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Let’s Talk About Gear Lust

Let’s Talk About Gear Lust

Jason D. Little
Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), part time writer, and full time lover of music. You can see Jason’s photography on his photography blog or on Flickr.
Jason D. Little
Jason D. Little

Blog Posts by Jason D. Little

Jason D. Little

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By on in Photography and Camera Gear 45 Comments ]

 

So, when did you last experience “gear lust” and how did you alleviate yourself of the condition? Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve looked at that new camera for a total of 8 hours and counting; you’ve studied the spec sheet like you were preparing for an exam; you’ve ogled every available product shot from every available angle; you’ve read all the previews and reviews and press kits you can find. This incredible new camera is the last thing you think about before you go to sleep, the first thing on your mind when you wake up; you probably even dreamed about it in between. And all you know for sure is that this awesome, new, state of the art, the camera would make you the happiest person alive because you’d instantly become a better photographer.

While the preceding scenario is certainly an exercise in hyperbole, it’s not an entirely untrue representation of what has plagued many — dare I say, all — of us at some point during our lives as photographers: an overwhelming, all-consuming longing for the latest piece of photography equipment. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera body, a lens, a flash (or, perhaps, a more elaborate lighting set up), a bag, whatever. There will seemingly always be some new thing that makes us salivate, whereafter we begin the mental gymnastics to convince ourselves that we need it — deserve it, even.

Throwing Money at a Problem

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with acquiring new gear…when you actually need it. And therein lies the problem: gear lust typically has nothing to do with need. A new camera or lens simply won’t make you a better photographer, though they might produce technically superior images. Obviously, the latest DIGIC 5+ sensor is better at handling high ISO levels than the original DIGIC sensor introduced in 2004. Yes, that 18 megapixel camera will provide better large prints than an 8 megapixel camera. In this regard, equipment matters. But photography, at its core, is not about chipsets and algorithms; it’s about seeing the world around you in your unique way and then rendering that vision as something that others can share in experiencing — a photograph. Your equipment is the medium through which the transformation from inner vision to veritable photograph occurs. While state of the art gear may facilitate this whole process with somewhat greater ease, it is not going to magically improve upon whatever shortcomings you exhibit as a photographer.

Improving as a photographer has more to do with practice, learning good habits and techniques, and spending time becoming closely acquainted with the gear currently in your possession than it has to do with owning the fanciest camera body on the market. If you’re unhappy with your photography and you’re using a camera from 2002, buying this year’s model isn’t going to help you at all. You’re completely overlooking the source of your problems.

Then, of course, there are those who are, by all accounts, talented photographers, yet still fall into the trap of wanting new gear just because it exists.


EOS 5D Mark III Body by norio.nakayama, on Flickr

A Friend in Need…of a New Camera

Not so long ago, a friend of mine agonized over whether he should buy the Canon 5D Mark III even though he already had the Mark II. When I inquired as to what exactly had him leaning toward the purchase of new gear, he presented me with an extremely well prepared defense that included an exposition of “awesome specs”, “amazing new features”, and “incredible reviews.” It all sounded great (and I’d love to have one myself), but I couldn’t help but wonder aloud about the odds of the parents of some high school student that my friend does senior portraits for saying, “Thank you so much for the beautiful pictures of our daughter. We especially love the shots you took at ISO 12, 800. It’s like there’s no noise at all!”

Never gonna happen.

But when this lust-lorn friend suggested that he needed to obtain a second camera body before embarking on his first wedding shoot, I told him he might finally be on to something: a legitimate reason, maybe? He seemed to have experienced an epiphany when he realized he could buy another 5D II — a camera he admittedly adores. I could easily turn this into a diatribe about consumerism and the factors that drive it, but that’s a secondary point; the central issue here is one of identifying what your needs are filling them appropriately. If you happen to have a money tree in your yard, then I guess it doesn’t really matter, but given the costly nature of photography gear, it doesn’t make sense to have a ton of expensive equipment in your collection just for the sake of having it. Especially if you skill level is not on par with the gear in question.


9/52 Uber Lens – NIKON 80-200mm by BurgTender, on Flickr

Curb Your Desire

So what can you do to curb that burning desire for new gear? Here are a few coping techniques:

  • Take inventory of your strengths and weaknesses as a photographer and asses those characteristics in relation to the gear you own. Ask yourself if there is any piece of gear that you can buy that would help you eliminate your weaknesses while reinforcing your strengths.
  • Before moving on to new gear, be sure to master what you already have. Not only will you get your money’s worth from it, but you will be more prepared to advance when the time comes.
  • Is there an aspect of photography you want to learn for which new gear might be? Macro or landscape photography could be a couple of examples. In this case, a dedicated macro lens or wide angle lens would be justified.
  • Get creative and find new ways to use old gear. For instance, if a macro lens simply isn’t in your budget, you can reverse mount one of your lenses to achieve a similar result.
  • Distract yourself by doing some actual photography. You can sit around and pine over all the stuff you don’t have, or you can take what you do have and put it to good use.
  • One of the major psychological components of lust is curiosity. Try renting a lens (or whatever it is you’re after) and see if it lives up to the hype you’ve created in your mind.
  • Kick a tree.

This is no way an attempt to tell people what to do with their money; that doesn’t matter one bit to me. But there is something to be said for examining one’s desires and what motivates them. Our motives can sometimes be pretty flimsy, and flimsy motives in this regard make for mediocre photographers because, by trapping ourselves in the revolving door of constant upgrades, we never truly hone the skills that matter. Upgrades are a fact of life for photographers. No one in their right mind would suggest we all walk around with pinhole cameras and pretend to be content. I am simply encouraging a bit of self-contained honesty when weighing wants against needs. If you allow your perspective to get all out of whack, you end up wasting not only time and money but, perhaps more importantly, talent.

45 Comments

  • Geoff:

    This article really hits home for me. I’ve been trying to break my addiction to new gear. Besides my Nikon D7000, I also recently bought an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Fuji X-E1. Both nice cameras, but also require new lens systems, which means more money. My intent was to have a smaller, take anywhere camera for when I didn’t want to lug the DSLR around.This cycle really needs to stop. So thanks for your article, especially the Curb Your Desire section.

    January 20, 2013 at 4:40 pmReply

  • SxperiaS:

    I have a Canon 1000D and i just upgraded the lens to a 18-135IS, my previous one was 55mm with no IS. It is very different, however, i think it is a incredible machine to learn but i am getting to the point that i think i should buy a new one it takes great day shots but at night with higher ISO the photo quality it terrible!

    January 20, 2013 at 5:03 pmReply

  • Undine:

    The article is RIGHT on! I own the Nikon D 7000 and four lenses and I can honestly say, I am happy with my equipment and don’t long for anything else. But I still loved your article. I know so many people who think only by having the latest camera and huge lenses, they become instantly great photographers. I have seldom laughed as hard as when I read this article!

    January 20, 2013 at 7:51 pmReply

  • Avatar of thepaparazzothepaparazzo:

    I am completely guilty of this… I’ve got a couple of grand in inheritance money and I’m drooling over a new 5D mk2 or mk3! My first full frame DSLR that has a good few years of use before needing upgrade (here we go with the vague justification)…
    But instead I’m looking in to going to go on a portrait photography course.
    A great article Jason. Every now and then we just need a kick up the backside to slap us back to reality. Something I’m fortunately getting better at doing!

    January 21, 2013 at 4:39 amReply

  • Philip Davis:

    Here is another coping technique: Allow yourself to indulge once. Buy that really expensive piece of equipment. Consciously reflect on how you feel before and after the purchase. And then the next time gear lust strikes… ask yourself whether you actually used that piece of gear once the emotional high faded.

    January 21, 2013 at 6:47 amReply

  • Pete:

    Hi, I’ve had gear lust recently but was prompted by the directions I want to take my photography skills in. I’m planning on buying a 35mm prime lens to do street photography with and then save for an 85mm prime for portraiture. Is this unreasonable? I actually came to this decision after having lusted for one of the new fujifilm cameras which is way over my budget but would be useful for my street photography. I’ve decided that I will make that a longer term goal and save periodically to an amount I can then buy a camera for street photography with. Is that unreasonable? I will be continuing my photography with the gear I already have in the mean time (D80). My plans then after that to save for a current model of dSLR. This way I’m putting more efforts into my practices while slowly building up the gear I think I ‘need’… Do you think all this is just gear lust or am I being practical?

    January 21, 2013 at 7:30 amReply

  • Geoff CB:

    I am often taken with gear lust, pretty much every time I get some spare cash on hand. There’s always one thing that cures me: I go online and look up what other photographers are doing with the gear you already have. It always inspires me and tempers my need for the latest and greatest.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:45 pmReply

    • Dan Hawk:

      I do the same thing. A couple of my absolute favorites photographers use older Full Frame bodies and 1 prime lens. Not a cheap combo, but certainly intentional and focused. I’m trying to really think through every piece of gear and avoid overlaps when possible.

      January 23, 2013 at 12:06 pmReply

    • Jeff:

      I agree with Geoff. Everytime I feel the urge to buy I look again at Flickr and 500px using my camera and lens as a Tag and look at the photos others are taking with my gear. Usually helps (for a week or so). I’m managing it now simply by saying once I have earned enough money from my photography (hobby) to pay for it I can buy it. Seeing as I am earning nothing the wait might be a while.

      January 24, 2013 at 10:51 amReply

  • Roy:

    Excellent article! It’s as if you were reading my mind. You totally convinced me, but I’m not sure how much it will last…

    January 27, 2013 at 1:34 amReply

  • David:

    I have been using a Canon 550D since they were new out and I was tempted by the new 6D / 5Diii. I found the best bang for buck will be a used 5Dii with a low shutter count…just picked a 5Dii / 24-105mm kit for US$1.8K on ebay with under 1000 shutter count. I’ll prob pick up a used 5Diii in about 5 years from now.

    January 27, 2013 at 2:32 amReply

  • Peter Leyenaar:

    Absolutely nothing wrong with buying new gear, I don’t feel,guilty about it at all ,when I see a camera that interests me , because of its quality or handling ,
    I buy it , sell my old stuff, sometimes I keep my old stuff because I like it.
    I have a lot of fun getting new gear , it motivates me to shoot more.
    At the present I have most of the Fuji X
    cameras, with all the lenses, an Omd e5
    With the 18-35 2.8 , 35-100 2.5 , 20 mm 1.7 , Leica macro, Olympus 75-300 and some other stuff.
    I am having a lot of fun and don’t feel guilty at all.

    January 27, 2013 at 7:37 amReply

  • Tom Ray:

    My coping mechanism for this is to wait a day or two before pulling the trigger. By then I often find the immediate urge to buy is gone. Here is an example. I had convinced my self I needed a new lens. I had a host of reasons to do so, justified or not. Luckily it was Friday evening, and B & H was closed. I told myself I’ll wait till Sunday. Well Sunday came the urge to buy was gone. I asked myself do I really need to spend $500 on this? I may still buy the lens in the future, but the urge for immediate purchase is gone.

    So my advice is when you feel you have to buy something, take a deep breath and wait a couple of days. You may still want to buy, but for me this approach has saved me a lot of money over the years.

    January 28, 2013 at 6:59 amReply

  • Jack Copland:

    I agree with Peter. I am an amateur photographer and love my hobby with a passion not unlike my friends with, golf (gotta have the Big Bertha); boating (absolutely need the new stabilizer); or you name it. Part of the fun of the hobby is staying up with the newest and the greatest.
    Now having said that, I also agree 100% with your blog and particularly enjoyed the 1st para, which was a fairly accurate descriptor of myself as I lusted after the new D800. I now have it and now need to concentrate on improving my skill sets as a photographer using the gear to its’ fullest potential.

    January 28, 2013 at 7:07 amReply

  • Christine:

    Reverse mounting a lens??? Can I hear more about this??????

    January 28, 2013 at 12:36 pmReply

  • mig maina:

    I prefer to learn something new any time I have the urge to buy gear.
    I own a canon 400d. I wanted to upgrade but decided to try hdr photography instead. turns out all i need to buy is a cable release and have also discovered a number of features on my camera.

    January 30, 2013 at 1:45 amReply

  • Alan:

    My latest lust is for the Canon 200-400 f/4 IS with integrated 1.4x teleconvertor. I will never get that unless I have a long-lost rich relative grant me an inheritance. I need something else to fill that that slot, maybe a Bigma since I can’t afford either the 400 or 500mm prime either.

    March 23, 2013 at 6:13 pmReply

  • dav:

    Jonesing for a second body? Buy a body identical to what you already have.

    If you have two different DSLR bodies, you’ll always be wishing you were shooting with the “better” one. You’ll be constantly swapping lenses. You’ll be dusting the sensor. You’ll be missing shots.

    With two identical bodies, you’ll change lenses one-fifth as often. You’ll always be ready for nearly any shot. You’ll always have a backup. You’ll know how the damned thing works.

    March 23, 2013 at 7:58 pmReply

  • Richard:

    Be more concerned about the image you produce from your camera and less concerned about YOUR image with others having expensive equipment.

    March 23, 2013 at 10:53 pmReply

  • Hal:

    Thanks for the great read!
    I confess.
    Don’t forget software too. Photoshop, Lightroom, Portrait Professional, Nik, etc, etc. Must have the latest because of the new features I am doing fine without. More pixels, bigger memory cards, bigger hard drive, newer CPU, help!

    May 30, 2013 at 4:43 amReply

  • G Dan Mitchell:

    I’ve thought about, and written about, this affliction a number of times. I have some ideas about its source and perhaps the remedy.

    It comes from several places. One of them traces back to those of us who write about photography: basically, it is a lot easier to write about gear than to write about the aesthetic issues. As a result, there is far more written about the “stuff” than about the photographs. So any new photographer who goes looking for information will find that the majority of it is material the supports the notion that the most important decision are those having to do with gear.

    Secondly, since the business side of of photography is partly (or largely, if you are a camera retailer, distributor, or manufacturer) driven by selling stuff, there is a great deal of support for the writing that is about the stuff.

    Third, there is a (perhaps large?) subset of new photographers who are largely intrigued by the gear – perhaps far more by the shiny and fancy gear than by the photographs that it can make. Evidence might be found among the thousands of photographers who can recite technical specs but have almost no clue about great photographers and photographs.

    Fourth, and related to number three, is a desire to “look pro” or “look like a real photographer.” To a new or aspiring photographer, the look is often based on the image of the person using particular kinds of equipment: a large DSLR, big lens, large bag of stuff, tripod, and so forth.

    The answer, though it isn’t as easy as buying stuff, is to become fascinated and obsessed by the photographs.

    May 30, 2013 at 6:40 amReply

  • Gretchen:

    I think many folks feel driven to this by the outrageous amounts of gear snobbery I’ve seen.

    Many new to photography peruse the multitude of forums, online groups, sites etc. and are made to feel that the only way the can even envision going pro is by having gear X Y and Z. On more than one occasion I have been ridiculed (usually by someone young enough that I have slides and negatives older than them) for not having the latest greatest “pro level camera”.

    Frankly I want to smack them sometimes. I’ve been a working pro for over 20 years, way back in the film days when “F8 and Be There” was our mantra in the press and have been published across the board in multiple outlets..but because I may not be sporting the newest and most expensive gear obviously I don’t have a clue. Yes, good gear makes a difference, but it is not prerequisite for good work.

    I still remember one particular assignment I was on when a member of the local press arrived and laughed at my choice of gear, saying “you can’t possibly expect to get anything published using that….” To which I reached in my blind bag (I was covering a waterfowl hunt) and handed him a copy of magazine that had used one of my images on the cover. After I told him look at the photo credit on the masthead. His face became a little red.

    Instead of telling newcomers the only way they can be a pro or even enter the arena is to have a certain set of gear is ludicrous. Instead we should be teaching them about business management and perfecting their craft.

    May 30, 2013 at 2:40 pmReply

  • Avatar of CamnanaCamnana:

    Love your first paragraph! But hyperbole? No, that is an exact description of me shopping for my newest camera! And I won’t even go into how many times I tracked it before it finally got to my door.

    Don’t know if it has made me a better photographer, but it sure has made me a happier one!

    July 14, 2013 at 9:17 amReply

  • David Banks:

    Some of the best photos I have ever taken were with a 25 year old Minolta film camera and the standard nifty 50. I wet myself when I see anyone who isnt a pro or press with a big white lens in a case where the case cost more than my total outfit ;-)

    February 8, 2014 at 8:23 amReply

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