#736. Where is the Seiko of the photo world ?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jun 13

To me, Seiko might just be the best watch brand on the planet. But don’t leave just yet. Let me explain.


C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM


Here are a few criteria that make a watch desirable to enthusiasts :

  • The movement. Either because of great precision or because of an innovative solution to a (mostly non-existent, in a digital age) problem such as displaying the date or measuring the duration of an event.
  • The design. Principally of the dial, but also of the case, lugs, bracelets and case back. This part is very subjective, but legibility and originality are usually high on the list of priorities.
  • The finish. This is where the costs can skyrocket. An elaborate watch has several hundred elements and machine finishing cannot achieve the same level of finesse as human know-how. A single watch can take more than 1000 hours of highly skilled human intervention which explains the 5 or 6 figure cost.

All of this, projected onto the various dreams of wealthy buyers gives you a (debatable) horological leader board that looks something like Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Sohne, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet. But, beyond those basic elements, already quite subjective, several other factors contribute to the perceived value of a watch :

  • Complications are the ‘features provides by the watch movement beyond mere timekeeping : calendars, chimes, moon phases, chronographs, multiple time zones, tourbillons (an objectively pointless complication meant to compensate for the deleterious effects of gravity on precision that turns out to be a wonderful exercise in complication for the sake of complication, absolute yumfests for true fans of horology).
  • The brand image. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona recently sold at auction for almost 18 million dollars. Rolex is the King of watch brands. Ask anyone to name a luxury watch brand and Rolex will always come up in the discussion.
  • The historical value of the watch: The Cartier Santos Dumont was the first men’s wrist watch for instance, The Rolex Oyster was the first waterproof  watch. The Omega Speedmaster went to the moon. Some value this more than others and this reflects on the desirability of the watch and its successors.

Interestingly, this horological pedigree is quite unrelated to collector value. A. Lange & Sohne, quite the equal of anyone else in that list, is nowhere near as good an “investment” as Patek Philippe. Swiss and image brand seem to dominate residuals more than anything else. Rolex, an English-born brand that grew through acquisitions rather than in-house research and didn’t even make its own movements until 2004 has gained cult following through an obsession for quality, projected via numerous celebrity ambassadors. Jeager-Lecoultre, on the other hand, represent as good an investment as a pre-Tata Jaguar in spite of a very high level of expertise in movements (which they sell to most of the top brands), because of a much less vibrant image.

On top of these more famous brands, there are the “custom shops”, smaller companies that produce very limited runs of eye-wateringly expensive pieces (Richard Mille, for instance, charge millions for some watches, in order to finance research in new materials and techniques, and über-rich buyers can’t get enough of them). And equally small companies trying to provide originality at a best value for the buck price (photography’s Ming Thein started a company that comes to mind here, offering innovative dials and philosophy) also complete this very brief (and probably inaccurate) tour.


The most beautiful watch ? “Pour le Mérite” (c) A. Lange & Sohne


Which just goes to show how well the industry as a whole caters to the cravings of a wide variety of personas. Some seek status symbols, others want to feel the adventure, the historical value, the bling, the craftmanship, the Zen … In the same price bracket, you can find rose gold watches covered in diamonds, for the ultimate bling experience, or you can enjoy the even more perverse experience of a movement made of gold (to be amagnetic) and covered in dull-looking platinum for the ultimate in stealth-luxury.

Most people don’t “get” it. If the differences in finish can’t be spotted with the naked eye and a 100 quid quartz watch is more accurate, why bother? What’s the point?

Fair enough. Except that you could say the same of more or less any other human endeavour. If you substitute “so what?” for “why?” in the 5 whys analysis framework, you can pretty much nullify the point of anything we have ever thrived to achieve. The answer to “what’s the point?”, then, is a resounding “because we can”. Much like in any sport, artform or technical challenge, this pushing of the horological boundaries is the best we can humanly achieve.


The most interesting watch? (c) Seiko


Except it isn’t …

Cue Seiko. There are numerous reasons to consider Seiko the most important watch brand on the planet. No it’s not Swiss (neither was Rolex initially, neither is A. L&S, neither is Bremont, neither was Breguet … you get my drift) and yes, you can buy a Seiko for 50 quid and yes, most are quartz-based, battery operated … But here’s the deal :

  • Seiko, like many Japanse brands, cater for the needs of all potential customers, at any price point. Today, you can spend almost half a million on a Seiko (and you thought Patek was expensive) and you can get a high quality Seiko for less than the price of a Richard Mille screw. This means that whatever your current position on the bell curve, you can enjoy a watch you can truly be proud of. That alone sets the brand far ahead of most others in my heart.
  • Seiko is a purist brand with a great philosophy. A quartz Grand Seiko receives the same level of attention to perfection as an automatic or spring drive. You may or may not be receptive to that but it comes a very close second to the above criterion in my book. Not much bling here. Mainly pure dedication to time keeping in various scenarios.
  • Seiko is far more innovative than the rest of the industry. Most of the other premium brands resort to highly trained artisans for their polishing (because machine polishing just isn’t as good) and to the most elaborate movements in the search for ultimate accuracy. Seiko, on the other hand, have perfected very innovative techniques that use machines (in the hands of highly qualified artisans) but do not rely on polishing as such. The result is an incredible quality of finish that rivals the most expensive brands out there and value for money that leaves them nowhere to be found. They have improved the efficiency of their movements though techniques that are not possible to employ with traditional processes and their spring drive is an exquisite form of lateral thinking that merges the elegance of an automatic movement with the accuracy of a carefully selected quartz crystal.
  • Seiko watches are simply better time keepers, price for price. In fact, the “worst” spring drive Seiko (well under 5 grand) is probably better than anything else the rest of the world can offer at any price.

Enough with the panegyric. I’m not saying Seiko is superior to the other watchmakers. Heck, I don’t even own a Seiko (yet). What I’m saying is that here’s a company that thinks outside the box to offer the most rewarding experience in time keeping at a price that many can afford (with some effort) and that has managed to combine a deeply human experience with the highest technical innovation in a search for purist perfection. In that, they stand alone.


Porsche Flat 6 (c) Porsche


Similar attention to philosophy exists in the automotive universe. Whether you worship the elegance of the vibration free flat six boxster engine placed in a perfectly balanced Cayman, the pathological attention to detail and sterile-room build-quality of a Nissan GTR engine, the hoonigan simplicity of a Hellcat, or the design philosophy of Mazda (doing what’s right rather than bowing to bureaucratic nonsense, enjoyment over performance), you can purchase a car that was designed for a specific type of user with very little compromise to others.

What of the photographic universe?

My objections to where the photo industry has taken itself are not usually met with much approval but let me reiterate. To me, the photo world has focused only on technological performance and has lost most of the human element and of the search for a pure experience. Brand-wise, that’s a terrible place to be because anyone who can match your performance at a lower cost will inevitably steal your thunder. User-wise, it has brought about many benefits (more pixels, high ISO,IBIS, a better focusing experience thanks to EVFs …) but also led to some cameras that are as enjoyable to use as your average microwave oven (and others that are more reminiscent of a prostate exam, a very real pain in the arse).

A Porsche Cayman isn’t about performance. In standard (non 718) form, it’s probably left behind at the lights by most of the soulless turbo hot hatches that aggressive drivers use to prove Darwinism. It’s all about balance, handling and subtlety. A Grand Seiko Snowflake isn’t about performance. It’s about the Zen experience of time, with a perfectly continuous and true motion of the seconds hand sweeping over a meditative dial placed inside a discrete and serene case.

That’s not to say that the photo universe doesn’t have its mad inventors and passionate technicians. There are people reviving old lens designs, Oriental brands pushing out of the ordinary focal lengths and formulas, a slew of others producing adaptors so that today’s bodies can make the most of yesterday’s glass, and so on. Zeiss and Leica lenses undeniably have soul. But where is the giant pushing the industry in the direction of purism rather than away from it ? Of the billions of photographers alive today, I can’t think of five that are famous artists proficient in both photo and video. Yet it’s become the norm to create photographic cameras that combine the latest in video technology (which, let’s be honest is a waste of time for 99.99% of users because it’s so complex they will be far better served by their phone). And what about ergonomics? The digital era has fractured the designs perfected over decades of continuous use, whereas the Spring Drive combines the two in such an elegant form of progress.


C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM


A diver’s watch isn’t a driver’s watch isn’t a pilot’s watch isn’t a sailor’s watch isn’t a astronaut’s watch isn’t a bomb squad watch isn’t a … The horological world is an OR world. But camera manufacturers, after the pixel wars, after the high ISO wars, after AF wars, are now trying to convince us that a product is trash if it doesn’t shoot a million frames per second AND carry the latest video tech AND keep stable during an earthquake AND … (all the while the thing shuts down in the rain, is slightly colour blind and has a menu system that really doesn’t fall into the pathological attention to UI detail category …) Cameras have to cover all needs and get the shot at all costs rather than be as pure as possible for one specific usage and help make the experience and image as good as they possibly can. Desirability is dead. Tool watches are highly sought after. Tool cameras end up replaced by a new model 2 years after their launch. Is it a coincidence that new camera prices keep falling (feature for feature) while new watch prices don’t, I wonder ?

Why can’t we have cameras for landscape enthusiasts, cameras for videographers, cameras for portrait experts, cameras for vloggers, cameras for divers, cameras for street photography, cameras for adventurers, cameras for Zen followers, and so on, at every price point? If the watch industry and the car industry can manage that, why can’t the photo industry (which is supposed to be about art and human experience before all else)? Where is the Seiko of the photo world?


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  • Nigel Haycock says:

    Wow! What a well written and thought provoking article. I totally agree, modern cameras have become a replaceable commodity no more interesting than a TV which is a rectangular box attached to a wall. Yes it may have desirable features but as a thing in itself it is mundane.
    It is no surprise then that more and more photographers (at least in my small sphere of experience) are turning back to the cameras of yesteryear where engineering mastery, ergonomic usability and aesthetic design were prevalent. The experience of shooting a fine camera that was once something people aspired to own, outweighs the lacking in modern technical features.
    The camera industry has moved into the mass market model of selling to everyone and then obsoleting and selling to everyone again; volume, volume, volume. The camera is just a vessel for the abundance of features.
    I think the closest to your Seiko analogy would be Olympus but it is not as close as perhaps it should be.
    Thank you

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Nigel, much appreciated. Olympus and Fuji do spring to mind as Seiko-like companies. Their users seem to report a great deal of appreciation and the human touch hasn’t disappeared from these companies. Thanks, Pascal

  • Fran Oldham says:

    Seiko make fine Grand Seiko mechanical, springdrive and quartz watches, and their quartz models are as accurate as anyone needs them to be. Their mechanicals are as accurate as anyone’s mechanicals but nowhere near as accurate as “ordinary” quartz models that are about 15 seconds a month, versus +/- 5 seconds a day for the best mechanicals. Grand Seiko quartz are 10 seconds a year but they don’t have perpetual calendars or independently adjustable hour hands, so the watches have to be reset twice a year. The Citizen are accurate to 5 seconds a year, are light powered, have perpetual calendars and independently adjustable hour hands so they don’t need to be reset from one year’s end to the next.
    To my mind, a watch is about accuracy and I couldn’t care less about polished interior parts. I’d rather have my 5 seconds a year The Citizen with it’s perpetual calendar and independently adjustable hour hand than the best hand-polished Rolex, Patek or Lange.
    I don’t claim that Seiko or Citizen are “better” than the high-priced mechanicals because “better” includes all the reasons why owners choose what they choose. But when people discuss the “best” watch and argue about whether Patek is better than Lange, they are fooling themselves when they ignore accuracy.
    Incidentally, the Boxster isn’t complete without its “s” and is no better balanced than a straight “6”, though it does take up less space.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, accuracy is one thing that mostof us appreciate, but it’s nice that there’s a watch for almost everybody, whatever the budget and whatever the individual preferences.

      Aah, the straight 6, not as frequent these days, but it was a great template for BMW, Jaguar and many others. DIfferent sound, too. Higher center of gravity and bulkier, but I’d really love to have one under the bonnet …

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read anything more sensible about camera design in my whole life. Since I can’t thank you enough for that, I’ll do something unusual for those who know me, and say very little instead.

    Watches – I’m not into “snobbery”, I think it reflects very poorly on its sufferers – I can mention this if it helps – one very famous watchmaker made its name with its “heirloom” watch back in the 1920s, and a friend of mine who is a highly qualified clockmaker told me it’s all piffle – they put everything into appearance, and the movement inside their leading watch is utter crap – in his words, you’d be better off buying a Seiko. I’m not heavily into wrecking people’s commercial image, so I won’t say “which brand” – but that story confirms exactly what Pascal is telling us. In my youth, I fell to temptation and bought one of the leading brands listed in your article, Pascal – within 3 months the winding handle fell to bits and the maker thought I should pay for the repairs – it NEVER kept accurate time – and in the end I put it away in a cupboard somewhere, lost sight of it, and never saw it again. After that I used Seiko watches.

    Pascal, I think I’d like my cameras to do a bit more than just one genre – but I agree with you about movies, I have absolutely no interest in my cameras being able to take movies and even if I did, I would get a purpose built movie camera, because it’s much easier to use for video. I accept that some people take bracket shots of maybe a hundred frames in one gulp (eg fashion photographers – some sports photographers – some wildlife guys) – but hey, if that’s THEIR bag, let them have such a beast for THEIR style of photography, without inflicting it on everyone else.

    And bearing in mind these things are mini computers to a high degree, why can’t the makers deal with these “features” like options on a car, and let people select the options they want. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, and making the cameras so complicated that hardly anyone can fight their way through the menu system and control systems.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Pete, kind words indeed.

      I’d never thought about your suggestion but it’s a great one: selecting options on a basic layout, through a configurator, much like we do with cars. That would be brilliant and would probably cost the manufacturers a lot less than building different bodies. Let’s start a lobbying group 😉

  • Rudes says:

    It’s a rather long article in getting to the point but are there not cameras favoured by portrait photographers, cameras favoured by landscape photographers etc…or is it in the lenses. I have a Seiko Divers watch that is all of 25 years old and much battered and bruised but remains my happy watch, so too was my Nikon D80 my happy camera which met a demise of being dropped…that was my Seiko camera…I’m sure I am missing the point of the blog, but merely my musing on the subject…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Rudes, actually, the “happy” watch and “happy” camera concepts are quite brilliant. If that’s OK with you, I’ll start some sort of quiz about what would define a “happy” camera for users. It would be interesting to see what features come up most frequently. Cheers, Pascal

  • Adam Bonn says:

    To be fair to Rolex, in 2004 they bought out their exclusive movement supplier of many decades, it’s not like they were just using ETA and you can’t get a Rolex movement in anything other than a Rolex

    Seiko’s only watch of technical innovation is the spring drive. That’s not to say that their high accuracy grand seiko quartz watches or the high beat grand seiko autos are bad, not at all, but those models aren’t doing anything other people aren’t

    Sadly the spring drive designs are a tad derivative

    When camera companies attempt to ‘re-imagine’ the inner workings of the camera (think Fuji X-Trans or Sigma foveon) it’s seldom accepted

    In fact Fuji are a BIT of a psuedo seiko spring drive really. Classic exterior that you’ve seen on cameras for years, combined with stuff inside that no one else is using, aka a non-industry standard CFA

    It’s difficult to directly compare seiko to a camera company, perhaps Sony? Who offer a £70 compact and go all the way up to things like the A7Riii and A9 that costs Leica money (including the FF RX1, which was/is quite innovative)

    That’s about the closest I can think of to a non hacking, non hand winding seiko 5 for £130 (or whatever) right up too Rolex money spring drives

    (I wonder if Sony will add MF to their products before too long..)

    Where camera companies have innovated, is lens corrections… now it’s the coder gals and guys burning the midnight oil to ensure that your pictures are sharp and distortion/vignette free

    Talking of watches, i see today that Leica are releasing a range of wrist watches too. Seriously.

    And really watches aren’t very innovative are they? (FYI I consider smart watches wearable tech, rather then watches)

    With the exception of the spring drive (which to be fair is a bit of cult thing, the residuals aren’t great, there’s few dealerships, and little purity of external design), watches in general do as they’ve always done, using the bits they always have.

    Sure watches jumped on quartz, the same way cameras jumped on digital.

    The mechanical/auto wrist watch then became a luxury item.

    Perhaps hipsters etc will do the same with film cameras? (Increasingly I see people shooting film cameras)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Adam, that wasn’t meant as a criticism against Rolex, on the contrary. It’s just interesting that collectors are all about pedigree but Rolex went a different – equally good, if not better – way. And no one could deny their success. Their wacthes are endorsed by more celebs than any other brand and they are excellent (sometimes, those two concepts are mutually exclusive).

      More than the performance of the Spring Drive (which is excellent but not a match for Quartz) it’s the philosophy that most find appealing. The continuous seconds hand is a bit different and, in that world, I think it’s the small details that make the appeal. Lousy residuals, which is why I’ll buy one second hand.

      Yeah Fuji and Olympus would come the closest to the Seiko spirit, in my book. Sony has more technical innovation (I’m not complaining, my last 4 cameras have been Sonys) and a vast range but, to me, the human passion isn’t oozing through the pores of the cameras 😉

      I think mechanical watches are considered heirlooms, something you keep for a long time. People would be more willing to pay luxury money for cameras if they lasted more than a couple of years. We’re getting to a point where most of us have more than enough (resolution, ISO, frame rate, video formats, stabilisation) so we will be more and more reluctanct to upgrade our cameras purely for technical reasons. It will be interesting to see what manufacturers come up with to turn us into collectors, not just users.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        There certainly ARE camera collectors out there. Actually I had a collection myself, but I lost interest and traded it in when I bought some of my present gear. At my age, we describe shedding “possessions” as “de-cluttering”. I think we all end up with an innate desire not to be a burden on those we leave behind, and start clearing the surplus stuff out before we reach the end of the road – just hanging on to things we actually use, or which mean too much to us, for us to part with them.

        While it’s “interesting”, I don’t think you could count on photographic gear appreciating in value, like Van Gogh’s have over the years. A jump from something like $10 to $70 million is scarcely likely to happen.

        Although I lost interest in watches a long while ago (I don’t even like having things like that hanging around my wrist), I maintained an interest in timepieces – again I de-cluttered a while back, but I still have a very nice fire gilt French carriage clock, and an American lighthouse clock. And I was fascinated to find some very rare time pieces here in Perth, at the local Observatory (in the hills near Bickley Valley, Pascal). They were apparently the precursor of today’s atomic clocks – and to the astonishment of a lot of people these days, they were almost as accurate as atomic clocks. I can’t be sure of the exact number, but only something like 9 of them were ever made, and the Perth Observatory bought two of them! They’re still on display at the museum at the Observtory.

        Getting back to the theme of your article, Pascal. Earlier this evening I read an article on the fall of Kodak – and the reasons for its failure. Of course we all know that it’s not just Kodak. I spent my working lifetime consulting to businesses, one way or another. And I see stuff all the time in the photographic world that leaves me puzzled – raising my eyebrows – shuddering – or whatever. But none too often do I see one of the players heading for the goal square, to kick a perfect goal. What is it with these companies? Why is it that they can’t see what their customers see?

        Example – the Sony RX100 – great camera, but because they get it made in China to shave a few bucks off the price, it has a few criticisms on quality control that culd have been avoided if Sony had made it in Japan. And not just on any one of the first 5 versions – but on all of them. That’s a serious error, in my view – because a lot of people who might otherwise consider a Sony camera will see those comments, and it might shake their confidence in the brand, to the point that they shop elsewhere. And shop elsewhere for gear that’s far more expensive than an RX100. In other words, that kind of “bad publicity” can affect sales across the board – not just on the particular item the comments relate to.

        And when I started digging out information on Nikon’s longer focal length tele lenses, I found something similar. Which is very distressing and off-putting. And scarcely good for Nikon’s business. At a point in their corporate history when they can ill afford that.

        None of this is stuff that “the public” did to these companies. There’s only one person to blame for it – the company that makes these items. It isn’t something they can blame on the flight of the great unwashed, from “cameras” to “smart phones”. And it seems to me that the shrinking market for actual cameras is most likely to be becoming MORE concerned about quality issues, rather than price. I’ve no evidence to prove it – it’s just a “gut feeling” – but it’s based (now) on nearly 70 years of fooling around with cameras and talking to dealers & other photographers.

        When you compare this industry with watches, there’s a total disconnect. I don’t think I’ve EVER heard of companies like Rolex or Seiko getting their watches made in sweat shops in countries with lower wages rates, so they can hold prices down to compete for sales with other manufacturers! But in an industry like the photographic one, where quality means a whole heap to their customers, these companies seem to want to do things like that, all the time. This stuff makes my head hurt !! 🙂

  • NMc says:

    Well written opinion piece. As to your final question the equivalent to photographic Seiko and tool watches is probably not in cameras but in things like tripod heads, gimbals (or whatever videographers call their gear) and some bags and straps. The watch is the accessory tool not the main bit of gear.

    Probably what you really want is a camera Eunos equivalent. More fun and less specs than a Lexus. Better built more reliable and with less masculine bovine faecal matter than the European brands. Companies like Yamaha, Sony and others previously made high end stereo gear (possibly still do), perhaps in a similar vein to Seiko. Asian consumers whilst revering some western high end brands do not have the same anti-bias to brands that produce a vast range of product. The western consumer saw the same brands as good mid-market Hi Fi but did not appreciate the better value higher end gear. Probably should not have raised the issue of Hi Fi, it is a barbecue stopper topic (issue or topic that halts conversation because no one wants to deal with it and stops all the fun). 😉
    Regards Noel

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    “Where is the Seiko of the photo world?”

    Good question!

    Isn’t Fuji approaching that path with a choice of the X-Pro, the X-T (very different viewfinders) and the GFX? Rumors say the XF1 and the X30 will have followers.

    ( Although they also try to include video etc. With anything that is computer powered the additional cost of “more” functions is much lower than with mechanics – and I guess the marketing department insists on functional bling.)

    I think Zeiss was close when they made film cameras.
    And at that time there were several not too specialized flexible systems, like Linhof Technica, Plaubel Makina and Robot (plus Leica and Hasselblad with all their followers) – but not under one hat like with Seiko.
    – – –

    You ask for cameras as pure as possible for one specific usage.

    I would need a few of those, but I prefer to carry only one … but lenses are “purer” so I usually carry a few.

    [ I had an ALPA 11 – an occasional bargain price used made it possible.
    Heavy and mirror up at half pressed shutter to eliminate vibration, very sensitive light meter, DOF preview, adapters for Nikon and M42 lenses with aperture control, I added a Zörk tilt adapter,

    >> and you could operate it even with winter gloves on <<.

    Important stuff most SLRs lacked…]
    – – –

    # Watches
    Thanks for that great overview!

    Tourbillons. Yes, "yumfests", except for pocket watches that were vertical in use and had better be kept standing when not worn.
    Ship chronometers needed even more precision, their balances were gimballed.

    Before the electronic break through I can't remember seeing a watch with a transparent back.
    Now I guess it's the grown person's equivalent of enjoying a steam locomotive over an electric one…

    And there *is* a kind of beauty in good technology.
    – – –

    ( You mentioned also the Ming watches.
    He also had a camera project that didn't come off (one reason was, I believe, a difficulty in finding a sensor supply).)
    – – –

    Another (less pricey) spring drive Swiss watch was Revue Sport.
    My first I inherited as a kid. It lasted in all ~30 years. My father bought me nr. 2, and it lasted ~20 years. I bought another Revue Sport, and it lasted ~10 years. Then our watch shop recommended an electronic watch – unless price was no issue.

    An illustration as good as any of the increasing relative cost of manual labour.

    [ Now, a bit tired of having to get my phone out, I had to search two well supplied watch stores to find a watch without bling and of a simple nice design, it happened to be Chinese for $25 – I didn't know about Seiko… (The metal of the bezel is slowly changing colour with wear, but that looks even better.)]
    – – –

    # Cars
    My all time favourite car was the Citroen 2CV (the Dyane version).
    A pure, but not specialist, car – unless you wanted speed and sportive driving.

    [ Superb handling in curves, in snow (even with summer tires) and on ice. Some off-road capacity. Never hot in summer but a bit cold in winter (once at -17°C I cranked the engine on). Easily repaired with few tools. If I turned the front passenger seat backwards I got a curved sleeping cot. You could load a cupboard after taking the roof and backseat off.]

    But when I took my mother for a longer trip, my father said "Not in that cardboard box!", and, of course, he was right.

  • Andreas says:

    Excellent read, -really enjoyed this.
    You are essentially describing fetishism.
    Only, it seems to me that there is more to the picture: A camera may be an object of desire, but is essentially a tool used to create a product, whereas a watch is always only an end product.
    A professional photographer will use any camera that makes financial sense to him. i.e. the marginal benefit of using the latest technology must outweigh the marginal (!) cost of said technology.
    Not so for us amateurs: we must love what we do, or we wouldn’t do it. We must ask ourselves what we are willing to pay for the pleasure of using a certain camera, given that we have no financial gains from the pictures we create.
    But: Show me the guy who can genuinely say that it makes financial sense to own a Rolex or drive a Range-Rover in the middle of London…
    Not that I wouldn’t derive pleasure from owning a Rolex, but it keeps being pushed up my Maslow hierarchy to be replaced by more essential goods such as a family car or even the Fuji GFX…
    Being an economist, one of my heroes amongst photographers is obviously Sebastiao Salgado: He never once mentions what camera he uses. In fact, it took me quite a bit of research to realise that he uses a rather out-dated Canon. I caught myself feeling disappointed or even mildly offended.
    Occasionally though, you come across photographers who dare to articulate how a particular camera inspires them: Not surprisingly, it is rarely about specific technology, but almost always about the pleasure of using the camera: How certain features or lack thereof actually helps to create better pictures.
    So, a healthy amount of fetishism is a good thing don’t you think? As long as it contributes to the end goal of producing great images.
    My own fetish (in terms of cameras that is…), is the aperture ring: I really really miss aperture rings. What’s your fetish?

  • Per Kylberg says:

    Interesting subject! In photography we had a significant technology shift from film to sensor. It makes it more difficult as the new technology has not yet stabilized.
    In film I would say Contax: From compact to MF excellent machines, great design, ergonomy and image quality secured via Zeiss lenses. Advanced tech like the camare with “in body AF” by moving film plane. Not to mention the AF rangefinder (!) G1 and G2. I owned a 139Q and a G1 and I rate them as the best and most liked cameras i ever owned.
    In the digital era Sony are leading development and also offers the niche cameras asked for. Take A7 that is offered in three distinctive flavors. One can argue Sony lacks “soul” and usability which is true. But Sony offers top of the line cameras from so called 1″ (really5/8″) to 35mm FF. Leica offers charismatic cameras in many sensor sizes. Build is excellent as well as delivered image quality.
    TODAY Leica delivers best “timeless” values in the digital era – but they are behind Sony in core technology.

  • Michel says:

    Interesting article
    I am a lover of photography and beautiful watches. I think the 2 markets are very different, I see only Leica trying to go in the space of luxury goods, but given the obsolescence / technological progress, I’m not fully convinced. For the anecdote it’s over a year that I put some savings aside, to make me a nice gift (for my 50). The choice is between a Fuji GFX with one or two optics or and a nice watch like Rolex GMT or Submariner. The medium format is an old dream, and I try to convince myself that I would make better pictures.
    But more rationally, if I buy Rolex for about 8000 € today in 3 years it will probably be worth around 9000, and the photo equipment will have lost 50% of its value ….that a big gap. So gift or investment ??
    That said my reseller will lend me a GFX for a weekend, we’ll see if it’s a WOW ! when opening the files in Lightroom. I’ll make a post with some images to compare be the GFX and a Fuji XH1.

  • Adrian says:

    Pascal, without wishing to be overly trite, haven’t you just described the Japanese camera and lens makers versus their mostly German forebears?

    Where Japanese industry has largely succeeded is in manufacturing process and automation which has allowed them to manufacture all sorts of things very reliable,very consistently, and at moderate cost.

    Certainly my understanding of their early cameras from.around the time of WW2 was that European war photographers were surprised by the lens sharpness, and the cameras were reliable and well engineered without being over engineer or ruinously expensive.

    So now, we have Sony using new lens manufacturing processes to make their “extreme aspheric” elements with a claimed more perfect surface structure to improve it of focus rendering. Sigma championed machine made elements such as the very extreme front elements of their original EX 12-24mm to achieve something the big marques hadn’t.

    I’m sure this kind of talk (in theory) makes Leitz and Zeiss spin in their graves at the brazen industrialisation of things that the Germans want to believe needs craftsmen and expense – at the same time as jobbing off manufacture to Japanese companies to keep costs down.

    So arguably, aren’t the Japanese makers already doing what Seiko does for watches? Minolta made mass market low cost SLRs, and set up a tiny factory in Toyko to hand make their jewel-like TC-1 compact, reported to have one of the finest 28mm lenses ever made. Isn’t that what Seiko does – plastic fantastic and high end craftsmanship from.the same brand?

    I may be deliberately slightly missing your point of course. Just asking.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I suppose you’re right Adrian 😉 It’s just that Seiko seems to be pushing harder making movements that others can’t match. But yes, there is a great similarity between what the watch makers and the camera makers are doing. Cheers

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