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Eamon Hickey
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re: resale price maintenance Jack's answer regarding the Leegin decision was exactly right. There's a complex -- and, to me, fascinating -- history of resale price maintenance law and economics in the U.S. (and elsewhere). Won't go into the details here, but the Leegin decision was an extremely consequential event for everyday American life -- in more and more industries, companies are using it to control price competition between retailers and the extent and depth of discounting in U.S. stores. The mechanism they use, which Leegin made possible, is called "Unilateral pricing" -- a Google search will turn up plenty of stories on it. There's been a kerfuffle over it in the contact lens industry, and that story is an incredibly instructive example of how economics, competing (and typically unpretty) interest groups, and government policy interact with big consequences for us little folks.
Toggle Commented Mar 7, 2017 on Tasty Olympuses at The Online Photographer
Wonderful! I love how they were scrambling for a roll of film. Been there! Of course, it's a hoary old cliché to say that the sight of Earth like that should make us all acutely aware of the fragility of our unbelievably beautiful home in this cold universe. And clearly, it hasn't -- we're merrily despoiling it just as fast as we ever did. But it should have made us aware.
One further note to keep in mind: with the lithography division writing off 29.7b yen in inventory (29.7b yen is 29,700 million yen), and the company forecasting "only" a 9b (9,000m) yen loss overall, it's essentially certain that the camera division will be posting an operating profit for the year. It's the lithography division that will drag the company into an overall net loss. So if you're analyzing Nikon, the really urgent question is not about cameras at all. The question is what's wrong with the lithography division, and how can they fix it? (That question goes back a long ways; Nikon's first loss-making year ever in its history was in 1992 (talk about hand-wringing!). And the cause was -- yep, huge inventory write-downs in the lithography division. Everything old ...
These reports can be really hard to parse. Just a couple of notes: Nikon's net loss over the period they are talking about (nine months ending Dec. 31, 2016) was 831m yen, or about 7.5 million dollars. The "extraordinary loss", which basically means out-of-the-ordinary loss or expense, was 29.7b yen (about 270 million dollars) but that was offset by operating profits (likely all in cameras) over that same period, and the end result is an 831m yen net loss. And the 29.7b yen "extraordinary loss" was not in the camera division; it was in the semiconductor lithography division (inventory write-downs). Also, the lithography division write-down of 29.7b yen accounts for the majority of the 53b yen "restructuring costs" Nikon expects to incur this fiscal year (ending March 31, 2017). Nikon is now forecasting a 9,000m yen (that's "nine-thousand million yen") net loss for fiscal 2017, or about 81 million dollars on 750,000m yen (6.8 billion dollars) in sales. That's about a 1.2% net loss. Not good, for sure, but Nikon's very strong balance sheet can easily handle a small loss like that. Nikon has been nicely profitable for the past six years (in both cameras and, to a lesser extent, lithography equipment), thus the strong balance sheet. Nikon does have long-term challenges in a shrinking camera market, no doubt. And the whole DL fiasco is, well, a fiasco. Just terrible business performance. And not the only bad show from Nikon recently. But it's important to keep things in perspective. Nikon is financially strong; it is coming off many years of making lots and lots of money (unlike nearly all other camera companies besides Canon); and there is time to adjust. Their real need is not to be smarter about the camera business; their real need is to find a new business that has scale and is also reliably profitable, to go along with cameras and (maybe) lithography equipment.
I have no rational argument for this, but I've always thought a 6x7cm negative was the perfect piece of film. Unfortunately, the cameras that make them -- even the comparatively svelte Mamiya 7 -- are too big for me. The physics of my ideal universe would allow a Leica to make a 6x7 neg.
Toggle Commented Feb 8, 2017 on Unboxing at The Online Photographer
I'm much enamored of the two lens idea -- been trying to get it together for some years now. For me, the ideal is a 28mm f/2 (or 2.8) and a 55mm f/2 (in 35mm equivalent terms). I could get it with a Sony A7 and the Sony FE 28/2 + Zeiss 55/1.8 lenses in a size that I could live with (though wouldn't love). But, alas, that setup bears a price I'm so far unwilling to pay. If size/weight were no object, a pretty similar setup would be easy to do with Canon or Nikon. I recently spent a couple weeks shooting with the Fuji XF 18/2 and 35/2 lenses (27 and 53mm equivalents). Both are really nice, but, try as I might, I can't really fall for any Fujifilm bodies, so far. I'll probably keep trying on the ridiculous theory that love can be willed into being. I have a Sony a6000 and the Sony E 20/2.8 (somewhat different than the 28/2 equivalent I really want) and the E 35/1.8 (really nice). For now, it'll do, but I wish the Fuji 18/2 worked on my a6000.
I have mixed feelings about Joe Holmes's photographs. I love how good they are, but they put my own mediocre efforts in too sharp relief. Naturally, I blame him for that. The problem is that Joe covers a lot of the same ground that I do when I'm out and about with a camera (New York City). So when I look at his work, I see lots of places I've been and scenes that I've encountered, or rather could have encountered if I had more gumption, only they look way better in his pictures than in mine. In fact, I've thought about him many times in the past month as I see Christmas Tree vendors all over the city. He did a nice series of portraits of them a few years back. It almost goes without saying that I have never made a good picture of one. I've mentioned it in previous comments, but I wrote a short profile of Joe for Rob Galbraith's now-shuttered web site, if anyone wants to learn a little bit more about Joe (although parts of the piece are a bit dated).
Toggle Commented Dec 25, 2016 on Fruits of the Season at The Online Photographer
Tangentially, as a professional writer, I find that reading your blog is an excellent way to avoid actually writing. When that strategy is exhausted, I resort to composing comments to your posts. See, works like a charm! [Made me laugh. I recently achieved hours of procrastination by researching a new keyboard to buy. Had to remind myself "that's not writing." --Mike]
Photo dawg brain teaser: Although that may be the oldest Nikon known to exist, it is not the oldest existing camera made by the company called Nikon. Say what? Well, "Nikon" was, in those days, simply a brand name created by the company, Nippon Kogaku. And Nippon Kogaku made a variety of aerial reconnaissance cameras for the Imperial Japanese Navy going back to the 1930s. The U.S. Smithsonian Air & Space Museum happens to have one of the relatively few that survived the Second World War:
Toggle Commented Dec 2, 2016 on Ratty Old Nikon at The Online Photographer
The two greatest restrictions on lens designers are 1. intended selling price, and 2. size and weight Although I knew point #2, it's really hit home for me in the past 2-3 years, as more and more lenses come to market designed to perform well on super high-resolution sensors. Many of these new lenses are real monsters. I just received a Leica SL for testing, along with its "kit" 24-90/2.8-4 (long-ish on the tele end, but only f/4 at that zoom position). I never imagined I'd see a mid-range zoom of this, um, generous size, and it's especially disorienting if you grew up thinking of Leica in terms of the M-system, with its wonderful compact lenses. I'm sure that the 24-90's size is necessary for it to meet its performance aim points, but I keep having to check the name on the front to verify that it is indeed a Leica.
re: pitching ideas to companies When I was a Nikon rep, it was a fairly regular occurrence for someone to approach me saying that they had an idea for a product and could I put them in touch with the right folks at Nikon to pitch it to. My bosses had a boilerplate response: the company and its official representatives could not, and would not, speak to anyone about a product idea unless that person held a patent on the idea. I'm sure this policy served several different purposes, but one of them, I think, was to avoid situations where somebody thought the company had stolen their idea without paying for it. Nikon, at least officially, would listen only to outside ideas whose ownership was already legally established and which Nikon would therefore have to pay a license fee to use, if they wanted it. Of course, Nikon has violated patents in the past, and paid dearly for it, so there were holes in the overall system! In fairness, I should note that Nikon has also collected plenty of money from other companies who violated Nikon's patents. And in these ways, they are like nearly all other electronics companies. The dog-eat-dog world of capitalism gobbles on.
Further contrarian addendum: As to the comment about Canon fearing Fuji. I've never known a corporation to formally designate an official Company We Fear Most. To me, this seems very much like the kind of question about which there will be different opinions among the people working within a company like Canon. When I worked at Nikon, if you posed any business question (aside from hard sales and production numbers) to 10 different managers within the company, you'd get at least 3 different answers. Frequently, you'd get 10 different answers. And I often saw my colleagues make up answers out of thin air, based on their own particular hobby horses, in order to seem important or knowledgeable, rather than the glorified flunkies, yes-men, and go-fers that we actually were. So, for my own part, I'd take that comment with a big grain of salt.
Yes indeed, just being clear about what you're doing is all that's needed. But, to belabor the obvious a bit, there's a reason why so many people aren't clear about what they're doing. Truth has its own particular power, and a lot of work -- not only photographs but also writing -- is lifeless without that power. For me, the classic example is James Frey's phony memoir, "A Million Little Pieces". He tried to sell that book as a novel, but nobody was interested. It was a bad novel. When you know it's fiction, it's crummy art. Writing good fiction is hard. Frey's publisher suggested that it would sell if it were a memoir, and voila, he called it a memoir. This bad novel now (spuriously) acquired the power of truth -- and sold millions of copies. So, now that we know McCurry's (recent?) work is photo-illustration, is it still good? I dunno. But I know we look at it, and are open to whatever emotional/artistic power it might have, according to a completely different set of criteria.
I don't want to go all point/counterpoint here, but just food for thought for those of you who are saying (in the comments) that the lesson here is "avoid Nikon". We speak loosely of "Nikon" in these discussions. Actually, the specifically harsh anti-gray market repair policies at issue in this discussion are Nikon USA policies. No other Nikon subsidiary that I know of takes the same hard line on this. And Nikon Japan certainly does not. When I worked at Nikon USA, I many times saw Nikon Japan "request" that Nikon USA repair a gray market product as a courtesy for a customer who was savvy enough to write to Japan. Of course, these "requests" were never refused. So if you are not likely to need Nikon USA to do a repair for you -- you don't live in the U.S., for example -- then your worries are about the same as owners of any other brand, as far as I know. Also, remember this is just a gray market policy. If you don't own gray market gear, it's all moot. Hill of beans. Puff of smoke.
@ Hugh Crawford: I never thought I'd miss the way Joe Ehrenreich ran things when he owned Nikon in the USA. Again, just in the interests of trying to paint a full picture: Nikon USA's gray market policies are not driven by the Japanese -- i.e. Nikon Japan, or Nikon Corp, as it is officially known. I don't know for sure that the policies go back to Joe Ehrenreich himself, but I do know for a 100% certainty that they were created by Ehrenreich's people. When I joined Nikon USA in 1989, every senior executive in the company was still an inherited Ehrenreich executive, and the policies were already old by then. Nikon's Japanese parent company was not a big fan of Nikon USA's gray market stance when I was at Nikon USA. The gray market itself was a significant point of contention and conflict between the two entities. Why doesn't Nikon Japan just order Nikon USA to change its policy? They could. But one of the major functions of a regional subsidiary is to handle region-specific decision-making. So there's always a give-and-take -- more so when the parent is a Japanese company that does not like to give explicit orders that it knows will anger the subsidiary and may hurt it financially. All that said (and now I'm stepping into opinion territory), both branches of Nikon have, together, inadvertently danced themselves into a very customer unfriendly corner. It's stupid, and they should find another solution. That they have not, even after 40 years, is a significant black mark against them both. But they are not really alone -- thousands of companies in hundreds of industries have big problems handling gray market issues in a smart and customer-friendly way. If this were a blog about cars, or luxury watches, or even tractors (yes, tractors!), it would have similar gray market discussions from time to time.
I'm just gonna' keep whispering in the wilderness here: @ Wes: It seems Nikon has soften their stance a bit. Their stance and policy has not changed. What changed is that even the authorized repair stations could not get parts or equipment to repair some (not all) of the newest camera models, but now Nikon is supplying the stuff needed to repair those models, as those models get older. As new models continue to roll out, and once-new models become no-longer-new, that cycle will probably continue to play out. @ David Dyer-Bennet> Reminds me why I really need to get out of Nikon, yeah. They've gotten just too evil. Keeping track of receipts for lenses I bought in, say, 1982 is not a reasonable requirement for being allowed to buy service Nikon USA hasn't actually changed; somehow they were managing to conceal their true nature from you. Nikon USA's policy on gray market repairs goes back to the early 1980s, probably longer. You always needed your receipt.
p.s. On a side note: the Authorized Repair Stations can provide in-warranty service on many Nikon products -- i.e. they bill Nikon for your repair, instead of billing you.
The Nikon parts issue is another one where the details are maddeningly thorny, and it's easy to come to grief with seemingly simple language. It is not true that Nikon USA has stopped selling parts to all independent repair shops. What is true is that Nikon USA will now only sell parts to Nikon Authorized Repair Stations. There are about 19 of these, last time I counted. They are all independent repair shops -- i.e. they are not owned or operated by Nikon. They are independent businesses. But they have spent the money (on Nikon-provided repair equipment) and time (on Nikon-provided training) to gain status as official Nikon Authorized Repair Stations. As far as I know, they are free to repair any product they want to. I have never heard anyone claim that Nikon USA tries to discourage them from repairing gray products or products of unknown provenance. And I don't think Nikon USA could do that legally, anyway, even if they wanted to. You can find a list of these shops on Nikon USA's web site here:
@ Mark Walker: On balance Nikon are taking quite a bashing here. (Rightly so) They seem to offer their goods in a particularly labyrinthine supply chain. Actually, Nikon's global supply chain is not very unusual. It distributes through wholly-owned subsidiaries in all major markets (just like everyone else) and uses independent import/export companies in some smaller markets (just like lots of other manufacturers). Its structure in Europe -- where I believe you said you are -- is identical to nearly every other major Japanese exporter, as far as I can tell (an umbrella EU supervisory company based in the Netherlands, with individual physical distributors in each EU country [the Italian distributor is an independent company]). As far as gray market products hurting authorized retailers, that depends on local laws and practices. In the U.S., for example, any retailer can choose to sell gray market products alongside the authorized products they also sell (as B&H does with lenses). So they can compete with anyone, authorized or gray, if they so choose. Many of my old dealers in San Francisco did just that when I was a Nikon rep. I often sold to them standing side-by-side with their gray market supplier (a man named Simon from a company in New York nobody here has ever heard of.) Nikon USA takes quite a bashing because of its historically aggressive anti-gray market policies, but those policies, which go back four decades or more, are primarily a product of the combative personality of its original incarnation (what is now Nikon USA started out as an independent importer called Ehrenreich Photo Optical, a legendary entity in the mid-century American camera business that was not always keen on compromise.)
Just to give the background -- I've been involved in both the official importation of Nikon products into the U.S. (as a Nikon sales rep) and in gray market importation of Nikon products into the U.S. (don't ask; won't tell). Some quickie answers (please note that my purpose here is just to fill in facts, not to advocate a point-of-view about the rightness or wrongness of any person or company's practices or policies): @ Robert Roaldi: ... If you live overseas for a while and buy camera equipment there, then bring it home, can you get that equipment repaired back home? Typically, yes. This situation is not a gray market purchase. (What gray market actually is can be a little tricky to understand.) In the case of Nikon USA (and all other companies that I'm aware of), all you have to do is show them a receipt that proves you bought the camera outside the U.S., and they will gladly repair it. @ David Dyer-Bennett: ... Given that people travel, and that people move (including across international borders), and that used equipment gets sold, that's totally unacceptable. See above. Buying a camera in one country and moving or traveling to another country is not gray market and no company that I know of will refuse to repair gear purchased that way. But you may have to show your receipt. (You're proving that you did not buy a Chinese-market camera in Brooklyn, which IS gray market.) @ Ryan Cousineau: Surely the better question is why do gray imports offer a cost saving? There's no single answer. In the camera industry, however, the biggest reason (not the only reason, but the biggest) is that the products leak from regional distributors who sell them to folks they aren't supposed to, for prices that would not be possible if the distributor had to cover warranty and marketing costs for those products (they declaim those responsibilities to the customers they sell them to). @ Neal Styles: ... How exactly does a camera become a 'gray market' camera? See above. Ultimately, at all but the smallest scales, they come from regional distributors who have excess inventory they are willing to sell sideways (sometimes through a front man). Global distribution networks are very complex and can include regional distributors, regional sub-distributors, multiple sub-distributors etc., and these entities rarely have identical financial interests with parent manufacturers or distributors from other regions. Few manufacturers can completely control these networks. None of the camera companies can. @ Ken: ... which is rumored to often dump excess inventory into the gray market I've seen this stated, but it's an odd phrase to my ears. I'm sure that Nikon Japan does not intentionally feed gray market channels as an official company-wide sales policy. But some factions within the company's overseas sales division (let's say the Asia group, as opposed to the European group) may exhibit extreme incuriosity about the behavior of the particular regional distributors they sell to, when they are under pressure to make quarterly sales numbers etc. I guess you can decide how you would phrase that.
Cameras, schmameras. Ned, if you read this, say hi to Tony Rose for me! Eons ago, when he made a short sojourn to wine country (Sonoma), he and I worked in the same camera store for awhile. I still use a phrase he taught me, a synonym for manufacturer's suggested retail price: "Full pop boogie", as in "I wanted that thing so bad I paid full pop boogie."
I was just thinking a lot about this. I'm in the early stages of a review of the Fuji X-Pro2 and I've already shot 2600 pictures with it. I've marked about 22 of them as maybe -- not definitely, just maybe -- decent enough to publish with the review. Only one of them is really good. (This dubious percentage is not the camera's fault!) I went out walking with it the other day and in 2.5 hours, I shot 400 pictures. That's more than two pictures a minute. Now doing a review is a bit of a production effort -- I'm slower and choosier when I shoot purely for myself. But not all that much choosier. I've been generally a fan of the way that digital lets you shoot freely with essentially no cost. I hardly pay any attention to exposure anymore, for example. I just shoot a 3-shot bracketed sequence of nearly everything. Almost any modern camera can rip that sequence off in less than half a second. But when I got home with my 400 pictures the other day, and only one of them was really good, it gave me pause. Of course, I'll never show the 399 bad ones -- shoot more and show less, as your pro acquaintance said. But still, I'm wondering what would have happened if I'd slowed the pace down to, say, a glacial one picture per minute. Maybe I would have got home with two good ones.
In the past year or so, I've turned sharply (ahem) away from sharpness as a value in my pictures. I don't mean that I've learned that sharpness doesn't have much influence on whether a picture is good (I learned that long ago), but rather I'm explicitly preferring a not-that-sharp look. So I'm very relaxed about lenses now; I'm not sharpening very much if at all in Lightroom/Photoshop; and I'm often finding myself adding grain effects to muddy things up a bit. As a digital-era, internet-fueled meme, "pop" is the sidekick to sharpness. It seems to mean highly saturated colors and gonzo contrast. Those things, too, are not pleasing my eye lately. The saturation slider also moves to the left, I discovered. Of course, I have no beef with photographers who want their pictures sharp as a tack with pop galore. But I'm having fun making mine soft and pale.
Toggle Commented Feb 12, 2016 on Does Sharpness Matter? at The Online Photographer
[Begging forgiveness for the solipsistic comment:] In the years when I wrote feature stories for Rob Galbraith's web site, one of my favorite pieces to report and write was a story I did on the NC2000 and some of the photojournalists who began using it in 1994. I've done a few pieces on news photographers, and I always enjoy their salty take on the world and their work. As a bonus, this story also pleased my inner historian. I've probably mentioned it in earlier comments, but for anyone interested, it's still available here:
@"Did you know that a company is properly referred to as "it" in standard copyediting?" While this is certainly true in American English, I have a notion it's not necessarily true in that strange variant of English that the English speak. I can't swear to it, but I believe the plural "they" might be the proper pronoun for a company when speaking/writing British English. Someone will know the answer ... [And yet the British often use the singular when talking about companies or teams, whereas we use plural. --Mike]