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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 12-16-2018   #41
peterm1
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Originally Posted by shawn View Post
Add the A7RII to that list as well. 2015 it was $3200, can purchase it new today for $1600 and that will include $100 or so of accessories.(4 tb drive, or a Thinktank camera bag + memory card)

And it is still one of the best sensors out there. Add the Techart Pro adapter and use all your existing RF lenses on the Sony with Auto Focus.

Shawn
The good thing about digital cameras is that prices always come down. Which is why I am always happy to buy someone else's hand me downs. I can see little point in paying full sticker for the latest, hottest camera body when I know that if I hold out for a couple of years I will pick it up for a fraction of the original list price demanded when it was new. And I will pay even less if I buy second hand. Patience and this strategy allows me to own relatively top end cameras and lenses if that is my wish, at a price I am willing to pay.
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Old 12-16-2018   #42
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In that context the build quality of digital Leicas is not very good at all.
But they are so nice in hand they feel like they are high quality pieces, however misleading that may be.
That's the first comment of yours I completely agree with
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Old 12-16-2018   #43
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I have had a lot less problems with my Leicas than had with my Canons even with the sensor replacement. I had a complete shutter failure with a fairly new Canon when I was shooting for NATO in Chicago in 2012. I had a 1SsMKII show up to me from CPS DOA. I had Canon DSLRs for over a decade. I do miss CPS but I do not miss the Canons.
Canons? No. get a Nikon!

(i am sure someone will chime in w/a horror story of Nikons falling apart)
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Old 12-16-2018   #44
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Canons? No. get a Nikon!

(i am sure someone will chime in w/a horror story of nNikons falling apart)
Anything mechanical will fail at some point. My experience is I have had less issues with my Leicas than I have with Canons when talking digital.
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Old 12-16-2018   #45
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20 year build quality means nothing when the camera is digital. Technology renders it an expensive paperweight. There's zero point in chasing that dragon.
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Old 12-16-2018   #46
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20 year build quality means nothing when the camera is digital. Technology renders it an expensive paperweight. There's zero point in chasing that dragon.
Gee, I don't know, but my 14 year old Epson RD1 still works and takes a pretty nice image. If I hadn't flubbed the freebie sensor replacement I would still be shooting my 8 or 10 year old M9, preferring it to the newer M digitals.
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Old 12-16-2018   #47
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I'd say buy what you want or need, regardless of if you earn a living with it or do it only as a hobby. I don't always go for the highest price items, use 1.8 glass instead of 1.4 for my Nikons, bought a Z6 instead of a Z7, would rather pay to have the shutter upgraded on my M10 than buy an M10P, etc.

I have had no more issues with the build quality on any of my digital cameras compared to ones that use film, including the M10 which had to go in to have an orientation sensor replaced.

I don't chase tech either by the way, I usually have to upgrade or replace digital bodies because I put hundreds of thousands of frames on them and prefer to update instead of repair out of warranty.

It does not matter what I need to make a great image, it's not about using only the minimum requirement either. It's about buying the gear that suits my vision and then getting on with it. If it happens to be a $12,000 Leica M10 and 35mm 1.4, I can assure you I am making my best images with it because a lot of thought goes into making the decision to buy that tool.
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Old 12-16-2018   #48
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Gee, I don't know, but my 14 year old Epson RD1 still works and takes a pretty nice image. If I hadn't flubbed the freebie sensor replacement I would still be shooting my 8 or 10 year old M9, preferring it to the newer M digitals.
14 years. Check back at 20, 25, 35, etc.

I shoot my 2004 Pentax *ist DS too, but fact is my 1964 Canon FX is still capable of FF 35mm with zero degradation in quality. My Pentax won't fare as well at that age, I'd guess.
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Old 12-16-2018   #49
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14 years. Check back at 20, 25, 35, etc.
....
I used to say the same thing about the Nikon EM. The issue is more connectivity to new technology.

B2 (;->
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Old 12-16-2018   #50
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I freelance for one of the largest photography companies in the world.

The company sends out gear for us and we exclusively use the lowest-end Nikon DSLR from 2 generations ago, with kit lenses and set on small basic jpeg, with a flash and large battery pack.

Yesterday while taking candids with said gear I popped a photo of a family who were getting photos taken by one of the family members (younger one too) using a Leica M240. I had him get in the shot so the whole family was there. I balanced the background exposure with flash using a mix of Shutter priority and TTL flash modes with a diffuser, and the photos come out looking great - guarantee better than the Leica w/o flash in the middle of the afternoon.

The camera doesn't matter.
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Old 12-16-2018   #51
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That's the first comment of yours I completely agree with
Then I take it back.

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Old 12-16-2018   #52
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Originally Posted by bmattock View Post
14 years. Check back at 20, 25, 35, etc.

I shoot my 2004 Pentax *ist DS too, but fact is my 1964 Canon FX is still capable of FF 35mm with zero degradation in quality. My Pentax won't fare as well at that age, I'd guess.
I might be around to check in with my Olympus E-1 when it's 20, in 2023, and maybe when it's 30, in 2033, but it'll be getting dicey after that point because I'll be 80 in 2034. I really don't care much if my cameras outlive me.

The Polaroid SX-70 I made some photos with yesterday is 45 and still going strong, I'm happy that someone cared enough to keep making film for it. It's now outlived my uncle, who was the original owner. I'm sure he no longer cares...
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Old 12-16-2018   #53
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I used to say the same thing about the Nikon EM. The issue is more connectivity to new technology.

B2 (;->
No it's literally the tech itself. A frame of film remains a frame of film. Doesn't change in a 50 year old camera vs a 5 year old camera. My 1/3 mp Olympus from 1998 is completely outclassed and essentially worthless. There will never come a day when someone clamors for its qualities. This is the fundamental flaw in the logic of instilling 50 year build quality in kit that will shortly be obsolete.
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Old 12-16-2018   #54
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Whether a high end, top of the range, cutting edge, expensive camera or a bottom of the range, no frills, basic camera, both equally become just another dud when parts are no longer available… increasingly so with today’s electronics. And this now very much applies to lenses with electronic motors and image stabilisation gismos.

There are plenty of examples: from high end to basic manufacturers too numerous to mention but one camera I own comes to mind: the Rollei 6008 Integral II. A fantastic, class leading, quality two-and-a quarter inch square camera built without compromise or cost. But when, eventually, its electronics fail, it will be just another big, fat paperweight.
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Old 12-16-2018   #55
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As with anything else, price is amortized over the lifespan of the camera, and some aspects are hard to quantify, like enjoyment. In another year, my M9 will have cost me $1000 AUD per year to own and shoot, as I've had it since early 2010. My Sigma DP1 has cost me $100 per year to own as it is now ten years old. And in each instance, I feel that these cameras are well worth the money from the enjoyment of usage.

Cost can also be amortized over usage and financial return. The Panasonic GH4 has been my workhorse video camera for three years straight, and brought in many, many times the amount it cost. The lenses can be used on any m43 body, too.

Some cameras have features which only appear in the more expensive models, so you're paying for that access. As we all know, Leica is the only current digital rangefinder manufacturer, so if that's what you want, it's the only game in town and you must pay the price of admission. Digital medium format? Fast and wide glass? Pay up, or you won't get it.
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Old 12-17-2018   #56
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No it's literally the tech itself. A frame of film remains a frame of film. Doesn't change in a 50 year old camera vs a 5 year old camera. My 1/3 mp Olympus from 1998 is completely outclassed and essentially worthless. There will never come a day when someone clamors for its qualities. This is the fundamental flaw in the logic of instilling 50 year build quality in kit that will shortly be obsolete.
You are talking about a digital camera from when the technology was in its infancy and comparing it to current technology. Digital is getting to the point where the rate of sensor improvement is slowing down compared to the early days of digital.

Same thing happened with chemical photography too comparing its infancy to current film technology. Initial efforts were outclassed by further refinements. After the chemical process matured (and standardized) we got to the point where cameras had a very long useful life. That doesn't mean there weren't improvements/change to other aspects of cameras over time. My Retina 117 (first standardized 35mm camera) is a very different camera than my F5.

Of course sensors will continue to improve but it is in the everything else category (live view, mirrorless, etc) where bigger changes are occurring, IMO.

Shawn
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Old 12-17-2018   #57
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I am quite pleased to buy out of date cameras given how much as others have noted they devalue and I am not so sure the gains are that much now with new models. I shoot in raw aperture priority and rarely print above 12x16" so last gen m43 with 16mp is plenty for day to day. If something requires a massive amount of resolution then either buy a used MF , then sell or rent depending on what will cost the least. Better to spend the money on lenses that you use a lot and pick up a used body when they have devalued into your price point.
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Old 12-17-2018   #58
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As with anything else, price is amortized over the lifespan of the camera, and some aspects are hard to quantify, like enjoyment. In another year, my M9 will have cost me $1000 AUD per year to own and shoot, as I've had it since early 2010. My Sigma DP1 has cost me $100 per year to own as it is now ten years old. And in each instance, I feel that these cameras are well worth the money from the enjoyment of usage.

Cost can also be amortized over usage and financial return. The Panasonic GH4 has been my workhorse video camera for three years straight, and brought in many, many times the amount it cost. The lenses can be used on any m43 body, too.

Some cameras have features which only appear in the more expensive models, so you're paying for that access. As we all know, Leica is the only current digital rangefinder manufacturer, so if that's what you want, it's the only game in town and you must pay the price of admission. Digital medium format? Fast and wide glass? Pay up, or you won't get it.
All indisputably true, but you're looking at it logically, not emotionally. Leicas, above all, are cameras where some buy them because they're actually quite good cameras for a particular kind of photography; some buy them because they're expensive and help validate the buyer's (often illusory) sense of self-worth; and some hate because they're reverse snobs or have never tried one or both. And of course there are those who have tried them; don't get on with them; and (for whatever reason) think that everyone else should react in exactly the same way as they did.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-17-2018   #59
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You are talking about a digital camera from when the technology was in its infancy and comparing it to current technology. Digital is getting to the point where the rate of sensor improvement is slowing down compared to the early days of digital.

Same thing happened with chemical photography too comparing its infancy to current film technology. Initial efforts were outclassed by further refinements. After the chemical process matured (and standardized) we got to the point where cameras had a very long useful life. That doesn't mean there weren't improvements/change to other aspects of cameras over time. My Retina 117 (first standardized 35mm camera) is a very different camera than my F5.

Of course sensors will continue to improve but it is in the everything else category (live view, mirrorless, etc) where bigger changes are occurring, IMO.

Shawn
Time will prove me right. In the meantime, carry on your incorrect assumptions.
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Old 12-17-2018   #60
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I am quite pleased to buy out of date cameras given how much as others have noted they devalue and I am not so sure the gains are that much now with new models. I shoot in raw aperture priority and rarely print above 12x16" so last gen m43 with 16mp is plenty for day to day....Better to spend the money on lenses that you use a lot and pick up a used body when they have devalued into your price point.
A photographer after my own heart! Until I bought a used Fuji X-Pro2, I didn't own any cameras in current production. Buying used or new but discontinued cameras makes it possible to own expensive cameras without too much expense.

Every camera eventually becomes landfill or a museum piece. When there are no more parts available for Barnacks and M's and no more technicians around to repair them, they're toast.
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Old 12-17-2018   #61
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As with anything else, price is amortized over the lifespan of the camera, and some aspects are hard to quantify, like enjoyment. In another year, my M9 will have cost me $1000 AUD per year to own and shoot, as I've had it since early 2010. My Sigma DP1 has cost me $100 per year to own as it is now ten years old. And in each instance, I feel that these cameras are well worth the money from the enjoyment of usage.
Amortization is an accounting technique for businesses, and, for non-business purchases, a rationalization.
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Old 12-17-2018   #62
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Time will prove me right. In the meantime, carry on your incorrect assumptions.
Maybe, but an awful lot of people that bought film cameras 20+ years ago feel they are obsolete too due to advances in technology.

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Old 12-17-2018   #63
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...some hate because they're reverse snobs or have never tried one or both.
I don't hate Leicas, nor do I love them. Someday, I'd love to give one a go, most probably a film type such as an M5. They are outstanding machines from all accounts.

I think people should buy and enjoy whatever it is they want. I don't begrudge anyone their Maybach car or IWC watch or Leica S3 or whatever it is they desire. I don't lust after that kind of kit, but to each their own.

I think some of this gear-chasing is not really about photography. I hope I can be forgiven for harboring such a thought.

I note the tendency to play follow-the-leader, and I never quite got that.
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Old 12-17-2018   #64
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Amortization is an accounting technique for businesses, and, for non-business purchases, a rationalization.
Whereas refusing to admit that (say) 20 years of pleasure from something that cost (say) $2000 equates to $100 a year can't even be excused as rationalization.

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R.
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Old 12-17-2018   #65
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Amortization is an accounting technique for businesses, and, for non-business purchases, a rationalization.
Can be true, but not if buying one expensive camera in 2010, and using it for 8-15 years, means you're not buying a bunch of less expensive cameras in that same period. Some of us, for whatever reason, are always going to pine for what we believe to be "the best" and sometimes it's just best to go for it and save ourselves the frustration and extra expense in the long run.

To my mind, it can also be a rationalization to tell ourselves we will be happy with a less expensive camera--that is, if we know we are constitutionally incapable of being happy with anything but what we consider the best. It's an emotional decision as much as anything, and each one of us knows himself best, and can make that decision for himself.

That's not to say that expensive cameras ARE the best (no such thing), but that we all have different tastes, and it can be helpful to be honest with ourselves up front when making one of these choices.
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Old 12-17-2018   #66
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I don't hate Leicas, nor do I love them. Someday, I'd love to give one a go, most probably a film type such as an M5. They are outstanding machines from all accounts.

I think people should buy and enjoy whatever it is they want. I don't begrudge anyone their Maybach car or IWC watch or Leica S3 or whatever it is they desire. I don't lust after that kind of kit, but to each their own.

I think some of this gear-chasing is not really about photography. I hope I can be forgiven for harboring such a thought.

I note the tendency to play follow-the-leader, and I never quite got that.
Sure. No problem. What puzzles me are the hysterically-pro and the hysterically-anti; and of course those who'd rather buy the substantially same thing (low- or-mid range Canon, Nikon) every couple of years as an "upgrade" instead of buying what they actually want.

And I've always believed in the old saying that "quality doesn't cost -- it pays". The trouble is that the link between price and quality has all but disappeared perhaps except at the very top of the market (Alpa, Linhof, Lobb): a lot of people pay silly money for brands and labels, regardless of quality.

Then again, who in this context is "the leader"?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-17-2018   #67
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Then again, who in this context is "the leader"?
Tastemakers are seldom a person, but often a group with shifting membership, and different groups depending upon the types of gear being discussed, in my experience. It's the 'wisdom of crowds', which can of course be actually wise, but with the addendum that the 'pile on' effect often leads this wisdom astray.

I give you the Pentax K1000. A reliable, workmanlike, competent manual camera. It has, unfortunately, assumed a mythical status it does not even slightly deserve, with prices to match. The Canon AE. The Nikon F2. And even, dast I say it, the Leica M4.

The hints I use to attempt to discern such things, beyond price point, are the terms used to describe them. If the terms are precise and objectively descriptive, I listen. If the terms are subjective but relate to usability, I listen. If the terms are anything at all like the words used to describe wine, I begin to suspect we're not talking about cameras anymore.
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Old 12-17-2018   #68
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You have my respect, sir.

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I don't hate Leicas, nor do I love them. Someday, I'd love to give one a go, most probably a film type such as an M5. They are outstanding machines from all accounts.

I think people should buy and enjoy whatever it is they want. I don't begrudge anyone their Maybach car or IWC watch or Leica S3 or whatever it is they desire. I don't lust after that kind of kit, but to each their own.

I think some of this gear-chasing is not really about photography. I hope I can be forgiven for harboring such a thought.

I note the tendency to play follow-the-leader, and I never quite got that.
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Old 12-17-2018   #69
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Tastemakers are seldom a person, but often a group with shifting membership, and different groups depending upon the types of gear being discussed, in my experience. It's the 'wisdom of crowds', which can of course be actually wise, but with the addendum that the 'pile on' effect often leads this wisdom astray.

I give you the Pentax K1000. A reliable, workmanlike, competent manual camera. It has, unfortunately, assumed a mythical status it does not even slightly deserve, with prices to match. The Canon AE. The Nikon F2. And even, dast I say it, the Leica M4.

The hints I use to attempt to discern such things, beyond price point, are the terms used to describe them. If the terms are precise and objectively descriptive, I listen. If the terms are subjective but relate to usability, I listen. If the terms are anything at all like the words used to describe wine, I begin to suspect we're not talking about cameras anymore.
I can't help feeling that it's a self-stoking process. People rave about (say) the K1000, perhaps never having tried another reliable, workmanlike camera, perhaps even without having tried even a K1000. So people pay a lot for them, and then feel they have to justify having paid over the odds for a very ordinary camera; so they talk them up even more.

Likewise, the M4 is OK. So are its younger sisters, M4-2 and M4-P. Personally I'd rather have an M2 or an MP. But a lot more depends on condition and your experience of other Leicas (good, bad, indifferent, worship, hatred) than on precisely which model you buy.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 12-17-2018   #70
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No it's literally the tech itself. A frame of film remains a frame of film. Doesn't change in a 50 year old camera vs a 5 year old camera. My 1/3 mp Olympus from 1998 is completely outclassed and essentially worthless. There will never come a day when someone clamors for its qualities. This is the fundamental flaw in the logic of instilling 50 year build quality in kit that will shortly be obsolete.
I used to shoot w/ a Nikon D100 6mp. It had me discover digital color ... but I wouldn´t want those 6mp back.
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Old 12-17-2018   #71
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I had a computer chip inserted into my brain...it shoots 4K and 100mp...don't need cams anymore..
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Old 12-17-2018   #72
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What makes an expensive camera worth it? ...
It used to be that durability and repairability justified it, for me. I had a Leica M6 for 10 years that was as solid the day I sold it as the day I bought it. I would still be shooting with it, if I had not given up on film in 2013.

The M lenses, and other fine lenses, are still worth it to me, because they outlive digital camera bodies, which drop rapidly in price and also become rapidly obsolete. I think good lenses are still worth it for that reason and they also tend to maintain their resale value somewhat longer.

I'm interested in the forthcoming L-mount cameras, partly as a platform for the M lenses I still own. However, I will consider waiting and buying a used one, as some of the responses here suggest. Even the Leica SL may be considered behind the times, at age 4, by the time the other L-mount bodies come out.

TD
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Old 12-18-2018   #73
jsrockit
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For me, it has to be unique and it has to feel good in the hands. That is why a camera is expensive to me. Thankfully, the expensive cameras that fit any other definition of expensive aren't appealing to me and not all unique cameras that feel good in the hands are expensive.
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