Apropos of yesterday's article about the world economy....


Never presume something can't happen just because it hasn't happened before.

40,000 Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine. Repeated Chinese incursions in the Taiwanese air space. 

America stretched across the globe. 

Interesting times.

I don't want to intrude on Michael Johnston's territory but can we change gears and talk about cars for one post?

Getting from rest stop to rest stop in the wilds of west Texas.

 I've usually bought new cars and driven them for a good long while. Most of the them last me up to about 100,000 miles. I do the recommended maintenance and try to keep them from getting too scuffed up. I know there is a school of thought that recommends driving them until they fall apart around you as a way of maximizing your "investment" in a car but since I use my vehicle to get to and from jobs reliability is a big issue for me and I find that 100K mark is where all the sub systems start to go south. 

I'm the kind of car owner that changes the battery at 3 years even if it's cranking strong. I just don't want to be the guy out in the parking lot on the first cold night of the year looking around to see if anyone has jumper cables. I also replace tires long before you get to the tread wear indicator. It's better in my mind to leave some money on the table rather than getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the little, tiny spare and 100 miles to go...

I've owned all kinds of cars but in the last decade the two that make the most sense for my business and my personal life have been the small SUVs. I don't particularly like the "thrill of driving" the way I did when I was a reckless teenager with a 1965 Buick Wildcat and a taste for speed. The roads are so crowded here in Austin - where I spend 95% of my driving time - that the idea of ultra performance is a joke. There  just are no uncluttered roadways with great curves that you can test out the imputed G force capability of your automobile. They no longer exist. Open roads in Austin are at the same level of impending extinction as fax machines. 

My current car is a 2019 Subaru Forester. It's got a modest but adequate 182 horsepower, 4 cylinder engine. It's all wheel drive. It's perfect for tossing in light stands, big cases full of lights and lots and lots of camera gear. It's even got a roof rack for those times when you really need to bring along more gear than you should. I bought the car with great expectations but the pandemic came along and limited my driving.....a lot. I've had the car for two years and three months and I'm just now coming up on 16,000 miles on the odometer. Or an average of 8K per year. 

When you take your new car in for the free two years of service it seems that the Subaru dealer keeps tabs on the condition and mileage of your vehicle. About six months ago I started getting offers from Subaru's guaranteed trade in program offering me a new, 2021 model for about $4000 plus the trade-in of my car. I ran the numbers and that's actually more generous than the private resale value of the car. 

I sat down with my pocket calculator and did some conjecture math. When I hit 20,000 miles with the current car I planned to buy a new set of tires. As I said above, I don't try to squeeze the very last mile out of tires, I replace them when they still have good sidewall flexibility and structural integrity. There's about $1,000. We'll have two routine maintenance visits to the dealer during any given year at about $150 each for $300. We might have to replace other stuff. And there's always the (remote) possibility that something expensive, like the entertainment/control interface electronics could fail. I'd put aside $2,000 over the next two years just to cover the unexpected. We're already close to the difference in cost between keeping the existing car or getting one that's two model years newer. 

Then you might consider depreciation. The older car will obviously have a lower resale value given its age relative to a car that's two years newer and two model years newer. That's not a small amount. 

Finally, the 2019 marked the introduction of a new chassis design and body changes for the Forester line. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan for a complex machine like a modern car and I'm certain that there have been a number of unannounced changes, modifications and improvements that will all have the effect of increasing net reliability in the newer model. While dealers can't fix as much stuff in cars as camera companies can with firmware updates in cameras the trade off is that each new model year car makers can fix the stuff that was found to be "off" in the previous year or years. 

So, here I am with an almost new car in my driveway trying to decide whether or not to go for the trade up. As I understand it the profit for the dealer is more nested in factory to dealer rebates, the ability to order more product to get better discounts, and the fact that recent, low mileage vehicles that are popular are easy to move quickly. 

In effect, I'll spend $4,000 or maybe a bit more to get a car that's two years newer, hopefully mechanically and electronically improved, has a start the clock over again new two year warranty and free maintenance for the next two years. And, as I've said a couple of times before, reliability is a big, big issue with me....

I know that some of you are more informed about cars and car stuff than am I and I welcome feedback. Is there a hidden "gotcha" that I haven't been able to figure out yet? Does this seem like a rational thing to do? It's not as if I'll need a loan or have to make payments; it's my intention to write a check for the amount. 

I really like my current car. I really like the idea of replacing it with the same model, but two years newer. 

If it doesn't work out as projected I really have no problem sticking with the current car. But if it does work then I'll have a big smile on my face for about two more years. Just trying to plan smart. 

Your take?

Why the Leica SL is more fun than the SL2.

 There are two reasons I like playing with the Leica SL more than the SL2. The first is that none of the buttons on the back of the camera, with the exception of the on-and-off switch, are labeled. It's an "art" thing and not a performance parameter. I like the way it looks and I've quickly figured out what the buttons do and where they take you when you do either a long or a short press. I re-programmed one dial to reverse the direction of the aperture control but everything else is just as it comes from the factory. The guys who programmed the camera actually gave a lot of rational thought as regards how some people operate their cameras. Their presumptions match mine pretty well. No button labels is fine because there are only four buttons to choose from. Not having more function buttons means not having to think about taking advantage of more buttons. Easier to remember the functionality of four buttons than seven or more buttons which have white type on them but can be changed to be something else. Now that's confusing.

My second reason to like the older camera better in actual use is that it cost me 1/3rd the price. If I accidentally destroy it I'll only cry one third as much and I'll replace it two thirds quicker.

After using the SL with all my different lenses the one I like best for just strolling and shooting at random is the 45mm f2.8 Sigma. It looks perfectly matched to the camera, creates very nice looking photographs and is small and light. It's a lens made for fun. Bigger, heavier lenses are made for business. Or super serious art. 

As far as aesthetics go I prefer the bare metal front of the SL over the leather trim on the front of the SL2. 

It's all silly I guess, since all the cameras I have at hand are really good photography instruments. Each has its own strengths. From the Fuji X100vs to the S1R. 

But we're still winnowing down the overall inventory. Trying to decide if it makes sense to slim down the camera body selection a bit more.... We'll see. 

Back to thinking about cars for the rest of the day. 

Drive or fly? Drive or fly? What's the right calculation?

 In days of yore I had a radius from Austin beyond which I would not drive on an assignment. Every once in a great while I broke the rule and drove a bit further away but those were usually when an assignment called for more gear than one could safely and economically transport on a commercial airline. For example, jobs that called for: lots of big strobes, lots of large lighting gear, huge scrims and lots of redundant cameras and lenses. For the most part my boundaries equal the distance and time to drive between Austin and Dallas. 

It's a pretty big circle and includes most of the major cities in Texas. When one can drive to Houston in three hours it just doesn't make sense to spend two hours getting to, and waiting at, the airport, deplaning at the other end and wrangling luggage, getting the luggage to the rental car depot, etc, etc. Your time commitment may actually exceed that required to just drive there.

But on the other hand, when I was doing jobs in places like North Carolina one day and Florida the next driving between the two was out of the question. And driving to either location from Austin would have been about as inefficient as I could imagine. 

That was all before the pandemic upended travel in a dramatic way. Now the lines at the airports are even longer (because of social distancing, etc.) and rental cars are as scarce as ice cubes in the desert and pricier than a mortgage. Now I feel like I need to recalculate the driving radius and figure out some new boundaries. 

Also, just because I've been vaccinated doesn't mean I want to take chances with a Southwest Airlines flight full of dumbass yahoos who think the earth is flat, viruses are the will of a vindictive baby Jesus, and that face masks are for sissies and liberals. In fact, when I called my dentist to reschedule an appointment because of my travel schedule they wanted to know if I was flying since their policy is to wait for at least ten days after any flight before admitting one into their office. I figure there's good logic to that and it conveys also to me seeing clients after a flight!

So, here's my current planning conundrum: I am booked to photograph an assignment in Sante Fe, NM. at the end of this month. I looked up travel information and found that there are no reasonable direct flights from Austin to Sante Fe. I would be booking Southwest Airlines to fly from Austin to Dallas and then from Dallas to Sante Fe. When I get there I'll have to have a rental car. There are none.

The flight time is a little over seven hours for both legs. Add two hours for initial arrival and check-in. That puts us over nine hours. Add an hour to fetch luggage, get a rental car (none currently exist) and get to my hotel. We're looking at ten hours and change to go from door-to-door. That's contingent on no one on the flight tossing down their face mask and challenging a flight attendant which might require us to sit at a gate and wait for police to come and remove the nut job. 

The drive from Austin to Sante Fe is about 650 miles. The estimated time on all the mapping apps is about 11 hours of drive time. Add in some breaks for the restroom, coffee regeneration and food and we'll call it 13 hours. I have a new-ish car with only 16,000 miles on the odometer. I can bring all the camera gear I'd ever want to play with and I can hang up suits and dress shirts so they are fresh and ready to go the next morning. 

I'm definitely driving and I guess this means that for now I'll extending my boundary range from Austin to a max of about 700 miles. I'd bill for travel days on either end of the project anyway. 

It's interesting that we now have different pain points to take into consideration when traveling for work. On some level I think air travel is probably safer than indoor dining at restaurants but I think you are still taking a risk given that we don't know whether or not vaccinated passengers, exposed to the Covid virus, can pass it on to unvaccinated people in turn. My concern is not so much for my personal health but concern for those I'll subsequently come into contact with. 

I have always wanted to do a project in Sante Fe. I think driving there is actually more fun given that my return trip isn't bookended by any particular schedule or obligations and I could come back through the White Sands area and the through El Paso and on to Marfa, Texas before heading home. Lots of places to stop and take photographs. 

Look for the silver lining in every choice. There's generally always one there.