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I read Ken Rockwell’s photography web site on a regular basis, and smile (or occasionally growl) at the vehemence and occasional insularity of his opinions. If Rockwell doesn’t like a piece of camera gear he says so - but he also says why, which counts for a lot more; however, saying so repeatedly is a bit of a vice (which I recognise, being prone to it myself.) He'll witter on and on like a dog with a particularly recalcitrant bone; I got it about the overpriced Nikon D3x after the first three times, and don't need all the rest...

However, if he does like something, he’s just as enthusiastic, and it was that enthusiasm which pointed us in the right direction for our own current camera, a Canon SD870 IS – that’s the SD880 in the US, or was: it’s been discontinued. Shelf life, about ten months. Given the way they come in and go out of production, there must be landfills devoted to nothing but out-of-date digicams… However, if you’re looking for a new camera (and are partial to Nikon DSLRs or something from the latest crop of Canon compacts – there’s nowt else but Leicas) check his recommendations.

He’s fallen in love with Leica (can't blame him) and has been lavishing glowing praise on the new Leica M9 digital rangefinder, which is certainly a smashing-looking piece of kit - but then, the earlier Leica attempts at digital looked just as good, but didn't cut the mustard when it came to actually taking pictures. I'm going to be interested in the first full reviews, because I've had a thing for rangefinder cameras since I was at school: they have the same 1930s retro charm as fountain pens, typewriters, the good Indiana Jones movies and the Crimson Skies computer game of blessed memory, and for all its 21st-century interior, the new one has that charm in spades.

Trouble is, it also has Leica’s one big flaw: price. The M9 camera body is $7,000 as near as makes no difference; the lenses start at almost three grand a pop and go up from there. Even the flashgun costs nearly $700. I haven’t bothered with prices in Euro or Sterling, they’d just give me a headache, but a basic system from brand new (body with wide, standard, and telephoto lens, flashgun, memory card and case - one built like Fort Knox, to protect that particular investment) won’t leave much change from $16,000. Sixteen. Thousand. A one, a six and three zeroes. Ouch.

It’s just as well that used Leica lenses from as far back as the dawn of time are all over the place, that they all fit (with an adapter if necessary) even the newest Leica bodies, and that some of the older, cheaper ones are supposed to be as good as, or better than, the shiny new stuff. Careful (and lucky) eBay shopping can cut the price of lenses right down - Rockwell writes about how he scored a full Leica system for about $4000 that way - however, it was a film system, not a digital one, and that $7,000 tag for the M9 remains an unavoidable expense for would-be digital Leica users.

Maybe one day, if I win the lottery or sell a movie, I’ll do more than just think about it, but right now I can’t see me ever taking enough photos to justify that sort of outlay. But somewhere west of Laramie there's a zoom-lensed, flash-fitted Nikon DSLR that's got my name on it - and I plan to give it a home before Christmas.

In the meanwhile, window-shopping costs nothing, and the one with the Leica digital in it will be wearing my nose-prints for quite a while.

April 2017

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