The L, The H, And The L


A friend in the photographic trade had a famous rule that he always advocated: The only cameras to buy were Leicas, Hasselblads, and Linhofs. There are those who thought that this was wrong and there were those who thought it was pretty well right.

He knew his cameras – he sold them for 40 years and the firm he established still does. While the Linhof brand and the rationale of the large format for photography have receded into a very small part of the trade, the other two brands are going as strong as ever. But I don’t think he based his advice just on the trade aspect of the thing – after all his shop sold every blessed photo item under the sun, and even more under the safelight – he could have made money out of any brand.

What I think he was getting at was the level of sensible engineering in those three camera brands combined with the precision of manufacture. It is something that was approached by other makers but rarely surpassed, and never with the large support bases throughout the world that the big three enjoyed. While they continued making the cameras that worked in studios, at war, and on the Moon, other makers produced novelties and new styles, and sometimes paid the price of business failure for it. Petri, Miranda, Praktica, Minolta, Konica, etc., etc. Love ’em or hate ’em, they never got to be what the big European three were.

” But what about the major Japanese brands – the ones that are in all the shops today? The N, the C, the O, the F, the S? ” Great cameras, great systems – I use one of them myself  – but none with the cachet of the big European three. There are few  clubs dedicated to their collection and use…

” What about the money? ” A valid point. The big three cost more than anything else when they were new and they hold their value now – with the possible exception of the Linhof monorails. This is not because of any flaw in them – it is because people have not yet figured out how to use large format with digital. I confess it eventually flummoxed me and I sold my beloved Linhof Kardan E outfit. But mark this…I sold it for a fair price that was far higher than would have been gotten by a lesser camera. I know – when trying to sell Sinars, Alpas, and Cambos we were literally throwing them out the door. In the case of even stranger monorails we were blocking the door with wedges to prevent them coming into the shop…

I’ll not have a new digital system but that is because of the economics of it. If the Lotto comes on stream in New Years Eve I will change that smartly. You can keep the Lamborghinis and the Hummers – I’ll opt for Leicas and Hasselblads.



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