Looking For The Ending Before You Even Begin

A conversation I had over 20 years ago now still resonates in my mind.

I was talking with a friend about relationships, and how I saw them to an extent like a building you enter, with multiple rooms.

My most important requirement for entering the building was knowing where the exits were, even just a small window I could escape through in an emergency. 

Fortunately I managed to overcome this kind of mentality, and a relationship close to 10 years and my current one of even longer (and with three dependents) shows I no longer I have one eye on the fire escapes.

That said, I do tend to still have remnants of this approach in other parts of life. One of them being photography.

When considering what I might need or want next for my camera kit, I often consider the get out clause. 

In other words, if I buy this camera or lens and don’t like it, for whatever reason, how easily can I get rid of it without losing too much of what I invested? 

This seems eminently sensible on the surface.

The problem is, as with relationships, if you have half your mind on the exit strategy, you’re not going to fully commit to either seeking out the best fit for you, or making it work when you have it. 

The attitude of “it doesn’t matter, I’ll just sell it on” (I’m talking about the camera gear here!) means I’ve bought stuff I’ve then barely used, because I didn’t really want it all that much in the first place. 

In addition, I tend to forget that although selling is not particularly difficult, either through a page on 35hunter, or eBay, I greatly dislike the general fiddling about of taking pictures of said kit, writing a description, setting up the listing, packaging up and taking to the post office etc. 

Plus this selling process just embeds the feeling that I shouldn’t have bought the thing anyway. Having it hidden away in a shoebox make this easier to ignore! 

So going forward, I plan to be more considered in any purchases I do make.

Back to that original analogy, I want to look for buildings I really want to explore and spend time in, regardless of how easy or otherwise they might be to escape.

Inevitably, there will be cameras or lenses that, however much I may research them, I might simply not gel with anyway.

I suppose like going on a date with someone who is, as the expression goes, “100% my type on paper”, and seems to tick most of your metaphorical boxes, but when you meet there’s just no chemistry.

So I’m curious – how does this work with you? What kind of considerations do you make before you buy a camera or lens? And how often do you end up selling something on because it didn’t work out like you’d hoped? 

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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18 thoughts on “Looking For The Ending Before You Even Begin”

  1. My worst experience selling camera gear occurred when I stopped shooting Nikon film bodies and switched to Canon DSLRs. The Canon design allowed potentially adapting all my Nikon-mount lenses, so the process of selling off the unwanted optics and acquiring a new system took on a new dimension. As it turned out, only a few of the older lenses worked well with the digital sensors. I’m grateful the many evaluations I performed didn’t require developing hundreds of frames at the local mini-lab!

    Regarding lenses I bought and later sold (mostly while I was still shooting Nikon), they mostly fall into two categories. The first, as you mention, were lenses I didn’t really need, even at the time of purchase. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize they were spending more time in the closet than on my cameras. I fell into that trap only a few times. The second category consisted of lenses that had quirks or shortcomings that rendered them less useful than I anticipated. One example was a fabled Kiron 28-210mm zoom. Despite its excellent image quality, it was a tank of a lens, very unwieldy on smaller bodies and difficult to balance well. It was also a one-touch zoom that tended to elongate when held down. The worst thing, however, was that the minimum focus distance at the wide end was something like eight feet. That was OK for landscapes, but fatal for any shot that needed to emphasize a nearby subject. That lens went back to auction in less than two weeks.

    So, that’s my story. It’s been a lot of work testing and refining my somewhat diminutive collection of lenses, but it was always fun and instructive. Luckily for me, new acquisitions are now less frequent and less necessary, so I spend more time shooting. That’s what it’s all about, right?

    1. Jack, thanks for your thoughts. Yes digital cameras can be fantastic for testing old lenses, I know the Canon EOS mount is super adaptable as it’s such a physically wide aperture.

      That big Kiron lens you mentioned reminds me of the Pentax-A 35-105mm f/3.5 I had. Very good performance, and certainly close enough to a prime lens for my needs, in terms of the final image. But it was just huge, and on even a small DSLR, was very heavy and bulky. It just wasn’t worth it, a couple of primes combined were smaller and lighter!

      It focused pretty close, and had a “macro” range across all focal lengths, but again compared with primes the minimum aperture wasn’t helpful. f/3.5 is ok at the tele end, but not so good around 50mm where most very affordable lenses are f/1.8 or 1.7, so can be used in lower light, at higher shutter speeds, lower ISOs and give greater depth of field.

      I think it’s all about enjoying whatever you enjoy. For some it’s testing old gear, for others it’s the experience of using it, for others getting a final image straight out of camera, for others still the post processing end is where the fun is. We need to experiment a certain amount to find what we like most.

  2. I have a few photographers whose work I respect and follow, and if they seem to take the sort of pictures I can see myself trying, I might try the gear they use. In some cases it “sticks” and I keep it, in other cases I sell it on, or worse. Recently a Canon digital compact I bought only lasted a few weeks before failing to focus permanently. I tend to buy cheap, and do a much better job of selling than the people I buy from, so I haven’t lost money yet. In ten years of buying and selling online, I have only had to get refunds three times, which is a pretty good track record. I don’t think anyone really enjoys the selling process, but I’m getting better at it. In the last year I have done almost no buying, and a lot of selling.

    1. Thanks Jon. Yes I think it’s very natural to see a photograph we like and look at what gear the photographed used to make it, and think if we had the same, we’d be in with a chance of creating something similar. But longer term, aside from more specialist gear that is necessary for certain types of photography, a great photographer can make interesting photographs with a very wide range of cameras. The talent is not the camera of course.

      Have you sold mostly online or locally? I have a handful of bits I want to sell, mostly lenses, but just haven’t been able to summon the motivation to list them yet!

      1. I know it’s kind of silly, but occasionally it pays off. I tried Olympus after seeing Jane Bown’s work with one, and still use it 30 years later. I only sell on eBay, It works for me. I know people who have done well on F.B. Marketplace, but meet-ups are not my thing.

  3. What kind of considerations do you make before you buy a camera or lens?

    Do I need this or do I want this? How often will I use this? I don’t purchase until I have clear answers to those questions.

    1. Ha, but the trouble is the answer to the first question is always the same – Do I need this? No, I already have perfectly capable cameras. But do I want this? Yes, or I wouldn’t be looking at! It’s like eating a sweet pudding after a satisfying meal, we rarely ever NEED it, but the taste and sweetness makes us really want it!

      1. My son’s reading a book where the main character skips TO dessert and eats nothing else. Funny how our tastes change over the years, I used to have a far sweeter tooth than now, where I rarely have dessert and like my chocolate very dark. Green and Blacks 85% usurped Cadbury’s Dairy Milk some years back!

  4. I am a bit the opposite, and a bit the same. The opposite in the sense that when I have something I try to exploit all its characteristics, when reading books I read everything, the copyright and print data included. But I am a bit the same, just that I try to not enter a building if maybe I will be like asked to be a long time inside.

    1. I don’t read the copyright and printing info on books, but I do have to read every word – even in books I’m not enjoying so much. I can’t just skim through and miss words or sentences. Similar with films actually. I hate it when people just have a favourite film on in the background and dip in and out of it. If I’m going to watch a film I want to give it my full attention for the duration, and get the most from the experience.

  5. I think I’ve been taking that approach, in a way… first I’m so invested in Pentax it would be too hard to leave.
    Second, I’ve slowly built up my system to the point where I now have some nice lenses and cameras that make me go “wow”.
    Third, as far as the cameras themselves, it’s probably as perfect as it can be – anything smaller and I won’t have a good viewfinder which is so important to me (the K200D being the exception but I can work with that still). And the sensors! I find that I have the best APS-C sensors in CCD (K200D) and CMOS (the K-S1 – still haven’t seen the kind of color reproduction that I have in another camera, except maybe Fuji but that is probably their in-camera processing). Sure there’s Nikons and Sonys with the same CCD APS-C quality, but I think I have better lenses than what they offer (in a price that I can afford), and the bodies are also built better and/or have image stabilization.
    10MP is simply enough. 20MP (my K-S1) is a luxury.
    Sure a Leica M9 or a Pentax 645D would give me better image quality, but at many times over the cost. And image quality is not as closely related as quality of images, as people think!

    1. Many things around “image quality” I think are very overrated Chris. Many people put far too much reliance on a camera to deliver a wonderful shot based on the technology inside it – and the manufacturers know this and push it to the limit, it’s what keeps selling cameras that are specified way beyond what anyone actually needs to make a good photograph.

      1. Couldn’t agree more, Dan. We’re constantly exposed to a hailstorm of marketing, and it’s all too easy to forget that the real quality of an image lies in its subject matter, context and presentation. Anyone who doubts this need only peruse the junk that floods sites such as DP Review, mostly the product of the latest bodies and lenses.

      2. What I always find odd with camera reviews, is how poor the “test” shots always are. I think test shots should inspire me to go out and get the camera immediately, filled with the excitement that perhaps I can work similar magic with it. I think somewhere along the way the reviewers on dedicated sites got so obsessed with the numbers – and trying to show readers the difference between cameras by shooting newspapers pinned to walls and giving us 100% crops and so on, that they forget how to actually enjoy a camera themselves…

      3. I agree, Dan… so I’m convinced I should focus more on the quality of my images (not from a technological standpoint…) than on image quality (which is technological, and I have more than I need…)

      4. And of course there’s that tipping point – different for each of us, but not radically – where the technical capability and the range of options and settings of a camera actually become a hindrance… The camera is just too goo, too sophiticated and it become intimidating.

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