Have Gear Lust? Here’s your cold shower…
There comes a time in any photographer’s life where they long for more. Not more photos or even better photos, that is an ongoing process, but more gear. We are in a fast moving technological age and lust for all things new can be difficult to deal with. The other day I was in the car thinking:
I have a device in my pocket that can answer any question I have, change the thermostat in my home in Kansas City from anywhere in the world, and even communicate with some of my household appliances… what the heck is next? Does it get better than this, what could get better than this? I am scared for anything better than this honestly…
Of course this rabbit hole of thoughts led me to think about cameras. When I started shooting I had a manual Canon AE-1 film camera with 2 lenses and a flash. That’s it and that sufficed for about 6 years. Now in the digital age I can’t keep up with the fast pace of sensors getting better and better. Inevitably I long for more. Some, okay many, may call this lust.
This lust for more gear has gotten pretty bad since I started my business full-time last year. I see a new piece of gear and think, ooh I have to have that to be more “Professional”.
Do you think I am kidding? This stems from actual comments from individuals via email, comments, and social media. On numerous occasions I have posted about buying budget lenses and gear to achieve pro results and have been bashed by others saying I am not a true “Pro” if I am buying budget gear. According to them I should be buying the best of the best without regard to the expense. Really, I kid you not… I have been told that and it is the silliest thing I have ever heard in my career.
This is where you have to breakdown the word Professional and see what it means to you. If by professional you mean one who makes money off of a job or task, then sure spend the big bucks to accomplish the task if that makes you feel better. However, if you mean a real Professional one who is a master craftsman and can create magnificent results because of their knowledge and skill level; then any piece of gear should suffice. A true pro will make anything work; look at iPhonography.
Regardless of the term “pro”, or wherever you are in your photography career or hobby, before you go buying the latest and greatest, I want you to ask yourself these next 5 questions. This is the strategy I take with every new photography gear purchase.
1. Does this new piece of gear adapt to my style of shooting?
This question is easier to answer than you think, but it can often be clouded by the faint smell of pheromones during the gear lust phase. To paint a picture, let me give you an example.
A few months ago the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens hit the streets and boy were the photo blogs buzzing! I had nearly convinced myself that this was going to be an absolute necessity for me. I said, “Blake if you buy this you will shoot all kinds of awesome telephoto shots… get it… get it… what are you waiting for, you will be more pro if you get it… just do it… Scott Kelby just shot a football game with it…. you will too!!!”
In an effort to see if I would really use this lens I ensured that my 70-300 lens was in my camera bag at all times for the following 4 months. To my lack of surprise the 70-300 never left the bag.
You see, we all have an innate style of shooting. I know myself and my style well enough now that this purchase would have been an impulse buy for me. I am a wide angle junkie, I rarely use telephoto lenses unless I am photographing tight portraits of my wife or children. The 100-400 is a beautiful collection of glass, but it just doesn’t match my style.
Which leads me to question 2.
2. Will the frequency of use justify the expense?
This is probably the hardest of the 3 questions to answer. Many times in the midst of gear lust we can convince ourselves that yes, yes, yes, I will use it all the time! I remember saying that about the Yongnuo Ring Flash I purchased that has been sitting on my shelf for about 3 months with one use… the tests I ran with it.
I kind of knew that going into the purchase as I love Macro Photography, but I don’t do it as often as I would like to. I knew going into that purchase that the frequency would be low, but the price was low also. Here is where a quick little picture equation can be helpful.
If you answer the question of Frequency vs Expense and it lands on GREEN, it is quite possibly a no brainer purchase.
If you answer the question of Frequency vs Expense and it lands on ORANGE, it is a purchase that may need some thought.
If you answer the question of Frequency vs Expense and it lands on RED, it is a purchase that may need a lot of thought and should only be approached if the funds are available.
If you are in the Red and still very much desire the product, check to see if there are favorable alternatives. Which leads very well into Question 3.
3. Are there any favorable alternatives?
This is a concept that is often overlooked due to brand loyalty. I hear it all the time, “I will only put Canon Glass on my Canon camera”. Allow me to let you in on a little secret… your camera will not explode if you put another brand’s lens on it… gasp…
I will say this. I was one of those people who said that exact phrase in the past. That was of course until I started looking at the Canon 14mm f/2.8 lens. I lusted for this lens for a very long time and was nearly on the verge of purchasing it until I searched for an alternative. I was in the ORANGE category on this. The lens is expensive over $2200, it required a lot of thought even though I knew I would get some great use out of it. So I did some soul searching and really thought about what I needed this lens for:
- A nice wide angle on a full frame camera for landscape photography.
- Fast Aperture for Astro photography.
After looking around I found that a lot of “Pros” were using the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 which is nearly $1800 less than the Canon version. Do they have differences? Yes, the Rokinon is all Manual. However, I knew I would be tripod mounted with this lens for my intended purposes and I would more than likely be focusing with Live View, so Auto Focus is a moot point.
I decided to go with the Rokinon in the end as it was a very favorable alternative. Even after more research I found that many have compared the Canon directly with the Rokinon and have favored the Rokinon after several functionality tests.
4. Is this new piece of equipment that much better than what I currently use?
Often times we overlook the function of a product when we are googly eyed in lust over the latest and greatest. That is why it is imperative to know your camera and the lusted alternative very well. Of course this requires the knowledge of things like sensor size, ISO rating, Frame Rate, Full Frame vs Crop Sensor, dSLR vs Mirrorless and so on.
When you know these things, and you know them well, it makes it very easy to compare your current gear with what you lust for. I use three resources almost religiously when I am researching a new camera purchase.
1. DP Review on the Digital Photo Review website there is a compare tab. It can be difficult to find so I’ll link it >>HERE<< On this site you can compare two cameras (there is also another link for lenses) side by side. It is invaluable as it puts the items next to one another spec for spec. Of course, this should be taken with a grain of salt as they are simply the specs and not hands on comparisons. Other factors come into play. For instance, is the camera ergonomically friendly, how are the buttons setup, does it have 2 dials… etc
2. Snapsort is a decent website to check out for camera comparisons as well. I would not take their initial camera ratings for face value (the 1-100 rating at the top), but unlike DPReview, this site not only compares them side by side, it makes it a bit easier to understand which one is better than the other. Of course, you have to assess what is important to you in a camera and simply use it as a guide.
3. Amazon Reviews… yes I do read reviews from actual buyers. However, this is like gardening. For every beautiful flower there are 20 weeds. You have to read the reviews and weed out the bad ones and associate with the good ones.
A bad quality review is: “This product is awful…”. (this is a weed)
A good quality review is: “This product is not the greatest quality on the market. I tested it on my camera and the connection seemed instable. After several uses it only got worse.” (this is a flower)
A bad quality review: “I love this lens it makes me so happy…” (this is a weed)
A good quality review: “This lens is a welcomed addition to my wide angle collection. Its f/2.8 aperture makes low light situations easier to bare. However, the Chromatic Aberration can be high at low apertures (f/2.8) and sometimes I notice it is soft around the edges” (this is a flower)
5. Will purchasing this lead to more expense in the long run? Am I ready for that?
You have to consider that any new purchase could lead to several more purchases down the road. I mentioned that I love Macro Photography. Last year I purchased the Canon 65mm f/2.8 MP-E 1-5x macro lens. I adore it, however, it is very difficult, if not impossible to use, without the Canon Twin Flash or a Ring Flash. The lens itself had a hefty price tag, but I also opted for the Canon Twin Flash which was almost equal to the price of the lens. Then I needed something to keep the camera steady, so I bought a shoulder stabilizer. Then I needed something to aid in taking the picture so I bought another remote trigger. Finally I needed some hockey stick tape to attach the remote trigger to the shoulder stabilizer handle.
So let’s take a look at how much this one lens purchase actually cost in the end:
The Bottom Line:
I will leave you with this…
“It is not the expense of your gear that will make you a great photographer, it is your wealth of knowledge.” -Blake Rudis
Look at these two images below. One was taken with the Canon 6D with a 17-40 mm lens (total price $2200) the other was taken with a Samsung Galaxy S5 (total cost $99 with cell phone contract upgrade). Which photo came from which?