Occam's razor and T.rex (2008)
There is still some controversy about the reasons why dinosaurs became extinct: one theory has it that the species could not adapt to the changing environment and another that a cloud of asteroids from outer space killed the animals. Fact is that they lived on the planet for 135 million years. Humans are on earth for 200.000 years, silver-halide film emulsions for about 150 years, Leica CRF models for about 80 years and the M-type for 50 years.
In current photo-world parlance you are considered a dinosaur (example the Tyrannosaurus Rex) when you say that you still use (and like) silver-halide films and/or a CRF. Such a verdict depends on the time scale you use and on your notion of history. In the computer-world one year is already the equal of a century and a mainframe computer is definitely a thing of the past. Mainframes have been claimed to be dead since the sixties of the 20th century, but IBM has recently introduced new mainframes, named Z10. This is a remarkable designation, as the Z1 was one of the first computers on earth designed and produced by the German scientist Konrad Zuse, hence the Zx designation. Current mainframes offer many advantages above an array of coupled servers. Current mainframes have learned new tricks, but can still run programs written thirty years ago. Try that with a modern PC! And try that with an actual dSLR. The beauty of a film-loading camera is its capability to accept the newest and best generation of film without changing the camera itself or its lenses. If you own a Canon D1 (old) an want the quality of the D1 (newest) you need to sell the old one on eBay and buy a new one.
The same with a new Leica dMx. Currently the M8 has a sensor with 10 Mb and if you wan a new upgraded one (on the assumption Leica offers this option), you have to buy a new sensor and in the same M8 body also a new rangefinder, at a minimum new frame-lines will have to be inserted in the existing finder. This will cost you the amount of money that allows you to buy a new dSLR of superior specs. Why then would you upgrade for a fortune or get yourself a new Mx, if such a model were offered alongside an upgrade?
I am lucky that I can try every possible camera on the market. The new models are indeed amazing. I am charmed with the new Pentax/Samsung models, impressed by the E-3, overwhelmed by the D3 and still stick to the M7/8. Some readers were amazed that I did not rate the new Summarit 50mm very high, but still use this lens. There is a difference between assessing what is the best lens in the world and using a lens that is up to the every day demands. I know that the Summarit 50 is not as good as the Summicron 50, but the Summarit delivers what I want in every day shooting. There is no reason why you could not use a product or tool that suits your needs while acknowledging that it will not deliver the ultimate image quality. Quite often convenience is a better option than maximum quality. There is no discrepancy between using a camera because you like it or see its advantages in your style of photography and accepting that other products are offering more or different advantages.
The basic principle here is the rule of Occam’s razor.
Occam’s razor is often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities.
Currently I am working with the Olympus E-3 and I am impressed with the engineering quality and the ergonomics of the body. The image quality, compared to the M8 will be the subject of another post. Switching between the E-3 and the M8 highlights a huge difference in philosophy of design and photography. If we apply Occam’s razor, then the Leica simply is the best solution when the demands for photographic results are identical. A portrait or a landscape or a documentary picture or even a glamour picture can be done with the M8 as well as or even better than with the E-3. The E-3 has more than 20 buttons and wheels on the body, where the Leica has barely five. The Leica can be used after reading the manual for five minutes. The Olympus needs a study of four hours and you constantly forget to use the right sequence of operations. The Olympus is more versatile and can do things the Leica cannot, whatever the competence of the Leica user. If you are working in situations where autofocus is required, a careful composition has to be controlled or studio lighting needs to be measured quite easily with the camera, than the E-3 simply is the better choice.
But when both cameras are employed in the same type of photographic assignments, Occam’s razor postulates that the simpler solution is best.
Some blog comments on the internet asked why I can question the future of the M and still be a fan of the CRF.
It is the rule of Occam! I like simplicity and when I can get the results I want with a minimum of actions I will choose that option. Of course it is possible to customize the E-3 such that it emulates an M camera as a semi-automatic photographic tool. But you still have the weight and handling and finder that is Olympus all over. On the other hand we have to admit that the E-3 shines in situations where the M would hardly be used.
The M design lacks some useful things like the Live View and the moveable display. But it gives the user full control and the satisfaction of being in control, where the E-3 always invokes a feeling of being the extension of the camera.
Recently I bought a Cannondale F4 mountain bike and the difference between this bike and the cross country motor bike I had is striking: with the Cannondale bike I am in control and have to do it alone. With the motor bike I am faster and I am selecting different terrain, but I am not feeling the satisfaction of doing it myself with my own powers.
The M camera asks for a photographer who wants to do it alone, like the classical Western hero who simply notes that a man has to what a man has to do. The simple solution may not be appropriate for all occasions, but wherever possible it is a good choice.