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Saturday, 07 July 2018


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Boy, are you going to get mail on this one! I suspect lots of responses will support the Olympus OM models, but for pure "best" I'd vote for Leicaflex SL/SL2, although if that is too large for you, the Leica R6/6.2 is a close second. Not enough people have used these for you to receive a lot of votes, but camera aficionados who have can quickly sense the magnificance of these "ultimates"

Whenever the topics of things breaking and "they don't make them like they used to" comes up I (like my father before me) am reminded of The Deacon's Masterpiece (1858) by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Or as we knew it around the dinner table, The Deacon's Wonderful One Horse Shay.

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it — ah, but stay,
I'll tell you what happened without delay,

[ … ]

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, —
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, — lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will, —
Above or below, or within or without, —
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but doesn't wear out.


I wonder how long it will take for a TOP reader to mention Leica. OOPS. ;)

I am a fan-boy, admittedly. But I have cameras in the cabinet from the 1930's, 1950's and 1970's-80's and all but the very latest of them is operating on its original gearing and other internals. I think a couple of shutter curtains have been replaced. The "latest" referred to above is an M6 from the late 80's and it sports a ca. 2000 circuit board replacement. The circuit board runs the meter and VF diodes. And to be fair (and with a nod to the heyday of American industrial manufacturing), I have a fair number of LF lenses in Supermatic shutters that are also all original, except for the lubricants. And a Spotmatic, an FM2, and sundry others that I picked up at door-stop prices, although they function perfectly. (Caveat, if by "perfectly" you mean +/- 15% on the accuracy and repeatability of their shutters). I have a Nikkormat too. . . loved the industrial styling on those. It's just burned into my brain.

There is no question that the digital cameras being made today are superior to the ones mentioned above at producing digital files. ;) But on durability, I have an M2 that I'd put up against any modern camera in a shutter cycle endurance test. Heck (he swaggers), I bet it only has 250,000 cycles on it . . . that M2 is a spring chicken!

But we see what the buy-once, cry-once philosophy got Leica: envious jokes in which dentists are always mentioned, and a tiny boutique business that somehow has managed to survive into the digital age with the big boys, but teeters between the investments of hedge funds. Me, sensitive? Naaaah. I am not a dentist, but the jokes hit a little close to the mark to forbear mentioning them. ;(

I think the only way, or the most likely way, that this particular freight train (things that go bust in the night) will be rolled up the hill is if the companies making those planned failures (and the consumers buying them) are forced to deal with the environmental consequences of their early demise. That washing machine I complained of yesterday? It's mechanical parts were perfect. PERFECT. I saw its innards as it was being carted off and they looked as new. Someone is bearing the cost of that machine winding up in a landfill, but it isn't me, and it isn't Sears, which soon may be beyond all punishment or amendment if the tea leaves read true.

Last post aabout appliances??? Do you mean no more camera discussions??? Definition of an appliance:
" an instrument, apparatus, or device for a particular purpose or use."
After all, what else is a camera?

My mother had that exact Nikkormat FT3 you pictured above, and even though I was a youngster at the time (I think I was a freshman in high school), I distinctly remember it being not a particularly good camera.

I found it to be very heavy, chunky, loud and clunky. It's operation was stiff and awkward, and I was not particularly impressed with the lenses, either.

But, I am fully of the view that an ideal manual/metal/mechanical (MMM) film SLR debuted a few years later, and that was the Olympus OM-1n. Blessed with a superb system of sharp Olympus Zuiko lenses, it was the first camera I ever purchased with my own money, a few years out of college and working as in my first research scientist job, and it cost me a whopping $239. It served me absolutely flawlessly for 22 years, and I shot everything with it, from landscapes at Yosemite with with William Neill and Lewis Kemper to Formula 1 at Brands Hatch. I had mine undergo a complete teardown service back in 2002 by famed Camtech Oly repair guru, John Hermanson, and it still works and looks like new; the controls, switches and shutter all work like "buttah". And, I still have all my original Zuiko lenses for it, including the superb but rare Zuiko 300mm f/4. Hermanson even converted the mercury battery to a standard battery, so the match needle meter works as well. A recent used camera broker inspected this last March and gave it an A+ rating. If I was told I had to shoot with a film camera, I would pick my beloved OM-1n confident it would still perform faultlessly. That camera also has one of the biggest, brightest viewfinders ever made for a film SLR.

One last parting note, when it comes to modern digital cameras, there are still a lot of working pros that are shooting with Canon 1D MKII and IIN's and generating photos that are getting published. Specifically, I shot my racing work with a Canon 1D MkII/IIN for 13 years, and my Canon 1D MKIIN was still going strong when I sold it at a swap meet at the end of last year to a working pro. I still see guys at the Media Center shooting with Canon 1D MkII/IINs, Nikon D3s and D700s. Those pro Canon and Nikon bodies are real workhorses and tough as nails. Come to think of it, you could actually use them to hammer nails! ;-)

This is exactly why, when I here someone guy go on and on about some prehistoric film camera and how wonderful it is (was), I just chuckle to myself and smile. The old film camera is no different than the ancient refrigerator, ruining the lettuce and making the food taste bad, you just didn't know better. Mike, after decades and decades of experience with film and classic body design, what do you do, you settle on a MFT with in-body stabilization. I have to laugh it just came to me, it's kind of like the 60 year old with the 25 year-old on his arm saying, ..."wait...you can do what?"

Mike, didn't you just recently tie endorphins to camera body design... personally I thought that was a stretch.

We are just now going through a cycle of replacing old (really old!) appliances. The 34 year old dishwasher is the most recent. Even just looking at the innards of the new one, I can tell it won't last as long. Flimsy is the word that comes to mind. I like the advances of technology that lead to quieter and more efficient, and deplore the ability to figure out how to make something last just longer than the warranty period.

In an odd bit of synchronicity, I bought a new hairdryer for myself, which was priced at $24.00, which seemed fitting, as it was replacing my 24-year-old one.

My slap in the face with planned obsolescence involved a fax machine. Back in the early 90’s I found that I needed a fax machine for business purposes. Knowing nothing about them I called my sister who was working for Sharp at the time. Her response was that I definitely needed to buy a specific model of their machines. It was being discontinued because it lasted too long and being replaced by one that wouldn’t have that problem. So I bought 2 one for myself and one for the friend I needed to communicate with. Sure enough it never broke, in fact I think it is somewhere out in my shed. But to your point it used that old thermal paper that faded away in a remarkably short time. A newer one would have solved that but who cares, nobody uses them anymore

The linguistics professor Geoff Pullum has the maxim, "Every upgrade is a downgrade." Every time a company upgrades something, they take a former good point and make it worse. He coined it for computer programs that lose or change beloved options and default behaviors *cough* Photoshop *cough*, but it seems applicable to hardware, too.

My terminal metal/mechanical/manual SLR added another M for Miranda. It was a Sensomat. I used it for probably a decade. I sold it to buy my 1st Canon (one of the T series) which I sold to buy an EOS 7 (the one w/o eye control) which I still have. None was really "obsolete" except in the sense that my desires changed.

Obviously, it's time to go back to film cameras. A Nikon F will last a while, and a decent selenium meter is good for quite a few years (all right, it'll last longer than you'll put up with the poor low light performance; so get a Sekonic 308, which uses AA's). Or, get a Leica M4 or M3 or the like. I have a Leica MDa which has a verified shot count of over 4 million. Yes, it's had a bit of maintenance, but it'll keep on going for quite a while longer with an occasional CLA.

My Sony A7rII is probably deciding to retire as I write this.

Talk about parrots.


Occasionally (read almost never) a new product comes on the market that is so far ahead of others that it is a game changer. For me this is in the area of ink jet printers (even with planned obsolescence factored into the equation). Nearly 3 years ago now I purchased a top of the line Epson Eco-Tank color printer with a three year extended warranty (thus a 5 year warranty.) Cost? About 4 times the price of a similar unit without the large refillable tanks.

Used it every day for 15 months before I had to add ink (from bottles supplied with the original printer!) Last month 31 months from purchase), I was unable to get the print head properly cleaned and decided to test the warranty. Had to take the machine to a printer repair for assessment. Warranty people called and gave me a choice between a "minor"repair of the old machine with the warranty to continue or replacement with the current model and cancellation of the rest of the warranty. I took the new model and came home with a better machine than the original - Epson had done some redesign on the unit.

When I picked up the new machine at the retailers, I bought a 4 year extended warranty on the new machine (the warranty even covers normal wear and tear.)

Granted, the color technology is not top of the line photo quality, but it is good enough to print nice photos on photo paper for family and neighbours.

The Eco-Tank product line does include 5 color photographic printers that uses pigment ink for all five inks. My machine uses pigment ink for black and water base for the color inks

Even without the extended warranty I more than saved to cost of the printer and warranty from savings on ink over the usable life of the printer (never purchased any additional ink). Without the warranty I probably would have continued to use the machine for another year or so and would have bought some ink (15 mouths of ink cost about AU$85).

Why inkjet over laser? Print quality is as good or better, and running costs are about 15% pp of a comparable home color laser (that's if you factor in the cost of the ink which is actually free for 2-3 years).

In a way, just like your experience with the new refrigerator.

By the way, I do not have any connection with the Epson Printer people.

Technology really is better in many areas. My still-running Saturn SW2 has 330,000 miles on it since new, gets about 34-36mpg on the highways, and starts without complaint when stored outside all night in our Alaska winters. It's still going strong and remains surprisingly quick.

Of course, in retaliation for making such a reliable and affordable vehicle without planned obsolescence (bad business plan!), GM simply made their entire Saturn division obsolete.

Hi Mike,
the perfect MMM SLR was, and still is, the FM2n Nikon ! Great viewfinder, max mechanical speed of 1/4000th, and a battery that is only for metering but you can use it without (it's absence doesn't hinder shooting at any speed or aperture).

In fact, after years of shooting a Leica M6 (the original one), I sold the Leica and reverted to the FM2n as I was fed up with not being able to take a portrait across the small tables of a café's terrace in Paris (about 60 to 70 cm)...! I even have three of those FM2n, one for each of it's shutter variants.
Even in our digital age (I settled for a Df) those FM2n work flawlessly whatever the environment and can resit a lot of abuse.
Sadly, it's my B&W wet darkroom that I packed up that stopped me using them (and the demise of Kodachrome). Sigh !

Sometimes that obsolescence isn’t planned. Read about the Great Electrolytic Capacitor Plague:


You can skip the technical stuff from “Symptoms” all the way down to “Investigations” but that latter is most interesting.

I’ve got a Sony 8mm video camera, a Leica/Panasonic digital camera and a late Minolta film SLR (total circa GBP2K?) that are now just bricks and beyond economical repair.

And back to your original topic, do you wanna hear about kettles, chest freezers and recent distributor condensers for a 60s Triumph?

But there is always a market for cheap goods - no matter how cheaply made. For, I believe, two reasons: people simply don't have the money to spend, and sticker shock.

In addition, we have moved away from repairing things. Long gone are the days when home ownership (for example) meant learning how to properly maintain it by yourself. Now any repair is generally resolved by bringing in outside help.

I don't doubt that anything can be fixed by the right expertise - but for many, finding and paying for that expertise is not cost-effective.

(Sorry for the first-cup-of-coffee of the day post.)

Henry Ford is reputed to have haunted wrecking yards to evaluate Model T parts to determine which parts survived wear and tear the longest. His motivation was not to see which parts were failing and could be improved. Rather it was to determine which parts were too durable. Better to redesign them so they too failed when the rest of the vehicle was used up.

From an engineering and environmental perspective this may well be a moral strategy.

Reading this "washing machine series" or now a "built to last series" reminds me of a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. that my granddad would recite to me from memory when I was much younger, like 65 years ago. It seems that his ability to remember long poems was built to last, which extended only to a slightly lesser extent to my dad. But, with all the deluge of information we continually pass through today in our professional lives, we seem to have lost that ability ... at least I have. So, to cap off your series of posts, I suggest a morning read, or re-read, of Holmes' "The Wonderful "One-Hoss-Shay", which can be accessed here with the original illustrations: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/45280/45280-h/45280-h.htm

I would use a Spotmatic III!

I have not had the same experience at all as Jim when it comes to upgrades. Of course, old stuff fails. New stuff will, too; usually sooner. Newer appliances are usually more efficient and quieter, though the quiet doesn't always last. Our new dishwasher probably is better than the old one in every way - time will tell if it will last 30+ years. The newer fridge has been problematic, requiring a new control board within a few years, and is still prone to "overcooling" and freezing things in the back of it. The new microwave has all kinds of automatic features we don't use; meanwhile, it heats inconsistently every once in a while. I'm sure we could all go on and on. I will say that digital cameras seem to keep getting better and better. They might feel a little cheaper than older models, but I think they're getting even more reliable. The only downside is when an "upgrade" removes a feature or dumbs something down, but the net is usually very positive.

I think that the Nikon FM3a fits the bill. Introduced in the early noughties, it was already retro, but improved on earlier Nikon SLRs from the 1980s. It is largely metal, has a full mechanical shutter, and while it has an auto-mode can be just as easily used in manual mode (Unlike the Canon AE-1 for example). It was also built to the highest standard- a quality product.

OM-1? I used one for years. Fragile meter, worlds's worst shutter dial, and lenses that focus backwards. For making pictures, everything about my OM-D E-M10 mark II is better (except the name). Even so, every now and then I still have to stop myself from buying an OM-1 on eBay.

I blame you for putting the kiss of death on my washing machine! You can read the story on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/gordon.buck.104.

Of course, this comment is buried too deep and is too late to be noticed but I just had to let you know.

Which reminds me: Wonder what the half life of your posts and comments is? It is said that the half life of a Facebook post is only a few hours and I can easily believe that. For your posts and comments, the half life is probably a few days.

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