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Sunday, 27 September 2020


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Some years back an analysis of the life expected from a good camera showed the Leica M 4(or so) ended up costing less than cheap fixed lens cameras. Seemed the Leica was supposed to last so long you would have bought 10+ of the cheaper cameras over the expected shutter life.

A remarkable story of the care of a fine car, a piece of engineering history. I can't help but think though that its cost of ownership includes the million dollars to have it exhibited unused. Such a legacy could have done many people a lot of good.

Use over time... I used this formula to justify (maybe rationalize) many purchases. In 1988 I bought my Leica M6, my first new-in-the-box Leica after playing with many old beaters that I picked up used. I read an article from the Leica historical society saying that Leicas are actually very economical if you use them up. It could take decades, but the extra up front cost would assure you those decades.

I kept dividing my initial $2000 cost by the years used and indeed the cost did come down. The spoiler is who could have seen the upcoming digital wave? I can neither find or afford film and processing. So now my M6 sits idle with a lot of its service life still unused.

With digital, longevity is rather short unless you can tolerate older image quality. I still use a Nikon D700 because of my "use over time" rationalization. I just pretend not to notice the improvements with the later models.

Well, I've had my Lumix LF1 for about 4.33 years - I got it new, at a large discount because it was just about to be dropped by Panasonic. Since I got it, it's been always in my pocket (apart from the couple of weeks when it was being repaired under warranty - I somehow managed to get a hair on the sensor) and has produced about 4,000 pics (JPG+RAW - 8,000 files). I think that counts as good VFM.

Mind you, I have a horrible feeling it's on the way out, getting a bit quirky control-wise, which means I'll need to replace it soon. However, there's no real equivalent - pocketable, usable EVF and a decent, but not excessive, zoom lens. Figures, I find a camera with just the right spec for me so they stop making it. Phooey!

In Europe, fancy kids' bicycles are a bit of a thing. We bought our 5 year old a Woom 3, retailing at 350 Euro. We recently sold it for 300 Euro, after he grew out of it in 5 months. (I honestly think we could have got 330 for it). I looked at like we were paying a 300 Euro deposit, and 50 Euro for him to learn to ride a bike. He's now on his big bro's Islabike, and big bro got a Frog 67 cyclocross bike.
Worth it? Absolutely. He is riding to kindergarten and back, a 6km round trip. It saves us more than that in fuel per month, is faster than driving, and gets my wife and I moving more.

But, just to complicate things: your mum might have felt a thousand dollars in that belt, in which case, it was a bargain.

Neiman Marcus, aka Needless Markup.

The L brand has yielded more total value for me than gear from any of the other 10 brands I’ve owned over 46 years. Lots of money up front, but lots recouped in trade or sale, and lots of delight.

I do tend to buy my things the way your mom bought that belt and, in doing so, only a limited number of things. Over the years if you only stack up just enough things that you just know will work, will fit, will what-have-you, even if several of those are things you rarely use, well all those things kinda make your life feel in harmony. I have a small apartment, make okay means, and that limits the things I have. But I like looking around and seeing the real value in those few things I have.

That well-made belt, even worn occasionally, works and looks right at those times you need it. And that feels good. And it might even look good just hanging up somewhere, too.

Aesthetics play a huge part in this for me. I like well-made things that look good. I've always envied artists and craftspeople that have beautiful work spaces. Their surroundings are full of curious, beautiful, and seemingly useful items. These artists' tools show the right wear, carry that wear well, and show the richness of those artists' work.

I'd want to say the same about my things, and the life they make for me.

My own example of this is cooking pots and pans. Not only does a good pot make cooking easier, more energy efficient and more fun! A good pot will last a ifetime. Indeed may last many lifetimes if it gets passed on

An added bonus is that you can get into any amount of type / brand warfare... bit like cameras

The interesting thing about that analysis -- taking the logic at face value -- is that it contains a funny bias against owning stuff. This is because if you are right, then it would be almost impossible for someone who owns a lot of stuff to get a good deal.


Let's take your mother as an example -- in her case the number of times she was going to wear any new item of clothing was always going to be in the single or low double digits -- regardless of cost. What this means is that it almost doesn't matter whether she paid $15 or $150 for that belt because it would never be in rotation enough to get to "pennies per use."

To carry the analogy over to cameras, if I have more cameras than sense (and it seems that I do), I will never get good value out of the next camera I buy, because I haven't used up the value of the ones I already have. Actually, getting a Z7 for half price is _still_ not a good deal, because half price is still a lot of money (to me, any way), and it is going to have to compete with the Pentax K-1, the Leica M9, even the good ol' Olympus whatevertheycallit just due to the amount of shooting I do (not as much as I should).

So in order to get ANY value -- or to set up the logical equation for value -- I am going to have to use some other metric than the one that you laid out in your thought piece. It is going to have to be "pride of ownership," or "pixel peeping satisfaction," or "bragging rights" or even just the satisfaction that comes from being able to take a kind of photograph that I could not before. By those standards, every camera that is in the current rotation is a GREAT value (to me, at least), regardless of what I paid for it. Or call it "Ease of Realizing Your Vision."

BTW, my son and I just bought a 120 lb. anvil for his knife-making. It is a hundred year-old thing, but still has a good ring to it and has a flat working surface. $525 after a bit of friendly haggling. A new steel anvil in that weight class costs about twice that (plus shipping!) so I think that hunk of steel has great value. Assuming he uses it for more than a year of course.

Oh, and I forgot to add: I was just looking at Z6s and Z7s on ebay yesterday. Nice timing.

Some things just randomly cost more than others too. Violins always cost more than guitars. A decent Chinese made student violin might be $2000 but you can get an excellent Chinese guitar for $800.

I play acoustic guitar and balk at handmade instruments more than $5000 but $5000 barely gets you much in the way of a fancy hand made violin. That quickly gets you into the >$10k range. And more, real quick.

At the same time the time to make a guitar and a violin are roughly comparable and the materials are similar. The true loser is making upright basses which don't sell for much more than violins and take much more labor and more expensive materials.

But violinists usually buy a nice instrument and for the most part don't switch between them for their careers much (I would *guess* that most professional violinists have less than 7 instruments throughout their careers) but with some notable exceptions guitar players tend to switch and experiment more.

In the world of acquisition and consumption, on one side of the divide are the "Wants" and on the other, the "Needs".

When you need something, like food on the table or an oil change for the car, cost is of little concern.

When it's a want, people should think and ponder seriously before spending the money. You can calculate the cost per use. Then you discover how mad collecting can be. Makes more sense to be a user-collector for a camera.

But people mixed up the "wants" and the "needs". And also, what is a want to you might be a need for another. The decision can be bizarre at times.

Of course clever marketing creates a need and more fall into the trap!

Reminds me of the &#@€*&;+€#-index.
When you buy something that you truly desire, but cant afford, you &#@€*&;+€# once, maybe twice over the price.
When you buy something at an easy price, but is meh in terms of desire, you &#@€*&;+€# everytime you use that &#@€*&;+€# thing.

Somewhat tangential, but discussions like this always remind me of "Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness", which you'll find in Terry Pratchett's "Men At Arms". It goes...

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

[I wrote a book query once called "It Costs More to be Poor," and this was one of the principles. My grandfather used to say, "Always buy the very best. Then you don't have to buy it again." But he could afford the very best, whereas most of us can't. --Mike]

This reminds me about my Ipad. I bought it and then was not sure of it's uses, was ruing about the money gone down the drain, not unsubstantial by my modest standards. And then it became the most used gadget ever. I never felt how this happened.

[Same thing here! I didn't even use mine for the first six months I had it. Couldn't figure out what it might be for. Then it turned into my favorite Apple product (and purchase) ever. I often say it's the one I need least and use most.

All that changed when I finally bought a new, updated iPad with more storage. The touchscreen on the new one hangs up constantly--just fails for work for minutes at a time. I don't think I ever had a touchscreen problem even ONCE with the old one--not once. Now it happens constantly, and is a major headache. I don't know what to do except put up with it--it is out of warranty. It's making me like my iPad much less, though. --Mike]

For some reason, this brings to mind my high-school economics teacher, who, when we would complain about the price of something we purchased, would say: "Well, you bought it, didn't you? So apparently the price was what you were willing to pay, otherwise you wouldn't have bought it!" I've thought about that many times over the last 50 years when making, or not making purchases.

I understand why someone might worship a camera like the "L" mentioned, and might want to use it more than an alternative that also met their needs at a much cheaper price point, BUT, since the tyranny of digital, I've never seen so many cameras I've lusted for, when I got in my hands, I just h-a-t-e-d!

I refuse to buy anything in the digital realm today, sight unseen and based on reputation. Two out of three digital purchases were less than I would have hoped, and one is almost unusable!

The one digital camera I bought that was almost a "toss-away" to check out a format, I still use over anything. The first pro digital I bought, that was highly rated, and which I sold a lot of film equipment for practically nothing on eBay to afford, was "meh" usable. Too expensive, and too early in the digital history, I wish I had most of that film equipment back...

Had to laugh, tho, when it comes to belts, I leaned my lesson early! I am on only my second thin black, small buckle, dress style belt, I wear ever day, in 35 years. Both a Coach. Well worth the money.

A timely topic, Mike. It's a sad fact of modern (mainly capitalistic) society that monetary value has become a de facto measure of importance; whereas, in truth, it is not only one of the innumerable ways of measuring the importance of anything to humans but one of the least important. The consequences of the misconception may be presently be seen in the daily loss of life (and long term health impacts) from the Covid-19 pandemic in the many countries and societies around the World where economic theory has been allowed to dictate health policy rather than the other way around. Actuaries could, no doubt, accurately measure the monetary value of each life lost; yet who would seek to comfort grieving relatives by a calculation of that value? Moreover, even that value seems to be disregarded in establishing governmental responses to the pandemic world-wide; perhaps because it is an externality to the economic modelling relied upon; or, more likely, because it is just an inconvenient truth.

This is an interesting topic and one you have visited before, but no matter, it is like I say - interesting. Long ago after I first bought a house with a garden, I found that the garden hose would only last a year or so before it leaked and needed replacing. On one of those visits to the hardware store, I saw a set of 'contractor grade' hoses, but at double or more the cost of the 'regular' hoses. So I splurged for a contractor hose, and all the way home wondered how I would tell my wife about the ridiculous amount I had spent on a hose. I was out watering the grass yesterday when I realized that this was that same hose that I bought more than 30 years ago! When we move back to an apartment in a year or so (now in our 70's), I expect I will sell the hose in a garage sale and recoup some of my cost!

Ever since I first worked out that the more expensive item is often much cheaper, I have felt no qualms about paying for the best quality. The trick, if you will, is to be sure that I am not giving way to fashion, or some marketing BS, and that it really fits my needs and life-style. Sometimes I make mistakes and then I just head to the Thrift store, make a donation, and think about what went wrong. The end result of this strategy over the years is that I am very grateful and fortunate to have numerous fine things in my life that give me pleasure (even down to the garden hose!)

Your grandfather was right, but if you don't have the money to get best quality on everything you purchase, then think of it like the strategy for getting a set of lenses: put the most money into the most used lens, and lesser amounts into the least or seldom used lenses.

Bought a pair of Dynaudio Contours in the 90s for an enormous sum of money to a single 20-something guy. Even paid extra for upgraded veneers (that birds eye maple they offer was irresistible). Have used them daily for almost 24 years now, so I too feel like I got my money's worth.

With respect to photography, I bought a Z 6 when it first came out and have been loving it since I've had it and I don't regret spending the money on that either. After the firmware updates which improved the eye/face detect AF has been very satisfying to use.

Have tried getting more "pocketable" cameras to complement the Nikon, first a GX85 and then a Canon M6, and in both cases they bugged me for one reason or another (handling, controls/buttons, AF) and I ended up selling them.

re: iPad: I would take it to Apple. I have had very good luck with repairs through them; iPads are not really serviceable so any "repair" is in reality a replacement unit.

Interesting post and comments for sure. There are errors to be had in either direction of thinking. Thom Hogan's site has an amusing article (Tripod 101, I think) about how you can spend $1000 or $1700, but end up with the same solution. It's a case of not spending enough to get the right thing in the first place, so you keep re-purchasing parts of the system (legs, head, etc.) such that your total cost is so much higher than it could have been.

It does not help that there is an entire field of human endeavor (marketing and advertising) whose sole purpose is to confuse us about need vs want and to obscure value. Being a modern consumer may be "easy" but it isn't cheap!

People are so often confused about the true cost of ownership of anything. For example, only occasionally, do you see data on depreciation or insurance costs for vehicles in popular media. No, the focus is on fuel economy, if there is any discussion of cost of ownership. But in reality, for any vehicle you buy new, the depreciation and insurance will utterly dominate your cost of ownership for the typical ownership period that unless you drive a lot (think Taxi, Uber, Rental Car, etc.) the relative fuel efficiency of one choice vs another is irrelevant. (Yes, we can find exceptions, but most buyers don't cross shop a Nissan Leaf *and* a Dodge Viper).

Another psychological oddity is how we can regard a certain sum of money as "a lot to spend" when it's taken in isolation.

But we can easily be seduced into airily waving that same expenditure through, when it forms a side-addition onto some much larger outlay.

It has now become negligible (in comparison).

Longevity of digital cameras makes this argument for extended use kinda questionable, but manual focus lenses do seem to last forever, autofocus lenses maybe not, and OIS autofocus lenses definitely not. So now I feel much better about my two rather expensive Leica 50's, which I have already had for ten years each and expect to use for many more. I expect they will be worth more than I paid for them at all future times.

The backstory of the 78 years of Rolls ownership by a gold leaf-maker whose family covered the Mass State capitol twice over is wonderful. And it sounds like there is a museum in Springfield MA well worth a visit sometime.

It's all about the money. Some people value money, some value things. I know folks who value "the deal" more than the object for which the deal was made. I learned this in a frustrating way when I sold a few cameras on Craig's list locally. I try to price things fairly and there are some who realize that and just pay the price. However, there seem to be a part of the population who are not happy unless they perceive that they got a "deal," defined as less than the asking price. They are willing to walk away over a $10 difference on a $300 camera! Clearly they wanted the deal more than the camera or there may be a more convoluted economic or psychological explanation. I like to buy the best, or close to the best, assuming I can afford it, rather than a significant compromise which will cost more in the long run. In my high end stereo days, I'd go to see Simon at Audio Consultants in Evanston, and listen to speakers I could not afford. I'd then try to get as close to that sound in ones I could. It worked pretty well. This is also true with tripods. The outrageously priced, and they are, Gitzo's and RRS's really are worth the difference, assuming one can pay for them up front.

I don’t need the expensive sports car I bought (She: why do you need it? He: need is such a funny word). But 14 years later, I still get a thrill every time I pull it out of the driveway. Not because it’s expensive, but because of what it is. And amortized over 14 years (so far), it’s reasonably priced.

Mine depreciates, so there is a cost. An acquaintance of mine explained why he drove Ferraris: if you bought them used and wisely, and treated them well, there was no depreciation. Sort of like those L cameras.

I never consider the "sell" value when I buy something. I have, indeed, bought things that were essentially "flops". I regretted those but learned a little (a mental gain is invaluable). I learned the hard way that the sweetness of low price was far overshadowed buy the bitterness of low quality. I've learned that my needs are met by high quality, long-lasting items and the many dead soldiers I have lying around probably need to be sold or given away but I'm too lazy to do so.

Another problem with the issue of value is when that high value item needs a repair and the cost of the repair will completely reset its position on that cost-value line. I find that a very hard decision - repair the old thing you like or probably spend less on a completely new replacement.

Money is not the only problem: never forget the old advice about the elderly not buying many LPs. It's where I live.

I bought a D200 when they came out, and today, all those years later it works just fine. When the D700 came along I bought one too, just to get back to FF, have good low-light performance that the D200 lacks, and have my lenses behave as they were designed to behave. In reality, the D200 still gets far more use.

A while ago I put on my 8/500 reflex Nikkor and made a few shots. On getting them into the computer, I was horrified: dust bunnies.

Now, as I usually shoot no smaller than f4 or f5.6 because I enjoy relatively shallow DOF, I had never had cause to clean the D200 sensor. So, I used an old rubber blower thing I've had for decades, and on testing, all the rubbish had vanished, other than for what appear to be two small smears, with which I can live, especially as I said, I work at fairly wide apertures and never notice anything amiss.

Delighted with the ease of the cleansing op, I decided to give the seldom-used D700 a little of the same TLC, whether or not it was its birthday.

On putting in a feshly charged battery, I raised the camera to my eye to see nothing: the damned mirror is stuck up (no idea why it was up in the first place) and no combination of clicking and attempted firing makes any difference.

To cut a long story short, if Nikon even has the spare parts anymore, I'm advised by the dealer that it's going to be an expensive affair. Hence the quandry: does one throw more money at the old camera, do nothing and just use the comfortable old D200 until one of us drops, or invest a lot of money in a new camera body now?

I'm drawn to a D780 or a Z6. I'm afraid of the D780 (which I'd prefer) because who's to say its mirror won't fail too? That fear seems irrational, because having owned Nikons from the F through to the F4s, I never had any such problems nor did I hear of anyone else suffering from locked mirrors. However, a brief consultation with Dr Google reveals that almost every digital Nikon model has had locked mirrors. (As I am not interested in other brands, I can't speak about them.) Consequently, I'm stuck with what's probably a cosmetically immaculate £1800 paperweight.

And it's the same with printers: I bought an HP B9180 that made excellent b/white prints though the colour ones were comparatively not as good, and what happened? What happened was that HP decided to abandon the model, and now it, too, sits lost, a monument to modern busines ethics. It will not be replaced.

So where has the digital age brought value for money to the non-pro photographer? If you want to justify it by saying it saves money on film, true enough, but can anyone also say, hand-on-heart, that making more pictures than with film has resulted in better ones?

Perhaps my current quandry stems from age and that kind of value for money, but also from a suspìcion that nothing is going to last very long, whatever I decide to spend on it.

I bought a pair of Tannoy Dual Concentric speakers in 1970, and used them off and on for... blimey... nearly 50 years. I was VERY surprised when I had to sell ("too large", I was told), to discover that old Tannoys are in demand; when I found the right man he offered me well over £500 for the pair, AND drove from London to the Midlands to collect them! I'm sure he was going to make quite a bit more selling them on, but I was pretty happy, as I suspect they also were essentially free to me (as well as wonderful to listen to, all those years)!

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