A Watch Parable
Even though I make it clear on my Contact page that I'm not in a position to recommend what camera, lens, or printer people should buy, because there are so many factors at work – cost, intended use, user experience, and so forth, I still receive numerous such requests each month. The funny thing is that with the Internet it is now easier than ever to make an intelligent choice. And yet, for many people the decision making process seems as hard as ever. Part of the problem seems to be a lack of appreciation for the process of how to make a decision.
So – with that as preamble, let me tell you about how I recently made the decision on what watch to buy. Watch? What does a watch have to do with cameras? Maybe more than it at first seems. Bear with me.
Bell & Ross BR03-94
Look at your left wrist. It probably has a watch on it. Typically, people don't think all that much about watches. For most people they are utilitarian devices, and other than when they break down or need a battery replaced they are pretty much taken for granted. But for some people, myself included, watches are objects of interest beyond their strictly utilitarian nature.
The same of course can be said by many about cameras. For some, these are simply utilitarian devices to be used for family snapshots and to record vacation memories, while for others they are objects of great interest, even fascination.
The Decision Making Process
If you think that the camera (lens, printer, whatever) market is crowded, have a look at the watch market. There are literally hundreds of manufacturers around the world, and thousands of models, with new versions and variations being introduced monthly. Finding the model that best meets ones needs is just as tough as it is in the world of cameras.
At the low end one can buy a watch for as little as about $5, while at the high end the sky's the limit, with some watches selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course there are several different technologies available, from quartz watches with digital displays to mechanical watches of various sorts. Indeed while it was thought a couple of decades ago that the ubiquitous, very accurate, and inexpensive quartz watch would signal the end of mechanical movements, quite the opposite has happened. Mechanical watches are now more popular than ever.
None of this is likely news to most people, so lets move directly to the process that I went through in trying to decide what watch to buy. By way of background, I should explain that I already own a number of watches. I've been collecting what I regard as interesting watches for many years. I have a few high-end "dress" watches, which I find far too expensive and delicate to wear as an everyday. Another recent acquisition was my current everyday watch, which I was looking to replace. The reason why was that after about a year of daily use it was annoying me. It was a quartz watch, made by Citizen, that kept exceptionally good time (within 15 seconds a month), was powered by sunlight, showed the time in cities around the world, and had two alarms and a chronograph. But, its dial was so crowded, and some of the display windows so small, that its special functions were hard to use. Also, though it has luminous dials, they became invisible after just a couple of hours in the dark. It was time for a new watch.
Once that decision was made I started to think about what factors I needed to consider. These boiled down to primarily three: price, features and looks.
Looks are naturally subjective, though important in a watch because one wears it every day. But there's more involved than that because the cosmetics of a watch include its dial, and that directly impacts readability. A watch with a shiny face, thin hands and lots of small dials and numbers might look attractive, but be very difficult to read, particularly in low light. And showing the time is, after all, a watch's primary purpose.
Features in a watch can range from none; two hands, nothing else – to highly complex combinations of dials and hands. Do you need alarms, the time in Katmandu, and dual chronometers? Maybe, but the price will inevitably be readability.
Speaking of price, this is totally subjective and will vary by individual. And just because one can afford something, doesn't necessarily mean that spending the money is a worthwhile decision.
Sinn Diapal 756
What then were the things that I wanted in a new watch? A simple, clean and easily readable face were important (especially in the dark). Ruggedness and being waterproof were vital, as I wear my watch when swimming, snorkeling, skiing and hiking. This was to be an everyday watch, and I didn't want to have to baby it.
My research showed that the look and face that I was after were to be found in a design known as a "Pilot's" watch. These have a very simple dial, usually black, with large numbers, clear index marks, and chunky illuminated hands. Very similar to aircraft instruments, where legibility is paramount.
Since I travel internationally a great deal, a second time zone was desirable (called a GMT watch), and I also value a chronometer, since I frequently need to accurately time things like long exposures and lectures.
I wanted a mechanical rather than a quartz watch for both esthetic as well as practical reasons. I simply like the idea of a watch with a traditional movement, and I also like not being reliant on batteries. I have had batteries die on quartz watches more than once while traveling, which can be a royal pain when the nearest watchmaker is a thousand miles away, such as on an Antarctic shoot.
And as for price, I decided to set the limit somewhere between two and three thousand dollars. High quality mechanical watches start at about a thousand dollars and proceed from there to the stratosphere, but I wasn't looking for a piece of jewelry, so spending a lot more than that seemed excessive.
I now had my parameters set. I knew that I wanted an automatic mechanical watch that was very rugged, had an easily readable dial, a second time zone and a chronograph. I also had a budget.
Shopping took place online. While I live it a big city with lots of jewelry and fine watch stores, I found selection to be limited and with astronomical margins over online pricing, and availability of major brands only, with none of the really interesting watches that my online researches were turning up.
In the end, based on the criteria that I had established for myself, I narrowed my selection down to two watches, the ones displayed on this page, the Bell & Ross BR03-94, and the Sinn Diapal 756. I ended up buying the Sinn over the B&R primarily because of price (the B&R went over my budget, and was also difficult to find from a legitimate online dealer). In this price range warranty is very important, and so purchasing from an authorized dealer is a must. The B&R also didn't have a second time zone hand, and the Sinn offered a combination of construction and design technologies that I found very appealing, including a highly scratch resistant finish and anti-reflection crystal.
So in the end, through an analysis of my own particular needs and wants, followed by online research, I narrowed my watch selection down to a single model from one manufacturer that met my criteria. It was a decision that no one could make for me, other than myself. And it was all done online.
From Watch to Camera
If this brief run-through about the decision making process that I went through to purchase a new watch hasn't bored you to tears, you may still be wondering what the connection is with camera equipment. The answer is – none – other than insofar as it serves as a parable for similar decision making which you might do relating to photographic equipment. A discussion of why I decided to buy a particular piece of photo gear would have been distracting, because you already have preconceptions around these. But, hopefully, by illustrating the decision making process using something with which you may not be particularly familiar, I have better illustrated my point.
When considering the purchase of new photo equipment, start by asking yourself what your particular needs, interests, and abilities are. What's your budget? What are your constraints around weight and bulk? What types of subjects do you shoot? How big do you wish to make your prints? Do you shoot action or landscape? Does your purchase decision have brand name as a factor? In other words, will you only be happy with a Canon or Nikon, even if a Sony or Pentax might better suite your needs? Be honest with yourself. It's your money. It's your photography. Don't let the online reviewers make your buying decision for you. Use them as data points, not as gospel. And ignore the forum fan-boys. They typically only know enough to be dangerous, and are tribal in their enthusiasms.
By the second day of ownership the new will have worn off and you'll have to live for some time with your purchase decision. The camera / lens / printer that you selected will have simply become a tool rather than an object of desire. Therefore, make sure that your purchase decision is based on practical factors and well considered needs rather than emotional illusions. All of the spec-hype and glossy pretentious of new products pale in comparison to the practical realities of handling, user interface, and the intangible aspect of any technology related to ones ability to bond with a given tool.
I wish you successful shopping.