Ignore ‘Must Have’ Gear Advice

Like most photographers I’ve experienced bouts of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), with some of it induced by listening to the advice of others. I don’t know what your experiences have been. Mine have led me to the conclusion that the best thing for me to do is to simply ignore ‘must have’ gear advice from others, each and every time I hear it.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250mm, efov 675mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-320

While most folks are very well meaning when they offer their recommendations and opinions on camera gear, they can’t possibly understand the specific needs of another person. And, that goes for me too. I can certainly share my experiences with you, but ultimately you have to decide what gear best suits your needs.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6mm @ 14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-200, -0.7 step

Buying and using camera gear is an intensely personal decision. What one photographer may find is invaluable to them, another may just shrug off as not being necessary at all.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560

Like many people I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that a particular format, camera, lens or accessory will somehow help make me a better photographer. That’s precisely how I moved into Nikon full frame gear, first purchasing a D600 and ultimately ending up with a D800 and a healthy selection of Nikkor F-mount lenses. Plus, a Tamron 150-600 mm thrown in for good measure.

Nikon 1 J4 + 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom at 30mm, efov 81mm, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-160

There’s no question that all of that full frame gear was excellent in terms of features, performance characteristics and quality. Did it actually help me become a better photographer? Being honest with myself leads to a simple answer, “No”.

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In some ways, through my own fault of course, I ended up becoming a bit lazy and complacent. After all, I could point that full frame gear at virtually anything, press the shutter, and have a much better than average chance of getting an acceptable image.

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Camera gear, regardless of the format, make or model, is simply something each of us uses to capture an image. We use it toย bring a vision in our individual minds into a digital reality, or a physical print. Something that has, for whatever reason, sparked our creativity.

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I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years buying ‘must have’ gear recommended by others that I discovered after-the-fact that I really didn’t need. Some of it was so infrequently used that I ended up selling it for almost what I paid for it. That helped to reduce the financial sting of the original purchases, but not my stupidity in buying it in the first place.

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My stupidity was not limited to only photographic gear. I also made some bonehead decisions with video-related gear as well. Over the past year or two I’ve been reviewing every piece of gear I own, and selling things that don’t really make any sense for me to own.

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I haven’t found buyers for everything that needs to go yet. And, depending on the item and its level of speciality I may end up with a unique collection of paperweights. Or, perhaps I should call them ‘life lessons’.

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Each of us has our viewpoints on what contributes to the growth of an individual when they pursue a particular endeavor like photography.

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Personally I think choice of gear makes very little, if any, difference at all. What really matters is how well we understand and use the gear we have to bring the visions in our minds to life. Our choice of gear is only relevant in terms of how well it helps to facilitate our creative process, rather than being an impediment to it.

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The essence of each of us as photographers stems from our individual abilities to see the world around us in unique ways, and to bring those perspectives to life with our creative interpretation of them.

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While photography can have quite a bit of technical orientation to it, none of us will reach our potential by becoming technicians. First and foremost we need to explore the art form that is called photography.

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Many of us have become overly gear-centric. When we see an image that we like, we tend to check out the EXIF data almost immediately rather than experience the photograph as an artistic expression. At the end of the day does it really matter if the individual images in this article were captured with a full frame camera, one with a cropped sensor, or even a bridge camera with a tiny sensor? Or, is it simply enough that they were captured at all?

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Article and all images are Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use.

28 thoughts on “Ignore ‘Must Have’ Gear Advice”

  1. Hello Tom
    Philosophical question: Is there any such thing as one’s own decision, or are we children of coincidence and chance (Dory Previn)?
    Through years I have amassed lots of equipment. First I needed and used multiple bodies, because B&W had to be developed differently, then there were Kodachrome and Fujichrome… As soon as I had all the primes I needed, there came autofocus. In my darkroom there were enlargers for 35mm, then – because of more even lighting – 6×6, and in the end 4×5. Being a gatherer, I still have all. When digital came I waited very long. I knew, at some point Nikon will make a camera, which can use old lenses. So came D200 to me. Having bad eyesight (and liking to print big) I had to wait some more for FF. Enter D800e. In the mountains or at sea weather is often harsh and changes quickly. So two bodies…
    For occasional strolls with my wife I bought a V1. Changing lenses and camera beiing so small, there came the second body. I could use same batteries as in my FF camera!
    And then I found this site! I have asked you a question or two and bought “your” holy trinity and two J5s. They have place in my little shoulder Billingham and I love and use them dearly and a lot. Yes, 70-300 is exceptional. And Movo with 30-110 too ๐Ÿ˜‰
    So what gives? For me photography is pastime after many years not having enough time for it. Now and then I think sometimes, that because of the changing technologies I could have wait and buy later (now?), but then there is the effect of using the stuff and hereby learning and be exposed to photography. This would be missing. Thank you for this site and please bear with my english.
    Robert

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing some of your photographic journey with us! You certainly have had many interesting experiences with various camera formats etc. over the years. I never got into doing my own developing back in the film days and I’ve not owned any large format cameras so you have much broader experiences. To your philosophical question…I suppose many of us are impacted to some degree by our environment and how the Universe reveals itself to us throughout our lives. The underlying theme in this recent article is one of independence and trust in one’s judgement. I certainly can’t speak for others, but my worst decisions when it has come to buying photographic gear is when I’ve paid far too much attention to the opinions of other people…especially when following their ‘must have’ advice.
      Tom

    2. Hi Tom
      Please excuse me, I overshot a bit. (To think of it, I left out tripods, macro, etc..) You are right, one should never buy spontaneously on ‘must have’ from others. Myself, I was always guilty myself. But there are no regrets. Only pleasure to try as much as possible. As one retiree told me how he deals with questions if retirement is boring: I do not know where I found the time to go to work ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Hi Robert,
        A very good friend and I were talking about retirement over a coffee a while back. We were attempting to come up with a practical definition. We arrived at the notion that being retired is only doing what you want to do, when you want to do it.
        Tom

        1. Hi Tom
          A very goog definition. Of course, your loved ones have her/their hobbies too, but these little compromises are not a burden. What strikes me as something new to me and very, very pleasing is, that not only what and when, but how long/how deep can one pursue something.
          Once again for your help in opening wider the door to this small, but very capable system from Nikon. I already new the V1, and the J5 is inspite of the missing EVF even better for my type of subjects.
          Robert

          1. Hi Robert,

            Not sure if you have found this to be the case in your life, but I’ve found the older than I’ve gotten the more that I appreciate how little I know about so many things! This peaks my curiosity to delve into things perhaps more than when I was younger.

            Life certainly has interesting twists and turns for us all. As far as my experience with Nikon 1 goes, I’m glad that my musings have been of benefit to you. I never planned to use the system as much as I do now. I suppose it has gotten to the point where some readers perceive me as ‘that Nikon 1 guy’. I just look at my Nikon 1 kit just as camera gear I happen to like using…nothing more…nothing less.

            Tom

            1. Hi Tom
              This could go on forever, but I do not want to waste your time. All I can say to your words is amen. sometimes I ask myself if I am going ‘stupidier’ on daily base ๐Ÿ˜‰
              After decades I realized, that there (possibly never) is only one meaning or truth. So we have to relax.
              I certainly shall come back, now we (me, my wife and our dog) are leaving for our Swiss mountains. After a couple of weeks short repacking at home and on the road again, this time to Tuscany. No danger of GAS.
              Have a nice time.
              Regards
              Robert

              1. How awful mistake! I am very sorry. Of course, in the second paragraph it should be ” … NOT only one meaning or truth…”!

                It seems I should stop thinking altogether and do something I can. But what?

  2. Reading this blog has become my best personal antidote to “must-have” gear. Lately there was a tempting offer of a Nikon V3 for 210 Euro, but I didn’t bite. It offers more feather detail and a large buffer, but my combo of V2 and J5 works just fine.

    In older posts you had said about the J5: “really slow clearing of the buffer”. May I ask which card you are using? I am happy with the Sandisk Extreme PRO microSDXC 64 GB and its write speed of [up to] 95MB/s. The J5 stores about as fast as my V2, and since I mostly shoot at 10fps, wait times are short.

    1. Hi Stefan,
      I’m using 32GB SanDisk Extreme. Write speeds up to 40MB/s…slower than your cards. I’ve been comparing them to how fast my V2s will write using older SD cards and the J5 is slower. When I shoot in AF-C I very often fill the buffer with my cameras which could be some of the difference. I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation lately at 60fps.
      Tom

  3. Hi Tom

    totally agree with your thoughts, it like reading about me. Since i remember i buy and sell stuff regarding my hobbies, Music-Gear, Video-Gear, Photo-Gear…and so on.

    All the Hardware-, and Test-Magazines, Amazon etc. tempt me to be interested in this stuff and make me to have it im my “collection”. I’m still happy with that stuff that i own but something in me wants the new stuff and im feel bad without it. When i own it i feel better…until the next Toy attracts my attention…stupid that is…

    In the last few years i realized that this “better feeling” not lasts very long and the stuff is almost unused in the shelf…but to change the process is a hard way.

    I work on it but still failed… last week i purchased “only” the Sony RX10 MK4 not the RX100 MK as well… so far… or going to buy it used from other’s like me at Ebay and instead of it i purchased an iPad Mini4 and an iPhone SE a new Pebble Time Steel watch and some Shoulderbags for the stuff i dont use that much. My flat looks like a small Photo-Gear-Shop now and im going to run my annual “ebay summer/autumn sale” soon ๐Ÿ™‚

    Michael

  4. I was just telling my family today about the great photos I have seen posted online that professional photographers took using a cell phone and that the person behind the camera mattered more the the camera they used. But we all want to believe in shortcuts and magic gismos like a news camera, lens, or whatever. Being broke keep me from making too many wrong purchases of camera gear.

  5. Really enjoyed the frankness of your thinking and the direction of the article.
    I’ve just recently began to work more with the Nikon 1 system, and the larger cameras and lenses are now launghising in the cupboard.
    Perhaps I enjoy the freedom of the smaller system as it lets me be a little less, ‘gear’ thinking in my photographic approach and much more subject and story oriented.

    I have to say that I’d back the 70-300 CX lens against many great lenses that I’ve owned, and yet being able to hold all that in the palm of my hand still gives me a shiver.
    Great read, and good luck with the journey. I might have to borrow this sentence for my own blog. “First and foremost we need to explore the art form that is called photography.”

  6. HI Tom
    Always happy to read your blog.
    The only bad choice of equipment for me was the purchase of the Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VRII (2300$ cdn). I bought it two years ago when our cdn currency was starting to loose its value to the us currency. As you well know this lens is consider by most photographers to be part of the must have Nikon zooms. In the last two years I took less than 150 shots with it. All my other gears were purchased after reading Nasim’s tested lenses & cameras. I would not sell any gears but the 70-200 was not really a lens I needed. I came close to buy the 14-24 F2.8 from Nikon ($$$$), but at the last moment I chose the Tamron 15-30 F2.8 VR. Again this choice was after reading Nasim’s review.
    Its true that GAS is always there, but at my old age its easier to manage.
    regards
    Luc

  7. Right on with your observations, Tom. I have long been an advocate of making my own decisions, not letting others do so. True, others do not know the circumstances or preferences of another. Also, I have found that some, in forums and otherwise, who are not knowledgeable about equipment that they so readily praise or condemn. I have found that some of these have never even touched a piece of equipment they have strong opinions on. This is especially true when a manufacturer brings out a new model or some other new equipment. Immediately, before the item is even released to the public, the naysayers are out with their strongly worded opinions, and otherwise.

    That is why I rarely am concerned with forum opinions and even some short sighted reviews. I do read a few reviews by some who actually spend time with equipment and can tell what they personally liked or disliked. Even then, I view all reviews, even my own, as subjective and one person’s viewpoint. You are right in saying that the views of others should not be the determining factor in our own decisions. I go my own way and take responsibility for that. And if someone asks me about equipment, etc, I just share my experience with the added thought that this is only my personal conclusions. Better to be safe than sorry.

    Vern

  8. Thank you for this self revealing article. It certainly is a stimulus for me to examine my impulsive and silly purchases. It’s pretty easy to rationalize these purchases and not think about them unless reminded.

    1. Hi Pam,
      I’m glad that the article was beneficial for you! I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes over the years. If sharing them helps some folks avoid making some of the same mistakes I did then it was worth the time to write it.
      Tom

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