Why Photography Is All About The Gear (Except Actually It Isn’t At All)

Lately on 35hunter there’s been a fairly high proportion of talk around gear. 

Which, on a photography blog, surely is inevitable?

The exact combination of camera and lens (and film) you use is highly important. Except, it really isn’t.

Not in the way many would tell you it is.

In my experience, where gear isn’t important is when it’s about chasing an every upward spiralling spec sheet that contains the biggest (or smallest, depending which is “best”) numbers, and the most features.

In any area of life – cameras, phones, computers, cars, houses, partners(!) – it’s a horrible trap to get caught in when you’re never satisfied with what you have because you always have one eye on the next “upgrade”.

And with photography, again in my personal experience, more and more options means more and more obstacles in the way of you being able to make photographs you’re proud of, and enjoying yourself along the way.

Because really, photography is about feelings and experiences and memories.

Having equipment that you’re so familiar with it almost becomes invisible.

Knowing how your camera and lens will perform in any scenario, and how to shape that to give you the images you want.

Where shooting becomes meditative, an almost zen like experience of seeing and capturing each image.

And where the Mega Pixels of your sensor, or the maximum aperture of your lens, or the number of AF points in the viewfinder become forgotten, and irrelevant.

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So yes, photography really is all about the gear.

But only insofar as choosing the gear that feels right enough and becomes invisible enough to give you the most rewarding photography experiences possible. 

For me recently, the camera I’ve enjoyed most and has given me images I’ve loved whilst being a delight to use, is a 13 year old DSLR that cost me £26.

Which speaks volumes.

What do you think? Is photography all about the gear? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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10 thoughts on “Why Photography Is All About The Gear (Except Actually It Isn’t At All)”

  1. Analogues can be uncomfortable, depending on the fit. The shoe-horning into or overlay onto one thing and another rarely makes an exact fit or gives a perfect match but can be at least comfortable.

    So it may be … useful… to consider a similarly-constructed “co-operative” discipline where means overlaps ends, though each may have its separate fans.

    Like, say, driving/auto racing coincident with mechanics/engineering. I used to compete (in a very modest way) with cars; my brother restores them. Compare that with lens/media/”gear” coincident with art/the aesthetics of image.

    In each, there are objective,”hard” components and subjective, emotive bits. Both are often valued for their own sakes,

    For practitioners, the co-operating components are mixed according to personal taste. For myself, the image reigns. Though I am often curious and interested in the hardware and technical minutiae of the machine that made them, my eyes roll up into my head once past simple exposure data. I never forget that all of the recognized “great” images of the photographic canon were made with gear 1/100th as technically capable as that which most of us now own.

    Art is art, but gear heads have their own legitimately-passionate appreciation of industrial design and objects. It’s a different sort of aesthetics, but aesthetics nonetheless. Sort of anti-Zen to think them separate, innit.?

    1. Yes, there is no clear separation really between a photographer and a gear enthusiast, and many of us are both to some extent.

      I know many can become more enthused and animated about the design and engineering of an object than with anything it actually produces and does. (I find myself increasingly watching a show over here called The Repair Shop – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08l581p.)

      Others don’t care how a device works or what it looks like, as long as it helps them deliver the results they want.

      And for those who enjoy both, it’s not necessarily the cameras (or cars or anything else) we appreciate most from an aesthetic and design point of view that gives us the best experience, or produce the best pictures.

      Perhaps there are three categories here – cameras that we love for their aesthetics and design, those we love for the fluid experience they give us, and those that just deliver the most pleasing results. Perhaps it’s too ambitious to seek out a camera (or again, a car or anything else) that is the optimum choice for all three?

  2. Good question Dan.I am grateful that I’ve never had the upgrade bug you mention which seems to be increasingly common. When I was younger I just used a camera until it got stolen, which happened twice when I lived in the city, or wore out. I used the same camera and two lenses for 30 years, and very rarely a 6×6 TLR that I inherited, and still use them a bit. My experimenting/collecting didn’t really start until digital made all film cameras cheaper than dirt. I’m getting ready to sell off most of it, and will be listing a few things on ebay today for the first time in years. To be honest I’ve been wondering why I every wanted to photograph anything in the first place.

    1. Jon, I think the upgrade bug is drummed into us with increasing frequency and velocity with each passing day. Not just with cameras, but anything else from electronics to beds to cars to hair products. Yesterday’s is not enough, you must upgrade!

      It’s lovely to have the objectivity to see this for what it is much of the time – just companies trying to flog more of their wares with no real new ideas – and sidestep it completely. Hence why I’m currently using a 10 year old DSLR and another 13 year old one. I love being perhaps ten “upgrades” behind!

      I’ve returned to Pentax Forums recently, which has plenty of informative threads for fans of older cameras, but it does amaze me when I scan through the new forum topics, how many threads are along the lines of “I have the Pentax K51 but they just bought out the K52 which has a 32MP sensor instead of just 30, and the ISO goes up to 512000 not just 256000… Should I upgrade??!” And from the tone, people write as if this is a genuinely life changing decision, they’re riddled with anxiety about it, and it’s all they can think about… Seriously??

      Jon, what’s changed with your photography outlook, do you think you just ended up with too much stuff and you lost track of your original enjoyment of making photographs?

      1. Just depressed Dan, thanks for asking. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed. Things are looking a little brighter this week.

  3. You nailed it. People ‘get sold’ specs without any consideration of if they need it or would actually use it. I find myself looking at “neat” new equipment, and then pondering the question of “would I use it enough to make it worth the investment?”
    Inevitably the honest answer is “no”.

  4. It seems to me that there are at least three distinct activities taking place under the umbrella of “photography.” First, and most important, there is just plain old taking pictures. These days the overwhelming majority of people doing this use smart phone cameras. Then there are collectors. I would put in this category anyone who has more cameras and lenses than they actually need to take the pictures that they actually take. Some collector’s cameras cost less than a take-out dinner, some cost more than my house. Lastly, there are people I call enthusiasts who write, participate in and follow forums, blogs and other online and print material related to the latest and greatest in photographic hardware and software, and in many cases buy the new stuff too.

    But these activities are not mutually exclusive. Some collectors are also serious picture takers, combining the enjoyment of handling and using equipment that in and of itself gives them pleasure with that of sharing pictures with family, friends or the world. My observation has been that fewer enthusiasts actually take pictures other than those intended to test and evaluate their latest purchases (how many pictures of cats and brick walls and bathroom mirror selfies does the world need?) but some of them take amazing pictures too.

    Lastly, there are people who are both collectors and enthusiasts, and some of them actually take pictures too. In some cases they have a collection of older cameras and lenses, and a new state-of-the-art camera body that works with the older lenses. An example is my pre-WWII 90/4 Leica Elmar lens on my wife’s FujiFilm X-H1 body. The classic contrasty rendition of uncoated pre-war glass, razor sharp in the center, less so at the edges, combined with IBIS. What’s not to like?

    1. Doug I agree, there are multiple overlaps.

      You’ve raised a great point I think about the testing. I’m certainly guilty of going through extensive phases where I’ve been almost entirely in camera tester mode, rather than photographer mode. Partly to test that the camera/lens works as intended, then partly to test how it behaves, and the final output it delivers for some of my favourite types of compositions in my favourite haunts.

      I do think this is a trap for many of us, and in a way is also used as a device to avoid getting out and making new or different images, because we perhaps don’t know how to.

      Shall I push the limits of myself and the gear I know inside out, or just buy something new and spend the next few hundred photographs and three weeks testing out if it works and what it can do with the same old subjects and locations?

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