Photokina is the epicenter for gear lust. Held every two years, it’s where a huge amount of manufacturers come to unveil the latest and greatest in all things photographic. The most recent one in Cologne, Germany is just wrapping up as of this writing. The steady stream of of oohs and ahhs from the event has been filling my social media feeds for a week. Needless to say, a few things have caught my eye. From the out-of-my-reach offerings from Leica to more affordable shooters from Pentax, there’s been plenty to drool over.
It’s understandable that shiny new cameras and glass can give us, with our current gear, a feeling of… inadequacy. Totally normal. Expected, even. But this happens to a lot of people with a lot of different things. That hot sports car. The big(ger) screen tv. The sleek new laptop. The refrigerator with WiFi capabilities?
But with photographers, gear lust seems kind of different. Perhaps it’s the same with any sort of hobbyist/enthusiast/amateur (musician, shortwave radio operator, remote-controlled airplane pilot, etc.), but still being fairly new to photography, I find myself consumed by gear lust often and deeply. And when I search around the internet checking out gear, I see I’m definitely not alone. Not by a long shot.
New gear is announced and it seems, almost immediately, debate arises over tech specs by people who haven’t even seen image samples yet or better yet, held the latest and greatest in their hands.
Gear Lust also happens with the highly sought-after vintage and top-dollar gear. Again, I offer Leica as an example. Praised for it’s unsurpassed quality on nearly everything they produce, but, for most of us, unaffordable.
We covet thy neighbor’s gear, people. We drool over the specs. We stare, with hungry eyes at image samples. We leer devilishly at the sexy new, albeit retro-looking) camera bodies.
And I’m guilty. I’m definitely a sinner. I’ve spent hours reading reviews, press releases, first looks and initial impressions. I wonder, is this the next piece of equipment to take my game to the next level? Is getting this piece the next step in my progression as a photographer?
Thankfully, at this point, reasoning takes control.
If you’re like me (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), you’re an enthusiast. A serious hobbyist. A passionate amateur. Basically, not a professional. Meaning, we don’t get paid for what we do. So, what we invest in our photographic passion comes from our “regular job”. It’s our hard-earned money from our daily grind that finances our passion.
And us fools should not be parted from that money too easily.
Reasoning takes control and helps me realize that what I have currently is just fine. More importantly, reasoning makes me realize that I’m not a “pro” photographer yet and that a high-dollar investment would be unwise. What kind of return would there be on that investment in the immediate future? Is it worth depleting the savings, or going into debt for? For me, the answer for both is little to none and no.
I realize I have much to learn and my skills need improving. I know that I have not outgrown my NEX 6 and it’s in good health. Therefore, making a big purchase with a new camera is not the smart play. I have very capable lenses too. The native 35 and 50mm, along with a Sigma 30mm have all provided me with quality images and cover the focal lengths I like best. So, my lusting after the $1000 Zeiss 24mm is in no way justified.
Fact is, I need to get better with what I got before I move up. That or score a paying photo gig, but that’s not on the horizon yet.
I realize that this doesn’t apply to everyone though. Hey, if you have disposable income and want to go for it, then go for it! You do what’s right for you.
Like cell phones, tablets and laptops, camera gear is coming out almost non-stop, it seems. There’s always something newer, faster and supposedly better. However, I think it’s best to milk what we have for everything it’s got.
Here’s a few helpful practices I’ve used to reign in my gear lust:
Explore your current camera
I mean, explore ALL of the options your current camera had to offer. This applies almost exclusively to the digital shooter. Cameras even a few years old are packed with options we don’t even think about. We tend to get settled into our “style”, or at least a routine way in which we shoot when we become comfortable with our cameras. I find it beneficial to mix it up occasionally. Play with the different pre-programmed shooting modes. The different effects or film simulations. It’s possible this experimentation can lead you to become more adventurous with your own technique or style. More importantly, it can inject a much needed dose of fun once in a while. While we’re all passionate about this thing we do, at heart it’s really about the joy. It’s ok to have fun, really. Blow out the contrast or the color. Go macro. Okay with tilt-shift. I think this will increase the mileage you get out of your current rig.
Change up your style
Along the same lines as above, consider breaking free from your tried-and-true style. Instead of shooting wide, get closer. Our vice versa. Instead of shooting sizes and backs, do some portraits. Shoot at night instead of the day. Change your approach. See if a different lens in your setup has a different effect on a scene similar to one you’ve shot before. Again, I do this to pump more mileage out of my current rig.
Count your money
This is the big one. For most of us, and in these fiscally sketchy times, it’s hard to part with our money. We work hard for it. Sure, we need to treat ourselves on occasion, but usually the latest and greatest is not a cheap treat. I won’t hammer on about the importance of not going into debt for new gear, but it’s important nonetheless and quite easy to do.
I’ve gotten to the point, on several occasions, of clicking checkout on a piece of new equipment only to be stopped by feelings of guilt. Guilt can be a powerful ally when applied pre-purchase. Perhaps it will make you realize there’s wiser things to do with that loot. Get caught up in bills. Go on a trip, or a photo adventure. Buy some photo books.
The important point is to really think through the decision. Consult with your better half. Make sure they’re ok with your purchase. Weigh the pros and cons of taking a big financial leap with a new gear purchase. Is this piece of gear going to make me a better photographer? The likely answer is no. But I do something physically with my spare cash, after the bills are paid. I stash a little in my photo fund and let it sit until I’m truly ready to make a purchase. There is solace in this act. I’m doing something with the extra money that will eventually lead to a purchase. This does bring satisfaction as the amount increases.
Really, it’s about appreciating what we do have. It’s not about “keeping up with the Jones'”. It’s about making the most of what we have, and in most cases, it’s very capable gear.