Friday, December 18, 2015

Season's Greetings (But Why Is It That ALMOST Everything Chinese Made Breaks?)

Greetings playmates - we've made it through another year and onwards to the next one - I wish you all the best for the Seasons and also all the best for a rooty-toot New Year!

Now, a thorny problem - well I don't know if you've noticed but it is a global world we live in - yer large corporations (and yes camera companies, that means you too) are now far more concerned with shifting large units of something which is effectively the same thing as you have in your kitchen - in retail terms "white goods".
You know, the numbers game - X-number of boxes containing X-number of Consumer Products. All manufactured in lovely clean factories (mostly) in China.
The relentless march of new model X versus new model Y; cameras out of date whilst still languishing on retailer's shelves.
You know the sort of thing.
It's called modern commerce.

It pisses me off actually.
I mean, I look at my Leica M2 or my Rollei T or the Nikon Fs, or the Hasselblad or Wista or Sinar and think, Mein Gott - they REALLY don't make them like that anymore - these were mostly assembled by hand by a highly skilled craft force the likes of which you'll never see again.
I'm not denying that China (et al) doesn't have a highly skilled craft force - of course it does, but the problem comes from the oft-vanishing bottom line.
It isn't all cheap Far East though - you do get cameras manufactured in Europe (and America and Japan) - please stand up all you lovely tiny (and that includes Leica) camera manufacturers - now, no looking around the room, but lets say you could probably hold your Christmas party in a cupboard whilst outside on the street there's a multi-float parade going on from the Big Four. But that's the way the cookie has crumbled.
I do wonder how long the smaller manufacturers (and even the big ones) can keep going against the relentless onslaught of the phone though - yes certainly there's a small army of concerned photographers who will want a new Alpa (and I count myself amongst them) but really - could you honestly afford one?
So how on earth do they continue to stay in business, when they can only be selling a tiny amount of new cameras every year?
There's a problem you see - the world is awash with old cameras and people continue to buy them. And if, like me, you love using old cameras, you must surely realise that what you are using was actually a pinnacle of mechanical engineering wrought tiny.
(Well, I'll add a caveat to that, they're MOSTLY that - obviously there were a lot of cheap cameras and they haven't really survived that well, but then again, even the humble, very very 'umble, Olympus Trip, is a damn fine ingenious and reliable piece of equipment. It goes wrong some times, but if you're handy with a screwdriver and feel a bit brave then it is fixable. So try doing that with your Panasonic Lumix or Samsung or Sony whatever, or Canon or Nikon - are these modern cameras fixable? - possibly, but tbh unless you like the idea of being a brain surgeon and rocket scientist at the same time I would say chuck it in the bin and buy another!)
But would you consider doing that with your M3, or your Standard Rolleiflex from the 30's? Would you feck - you'd get the little beauty repaired because not only is it a damn fine piece of engineering, it has a soul.
Like that bag of old soft toys you've still got tucked away a real soul. (I confess I have my 55 year old teddy bear (called Tedson) at home and whilst I don't cuddle him every night, I know where he is and sometimes go and say hello, because he has a soul, albeit imagined by me).
Call it Zen, call it Craftsmanship, whatever, but a lot of old cameras have souls - they're imbued with the hopes and dreams of great images by their previous owners.
My Rollei and Minolta Autocord are very elderly gentlemen who have had hard lives but still like a wander down to the shops with their flies open.
My Nikons are also reasonably elderly chaps who took up running years back and are still doing it.
My M2 is a retired watchmaker who has looked after himself and knows how to stay healthy.
The Wista and Sinar the same.
The Hasselblad is a newly retired surgeon, enjoying a more relaxed life.
You see - SOUL!
The Canon EOS 50D - whilst it's a VERY GOOD digital camera (same with the wee Lumix) has nothing there at all - they're effective machines produced in immense quantities, but they have little to make you feel affection for them.

OK, so you're wondering what the hell I am on - machines with soul?
Can it be possible?
Well only if you're seriously deranged like me, but for the rest of you, they probably just come down to reliable and unreliable.
And I can understand that POV, but you see folks because of globalisation we have a massive worldwide problem - profit versus build.
Y'see in a bid to maximise profits from all you young dogs hungry for the next gadget, albeit phone, camera, whatever, build quality seems to have gone to shit.
Though (truth be told) I haven't been on the end of an unreliable 'modern' camera, a number of 'consumer' items I have bought recently have been defective.
Samsung laptop? Screen gone to shit in 2 years!
GE flourescent tubes - supposed lifespan 15 years? 2 years and they failed.
The worst though is my ongoing tale of woe trying to find that most basic of artefacts - the electric kettle. There's not a single one for sale in the UK that isn't made in China - big names and small names - the whole lot, from Dualit, Kitchenaid and Smeg, down to the lowly Tesco Value - everything in between - fine upstanding names of post-War manufacturing -  Bosch, AEG, Philips, DeLonghi, Breville - you name them and they ALL outsource to Chinese manufacture, and the crazy thing is, the massive price differences for, what is essentially the same thing and no doubt the same innards (roughly) made in the same factories. After my 3 year old Chinese Breville kettle started delivering chunks of metal from its supposed "stainless steel" interior (in reality - stainless coated steel) into my morning tea, I started hunting.
It involved the world's most boring man activity of heading to my local retailers and lifting every kettle and looking at the labelling:
Made In China
Made In PRC
All essentially the same thing.
I wanted something European, but no luck.
So I gave in and bought a Bosch - 15 boils in and the thing still tasted overwhelmingly of plastic . . . 16 boils in and the lid failed. It went back for a refund.
Next up Lakeland. I've had a few Lakeland things over the years and they have all been decent. This was Made In PRC and ROHS Compliant - all very impressive. The kettle took about 5 boils to stop tasting of 'stuff' - fine, thanks goodness I thought, and came down on the Monday morning to a worktop covered in water from a leaking kettle.
So that went back.
We then thought feck it, I did more kettle lifting and read more pages on kettle consumer reviews than anyone would want to do in a lifetime and ended up with a DeLonghi. It too is Made In China, but I am hoping that the massively inflated price for 'design' equates to higher QC.
You see QC (Quality Control) is, I think the one differentiating thing in Chinese goods - that and materials.
My brother has this fantastic joke:

"Did you hear about that fabulous new metal alloy the Chinese are using these days? Shit-ite!"

It's a cracker isn't it, but oh so true.

Several years ago I needed a crowbar - so I went to B&Q and surveyed the goods they had for sale - the once proud name of JCB had a range, I thought they sounded tough so I checked them out . . .
Not a single one was the same.
They all had a flex too them that was not appropriate for something required to be strong - in other words they were shite.
I looked at the labelling - Made in China - there was no QC, just a cheap piece of junk metal for bargain-hunting DIYers.
So I went elsewhere and bought a European made Gorilla bar - it was tough and did the job required, and it's still one of the most solid things I have ever used.

It's true though - in the hunger for ever-cheaper goods, that we, the money-wielding West are driving, quality of materials heads right out the window and in comes the shit.
And a huge amount is just that - SHIT.
And more fool you for buying it - and that includes me.
But you see it has taken a while to dawn, but I am now trying to take a stand - albeit a seemingly lone voice in a wilderness of consumerism.
If I can, I try to buy European or Japanese or American or even Vietnamese made.
If I can't I will seriously rethink about whether I actually need it - it's that bad.
Sadly it is unavoidable that you simply have to buy Chinese, but if you can, please try and look at where things are made.

You would think from this that I was against everything Chinese, but thankfully thanks to an Orient-loving Aunt that is far from the case.
I love my early 18th Century Chinese sword, and some of the marvellous export porcelain I got when my Aunt died.
I love my local Chinese supermarket because it is fun and weird and the food is superb.
I love the history of China, the resourcefullness and hardship and the transcendence of the human spirit, the uncanny ability to forge things.
The West owes China more than it can ever imagine from metalwork to paper to fireworks to tea, but sadly that is often forgotten.
China wants to be loved again, but what I hate is that we in the West are capitalising on that innate Chinese willingness to please, for any price.
We're guilty as hell in demanding of them a quick fix for our product-hungry society.
Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

It's our fault a lot of shoddy goods come out of China, and yet and yet, isn't that pinnacle of craft and skill, Japanese sword and knife-making, based entirely upon innovation from Chinese techniques and knowledge?
Thankfully there are some superbly made Chinese goods - truly fantastic quality using decent materials - but sadly they do seem to be few and far between.

So as you can see, it isn't all anti-Chinese workmanship around my way, I appreciate their abilities as a nation, but when you hear the cry from my kitchen "This Fecking toaster CANNOT TOAST!" you'll know that another Western profit-before-quality white good has hit the fan!

Anyway, that's enough away from photography.
Here's something made on American film (Kodak), processed with British chemicals (Ilford and Fotospeed) printed on British paper (Grade 2 Ilford Galerie), also processed with British and French chemicals (Ilford, Fotospeed and Kodak) taken with  a German lens (1966-ish Schneider 90mm non-Angulon) on a Japanese camera (Wista DX) with a Japanese film holder (Toyo).
Oh, and the light was all Scottish (Dundee, under the lead-in part for the Tay Rail Bridge).

Just as a little adjunct to this - I know I have railed against Photoshop all my photographic life, but the adjustments to the final presentation of this print were done using that free version of CS2 that is out there, and you know what I was delighted with the ability to fine-tune the truly terrible auto-scan exposure I get from the cheap Epson scanner into something that looks more akin to what I have hanging on my wall.
It was surprisingly easy to get it looking right.

Anyway folks - that's it for the noo.
The Season is upon us, so before you force yourself to eat Mince Pie # 675 I will bid you a fond farewell.
thank you for reading this year and I'll set-to in the New Year with a more determined outlook - honest - refurbing those windows lost me a vast amount of light!
Be good, take care and until the next time, watch out for the normal people.


  1. We have the same issue here in Turkey and it also drives me nuts. Last time I looked closely at some clothes hangers to find they came from PRC!

    Merry Christmas, Phil & Family!

  2. I'll bet they snapped too!

    Omar - the same to you and yours too - hope your part of the world and that other bit of the world can find some common ground and not keep conducting this stupid sabre-rattling.

  3. Amusing article Herman. Merry Christmas and Cooee from my far off antipodean outpost of Empire here in Adelaide (South Australia).

  4. Merry Christmas to you too Greg and thanks for the comments!

    Christmas in Australia?
    . . to quote (I think, Peter Cook) from the Private Eye Christmas flexi disc for 1969 (pretty sure it was "Dear Sir, Is This A Record?")
    Anyway, to quote:

    "The temperature in our living room has just reached one hundred and ten degrees, and the wife has just plunged a red-hot poker in my ice-cold glass of beer . . "

    Doesn't look too good typed, but sounded great on the record!
    Take care

  5. Funny you should mention the bloody heat. We have just had a run of 4 consecutive days where the temperature was over 40 degrees celcius. Utterly filthy! Today was cooler, and it actually rained!!! We don't see a hell of a lot of rain down here.

  6. You should come to Scotland - it's been pretty much permanently grey for the past few weeks with light and heavy rain in between the grey bits . . just for a change.

  7. I'll get to Scotland someday. My father was born in Gourock, and he came to live in Australia when he was 13 (1952). I'll be sure to bring galoshes and a brolly!

  8. They do get it pretty wet in the West - I think that the lack of sunshine means little Vitamin E which is why it's probably the most unhealthy place in Britain.

    It doesn't always rain over here though - we do get some lovely weather sometimes though you might not think it from this!

  9. For white goods, try Miele - German quality and manufacture with attention to details and longevity. But priced 3 times more than the rest. Worth it to me.

    For a kettle, I bought Russel Hobbs but made of metal and so far (4 years) it is still good.

  10. Hi Ravi - I know the name Miele well, and I can also recommend SEBO for vacuums - they are excellent.
    You're lucky with your kettle though - I think the next time you have to replace it, you might find it difficult!
    Season's Greetings.

  11. Now then, wipe away those tears.
    Hasselblad has now made all the 500-series that we shall ever need and so they have sensibly stopped making them. As you say, they will last almost forever. Very sensible on heir part to go on to make something for a new generation of photographers. As far as I know, the new ones are little miracles of a different perfection. The same is true of Leica. You must have noted that they began resorting to special gold-plated. crocodile-skin-covered "special editions" – a pretty sure sign that the market is saturated. Given reasonable care, and not too much clicking, they will last almost as long as a Hasselblad and both will last nearly as long as a totally neglected Nikon F, a Gandolfi Precision (or a Sinar of course)
    So, no tears. A job well done and completed is a proud thing.
    Our previous Miele lasted well over twenty years. Excellent engineering. Changed because the new ones really were improved.

    Merry Things in the foggy household.

  12. A seasonal best to you as well David.
    The thing with old cameras, is parts - there's something like 2700 in a F2! I might consider getting Sover Wong to service mine as it's a fine camera and just because it'll definitely outlast me with a bit of care.
    Got to go - trying to beat the Canon into willingness mode!

  13. As always, Oh Master, you are right.
    Apparently there's a Big Spring somewhere in a Hasselblad and supplies are running low. Can it be beyond the wit of man (or rather, in these enlightened days, of person?) to make a spring? All the parts on a Gandolfi can be replaced, if you don't mind not using real twenty-year seasoned Cuban mahogany. Perhaps you'd have to compromise on the famous aligned screw-heads, too. Rolls-Royce used to know the secret. Perhaps someone at Miele knows it, too.
    I suppose the same things apply to lenses and shutters. Pinhole never wear out. We'll all be using mahogany and brass pinhole cameras and if things get really bad, we'll be using collodion. Even Daguerreotype. I've always wanted to try that, but it's not for the kitchen table.
    Enough of this dismal speculation and futurology.
    Merry Things all round.

  14. Ah yes, the 3-D printed camera spare part!

    With regards to shutters, my 50's and 60's Prontors, Compurs and Seikos are still working OK. They get sticky sometimes, you exercise them, they work again . . but I've often wondered, does someone really need split-second accuracy with B&W anyway?

  15. A good thing to aim for, but plus or minus ten percent is hard to detect, unless all the variations (shutter, aperture, metering, development... ) are in the same direction.
    Your shutters aren't tired, it's the lubricant. A dose of lighter fuel helps.
    Even more merriness to you.

  16. Ooh no - lighter fluid on a shutter use with great caution - tiny steps at a time!
    Seriously David - my experience with the Koni was that the lighter fluid just transported all the gunk (from someone's previous attempt at 'oiling' it)into the mechanism and caused further gumming which took an age to clean out. You've no idea what previous tinkerers have done in the name of improvement!

  17. Right again, sir.
    I do suggest caution. I've tried putting a shutter in a sealed bag with a little dish of the preferred solvent next to it and leaving it for some time. No chance of flooding and a very gentle effect. I've had this work just enough to allow the shutter to be "exercised" as we say. No cure for actual damage, of course. This was an LF shutter and I took of the glass to clean it at the same time. I didn't disassemble the lens elements. That's a job for real grown-ups.
    On the other hand, with a very old (but not antique) shutter of no real value, I have squirted lighter fluid into every orifice and got it working again. A few stains left on shutter blades which reduced its zero value even further but didn't affect the working. Only to be used in dire straits on shutters with zero value. I wouldn't ever try re-oiling a shutter. Bound to get it wrong and surplus lubricant can be flicked onto the glass, where it may do untold damage to the delicate surface.

  18. That's the thing with shutters - most of them are designed to fire dry - none or very little lubricant, which is why people have a go at loosening them up with 3-in-1!

    I've disassembled a Symmar-S - not recommended as the elements are incredibly precise. I ended up chipping a crescent of glass off the inner element - schiite! I thought and got out the black marker, filled in the chip and the lens still works wonderfully well!

  19. Here I am again.
    I've just re-read (as we do) your latest Masterwork and got to the bit about scanning that very nice bridge. I have spent far too much time trying to get a good scan from negatives exposed and developed for wet printing. Then the penny dropped. In my case, I gave about a third of a stop more exposure and a bit (the scientific word is smidgeon) less development. Specifically, much less agitation. You've proved that Photoshop can extract every last invisible detail from the thinnest bits of a neg but it's paralysed by excess density. This is the opposite of wet printing, where we can, eventually, print through pretty well any amount of density. Curious and curiouser. I'm sure you know all this already.
    Merry Things, but not too much. Save some merriness for your readers.

  20. Thanks David, however the scan is from a wet print - I've used Irfanview for every photograph every posted on this blog as I find it quick and easy to use, however I felt I should give pshop a go and I was able to get the scan of the print looking more like it actually is in real life!

    That's it for now - I hear the rasping boom of a reindeer backfiring.


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