The Negative Effects of Gear Elitism

Like many photographers I regularly meet people when I’m out capturing images who also enjoy photography. Often times people ask each other what gear they are using. I’m frequently surprised when I hear folks begin their answer with the phrase “I’m only using a…” It causes me to wonder how gear elitism may be affecting photography in general and the camera market in particular. 

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/200 sec, ISO-160. Monument Valley, Utah.

Saying something like “only using” has always stuck me as an apologetic beginning to a reply about one’s camera gear. Why should any of us feel embarrassed about our camera gear? After all it is just a means to an end…the tools we use to create our images.

The equipment each of us uses is not nearly as important as the passion we have for our craft and the creativity we bring to our images. What is in our mind’s eye is far more important that what is in our hands.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 66mm, efov 177mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec, ISO-160. Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Unfortunately camera gear elitism is alive and well. Like expensive cars, jewellery and watches some folks seem to have a need to ‘strut their stuff’ when it comes to their camera gear. They can often be observed talking more about their gear and showing it off to other people rather than actually using it to create images.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 44mm, efov 119mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO-3200, MOVO extension tubes

What I find really bizarre is how some people seem to think they know more about someone else’s camera equipment needs than that individual knows for themselves. I’ve heard, or read, many statements like, “I’m surprised that you are not shooting with better equipment….”, or “There are much better cameras out in the market that you should be using…” or “You’d be able to take better photographs if you used….”,

At worst, these types of statements strike me as being terribly arrogant, and at best are misinformed, or simply juvenile. How can anyone know what is the best camera gear for someone else? The truth is we have no way of knowing the answer to that question. The selection of camera gear is an intensely personal choice based on the very specific needs of a particular individual.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 66mm, efov 177mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-220

I really wonder if being exposed to camera gear elitism has turned away many potential photographers from buying camera gear. What are people who are considering their first camera purchase supposed to think when they hear, or read,  that only very expensive camera bodies and lenses are worth buying and that everything else is junk? I guess if one doesn’t have a huge wad of spare cash one simply doesn’t bother buying at all.

Some statements become quite ludicrous when some people actually say things like, “Well, if you really cared about the quality of your images, you’d spend the money needed on the best quality gear.” That’s a load of egocentric b%$$&@#+ if I ever heard one.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 72mm efov 193mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-2500, with MOVO extension tube(s)

All that matters, and ever has mattered, is our passion to bring the creative visions we have in our minds to life through our photography.

The number of people engaged in photography will only grow when their visual creativity is stimulated, not through the restrictive thinking of gear elitism.  Creativity doesn’t grow through embarrassment. It grows through encouragement.

Regardless of the camera gear you own, grab it proudly and go out to capture some images with it! Let it be the key to unlock your visual creativity and capture your experience of the world around you!

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18 thoughts on “The Negative Effects of Gear Elitism”

  1. “I really wonder if being exposed to camera gear elitism has turned away many potential photographers from buying camera gear.”

    Yup, that’s why I’ll just shoot on my iPhone.

    Jokes on the haters who spends a ton on “real gear” and yet still get completely ignored by the smartphone crowd who can care less. Added irony if they whine about the software tricks the phones employ to make images look good, while they themselves spend a million years doing the same thing on Photoshop.

  2. Another great article with thoughtful observations. My news app brings up your articles on a regular basis and I always enjoy reading them.

    I found myself looking at the Nikon 1 section in a large camera store overseas recently. I was even researching the J5 as a travel camera option just yesterday. I am sure your purpose is not to do Nikon’s marketing for them but you do challenge conventional wisdom about sensor sizes and our gear needs. Your images demonstrate what is possible with skill and talent.

    You have made me step back and reconsider my needs (and wants), for which I thank you. My aching back will thank you too! Looking forward to your NZ e-book.

    1. Hi Kevin,

      I’m glad that you are enjoying my photography blog – thank you for your support! You are correct in that my intent was never to do any marketing for a camera manufacturer. I do my best to encourage readers to make their own choices and trust their judgements on what gear best suits their needs. As I’ve often stated in my articles, just because I happen to use the Nikon 1 system for my needs doesn’t mean that it is the best choice for other people.

      After many months of work my New Zealand photography e-book is getting very close to being finished. I am hoping that it will be done and available for purchase in mid-April. As soon as it is done I will begin my next book project – one that describes my journey with the Nikon 1 system. 🙂 After that I have a number of other e-books planned for this year!

      Tom

  3. Remember the old adage: “He who dies with the most toys, wins”.

    However, nobody ever said what was won.

    WEJ

  4. Your blog post made me think differently! 🙂
    As I wrote you a while ago, I now try to feel the camera in the hand before I look into the specs.
    This and the last post “http://tomstirrphotography.com/birding-kit-holster-bag-pl” its now what I’m looking for.
    Although I’m more lined to the m4/3 system (much more available/affordable in my country) yesterday i found myself considering making a wooden grip for a Nikon 1 V3.

    Yes, sometimes I miss the ‘fall out’ of focus areas of the 50mm f/1.7 film camera, but now I know how I can ‘cheat’ that with longer focal lenses and smaller sensors – witch are much more convenient to carry at all times. 🙂

    Thank you Sir, for this inspiration that came to me thru your words by sharing your thoughts!

    1. You’re most welcome Antonio, I’m glad the article was helpful! I think it is important for each of us to assess our gear needs before making a gear purchase, so I would encourage you to fully consider your M4/3 options as well. While the detachable grip for the V3 does add cost to the set-up it also adds an additional shutter release as well as another external, programmable function button which may be useful to consider.
      Tom

  5. This preoccupation with what’s latest, what’s cutting edge, what’s popular, I guess, is what’s keeping manufacturers afloat and photographers preoccupied with features instead of pictures. I remember one of your past PL posts on SAS instead of GAS. Maybe it’s human nature to always hanker for more but is it healthy? Too often, people I know never really outgrow their camera but rather, their want(s) outgrew the camera.

    1. Hi Oggie, thanks for adding to the discussion! I agree that some folks ‘always hanker for more’ and if they do they’re certainly free to do so. It is an interesting question that is inferred in your comment – have our skills outgrown our camera gear…or only our wants?
      Tom

      1. I can’t speak for other folks Tom but I was guilty of my wants outracing my skills. The way marketers and magazines/online sites fuel the desire for what’s latest, it’s hard to resist not to get drawn into the vortex of “new”, “XXmp”, “XXfps”, “Xdynamic range” and so forth. Sometimes the features can be a crutch or excuse (how can I capture so and so if my camera is only so-and-so?)

        1. Hi Oggie,

          It is quite easy for any of us to fall prey to articles and reviews that extol the virtues of new/different gear. My personal foray into the use of full frame gear was an example of exactly that. After using APS-C for some time I found that I was constantly reading about how much ‘better’ full frame gear would be. I eventually succumbed to the allure of something ‘better’. I began buying full frame bodies and ended up with an arsenal of full frame lenses. While the dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance of full frame bodies was certainly better than what I had been using, after investing many thousands of dollars in full frame gear I discovered that my enjoyment level dropped considerably using full frame gear.

          It didn’t take long before my full frame camera gear became little more than tools for my client video business. It was large and heavy, and I must admit that I was never able to make a connection with it. I began to use it less and less for my personal photography. This was especially true after I began using the Nikon 1 system. This small, lightweight and capable camera system brought the joy of photography back into my life.

          It didn’t take too long for me to discover that I was much more time efficient shooting client videos with my Nikon 1 gear than I was when using full frame as it almost eliminated the need for me to use external lighting when I shoot videos for my industrial clients. Other than using a small, hand-held LED light I can’t remember the last time I actually used my studio lights for a client video production when shooting with my Nikon 1 gear. I dutifully pack some of my studio lights in the car for my video shoots, but they just stay in the car and I unload them once I get home after a shoot. I recently had a fly-in client video shoot in Ottawa and I took everything I needed (including tripods and head) in a small backpack. What a liberating experience!

          In July 2015 I sold my D800 and all of my full frame glass, then foolishly invested some of the proceeds into a Panasonic GH4 and some ‘pro’ Panasonic zooms (I was still falling prey to GAS). It only took about 10 days for my old, porous brain to realize that I had made a mistake. So, I returned the Panasonic gear for a small restocking charge and began using my Nikon 1 system exclusively and have never looked back.

          Everyone’s photographic needs are different of course, and I would never suggest that other people do what I ended up doing as Nikon 1 may not be the best gear for their needs. When each of us finds gear that meets our needs and touches our creative souls we are well served.

          Tom

          1. Hi Tom,

            In my case, oftentimes clients would look at your camera and “the bigger, the better” axiom applies. If you happen to be shooting with a mirrorless, they sometimes don’t take you as seriously which is why I went into the full-frame route. Now that I’m on a crossroads as to whether to continue working as a part-time photographer, I’m reconsidering going into the mirrorless route for my creative/recreational pursuits (e.g., blogging, hiking).

            Oggie

            1. Hi Oggie,

              I have heard about client ‘gear elitism’ from other photographers as well so this certainly can be an issue in the marketplace. I have been hearing that it is not as prevalent as it was a few years ago. I know some photographers feel that they must shoot with more expensive gear than their clients own. In Canada at least, client gear elitism seems to be more prevalent with fashion and food photography clients from what I’ve heard.

              When I’m discussing a potential project with a new client I do mention that I shoot with smaller, more compact gear in terms of the cameras/lenses I use as well as video-related gear such as my camera slider and jib and I’ve never had any push-back at all. I always explain that my choice of gear enables me to shoot without the need for a crew which makes projects faster and more cost efficient. The fact that my customers are industrial business-to-business clients rather than consumer-oriented marketers could be a factor or course.

              At the end of the day a photographer needs to consider the branding approach they are using for their business, target markets etc. If using higher end gear is important from a marketing approach then an individual photographer can make an informed business decision by taking this factor into their gear purchase decisions.

              Tom

  6. The same elitism applies to post-processing applications. If you don’t use Lightroom and perform magic tricks with Photoshop you are considered worse than an amateur.

    1. Hi Bill,
      I agree that there are some strongly felt feelings and opinions with regards to software programs like Photoshop. A few years back I was subject to some rather vicious attacks on Photography Life because of my choice of software and how I used the programs.
      Tom

  7. I think it is rather common for humans to want to compare and compete with each other in all different ways — like through their, clothes, lawns, houses, tattoos, and through their hobbies. I hear this kind of talk in other hobbies. Like in aquascaping (the planted aquariums hobby) where some feel that your tank is not as good as theirs because you are not using the most popular and/or expensive equipment in the way of aquarium brand, aqua soil, plants planted, co2 machine, etc…

    Human nature is a strange beast.

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