I’m starting to realise that either I have a terrible effect on companies whose products I buy (the Bladerunner effect) or maybe I just seem to have quirky tastes and nobody else likes the same stuff as me…
When I was aged about 11/12 around 1981 I got into photography. Fairly typically I decided I wanted a ‘proper’ camera not a compact so started saving up from my paper round for an SLR. I rather wanted a Contax 139 because they were so beautifully made and used those incredible Carl Zeiss lenses but they were just too expensive for a boy with a paper round so in the end I bought a Pentax ME Super. I spent many happy years with that camera and learned a lot about photography. Contax who it seemed to me were the brand I loved most later folded when their move into full frame digital (ironically a partnership with Pentax and Phillips) took them down.
When the time came to buy a newer body around 1996 I stuck with Pentax because it would work with my existing lenses and purchased an MZ-5n which proved to be a far better camera than the legendary ME Super and gave far better results because of its superb autofocus and metering. When I eventually switched to digital around 2006 I again bought a Pentax Ist DS (stupid name!) mainly to photograph my daughter who was then a toddler. Sometime around 2014 I decided that I really wanted to buy a much higher-end DSLR. Most of my lenses were fairly cheap ones so it made sense to approach the purchase with an open mind and to change system if required. I was pretty fixated on the Nikon D800 at the time and felt this was probably the right time to jump into Nikon - finally! By then Pentax were no longer seen as a major player anyway and were a minnow compared to Canon and Nikon. I walked into the store and tried the D800 but was disappointed to find it felt rather plasticky for such a high grade camera. I tried an equivalent Canon too and while a little better I still wasn’t wowed by the handling. They had a Pentax K5 on the shelf which was their current prosumer high grade DSLR and so I tried that. Instantly I was struck by how cold it felt (all metal) and how rock solid it seemed in the hand. It was like the difference between handling granite worktops and formica! I walked out with the K5, later upgraded to the K3 and eventually went full frame with the Pentax K1 which is so staggeringly good it will always exceed my ability in photography. It doesn’t just take photographs it creates light paintings. I have tried mirrorless (indeed I own a Fuji X-E3) but frankly I regard it as a pretty iffy camera despite its rave reviews. The Fuji lenses are really rather beautiful and retro as is the styling of the cameras but I hate looking through the viewfinder and not seeing reality, I hate the laggy viewfinder, I loathe the artificial colour balance of the Fuji compared to the Pentax and the user interface compared to Pentax is a joke as I find myself burrowing through menu after submenu trying to find a relatively common setting that could be accomplished with a single click on the Pentax. I’ve done published work on it but never liked the results at all really and regard it as a last resort travel camera when I just can’t be bothered with lugging DSLR’s around. The market is moving inexorably though towards mirrorless and I find myself completely out of step with the rest of humanity who are embracing mirrorless at lightning speed. Whether Pentax can survive as the last bastion of SLR viewfinder photography remains to be seen but it’s clear they build great cameras and lenses but they are a niche brand catering to weirdos like me…
Now lets look at my history in bicycles. Leaving aside my earlier kiddie bikes my first really nice bicycle arrived in 1985 my ‘O’ level years and was a Raleigh Royal tourer which cost £200 after some heavy haggling by my Dad! It was handbuilt in England in the ‘Lightweight Unit’ from Reynolds 531 in a special section of Raleigh devoted to producing higher quality handmade bicycles. I still have the certificate with the builder’s name on it, the whole thing reeks of quality, the paint is still stunning and I always loved the lively springiness of that steel frame. I love the fact that a man sat there and hand brazed the Reynolds steel into the Haden Royal Sovereign lugs. By the time I moved to the South of England in 1995 for work I quickly realised that the roads were so busy that I would be wise to get off the road and on to the bridleways so began looking at mountain bikes. By then the bicycle industry in Britain seemed to have all but disappeared and had been taken over by Specialised, Scott etc who bought mass produced Taiwanese frames and bolted them to far eastern components. There were no hand brazed lugs in evidence here sadly! I bought a Scott Boulder (for around £800). The ride was leaden, dull, turgid and I hated the crappy graphics all over it and far preferred the Aston Martin like classic style of my tourer. I rode the hell out of the Scott though and really enjoyed mountain biking on the South Downs. Eventually around 2012 I decided to invest in a ‘British’ mountain bike made from steel and ordered a Cotic Soul with Reynolds 853 steel frame (fabricated in the far East but designed in England) and put as much British componentry on it as I could find so it’s got Hope hydraulic brakes, headset, hubs, Brooks saddle etc - Swiss DT spokes are laced into Mavic french rims and my seatpost bag is in waxed cotton by Carradice of Nelson Lancashire whose saddlebags I have used on my tourer for 35 years. All the springyness and character of that old Raleigh tourer are still there and I love the Cotic to bits. Again though I watch my friends with their mass market and often hugely expensive Specialised carbon framed bikes and wonder why the heck my preferences lead me down such a different path! Am I turning into L.J.K Setwright but without the beard??
Now lets look at cars. When I was a kid my Dad had a succession of Morris Marinas and Minis but a schoolmate’s Dad was a senior engineer with Garrett Air-research in the mid 1970’s and was a turbocharging guru. He ended up working with Saab on their Saab 99 project and as part of the project ran a development mule Saab 99 Turbo fitted with all sorts of extra boost gauges and turbo temp gauges. The guy was a racing driver and I remember going in that car and thinking it was like a rocket compared to the succession of British Leyland’s finest I was used to! I also adored the styling, the shape, those crazy 1970’s orange textured seats and the incredibly deep dished instrument cluster. It felt so different to anything else and made a big impression on me. I loved Saab from that moment on! I ran an Audi 80 as my first car but around 1995 bought a TVR S3 which was just stupendous! I’d fallen in love with the Griffith though and after just a year in the S3 traded up to the 1992 Griffith I still have. In TVR I found a car company that evoked all that was great about motoring - passion, soul, performance and classic British sports car style. Eventually I bought my first Saab - a 2005 9-3 convertible in 2010 and adored it covering about 80000 trouble free miles in 7.5 years. I still feel to this day it was the best all round car I ever owned - great fun with the roof down, space for 4 adults and their luggage, incredible 50mpg fuel economy, decent performance, the best seats I have ever owned in any car, the coolest cup holder in christendom, the hewn from granite construction and the incredible attention to safety. The fact the windscreen surround is reinforced to take a 60mph direct hit with a 2 tonne elk, the dedicated airbags for your thorax, the head-restraints that adjust angle in a crash to prevent whiplash, the seat belt pre-tensioners, the ballistic explosive charges that fire huge steel rollover hoops out behind the rear seats when it senses a rollover Martin-Baker style! That incredible quality all Saab’s have for thinking like nobody else and producing classic designs.
Saab of course are no more, it was inevitable really as I liked them! A couple of weeks ago my wife’s elderly Mitsubishi decided to self destruct its gearbox and so I seized the opportunity to purchase a last gen Saab 9-5 saloon. I’d fallen in love with the design when it launched in 2010 and despite its GM underpinnings it looked and felt very Saab! There aren’t many of them around with low mileage so this does feel like my last chance to run a Saab as a daily driver. It’s a beautiful car that came to market just a little too late to save the quirky car maker: Beautiful Swedish Car, SAAB 9 5 - YouTube
Not content with just one Saab we’re now adding a second, a 2008 9-3 convertible for my daughter to the household. I had started looking at Golf’s because she has a motorway commute to college and I didn’t fancy her being in something tiny like a Micra or Fiesta at those speeds. The Golf is a great car but then I realised that for the same money as a Golf I could buy her a newer, lower mileage Saab 9-3 convertible that was probably better engineered and certainly a lot nicer looking.
So this all begs the question how have naim survived and continued to go from strength to strength given my 35 year passion for the brand? Why do most people not like the same stuff I do? Why can’t I be content with just a nice Audi, an ipod, a Canon camera and a Specialised bicycle like everybody else? Does anybody else here feel like some kind of oddball?