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Tuesday, 31 May 2022

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I think it would be good to credit Vimes' author, the late Sir Terry Pratchett, who wrote some quite biting social satire disguised as humorous fantasy.
He was also remarkable as a 'national treasure' who went public about his early-onset Alzheimers, and then continued to work and perform.
One of the greats, as far as I'm concerned.

[Done! Thank you. --Mike]

While I can't say that I am wise with my money as a general rule, I can say that I have always followed the "boots principle" when it comes to boots (and shoes).

I actually wrote a comment complaining about the emphasis on "apex" cameras, but then never sent it because I wasn't sure if that was the core of your real point. And I figured other people would cover for me. 🙂

Overall I think it's true that the current and future structure of the camera hardware market is not all that interesting for people interested in cameras. Cameras that are good enough to take great pictures have, for most people, even "enthusiasts", become a fairly generic commodity. So the competition is in other aspects of the hardware or other markets besides the traditional "mass market enthusiast".

You kind of see this in other areas of life too... computers, bicycles, audio, TV... and so on.

This could be a bug, since the traditional way to cover the photo hobby has always been centered on the hardware, or it could be a feature, since maybe we can finally move on from that being the center of the coverage. Hard to say.

If you run a business and want to buy a piece of equipment it is relatively easy to put numbers on the cost of the equipment, the cost of financing the purchase and the revenue and gross margin increase that will (you hope) result.

A hobbyist has no revenue or gross margin to put into the equation so he or she is left deciding based on how much enjoyment the new hardware will deliver ... for which there is no financial calculation.

If one is available it is often best to simply consult your spouse.

Back in 2007, Nikon introduced the D3, a full frame, professional camera with a 12 megapixel sensor. It really ticked all the boxes for me, but it was way out of my price range. Then, a year later, Nikon announced the D700, also a full frame camera with a 12 megapixel sensor—the same sensor used in the D3! So I reasoned that if I fitted the camera with a premium lens, I could produce some very high quality photos. Of course, I wouldn’t have the burst rate, the armored body, the vertical grip, and several other features that pros may use, but I had no need for them. I still have—and use—that camera along with two other D700s that I purchased used since then. Nikon was paying attention to the serious hobbyists back then, maybe not so much now.

I don’t really get your problem with 6000$ being too much.
Top cameras have always been that expensive. And even more expensive.
A Canon 1Ds used to cost more, in money of about 20 years ago. In current value it would probably be easily twice as much as 6000.
(Which for me as a hobbyist is still way out of my league)

"I won't ask Thom how many times in his career he's been satisfied to buy a 5-year-old camera for his professional and personal work"

I can't speak for him, and he appears to be a demanding photographer, but whether a given good makes more sense used depends heavily on the rate of change and improvement. In digital cameras, from their commercial availability in the late '90s until perhaps the 2012 period, every year or two brought big, tangible, noticeable improvements in almost every domain. Around 2012, improvements (in still image quality especially) slowed; video image quality improvements are arguably slowing today.

Looking at APS-C cameras, for stills only, there haven't been big improvements in pure image quality between something like a Sony a6500 and most of the non-FF cameras today.

Car analogies are used too often, but, prior to the advent of electric vehicles, the least expensive and most effective car choice was usually a three to five year old used car. Electrification is the big change happening now, which can alter cost calculations considerably.

Camera companies haven't managed to integrate cameras effectively with smartphones, either, and the lack of fast sharing workflow has to be holding new camera adoption back. When we see companies adapting an Android-style operating system, and opening up a camera's APIs, we'll know they're serious.

Income inequality is obscene; no argument there. And the top of the market seems to have risen to the opportunity; no argument there, either. But today's equivalent to 1984's M4-P? That segment has expanded, too. And the used market may be more robust and relevant than it has been in a long time (maybe ever?).

I know that was all covered, but its relevant to the other topic: How does an enthusiast site go on in this gilded age? Well, how many of us really come here for the gear, let alone the latest and greatest gear? For bling and gear porn there are and have always been better sites. TOP on the other hand is for perspective, wisdom, for enriching our activity rather than "the market". I hope TOP keeps speaking to (and as) the thoughtful hobbyist, enthusiast or semi-pro with a non-obscene budget. Obviously, whatever the current economic and market environment happens to be, we're all in it. As someone said on the previous thread, hobbyists always find a way. I suspect many of us come here for ideas about how to do just that. Of course authenticity and relevance don't necessarily lead to profit or sustainability, but I suspect they're a better bet than trying to be something one isn't.

Question: can one use only cell phone cameras and still be an "enthusiast"?

John Camp's comment at the end of your post got me thinking about one of my less costly pastimes.

I love hiking in our Appennine mountains and places like them. It was and should be, a cheap pastime, and it mostly is. When I started some good mountain boots, a good rucksack and some old clothes one step away from the dustbin (trash), were all you needed and the boots and rucksack were not costly.

But here the has been a concerted effort to convince people that they need expensive high tech clothing. The paper map and compass that I take with me are being replaced with GPS gizmos, and so it goes on.

Back to the €7000 camera. Back in the day, I did professionale theatrical photography, whilst all my competitors mostly used flashy F3 and F4 bodies, I was quite happy with a couple of Nikon 801 bodies, a real indestructible workhorse of a camera. Nobody could tell the difference between my prints and theirs. It was the grey stuff behind the camera which made the difference and the extra dosh spent on the best lenses.


Now I do photography as a pastime, I have carried this lesson with me and I am quite happy to go along with "Prosumer" or middle grade gear. I have mostly bought second hand to "punch above my budget". But thanks to a good year with my Engineering studio I splashed out this year and I now use a new D850 and a Z7. I cannot think how a Z9 or D6 would improve my photography in any way. This grade of gear is generally well made and does all I want it to do.

I have the bad habit of following various photo forums ( and getting serially banned from DPR for questioning the consumerism mostly) and I guess they have much the same ethos as the musty camera club of the post war years. Here many of the most vociferous regular members, particularly on DPR seem to be in eternal competition to "snag" the latest and greatest gear, no matter how much it costs or rather the more it costs, the more desperate the search is. Its all about bragging, period.

With the supply problems we have right now, there are lots of these people seemingly desperate to get a Z9 or that exotic Olympus €7000 "birding" lens. Where can I get..... threads are popular right now.

I wonder just how much debt some of these guys (always guys) have.

Interesting articles. I have a friend who is heavily into used gear. He just wrote me about his used Leica M3, which he got in the 1990s, to which he affixed a used, scuffed Zorki lens. He likes it.

My question is this: Where does used (stuff) come from? How does it become used, and available on the used market? Sometimes I get the impression that some used (stuff) enthusiasts must believe there are factories that churn this (stuff) out, already used and with discounted prices. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there are such factories.

Maybe before the used (stuff) enthusiasts start deriding and poo-pooing new gear and those who buy it, they ought to express some acknowledgement of the actual creators of that used (stuff).

Just sayin’.

* BTW, my current gear is old new (stuff) - I bought it new, and haven’t upgraded it in nearly a decade. Furthermore, while I do enjoy reading about (stuff) I have no intention of buying, I don’t see myself getting new gear ever again. Or really any used gear either. I like what I have and what it does and the way it does it. Definitely, good enough!

I very briefly look at some of these $6000 and $7000 cameras. I also briefly admire the new Leica film cameras. But then I ask myself, "what would these let me do photographically that I can't do with the equipment I already have?" The obvious answer is little or nothing. If I wanted to get started in some new endeavor, like bird photography, then I would need significantly different equipment. But for now, I am not changing my emphasis, so why buy anything new, let alone a $6000 camera?

Neither art nor craft has much to do with "gear." 'Nuff said.

RE boots theory:
It used to be, before Mercedes-Benz USA got wise to it, that the most economical car you could buy was whatever they used for taxis in the third world, which was always some sort of Mercedes-Benz. Then somebody figured out that selling practical cars that lasted forever with routine maintenance was bad for the brand when they could be selling very expensive cars that would become uneconomical to repair junk when the warranty or lease expired.

Some years back a well documented article showed how it was more economical to own a Leica M camera over time than much cheaper stuff. Based on expected exposures the Leica would still be going while the cheaper bodies had been replaces 8-10 times.
Sounded nice but who can afford the big buy in dollars?

I see one issue that, for me, has felt different to me in regard to replacing film camera models vs digital camera models. When I had a 35mm film camera (Nikon F3), it was all I ever needed for many years. It produced 35mm negatives capable of producing the same size print as any other 35mm film camera produced before or after the Nikon F3.
With digital, things have been somewhat different. I've stuck with Fuji cameras since the X100 came out many years ago. Since then, I've 'bought up' to model after model, to now where I have the X-T4. The X100 had a 12Mp sensor; the X-T4 has a 26Mp sensor. This new sensor produces files that allow me to make much larger prints. This growth in sensor size, I believe, has driven much of the 'buying up' to newer and newer models, and is a feature that wasn't a driver of film camera consumption.

Just considering the digital era, I purchased my first DSLR, a very low serial # Nikon D1, in 2000 I believe, at SBI Supply on A Street in Boston. The price, with tax, for that 2.7mp camera was around $5,500. Each of the two 64mb cards that I purchased with it was $349. The 64mb card was good for approximately 34 jpg fine files - about the same as a roll of 35mm film - but infinitely reusable! Shooting RAW was really not feasible.

I currently shoot with a Sony A9II and A6600 - $4498 and $1398 respectively on B&H today. Throw in a couple 128GB cards for another $100. With inflation factored in, the $5500 D1 purchase in 2000 would be $9234 today. As a person who uses the cameras as a tool to make money, things have certainly gotten less expensive!

Like all computer technology, it seems that each time I buy a new flagship camera, the price is similar - around $5000. But everything is twice as good as the last one and the real dollar cost is less.

BTW, I once spent $1299 for a 1GB "solid state" CFII card after a 512mb IBM Microdrive failed after being dropped from 6 inches! One need to handle those like you were walking around with plutonium.

I'd like to see more from that essay...

"[H]ow can an enthusiast site survive if it doesn't consider the best gear in the field at least occasionally?"

I guess I don't understand why it has to, or why it can't survive if it doesn't? Especially since, as you acknowledge in the same paragraph, "the portion of readers with a real interest in [a $6,000 camera body] is just so small."

While it may not be in your power to dictate what kinds of cameras are produced, it is in your power to decide what you will write about. So why not write, as you often do, about how to make good pictures (which is not predicated on owning expensive gear), or how to see (which is not predicated on owning any gear at all).

And if you do occasionally choose to write about high-end gear, I think it's possible to preempt the "what has this got to do with me" reaction – all you have to do is avoid giving the impression that the high-end gear is essential for making acceptable photos.

The "Boots Theory" absolutely works - I own two pairs of shoes, bought in 2003 and 2009 respectively. My black pair, which bit the dust a couple of years ago, had been bought in 1993. Despite having been a banker and stockbroker by trade, I have never taken a personal loan for any asset purchase (including securities). My motto is "Get Rich Slowly" by sufficient savings and prudent asset allocation. That said, I got an easy route to switch from DSLRs to Mirrorless. During the pandemic, prices for used equipment went through the roof here in India, as new supplies were not coming in. I sold 90% of my Nikon F kit at inflated prices and made the switch to mirrorless. Yes, that does include a Z9! No doubt my background in the equity markets made me act promptly in selling off the DSLR kit when the prices were good. The lesson that markets teach you, time and again, is that there is seldom anything to be gained by procrastinating....

"But that's an interesting aspect of this: how can an enthusiast site survive if it doesn't consider the best gear in the field at least occasionally?"

Consider Top Gear (the TV show). It mainly deals with supercars. It's been hugely successful, but I'd guarantee* 99% of the viewers cannot consider a Bugatti Veyron (whatever that is).

*well, sort of.

Here's my thesis: if you are a gear head, there is a fixed amount beyond one's grasp that is always, _always_ extant, like an appetite that can't be satisfied. It is basically proof for the Buddhist case of the folly of desire. I'll offer my own mildly embarrassing case in point.

In 1988, I put a list together of all the camera gear I wanted. At the time I was using the Pentax K1000 I bought myself in college. On that list was a Leica R4s and 35mm lens, a Hasselblad 501 C/M kit, a Zone VI field camera and so on. I also wanted a 4x5 enlarger and some Schneider enlarging lenses. There were other items on the list as well. I guess I was as susceptible to marketing as the next tyro. The cost of all that was an eye-popping $10,000, which as a recently graduated college student was out of my reach. In fact, that was sort of the starting gross salary of a college graduate at the time. So that was my wish list.

Of course, over the years, all those itches got scratched. In fact, I still have most of that 1984 wish- list gear, accumulated over the years. I sold the Zone VI a couple of years ago, though, as an aside.

Using an on-line inflation calculator, I see that my 1988 $10K would now be roughly $24K in today's dollars, which ironically matches in rough terms the amount of gear currently beyond my grasp (Nikon Z9, Leica M10, Fuji medium format etc.).

BTW: there was plenty of gear I bought on my way to buying the stuff on that 1984 list (that is, there were plenty of detours). For instance, for many years, the least expensive way to get into a new medium format camera was the Pentax 67 system. So I bought one of those while I waited to be able to afford a Hassie. And at one point I bought a Speed Graphic, because the Zone IV was always beyond my grasp until I got a "real job" out of graduate school. Ditto Nikons while "waiting" for the Leicas. I wonder whether there would be enough residual value left in that stuff to fund the current "list." Probably not.

"For fully half of the photography done in the world, a Kodak or Ansco box camera would be adequate."
Ansel Adams

Boots Theory reminds me of your letter to George, too:

https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/05/letter-to-george.html

Boots Theory? So true, but instead upgrade to Furniture theory. Do we imagine that the rich have to go out every two or three years to replace their IKEA furniture? Or do we conjecture that the family probably hasn't bought a new table in centuries, not since great great great great (you get the idea) grandfather bought the Chippendale table that's still in the dining room.

My Dad always said the Rich live cheap.

". . . the best gear in the field . . ."

Please define best.

". . . Z7II . . . Leica SL2 . . . Sony A1 . . . Canon R3 . . . Nikon Z9 . . . Panasonic S1R . . . Fujifilm GFX 100S . . ."

To me, these cameras would be like buying a Purdy shotgun for deer hunting, a luxury sedan for hauling construction gear and materials, reading glasses for driving, a Blackwing pencil for signing legal documents, and so on. None are suitable for purpose.

I could write an essay on why these cameras are not The Best for the photography I do . . .

Although it's less of an issue these days, for the first decade and a bit of the digital era I needed a much higher-level body than I did in film.

I've never actually owned one of the top-tier bodies when it was current (I've owned a Leica M3, but got it when it was around 20 years old). But I've come closer in digital -- the Fuji S2, and the Nikon D700 (which had everything the D3 had that I cared about, and 2 things the D3 didn't have and I cared about; it was a better body than the D3 for my work).

And that's because, in film work, the film was a key element. Before auto-focus, the body was a light-tight box with a shutter. The lens was crucial, the film was important, the body just had to be competent (film flatness did matter, but most mainstream cameras were good enough at that). (Sometimes, for some people, it needed some key special feature; I never needed a 250-exposure roll back, but if you really needed one that reduced your body choices). A Nikkormat would take exactly the same pictures as a Nikon F (if you didn't need big backs, or a couple of other exotics which I literally never saw live). (The Nikkormat had mirror lockup I believe; that was unusual below the top-ranked camera in a line.)

The D700 would take a lot different pictures from the D200 or D300, though. Pushed me to spend money I couldn't really afford, but that body served me excellently for most of a decade, it proved to be a very good choice.

And also, if you're part gear-head (and I certainly am; there may be people who are utterly pure photographers, but the ones I've met have some smidgeon, on up to quite a lot, of gear-head also), that can help provide excuses, on top of real reasons, for body upgrades.

On the other hand, I had some interest in medium-format film, even owned 3 medium-format cameras (though never a medium-format SLR system). It was relevant to what I did, 35mm compromised image quality visibly in some things I cared about, though not my core work. I have no interest in beyond-full-frame digital, I simply don't do things that require that resolution (no 4x6 foot prints for me! Displayed in environments where people walk right up to them; I have a friend who does that). I've given up even full-frame for financial reasons, and don't find Micro Four Thirds to be limiting me technically. Though...some of the prints from my Words Over Windows project are right about out at the limit of how big they can be printed. I should maybe experimen with Topaz Labs upscaling software on them.

The Boots Theory got me thinking about the differences between cameras and lenses and how they depreciate in time. Pro lenses, if bought second hand, tend to keep a good resale value, and can work as stepping stones to newer gear over several years. This has happened to me, without planning it in advance. In contrast, digital cameras seem to depreciate more quickly than the differences in performance between succesive models justify. Having a fixed budget of say 700 USD for a camera body, would a new, an old new or a second hand MFT camera be a better investement? I think the answer depends on the features one values most. A second hand OM-D E-M1 MkII can be bought for about 700 USD, or 1/3 of the price of the OM-1 and the same price as a new OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. In spite of this, I have recently bought a new OM-1 that for bird photography is a huge improvement over my previous camera, an OM-D E-M1 MkII. However, from the perspective of The Boots Theory, will those 6000 USD or 7000 USD cameras have a useful life more than 3 times that of the OM-1 or more than 10 times that of the OM-D E-M10 IV? I doubt it. My guess is that The Boots Theory suits lenses better than digital cameras.

I will confess that I jumped to buy Canon's original Eos1Ds digital SLR when it came out waaaaay back in 2002, as it was (arguably) the first digital SLR that was legitimately usable and at least equal to film in image quality. It sold for $7,999 at the time, which probably equates to about $20,000 now, and I liquidated my large Pentax film SLR system to pay for it. So I guess you could say I was a *serious* hobbyist.
By comparison, current enthusiast mirrorless cameras are a lot more affordable, and much better image quality. What has changed mostly is the wide availability of smartphone cameras that are exceptionally good cameras, which make dedicated digital cameras feel more expensive.

Thanks for the mention - I never expected to trigger a full article.

Thinking more about the economic aspects of cameras, I guess many of us have also been caught up in the changes and growth of socio-economic classes and as the top end has moved up, the middle range has grown broader and we have perhaps benefited from a rise in our position. The mid- and upper ends of middle class now probably have significantly more spending power than they did 50-60 years ago.

A dozen or so years ago I was looking for a small, light camera to take with me on vacation. I feel comfortable using rangefinders and so I looked at a used Leica M6 at my local camera store. This price was a bit off-putting, but invoking my own personal “boots theory”, I rationalized that this would be my last 35mm camera purchase. What can you say about holding a masterpiece in your hand - small and dense with a shutter that sounded like heaven. But then we talked about loading the film and my alarm bells went off - “how can I do that in the field?” Reason returned to me and so that evening I ordered Bessa R2 and R4 bodies with 4 lenses (21 - 50) for approximately the same price as the Leica with a single lens. They are still with me and are still my main vacation cameras. Perhaps the “boots theory” is correct, but I am also still driving a Ford and not a Mercedes.

But isn't that why camera makers have so-called prosumer models? For the hobby enthusiast who likes cool gear and features, but either won't pay for, or sees the absurdity of, the $6,000 camera?

The 1ds mark lll that I bought in 2008 is still my only camera and has been since the day I brought it home like a proud dad who didn't know how to hold his big baby. 99.9% of the shots taken with it have never made it to a print, which is ridiculous when you consider the cost of the lump. And that 99.9% has nothing to do with being highly selective and everything to do with being majorly skint. Maybe it was the best of its day, but buying it wasn't the best decision I ever made.

I'm into hiking, and know the value of a good pair of boots but, just like being over-geared camera wise, you can be over booted. Walking down cinder paths in pair of heavy-all-season boots is a waste of energy and money, and is the walking equivariant of photographers who want to 'cover all the bases' but end up shooting their pets most of the time.

As someone who had holes in my shoes as a kid, and made do with trainers that featured two or four stripes, I can say that having to hold onto things for too long is pretty wearing.

I just looked at the intro price of a Nikon F4. $2500 in 1988. In today's dollars, that is about $6,109.66. (Just punch it into a search engine of your choice.)

A Z9 is less today. It is less even before you pay for a single roll of film. Imagine being told that the top of the line camera would cost less, and you could have unlimited film for $130, the price of a CF Express card.

Complain about Veblen goods all you want. Today, we have it good.

Next to the Boots theory I would like to point to Thom Hogan's advice on buying tripods: https://dslrbodies.com/accessories/other-accessories/tripod-101.html.

It's mostly the same story: skip those upgrades and go for quality that will perform as you need.

I think I can answer one question: Why there is interest in top cameras even for those who cannot afford or are not willing to spend the $$$.

The camera side is driven much more and faster by technology than the lens side.
This technology trickles down, and while, say, the Z9 is not for everyone, it show cases the technical solution for the global shutter problem. While sensor cost will remain higher than for traditional (non-RAM) sensors, the balance of where the technology can be applied will move down to prosumer cameras next.
As processing speed, in contrast to sensor tech, follows Moore's law (roughly: more powerful at some cost over time) these will be much more affordable, compared to a Z9.

To Ansel Adams' quote that 50% of photographers would do with a box camera. True, even more than 50%, just that "box camera" is called smartphone today.
But: I am in the other half :-)

It may look like going for an easy laugh but I am serious.

Hi.

All this talk of five year old used cameras and $6,000 cameras makes my stomach upset. Again.

Why again? Well, recently I bought a used five year old camera body. For around the equiv. of US$5000. Afterwards, my stomach became sore and I could not sleep all night, fretting over my idiocy.

That I’ve already shot enough frames to add up to almost exactly $2000 worth of film purchasing and processing on the all manual / mechanical camera body it replaced means nothing too - the fact I already had a perfectly good digital camera (or two) wrecks that weak rationalisation.

And, as at least a (significantly) partially non-mechanical thing, it almost certainly won’t outlive the all mechanical thing that I sold to partly fund it.

Curses…

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