Waiting for The Next Model

A day doesn’t go by when I’m asked, "Should I buy theWhatsitFlex,or should I wait until the next model comes out?" One sees this on Net discussion groups where quite literally people start speculating on what features the next generation product might have even before the just announced one actually ships!

"Waiting for the next generation" is one of the curses of our current technological society. We have become so used to new models of everything, in some cases every few months, that many people sit on the sidelines unable to commit — ever. Or when they do, they buy the old model because they’re too impatient to wait for the next release, or they figure they’ll save a bit of money.

Foam Lines — Bodega Bay, CA. November, 2003

Contax 645 with 210mm f/4 Zeiss Sonnar lens
and Kodak DCS Pro Back at ISO 100

Cycling Along

One has to look at the life cycle of certain products before making an informed decision. Consumer digicams have a half-life of about 6 months. DSLRs appear to last a year or so, while the top models may last as long as two years.

Certain plateaus are reached. For example, Epson changed their printer models every year, from about 1995 with the first introduction of the "Photo" printer line up to about 2002. Then, with the introduction ofUltrachromeinks and the 2200 / 7600 / 9600 models things stabilized. It’s now been some 18 months since they were first shipped and there’s every indication that the earliest replacements will come is 6 months from now in the Fall of 2004. (TheEpson 4000isn’t a replacement for anything. It’s a new model). Yet, there are countless people who have written to me during the past year asking if they should wait for the next generation. In the meantime their ability to make perfectly wonderful prints is delayed because of anxiety over becoming obsoleted. This has become almost an obsession with some people.

Of course no one wants to make a poor investment. Even though a camera or printer may continue do a very nice job even when a new model appears, no one wants to use, or worse yet,be seen usinglast year’s technology.

So. What to Do?

Here’s my approach. I look at the product that I’m using and decide how well it’s doing its job. If it is reliable and providing quality service I keep an eye on developments but basically stick with what I have. If I feel that it is not doing the job then I start checking out what else might be available and how long it’s been on the market. I also look at when the current model that I’m interested in was released and what the company’s track record is on bringing out updates and replacements.DPReviewis very good for tracking new product introductions and changes.

I also look at what the competition is doing. For example, Canon in August, 2003 shook up the industry with itsDigital Rebel 300D— a 6 Megapixel DSLR for USD $899. This is nearly half of the price of anything from the competition, and though it’s not as robust and full-featured as some models from other companies, its price point is so compelling that many fence sitter are swarming to it like flies on honey. Competitors have already started dropping prices, and there’s bound to be more price pressure to come.

Therefore, if I were in the market for a new consumer-level DSLR right now, and theRebeldidn’t meet my needs, I might wait a bit to see how Nikon (the D70 is coming), Pentax, Olympus and others respond to this direct frontal attack on their product line and profitability.

Soaring — Pt. Reyes, CA. November, 2003

Contax 645 with 210mm f/4 Zeiss Sonnar lens
and Kodak DCS Pro Back at ISO 100

Buy Early, Buy Often — But Not Both at the Same Time

There are two strategies. One is to buy the latest and greatest of whatever products are important to you. If your budget allows and you have a supportive spouse, who’s to say otherwise? Enjoy!

But, for most people this isn’t an option, and so my suggestion when it comes to rapidly changing technology products is to buy early in the life cycle of the best product you can afford, and then simply sit back, use it and enjoy. Eventually there will be something better; but really. How much better? Chances are that if you’ve made a good buying decision in the first place then the next version or two may only have cosmetic and relatively small operational differences.

In many cases I just stop caring. I bought a CD Walkman 4 years ago. It does a fine job. There are now smaller units with glitzier cosmetics and more features, but so what? I’m not a Walkman freak. I just like to listen to music when I travel. On the other hand I change my PDA about every year or so because there are sufficient increases in functionality to make it worthwhile.

The same applies to computers. Unless you’re on a really tight budget don’t buy a Pentium IV when the Pentium Vs become available. Also, get all the RAM that you can, because inevitably software manufacturers will assume that you have it,anda 6 jillion megahertz processor, or their software won’t work. It’s the name of the game.

I bought a Canon 1Ds the month it came out. Some 15 months and 14,000 frames later I regard it as one of the best camera investments that I ever made (and also among the most expensive). But I would be very surprised if there’s anything from Canon that seriously tops it for at least another year or two. That’s a 3 year life amortization period and probably some 30-40,000 images. When the next generation comes along (assuming the upgrade is worthwhile) the 1Ds will become my backup, and the cycle will start again. In the meantime if Nikon or some other company introduces something that surpass it, I’ll be an interested observer, but that’s it. I have a huge investment in Canon glass and switching at this point isn’t an option.

My recommendation?Hurry up and wait.