Hiding In Fear Behind A Wall Of Cameras

For years, this was me.

Hiding behind my wall of cameras, eternally testing and trying the latest vintage beauty I’d stumbled across.

Constantly, guiltily, looking over my shoulder at the growing mass of bodies and lenses sprawled across shelves and buried in boxes.

Always feeling that once I’d found that elusive one true love, that invisible camera that got out of my way, I would finally start to become a proper photographer, and not just another camera tester with an incurable addiction to acquiring increasingly more.

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But then I began to realise…

That there’s not that great a difference between a Pentax or a Minolta or a Konica.

That 95% of 50mm lenses are more than good enough for my needs.

That a tiny compact digital can give me very satisfying results and be as much fun to use as cumbersome film gear.

That I was using such a range of new (to me) kit so if the photos weren’t much good, I always had an excuse to fall back on, like my unfamiliarity with the camera or the fact it was partly broken or that I’d used a far too long expired film.

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In recent months I’ve finally become ready to face up to the reality. 

The small selection of cameras (three) that I use often now, I know more than well enough to get the results I like.

So any shortfall in the final image is entirely down to a lack of vision or ambition or competence on my part. 

And I’m ok with that.

I’d rather give it my best shot (literally!), miss slightly and be better educated for the next time, than be constantly wondering which variable in my ever changing set up caused the failing. 

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Collecting and using dozens of cameras can be a lot of fun.

But if you’re hiding (like I realised I was for at least a couple of years) behind all those different cameras and lenses because you’re afraid of letting your photography stand up naked and be counted, then that would be a shame for all of us.

Please let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

27 thoughts on “Hiding In Fear Behind A Wall Of Cameras”

  1. I love trying a new-to-me old camera. I probably always will.

    A fellow, a retiring pro photographer, found my blog and decided he’d send me a bunch of gear from his collection. It’s here, in a giant box, and I haven’t begun to shoot it yet. Nothing in there is super special but it still looks like a box full of fun to me.

    So for me, it’s not hiding in fear — it’s being shackled in love. Because really, I love this — but if I would just pick a few cameras and be done with it, I’d be a better photographer.

    1. And that’s the decision we make, where we want to stand on the scales between collector and photographer. There’s a part of me that, with more space and money and time, would like to run a camera museum. But with limited space, money and time, I’ve chosen to try to focus on using very few cameras to improve my photography. And be free of the constraints I felt from having too many cameras/lenses/rolls of film.

      Thanks for your views as always Jim!

  2. I’m afraid I’m not prepared to give up my GAS for old gear just yet as I enjoy collecting as well as the photography side, as I have plenty of challenges to take good photo’s through out the year by being in my local camera club and entering all the competitions they have. I have loads of cameras somewhere around the 400 mark and I also enjoy the thrill of eBay in trying to get bargains ( though they are thew an far between these days) I also love looking in charity shops so for me I don’t think one suffers over the other as I get enjoyment from both collecting a using.
    And if I take a bad photo it’s down to me not the gear assuming the gear is in perfect working order.

    1. Christopher, it purely comes down to your personal choice. If you enjoy collecting that’s great that you’ve found such a passion. It just wasn’t working for me and I was hiding behind being just a camera tester rather than doing all I could to become more consistent as a photographer.

    2. Too right. Old gear GAS is another category of fun and challenge – and trying to get a decent image from an Agfa Clack or a Box Tengor doubles it; that’s shooting, and one just lets the digi- stuff languish.

      1. Probably the photos I made that I’m most proud of in this sense were with a pinhole camera a made out of a “modified” Kodak Instamatic. But once I’d done it I didn’t really feel the need to use the camera again.

  3. Mmmm, I failed for a very long time, to make the distinction between photography and camera collecting (or plain acquisition) And there is most assuredly a divide there.

    People would see that I had a number of devices – 42 at one point – and sometimes see me make a picture. ‘Ah,’ they’d say, ‘A photographer.” And I would not correct them, under a defensive sort of self-delusion.

    It wasn’t until, routinely looking through the trade and enthusiast’s press and ‘Net content over time, I became more and more irritated that for the main, they were only occasionally about images.
    The emphasis was (and is) on hardware, glassware, specification versus performance, and technical arcana subject to meticulous scrutiny, Rabbinical hair-splitting, and a doctrinaire division of adherents and combatants into armed camps. Despite, as you so effectively point out, that any non-antique camera is fully capable of making any image one might need it to do. Though I no longer remember or am able to find the exact source of the quote, Henry Horenstein once made pretty much the same point (which was on that occasion pointedly ignored, as I am sure it will be here).

    This is quite aside from the simple admiration and lust for some cameras as objects of beautiful industrial design, to see, to hold, to handle, to own.

    But the meat and bone, the value of photography in both the wide, timeless, global, galactic sense and in the specific, this-moment, here on the ground locus lies solely in one place: the image, the end-point. And an effective, striking, evocative, rich and harmonious image requires the use of talent. The T-word.

    People admire photography, and are motivated and driven by admiration to do photography and to become a recognized practitioner of it, with all the cachet and prestige that goes with that. And photography is … accessible, needing only a bit of money; moreover, ‘program’ modes among all brands are now become so sophisticated that almost any push of the button will give a perfectly (in one sense) exposed shot.

    But there is no program for talent and no setting for originality. The strongest talent is innate, born, but a small talent can be ‘learned’, to some degree, and any degree of talent can be developed to a higher state through concerted work.

    Yet, you know, these uncomfortable facts are … not popular, not good for press articles, not helpful to the industry or manufacturers, nor to the whole community around or commerce of the thing, and they might dampen the wholesale enthusiasm for it.

    1. William, thanks for your thoughts.

      I think for a while I did feel like it was a challenge using a number of cameras, and by being able to pick up pretty much any working 35mm camera, and get a half decent picture from it, it somehow proved my ability. But I grew tired of proving that I could just get an image, and wanted to make better images, more consistently.

      Plus yes the whole technical side bores me pretty quickly when it gets down to such minute detail as to be irrelevant to one camera’s performance over another. As Ansel Adams said (which must be terribly unfashionable these days) – ““The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!””

      We are in strange times in that anyone and everyone can be a photographer – just pick up your smartphone and click away. It makes it harder for all of us to try to figure out and appreciate what “good” photography is (and how to move closer to it), because the standards have been lowered by the democratisation of the art.

      Of course it gives those with talent an easier way to discover and nurture their talent than decades ago when the ability to make, say, your first thousand photographs, was radically more time consuming and expensive than today.

      As you mention, another strange aspect of our times is the relentless advertising and ever decreasing life cycle of electronic devices. Many who follow certain photography media and forums must feel that they need to upgrade every few months to even stand a chance of being a great photographer.

      Others seem quite immune to the hype and happily continue with years’ or decades’ old kit and through their familiarity of it are able to make wonderful images. I’d like to be one of this latter group.

      I wonder what would happen if a major manufacturer said “actually our latest camera is about as good as it gets, and we’ve decided not to release any new models for the next three years…” It would be brave and honest indeed!

      1. “It makes it harder for all of us to try to figure out and appreciate what “good” photography is (and how to move closer to it), because the standards have been lowered by the democratisation of the art.”

        Wow, Dan. Bravery there; I’m gonna privately agree, but speak this aloud on any photo forum and someone will shout,”Get a rope!”

        The democratization – and the glut – lies rather, I think, in the easy means of global publication. A mild twist to Post hoc ergo propter hoc: ‘I have an expensive camera; my pictures are on the ‘Net. Therefore, I am a photographer.’

        I have a car, but know that I am not Juan Fangio; I stay off the track, but will sit in the stands and applaud. Absent genius, competency must suffice; it is enough that I enjoy the drive, arrive, and do not crash.

        1. I love that last bit “and do not crash”. I wonder what the photographic equivalent is? To just get ANY kind of image out of the process?

          I don’t think I was being brave, just honest. I find it really hard to understand why 99% of the stuff I see online was thought worth sharing.

          But of course people share for many different reasons. Just because we publish a photo online it doesn’t mean we think it’s worthy of an exhibition.

          I think also your point about the ease of publishing is very important.

          I’m currently looking at a huge book of photographs published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Some are quite breath-taking, but we forget that of the thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands of photographs the “greats” made, we only see a tiny proportion.

          There are maybe six Stieglitz photos in the book I love, and possibly 12 Stieglitz altogether in there. So say that’s 50% of his very best I love. Yet he made many thousands. Across those thousands maybe only 10% were that good, maybe 1%, maybe 0.1%.

          Again it makes me question my own editing and publishing and how inflated my ego must be to consider I have 4000+ images on Flickr worthy of other people’s eyes…

  4. Dan, you raise a very valid point, infact you raise a few….. recently I’ve been looking at the build up of lenses that I’ve collected over the last 2 yrs, many were brought in haste, some have never been used, there’s a few that seem to be “always” in use, I often wonder if I’m neglecting someone else from getting their hands on what may be “their” wanted lens and also neglecting them from what could be an opportunity to get the best out of it.??
    I often see such terms as ” thinning the herd” and such like, and this reminds me of the 2 full shelves occupying my camera shack, but part of me thinks, knowing my luck I won’t ever be able to replace the lenses that I brought as ” new old stock” …. so I look on these as investments… future investments….
    In reality there is probably 1 shelf out of the 2 that could be sold and I’d never miss them,
    At present my thoughts are solely on the what some term as retro fishing reels and rods that I purchased 20 to 25 yrs ago, the items I brought for pennies at the time are selling for eye-watering amounts….thankfully I didn’t decide to ” thin the herd” years ago and at present I’m reaping my rewards for doing so….
    This draws me to the conclusion that if I can suffer the fact of 2 shelves of lenses, leaving them there isn’t an issue, who knows with the current hit of the in thing being retro, in a few years they won’t be the issue I think they are at present…
    Hope that makes sense Dan, I often think of what my mother who’s 87 says…. her grandma always said ” nothings new, fashion is just the circle of life”

    It does make you think as to what’s “right”……I envy the people who are minimalist folk….1 camera 1 lens but is it enough???

    Br

    Lynd

    1. Lynd, thanks for your input.

      Personally I don’t see the point of having photography kit that’s just gathering dust. When as you say, someone else could be using it. For me just seeing stuff around me that I don’t use makes me feel really uncomfortable, and kind of spoiled and wasteful. I like to live light. That’s just me.

      But if you collect from an investment point of view, that’s a different thing altogether. I guess then you’re into the realms of a kind of antique dealer?

      I’m not sure any mainstream camera would appreciate enough in value to make it worth investing in and keeping for years, I would imagine you’d have to get into high end, high quality stuff in the first place, like Leica, Hasselblad etc?

      With cameras and lenses there’s also the issue that if they are not used regularly they are probably more like to seize, dry up, grow fungus and so on. A (mechanical) camera that’s been used once a week and serviced every five years say, is surely likely to work for much longer than one that’s just sat gathering dust for decades?

      I’m not into investment at all, but surely if you have to wait 25 years to reap any rewards, you could have put the same money in a long term back account and the compound interest would likely have made you far more money?

      I’m not quite one camera one lens yet, but I do love moving towards it, it feels very freeing. I fully appreciate this is different for others! Thanks again for sharing your perspective Lynd.

  5. I’ve seen, and made a living from over the years, many camera equipment enthusiasts, some of whom were photographers as well. There’s also a lot of ‘legacy’ older gear which is just fantastically made and designed and can be appreciated for its engineering or operational beauty without necessarily needing to be used by a photographer. Or you can still make use of it photographically.
    It’s the nature of the camera equipment market to move on in leading edge technology terms, it’s the nature of the marketers to make you believe you need it to grow as a photographer. In practise it’s always been your eyes, brains and timing but you don’t need to spend money on that.
    Personally, having been on the inside of that world, I can very much do without it now. One camera, three (old) lenses and certainly nothing complicated on a computer for me now.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Bear, sounds like you’ve seen it all and come out the other side far wiser.

      I think many people return to film (or try it for the first time) as it feels a simpler, slower and more deliberate form of photography than digital auto everything multi burst shooting. But then all too many of us fall into the acquisition cycle and the simplicity of using just one film camera is all but lost again.

      One camera, three lenses sounds a good recipe for happy photography.

  6. I am start in to feel the same way, but I just love trying them and all the testing is enhancing my skills in other areas. When all my cameras are in one place I might start the think about thinning my collection.

    1. All in one place? Do you travel a lot?

      I think using different cameras can hone our skills, as long as we are competent and familiar enough with them that they’re not getting in the way of this learning and experience.

      Learning, say, how to expose best for a backlit situation is something that can be applied across any camera.

      But knowing which menu the exposure compensation is buried in, or how to lift and rotate a dial to enable it, on less than user friendly cameras is a whole other thing.

      I just got frustrated with the latter getting in the way of me doing the former. If that makes sense!

      1. I live in Japan, but my home is in England. I am a teacher, but travel home a lot. So buy cameras in Japan while I can, then take them home when I can.

        1. Japan must be the best or worst place to live for vintage Japanese cameras, depending on your perspective! You must come across thousands, and models you wouldn’t see in England…

          1. It’s mainly point and shoots…but they are sometimes less than $3. The better ones are quite expensive as there are many users and collectors. The main “problem” is the number of shops and fairs, you can spend forever looking and drooling.

  7. Late to the party, I have only just now read through the similarly-themed “Infamous Camera Families Of Addiction Avenue” and “Simplify, Binge, Purge, Repeat – Learning How To Escape The Camera Consumption Spiral.” The points made are now well and truly hammered home, and I sit with grim and rueful rictus at my record of waste and excess.

    Most of my personally-pleasing results in the last decade were gotten with a point-and-shoot compact, an 8mp Canon SD1100is of early 2008, smaller than a bar of soap, and now about as cheap.

    There’s some…innate weakness (for me, anyhow), some horrible flaw buried in the amygdala, because even as I sit reading and nodding and all but shouting “Amen!” at the clean and undeniable logic, I cannot stop myself high-lighting and searching-in-a-new-screen for every single unfamiliar camera mentioned. And reading up on its specs. And checking on current prices.

    “What!? What’s this Pentax Q, then? Why have I not heard of it? What dank and mossy hole at the brambly edge of a field have I been living in that this escaped my notice? My Lord, it’s tiny! I love tiny, and it’s glass is sharp! May it be had in matte black? Is there a 35mm-equivalent for it, or just kit zoom?”, and so forth, foaming and feverish and nakedly rabid.

    Well. Helpless and panicky in the face of it, I find consolation in the old Zen saw about ‘Beginner’s Mind,’ that for a beginner, anything seems possible, and a new-to-you camera is indeed a kind of beginning, and a new fresh start.

    And if the Zen business wears thin as the parcels and boxes arrive in the mail, I can always think about the Taoist (I think) dictum: The Serious Man, if he is unable to abandon Illusion, chooses the worthiest Illusion and makes a stand.” So calm acceptance, maybe, can temper and moderate the, uh, decadence, and yet not spoil the excitement. Maybe.

    1. Ha ha, thanks William for pointing out that my blog posts are repetitive. : )

      I had to Google the little Canon you mentioned – ah an 8MP CCD sensor. There is much reverence around the old CCD sensors, and one of the reasons I got a Pentax K10D, and a Ricoh GRD III.

      Must admit the little Pentax I think is really special, and it’s made my aforementioned K10D all but redundant since I got it. Such a classy little gem.

      There’s definitely something in that fresh start idea. Maybe THIS will be the camera that finally surges my photography into a new dimension! Which of course is what the marketers of new cameras try to convince us with every new machine, let alone cameras that are five, 10, 25 years old!

  8. Dan, I think you’ve missed the point I was trying to explain….
    In truth we are all guilty of having and wanting more… it’s just a human trait that is part of our dna…. the point I was trying to make is that although like others I am guilty of “excess”, I do look on this GAS situation differently than most, part of me feels the guilt in having the choice, and the other side of the coin is that ” over time” and I stress years not months, I may well not only be able to use and learn from having the choice of lenses but I really do also believe that there will be “some” and I’m not talking high end stuff either that will appreciate in value that today we just cast aside as being mediocre or even below par…. I drew on the fishing gear as an example… there is no way in hindsight that a ( you may have to use Google if fishing isn’t your thing) £15 Abu reel that I brought in the early ninetys would now be worth in excess of £200/ £250 today…. but that’s just how it is,
    My thoughts were that should I give someone the benefit of using this gear before all the issues you raise pop up…. or do I do like so many others, hang on to it with the possibility of one day I will get around to using it…..
    In today’s society of greed, it’s good sometimes to break the mould and be a minimalist….
    Obviously there are a few favourites that will stay with me till I move on from this world, but what to do with the others…?? If there’s ever a point in case of just how “wacky” things can get…. then maybe it’s the Citroën 2cv that I treated myself to for my 38th birthday, I brought it for the pricely sum of £350 today it’s insured for £10000, and the club valuation for replacement is £9250…..crazy or what…. oh and I’ve owned it for 14 yrs….I’m pretty sure that if I’d put my 350 in an account of high interest there would be no way getting anywhere near the amount it’s worth now….
    I’m not saying that I will be able to do the same with lenses… but I do think that many GAS folk don’t realise just what they are sitting on…. money wise….
    BR Lynd

    1. For something to gain that value it has to be either high quality in the first place, or quirky enough of a classic in some way, like your 2CV or an original Mini, for example. I do appreciate some people like collecting with the bonus of things appreciating in value, but for me personally it holds no interest, and I just really dislike having stuff lying around that I’m not using. When, like you say, someone else might get some use out of it.

      With lenses I think the same will apply, it has to either be something that’s really high quality in the first place, or unusual and rare and/or quirky enough to gain value that way. Or all of these together!

      I don’t think many people really hoard camera stuff because they think it will genuinely be a nest egg, I think they just get caught in the consumption spiral and don’t know how to stop. Which our society feeds us as being normal – the great British pastime of shopping for stuff we don’t even need!

  9. debate the dragon
    looking glass betrays intrigue
    marrow strides forward

    I’m know there’s a middle ground between creating art, and collecting artifacts. Both have merits. Same as driving cars, and collecting cars. Etc. Etc.

    Don’t be afraid to stack your plot and stand tall. You don’t learn to swim at the shallow end…

    😉

    1. art or artefact,
      but which of these most deeply
      drives our camera lust?

      I really think there’s a dangerously fine line between collecting because its fun, and hoarding because it’s a kind of addiction we can’t seem to stop.

      Before we even dip our toes in the waters of possessing any physical object being an illusion and a temporary one at that anyway… : )

  10. You’re completely right! Though I don’t understand what you mean by “….as much fun to use as cumbersome film gear.” 😉

    Of course I do understand about the cumbersome film gear! And with film gear it’s absolutely the same as with digital cameras. You are always at risk of hiding behind the gear…

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