Sometimes, and sometimes often, it would be nice to be a photographer with no particular interest for the tools. One of those that can say in full honesty that they don’t care about their camera or lens. But I’m not, and more often than I like, I am quite the opposite.
Fact is, I do care about the tools I use. In various previous posts, I touched upon some of those things. The way a lens renders, it matters to me. Ergonomics is plain important, to me anyway. And a camera should be fit to purpose.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome
GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is the kind of abbreviation thrown around in photography discussions often. Buying gear, and then some more, and some more… for the sake of it, or for the illusion that it will help.
While I’m not immune to it, nowadays I think I got this reasonably under control. That still leaves too much gear, but with some logic to the madness. GAS is not my primary concern.
It’s a sense of niggling doubts. Ongoing doubts that come and go. Even more so as creatively, it’s still nothing to write home about.
Basically, the doubts are pushing and pulling. Pushing to throw money at the problem, thinking a change in gear will re-ignite the desire to make photos. Pulling the hand back from the wallet and urging to think twice.
If you’re thinking “what do I care?”, you’re fully right. You don’t need to care. It’s my money to waste, and likewise it’s none of my business how you spend yours.
The only reason to bring these doubts up is because there is a truth to both sides.
New or different gear will not make you a better photographer. This is something I do strongly believe. But there are things that can make you a better photographer. One key thing in that is practise. Go make photos. Do it. Often. Train the eye, train your mind to be open and perceptive to opportunity. That definitely makes one better. It is also, incidentally, exactly where I personally am failing. And hence, stuck.
New or different gear just begs to be used. Assuming you’re not buying to put it on a shelf, you’ll need to use it. To get familiar with it, to benefit from whatever new options it brings, to learn whether it’s a tool that fits you better. So funny enough – new toys can make you better. Not directly, but because they make you do what you need to be doing.
Fit for purpose
Every camera has its strong points, and its weaknesses. Even if most new cameras these days are mindblowingly competent and versatile, there are still differences. Ergonomics is one area. Considering ergonomics as a personal experience, it is key to liking to use a camera.
All the features in the world are worth exactly nothing if they constantly get in your way. A camera needs to be as good as possible in the areas you need. If it sucks in other areas… kind of a non-issue as you’re unlikely to go there.
This is another reason why I feel there is nothing wrong with thinking about new gear every now and then. It can force you to think about the photographer you are. What options and features do really matter to you? What lenses do you need? And what gear do you have that you actually hardly use?
Is the gear I use still the best for the photographer I’ve become? We all change with time (and experience). With that change come new requirements. Thinking about that doesn’t hurt. Whether it means you need to change gear, that is your own decision to take.
Long winding intro indeed
All this is a very very long winded justification for myself and of myself. Over time, I learnt I should try keep my choices down a bit. Avoid having to sell a huge collection of Leica SLR gear, or selling a perfectly nice Canonet. Things like that.
My main system is Nikon SLRs, and it has been for a long time already. Today I am a happy owner of a FM and FM2 for the film duties, and a D810 for the digital duties. A more than fair number of lenses, ranging from very decent versatile options to really top performing options. Flashes and all that too: a very complete, versatile and competent set. Several lenses I deeply adore too, like the 105mm f/2.5, the AiS 35mm f/1.4 and AF-S 58mm f/1.4G. I’m blessed and should stop whining.
It’s not a small kit, though, and especially the digital kit isn’t exactly light.
Lately, when I want to go out to make photos, I don’t have to think long or hard which camera to bring. It’s the M4. Nowadays with 2 lenses, both small and light. Both impeccable performers. And two focal lengths that align pretty perfectly with 95% of my needs.
Feel where this is heading?
My mind keeps wandering towards getting a digital Leica M. But they’re very far from cheap, so not a decision to be taken lightly. Also, I never really believed in switching brands. Switching a brand ends up costing a lot, only to find yourself re-training all muscle memory you had, and that the grass on the other side of the hill was at least as green.
The other issue with Leica M (in general) is that they’re a bit one-trick ponies. No zoom lenses. No autofocus. Focal length beyond 90mm are very hard to use, and beyond 135mm there are none. Rangefinder focussing has its limitations, and depth of field preview doesn’t exist. But as said above, if your requirements fit, those gaps in capabilities don’t matter.
So I don’t consider myself the fanboy-ish absolute believer of Leica. I’m very aware of what it does do poorly, or none at all. I am also very aware that I do like the versatility of the DSLR. The 2 photos from Amiens are made with a 300mm; they are here to make that point.
But, my… do I like using my M4! The feel of precision, the dicrete noise. The size and shape of the camera. The simplicity of it. And even if there are great mirrorless cameras that can be as light, as discrete as a Leica M: they don’t have that simplicity in their ergonomics. Most don’t even try.
And I like optical viewfinders. I know electronic ones are really good these days, but I just prefer optical.
So, why don’t you?
All the above is just me selling to me that I should get one. But it’s not so simple. First of all, I don’t want two digital systems around. So it would mean selling the Nikon gear, or at least the DSLR and the lenses that won’t work on a FM2. And that means loss of versatility: again, those photos made with a 300mm are there to make that point.
It’s not just a financial commitment, but also a commitment to being happier with something that is less versatile.
The other point is: do I care about colour photos? In the sense: M10-R, or M10-M? Would I be happy with a Monochrom, and not make any colour images anymore (no, not interested in colour films really). Images I see from the M10-R look great, but that Monochrom is really something special. But again, quite a commitment.
And if I don’t care about colour images, why not switch to film only? Forget about digital completely? Well, for starters, T-Max P3200 is nice, but the high ISO performance of digital is nicer. And during holidays, I really make too much photos for film only. But still… worth considering. I like darkroom printing, I like holding negatives and seeing result that way. So I will stay with film, and do I really, really need digital alongside?
Yes, sorry. Enough with the navel-gazing. Enough with being a nuisance trying to convice himself to either do or not do. Why would you care?
At the core, it is just a mental exercise. It is just thoughts about what kind of photographer I am, and what gear suits that. And what I’d like using, because it suits me. Will I convert to a digital Leica? I really don’t know. It may happen, but perhaps seeing goslings make me realize I want my telelens. So in my own head, I’ll navel-gaze some more.
Of course, I wrote this post mainly for myself. It just helps my thinking a bit. And the only reason to share it is that I feel the underlying idea has value.
It doesn’t matter what brand camera I am thinking about. Or the reasons that make me think about them. It has no bearing on you as a reader. But the simple idea of looking at your own photos and understanding what kind of gear suits you, what lenses suit you and then consider whether what you have matches that… it’s not a bad thing. In my experience, it makes me buy less gear, and feel less bad about selling gear. Keep what you really use, and like using, and then use it a lot. I actually believe that this does make you a better photographer in the long run.