And it should be good enough that if you know what you’re doing, you won’t need more, but you might want it because it makes your life easier for some specific task.

            As for the Quattros and Merrills: it isn’t the battery life, the UI, the speed or anything else that bothers me. It’s SPP. Workflow is seriously critical: both in terms of speed and flexibility, but also consistency. The latter can probably be learned. The other two – nothing you can do no matter how fast your computer or how much practice you’ve got. Unless ACR supports the Sigmas, it’s unlikely I’ll ever shoot them – I just can’t live with something whose files are that slow to process; we’re talking several times worse than even the enormous 70-80MB DNGs out of the 645Z.

            • David Challenor says:

              Ming, Completely agree, the SPP workflow is a major bottleneck. I am experimenting with the Iridient Developer program and will see if this is any better. I guess that for your professional work and your own personal work you like to shoot a lot and heavily edit.This clearly needs a streamline work flow. I always remember in my early film days a quotation from George Bernard Shaw (English writer) that stated..” a photographer is like a cod, which produces a million eggs in order that one may reach maturity,” and that was at a time we had 36 exposures per film. Guess today with our high tech cameras systems we can multiply this greatly. I read in a review of the Merrills that it should be considered more like a view camera with film slides, i.e. carefully consider each shot and take only a limited number. A more thought out considered approach.That is why I like to use the Merrills from time to time to get away from the machine gun approach possible with my other cameras. ( no criticism intended) Regards David

              • Actually, it’s more shoot a lot and require consistency than heavily edit; if it’s not mostly right in camera, it’s junked anyway. I’ve pared down my workflow immensely for this. If you’re doing a thousand images and save five seconds per image…that’s an hour and a half already, which you could be using to do something more profitable or treat your injured back after carrying all that gear around.

                You can use that approach with any camera, and yes, it does pay dividends.

  10. firstfloorphoto says:

    Love this what clarity of what you want and what is needed.

  11. I was in KL last week on business. How do you manage to keep the Z4 without dents. Pretty crazy drivers you have in that country 🙂

  12. I like your comment about driving the Ferrari. While I don’t drive (the public transport here in Japan is so good that there is very little need to have a car), I found myself thinking of something similar.

    I just bought a used Nikon D3 for an absolute bargain (the body is heavily scratched, and the Japanese are particular about the condition of their electronic products; I’m not, as long as they work, so I couldn’t pass the D3 up at the price).

    I actually had a D3 a few years ago. Looking back on the pictures I shot with it, it’s clear to me now that I was not good enough to justify using it back then. I got some nice shots, but a lot of them are, viewed in retrospect, pretty poor, and don’t show anything close to the potential of the camera. Whether I’m good enough now is a different question, but I at least feel justified in giving it another shot.

    There are definitely cameras that we have to “grow into” – and I assume the same is true of cars!

  13. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    So, if I tell my wife that I’m thinking of getting out of photography and back into cars, she’ll quickly give in on that lens purchase that we have been “discussing”? 🙂 Good post. I agree that there are a lot of parallels.

  14. I work alongside F1 racing as part of the television production and we shot a piece last week with Kimi Raikkonen, Martin Brundle and Johnny Herbert racing each other on lawnmowers, which I think is about as the most extreme ‘dumbing down’ of skills to vehicle class as one could imagine!

    Needless to say that Kimi was scorchingly fast and Johnny had his lawnmower doing things that most mortals couldn’t ever achieve such is their skill level.

  15. Fun comparison. I really like this camera company idea, it made me think of this Swiss company ‘PANart’. They produced this musical instrument called a ‘Hang’ also know as a “hang drum”. To buy an original hand beaten ‘Hang’ (handcrafted as a one off sound sculpture with its own individual tone) required a pilgrimage to the inventors Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer’s studio in Switzerland for a consultation to assess if you are worthy to be placed on a waiting list for this whimsical creation. The Hang is no longer available anywhere due to a trademark violation. The current adaptation the Gubal was available, but applications have been suspended for R&D purposes as they felt it wasn’t “mature enough”. These guys are basically whimsical sound fascists and I think its great. Imagine a camera manufacturer with that kind of ethos.

  16. nothingbeforecoffee says:

    Nice association, Ming.
    I’m one of those crossover guys to whom you referred… cameras, cars and motorcycles. If the purchase of my toys was based purely upon my ability to extract maximum performance from them, I ‘d have a very different looking toy box. I do, however, choose cars and bikes and cameras with an eye to their sensual delivery as well as their performance capabilities. The build quality of a Honda fit is excellent. It does however not balm my soul to the same extent as my Porsche. The same can be said for my Leica M. Having spent a career in advertising, I understand the psychological effects of the marketing machine upon our decisions. I also know that there can be real joy attached to objects , that by their very existence, ask us to play up.

    • Very true. There are two aspects to the playing up: either we use them more and thus gain experience, or we level up because we feel we want to so the equipment justice…

  17. Alfa 1750………. *drool*

  18. Great article and interesting reading, but I think you overlooked one very important aspect. You talk in terms of specs, technical capability, or raw horsepower, but what about feeling and emotion? There are reasons why people pay a lot of money for vintage cars that has nothing to do with how those cars perform. The same can be said for classic Leica cameras such as the M3.

    A Sony A7r might be one of the best (for its price, at least) picture making machines out there, but does having one actually inspire you to go out and make pictures? Some it might, but me it leaves cold. Would a Mercedes Maybach inspire you to go for a drive just for the joy of driving, or would a classic Jaguar convertible with stick shift do a better job at that?

    All I’m saying is don’t ignore the less tangible and calculable sides that affect our behaviour. There are reasons why e.g. Fuji X100(s) is so popular among enthusiast photographers, and those reasons – I believe – have little to do with how the camera performs technically, but more about how using one makes the photographer feel inside. And that feeling does matter.

    By the way, I just want to say that since starting to follow your blog this spring it has quickly become one of my favourites. You seem like a very thoughtful person and it is a huge service that you are willing to share those thoughts with the rest of the world. Thank you.


  19. Kristian Wannebo says:

    ( There should be a special Photographer’s Edition … )

  20. Really like the first imagine of the lady walking past the sports car. Great stuff

  21. Tom Liles says:

    I’m out to lunch right now, but OOF! The Ford GT. /pant pant

    I would literally cut an appendage off with a rusty breadknife if there was one of those on the other side of it.

    • You might not be able to drive it anymore after that seeing as it’s a stick…

      • Tom Liles says:

        I was going to say I’d go all the way and give up the baby-maker, Ming; but thought better of it just now. I’d offer a pinky, no problemo—could still work the stick (careful!), and it’d have the unintended benefit of making some Nikon bodies feel better, the D800 body, in particular, would feel more designed for purpose if you didn’t have a little finger 🙂

  22. Cars and cameras: what a clever comparison! Perhaps because I’m passionate about both, I particularly like your thoughts about getting the most out of every car/camera you’re “driving”!

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