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Friday, 20 February 2015


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The new world record in photography was "phantom" by Peter Lik.

[That "sale" is unverified, and I don't believe it. --Mike]

Sometimes "best" gets plateaued, and it can be kind of a surprize that there will not BE anything "better" for a long time, or maybe ever.

Example - 1st class custom bicycle frame built up with top flight components - better figure 10 to 20 years before some technology change makes a new bike MAYBE worthwhile, and you might NEVER find a bike that rides better.

Example - Leica M6 in the pre auto-focus pre-digital era - if you like rangefinders - nothing as capable that is actually smaller, or faster. There was no "better", rather, a sea change that changed the game entirely.

My own interest in keeping up with the latest & greatest gear comes from a similar place; a geeky interest in it, and always looking out for something closer to that perfect camera - for me. I'm not too interested in what anyone else thinks is best. I get the appeal of Leica, but have little interest in owning one. (I could afford it if it meant enough to me). Trying out a friends M6 cured me of that; I actually enjoyed my old compact rangefinders more than the Leica. I'm using a couple cameras that are the best choices I could find for my needs, but obviously aren't perfect, so that's where I'm looking for something new & fun. Trouble is, it's more than just a camera; someone might come out with a camera that's closer to perfect than what I'm using, but for a system with a lens lineup that does nothing for me ... there have plenty of cameras that are closer to perfect in one way or another, but not a big enough jump to make me want to spend money or time. You posted recently about buying & practicing with one camera, and getting familiar enough with a camera to shoot everything you want to shoot well takes time.

Your D800 story should be a cautionary tale for you, of course, but also for others who imagine that there will eventually be a perfect example of any technology, that they must have it, and that acquiring it will bring satisfaction and a power that they don't already possess.

Ain't gonna' happen.

I do like your story about the cabbie and the bicycles. I used to be an avid cyclist, and lots of us were far from rich but owned and rode excellent bikes — we used to say that these bikes were the "poor man's Porsche."

About John McEnroe's collecting problem -- he isn't collecting for the love of art, he's collecting for the love of money and prestige. You can buy really exceptional paintings for far less than McEnroe's budget. Not long ago, an excellent Renaissance-era painting sold in London for less than $100,000. When it later turned out to probably be a genuine Caravaggio, it was revalued at ~$10m. And if you like it as a Caravaggio at $10m, but not as a "school of" at less than $100,000, then you're an investor, not an art lover, because the painting didn't change a whit.

Good article. I can completely relate. I've collected enough gear to be able to sell a lot of it to fund "the best" camera and lens for a OC/OL/OY.

I considered getting an Otus for my Nikon, since it does indeed seem to be among the best lenses, if not at the top of the list. Given that I am carrying the thing around everywhere for a year, though, I instead bought a used Leica M 240 and 50mm Summicron-M ASPH that are in very nice condition. Perhaps they're not "the best" in an absolute sense--there are cameras and lenses that rate more highly on any number of scales--but it's hard to argue that they aren't coveted and iconic, and more comfortable to carry. (Plus, I've never owned a rangefinder before, so there's the enchantment of something new.)

I'm aware how lucky I am to be able to have such a wonderful machine for my project. For me, right now, it's the best.

Everytime I produce my RX100M3 out of a very small waist pouch, I pronounce "this is the world's best camera..." while still thinking ..."to tote everywhere always".

There must be a name for this in economics (good thing I'm no good at math, or I'd have ended up as an economist)—the impulse to seek the level at which you can own the best of something

I don't think there's a specific name for it, but Howard Becker's book What About Mozart? What About Murder?: Reasoning From Cases has several long descriptions of how art markets work and how evaluations of visual art are inherently tied to commerce. He describes how photography has evolved to limit potentially unlimited reproduction through numbered and signed prints, different valuations for prints made by the photographer versus made by others, and so on.

Given this post, it's highly recommended!

There are a couple of terms that can apply.

Conspicuous consumption certainly applies to people who purchase conspicuous objects to show their social level. This applies to both the ghetto kid with "bright white" Air Jordans and the billionaire with his latest (wait listed) contemporary art. In the latter case it might even be a case of invidious consumption (having something that no one else can have so as to invoke envy in your peers).

The behavior you describe is called "maximizing" as opposed to the opposite strategy "satisficing".


A maximizing approach seeks the the “optimal” solution for a particular problem.

Satisficing is a strategy to select the first solution that meets a given defined need rather than the “optimal” solution. It is a form of bounded rationality. It might be summed up in the phrase "good enough".

Maxmizers spend a lot of effort on examining possible solutions to problem. Satisficiers pick the first solution that meets their minimal set of constraints.

GAS might be explained as the outcome of a maximizing strategy for purchasing cameras i.e. picking the best available camera then purchasing the next "best available" camera when it becomes available. The definition of "best" of course continually changes. Satisficiers will remain happy with their camera until they have a different need that can be solved by a new camera.

I own and use the epitome of photographic technology, circa 1980 mind ya- but my F3 was as capable then for what I do, as it is today.

Well, I am a person who seeks resolution. I have and need the D800E resolution for my work and I've been extremely pleased with the images. However, most of my lenses are Canon so I will be moving to the 5Dsr as soon as possible. Different strokes for different folks. I don't care one wit about the camera size and weight; only the final print means anything to me.

I too had an F4s and sold it for two F90x bodies, followed by a string of other Nikons, but after the D800 was announced I decided "enough!" and sold my D700 and 10-12 lenses to finance an M9 with a couple of lenses. That didn't work out either and after a few trials I have settled on the Fuji cameras, particularly the X-T1. To my (probably getting too old and tired) eyes, reality is not as sharp as modern cameras and lenses make out! I'll more than likely upgrade at some time in the future but right now 16MP can still produce beautiful A2 sized prints.

Haha Brian Willman. So true!

I shoot an M6 and ride two custom steel frames, one 2 years old and one 20, built with good components.

Pursuit of the best is futile, not only because of cost but because there is no objectively best in just about anything. If you go to flea market to look for paintings, why not look for the 'best' painting available there that fits to your wall for under $8, or whatever, based on your subjective opinion? Isn't that good enough? And good enough is what we should be aiming for, not the best.

A good post and a salient lesson for many. I'm always amused when I see. photographs that really impress me that more often than not they are created by not the very best or even current equipment.
It seems to me that only the dilettante's can afford the latest and greatest.
A year or so ago when Leica was showing off its new type 240 I was saying to a fellow professional photographer that I had just picked up a lumix G3 (to use with Leica lenses) from B&H via aTOP link for the bargain price of USD 249 several others overheard and jumped on their phones to see if there were any left!

I chased the better, better, best DSLR for a long time, then I found the 5D Mk III was quite enough for me. I have bought different cameras since - just to see if it is equalled in a smaller more convenient package (OM-D EM1) and it's no contest. When I want the best image quality and handling, I always go back to the Canon. I carry the Oly more, but it's my P&S camera, not my "serious" camera. That's not to say it isn't great, just that it's noticeably inferior to the Canon for me. I have a 5D Mk II and the 7D as well, and the Mk III gets much more of my time. I've sent the Mk II out for IR conversion and the 7D is likely to show up on eBay soon... I don't see the new 50MP Canons luring me to change horses at this point. I'd prefer more DR. 20MP is plenty for me, I don't crop radically enough to need 50MP and I doubt the current lens ecosystem is up to the job of accurately exposing 50MP levels of resolution corner to corner. I'm also pretty sure I'm unwilling to pay enough for lenses that can resolve at that level without significant abberations. I guess I'm crossing the Luddite rubicon with regards to sensor resolution now...

" But of course the very idea of "the best" is a mirage. Fact was, the D800 was too big for me, in two ways. The camera was a lot to cart around. And the images were too big too"

One of the problems with this whole thing is the definition of Best.

To the extent that one allows the opinions of others, individually and as groups or whole societies, to define the terms, one is more likely to find the Best to disappoint.

It's easy, when surrounded by a group of performance addicted people to buy a camera, watch, car, and on and on, that over emphasizes certain (largely macho) quantifiable measures.

Added to this problem is that the accepted wisdom among such groups is often wrong. After many months of listening to the Fuji X fans in my group raving about image quality, I was starting to feel torn.

So I downloaded test sample images from both Oly E-M1 and the latest object of Fuji adoration, the X-T1. And you know what? Working with ISO 100 and 1600 Raw files, there's not a spit of difference between them. I can find parts of the images where one or the other has a very slight edge at 100% in one aspect or another.

Part of my measure of best is size and weight. I know others who are driven by things like how the camera fits their hand and how they interact with the controls or the quality of the viewfinder.

To the extent that such a person listens to the MP and absolute resolution sirens, they will likely be disappointed, as you were with the D800.

If one finds a proper balance of the many qualities of all the various bits of Stuff that one likes/needs to have, the best may actually be best.

I toted a 5D around for about five years, because smaller cameras didn't meet the IQ part of my personal equation. Now an E-M5 has made me happy for about 2½ years, and I would likely go on , but for the advent of a camera that fixes or enhances nearly everything about it without messing up the size/weight equation - E-M5 Mark II.

OTOH, I have a friend who went from E-M5 to E-M1, without need for the PD AF for old lenses, and is in love with the, to me, enormous grip, with the viewfinder and with the different positioning of the control wheels.

"All truth is in tai chi: to cultivate the mind, body, or spirit, simply balance the polarities. " - Hua Hu Ching, Lao Tzu, trans. Brian Walker, c. 46

For the majority of us it is "the best we can afford". No shame in that, hobby wise anyway. I buy shoes that are too expensive for my income, but they are "right" for me. Not in a style sort of way but in a 'I can find them wide enough, they fit, don't hurt my feet and last a reasonable period of time. I just can't afford cheap shoes.

Unverified? Mmm that's interesting. So perhaps you think is some kind of marketing movement? Or whorse money laundering. I'd love to read an article about the art market.

What is really embarrassing is when you realize you owned "the best" four generations/brand- changes ago, and wind up buying it again. Your feeling of complete satisfaction is disrupted only by your feeling of complete stupidity.

I used to buy sportscars but luckily I like small open two seaters like your MX5 (I've had three of those) so that kept the costs down and the most expensive cars I've had were an SLK and a Boxster. I had three at one time once, a Lotus Elise, a MK1 MX5 and a 1967 MGB roadster, that was my high point.

These days I've settled a bit and I've had a MK2 MX5 for about 7 years and my new hobby is collecting old manual lenses. They're all slightly different and if you look closely enough they do give a slightly different look and they don't cost all that much so maybe it's a pretty harmless hobby in the great scheme of things. I have to stop though :D

At least I seem to have stopped buying cameras. My GX7 and A7 seem to be good enough for me :D

Best can be a tricky term - best as decided by others, or best as decided by you?
I love pens, have way too many of them. But the one I use daily is a Parker I bought while still in High School (I'm 53 now). That doesn't stop me from trying new pens; now, I'm interested in fountain pens, and inks. Sadly, I know I'll buy some more pens, and too much ink, and continue to use my Parker... But there is something to be said for the joy of the knowledge gained... :)

The advice I've given my kids is "own as few things as possible, so you can afford to make those few important things the best possible to suit the need."

I think this Fanny may have started the global recession when he bought a Canon 1ds mk lll in 2008, that he couldn't afford. It's been my only camera ever since. It's quite litterally a heavy burden, but I wear it like a hair shirt.


"Satisficiers pick the first solution that meets their minimal set of constraints."

... wow... describes my car buying exactly.

... 250 bhp or over
... 0-60mph in under 6.5 seconds
... cheap (under £5,000)
... close as possible

That's why I've been driving a 10 year old 3.2 litre Audi A3 Quattro for the last 18 months.

It was 40 miles away - bought the first one I tried out. I might just as happily have bought a BMW M3 for about the same price, but it was 80 miles away, and the Audi was good enough.

Same with the 5D3 (and the 5D and 5D2 before them)...
... good enough for just about any purpose.

Guess I'm too lazy to do the Maximization thing.

Saw a very cool exhibit of celebrity photographs by Phillipe Halsman Thursday night at an ASMP event in Denver. I hadn't heard of him before but realized I had seen his work. To see the printed photographs on black and white film next to present day photographs shot digitally was like night and day--the quality and texture of the film portraits vs the stark sterile look of digital images. Interesting to say the least. And they made me glad I carry a film camera with me wherever I go. That night it was a Leica lllF loaded with Tri-x. Affordable by anyone. All you really need. That and some celebrities. (He had a nice shot of Sophia Loren, who as a photojournalist I can say I also photographed, but at a benefit event, not posing for me.)

Mike, when you raved about the D800, I scoffed, being "perfectly" satisfied with my D700,I couldn't imagine a better engine for how I play with cameras. But I too fell into some extra cash and was able to sell my D700 bought used for exactly what I had paid for it and bought the D800. And it is as you suggested in a comment "even more perfect" I added an xpro 1 to the family a year ago and my only challenge as a geek is that I have everything I could care about with this stuff gadget wise. As a picture taker I do have an additional challenge in that winter in Maine is no longer photogenic and I anxiously await spring.

I think the F4 just wasn't a very good top of the line camera. I sold mine as well and went back to lower model Nikon bodies and shot newspaper work with those until digital came.

Interesting comment about bikes. There are quite a few riders who own top of the line bikes but drive beater cars. Priorities, i guess.

Sorry for the belated comment.
I think the reason you did not want to keep that Nikon 800E was not the size of the camera or the size of the files or the appearance of a new, smaller, better camera in the market. Basically any new generation camera with mode button, control wheel and hidden displays of settings does not satisfy our souls, I mean photographic soul. You probably would not have felt the same urge to replace a Pentax MX or an Olympus OM2, as you have with the "control wheel" camera. It is the same mental mechanics that makes the large format film camera user stick to his or her old wooden camera. The camera makers obviously know this human nature and use it to good effect to push new models of cameras without ever satisfying our inner needs.
Ranjit Grover

Just spent today in York England walking around with my X100. Small and improved by firmware. It's a camera that had me beating my head against a wall for nearly a year ... The Fuji boys then gave us WONDERFUL. Firmware which made manual focusing possible.
Now I have a camera that no one notices , it seems with it one is invisible.
For all you boys with big DSLRs I recommend you try it.
In this case a camera which gets more satisfying with time.

You should read "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" one of these days. "Best" or "max" don't always mean "optimal."

In many pursuits, purchase of the best quality item follows a "buy once, cry once" philosophy. But what itch is it exactly that is scratched by this? Doesn't a $20 Ginsu knife cut as well as a $100 Henkels or Wusthoff kitchen knife? Well, yes and no. I'll go for the nicely made knife every time, in large part just because of the pleasure of using the better knife. The balance, the feel-in-the-hand are just better. Same with cameras.

I think I have written in other TOP comments that the camera industry is now more like the fashion industry than the tool-making industry. This is particularly true given that a)we have been "there" in terms of useful sensor resolution for several years now, and b) the horrible cul-de-sac that camera manufacturers face in terms of a demand for new examples of wizz-bang.

Mike, with respect to your D800, I would dispute that you paid for the "best" of breed. You paid for the latest, greatest, and biggest -- which, as it turned out, didn't equate to "best." You found the level that was best for you after trying the D800 -- and hey, there is nothing wrong with that, we have all done it.

Sometimes I think we have to wait a good chunk of time to see what "best" actually was. One of the reasons that Leicas fit into this category is that even thought they are not everyone's cup of tea, you can readily find a 50 year old example that is serviceable and will do what it was designed to do with elan. Of course the joke is on all of us as far as digital cameras go. I can state with confidence that they are _all_ regardless of price or brand, now essentially disposable commodities compared to the best cameras built in the middle of the last century. Try and find a battery in the year 2060 for a 50 year old Nikon D800? No, the joke is _really_ on us. But, hey, we had a good time and went over the cliff cheering.

Back to the original topic, I think with the sense of "best" comes an additional tangible pleasure. Now I am only asymmetrically susceptible to this: cameras, kitchen knives and bicycles? Yes. Watches, stereo components, cars, and clothing? No.

These types of conversations reminds me of the two best cameras I've ever had... Pentax LX, and Panasonic GF1. Opposite worlds, I know!

You're thinking about this all wrong. Cameras aren't gear anymore; once they went digital they became film. Just calculate what you used to spend on film in a year and divide that into the price of the camera and you'll come up with a number that tells you how often you can buy a new camera. Or something like that.

Even though I’m late to the party, this seems like a good moment to link to this piece by Moxie Marlinspike: http://www.thoughtcrime.org/blog/the-worst/

While I can see value in the "best" argument, I enjoyed Moxie’s contrarian view a lot, too. Remembering my own photographic experiences with a Lomo LC-A, I can certainly relate to the benefits of "the worst".

An inexpensive way to buy the "best" is to buy used equipment that was "best' two or three years ago.

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