The quality of German and Japanese-built equipment : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I preface this potentially inflammatory question by saying that this is not a troll or invitation to flames or intemperate responses. I'm genuinely interested to see what people think.

I was just talking with a fellow frequenter of this group in a private email exchange about our not-entirely-satisfactory experiences with a well-known US maker of LF cameras. I began thinking about the camera-makers that I associate with unimpeachable quality: Linhof, Sinar, Ebony, some might add Arca Swiss to the list. Though I know there are partisans who really love their Canhams and Phillips and Wisners, it occurs to me that I have just not found the same level of "fit and finish" in US-made cameras that I've bought. Not that they can't be well or beautifully made, but I'm talking about that "throw it off a cliff and keep right in using it" kind of ruggedness that Linhof, for example, has. Or the perfect precision of a Sinar. Not wanting to take this TOO far off-topic, I have to admit that I'm driving German and Japanese cars, too, and just don't generally find US-made ones to be as reliable. IS there really something cultural about Germany and Japan, presumably Switzerland, too, that allows things to be made more precisely, reliably and ruggedly? What IS it? Obviously, there are exceptions to prove the rule (Gitzo tripods from France, the venerable American Deardorff, some might say Reis tripods, though I haven't been as impressed with their usability as, say, my Swiss-made B-1 ballhead!)

I'm hoping to capitalize on the recent "philosophical" bent of a few recent threads in this newsgroup, I guess. I am, by the way, American, and not in any way trying to denigrate the US in general. More curious I think about what allows things to be made the way they often are in Germany, Switzerland and Japan.


-- Nathan Congdon (, December 19, 2001


Hi Nathan,

I can't comment on US made cameras but, I'm currently building my own house and some of the building equipment that I've been using which is almost indesctructable, has "Made in the USA" stamped on it. Perhaps it just depends on the product being made. I currently own an Ebony - handmade in Japan, perfection in craftsmanship and design in my opinion, but I wouldn't like to throw it off a cliff! ;-) I have also used the Sinar cameras for years and they are certainly rugged and precise, but don't have the beauty of the Ebony, IMHO.

Precision engineering seems to be something that the German and Swiss manufacturers do with skill and have a well-deserved reputation for, but I've found the US made Leatherman knife/tool I use, is as good as my Swiss army knife - maybe even better.

Perhaps with camera equipment the, German, Swiss and Japanese makers just have more experience in this particular area - I certainly like their gear, but then again no one makes any good camera gear in Australia either - so they sort of have a monopoly ;-)

Kind regards

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, December 19, 2001.

Hopefully not too far off topic but this memorable true story has stayed with me for many years. While trying to get a variation on a Japanese thin walled step up ring, I took it to America's leading maker of photographic filters (do I need to give a name?) to see if they could accomodate me with anything superior. Remember, this was years ago when these step up rings were not nearly as commonplace as today - the 'days' of Spiratone's store in Flushing and NYC. The reps response was simple and unforgettable, "We can't make anything like that here." And he was right as what his company offered was, in comparison, crude, larger than necessary series size (i.e., series 8 to series 9 step up) step up rings that nonetheless did that job fine. But his response was scary to me. Can't make this in the USA? "Why not", I ask ... still. These days Tiffen acts as importer for those finely machined Japanese (and now Taiwanese?) rings.

-- John Burnley (, December 19, 2001.

Of course there's Tradition, but I'll bet that our tax laws have something to do with it, too. Also, how about Gandolfi, in England?

-- Wilhelm (, December 19, 2001.

some companies just know how to make a great product and keep thier standards high. i know of two camera companies i have experience with that have the concept right but can't deliver the goods and fall very short of all expectations promised.

-- rich silha (, December 19, 2001.

We tolerate too much "whining" in the workplace in America. In my lifetime I have seen the "work ethic" if you will, degrade to the point where workers are incensed if someone actually expects them to work. It's actually kind of frightening. The politicians are fighting just today about employers having to pay for health insurance long after some lazy unemployable person is gone. The people who actually go to work and work, do it because they want to. But it's demoralizing to see folks getting paid more than you goofing off. We've enjoyed a 10 year windfall in this country because of the new internet phenomenon, but now that it's over, what do you do with a nation of people who don't expect to go to work and be productive. I'm no expert, but I think the other nations mentioned are laughing behind our backs.

-- Jim Galli (, December 19, 2001.

I see the very high quality in Linhof, Sinar, Arca-Swiss and some other view cameras. I see high quality on others. Then, in some of the modern field cameras I see a lot of sloppy fittings and a general lack of precision. Some are better than others but when compared to many of the similarly priced premium brands they suffer. A Linhof isn't cheap, but niether is a Wisner & there is no comparison between the two. Quality control is one issue but design philosophy seems to be quite different. 'Good enough' is the norm with one while the other is, if anything, over-engineered & precise beyond what most of us will ever need. I will take the precision over slop if given a choice. 'German engineering' has been a staple for some time. Japanese engineering is noted for high quality. The USA can produce camera gear just as good as these, so why aren't we seeing more of it?

-- Dan Smith (, December 19, 2001.

I agree with Nathan. Anything the size of a Honda Civic or smaller will invariably be better-manufactured in Japan, Germany. For example, I could envision an American company attempting the German Jobo type processors, but they'd be junk, believe me.

A good friend stopped talking to me inexplicably once. Then I remember I had sold her a Russian medium format 6x6 including fisheye for fifty dollars...

-- Andre Noble (, December 19, 2001.

I've come across some very interesting written material that in great and philosophical detail describes the reasons for the quality and lack of, in certain areas of the world and the perceptions of large groups of people i.e countries, states their advantage or not. This material is fasinating as it posits transmigration of the soul(reincarnation)into different areas of the world and peoples through life and death. The theory is this....that it takes about 100 to 150 lifetimes to run the trip on planet earth.This requires many births and a planetary school as we live more lifetimes we learn and grow.About 5000 years total time expended on the planet in various bodies. There are 5 levels...1st is infant soul...many aboriginal tribes and autistic children characterise this level...fear of complexity is prominant and much care needed in the life course. 2nd level is the baby soul where the soul is just able to start to move about in the world but with many limitations,especially religious(Iran is largly baby soul).3rd is young soul...this is where the shakers and movers are found ...the big achievers. 4th level is mature soul..after all the achievements have taken place a more artistic and philosophical point of view is learned.5th level is old soul...this is the level where the difference of the tangible in contrast to the intangeble are sorted out and balanced...often the worldy demands are avoided as the old soul has done much in the course of many lifetimes and now seeks truth and simplicity.Musicians can fall in this catogory as well as bums and hoboes...who want nothing to do with the demands of society.Maybe some photographers too! According to this info, countries manifest in a general way ..the levels of the soul and in the lifestyle, as well as the perceptions and products created. The US is mostly a young soul country and is therefore very ambitious,capitalistic and warlike while recent Germany is mature soul country.Most famous artists and geniuses are mature soul because they require precision and excellence in creation, and a higher value.Switzerland and Holland are old soul countries as they allow drugs and prostitution to be legal vs the US which has a need to put people in jail for this.Switzerland also stays out of war as the old soul has had enough of this in past lives and has nothing to learn from it. As far as cameras are concerned the Germans are very precice with high values(mature soul) in their construction, unlike the young soul Americans who are in it mostly for the fame/success or money... and that may have nothing to do with high quality.Hence the lack of respect of our autos and...where did our cameras go...we never equaled the Germans photo gear. Japan is another story entirely as they are late baby souls with an eye for repeatability and commercial sucess in a societal sense...Toyotas are different from Mercedes as Leicas are different from Nikons.Nikons/Toyotas=functionality(baby soul) while Leicas/Mercedes=uncompromising quality(mature soul). The soul levels are evidentin the creations. Ebony cameras as well as the exquisite Japanese works of art were most likely not the work of the prevailing soul level of Japan but of a mature or old soul trying to create quality/beauty in a systematic,robotic society. Food for thought eh?

-- Emile de Leon (, December 20, 2001.

It's always risky to generalize -- but no doubt the German's/Japanese/Swiss must have a gene that separates them from the rest of the pack when it comes to techno-super quality and attention to detail. Some other facts: American workers are the most productive in the world and work longer hours on average than other industrialized countries. German workers are among the most pampered in the world with 6 weeks of vacation and very short work weeks. Therefore, this issue of attention to detail and unsurpassed quality has little to do with the work ethic of the people as was alluded above. Another observation is that on average, US corporations consistently deliver much higher profit margins than their counterparts in other countries, particularly Japan and Germany (auto industry aside). The market in the US is brutally focused on quarterly profit delivery, much more than eleswhere. This undoubtedly has an impact on the way we think about business even though a number of the camera manufacturers mentioned above are probably private and don't feel that type of pressure.

I think the poster who mentioned several high-quality companies from the US has the right idea. The issue really boils down to the person or team at the helm of the company and his/their attitude and requirements. Those few companies which really value fit/finish/artestry above all else stand out, but I'm not sure they get the return on capital demanded in the US economy. Therein lies the rub. fwiw, I'm an American who's worked in both US an European large corporations for about 20 years and overseas for the last 14 years.

-- Joe Johnson (, December 20, 2001.

come on folks, its one thing and one thing only, and that is the ability to put more money into the product itself, because less money is going into the cost of the labor. When I say product itself, that means things like culling out specimens that are no good. I believe I read somewhere on this forum at one time that Zeiss throws away an incredible number of their top end binoculars ever year on the one hand just to protect their warranty on the other end. same probably goes for Leica, Sinar, Hasselblad, Roles, BMW, and Mercedez.

-- Kevin Kolosky (, December 20, 2001.

It's not that we can't do it in America. I have Photosonics high speed 35mm cameras out at work that are made in Burbank California. The mechanism in those cameras is like a piece of jewelry. Each piece hand lapped to precision tolerance. They spin at 11,000 RPM and the film advances and stops for an exposure 250 times a second. (no typo) The image quality is similar to a Nikon. Mostly Pentax 67 lenses. Some Zeiss, and some Schneider Xenotar's. But they cost $250,000. Your tax $ at work folks. Nobody else anywhere even tries to compete.

-- Jim Galli (, December 20, 2001.

I second Jim's point: when it comes to real high-precision engineering no country has a monopoly, and the best supplier can come from anywhere.

You can find a craftsman capable of making you a top-quality LF camera in pretty well every country in the world. The real question is how much will it cost for a particular volume.

Having worked in Germany and visited labs in Japan I can say that one cultural factor I have noticed is technical staff are treated with the same respect as managerial or scientific personnel. Both countries also have a strong tradition in production engineering - how to make machines to make things - compared to the anglo-saxon world which awards kudos to the design of the product itself. Finally, both countries have financial sectors which are very friendly towards small companies in general, and small mechanical engineering companies in particular.

-- Struan Gray (, December 20, 2001.

I'm a french, i've got an army swiss knife, a german LF camera (linhof), german lens (schneider and rodenstock); my hasselblad comes from suede, my apple mac was built in UK. I enjoy french cuisine at home, i'm going to thai, greck...restaurants... I don't want a world where everyone looks similar (religion, food, skills,...), with mondialisation we can have different products made by different people, i like it like that, that's call : humanity. Don't let mondialisation destroy our own specific skills, cultures...and enjoy differences...

-- dg (, December 20, 2001.

I fully agree. After wearing them for four years, I have sadly put to the rubbish the best shoes I ever had: a pair of Timberland made and bought in USA. Otherwise, my flatbed is German but my monorail is Japanese. My 65 SW is Japanese, but the 110 XL is German. My Apo-Ronar is German, but the Fuji C's are Japanese. My tripods are French, but the ball heads are German and Italian. My Backpack is Irish as well as my computer, but my monitor and my car are Japanese and my scanner is Israeli. Finally and to put an end to the list, my army-knife as well as my rollfilm back are Swiss! What would we be without one another? Best wishes to all!

-- Paul Schilliger (, December 20, 2001.

Forgot to mention an excellent movie tripod that I had and was made in Australia, and the wonderful roast-leg that we had the other week from a tender Kiwi lamb! ;-)

-- Paul Schilliger (, December 20, 2001.

We (Americans) can manufacture the best there is when we want or need to. Panavision in Tarzana, CA and Mitchell, before them, produced the finest 35mm motion picture cameras in the world. Why? They needed to do it. Entertainment is our biggest export! Big money drives that industry. It will be interesting to see the impact of HDTV on the motion picture industry. Should it eventually dominate the world of moving pictures, it will be the Japanese who we turn to for the cameras (and as is the case now, Zeiss, Angenieux, Cooke and Leitz for the optics). But, I think it a mistake to assume anything the Japanese and Germans make is great. At their best, they are wonderful products but, at their worst, they can be as dreadful as any made here (USA) or elsewhere. Precision made dreck? Personally, I think we are "toolcentric" as a society. We often measure each other's ability by the tools we use. This is particularly so in highly creative arenas. I think that is because it is so difficult to explain what enables artists to create art, that ordinary folks look for "answers" to explain their success. "He or she makes beautiful photographs.....I wonder what camera they use". You never hear anyone saying "What a great plumber....I wonder if he uses a Craftsman or a Stanley wrench!"

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, December 20, 2001.


You cruel man. That lamb you ate may have been some poor Kiwi's girlfriend! Just as well it wasn't Australian lamb or it would definitely have been some bloke's shiela.

Happy eating ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (, December 20, 2001.


I know where you are coming from and I feel sure that there are many of us make the same observations and uphold the same views.

In fairness: drop a Technika over a cliff and warp the body-shell and that's the end of it - chances are you won't even be able to shut it again prior to major surgery.

Having said that you need to look at the marketing and manufacturing philosophies of the societies involved. The comparative histories are relevant also. I’ll endeavour to refrain from more psychobabble.

Europe and Japan are very old cultures with traditions of craft and manufacture dating back to Neolithic times (in the case of Europe). From this craft manufacturing tradition industry developed and eventually in response to increased demand and greater technology heavy industry and manufacturing came into being … but always with the influence and incorporation of craft alongside.

America, on the other hand, is a comparatively new society quickly developing it’s own culture. From a standing start it had to acquire vast industrial capabilities virtually overnight to forge the national expansion necessary to accommodate the enormous influx of migration that flooded to its shores. Expediency and economic viability were essential if the goals of the great American social experiment were to be met. Without the time, need or funds for craft it had to give way to simplicity and efficiency – hence the American development and worship of the production line.

"Good Old Yankee Know-How" has lead to the invention, development and fabrication of a plethora of manufactured goods for every purpose imaginable ... including photography. They’re adequate to satisfy their intended purpose (often handsomely so), usually relatively inexpensive and readily available. But then American designs often remain fundamentally unchanged for generations to minimise expenditure on re-designing, re-casting or re-tooling on the basis that "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It!" The Zippo lighter, Omega and Beseler enlargers, Norman & Speedotron flash are all examples … the list goes on and on.

I recall attending a press-conference here in Sydney a couple of decades ago at which Neil Armstrong was asked what his feelings were in retrospect about his trip to the moon. "Scary," was his immediate response, to which he added: "I was undertaking mankind's most potentially hazardous journey in a craft built by the company that put in the lowest tender." It got him there and back and the rest is history. In American manufacturing I believe economical expediency is paramount – the bottom line IS the bottom line.

Let’s take a look at enlargers for a moment to illustrate this point. I had an Omega D-something or other … hardly changed since it was designed for use with the US Navy in WWII. The negative stage was a sheet of stamped aluminium plate aligned using 4 phillips head screws and spring washers. Pull the lever to raise the head and re-insert the neg carrier (a flat stamped aluminium sandwich) and bits swayed and clunked in a charming but hardly reassuring ballet. Lower the head and it all sort of went back to where it was before … but it might be smart to re-check the focus. Now I have a Durst Laborator L1200 – a solid die-cast chassis with milled tracks for the neg carrier to glide in on, assisted by bearings. Snaps back to the same spot time and time again. The carrier glasses are seated on milled parallel surfaces, the head glides up the column on roller bearings – believe me, it’s nice … and precise. The Omega did the same job but the Durst is nice and precise.

Now, I’m sure that just like my Linhof the Durst will be at a premium price in the USA as it is here in Australia and anywhere else you care to mention. But they make it; and you have are given a choice. While the bottom line is the focus for these Italian folk, also, there is the sense that they go the extra yards. Maybe they have to in order to maintain a competitive identity in the face of US industrial might.

Naturally Germany, Switzerland and Japan make some prize crap as well and the ‘Name Brands’ aren’t necessarily innocent in this regard, either. But generally speaking if you are discerning in your choice and cough up the money you can be sure of getting what you pay for.

So now let’s consider the Linhof Technika series for a moment: there was a time when there were many metal Technical/Field/Press cameras in production – the Graphics from the USA, the MPPs from England and the Linhof from Germany to name a few. What do we have now? Despite market changes, ownership changes and the need to re-structure production and financing Linhof have persisted and produce a premium product to this day – with ongoing upgrades and improvements. They obviously see it as their role and exercise a considerable level of devotion to it over and above purely fiscal considerations. I feel sure that the German national identity plays no small part in this also. So where are MPP and Graphic now? With the decline in demand for large format ‘press’ cameras they couldn’t or wouldn’t weather the storm.

However, what about the healthy American “large format art market”? Who is serving the perpetuees of the Ansel Adams legacy? Many fine American craftsmen answered the call making exquisite wooden field cameras (some metal too, of course) but due to the somewhat limited size of the market production is possibly geared up as cottage industry. Forged or stamped metal parts are often common to many manufacturers; fiscal constraints are at the forefront again. Then there are the less scrupulous camera makers that cater for those photographers on a forced budget by supplying sloppy, under-featured units made from dead peoples’ furniture: those products could be made anywhere. Nevertheless, Japan and Europe have made their move into this market as well with the much-lauded Ebony from Japan, the venerable Gandolfi of Britain and the full-featured Lotus of Austria. It will be intriguing to see what happens over time.

However, credit where it’s due. America makes damn fine film, paper, and chemistry and has kept up research and development activity and new product releases until very recently in some areas that many are predicting the impending death of.

I do respect Robert's view about concentration on our tools but if it feels good, it feels good and makes you happy. If it inspires confidence and certainty then go for it. Maybe the plumber's client is unconcerned by his choice of wrench but sure as hell the plumber has his preferences.

Season’s greetings … Walter

-- Walter Glover (, December 20, 2001.

Japanese cameras are great, but I'll never forget that day when a piece of wood fell off my rosewood Wista. I was composing on the ground glass when I heard a soft "plunk" sound. One of the corner pieces, where the tongue and groove joints are, just simply fell off for no apparent reason. I glued it back on with some Elmer's.

-- Ben Calwell (, December 20, 2001.

That is a very good question. So good that several years ago, MIT asked it and then spent 5 years and 5 million dollars answering it. To limit the scope of the question, they restricted their study to the automotive industry. The results were published in a book called: “The Machine that Changed the World” Buy it if you like graphs and charts. They looked at overall product quality, and quality as a function of man hours and resources used. Their conclusion (in a nut shell) was that Toyota was a fine car but in most cases Ford was just as good and in some cases better. Mercedes was good but only because of very expensive end of line rework of mistakes that Ford and Toyota wouldn’t have made.

I have worked with automotive engineers all over the world, and yes, I do believe that there are cultural differences that show up in the products. I wouldn’t even begin to try to make judgments as to whether these differences make products better or worse. On the whole I think the answer is both. Linhof puts a triple extension bellows in the same space Graflex put a double. But to my experience Graflex will last longer before developing pin holes. The Nikon’s eight thousands of a second shutter adds capability to the camera but my wife’s F4 blew up on our honeymoon on about the 30th roll of film and about 30 days after the warranty expired. My old Ftn with a cloth shutter is going strong after 25 years and my Leica 3f still produces a satisfying “zip” after about 50. Everything in engineering is a compromise.

With modern quality procedures (invented by Americans for the War Department during WW2) and modern CNC machinery, the differences in quality as a result of where a product is made are shrinking rapidly.

However, “the proof is in the pudding”. Cameras are for taking pictures not admiring and stroking. (do as I say not as I do.)

I think it is safe to say the vast majority of 4X5 images that have stood the test of time were taken with Graflex cameras. Probably the Wide Field Extar holds the record for studio advertising shots. For vacations and kids birthdays, the Brownie has to King. Kodak labs are to film what Bell Labs were to semiconductors. The only area of photography where you might give the title to a foreigner would be lens development and to my mind no one comes close to Zeiss. However, that was more a result of two or three individuals not a culture.

The other problem that we have in American is that the government takes their share first before the company can buy new machinery or improve worker's compensation. Right now in an American manufacturing company the government gets about 50% of the wealth created. Furthar, tax laws and the stock market mandate a 90 day to 1 year corporate horizon. As most equipment capital expendure has a pay of measured in tens of years, it gets a short shrift in America. At one time Japan owned 80% of the industral robuts in the world and America had 80% of the lawyers.


-- Neal Shields (, December 20, 2001.

Walter, I'm sorry! I did know women are lacking in this part of the world, but I would not have thought it was that bad! ;-)

-- Paul Schilliger (, December 20, 2001.

Work ethic may be dead or dying, and I do agree with it to a degree, but I also see a very distressing tendancy for corporate leaders to espouse doing the least you can get by with and charging as much as you can for it. This is by no means a lone case, but I have worked with a guy who is a Senior VP in a major company and his philosophy is to produce, "minimally acceptable product." He is PROUD of this approach, talks about it everywhere he goes, and has mentioned it enough that he calls it by it's acronym, MAP. This attitude is very ubiquitous, so while we might have lazy workers producing shoddy stuff, we have their bosses telling them this is exactly what they want.

I spoke with a German who was brought here to the US to head up an American-based German company. He was dumbfounded by our approach. "No quality control, and when profits dip you lay off workers who are needed to produce and know what they are doing, rather than the middle management that is responsible for the dip. And obscene salaries and bonuses for the top guys when workers get laid off." He said this, not me. Mercedes' chairman made much less than Chrysler's when Mercedes bought Chrysler. By the way, he went back to Germany in disgust because he couldn't change approaches.

-- Rob Tucher (, December 20, 2001.

Well, my experience (26 years in US industry) leads to the opinion that worker motivation is a direct function of management treatment. The euphemism "people are our most important resource" would more honestly be stated "...our most important liability." If some way could be found for an American corporation to be run with *no* employees, the board of directors would gladly lay off everyone in a flash.

Dr. J. Edwards Deming taught Japanese industry all it knows about building high quality products at the lowest possible cost. Companies in the US rejected his input, and he accepted an invitation to consult in Japan. They listened. The following is a direct quote from Dr. Deming in which he responded to those who would blame American workers for the decline of US products: "The problem is management; it's always management."

-- Sal Santamaura (, December 20, 2001.

“Minimal Acceptable Quality” Sounds like a story for CNN. However, it is simply the point beyond which no value is added. The Japaneese have a word for that, it is “Muda”. Waste. They disdain it above all else. (Juran defined Quality as “what the customer perceives”) How much more will the average consumer pay for reliability and features (form fit and finish that they will never be aware of our use?)

One story going around manufacturing management circles now is that Lexus doesn’t plate their seat frames. They know that this will result in a light powder of rust during the life of the vehicle but that the owner will never have a reason to know or care. If they plate the frame, what ever cost in dollars and resources will be wasted.

The fact that a German couldn’t learn anything in America doesn’t surprise me. One might note however that during WW2 Tiger tanks were built so well that we could build 10 Shermans for ever Tiger that they built. Tolerances were so tight that when they got them up in Russia during the winter, they wouldn’t run. Tigers were built to last 20 years but considering that the average life of a tank in battle is two hours, this might not have been an intelligent engineering decision.

I might add that I own a Mercedes, have for years and the biggest advantage that I can see to owning one is I never have to buy another. You only need to pay $58. for an over-engineered turn signal flasher once in your life. The Mercedes turn signal flasher is solid state and flashes the turn signals at a very precise duty cycle and time period down to the fractions of a second. If you add a trailer, they still flash at the same speed. Fords use a electro mechanical device that retails at about $3. If you add a trailer they flash faster because the load goes up. Which is value and which is obsessive compulsive?


-- Neal Shields (, December 20, 2001.

"potentially inflammatory"?????

Please don't post anything you consider inflammatory, you will start WW3.

-- Neal Shields (, December 20, 2001.

I love this forum. Got my batteries all charged up yesterday reading all of this tripe, took my nameless (probably indonesia 1955) 3˝ pound 5X7, my $140 Ilex Acutar 165 (very american), my trusty cheap italian tripod, some old film holders made in California, some US military reconaissance film, and made some very satisfying pictures that I stayed up until 3:00 AM printing. Sorry Japan and Germany.

-- Jim Galli (, December 20, 2001.

Deming went to American manufacturers when they were running their plants at full production to try to fill pent up demand for consumer products that were unavailable during WW2. Essentially he said: "Stop what your are doing,(Stop what you did to win the war.) retool, restructure,rethink, and I will show you a way to reduce waste". They rightly asked; "Why?" They had more raw material then they knew what to do with. They had more sales than they knew what to do with.

Japan on the other hand (thanks to American B29s) had a clean sheet of paper. If they had won the war, made the world safe for benevolent rule by their Emperor, survived with all their manufacturing facilities intact and possession of limitless sources of raw materials in conquered countries, they almost certainly would have thrown Deming out on his keester too.

-- Neal Shields (, December 20, 2001.

American factories have long since satisfied WWII pent up demand. My experience, validated by reliability records published in subscriber-supported (i.e. no advertising) Consumer Reports magazine each April, has been that Japanese automobiles are the most reliable, German cars fall midrange, and American vehicles fail most often. I owned a Mercedes for eight years. Purchased it new. Performed all maintenance - - by the book - - and repairs personally. Got very tired of frequently repairing supposedly over-engineered parts/systems. Replaced it with a Honda Accord. Another eight years have passed. One hundred eighty five thousand miles later, I've done scheduled maintenance, replaced the tires once at 100k, and recently replaced the starter. That's it. I often opined how nice it would have been if Mercedes had done the top level design and Toyota laid out details and manufactured. Now that would be one heck of a car. Lexus doesn't approach things the same way as Mercedes. Until that happens, I'll just muddle along with my Honda turn signal flasher. No idea what technology it uses. It just keeps flashing at a constant rate when called for, with no failures.

Cameras are not automobiles. I am very happy with the set of design/construction compromises Dick Phillips made when producing my Compact II. It doesn't match the fit and finish of a Sinar, but it's not intended to. Different weight targets and expected applications were involved. I do expect that it will last as long as and retain its initial level of functional precision as well as the Sinar. I call this appropriate design. The same cannot be said for American cars compared to their German and Japanese competition.

-- Sal Santamaura (, December 20, 2001.

Jim, I'm curious, when you say "...all of this tripe,..." do you include your first post above?

-- Sal Santamaura (, December 20, 2001.


>You cruel man. That lamb you ate may have been some poor Kiwi's >girlfriend! Just as well it wasn't Australian lamb or it would definitely have >been some bloke's shiela.

>Happy eating ... Walter

Walter, that's terrible! I was born in NZ and now live in Australia - does that mean Paul has eaten TWO of my girlfriends at once? ;-)

I'm going to be sick! - Peter

-- Peter L Brown (, December 20, 2001.

Mr. Honda’s title translated to “Director and Supreme Adviser”. I never understood how “advise” could be called “advise” when it came from the “Supreme Adviser”.

I agree that they build a fine car. The CVCC design was truely inovative.

-- Neal Shields (, December 20, 2001.

Walter's reference to Neil Armstrong, speaking in Sydney, reminded me of another quote from one of the moon astronauts:


"It's not that you didn't trust it, but you are only coming this way one time. I'm sure not going to let some damn computer land it,"

- Astronaut Gene Cernan on why he didn't engage the autopilot as he landed the last lunar module on the moon.

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, December 20, 2001.

Perhaps all this can be summed up by the Peter Principle (no, not named after me, but Dr. Peter) in which he states (and I paraphrase), that almost everyone is promoted up to a level of incompetence.

For example the person may be a great worker on the factory floor and so they get promoted to foreman/woman, where they also do well, because they understand their fellow workers and also like the little bit of responsibility, making things run smoothly, liasing between staff and management, etc, etc. But then they get promoted to mangement and they do not like this added responsibility and so do not perform well, but instead of being able to go back to being the foreman again, they are either left where they are, doing a bad job, producing inferior product or they are side-promoted to a newly created job or moved to another department where they are equally as unhappy and doing a bad job. Their incompetence transfers right down the line, all the way to the consumer product.

I'm glad no one can promote me - I'm already at MY level of incompetence ;-)

This has been a fun discussion. Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, December 20, 2001.

It's said that the perfect automotible would be designed by Chrysler, engineered by Mercedes, built by Toyota, and sold by Saturn. Would the perfect camera be designed by Canon, engineered by Linhof, built by Leica, and sold by Kodak?

-- Wihlmenh (, December 20, 2001.

Don't know Bill, but I suspect the Daimler bosses might not let their Chrysler division designers design anything for their Mercedes division to build!

-- Sal Santamaura (, December 20, 2001.

The ruggedness of Linhof Technikas is, IMHO, vastly overrated. I've dropped mine onto soft ground twice, from a height of maybe two or three feet, when a zipper on my back pack was inadvertantly left open. In both cases significant damage was done. I had to replace the ground glass frame last spring (cost: $500) and this afternoon I decided to install a Bosscreen in it to replace the factory ground glass. In the course of unscrewing the six screws that hold the ground glass in place, two of the screws broke in half and the bottom halves remain in the screw holes, making it impossible to replace them even if I could find the right screws. So off it goes to Marflex, where hopefully the old screws can be drilled out and replaced. Otherwise I guess I get in an argument over who pays the cost of a new frame since it seems to me that with all that reputed German build quality, the screws in a seven month old product shouldn't break in half when they're unscrewed.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 20, 2001.

That quote is actually from a Chrysler executive. I'll bet he ain't around any more.

-- Willhuynm (, December 20, 2001.

I will add one more thing to this. Do a direct comparison of two of the largest selling field cameras in 4x5. Take a brand new Linhof Technica and a brand new Wisner. For precision there is no comparison, the Technica beats the pants off the Wisner. Lock it down & the technica is more solid. Extend the bellows & the Wisner has more extension. It is personal feeling only as to which is more beautiful to look at. Take my 40+ year old Technica & it is still more solid & precise than a brand new Wisner. (went over to a friend's house & we did a direct comparison before posting this). Part of it is the nature of the beast. The wooden camera isn't as precise as the metal one even though nice. And, the wooden Lotus I have tried seems more precise than the Wisner in a head to head comparison. A bit different in design philosophy but both made to do the same job. It isn't that USA makers can't make precision gear but for some reason they don't get to the fine details like the higher end 'foreign' makers do.

-- Dan Smith (, December 21, 2001.

Peter L. Brown,

Steady on! I would stall short of inferring that Paul is a bigamist.

I learned today that I'm coming up to Qld mid-January. Only as far as the Sunshine Coast - shooting Harleys. I used to spend 8 or 9 months of the year up there and every winter in Cairns or Townsville but that was 5 years ago. I sure miss the place.

Christmas blessings ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (, December 21, 2001.

Hey Neal,

Thanks for clearing something up. I can afford a Mercedes! If I buy the car I can count on paying $58 for a flasher during my ownership. Compare that to my '98 Chevy 2500 4x4 diesel truck, which has a new fuel pump, hydraulic lift pump, alternator, two batteries (shorted out by alternator according to mechanic), the belt that snakes all around the pulleys (twice), front rotors, front calipers, front pads, rear pads, four new tires because camber went out in the front and the rear wore unevenly, interior door handle (broke off in my hand), exterior door handle assembly (lock siezed and opener detatched), passenger side window winder (broke), wire bundle for tow package (shorted out and killed my back-up lights and turn signals), 4x4 front hubs (exploding during our biggest snow shorm last year), four shocks (can be considered normal maintenance, but at one year old?), and 11 roadside breakdowns (requiring 5 tows). Add the purchase price to the repair prices, parts, tows, trips via mass transit to get home, some bogus repairs by shady dealerships, and I'd have a Mercedes.

And each time I broke down I went back to my 89' VW Golf GL with 208,000 miles on it and 38 mpg and got to my various jobs and responcibilities. Japanese maintenance is definitely the best, but my experiences with this little car are astounding. I change the oil and have never done anything but shocks once and tires at 125,000 miles.

But we're talking cameras. WWII is a long time ago and most learn from their mistakes, and tanks also go farther afield than cars. The US can and has done great things. I have Deardorf, Century, Graflex, Korona. I also use Sinar, Linhof, Rollei, and others. And I have lenses from Zeiss, Rodenstock, Schneider, Nikon, Fuji, Rollei (German and Japanese), Goerz (US and German), Wollensack, and many more. All have strengths and weaknesses. My comment about Minimally Acceptable Product was to the point. He is not speaking about taking it to the point where people wouldn't pay for more hoops and whistles. He absolutely means the least you can get away with and still have most clients return for lack of a competitor who can offer better while cheap. The lowest common denominator is killing us.

-- Rob Tucher (, December 21, 2001.

I think the reason for lower quality American products is based on our culture, such as it is. In the old days, making a quality product was taken for granted as the heart and soul of a business. Then somewhere in the 1960s the MBA weenies took over, instant gratification and short term goals became the focus, and money became all that mattered. Now days the focus is strictly on maximizing CEO compensation and shareholder wealth. Wall Street drives product design and quality, not a passion of excellence and utility. If the product is marginal, they just work on the marketing spin. Furthermore, consumers have become inured to shoddy products and planned obsolescence, to the point where they pay a very high premium for quality. This is all quite expected. Also consumers are far more concerned about price than quality.

Welcome to the new world!

-- (HyperFocal Yokel []), December 21, 2001.

Sal Santamaura contacted me offline and expressed thatmy calling these posts "tripe" was offensive to him.

It was a poor choice of words from a limited vocabulary and was in fact an attempt by me to keep things light......not to take all of this too seriously. If I offended any others I apologize. My posts are tripe, but all others are deeply thought out and illuminative.

Respectfully, Jim Galli

-- Jim Galli (, December 21, 2001.

Hey Rob;

Your friend sounds like what I would call a "spread sheet" manager. Never goes out in the plant, just looks at the figures and thinks that is all he needs to know to run a company. I would be the last person on earth to defend him. I am reminded of a quote I heard somewhere: " If you want to be a succes making shoes, you had better love leather."

P.S. Friends don't let friends drive Chevys

A better camera to compair with the Linhof might be the Super Speed Graphic which was the last of the line and for a short while carried the Toyo name after they purchased the company. I have both, and the Linhof is my favorite but I am not sure I can justify that. It is said that Linhof don't suffer fools well. If you turn them both over, you will see that the Graflex focus rack is about 3 times as big as the Linhof. Unless you do something stupid the Linhof is fine, but if you do something stupid you might be better off witht he Graflex. The Graflex doesn't have rear movement like the Linhof but the Graflex front standard has so much you can argue it doesn't need it.

-- Neal Shields (, December 21, 2001.

Hmm..."tripe" or "trite"?

-- Steve Clark (, December 22, 2001.

Not if you plan on controlling image shape. That is the main advantage of back movements. Front movements won't control the shape.

-- Bob Salomon (, December 22, 2001.

Hey Bob,

I think the main advantage of this post is that it made you so nervous that you put Linhofs on sale. Certainly a great servce to humanity.


-- Neal Shields (, December 22, 2001.

This thread, this post and this forum has nothing to do with the sale we are offering our dealers. We are simply trying to give all dealers, local and national the chance to extend the prices to all users across the country.

-- Bob Salomon (, December 22, 2001.

I have enjoyed this post. The question reminded me of a course I took with an economist who later became chief economist for the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. He told the class about a conversation he had had with a German economist. The German economist lamented that "Germany excels at manufacturing the previous century's technology." They have nearly perfected the manufacture of automobiles, watches, machine tools and view cameras. The U.S., on the other hand has an absolute committment to the most efficient use of capital. In terms of products that usually results in goods that serve three masters: they must offer exceptional value to the buyer (consumer surplus), generate very favorable returns to the company, and be capable of being manufactured by a flexible labor force (the firm cannot rely on having experienced or "lifetime" workers to do skilled labor. You might not have noticed that what the Germans, Swiss and Swedes manufacture with such magnificent quality serve only a tiny niche market. They are not important players (by volume or revenue in the timepiece or camera market). They are also increasingly small players in the automotive world. In a sense they have trade manufacturing relevance for manufacturing prestige. That preserves for them a coveted top spot in the world's luxury and precision markets but does little to keep them on the cutting edge of the marketplace, something that the U.S. does exceptionally well - although it did go through a slump during the 70's and 80's.

The other thing about the U.S. system is that it dares to make significant changes. The German and other markets are known for their marketplace rigidities. While that preserves social stability and generates nice goods and living standards, it makes it much harder for them to compete head on in technology and service market. They do well, but upon close examination, not as well as we might expect. I think some of the responders to this thread mentioned that U.S. quality control is not where it should be. I think there is a lot of truth to that and I suspect it is due to a mismatch between corporate management styles, an overly permissive attitude towards executive pay that has eroded worker morale, and misunderstanding of the quality/price equation. It is difficult to measure consumer attitudes towards long-term quality, therefore it is hard to respect or account for its effect. We know it intuitively, but managers generally only respond to numbers. The truth is that Americans like quality as much as anyone, but if cannot use money efficiently in manufacturing it, we know we will do just as well manufacturing something else and buying the quality good from elsewhere. There is no irony in this since the best use of capital ensures that productivity remains highest and living standards as well (though not necessarily distributed equally).

By the way, I certainly respect and appreciate the quality available from makers such as Zeiss and Linhof, but I more appreciate the availability of goods that are nearly as good at a fraction of the price. It simply allows me to get work accomplished that I couldn't afford otherwise.

-- Andrew Held (, December 23, 2001.

"Zeiss and Linhof, but I more appreciate the availability of goods that are nearly as good at a fraction of the price"

How many of the ones that are "nearly as good" are still in professional, everyday use like the Technika III is?

Linhof's competition is Linhof. Unlike most products made for professional use they have an extrodinarily long life. And when that is factored into the price, the cost may be surprisingly high for others that sell for less.

-- Bob Salomon (, December 23, 2001.

BTW, for reerence, the Technika III 45 was discontinued in 1956 and it was introduced in 1946 so the newest one is at least 45 years old and the oldest 55 years old. That is older then most of the less expensive companies have been making cameras.

-- Bob Salomon (, December 23, 2001.

Its nearly impossible to discuss "better than" without including a discussion of the intended market and purpose for the items. Arguably the "best" camera ever made was George Eastman's Kodak because it helped create the industry that we all enjoy. But, other cameras of that era could produce images with greater quality e.g. large format. The "Kodak" was a response to the marketplace and the result was a huge success. Technological developments do not occur in vaccuums-they are all attempts to respond to perceived demand-realistic or not and whether they are watches or Tiger Tanks. There are people who would think that a constant rate of blinker flashing and plated seat frames are indicators of quality and there are those who could care less about those features-who could be so presumptious to suggest that either group was right or wrong? The reality is that the market lace is big enough to accomodate both of those groups and the automobile manufacturers are building cars that appeal to them The same is true for cameras. I love shooting with my Leicas and would not trade them in for another brand of 35mm but at the same time I also know that I have taken many great shots with Nikon and Canon equipment as well. A mercedes benz might last 50 years while a chrysler would be ancient after 5 years but they are both clearly built for different markets. The only measure of whether one is "better" than the other is if they serve their respective market they way it was intended. Clearly, the Tiger Tank was a failure (great machineing or not). The Ford or the Chrysler, built the way they are built and priced they way they are make it possible for all those who cannot afford to pay for the intrinsic engineering of the mercedes to own a car. Put them side by side on the test track and you will undoubtedly see a difference-but thats not the point. Put a Leica Apo Asph Summmicron on a test bench and measure it against a Minolta of the same focal length and you will probable see a difference in quality -but when you consider price points vs resolution and how the Minolta actually gets used and by whom then the quality differences become irrelevant- IMHO.

-- Armando (, February 06, 2002.

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