Why Are We Photographers So Tribal?

By Jason Row / August 2, 2017

Apparently, I am an iSheep. It's an interesting name that I occasionally get called when I am commenting on a post that is about IOS vs. Android. Apparently, as a reasonably educated, tech savvy individual, I am not capable of picking the right device for my needs.

There are striking parallels in the photographic world. Recently I wrote an article about how breaking my Nikon lens led me to use Fuji cameras. The article was based on a loose brief given to me by the editor here at Lightstalking and was meant as a light hearted anecdote on how I changed camera systems.

Many people saw it for that, some, however did not. Several people accused the article of being a paid advertising for Fuji. It was not. Legally and morally we have to declare if someone is paying for an advert or has provided a product for review. Sadly I am nowhere near important enough to warrant such attention from major companies, the cameras I talked about were all bought and paid for with my own money.

This leads us back to me being an iSheep. Android/IOS is a famous rivalry online. So is Nikon and Canon, Full Frame/APS and DSLR/Mirrorless. But why do people get so tribal over inanimate objects?

Using an iPhone apparently makes me an iSheep. By Gonzalo Baeza

Why Photographic Tribalism?

As photographers, we are artists. As artists we often seek praise and confirmation of our talents. Our cameras are the enablers of our talents. We spend substantial sums not only on the bodies but on the entire ecosystem, lenses, flashguns and much more. We invest huge amounts of our time researching the best equipment to suit our own needs. Then some photographic wannabe comes along and writes about how he or she changed from this system to another.

Don’t Be Offended by My Choice

The problem is that some people take offence to this. How dare this other person suggest that my choice is not good. Who does this person think they are, preaching to me?  In virtually every case though the complainer is completely missing the point.

Read the article carefully, watch the video intently. The author is not saying your choice is wrong they are saying your choice is not the right choice for them. Its a huge difference but sadly one that a minority people find difficult to differentiate between. Very few articles I read or videos I watch are bashing products – they are simply expressing an opinion about something that is better suited to their needs. Praising a product because you like it should not be seen as bashing another product, thats a very odd choice of logic.

I choose this. Not to offend others but because it suits me. By Aleksey Gnilenkov

Tea or Coffee

Let's apply the logic used on something more mundane. Lets say I don't like tea, It just does not agree with me and for me coffee is much nicer. Would I expect my friends and peers to go on a tirade on how tea is much healthier and I should be drinking it over coffee? No I wouldn’t. Yet when it comes to more expensive products, a few of of us become incredibly tribal about them.

Shall we have an argument about this? By Camila Tamara Silva Sepúlveda

Comparing the Specs

One of the things we get most tribal about is the technical abilities of our equipment. This sensor has more megapixels than that sensor. I can get more dynamic range on this camera. The thing is though if there were a Top Trumps pack of cards for cameras, the victor would only ever win by a few points at most. There is no such thing as the perfect camera, no such thing as a perfect lens. List the tech specs of every camera on the market and none will utterly trump the rest.

What there is however is the perfect camera for you or me. My choice of Fuji was based on the type of photography I do. I travel, I walk around cities and towns for hours on end. I also shoot 4K video, something that Fuji until recently did not provide. In order to keep my system as light as possible I have a Fuji for stills and a Panasonic for 4K video. Because I shoot video I am carrying a tripod with me at all times. If I were using Canon or Nikon systems, they would be back breaking  for me on a long hot summer’s day. I have owned both Canon and Nikon systems virtually all my adult life. They are superb cameras but just not for me for what I do right now.

If my camera allows me to do this, that's all I need. By Jason Row 

Nothing New Here

People often say that this tribalism is born of the internet age but it is not. It has existed for decades. When I was 16 I won my first ever photographic competition at my local camera club. The photograph was deemed worthy of a touring exhibition of London. The Camera club was a place full of Nikon, Canon and Hasselblad owners, most many years older than me. When they found out that I had won the competition the competition using a £45 Soviet Zenith no-one would speak to me. It was my first taste of tribalism, of photographic snobbery but it also taught me an early lesson. A camera is a tool, and any decent camera in the right hands can take great pictures.  My camera may not have some of the features of yours but it has the features I need to get that shot. And that is the most important thing.

About the author

Jason Row

Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. His images have been licensed to companies such as Cunard, Ethiad and Virgin Atlantic as well as multiple newspapers and magazines. As well as shooting stills he is now creating travel stock video in 4K. He maintains a travel stock photography site at Jason Row Photography You can also catch up with him on Facebook at Facebook/TheOdessaFiles

  • Jeff says:

    Jason, having seen the same thing for years I suspect that many photographers are not “artists” they are “collectors”. A collector accumulates cameras and lenses and loves the gear. Nothing wrong with that really, but they imagine they are artists. An artist doesn’t care too much about the gear – they care about the results.

  • Kent DuFault says:

    Interesting perspective.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    A famous line from Lily Tomlin’s Bell Telephone show is “turnabout is fair play!” What happens, then, Jason, if you respond by making a similar attack on THEIR pet gear?
    I am sorry to learn people have been so self opinionated and rude about these issues. It’s quite uncalled for, it adds nothing to the total knowledge of photographers as a species, and they should grow up & learn some manners.

  • Richard Cowles says:

    Ford or Chevy?

  • Crai Callan says:

    Back in the 80’s, there was a huge turf battle between Kodak and Fuji over color print products. Fuji was gaining ground because many felt their paper had more contrast and saturation than the Kodak’s. I was talking to a Fuji rep about a large commercial lab in the area that was still a Kodak hold-out. “They just have yellow shoes!” was the way he described it.


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