The Vector is Dead

Tragedy struck this week.

Whilst I was getting my stair climbing session in at my office building, I looked to my trusty Suunto Vector watch to see how much time I had left and all I could see was some crazy pixelated dots. It’s acted crazy before and a new battery would always resolve the problem. Today though, a new battery couldn’t revive it. So after more than 18 years of reliable service, it was officially dead.

This Suunto watch was probably cutting-edge back around the early 2000s when I got it, but by today’s measure, it’s a dinosaur. The only functions I wanted back then were the current time, waterproof, shockproof, altimeter, barometric pressure and compass. It also has, or I think it has, stop watch functionality, lap counter (?) and probably a few other things I never once used or cared about. Being from the pre-tech crazy era it was, it scandalously had no Bluetooth connectivity or any way to download any of the information to my computer or iPhone. It was a basic watch that gave me the basic functions I wanted without many extra bells and whistles. Simple but functional.

My plan from there was to just get another Vector. Uh, no. They hadn’t made those in years.

When I started looking through the Suunto lineup of watches for something similar, it took about three minutes until I was dizzy from trying to sift through the minutia of technological iterations each model offered. Geez, I just wanted something simple and “Vector-ish”.  It seemed however, the closest model was one with options to measure the pace of your fingernail growth, which was of course downloadable to your smart device AND had the ability to simultaneously re-arrange your music playlist, post updates to your social media accounts, check your email and order your skinny-organic-free range latte and hail an Uber to go pick it up. WTF? No.

After I whittled down the options to a couple of models I thought might work, the next wave of bad news came in the way of lots of reviews saying the buttons are prone to sticking. My old Vector’s buttons would occasionally get stuck, but I knew that was from sweat/salt/grime build up over the years and it was easily fixable around a campfire with some water and a pointy object to clean it out. But these reviews seemed to suggest it was common even for people wearing the watches for casual use.

I loathe over-technologisized things (I know that’s not a word), so the thought of having something I wanted to keep super simple as a baseline measure becoming even more fussy than necessary reluctantly led me to look outside the Suunto family.

One word…OVERWHELMED.

Why is the simple act of buying a simple adventure/outdoor watch…not? It seemed I could either pay $700 for an “adventure” watch that had 1,000 irrelevant functions (to me) that I would be terrified of destroying if I actually took it outside, or, get one that was more of an email/text/Facebook/step-counter checker than a watch.

To make a long story short, I finally decided on the Garmin Instinct. The reviews were good (4.6 stars overall) and there was no mention of buttons sticking after a month of use. It also wasn’t exorbitantly expensive, especially since I found it on sale. It wasn’t as over-technologisized as the Garmin Fenix model and wasn’t a delicate looking state of the art social influencer “adventure” watch either. Although the Instinct model has about 50% more functions than I would ever use, it was truly about as close to my old dead Vector as I could find in these techno heavy days.

I just wanted a simple, but tough, dirtbag adventure watch that will last me another 17-20 years of backcountry skiing, mountain biking, travel and daily life. Dear Suunto and Garmin, this isn’t hard stuff.

What time is it? At what altitude am I sitting? Which direction am I going? Does my barometer indicate a weather change? Maybe I’m what Jimmy Buffet refers to when he sings about being a Cheeseburger in Paradise, but I’m okay with that. More adventure, less connectivity.

Pedal far. Climb High. Ski Fast. Live simply.

 

 

 

 

Does A New Camera Equal Better Experiences and Photographs?

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Sandpoint, Idaho, Nikon D7200, 50mm f1.8, ISO 100, 1/1000

I’m currently considering buying a new full frame mirrorless camera. Because of the expense involved, there is naturally a lot of thought going into my decision including a nauseating amount of research and the associated technical comparisons. I’ve finally got it narrowed down to two or three options but the lingering question for me is this, “Will having a “better” camera with more technology actually change my experiences, make me a better photographer and consequently result in better photographs?”.

I’m not typically the kind of guy who buys the latest and greatest of anything simply because I feel the need to stay current. I held onto my flip phone until it died and my wife forced me to get an iPhone 4 so she could actually text me. I typically drive my vehicles for more than ten years and have no problem looking at 150,000 miles as the benchmark for when I start to think about getting something else. I’ve been wearing the same Suunto Vector watch for more than fifteen years and as beaten up and worn looking as it is, it still reliably let’s me know what time it is, the barometric pressure and what altitude I’m playing at! Newness doesn’t matter much to me, but dependable functionality reigns supreme in my world. I know that’s not sexy, but it’s the way I roll.

When I went to Nepal, Bangladesh and India a few years ago I took my old and trusty Nikon D90, a couple of good prime lenses and a handful of memory cards. In today’s measure, that “archaic” 12 MP crop sensor dinosaur would have a hard time competing with the technology of a middle of the road cell phone’s photographic capabilities. Regardless of the fact that that little camera had already traveled with me to lots and lots of countries, been beaten up in the backcountry for years here in Colorado, dropped a few times and been dried out after snowstorms on our kitchen counter many, many times, it was a reliable piece of kit and I never hesitated once to take it with me. I was never easy on it, but it never let me down and helped me capture some of the best experiences of my life.

A couple of years ago I sold the D90 and bought a new camera with twice the megapixels, faster processor, better sensor, faster continuous shooting capabilities and all the things Nikon promised would make me a better photographer. I mostly justified the purchase at the time because I’d literally put those benchmark 150,000 miles on it and it was maybe finally time to move on. The new camera has been fantastic and held up under some rowdy treatment including some rough crashes on backcountry ski days and some rather nasty weather duty, so so far so good. To my delight, I know for sure the D90 is still being used and still delivering a reliable experience to the new owner.

Have my photos gotten better with this new camera?  I personally think so, but I also believe a lot of that is my continuing development as a photographer. Getting the new camera re-stoked that creative fire in me and I’ve spent more and more time learning the craft. Yes, in the photos I’ve subsequently blown up I can see a difference those extra megapixels make, but are my compositions better? Yeah, probably, but again, that’s simply a function of ME getting better, not the camera.

This morning on the commute down to my office, I wondered to myself if having my current camera, or the even more expensive camera I’m considering would’ve made my past travels and experiences different or “better”. The short answer is I really don’t think so.

I travel around and play hard in the mountains solely for the experience of living the fullest life I possibly can. The photos I take are a byproduct of those experiences and sometimes I’m fortunate enough to sell some of them. Having a different camera with more technology may give me sharper images and the ability to print larger formats, but I highly doubt having another camera would’ve changed a single thing about the experiences themselves. Chasing the experience puts me there, not having a better camera.

I’m a firm believer that a better photograph is simply a function of the quality of glass you put in front of the camera and the creativity of the person standing behind it, not necessarily the technology inside that little box. Ansel Adams did pretty well for himself with a fraction of the technology we have today, right?

Yeah, I’ll probably add the new camera to my fleet, but I know in my heart it won’t change the way I see life.

Climb high, ski fast, live simply.