Money utility: Several months ago when I last met Ctein in Madison—May, it was—he had with him a Panasonic 12–35mm lens that John Camp had loaned him. I put it on my OM-D E-M1 and was instantly smitten: it seemed just the right lens for that camera to me. I love the optical look of that lens, too. (Or at least I think I do. It could be that I'm just falling prey to suggestibility, looking at online samples and letting my imagination fill in what I want to be seeing.)
I intended to get one. But shortly thereafter, stocks of that lens ran out. It's been back-ordered at B&H Photo for months. (We forget, but Panasonic does this regularly with various products.)
Then reader B.R. George pointed out something very interesting yesterday, which is that the entire Panasonic LX100 costs $100 less than the Panasonic 12–35mm zoom lens alone...and the lens on the LX100 is slightly faster and has slightly greater range than the standalone lens to boot. So it's like they're throwing in the entire camera for free, and then some.
And that's from the same company.
Between different companies, the contrast is even greater. A similar thought occurred to me when Jack MacDonough brought his Leica T by the house recently—much as I liked the T, in comparison with my utilitarian Sony NEX-6 it reminded me of that super lightweight Porsche which they took a lot of and then charged more for. Slick as the T is (and it's beautiful, a work of art), it omits a number of features that I want, and that I like—and that I get to have on the Sony. And yet the Leica costs fives times what the Sony (admittedly, on closeout) is currently going for. The value equation is...disparate.
Digital can be enormously expensive...but it can also be remarkably cheap. All you have to do is be willing to buy a less popular camera once it reaches end-of-lifecycle closeout. You can't be too picky if you're looking for the best deal, but the argument could be made that you don't need to be, because so many cameras are so competent these days. As B.R. George and the curious case of the LX100 vs. 12–35mm zoom reminds us, the money utility equation with this stuff is all over the place.
For another case in point, consider that the Leica T's initial lens offering, the Summicron-T 23mm ƒ/2 ASPH, is being manufactured by a no-name Pacific-rim OEM optical supplier. (Something Leica admits while also declining to name names.) It's ideally spec'd by my lights, and a better size than my Zeiss equivalent, but, considering that provenance, and its ~$2k pricetag, that lens also comes with a very thick built-in padding of profit margin. No, not for you.
Canon hates Canon: A while back I was trying to get an answer to a question out of Hewlett-Packard, and I doggedly put in a number of calls to a number of different HP employees. One development that amused me was the way some of those people talked about the company they worked for...as though it were monolithic, and as though it had independent will. "HP might want you to do this, or HP might want you to do that," one of them told me (I paraphrase of course). "I'm not really sure what HP would want. You'd have to talk to HP."
And I thought, wait a minute here...I am talking to HP. Right now. To me, you're HP.
Camera hobbyists make the same mistake in talking about camera companies. Canon this and Nikon that. As if companies speak with one united voice and have completely harmonious unanimity of intent. Actually, what impresses me whenenver I hear stories from the other side of the curtain is how bitter and extreme the infighting between divisions and even within divisions of the same company can be. Recently I heard a rumor that the camera division of a certain CWSNBN (company which shall not be named) developed a whole different technology to do something that the same company's video division had already developed the leading tech for doing. Why go to the trouble? The camera division didn't want the video division to get credit for the feature within the company.
I always got that same impression when I dealt with the old Kodak during its swan song days, too. Internal corporate culture was far more important to people at Kodak in those days than external relations between Kodak and other companies or the outside world. The same is true within camera companies, too. We should remind ourselves from time to time that when we talk about these entities like they're unified and speak with a single voice, we're taking liberties, using shorthand.
Gaaaaaah scary: I realized four years ago that if I ever wanted to buy a house, I was just going to have to save up a lot of money. I don't have a regular job with a regular company and banks were looking at me like I was a fly-by-night hippie artist type with no visible means of support (well...). So I saved up for more than three years to make this move. It was the only way I could do it.
Since the move started happening, though, it's been like I punched a hole in the bucket of my bank account and the money has been gushing merrily out. The former owners of this house took their washer and dryer with them...it was in the contract, of course, but I'd missed it. What are you going to do? You have to be able to wash your clothes. I bought the fourth tier down in the Samsung line, but it still cost a frightening $1,450 by the time all was said and done. Every time I turn around it's another four hundred dollars for this, another thousand dollars for that.
Currently, I own, and am paying for, two houses...and until I get the old one safely sold I am not out of the woods financially. But the old house needs to be fixed up before it can be sold. Not only are we weeks away from finishing that project, but it's proving to be another sizeable leak in the money-bucket. Painting, new closet doors, new light fixtures, the pool table mechanic for the pool table move, new flooring throughout the house...can you hear me say "ouch"? When Zander first started carrying a house key, at age 14 or 15, he'd forget it sometimes, and he used to climb in though a kitchen window when he locked himself out. We (not he, I can't blame him) ended up leaving the screens and storm windows off that window, so now it needs to be replaced. It never ends!
Scary. I benefitted from that on this end—the former owners fixed up this house splendidly. On the other end—well, now it's my turn.
It's a guy thing: I kinda have to laugh at myself, because, at the old house, I kept up very well with the guy stuff: the mechanicals, the utilitarian things, and all the various machines a house needs. New water heater, radon abatement system, new water softener, new electrial box, all new faucets and toilets, new roofs on the house and garage, rebuilding of the garage overhead door, new furance, new air conditioner, all new appliances, and so on. But did I do any decorating at all? No. The former owner slathered one color of white paint over the entire interior of the house prior to the sale, and it stayed that same color for the 14 years I was there. I never replaced the hideous toxic carpet. The same drapes are there today that were there when I moved in—only they've got a visible coating of dust now. The same wallpaper is in the bathroom, only now it's peeling.
And by the way, what the heck is up with that? I don't know if it's like this in other areas of the cournty, but in my area, anyway, the local custom seems to be that the bathrooms of any given house will be wallpapered, and it's just as likely that nowhere else in the house will there be any wallpaper. Why in the world would we put wallpaper, which peels if the humidity changes too much, in the one room of the house where the humidity changes all the time? That really makes no sense at all. And yet it's the local custom. I am completely neutral on the question of wallpaper—neither pro nor con—but it makes no sense at all in bathrooms.
Fix 'er up: That's not the only thing that makes no sense about real estate norms. As I mentioned, I'm fixing up my old home for sale. For decorating decisions, I got staging advice (staging is the current term for fixing up a house to sell) from real estate and decorating professionals (thanks, Stephanie and Karen!) as to what appeals to the widest range of buyers. The entire house is being painted neutrally, basically in adroit and complementary selections from the Universe of beige, and the carpet has also been selected to be as inoffensive as possible to the broadest range of potential buyers as possible. It's kind of a light-medium beige-brown with flecks to hide dirt and stains.I absolutely don't care what the paint colors or the carpet look like—I want the house to move, and whatever the pros think will sell best is fine with me.
But when you think of it, I'm picking out the paint and the carpet that someone else is going to have to live with for a long time. How does that make any sense? Wouldn't those people rather pick out their own carpet?
Actually, it makes sense in one way and one way only: which is that after buying a house, most people are cash-poor, and don't have any money for decorating. So they need to move into a place that's ready to live in.
But really, if we thought about it, we'd work out some way for people to spend the fix-'er-up money on their own new houses...the house they're moving into, not the one they're moving out of. I got to paint the walls of my new house (long story), and I'm very pleased I got to do that. Because I picked colors I liked. Rather than the Universe-of-beige varients that were there before. But that makes too much sense; it's definitely not the way things are done.
Community property: That does illustrate another of my theories, though, which is that a society's housing stock is essentially shared, communal property. Yes, it's private property...for a while, for as long as each owner owns it. But over its lifetime it belongs to many people, and so it's communal in a way as well. And that has a way of enforcing community norms, not only in building codes, but in architectural styles, the types and arrangements of rooms, and interior decorating styles.
Case in point, my kitchen counters. As you might know, granite countertops are all the rage now and have been for some time. Personally, I'm not a fan. They're too brittle-hard, and so is china—and when two brittle-hard surfaces meet, the more frangible of the two is more likely to break. I like laminate countertops. As with stainless steel for eating utensils, it seems like the ideal material for the job. Besides, the more fashionable something is, the more likely I am to want to do something else.
I'm not complaining, mind you—my new kitchen is beautiful and I'm appreciating and enjoying it—even going so far as keeping it neat and clean. (What can I say, I'm inspired.) But guess who now has stylish granite countertops? That's right. Me. Because my new house is mine, but it hasn't always been mine, and it won't always be mine. Broadly speaking, the housing stock belongs to the community as whole, serially at least, and the community as a whole currently likes granite countertops.
And so it goes. I hope the people who buy my old house like the new carpet we just picked out for them. Me, I just have to figure out how I'm going to pay for their new carpet!
"Open Mike," which appears on Sunday, is when we let the TOP dog off the leash and let him wander. Arf!
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
B.R. George: "Of course, the other side of the LX100 vs. 12–35mm equation is that in theory you get to keep the 12–35mm when you replace or upgrade your camera, so it probably has a somewhat longer life cycle. [Although as Wes Walker pointed out, the LX100 will go on closeout at the end of its lifecycle whereas the 12–35mm probably will not. —Ed.]
"And, relatedly, if you don't like the decisions they made about what camera they chose to throw in with the LX100 lens, you're stuck. My reaction when the G1X mark II (with basically the same image circle as Micro 4/3) was announced was that if that lens were available on its own as a Micro 4/3 lens, it would probably cost at least $800 by itself. But there might be some serious advantages to having a hypothetical stand-alone version lens to pair with one's preferred Micro 4/3 body—reading the G1X mark II reviews, I got the impression that some non-lens-related aspects of the camera compared unfavorably to some of the Micro 4/3 options, and might be holding the lens back.
"And of course there are other differences or potential differences in the present Panasonic comparison: LX100 lens has a serious compactness advantage, but 12–35mm is weather-sealed. And as far as I know we don't yet have much on which to make a direct comparison of optical performance (measurable or subjective).
"So it's complicated, depending on what you're looking for, and the LX100 announcement doesn't make me suddenly regret my Olympus 12–40mm (Mike, is there a reason you're not considering that for your E-M1?), but, as you say, the money-utility equation is really all over the place."
Nicholas Condon: "Wow, lots to comment on today! I'll try to be brief: 1) Another way to save big money on cameras (and lots of other things, as you learned with your washer and dryer) is to skip the top of the line. One can buy two Oly E-M10s for the cost of one E-M1; if you don't really and truly need the weather sealing, you can save the cost of a very nice lens by buying the cheaper model. 2) I love love love the idea of housing stock as community property. I am going to be pondering the consequences of that mode of thinking for days. 3) I hate granite countertops, too, and for exactly the reason you describe. I am clumsy, and I fear that I would become a mass murderer of crockery if I had them in my kitchen. And you are literally the first person I've ever read who has said the same thing; everyone else loves their pretty, pretty dishbreaker counters."
Carl Root: "I suspect several readers have recently bought and sold houses and, like me, will offer some helpful advice. Or at least, commiserate. I put new carpet in several rooms, only to have the buyer pull them up and install wood floors. Spent hours cleaning up the master bath (don't ask), only to find out that they didn't like the arrangement and gutted it.
"Now for the good part. I'm convinced that my photos are the reason it sold within twenty-four hours. He loved the photos online and wanted to be first in line to buy it. I don't consider myself a pro photographer, but I do know that some shots look better in the morning, others in the evening, and you can do a lot in Lightroom when the light doesn't cooperate. I wonder how much interest there would be in an article entitled 'Why photo enthusiasts should do their own home marketing photos.'"
Aaron Britton: "I would like to take your community as a whole towards residential buildings thought a little further. What you need to ponder further is it the community at large influencing these decisions on finishes, or the real estate / developer community pushing those decisions on the community at large. Here is my argument: the real estate agents and developers are creating residences with safe design features and finishes that sell a house per their market research. But like you commented, you as a person wanted different paint colors in your house and were happy that you had the opportunity to choose them.
"To draw an analogy from the camera industry, you have Canon and Nikon. Developing the same safe-selling cameras, but not developing anything innovative. Same with the real estate / developers, they create a safe house that will sell, but has nothing innovative about it. If anything it is constructed to the cheapest denomination possible that will make the highest profit possible.
"One other influence on the residential market that plays a bigger part in making these decisions (finishes, design and size of a house) is the house appraiser. The appraiser, who most of the time does not have any experience with design, concepts, and/or how a house functions, tells you the owner or the bank what a house is worth. All based on market research. And all of this influences the finishes at large as well as other decisions (from the size of the house, bigger is better, the amount of bathrooms, minimum three these days, and other items) in a residential building.
"I believe the problem lies in the industry (here residential buildings, but can apply to many other industries) becoming myopic or focused on one element, in this case money. It is not necessarily the community at large influencing decisions."
Mike replies: Good point. As a fer-instance, I tried to get flash water heaters installed in my old house. The plumber basically refused, saying nobody in the area is doing that. He used as an argument that it would hurt resale because potential buyers wouldn't understand it, but from his perspective he didn't want to do it because he didn't have the expertise with the new systems. And I'm sure he's telling people—and maybe himself—that he doesn't acquire the expertise because he doesn't get calls for the technology. But my case indicates that he does get calls for the technology—I can prove at least one—but that, when he does, he talks people out of wanting what they want. This is an indication of what tends to make the trades and the building codes slow to respond to new technology and innovation.