So the idea is, if you are not sure what you need and faced with a long scale that stretches from cheap and cheerful to costly and complex, start with the second cheapest. The idea comes from Ronald Turnbull, and is his way of choosing mountaineering gear. For him, the enemies are weight and cost. The basis of the idea is to start with about the minimum and work up to what you need through actual experience.
I know I wrote previously about buying second-hand as a lower cost entry point. Ron’s is a slightly different strategy, of buying new but buying cheap. As film cameras age and fail, buying used is going to be increasingly risky. I know there are cameras that can be repaired and maintained, but they tend to be expensive and the skilled people who can repair them are also in short supply. The reason these cameras can be fixed at all is that they are expensive. People who buy a Leica or Rollei don’t want to throw them away if they break. People who break a Zenith tend to buy another one, even though they are eminently fixable.
If you look at digital kit there is an enormous range of functionality and features, with new models arriving like Russian taxis. If you know exactly what you need, the choice is easy. Otherwise, it’s confusing. So Ron’s Way might be the best: pick the one above the cheapest, use it and learn what it lacks. I know the old adage of buy cheap, buy twice, but there is no guarantee that buying expensive will deliver what you need. I could buy one of those mythical Leicas or Rolleis, and then find that what I really wanted was autofocus and the ability to use long lenses for bird photography. Or I could buy a top-range digital camera only to find it can’t take alternative lenses.
Sure, you could do the logical thing and make a list of what you need and compare it with camera specifications, but is your list going to be based on experience or desire? I could wish for a 500mm lens, but I can’t think when I might ever use it. But I did learn from using a digital SLR that I needed better high ISO ability and to be able to use my wide angle lenses without cropping. I confess that I also didn’t buy the original camera new: I waited until a new model was announced and the price of the old one dropped like a rock. It has done, and still does, great service. I have used most of the features it offers. It went on sale in 2006 and was superseded in 2008, so mine is around 14 years old. I don’t care what the shutter count is and I’m not scouting for a spare one as a backup. If it breaks, the new camera is a total replacement that can do everything the old one did plus more.
So perhaps we add the Duck Dodge to Ron’s Way? Buy a good model when it gets replaced and the price drops. But if you are not sure what you want yet, try Ron’s Way – buy the second cheapest.