During a rather brisk walk this afternoon my brain was rattling around in my skull and it occurred to me that I’ve overspent on camera gear a few times in my life. I figured it was logical for me to assume that other folks likely have as well. I began to muse about the reasons we overspend on camera gear which led to this article.
While I’ll touch on a number of factors, they all ultimately fall into the same general category: emotions/state of emotional arousal.
Many years ago a friend penned a rather insightful essay in which he eloquently discussed how our ability to make a rational decision is inversely proportional to our state of emotional arousal. He went on to explain that we make some of the worst decisions in our lives when that level of emotional arousal is at its peak – either from a positive or negative perspective.
I doubt whether any of us have made one of the ‘worst decisions of our life’ when buying camera gear, but if you’re like me you have made some mistakes.
Excitement with technology
This falls under the emotional arousal category. As recently as last summer I made a gear acquisition mistake because of this exact reason. I allowed myself to become completely enthralled with the notion of producing 4K videos and rationalized buying a Panasonic GH4 and a pair of f/2.8 Panasonic zoom lenses.
It was, of course, a stupid decision on my part. I didn’t have any clients asking for 4K video and based on my core business of producing safety videos, they likely would not have a need for that technology for quite a few years to come.
Luckily a good friend rather bluntly pointed out the mistake I had made, and I was able to return the gear for the cost of a modest restocking charge. If I would have vacillated about returning it for even an additional week I likely would have been stuck with my mistake.
The risk posed by excitement over technology should not be underestimated. I almost fell prey to it again towards the end of 2015 when I contemplated buying a Nikon 1 J5 because of the new 20.8 MP BSI sensor. After putting pen to paper I could not find any hard rationale of how that investment would generate additional revenue for our business. Logic prevailed and I scrapped the idea of buying a J5.
Buying into the rationale of others
Sometimes friends or associates we trust are so effusive with their praise of a particular camera or format we lose sight of our real needs and we buy into their rationale. That’s how I allowed myself to get sucked into the ‘full frame trap’.
It was followed by a couple of years of investing many thousands of dollars in full frame bodies and building up a collection of FX Nikkor lenses (and a Tamron thrown in for good measure). It took a while before I finally came to my senses. Not only did I finally realize that I didn’t need full frame gear for my business…I didn’t even like using it!
Knowing that I would need good low light shooting capability for my youngest son’s wedding I did keep it long enough to shoot his ceremony and reception in July. My D800 was sold the next day and all eight of my FX lenses followed over the next 10 days or so.
Fixating on insignificant improvements
I’ve found that after reading a lot of camera or lens reviews I could become fixated on some specific attribute of a camera or lens. It may be something as small as an upgraded auto-focus system, a deeper buffer, or a minor increase in sharpness.
While in a state of emotional arousal about some of these minor improvements they would become larger and larger in my mind. If I wasn’t careful it was very easy to convince myself that the business absolutely needed the improvement(s).
Upon closer examination, and with dissipated emotions, it was clear that none of these differences would make any real improvement to the level of service I could provide clients. When I looked at it rationally I concluded that none of my clients would notice any material difference in the quality of the work that I produced for them. Small incremental improvements are simply not worth the investment.
Confusion about our real needs
When we are unclear about our real needs we can be influenced into buying gear that isn’t a good fit for us. I find that self-reflection is invaluable during these times. I find I ask myself a lot of direct questions and try my best not to allow my self to go into a self-rationalizing loop.
Some of these could sound like…
– Do I really need a weather-sealed body?
– How many times would I have actually used it?
– Does another solution like a rain sleeve give me the capability I need at lower cost?
– Do I really care that a particular brand of camera has an extensive array of prime lenses available when I know that I prefer shooting with zoom lenses?
– Do I really need that more expensive constant aperture zoom and spend twice the money over the variable aperture lens?
– How many times would I actually have shot at f/2.8 rather than at f/5.6?
– Is that constant aperture lens actually better in terms of image quality than the variable aperture one?
– What evidence exists to prove that?
– Even if it is sharper will my clients actually notice the difference?
Bringing a potential purchase decision back from the emotional brink into the bright light of logic is always helpful.
Feeding pride and ego
A lot of expensive camera gear is purchased simply as a statement of financial capability and/or ego, much the same as buying a Rolex watch or an expensive car.
Most of us have been out capturing some images in the presence of a group of other photographers when someone arrives with some really exotic, expensive gear. How do most of us react? Do we think “Man look at that cool gear!” Or do we take an alternative view and think “Boy… there’s an ego that needs feeding.”
That’s not to say that top-flight professional photographers shouldn’t invest in exotic gear if they truly need it for their business. Even then I sometimes really wonder how much of that gear is purchased to try to impress clients, or stroke a photographer’s ego, as opposed to being actually needed.
Back in 2011 I remember reading a “What’s in my bag” article by Bob Krist, a world-renowned travel and documentary photographer. He regularly does assignments for National Geographic, Traveler, Smithsonian, and Islands.
I remember being stunned to learn that, at that time, his incredible work was being done with a pair of Nikon D7000’s, a DX Nikkor 16-85, an FX Nikkor 70-300, an 11-16 Tokina, as well as one prime and a macro.
It certainly makes a person think what kind of gear even a renowned pro really needs to produce amazing work. Mr. Krist is now doing video work as well as still photography and has switched to Sony. He started out with an A5000, moved to an A6000, and now shoots with the A7s.
As human beings we can’t help but be impacted by our emotions. When it comes to making the best decisions we can when buying camera gear learning to temper our emotions will lead to more prudent equipment investments.
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