The "Sunk Cost Fallacy" and how it (tragically) relates to buying camera gear.

Someone asked me in a comment this evening "what happened to the Sony RX10s?" I presumed that he assumed my camera buying was more or less a zero sum operation in which some things always have to be sacrificed when new things are purchased. A sort of equilibrium that balances the equation of gear ownership. Like the endocrine system constantly balancing hormones or blood sugar.

The underlying idea about every new camera purchase, in some quarters, is that by purchasing something new you've lost an advantage of continuing to use a system or tool that's already been paid for.

This why people persevere with an obsolete camera system when buying a new camera system would make better sense. They rationalize that since they've already "sunk" so much money in, say, a Nikon system over the years that even though they now do more video than still photography they'll need to figure out how to keep working with the Nikon system or suffer from the emotional loss of all they've invested up to that point. When we decide to go with a system we need a much stronger promise of reward than we do a threat of loss in order to move us away from our decision.

Here's a good article about the whole concept of Sunk Cost Fallacy. Article

There seem to be three types of camera buyers, at least in the market of professionals. The first are the people who feel loss most strongly. If they have invested $10,000 in several cameras bodies, a group of lenses and associated, dedicated equipment such as speed lights, software, battery grips, etc. they have a very hard time justifying a wholesale switch even if something demonstrably better comes along. Just can't do it. The usual argument is, "I'd love to switch but I have way too much money invested in XXXXX and besides, I've worked with it long enough that I have all the menus memorized." If these people needed a new feature not offered by their current cameras system it's almost predictable that they would rather rationalize that they did not need the new feature rather than make a change that might "jeopardize" their initial investment. They will be shooting Canon or Nikon for a long, long time.

The second type of buyer sees themselves as far more logical. They are willing to upgrade; to a point. They'd prefer that the upgrade be incremental and they'd prefer it even more if the upgrade allowed them to stay in the system they are currently invested in. If the reward of buying the new type of system gave them a 2 to 1 advantage over the perceived loss they would consider it and perhaps make the switch.

Then there is the group that understands and is keenly aware of the sunk cost fallacy. They understand that a nostalgia and an emotional sense of loss is just that. An emotional attachment to the idea of ownership and potential reward. They value the return on investment that being fast movers/adapters in a niche or industry will give them and are more than willing to toss away previous investments if there is a more than even chance that embracing new tech will give them more opportunity to make profits. Or make demonstrably better content.

I learned many years ago that a steadfast allegiance to a brand, technology or way of doing things is highly counterproductive in a world market in constant flux. My firm belief at this time is that video production, and hybrid assignments combining video and still imaging, are much more profitable and prevalent than the traditional still imaging assignments I was doing a year or two years ago. I further believe that the path forward is video creation in 4K. For my higher end clients and clients who do much work with green screen I believe that access to real 10 bit color is nearly mandatory now, as is a 4:2:2 color space. If I had stayed with my still imaging cameras from Nikon or Canon over the last two years I would have lost out on the potential (and actual) income that could have been derived by creating video with newly appropriate tools.

My move to Sony, and to the RX10 cameras, was motivated by the intersection of two valued technologies for me. The first was the implementation of very good 4K video capability and the second was the benefit of EVF monitoring. The very first corporate assignment on which I used two different RX10 cameras for video creation returned a profit equalling ten times the purchase price of both cameras combined. Had I not had the practice and access to the cameras; along with the generation of  samples of my mastery of the cameras to present, I would not have gotten the first assignment which then led to a year's worth of assignments that have thus far returned at least twenty five times my initial investment in the cameras.

That's a good return and a good reason to have a nostalgic attachment to the cameras which subsequently fuels the Sunk Cost Fallacy in a big way. Mostly because the past is so much easier to understand and predict than the future.

At some point all logic about the current and near future markets more or less defined the need for video features that had recently evolved and were introduced into the consumer space by several Panasonic cameras. The ability to shoot files with real 10 bit color is not possible with any of my current Sony cameras; even when hooked up to digital recorders like the Atomos Ninja Flame or Atomos Shogun. The cameras just aren't wired to do that. You can get 4:2:2 in combination with the recorders but not 10 bit color.

And none of the Sony cameras will get you to 10 bit if you have to (or want to) shoot in 4K.

You could be blindly loyal to the system since you've had past success with it and it's brought along opportunities but that kind of blind loyalty to a machine is logically misguided. The actual machines are a small part of the overall investment we make in imaging. So much more of our investments are in experience, learned seeing, business acumen and process control. The camera is an interchangeable and transient cog.

I imagine the question about keeping or not keeping the RX10 cameras was meant to be a rebuke or a criticism of what might be perceived as a "flip-flopping" or flippant approach to gear. But it's folded around the fallacy that technology and client preference is static and so equipment ownership should also be static because, after all, you'll never get that money back. But what if parting with the previous investment enables a new investment that yields more profit, better clients or just a sustainable position in a market in constant flux? Wouldn't that be more economically prudent? More logical?

In the end few of my new camera/lens purchases are dependent on or linked to the sale of existing inventory. There's not an imperative for me to make the outgoing gear pay a part for their replacements.

But think for a moment. If a year ago the majority of my fees came from operating a high resolution camera while the modest video productions could be done on cameras on hand it would make sense to continue using the same gear until something changes; right? But by an equal amount of logic if your mainstay of income producing work changed so that a greater percentage of fees came from higher production value video and you need new video tools to do the kind of work you are either doing or aspiring to do it would make a lot more sense to cut loose the anchors of the past in order to buy the tools one needs to navigate the current marketplace.

If you make great cupcakes out of the oven in your house but your success means you need bigger and more ovens to meet growing demand you have to choose between baking in one small oven twenty four hours a day or buying newer bigger ovens that can deliver three times the product in the same amount of time and working only eight hours a day. A nostalgic desire to continue with the original oven "because it is already paid for" is part and parcel of the Sunk Cost Fallacy and may be a significant reason why bakers and photographers have such a hard time transitioning to newer process paradigms.

It's hard enough to know what to do during times of stable markets but it's even  harder to know with certainty when markets are in wholesale chaos.

If I sell an RX10xxx to make mental space to work with a GH5 and a very versatile (and high performing) lens I am making a conscious decision to embrace a newer level of production quality that has a high level of certainty that it will be more profitable. I think that represents a smart business decision.

If I lived over on the opposite side of the Bell Curve as it relates to the Sunk Cost Fallacy I'd still be toting a brace of Kodak's DCS 760s, a bunch of screwdriver drive Nikon professional zoom lenses and I'd be trying to convince my friends, peers and clients that, "All you ever need for great photographs is 6 megapixels of resolution. All you need for great low light files is ISO 200. Video is a totally different animal and I have no interest in learning it. EVFs will never be useful. I'm fine getting 100 shots out of a battery. Who needs good autofocus? Don't trust any camera that weighs less than five pounds. Nikon says no one will ever need a bigger sensor than APS-C. Etc. Etc. Etc."

At times we act as though our gear is incredibly expensive and therefore we need to be extremely careful in the purchase process to make sure we buy stuff that has staying power. The reality is that we spend a very small percentage of our income on cameras and lenses compared to the investments in equipment and infrastructure that other businesses invest. In businesses with incomes over six figures purchases of $2K cameras are a small line on the spread sheet. It may be a false economy to hold onto stuff too long, especially if it's gear that's become obsolete. There is no honor or business intelligence in riding an investment all the way down to salvage value if you can turn it while it still has good value and move on to tools that allow for either greater productivity, greater fun quotients or new capabilities that you can market.

As to what I still have in inventory? I'll let that remain a mystery for now...

Buying a Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 makes it pretty clear that I'm back in "Two System Hell" again.

After my shoot on Tues. at Zach Theatre I couldn't get one idea out of my head; that it would be really cool to have a very sharp lens that covered all the focal lengths between the equivalents of 24 to 200mm in a lens with a fixed, fairly fast aperture. A lens that could cover all the near and far shots in a theatrical dress rehearsal without breaking a sweat. One that I could use on the GH5 to use when shooting video or regular photographs. Turns out that such an animal does exist and all the feedback that I've gotten here, via e-mail, and in trusted blogger reviews made the lens out to be pretty fantastic.

I've been testing my GH5 and find it to be a wonderful camera to work with but I wanted a lens that could take advantage of the autofocus capabilities of the camera but would also be optimized for manual focusing in video. Seems that the 12/100mm from Olympus checked all the boxes.

I didn't know what the supply might be like in the bold world outside the cocoon of my studio so I called the folks at Precision Camera to find that they had three in stock. I only needed one.

With the eternal, maddening construction and consequential delays on our major north/south road from my studio to the camera store I was able to "enjoy" a half hour of driving to go ten miles north and then nearly 45 minutes to make the same trip back south. But I had a new goal in mind besides just buying local, my plan was to negotiate a deal which would also get me a free, vacuum insulated, stainless steel water bottle from the store. Yes, it has a logo on it but it's still a very cool (and effective water bottle).

I've been walking around the studio, the house and the neighborhood from the minute I got back snapping images willy-nilly and everything I focus the new lens on looks very cool.

So here we are again. Two systems deep. Unwilling to fully commit to one or the other. At least it's a hell of a lot of fun.....

Looks like we've got at least one foot in that small sensor camp. What keeps you shooting m4:3?

Answer to reader who wants to know if I'll be returning my GH5 for a refund...

For a while here at the VSL's massive testing laboratory it looked like sheer gloom and doom for the GH5. The darn thing is about the same size as our beloved Sony A7Rii but that Sony camera just blows the GH5 out of the water when it comes to mind altering levels of resolution and detail. The A7Rii makes the Panasonic cry like a little girl when it comes to dynamic range and highlight recovery. And, it's got that all important more narrow depth of field when used with fast (or any) glass in the same basic angle of view.  Add to this that the A7Rii already had pretty nice 4K video (in APS-C mode) and it seems like a total smackdown. Who in their right mind would keep the 5?

My accounting department came in early this morning to box up the Panasonic and get the paperwork in order to make a return today. When I found out I fired everyone in that department. Who needs logic and metrics where camera body decisions are made?

You're damn right we're keeping the GH5, and here's why: The video performance from this camera is fantastic. Reason enough to own it. When used in conjunction with an external video recorder/monitor like the Atomos Shogun, in the 4K Pro Res set up it holds its own with anything out there except maybe a giant Red or Arri Alexa camera. For the kind of corporate work I do even staying all in camera delivers the good and does so in a very small form factor. While the Sony has an advantage in the arena of noise performance at higher ISOs the GH5 has much, much nicer skin tones and overall color and gradation. We'll keep it for anything that demands great, fast, happy video. 

But wait, there's more! Few other cameras (maybe the Olympus EM-1.2) are set up to use my dear old Pen FT lenses as well. At last count there are seven that we actively use... 

In either video or stills the GH4 runs circles around the Sonys when it comes to battery capacity and power management. Two extra batteries will get me through a full day of shooting while three pockets full of Sony batteries might be needed for the same run. 

Another difference is in handling. The Panasonic is designed for someone who actually shoots all day long. The Sony can deliver the goods and it's head and shoulders above most cameras for imaging performance but the Panasonic feels good. Works well. Has some winning personality. Got the good genetics when it comes to the menu UI and so much more. 

I can see a difference in image files. The Sony is lush and luxurious. You reach the end of your tether a little quicker with the Panasonic. But, again, we're talking the difference between 100% and 95%. I could make a living with either system. And do it pretty well. 

So, I'm getting rid of all the Sony stuff, right? Not so fast. There's a lot I like about the two Sony FF bodies I have and the selection of lenses I've put together. But the kicker is that big sensor hiding behind that weird body design. 

The Panasonic is fun to shoot. The Sony will deliver when the art director with OCD comes through the door. Let's keep both. 

Starting my personal KirkStarter Campaign to raise money for my hotly anticipated acquisition of the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 to round out my m4:3 system. I've already donated some and I guess I'll keep donating until I've reached my goal. Sorry, there's no website for donations. 

Sony vs. Panasonic. No contest. Both.

A very important test for my new GH5...

Sure, the GH5 can work with "legacy" lenses and it can work shooting stage shows in near darkness but can it bring home the bacon on a really tough assignment? I thought I'd take some time this morning to see. 

It was a fun, tough day in the pool. The water temperature was creeping up to 86(f) but the hard charging folks in my lane were loathe to back away from the kinds of intervals they usually do on sets when the water is 78. We ground through much swimming but I saved my real energy for my most definitive test yet of the new GH5. Could it handle full daylight at ISO 200? Would the files fall apart at such a dicey sensitivity setting? Would we get all the color saturation and sharpness we were used to getting at ISO 1600? 

The testing crew was on pins and needles for sure. Why? Well, I think today is the last day I could return the camera for a full refund...

I took no chances with sissy-style autofocus lenses. I precision-attached a proven favorite, the Olympus Pen FT 40mm f1.4. Since this was to be a "real whirled" test I eschewed the false support of a tripod and relied on the in-body image stabilization. 

We planned on having an extensive crew on hand but our digital tech couldn't get his three ergo carts through the pool door and up the little hill. Our grip crew, along with our grip truck, got caught in rush hour traffic on the insidious Mopac "Expressway" (where good commuters go to die from boredom) so we had to make due without the diesel generator, the sky crane and the raft of 18K HMIs. My original plan was to "fly" a giant scrim over the entire pool area and then come back in and emulate the effects of sunlight by using a bank of large HMI lights. Sadly, logistics prevented this critical part of my test. 

We had hired America's best towel fluffer from Miami but her flight into Austin was delayed. She and her three assistants are recovering from their horrendous flight delays over at the Four Seasons Hotel and, as of 8:00 am this morning she was not returning my calls...

On the call sheet for this test was a small (twelve persons) crew of grass stylists who were supposed to be on site by 5 a.m, this morning  removing any brown grass in the frame and replacing it with bright green grass that we had flown in from Scotland but when they arrived the team of barristas we'd arranged to be on site was nowhere in sight so the grass experts left in protest. Can't blame them. Who can style turf without a good cup of coffee?

I had to send my two assistants home sick. Once we lost the DIT and the turf crew they began to suffer from existential angst, which both assured me was a real condition and covered extensively in the beta of the DSM-VI. Just go look it up. I'm sure it's there. Photographic Existential Angst or "PEA". Few cures, many symptoms. 

Trooper that I am I went boldly ahead with the critical towel testing pretty much on my own. The almost final straw was when I got the text from our model, Karlie Kloss. Her Toyota Corolla had broken down just a few miles from her secret home in Pflugerville, Texas and she was waiting for a tow.  Now I was starting to panic because I'd been led to believe that few could wrangle a Marvel-themed towel like Karlie. 

Fortunately one of my lane mates agreed to hold the towel. I proceeded with understandable trepidation. Could Anne really manage to hold the towel exactly as Karlie Kloss would have? Who would do Anne's nails? 

Amazingly we were able to pull it off. The towel went up and the necessary shots were taken. I've analyzed the nano-contrast and the bokeh and integrated it into my DXO data. 

The upshot? Even without a vast crew of highly trained helpers we were able to do a successful test of the GH5 and the best towel ever made for swimmers. My conclusions? My verdict? My assessment?

Yeah. The towel looks pretty good. Now we'll all sleep just a little bit better.......


Photography would not be as much fun without a little risky experimentation. Right?

So, let's play "guess this lens."

Last night was the dress rehearsal for Zach  Theatre's production of Million Dollar Quartet and I was in a quandary. I really wanted to play with my new GH5 but the only Panasonic lens I currently have for it is the 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. It's a nice lens; especially for a kit lens, but that long end is really slow for shooting stage shows and, actually, the long end isn't that long. I was looking around for something closer to the 90-100mm range. I guess I could have cobbled on my older Nikon 105mm f2.5 or something but I wanted the ability to recompose on there fly and that meant I really wanted something zoom-y. 

Yesterday's discussion about the Olympus 12-100mm lens really whetted my appetite but I felt a bit reticent, after having dropped kilo-bucks on the GH5, to return to the trough too soon... that, and the fact that projects have been a bit "light on the ground" this Summer. Something to do with having an overweight position in healthcare clients in the middle of a period of funding uncertainty brought about by our elected officials...

So I rummaged around in the equipment cases and came across two copies of a very old lens that would work with one of my Pen FT to m4:3 adapters. It's a lens I seldom use and one I never had much luck  with on the first and second generation of micro four thirds cameras: it's the Pen FT 50 to 90mm f3.5 zoom lens. 

I carefully inspected the glass and tried it on the GH5, just shooting inane images around the studio. I set the image stabilization on the GH5 to 90mm since I figured that was the focal length I'd need the most help with, and the one I'd mostly be shooting at the theater. I dived into my saved archives and found an original Modern Photography Magazine review of the Olympus PenFT lenses from 1970. Yes, that's 47 years ago. It's a lens that hit the market when I was twelve or thirteen years old....

I hadn't remembered the magazine's scoring but I was pretty surprised when I found it. They rated the lens as "excellent" in both the center and edges at f3.5 and f4.0. The sharpness dropped off as it was stopped down but never fell below "good." It's pretty impressive that the lens hit such good performance metrics wide open and at all focal lengths. Two things help this lens; one is the very low zoom ratio and the other is many fewer lens elements than current zooms. While I know that modern zooms can correct all sorts of things with moving lens groups and fancy elements I also know that mechanical precision and tolerances can be a bitch to achieve and thereby deliver the theoretical performance in the "real world." A lens in which on the zoom mechanism and the focusing group moves may not self-optimize for close ups but a nice, tight mechanical package will less often fail or go out of pristine alignment. 

After a bit of shooting and testing I dropped the lens and camera into my tool bag, along with the reliably good fz2500 and headed over to see the show. 

Here are my few observations after examining about 650 shots from the GH5+Ancient lens combination: 

1. Manual focusing with moving targets on a dark stage using an older lens that shoots at the stopped down aperture can be a bear. Focus peaking seems to be, in this case, more of a general guide than a precision measurement.... I'm assuming that practice would really be helpful and I'll have to shoehorn in some addition time behind the finder to the schedule. But here's the deal; if you hit focus you are rewarded with a fairly sharp and detailed image. You can't blame poor lens performance on your own focusing inadequacies. Sorry, that doesn't fly. If the lens is sharp on a tripod it's a sharp lens. If it's dull because you can't focus it's still a sharp lens. 

2. Older lenses seem to transmit color differently. I keep saying it's more rounded but that may not convey what I really mean. The color tonality just looks different to me than current lenses or mid-1990's Zeiss lenses. Rounded. Less fine gradation?

3. The I.S. at 90mm with the camera set to the same was very good. You could see it in the finder as you touched the shutter button; the frame calmed down and got very stable. I didn't notice much of a problem with wider focal lengths, but, again, we're just heading down from 90mm to a minimum of 50mm. 

I'll readily admit that I think the big Sony A7Rii does a better job with this kind of stage photography but only because there's so much more detail to work with. I'm not bothered by noise in the GH5 files (shot here at 1250) but I do hit a resolution limit. Part of that could be the resolution of the lens but when I look closely I see the kind of difference that 20 megapixels vs. 42 megapixel shows.

The zoom, focus and aperture rings of the 50-90mm lens are smooth and still well damped. They roll between your fingers exactly like high priced, precision engineering is supposed to work. They are so smooth that you end up wanting an excuse to focus or zoom. Kinda nutty, for sure. 

Don't think that I'm being unfair to my client by tossing in this kind of experimentation. On some level there is the expectation that we'll find a look that resonates with the time period of the play. On another level you have to understand that this was the third rehearsal I've shot of the same play and we covered the hell out of it on Sunday night. Also, playing is good. Fun is good. 

While I'm getting more and more serious about the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 (modern lens) I am slowing down that acquisition and spending a bit more time exploring this fun, new, 47 year old lens I have attached to the GH5. If the lens does a good job with moving stage actors from halfway up the house I'm looking forward to walking around with the combination to see what we can do in fun sun with time to focus diligently. 

Finally, the lens looks funny on the camera. It's long and skinny. But to my eye it looks just like the Angenieux 12-120mm I used to have on the front of my Bolex Rex 5, 16mm movie camera. Hmmm. I wonder if that lens would work on m4:3 ??????