Photography gear and ‘GAS'

Photography can be an expensive hobby, there’s no doubt about it. When you’re just starting out and decide that you want something more than a smartphone, then you’ll probably pick up a low/mid-range camera body plus a kit lens. It doesn’t take too long before you pick up the obligatory 50mm prime lens, and then it spirals from there. We’ve all been there.

Photography has been my primary ‘hobby’ outside of tennis now for around 15 years. I’m a decent photographer, I think. I’ve sold photos and receive plenty of praise for my photos - but what’s really important (for me) to remember is that more than anything I make photos for myself.

Over the years I’ve spent thousands on camera gear. Most photographers experience ‘GAS’ - gear acquisition syndrome - and that can really be expensive. I find myself guilty of convincing myself I need a piece of gear. This usually happens when I find myself lacking inspiration or motivation to get out and take photos. I easily forget that the gear that I’ve got is plenty good enough for just about whatever I want to photograph, yet I find myself reaching for the credit card and buying something because I’ve watched half a dozen Youtube videos about it and decided that somehow it’ll revolutionise my photography. It very rarely does.

There’s something to be said for buying new camera gear. I like the feeling of getting something new and shiny, testing it out, learning the camera inside and out, and then seeing how that fits into my fictitious photography workflow that I neither have nor really need. I’m not a professional photographer, after all.

With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, and having been furloughed from work now for over a month (with another 3 weeks at least to go) I’ve had plenty of time to think about and reflect on this stuff. And I’ve decided to try and make a change.

The last big episode of GAS that I experienced was a foray into the world of Fujifilm. Some time ago I absolutely had to have an X100F. So, I bought one and used it for a week or so, and then decided that actually I needed the money more than I needed the camera in order to change my car, so I sent it back. It did seem to plant a seed though, as around 6 months later I somehow ended up buying an X-E3 and then shortly after an X-T3, and then followed that with a decent collection of lenses. Before I knew it, I’d bought into an entirely new camera system alongside my existing one.

This was an expensive mistake to make.

It’s an extremely first-world problem to be arguing with myself over which camera system plus lens to take out on my daily COVID-19-approved local walk. Would I take the Sony A7R3 with the 24-70 GM lens? Big and heavy. How about the X-E3 with the 27mm pancake? Not weather sealed. But it is a nice day with hardly a chance of rain. I’ll take the X-T3 and the 23mm F2 just in case. It was a bit ridiculous really.

I knew something had to change and toyed with the idea of selling all of my full frame gear and going ‘full-Fujifilm’. I was really enjoying the legendary Fujifilm colours via the film simulations, and wondered whether I really ‘needed’ full frame at all. It was all a way of justifying my rather expensive recent purchases in my head. But cutting off my nose to spite my face wouldn’t have been a smart move.

So, I reflected and thought about it all some more. Was the Fujifilm gear making me a better photographer? No. It did motivate me to get out and shoot a bit more though, as all new gear purchases tend to do in the short term. I eventually concluded that smaller, lighter gear was more likely the reason I was really taking the camera out more. I could carry it with one hand or throw it into a small bag and get really good results (certainly more so than I’d get from my phone). The penny then dropped that had I just bought smaller prime lenses for my Sony camera, that I’d have saved a huge chunk of money as well as gotten the same, if not better results.

Lesson learnt.

To prove this theory (because I’m a bit nuts like that) I decided I had to spend a bit more money… and I got the Sony 35mm 1.8 FE prime lens. Sure enough, the combo of that lens plus the A7R3 wasn’t much larger than the X-T3 paired with the 23mm F2 - and it was a faster lens with optically much better performance (at least wide open). Turns out that what I was really looking for all along would have cost me a few hundred pounds and not thousands.

If you’ve made it this far through this incredibly boring reflection of my recent spending habits, then I can only hope that you don’t fall into the same trap as I did. My advice to you is as follows:

Limitation can sometimes be a positive thing. It forces you to really work harder to get the outcome you’re looking for. Going down the rabbit hole of compensating inspiration with new gear is an expensive mistake that is very rarely the answer.


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