You might think that with significant extra income on the horizon I'd be planning an across-the-board replacement of all my ageing gadgets. These include my Asus laptop (bought 2006; it runs Windows XP Professional Edition), my Dell PC (bought 2007; it runs Windows Vista Home Edition), my Epson scanner and printer (both also 2007), my Samsung TV (originally bought by Mum and Dad in 2008), my Leica camera (bought 2009), and my Sony tablet (bought 2012).
The oldest of these are getting pretty long in the tooth. The PC gets some use on most days when I'm home. The laptop gets fired up every three days or so at home; but on holiday, when I'm taking lots of photos, it is working hard every single evening, and has coped with that kind of pressure for years.
But for how much longer? The key items needed for my photography, my Leica D-Lux 4 camera and my Asus W3V laptop, are bound to fail sooner or later. If I bought replacements today for both, of similar quality and capability - including such things as a spare battery for the camera - the likely cost would be at least £1,500 all in. I don't have that kind of money just now, and I really don't want to spend anything like it until the end of 2015 at the earliest. It's much more important to build up a decent-sized cash cushion for emergencies - basically meaning things that might go wrong in the house, that insurance won't cover.
Fortunately, the laptop shows no signs of imminent death, despite processing about 100,000 photos since purchase in January 2006.
But the camera has for some time given indications that that it is mortal, and won't go on forever. Little signs such as such as levers that have become stiff, then have eased, then have stiffened up again. Or the occasional malfunction, such as a refusal to write to the memory card after taking the odd picture, or at least taking an unusually long time about it. That might be down to the memory card, of course, but equally it suggests that old age and relentless hard work are taking their toll. The little Leica has taken 51,600 pictures since I bought it in June 2009. And it isn't ever going to get a well-deserved rest.
If it should fail while I'm away on holiday, I have backups. One is a proper camera, my older Ricoh GX100 from 2007; and there is also the camera on my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. Both work fine in good light, but are rubbish after sunset.
So it's fingers crossed that my essential photo equipment - laptop and camera - can soldier on for at least another twelve months!
But it isn't just the physical equipment that causes concern. Digital photography is equally dependent on processing software. It greatly matters what programs one uses, because if processing a lot of pictures the software must be both fast and capable.
I suppose everyone in the entire known universe has heard of Adobe Photoshop. When one talks about the gorgeous models in a series of glamour photographs having their flaws 'Photoshopped', most people would know nowadays that meant the shots had been cleaned up or otherwise manipulated using the Photoshop program.
Although it has rivals, the full version of Photoshop has for donkeys years been the standard professional program, and Adobe always charged an arm and a leg for it. It used to be a bank-account-busting outright purchase. You got a fancy box with a CD inside. But lately Adobe have been selling a cloud version on a subscription basis, which stops pirating and in the long run brings in more revenue. If I were to sign up for the current cloud-based version of Photoshop, it would cost me £7.49 a month - almost £90 a year - with the prospect of paying Adobe £900 or so every ten years. Whereas it might have been possible in the past to buy the CD-based version as a one-off item for maybe £500, and then use it forever (with free upgrades too).
Even £500 was an outrageous amount, and in the past Adobe offered cut-down versions which were more affordable, or (if bundled with an expensive new camera) might even be free. Thus when I bought my very first digital camera, a horrendously costly Nikon Coolpix 990 in May 2000, I found myself with Adobe Photoshop 5, Limited Edition. It wasn't (for the time) all that limited. It did all I might want to do with it, and more. Adobe must have realised that its existence hurt the sales of the full version of Photoshop, and soon axed the Limited Edition, substituting a series of programs aimed strictly at the amateur, such as Photoshop Elements, that were easy to use, and useful, but lacked key professional functions. I was happy with the Limited Edition, and used it from May 2000 until August 2008. It had what I wanted, and once I got used to it I didn't feel like changing, even though by 2008 the interface was looking very dated. It was like driving an old car. You had worn into each other, and although there were still niggles that had never gone away, when all was said and done it got you reliably from A to B. It did the job.
Then, with the purchase of my Nikon D700 digital SLR in August 2008, I acquired Nikon Capture NX2, a proper photo editor, which functioned as a 'inexpensive', simpler clone of Photoshop, with some distinctive features of its own. But it still cost £125 - not peanuts!
Thenceforth I used only Capture NX2. I wiped my aged Photoshop 5 Limited Edition from laptop and PC, and put the CD in the attic. (I nearly threw it away. Thank goodness I didn't)
All went well until this year, when Microsoft finally withdrew support for Windows XP in mid-April.
As mentioned above, all my photo-processing is (for convenience) done on the laptop, which runs Windows XP Professional Edition. The laptop has only rarely been connected to the Internet - in fact it's been necessary only twice before in the eight years since 2006, on occasions when for some reason I had no functioning PC. I could keep XP up-to-date only by downloading the latest Service Pack at very long intervals. At some point, SP2 got installed. But it wasn't surprising that I missed installing SP3 before Microsoft ended support entirely last April. However, it didn't seem to matter.
Oh, but it did matter. Because Nikon then promptly withdrew its own support for any version of Capture NX2 running on XP. It switched it off - unless SP3 had already been installed. And, blithely unconcerned in my ignorance, I didn't have SP3 on my laptop.
Well, you can see what might be coming. A glitch with my PC made me connect the laptop to the Internet at the end of April, only days after the switch-off, and poof! I immediately lost Capture NX2 and with it an important part of my photographic processing capability.
The Internet connection had allowed a signal from Nikon to pass into my laptop, and this had disabled the program at some very deep level, clearly below any level I had access to. Highly disconcerted, because I had a stack of photo-editing waiting to do, I disconnected the laptop from the Internet, carried out an uninstall of Capture NX2, deleted all the Nikon folders I could see, and then attempted a very careful reinstall of NX2 from the original shop-bought CD.
It should have worked, but it didn't. I tried to do it three times. Still no success. The switch-off was absolute.
In the end, I dusted off the hoary old Photoshop 5 Limited Edition CD, and popped it into the laptop. Ah, it worked! This fourteen-year-old-program fired up, and stayed fired up. I've been using it ever since, supplemented by a couple of other photo-processing programs that have come into my hands for nothing. Hardly a modern set-up! But at least it functions. And I can adapt to a fresh workflow.
So three cheers to Adobe, for not planting switch-off code on my laptop, and disabling an old program.
And booooo to Nikon, for doing just that.
I'm actually rather miffed. That's £125 down the drain. Oh, I've still got Capture NX2 on my PC, but that's no good at all if I'm away in the caravan, or at home but want to watch TV in another room, while I work through a batch of photos.
Yes, booooo. I don't feel like giving Nikon my future custom.