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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Second Best
Old 04-25-2014   #1
Roger Hicks
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Second Best

Why would you take a picture with your "second best" camera? Of course there are reasons. The sheer pleasure of playing with it. Keeping it exercised so it doesn't gum up. Getting a different look. Going somewhere that theft or accidental damage is a serious risk.

But years ago I decided that if it's a toss-up between carrying two cameras of roughly equal size, weight and ease of use, I'll take the one that gives me the better results: M instead of Retina, for example. What are your feelings on "second best"?

(If this doesn't sound like a very coherent question, allow for the fact that I've had a really vile cold for the last few days and am not necessarily thinking all that clearly. I can just about ignore the cold if I'm reading or writing or sleeping, but the cold means I don't sleep well and I'm running out of books.)

Cheers,

R.
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Old 04-25-2014   #2
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"second best" needs some definition I think. "best" in terms of usability, roughness, optical properties of the lens, shutter accuracy, etc. all of this can attribute to "best" so for example my "second best" camera in terms of optical properties can be my "best" camera in terms of roughness.

On the other hand, my "best camera" would be the one in my hand when I want to quickly take a photo, my "second best" the one in the bag, even if superior in all other aspects.
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Old 04-25-2014   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maddoc View Post
"second best" needs some definition I think. "best" in terms of usability, roughness, optical properties of the lens, shutter accuracy, etc. all of this can attribute to "best" so for example my "second best" camera in terms of optical properties can be my "best" camera in terms of roughness.

On the other hand, my "best camera" would be the one in my hand when I want to quickly take a photo, my "second best" the one in the bag, even if superior in all other aspects.
Dear Gabor,

Only "sort of". It doesn't really matter which precise mix of attributes make a particular camera overall "best" for you (and the rest, by default, "second best"). I'm more interested in why you wouldn't use a camera you regarded as "best". Why, for example, might your "best" camera be in the bag instead of in your hand?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 04-25-2014   #4
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Quote:
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Dear Gabor,

Only "sort of". It doesn't really matter which precise mix of attributes make a particular camera overall "best" for you (and the rest, by default, "second best"). I'm more interested in why you wouldn't use a camera you regarded as "best". Why, for example, might your "best" camera be in the bag instead of in your hand?

Cheers,

R.
The only reasons I can think of to not use my best camera are either conditions in which I fear it could break or no film in the camera.
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Old 04-25-2014   #5
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I use multiple cameras because I don't always have the time or a place to change lens. Even if I don't use it, I usually have a second body with a 50mm in my bag (or APS-C digital with 35mm)...the first body is either longer or wider depending on the situation, but I like always having the standard view.
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Old 04-25-2014   #6
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big gooseberry season already?
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Old 04-25-2014   #7
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I always carry around my bessa and my gs645.

In terms of quality, the bessa is second best due to the negative size. The fuji is there for when I suspect will be something I want to enlarge and the bessa, for snapshots (for want of a word)

But then, the bessa normally has colour film and the fuji black and white.
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Old 04-25-2014   #8
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Lots of perfectly good answers (thank you), but mostly, they are just refining the question. Yes, you can use two or more cameras together, and choose the "best" one (focal length, format, unique look, whatever) but there must come a point where there's really not much sense in using the fourth, fifth or sixth best (or tenth or fiftieth) -- which is why I've yet to take a single picture with the 1960s Contaflex I was given a year ago, and why I almost never use my Pen W.

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R.
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Old 04-25-2014   #9
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Roger, I think it depends on what the camera is "second best" for, and why.

My primary digital system is based on Canon DSLRs: a 5DmkI and a 50D (which I'm quite consciously not upgrading until I find the cameras are holding me back from something I really need). If I'm only taking one camera, and I'm after maximum reach, then I might take the 50D with a 100-400 zoom, to take advantage of the higher pixel density and crop-factor-induced narrower field of view. For "just walking around", I'll often take the 5D with a 50 and a 24 because I like those camera/lens combinations. For some circumstances such as "event" type photography I might take the 50D simply because it can mount my EF-S 17-55/f2.8 zoom and because that lens, and a flash, works well for me for that type of photography. Depending on circumstances, I might carry both cameras in combination, such as the 5D with the 100-400, and the 50D with maybe the 17-55 or, more likely, the 24mm (which gives a handy 40mm equivalent FOV in a small package, should I want to take a snap with something shorter than the big zoom without having to change lenses; using the big zoom on the 5D for better rendering if maximum reach isn't needed).

With film, if I'm shooting primarily with a 50 or (especially) my 75 Summilux then I'll often use my M3 for the better finder and magnification. If I'm shooting primarily a 28 or a 35 I'll likely use my Hexar RF because of the wider view and framelines. (I will note, though, that the Hexar RF is just fine with a 50 and I've had no real trouble with the 75, even wide open - though focus takes me longer with the Konica vs the Leica. And sometimes I just want the AE for more casual shooting.)

When traveling on brief trips (ie. non-photography work trips) I'll often take only my Canon G1X, even though it doesn't usually make the cut as even "second" best, simply because it's small and light and "good enough" for random travel snaps. Which probably, really, makes it "best" for this application (for me). (Oh, I'll usually have a mju-II or XA and some Tri-X as well.)

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Old 04-25-2014   #10
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Rolleiflex 3,5 and MP. Both in my bag (and a contax T3 always in my all days generic use backpack). The best one? I don't know. 120 negative is surely better. I wonder how easy to use and modern is a camera from tewnties (Rollei I mean). if I lived in a deserted island and had to take a single camera, this would be an TLR Rolleiflex.
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Old 04-25-2014   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
...but there must come a point where there's really not much sense in using the fourth, fifth or sixth best (or tenth or fiftieth) -- which is why I've yet to take a single picture with the 1960s Contaflex I was given a year ago, and why I almost never use my Pen W.
And why I haven't shot my Zorki 4 and J-8 combination in years. Sure, it can take good photos (really, it can), and it's a fun toy, but mostly I prefer my M3

...Mike
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Old 04-25-2014   #12
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First things first, hope you get better soon Roger.

I've been trimming my camera collection fair successfully recently, so that there is very little overlap, all my cameras right now are:

Fotoman 45SPS (4x5 camera)
Linhof 612
Rolleiflex GX

So for me, I don't consider there to be a 'second best' really, as they can't really be compared all that well. But sometimes a second best camera might get used if it has a quality not present in the best ones. Qualities I can think of would be...

Weather sealed, or otherwise not the end of the world if it does get wet.

Convenience: I preferred my Leica M3 to my Bessa R4A, but the R4A was more convenient to use if I was in a rush, AE, film loading, stuff like that.

Long lenses. None of my cameras can adequately use a long lens, so if i want to photograph a surfing competition this year (which I do), then I'm better of just buying a Nikon F100 and zoom lens than battle with thousands of dollars worth of Leica or Rollei gear.
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Old 04-25-2014   #13
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I read here a while back about what camera members take with them to work every day. Every day?! And then I thought: "That's a good idea." At first I made it the M6 with the tiny pre-ASPH 35 Summicron. But mostly at weekends I was using an M5 with the 50 C Sonnar. That's not a small rig, but soon I was using that every day.

Not long after I got the X100 and that is so small and light that I can take it in my bag every day, as well. While I've taken just the X100 on many short trips, my most concentrated photography is on my lunchtime walk and my Sunday evening walk, and I prefer a Leica and one lens for that and the X100 stays at home or in the bag.

Lately it's been just the M9. When the sensor was being replaced it was the Monochrom. I find there's a huge opportunity cost of not having my best camera (one of my best cameras) with me. I seem not to see as well and sometimes the focus is off with automatic focus. I do like using occasional cameras for regular walks, and had great enjoyment of a Takumar 55 on an old Spotmatic, and a new to me Leica II with a 50 Elmar, enjoying its lightness and compactness. But a fully functioning M rangefinder, usually digital now and mostly with a 50, is my daily camera and having something more complex and more automated seems not to work for me.
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Old 04-26-2014   #14
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My definition of 'best' changes depending on the subject. I have a bunch of 'bests'.

The second bests are the cameras which aren't best for a particular use. For example, I have a Retina and a Vito III. Occasionally I want a compact camera I take take with me, often paired with a medium format camera. I seem to get more shots with the Vito so I'd consider it my primary for the role. The Retina I've kept around but haven't used in quite a while. Its cheap enough that I don't feel like I'm losing money holding on to it and I expect sometime I'll take it out again.

Thats where I accept that I'm a collector. My wife surprised me tonight with new shelves in my computer/camera room. The amount of redundant gear is embarrassing and as a side effect will motivate me to reduce my collecting ways a bit - or at least the pure collection bits to the cheaper pieces of gear.
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Old 04-26-2014   #15
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Hi Roger,

Over the years I have found that everything is in a state of motion. So much so that the idea of ordinalizing anything is just not possible for me. Well, except for physical measurements. So I can talk about my second heaviest, second reddest, second loudest, etc. But second best? I don't know what that means.

I own 4 digital cameras: A Nikon D700 with 3 lenses, a D2x with one lens, a Lytro and an iPod 5, the last two have a single built-in lens. How would I put those in best-ness order? My film cameras are even harder to classify.
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Old 04-26-2014   #16
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My reasons are already listed in the first post:

1. If I plan on drinking, behaving foolishly in public, and/or doing something where it could be lost/broken, I'll take a cheaper camera.

2. I have a few cameras I think are neat in one way or another, and the rare roll of film run through them has high value from the pleasure of use, in addition to the photographs. That added pleasure from playing with an interesting camera declines rapidly with a second roll following too closely on the first, so I switch back to my preferred set usually after one roll.

Ultimately, I don't go for "second best" a lot. Greater than 90% of my photographs are from the same two 35mm cameras, both M-mount so they are of essentially equal quality and serve as backups for each other. I will mention that the refinement people have mentioned about "best" and "second best" changing depending on circumstances applies, because I have a medium format camera that delivers higher quality, but is larger than my 35mm ones, and that camera is much of the remaining 10% of my photos.
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Old 04-26-2014   #17
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I use my "second best" camera if I'm taking second best photographs.

What's that mean? I take photographs for two reasons. The first is my contemporary art photography, which I'm deadly serious about, and invest in it a great deal of time and money. I'll spend what it takes, and won't compromise. If I need the best equipment, I'll buy, borrow or rent it. My two "go to" cameras for this are my Nikon D800E and Mamiya 645.

The second reason is all my other photography - typically "casual" photographs such as holiday and travel snaps, or those I take when I simply fancy "messing about" with no particular aim. Any camera is perfectly adequate for this, which essentially means small, convenient and cheap and without sentimental value, and which won't matter if lost, stolen or damaged.

Most cameras are "good" enough for "second best", so I don't really care what I use, but always digital - usually a battered Canon S95. I don't have a second best film camera, because film's unsuited to casual photography today - instant review, emailing, Facebook, Twitter etc. (all uses that I embrace).
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Old 04-26-2014   #18
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in the 1980's I bought a book called the 35mm handbook, a lot of people bought that book, it featured a section on kit recommendation, there was a cool image of an empty camera bag with the kit spread out in front of it, here the author recommended carry two bodies, one as back up with different film loaded to the other body, incidentaly, one of the cameras was an AE-1 the other an AV-1. Weather there was a culture of carrying two bodies before this book or to what extent this book influenced a lot of people at the time I do not know. Personally since that time many camerashave come and gone, now as my recent threads show I am now carrying two cameras, a X Pro1 and a X100, why well one is very quiet and the other not so, also they have different focal lengths.
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Old 04-26-2014   #19
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... I understand some people feel the m3 to be a better camera than the m2, so as odd as that seems yes, in the view of a few people I already do ...

... but then some folk go out in public caring an m5, explain that?
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Old 04-26-2014   #20
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Quote:
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... I understand some people feel the m3 to be a better camera than the m2

That`d be me
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Old 04-26-2014   #21
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Hi Roger,

For me, the use of the "Second best" camera is limited to times when I feel the need to justify owning it. Of course, the question as to why I don't just sell the all the "second bests", remains unanswered , and will require its own thread...
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Old 04-26-2014   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Why would you take a picture with your "second best" camera? Of course there are reasons. The sheer pleasure of playing with it. Keeping it exercised so it doesn't gum up. Getting a different look. Going somewhere that theft or accidental damage is a serious risk.
R.

Dear Roger

I find that I ask myself this this question a lot and always fail to come up with a wholly satisfactory answer.

Apart from having cameras suited for different purposes RF/SLR ... there seems little justification ,to me ,in having cameras which are used solely to keep them running .

I have to confess however that I am guilty of that .

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Old 04-26-2014   #23
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Quote:
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That`d be me
... you will have noticed the adverb

P. S. or is it a determiner?
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Old 04-26-2014   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
... I understand some people feel the m3 to be a better camera than the m2, so as odd as that seems yes, in the view of a few people I already do ...

... but then some folk go out in public caring an m5, explain that?
Hey, I love my M5.


like others said, how do you interpret 'second best'? If my best camera is the Bronica (largest negative), or the Nikon (newest), then I'd say almost all of my work is with my 'second best'. I carry a RF with me almost everywhere, which is one of the reasons I've gone that route--great optics but portable.

Lately I've tried to sell off most of my lesser-used gear and re-invest in my RF system. I guess that would leave my XA as my definitive 'second best' camera. That's my camera I carry when I want nothing in my pockets and no bag, so I use it for snapshots and, as Roger would put it, a journaling camera.

As others have said before, that camera's my 'drinking/behaving foolishly in public' camera. Otherwise, its an M-mount. I never know what I'll come across worth shooting day to day so I'd like the best I can reasonably handle, and that's the beauty of RFs--they're small and light enough to take with me 90% of the time.
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Old 04-26-2014   #25
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For me there is only one reason; the "second best" is what I have with me.
Now, why I have that "second best" camera and not my "best" is a separate question, I think.
And, again, for me which of my cameras is best or second best is variable.
Right now, the Bessa R is my best RF camera but I do have several others that I enjoy using irrespective of their shortcomings/quirks. And, if I want to use the J-12 lens, I can't use the Bessa and must use some other body for it.
I could (and have) simply use the much better--on any of several measures--CV 35mm lens on the Bessa and not bother with the J-12...but I like the J-12. So I have both and choose the body to suit which lens I want to use.

Hope you're feeling better, Roger!
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Quote:
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Why would you take a picture with your "second best" camera?
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Old 04-26-2014   #26
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Hi Roger - get well soon and take a lot of vitamin C (3-4 gr. a day)

Second best - sure, use it all the time. I carry two cameras on paid jobs (of course); an X-E1 and a 550d. The X-E1 has the best image quality and the 550d is able to focus in low light and follow fast moving objects. Which is the second best then? No idea really. The X-E1 has the best IQ but is lost in a candle lit room, so...?

Shooting for fun usually means a digital camera for colour and a film camera for B/W - which one is second best? No idea about this either. I use many different film cameras, Konica SLR, Konica rangefinders, Canon P, Olympus Trip. Now the Olympus Trip is clearly second to the Canon P as for IQ, but not for the fun&ease factor - ohh I could go on, better stop now
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Old 04-26-2014   #27
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I consider my M6 and M2 as equally my "best" cameras. If pressed, maybe my M6 slightly better if only because I tend to shoot a good amount of color slide film and the meter is convenient.

My second best would be my Barnack, a iiic. It's more fiddly and squinty and limited as far as frame lines, but I keep it around because it's fun to shoot when I can take my time and I enjoy the experience.

Do we always wear our best shoes, use our best china, drive our best car, listen to our best record, etc.? Much of our choices in life are situational ones.

If I had to take a once-in-a-lifetime photograph, I'd pick the very best gear. The rest is all based on how I feel at that moment or the tool(s) I have with me at the moment for whatever reason.
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Old 04-26-2014   #28
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I don't know the answer. Maybe because the "second best" camera is sometimes the best camera for my mood that day.

I shoot with the Exa regularly even though it's not close to my #1 camera. I guess because despite its ergonomic faults and limitations it still has some excellent qualities - compact, quiet, excellent viewfinder - but most importantly it can mount really excellent lenses and deliver results predictably. My Argus C3 I haven't touched in ages. It is technically a more flexible camera - but with a tiny viewfinder and only a so-so lens there's not really much enjoyable about using it. I have a couple other cameras that are also sort of like that - they're just not much fun to roll film through or the results aren't quite what I'm looking for.
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Old 04-26-2014   #29
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There's ranking of cameras, and then there's ranking of different types of cameras. I try to use the best camera (in my opinion) per type (RF, SLR, TLR, etc) and if I need various lenses, I usually get two or more identical bodies to avoid fiddling. At times though, it is the bulk or weight that command taking a "lesser" camera with you.
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Old 04-26-2014   #30
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My CV 35mm f2.5 is better optically than my 35mm f2.8 Zuiko for my OM. But I've found that I cannot carry two systems at once, too much stuff banging around on my person. So, if I need or perfer TTL viewing/focusing then I will have to 'make do' with my 'second best'.

Notice that I am here speaking about the same film, format, and angle of view.

Or, an additional thought. Why does David Burnett sometimes choose a $30 Holga, a 6X6 camera with a single element, plastic 60mm lens. He probably has the means to buy, oh I don't know, how about a Mamiya 6 or 7 RF camera. The Mamiya would certainly be the "best" between the two cameras, and by a very wide margin.

Fun question though.
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Old 04-26-2014   #31
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So far, I have had only one reason to bring the "lesser" camera as mfogiel calls it: going into areas where snatching of bags or hold-ups are known to happen. That happens very rarely, but there are places where I´d rather bring the Konica Hexar RF than the Leica MP, even though I know I can handle ugly situations.
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Old 06-13-2014   #32
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Roger's enquiry begs the real question of why if so many cameras perform the same function in a collection, the excess ones are not sold off. Is someone hoarding here? Or are they glorified in a glass cabinet?
Having said that, I often recognise that the low price I can get for some of these old things is not as much as they are worth to me, even sentimentally. There may yet be an upturn in the market for old lenses, if not bodies.
To answer the question, I do keep a second best camera to go with "second best" lenses. The old manual focus fast primes... actually it can be the most practical way to get some night scenes with the sensor stabilisation some manufacturers offer.
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Old 06-13-2014   #33
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Posts: 23,947
Quote:
Originally Posted by nikkor-watching View Post
Roger's enquiry begs the real question of why if so many cameras perform the same function in a collection, the excess ones are not sold off. Is someone hoarding here? Or are they glorified in a glass cabinet?
Having said that, I often recognise that the low price I can get for some of these old things is not as much as they are worth to me, even sentimentally. There may yet be an upturn in the market for old lenses, if not bodies.
To answer the question, I do keep a second best camera to go with "second best" lenses. The old manual focus fast primes... actually it can be the most practical way to get some night scenes with the sensor stabilisation some manufacturers offer.
To say nothing of the sheer hassle of selling them. Or the pleasure of shooting the occasional film for old time's sake.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 06-13-2014   #34
rodt16s
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Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Wiltshire UK
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My best is not necessarily my favourite...
I know which I grab for first.
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