The Camera Testing Trap – Have You Fallen Victim?

As a photographer, I like to think that every photograph I make is for a reason.

More specifically, that reason is that I felt the scene and composition was interesting and beautiful enough to be worth capturing – for myself, and to share with others.

But despite this lofty expectation, of course there are many times this doesn’t happen.

If it worked perfectly, I’d never delete a photograph.

The reality is on average I delete up to 90% of the images I make, sometimes more.

In the past, one of the major reasons for this is being in camera tester mode, rather than photographer mode.

The times where I’ve just bought a new camera or lens, the initial batches of images were made for two purposes –

1. To see if the equipment actually works as it should (as I haven’t bought a new camera in eight years, so since then it’s all been used).

2. To see what results it’s capable of when shooting a typical subject and composition, so I could compare with the results of other tried and tested cameras, shooting a similar subject and composition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can of course argue that these are stages you need to go through with any new (to you) camera.

The problem comes when the majority of all photographs you’re making fall into these categories, because as soon as you get to know one camera (ie as soon as its passed its initial tests), you move on to another, like some kind of commitment-phobe serial speed dater, the name and face of the previous date barely allowed to make any impression in his memory.

I think this camera testing trap is one that many of us fall into, as an almost endless parade of new cameras arrive on our doorstep from across the land  (or world!), each eagerly awaiting their turn in the sun.

Now, I know it’s fun to try new gear.

But for me at least I think perhaps it became a way of avoiding my shortcomings as a photographer.

Rather than take a camera and lens set up I knew inside out and try to push myself (and the gear) to create something memorable, I would take the soft option and grab yet another new camera for yet another routine test.

These days I do this far less, but still notice I fall into the testing trap at times and realise I’m crouched by the garden shed taking another shot of the rusting padlock I’ve already captured a hundred times (see photograph above).

To avoid the trap then, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is – “Now I know what this camera can do, how can I make photographs with it that I’m really proud of, rather than spend the next three, 33 or 333 photowalks just testing new stuff and making the same images over and over again?”

How about you? Have you fallen into the photography test trap before? Or are you happy to make the same photographs over and over, just with different gear? 

Please share your experiences with us 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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11 thoughts on “The Camera Testing Trap – Have You Fallen Victim?”

  1. Ah hah hah hah!

    Ooh, yeah! C’est moi, and I love it, and love this juicy turn of phrase: “commitment-phobe serial speed dater”. Bon mot, Dan!

    Having moved on a bit from rolling in heaps of digi P&Sesses, now rooting around after old film AF point-and-shoots, not the top-tier hyperinflated desiderata of the Eloi, but the workaday shooters of the 80s & 90s; replacing seals, scrubbing contacts, cotton-budding glass and finders, seeking out 24-exp rolls of film for just such testing.

    What fun! Leaning over the counter with the owner of the last C-41 lab in town to see what shots “came out,” and discovering anew that film is *not* easy, that it takes, ah, focus, close attention, and that you ain’t necessarily just gonna “fix it in post.” Whew! Love the image softness, the swirly look of old proletarian kit.

    Just did a 1980-something dusty Canon AF35ML SureShot: battery contacts, faulty door, gooey seals, dead frame counter, and very rudimentary triangulation maybe/maybe not autofocus system. Frig festooned with magneted glossy 4x6es. What a glorious time!

    1. William, this does sound much like me a while back! However, the golden rule has to be if you’re enjoying yourself then long may it continue!

      Love the “scrubbing contacts, cotton-budding glass and finders” as this is exactly what I did with the last two old DLSRs I bought. Along with the usual wipe over with baby wipes and a vigorous scrub with a dry toothbrush!

      I had a few Canon Sure Shots, and they’re generally very capable. My favourite was probably the Sure Shot Tele – https://www.flickr.com/photos/danjamesphotography/15294339433/ – a precursor to zooms with its twin lenses you switched between. Very decent lens(es), great handling (like a baby DSLR) and the multiple exposure function was great fun too.

      You might be interested these three camera collector shots from my former life on my Flickr too –

      Battle of the 80s f/2.8s...

      Battle of the 80s f/2.8s... (Part II)

      Battle of the 80s f/2.8s... (Part III)

      1. ah, the little Konicas! Those Fujis!

        Dan, this is encouragement bordering on sheer enablement! I’m just after looking in at
        http://www.135compact.com/

        And asking prices, even for the more prosaic of the genus, are rising as pointy-and-shooty hardware catches fire among a certain demographic; they’ve vanished from the charity shops, and prices at the Big Auction-cum-Shop site are gettin’ stupid.

      2. A friend of mine online had a very wise rule for point and shoot film compacts – never spend more than £10 because any of them could give up the ghost at any moment. The likes of the Mju series where even the fairly mediocre zoom versions are going for £150+ is ridiculous.

      3. Hard stricture to practice when the days of decent £10 cameras are over, and not just for the MJUs, the Tiaras, the 28TIs.

        Tonight, I do not find a Pentax Espio 24EW listed for sale netwise anywhere in the US. It would cost me north of $70 (yours was, what? 45 or so?), plus better than $20 in postage from the UK or Japan. And this, as you say, for electronics that may evanesce within a roll – or even a shot – or two. Not as bad, yet, for the 928, but it’ll get there as well.

      4. William, the 24EW is quite a rare one. I think I paid about £25 for mine originally and sold it for perhaps £45.

        I think it’s like with any used camera(s), you can buy a handful of fairly samey ones for £5 or £10 each, or spend the same total on one that is more special, like the 24EW with its wider lens. The more standard Espios that start at 38mm are still dead cheap over here, and plentiful.

        Something I really liked about the 24EW was when you power up, the lens zooms to 35mm, so you can use it all day long as a standard street “prime” camera, without touching the zoom control. 35mm is my favourite focal length in a compact, film or digital.

        Then if/when you needed that extra width, you zoom right out to 24mm.

        Clever design, and as with most Pentax cameras I’ve used, it seems like it was designed by photographers, for photographers.

  2. Not me. *cough* Over-all, no.
    Okay this year I’ve been camera-test crazy as I bought the Canon and a lot of extra equipment and have been experimenting more than I’ve done in literally years. But it’s the first new camera I’ve had since I got the Nikon back in 2006 (I think). In general I don’t buy a lot of equipment or often; this has just been a ‘splurge year’ and yes it was triggered by losing all those hundreds of cameras I’d collected over so many years. When you’re collecting on purpose, expect to test like crazy and shelve most of them.
    I look at equipment a lot, but have become far more discerning about buying it. The W100 I bought to replace the V1003 is a disappointment, but I haven’t bought a replacement for it. I’d still use the P850 Kodak if it weren’t for the battery issue. When you’ve got something good that you like using, stick with it. Don’t be distracted by the latest technical hyperbole – or the attraction of an exotic artifact.
    But I do understand what you mean.

    1. Marc I think that is a very good point about finding what you like and sticking with it. I’ve been reading quite a few threads on Pentax Forums lately, and it’s amazing how many threads are celebrating a former classic DSLR, like the K10D, K100D etc, and the number of people replying saying that “since then I’ve bought the K20D, K30, K3, K5, K5 IV, K9 et al and none I’ve enjoyed as much as my good old K10D…” They seem to have been swept up in the upgrade machine, but with each one lost something of those older cameras they first fell for.

      I hope now I’ve found the K100D (13 years after it was a current model!) and its predecessor the K-m, which I like just as much, I will keep them for good. I tried my far more recent K30 again today, and it’s a very good camera, but I don’t really like it that much, and the images just don’t have the charm (especially the colours) of those made by the older two CCD cameras.

  3. I’d like to be able to say I am no longer experimenting with cameras. I have definitely stopped buying camera bodies. But there are still some films I would like to try and in the digital world that would be like trying different cameras to see how the sensors worked.

    But I usually take “serious” pictures when I have a new to me film loaded in the camera. A recent example was our annual family camping trip that I photographed with Delta 400, a film I had never used before. The one precaution I took was to stand develop it in Rodinal (1+100) rather than my normal faster development in Rodinal (1+50). The stand development is more forgiving and the results didn’t disappoint.

    1. Doug, from what I know about your photography, so many variables are, well, not really variable. You have such a tried and tested approach, it must give your great confidence in varying just one element like the film you use? I think many people experiment by changing too many aspects at once, then never really learn anything.

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