Thinking out loud (about gear, money, and enjoying photography)

I’m a moody kind of person. One day I fancy this, the other day I fancy that. My mood can swap within minutes. This is especially bad when it comes to toys. And with toys I mean cameras. Let me digress.

I bought the Olympus E-P1 when it was relatively fresh on the market, in late 2009. I saw that it was a very capable small camera, and I saw the future in mirrorless systems (and Micro Four Thirds in particular). Also, MFT had a very neat lens to offer that made a perfect match with the E-P1: the Lumix 20mm f/1.7. This kit has served me pretty well since then. It had two major drawbacks, though: AF was awfully slow (due to both the lens and the camera), and the display was only 230k dots and there was no hi-res EVF available (the VF-2 was only introduced with the E-P2). But nonetheless, the combo is capable of taking some very good pictures that would rival contemporary consumer DSLRs.

A little later, I was bitten by the Leica bug. I had seen so many pictures from and read so many stories about the M8, that I wanted one for myself. It was a crazy idea back then, and seems even crazier now. I didn’t really have the money loose, so I decided I would pay it pack to myself (read: to my savings) over time. Which I did. And once I had the M8, I enjoyed it tremendously. It is a wonderful piece of machinery that looks gorgeous, feels absolutely fabulous in your hand, is pure joy to operate and outputs some of the finest images when combined with a good lens.

There is a drawback to the M8 as well, though: it’s expensive. And I don’t mean just expensive to buy. It’s also expensive to maintain. Mine hasn’t failed so far, but chances are that it will, at some point, need a new shutter and/or sensor. Or the rangefinder realigned. Or new circuitry. And this all gets very expensive very quickly.

Fast forward to today. Here I am, proud owner of a lovely Micro Four Thirds system consisting of the E-P1, the Panasonic G1, the 20mm f/1.7, the Noktor 12mm f/1.6 and a couple other stuff, and a Leica M8 with three great lenses. All good and well. I love all my cameras, because — being the moody type I am — each one fits some kind of mood I’m in. I don’t always like the M8, because it’s a primadonna. Sometimes I want to go compact, so I take the E-P1. Then, I want to use a fancy C-mount lens and need the EVF of the G1.

The M8 is the king of the hill in my setup, there’s no question. But the E-P1 and G1 and pretty capable themselves. And they have AF to offer, and much better high ISO than the M8. And if they ever break down, they’re cheap to replace. Which got me thinking. I’m also a father and have a family to feed. We’re getting along well, but there’s never really much left. Which means I can’t really justify to have the M8 around any longer. Because when I have it, I use it, and when I use it, it wears, and when it wears, it will need service. And realistically, I can’t afford a camera that needs money put into it just so I can use it. I already spent a four-figure sum on the camera and lenses. That’s money we could well need to pay for our car’s repair bills.

So, do I really need the M8? Well, that’s a silly question. Of course I do. I mean, it’s an effin’ Leica! You need a Leica! But despite what my heart tries to tell me, I know that the M8 will, in the long term, cost me money that I don’t have. So as much as it hurts me to admit — because I really, really, really love this camera — the M8 has to go.

I had a good time with it. I enjoyed using it. It’s a unique experience to shoot a rangefinder camera. If you want to read the whole story about me falling in love with rangefinder cameras, zip over to Steve Huff’s site. I won’t repeat all of that here. Suffice to say: if you ever hold a Leica and fall in love with it (which is highly probable), you will never want to part with it. It’s like with a classic car: your head keeps telling you it’s a waste of money, but your heart just can’t let go.

I’ve taken many, many great pictures with the M8. And I’ve learned quite a lot about photography in the time I had it. About manual operation, about judging light, about composing with an inaccurate viewfinder, etc. etc. But when I’m honest, it’s not like I couldn’t take similar pictures with a camera less expensive. And it’s not like the M8 really takes better pictures. They have a different, unique quality to them, yes. But I’ve taken stunning pictures with my E-P1 under the right circumstances.

So, if I let go of the M8 — which I am not yet 100% sure I will be able to –, what will I fill that big whole with, that will be left in my soul once it’s gone? That’s a simple one. I’m already invested in another fabulous camera system: Micro Four Thirds. And compared to late 2009, that system has matured by now. Not only are there a number of really really great lenses available for MFT, there are also some very very good cameras out by now — chiefly the new Olympus OM-D E-M5, which trumps pretty much everything else in the mirrorless world today. Save for the Fuji X-Pro 1, maybe, and the Leica M system of course.

So here’s what I’ll do. I will send in my M8 and the lenses for service, so I can sell the stuff with a good conscience. From the revenue, I will get the Olympus OM-D, and probably sell either the E-P1 or the G1, because I don’t really need three cameras of the same system. In addition to my 12mm f/1.6 and 20mm f/1.7 I will get the 45mm f/1.8. The Olympus 12mm f/2 and the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 are both tempting, but too close to the lenses I already have. Though I might just get them at another point.

What I will have then is a pretty complete system, spanning focal lengths from 24mm (equivalent to 35mm full frame) to 90mm, in a compact and highly capable package. I will have a system that will last me for quite a while, that I can take anywhere, and that is inexpensive to maintain and/or upgrade. Quality wise, and from the pure bling-factor, it won’t be as posh and as fancy as a Leica M. But cheaper, a lot cheaper, and 95% of the quality probably. And I will be able to sleep a lot better, not having to worry about frighteningly high repair bills …

It’s a difficult decision, because it’s not only a rational one but also a highly emotional one. But it’s one that’s got to be made. And if I’ve learned anything during my recent vacation (where I used the M8 almost exclusively), then it’s that there’s nothing I can do with the M8 that I can’t with a camera which is cheaper, smaller, less posh and above all, less expensive to maintain.

So, here goes nothing …

8 comments to Thinking out loud (about gear, money, and enjoying photography)

  • Hmm – interesting thoughts, and a hard decision for sure, or “Feel ya”, as some Americans would say.

    I’ve got two “consumer grade” Olympus cameras (the E-520 and the E-PL1), and one a bit more pro from yesteryear (the OM-2N). The OM-D should trump all these with ease, having seen the recent comparison on Imaging Resource, so that camera would be a wise decision I guess. The 45mm lens is at least as much a little gem like the Panny 20mm is, and for the price, a no-brainer indeed.

    Yes, life would be easier with that one I suppose. I love the VF-2 because I can tilt it up – but so does the rear display on the E-M5, which would make that a street camera to beat as well (except of course that you can pre- and zone-focus all of them to be really fast, like with a Leica).

    Hard decision… but looking through a lens also has its advantages. When I was young, that was the hottest thing to have :-)

    • I was thinking of one of the PENs that can take the VF-2 … but if I upgrade, I think I rather upgrade properly. And I could also make use of the very good high ISO capabilities of the E-M5.

      I’ll send the M8 and lenses in for service, first. When they come back, we’ll see if I still want to sell them :-)

  • Matthias

    Wouldn’t the money spent on servicing the M8 plus the money lost when selling the M8 and lenses be able to cover the cost of a possible repair that might or might not occur? I don’t know the MTBF figure for the M8 or how often you use your camera, but by the time the M8 fails a used M9 might be affordable already ….

    • That’s probably true. But a) every piece of gear depreciates, so you “loose” money when you sell it. I think you can see it as the “fee” you pay for using it. And b) if I had the spare money to pay for a repair, selling the M8 would not be an issue. Sending it to service means I must sell it afterwards. But a serviced M8 will sell for more than an unserviced one. Also, fixing my 50mm lens will cost me money that I don’t have, meaning I’ll have to sell either it or another lens afterwards. So, in the long run, the M8 will cost me money additional to that what I already paid when I bought it. So … even if M9 go down to 3000 € in the next couple months, I still couldn’t afford one.

      I don’t have to have a Leica. I wanted one because I wanted to see how it feels to use one and what that hype is all about. It feels great and the image quality is outstanding. But I realised that a proper Micro Four Thirds setup will serve my photographic needs better than the M8. Also, I will then have new equipment with two years warranty. That’s two years I don’t have to worry about something going wrong. And if after these two years some fatal failure occurs, MFT gear is cheaper to replace than Leica M gear.

      It’s a pretty simple calculation.

  • Matthias

    My only camera that ever needed repairing (twice, before I gave up) was my Olympus SLR, plus I had a HP camera in the Nineties that went kaput from one day to the next, beyond repair… My Leica never needed repairing or servicing. I’m not sure I’d repair it if it was broken. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

    • With all that you read about shutters, sensors and ciruitry needing to be replaced in M8s, I just don’t feel comfortable holding on to it. Nothing of this need happen to my M8, but there’s no guarantee it won’t. I just don’t want to take the chance. I enjoyed it for two years, but I feel now it’s time to move on.

  • Just so you know, I’ve had my 5DMKII for 4 years and both used it in pouring rain and dropped it from 4 feet onto solid concrete. Still works just fine. :-)

Leave a Reply