First, let me admit that I am a gear hoarder. I have whatever I could possibly want in cameras, lenses, grip and lighting. When an idea hits, the gear to make it into a photograph is right at hand. Here’s the thing. I am beginning to believe that a simple kit is a better kit. I remember back to a time when I didn’t have everything I wanted or needed to make a photograph. I made it anyway. How? I improvised. It made me a better problem solver. Do I still solve problems? Sure. Since I have every thing I need and more problem solving is quicker. It still requires creativity. In my case I am a bit ashamed to admit, I have been more focused on getting equipment than using what I have creatively. I’ll be writing more on this as there are changes afoot that will affect how I approach my chosen craft. But, this is a digression from the topic I wish to discuss.
Need vs. Wants
Photographers I know are all about their gear. What is the best camera? The sharpest lens? The best light? These questions become obsessions for some while they forget the true purpose of having gear… to make photographs. What does a photographer really, really need? Here’s my list:
- Lights & stands
- Incident Light / Flash meter
- Protected Storage
- Memory Cards
- Card Reader
Take the last category, “Computer'” for instance, i have six Mac computers that I use and three that are sitting on shelves. Not all of them are used at once mind you. But do I really need all six? What are the necessities and which are superfluous?
- The MacBook Pro is my location machine because it’s portable. The newer MacPro handles the heavy lifting of image processing, cataloging and video editing.
- The older one is on a rolling cart for tethered shooting.
- The old G-4 runs my film scanner. It doesn’t get much use until I am pulling images from my film archives. Then it’s invaluable.
- The quad core G-5 handles the conversion of photographs made with my Foveon studio camera that have to be processed with software that runs on Mac OS-9 and isn’t available for OSX. Until those conversions are finished, it’s a necessity.
- The iMac in my upstairs office isn’t used much at all. I really ought to get rid of it.
The four computers on shelves are an Apple IIe complete with two five and a half inch floppy disc drives, a Quadra 950 fully loaded with 256 megabytes of RAM and an original Power PC Power Mac. They are the machines that I built my business with and I admit being attached to them, frankly, emotionally. Silly, right? This month the two Macs will go to recycling. I haven’t used them in fifteen years. The IIe on the other hand… well, I’ll see. The pragmatic reality is I need four of them, one temporarily until its conversion job is finished. The MacPro on the shooting cart can really be replaced with the MacBookPro. The truth here is I can do everything I am doing right now with a third of the nine computers I currently have in inventory.
Personally, the same (I am sad to say) holds true for me in the other categories as well. How about for your situation?
How gear hoarding begins…
Photographers are sitting around a table having coffee. One of them asks “Did you hear about the new Canon (Nikon, Sony, etc.) that can shoot twenty-four full res RAW frames a second for a full minute?” “No…” answers one. “I’ve gotta have one!!!” says another.
Ok. The feature is hyperbole and fiction of course. The question is “Do I need 24 full res frames a second? Or do I just want it?” Thing is, if you are a sports photographer working with remote cameras in high action environments that frame rate is a definate “need.” Otherwise it’s a “want.” Wants are great as bragging rights. But, they never or very rarely really get used.
‘Want’ is the herion of photography. ‘Want’ is its addiction. ‘Want’ is the siren calling to photographers; seducing them to buy the latest and most wonderful piece of equipment with the ‘promise’ that that item will make it’s owner make better images.
I hear photographers in discussions of which camera is the best. Doesn’t “best” really mean what’s right for the job. A photographer who makes stills on a movie set has sold all of her DSLRs to go mirrorless because those cameras are silent. Is mirrorless “best?” For her purpose, yes it is.
The passions photographers have for their gear drives them to have the “best” camera, lens, tripod, lights and so on. The question that recently has been spinning through my brain is “Will the quote Best unquote make me a better photographer? The (very upsetting to me) answer is “no, no it won’t.” Only making photographs and really seeing what I have done will do that.
Want makes us get the latest, most megapixel-ed, fastest frame rate, highest ISO-ed camera on the market. We want the fastest lenses too. So we sell our gear to trade up to the next “big” thing in photography that will (finally) make us make great photographs. This is a fallacy. I hate to share this with you. It’s not the pen. It’s the penmanship.
Break the Habit
Understand that need is what you must have to survive or to make a photograph. In modern society, need equates to air, water, food, clothing, shelter and transportation. Those are the basics. The wants are the choices of each of these. Open window or air conditioning? Tap or bottled water? Food–processed or organic? Shelter–apartment or mansion? Transportation–walk, bike, mass transit, car–beater or Lamborghini?
Camera–Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony? (Apologies if your brand wasn’t mentioned.) The question is not “which is superior?” The question is “which one feels good in my hands?” Never buy a camera (or any tool for that matter) that doesn’t feel good to you. Is it too heavy? Imagine how you’ll feel after carrying it for eight hours. Is it too light to hold steady?
How many megapixels are really needed? Here I echo a conversation I had with my late friend and photographer Jim DiVitale. We had just received our 50mp Canon 5DSr cameras. We both shoot product. We talked about depth of field. We discussed how great focus stacking is but how time consuming it can be. The closer the camera gets to a subject, the shallower the depth of field. The high resolution cameras allow us to work farther away from the subject, then crop in to the product. Being farther away and cropping provided greater depth of field. The need is faster product photography. We weren’t buying high resolution. We were buying more productivity by capturing in a single exposure instead of several and stacking them to get greater depth of focus.
Photography isn’t the only obsession where acquiring more and more gear is common. I have a good friend who is a gun hobbyist. He had a large collections of hand and long guns. We were talking about his collection one day.
He said “I sold all my guns except for one pistol and one rifle.” I asked him “Why?” His reply, “I had so many guns that I couldn’t get really good with any of them. Now that I have only two, I spend the time at the range mastering them.”
His rationale is one to live by in my opinion.