Use that Old Gear

By Roger (7 September 2014)

When you get a bunch of photographers together, you can be sure that, sooner or later, there will be some talk about the gear. He wants this new lens; she thinks this camera is better than that one. These debates/discussions/arguements can go on for hours.

Like most everyone else, I love the nice gear, especially high quality lenses. But you don't want to make gear more important than your creative vision. Don't use old gear as the excuse to sit at home, instead of going out to make new work.

Potomac River, Virginia

Potomac River, Virginia

Too often, new photographers think gear is the answer to make their photos better. It's not hard to figure out where these feelings come from. They see experienced photographers, with expensive gear; they see great photos made by the experienced photographers, with this gear; and they conclude they need the expensive gear to make similar photographs.

The truth is you don't need the most expensive cameras and lenses to make good photographs. Oh, sure, there are bells and whistles on that gear that makes them worth the cost, but, even without those features, today's less expensive gear will make exceptional photos. As I explained (here), last year, I was forced to leave my D4 and 70-200mm in the hotel room and shoot a wedding with a D5200 and 28-300mm. I had to work a little harder, but the photos were fine and bride and groom happy.

Wedding Vows

Wedding Vows

These days, camera bodies are depreciating as quickly as computers. Regardless of the price level you buy into, the cameras are replaced with newer models every few years. If you are constantly chasing the latest model, you will spend thousands of dollars for gear that will almost certainly NOT improve your photography. Sure, you'll get that momentary high from the new camera smell when you open the box, and you'll run out somewhere to play with the new buttons. However, a couple weeks (days?) later, you'll be back to wondering why your photos don't look like the ones _insert some other photographer's name_ made or why your new camera doesn't magically give you the creativity you are seeking.

Lenses for your camera can last much longer; with proper care, they can last until they don't fit on any camera. New lens smell can have the same effect on you as new camera smell, but you'll come crashing down just the same, if you think the gear makes the photographer.

I love this expression.

I love this expression.

So, how do you fight what is commonly called “gear acquisition syndrome,” or GAS? (I'm not making this stuff up, you can Google this term!) Let's assume you're not suffering from any real problems that cause an addiction – I'm not qualified to address that. What you have is just the unreal expectations and natural desires that result from too many photography equipment ads and wanting “the best” of everything.

Your first step here is to put the camera ads down and go look at some work from people who are known as masters of photography. You'll get the best experience from a museum or gallery showing, but you can find examples on the internet. Your opinions of who should be considered “master photographers” will probably differ from mine, so I won't name names. Just do some independent searching. Their work was done on film, with many more equipment constraints than you are working with. How did they accomplish this with such basic equipment? Their cameras did not autofocus; had no built-in light meter; had to be reloaded with film. Why, they couldn't even look on the back of the camera to get a preview of the photo they took.

I hate to beat a horse we've beaten to death here, but my first answer is know your current equipment. Learn the capabilities and limitations of what is in your bag. Have you tried even half of the features listed in your current camera's menu?

Photography is about your vision, not your capture device. Your phone camera is probably more capable than what the professionals paid thousands for just 10 years ago. I'll just move along before this becomes an old guy rant.

Don't make the old guy angry.

Don't make the old guy angry.

If we're being logical, we know new gear is rarely the solution to our creativity problems. If we're being realistic, we know we're probably got our eye on something we want. Just don't wait until you buy that thing to get out there and make something new.

And don't think, without fancy equipment, your photos can't look their best. All of the photos in this blog were chosen because they were taken with “inexpensive,” variable aperture lenses and older cameras – in fact, you can't buy any of these cameras as new items today.

So, let's take our current gear out for a walk in the woods and smell the flowers before they disappear under the snow. You never know what you'll find, and I promise you your camera and lenses are good enough for you to have some fun.

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Don't forget to sign up for the 11 October Worldwide Photowalk here. You can join Mark and I, in Harpers Ferry, WV, at 0930, beginning at the Amtrak station. You can sign up for our walk here. We hope to see you there.

I make no promises that there will be elephants for our photowalk.

I make no promises that there will be elephants for our photowalk.