The Myth Of The Perfect Camera (Why Familiarity Beats Compatibility)

There are two routes to go with photography, especially when you’re nearer the beginner end.

The first is to get a camera, try it for a little while, then conclude it’s not for you, sell it, and get a different one instead.

This is probably fine once or twice, but if it starts to become serial behaviour, where you simply keep buying over and over to find the perfect camera, it might be time to consider the alternative.

That is, to use a camera that’s perhaps 80 or 90% ideal, and get to know it inside out.

Find its quirks and shortcomings, and work around them – even celebrate them – to get the best you can from it.

In some ways this is like comparing the old human model of consumption to the new.

30 or 40 years ago, people like us didn’t generally upgrade their camera every year, let alone every few months.

You bought the best you could afford – perhaps after years of saving – then knuckled down and made the best of it.

Getting another camera a month or two later just wasn’t an option.

Over time, the familiarity of the camera is what allowed you to get the very best from it, and to enjoy it to the fullest.

It became a trusted companion, not a fleeting fling.

In the modern age, where consumption is utterly rampant, we’re encouraged to buy over and over, without giving any of the cameras a fair crack of the the whip.

For me, through having hundreds of cameras, I’ve learned the hard way that no single one is perfect.

I’ve had very few that were downright awful, especially digital cameras.

The vast majority were perfectly capable, and ones I could have used for years enjoyably, and with satisfying results.

Those which have lasted in my collection are perhaps 90% compatible with my needs, then I’ve made up that last 10% by using them enough to know their strengths and charms.

I feel that this approach – this realisation – slowed and then virtually eliminated the previously relentless quest for the perfect camera.

As I result I’m happier because I’m not constantly chasing the impossible.

I’m enjoying the cameras I have because I know them better, and I’m getting better photographs, again because I’ve figured out through experience how to get pleasing results with each of the few which remain.

Put another way, familiarity beats any kind of instant compatibility, for me. And I don’t believe a completely perfect camera exists.

How has your experience been in finding the cameras that work best for you? Has it been more like a continual quest for the ideal camera, or finding one that’s good enough for your needs, and making the best of it?

As always, 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).

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13 thoughts on “The Myth Of The Perfect Camera (Why Familiarity Beats Compatibility)”

  1. I have a friend who has spent probably 10 – 15,000 dollars this year on new gear. He is building a new PC because his old computer can’t hack the 4k or 8k videos he wants to edit now. He is a part time wedding photographer, so perhaps he gets a little back from the taxman. He saw a picture of one of my film cameras on FB recently and wasted no time in telling me how far behind I am, but the reality is he is in a competitive market with nothing to mark him from his competition. Perhaps he enjoys his photography, or more likely he enjoys being able to say he has the latest gear. I bought my Contax 139Q in 1984, found it met all my needs for the next twenty years until digital came along. I could never afford the best digital gear, and while I still shoot digital with my phone and Canon DSLR, I have realised the Contax is pretty near perfect for me. I am a happy photographer!

    1. Thanks Steve. To me that’s a scary amount of money to me, for anything. I assume he makes enough with his photography to factor in these purchases. But still, you can get fantastic images with much older and simpler kit, people have been photographing weddings effectively for decades! Our family photographer has a Canon 5D (I think it’s about the third incarnation) and a zoom that’s something like 24-135. She made our wedding photos (five years ago) look pretty great and has done various portrait shoots for us since with similar kit, that I’m sure costs in the hundreds rather than thousands.

      When will people realise that it’s not the kit that marks you out from the competition but your skill and style as a photographer, which, I would argue, only develops if you stick to a few cameras and get to know them inside out.

      Glad to hear how happy you are! I still have my Contax 139Q (and Spotmatic F) but neither have seen a roll of film in about four years now.

      1. Yup. A bad workman grumbles at his tools is the old saying, I don’t know if he is a good photographer or not but practice is probably a more effective remedy than purchase 😉

  2. As much as I enjoy a new-to-me old camera, familiarity is why I stick with my Canon S95. I know it very well. I know how to get the best performance out of it and, crucially, I know when it just won’t get the shot so I don’t have to bother pushing the button.

    1. That’s pretty much how I see my phone, which I’ve had for I think 2.5 years now. Expect the other week we wanted some night time photos outside with Christmas lights and I broke out the (Pentax) K30 with flash as the phone couldn’t handle it. Most of the time though it does a great job for family shots, with minimal fiddling about. I do wish it wasn’t such a wide lens though (25mm) or you could fix it a certain focal lengths. I always zoom in to “1.4x” which I figure is about 35mm, and stops everyone looking like they have elongated horse-like faces up close…

  3. I completely agree. One key point with going on with the second way is thinking *really and for as long as necessary* about what we need, so that we buy the best fitted camera (or bike, …) we can (which actually may not be the more expensive). And then keep in mind that this is not the tool that makes us better but how we use it, and cooperate the best we can with it. We can improve our practice (experience in photography, training in bike), but also the tool itself to improve our interaction with it (optimize the settings of the camera, the position on the bike for ex). In the process, the tool becomes part of us, there is a kind of relationship which develops, which probably helps avoiding the first way, which only keep us unsatisfied.
    I sometimes wonder how I became strongly oriented toward the second way, which I was not decades ago. But the more I go into that direction, the more I appreciate it and get an intense satisfaction. What is funny is that I was more first way oriented when my resources were strongly limited, and I became more second way oriented while my resources became much less a limit.

    1. It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation I think. You have to have some camera or other, to get to know what you like and how you use it, and whether something with different specs might be a better fit. You need that field experience, combined with thinking, to make a better choice next time. But yes the danger is that you don’t experiment or think for long enough and keep jumping from one imperfect camera to another, never get to know those imperfections and how to overcome them.

      I’m a big fan of those cheap camera pro challenge videos by Digital Rev, where they give a pro photographer something super basic to use. And inevitably they rise to the challenge, and lean on their experience to overcome the severe limitations of the camera and get something interesting out of it.

  4. I’ve never had the money to be a frequent upgrader, but I had the urge to do so. I read too many gear reviewers and was always talking gear. But after I bought my Fuji X-T2 (used), I realised I didn’t care anymore. Some screws have fallen out from the bottom near the tripod mount. The base plate is scratched (I often used a tripod l bracket) and the paint is starting to wear from use. But I enjoy using the camera. Quite oftenn I fall asleep with the camera next to me on the couch. It’s no longer a camera. It’s a companion.

    1. I love that image of falling asleep on the sofa with our camera, like some people do with a pet! A constant companion indeed Khurt!

      And yes it’s very easy to get caught up in gear reviews – in all kinds of areas and hobbies and interests, and constantly be looking at new gear rather than learning to get the best from what you have.

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