Today’s guest post is by David Moore, a photographer and multimedia expert in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is pretty active on Twitter, where you can learn more from him. Check out his website, Clearing The Vision: Documenting The Everyday Joys Of Family Life.
Stop me before I look at another gear website
My name’s David and I’m a gear review junkie. It’s a blessing to be surrounded by all this great photography information and constant improvements every year from manufacturers, but it’s also a curse. You end up never satisfied with what you’ve got, and it can actually hinder your improvement as a photographer (and drive you bankrupt if your’e a pro).
We spend all this time devouring news and reviews, speculating over the amazing images we’d make with new gear, but deep down we know that what we have already is likely more than good enough. It’s just easier to read up on stuff than to go out and work hard.
It starts simply enough. There’s a new camera or lens announced that promises to be better than what you currently have in some particular way – sharpness, focus speed, low-light performance, whatever.
Oh, says your Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS – thanks to Zack Arias for the useful term), you want to be prepared. You want to have the best gear, to deliver the best service. You should read up on this new shiny bauble, and maybe even get it.
So then you disappear down a rabbit hole. You compare MTF charts, you read five different reviews of the same thing, pixel peep giant sample files, and then it gets worse as you start reading forum discussions.
Soon, it’s an hour later and you’re looking for bad images on the website of a landscape photographer in New Zealand who made some comment you didn’t like discussing a camera you’ve never seen, and you realize … what the hell am I doing?
People have taken amazing photographs for decades with cameras much worse than mine. And some of my favourite images are those I shot with my first DSLR – a Rebel XT – and the cheap plastic Canon 50mm f/1.8.
If this were a hobby for me, then reading photography gear reviews would be a leisure activity. Like cycling enthusiasts reading bike reviews – it’s part of the lifestyle, something that comes with being part of the club. I might be able to improve my photography more by doing something else but if it’s a hobby, and if I love looking at 100% crops of the edge sharpness of a particular lens, then I should go right ahead and do it. And if I have disposable income and want to spend it on gear I don’t need, then that’s my choice.
But this is a job for me, so my concerns are (or should be) different. From a business perspective, I need to spend the least amount of money I can on gear to successfully complete the paying jobs I have. If I spend any more, then I’m not making as much profit as I can. There might be times when successfully completing a job means having all sorts of expensive gear (like Chase Jarvis and his range of helicopters), but that’s not most of us.
So for a pro, having the absolute best gear is not always the best solution – having good enough gear is better. Wedding photogs all have stories of guests at the reception with better cameras than they have – but it doesn’t matter if you can’t even get the best out of what you have. You could give me the best guitar in the world, but it’s not going to win me a Grammy.
Pros also need to budget their time as well as their money. The time I spend thinking about gear is time I’m not earning, marketing, improving my skills, networking or doing anything else that will improve my business or my craft more immediately.
Amateur or pro, it’s clear that we’d produce markedly better images if we stopped fetishising the latest new announcements and actually went out and photographed more and more thoughtfully, read more books, or attended more workshops.
A documentary photography workshop attended (led by Deanne Fitzmaurice) earlier this year was a much better investment than putting that money into the 35mm f/1.4 lens I’d been coveting. I learned a ton and throughout the four days not once did the subject of specific gear even come up. I still have no idea what most of the other attendees were even shooting with – it just didn’t matter.
Unless you have money in your pocket and you’ve been butting up against a very specific limitation in the gear you currently have that’s hindering your progress, then you have no place reading gear reviews.
Obviously, I’m not the first to point this out (David duChemin has made his ‘gear is good, vision is better’ approach a key part of his career, but since I’m suffering from a bad case of GAS myself right now, it’s time for some hard medicine.
Here’s what I prescribe:
1) Unless you’ve identified a real need for new piece of gear, and have the money to buy it, don’t look at gear reviews. At all.
2) Go to the library and check out some photography books, especially monographs by some of the great photographers. When you get an urge to see how the D600 compares to the 6D, study their work instead, telling yourself that almost all of it was shot with gear that’s worse than the stuff you’ve got now that you’re complaining about.
3) Give yourself shooting exercises and personal projects so you can improve your craft, and get to know the gear you’ve got intimately, Find out where it’s good and where it’s not – it might turn out that the stuff it’s not great at doesn’t actually matter. For example, the Canon 35mm f/2 I’ve got vignettes at the corners and has a really buzzy noise as it focuses. Both of those are Bad Things, but neither of them matter much for me. DuChemin’s Craft and Vision publishers offer some good ebooks to give you ideas on projects and tutorials you can follow.
4) Wait until you’re in a situation where your current gear is repeatedly letting you down in real world (preferably paid) shoots, before you even think about getting new gear. Then, if you need something for a paying job, rent it first. If the next paying job for which you need it is not for another two months, rent it again. Only buy it if you know it will pay for itself in a year or so
5) You get extra points if you can sell some other gear to make room for the replacement.
If you’re an amateur, you can relax these rules a little … but try not to be the doctor or lawyer with $10,000 of Leica’s finest, and no idea how to use it all.
Yes it’s fun that we immerse ourselves in the gadget porn that’s part of photography. But if we’re spending more time thinking about gear than about images, we’re getting things backwards. So if you see me heading towards dpreview.com anytime soon, kindly shove a camera in my hand and tell me to get outside and shoot.
Here are a few examples of David’s work – check out the slideshow & post your comments below as well: Blogshow