Sommelier or Snob

March 8, 2015 ·

Michael Reichmann

A Matter of Taste?

It may well be that my viewpoint is best expressed first by way of analogy.

I had dinner with a friend recently; the wine list included bottles ranging from $40 to $400. My friend asked if I had ever had such expensive wines as those on the last page of the list. I replied that I had, and though I love fine wines, especially full-bodied reds, my palette simply was not educated enough to differentiate the more exotic vintages.

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Bird House #1 – Punta Arenas, Chile. February, 2015

I commented that at the retail store I rarely bought anything above $20, because I found more than enough wines in the $15-$20 range to satisfy my everyday tastes.

This then lead to a conversation about cameras and lenses – which is the point of this tale. My friend, who is a quite casual photographer, asked me if the multi-thousand dollar cameras and lenses that I own are worth that expense, or are they, like expensive wines, a matter of – in his word – snobbery?

After some thought, and a sip or two of a very nice California Cabernet that was on the table, I replied that – yes– I usually could tell the difference between images from high-end cameras and lenses vs. those of a less pedigreed lineage.  The implication, of course, is that “high-end” is synonymous, much of the time, with “expensive“.

So, why is this the case for me in terms of photographic equipment and not wine? The answer is simple. Photography has been my passion and profession for more than half a century. I spend much of my time either creating images, viewing images or writing about imaging, technique and equipment.

Similarly, a sommelier, or someone for whom wine is a passion and also likely a profession, can tell the difference between types, vintages, and other variables, including price point, while I can’t. In each instance one of us is a pro and the other is an amateur, with all that those words entail in terms of training, experience and taste.

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Bird House #2 – Caledon, Ontario, Canada. February, 2015

My point in the end is that we all have areas of expertise of one sort or another, and this likely provides us with a sensibility and sensitivity in an area which a lay-person likely doesn’t possess. So to argue whether a wine or a lens is worth a certain price requires that one understand the background of the person making the argument. If they have the credentials, and make an observation or judgment on something within their field of expertise, then maybe one should listen-up. If they’re a neophyte with an opinion, and not much else, then maybe just nod, smile, and have another sip of wine.

 Michael – March, 2015

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Michael Reichmann

Michael Reichmann is the founder of the Luminous Landscape. Michael passed away in May 2016. Since its inception in 1999 LuLa has become the world's largest site devoted to the art, craft, and technology of photography. Each month more than one million people from every country on the globe visit LuLa.

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