My oldest son and I are working, rather slowly, on a 1000 piece Marvel jigsaw puzzle.
Our approaches are a little different, which surprised me.
Whereas I will generally pick up a piece of puzzle, then look at the picture and try to figure out where it goes, my son more often looks at the pieces already interlocked, and looks for other pieces that might fit next to and around them.
I wondered how these two contrasting techniques are reflected in how, as photographers, we decide on which camera(s) to invest in, and then use.
Let’s take the cameras we already own first.
My previous approach was more like this – “I’m going to a certain place, in certain weather, with the plan to take a certain type of picture, so which camera fits this brief the best?”
The downside of this is that usually no single camera fitted the role perfectly.
So I would then either be deliberating between a few different, equally imperfect cameras, or I would consider changing one or more of the variables on the trip – place, time, weather, type of photography – to better fit one of the cameras.
This became a short cut to constant indecision, and increasingly often I would end up not choosing anything, running out of time and not going on a photowalk at all.
Which does not make for a happy photographer.
So these days my approach is more the opposite.
I pick the camera, then the place and time, then with those decisions made, I try to play to the strengths of the camera, and find compositions that work well within those predetermined parameters.
Perhaps the natural end point for this approach is my One Month One Camera experiments over the last few years.
These have yielded so many benefits, most of which I discovered after just one month and one camera into the project.
Here I have few decisions to make in terms of the camera itself – because I’ve already chosen it at the start of the month – and how I set it up – because the biggest choice tends to be do I shoot colour or b/w, and with most of my remaining cameras I know how to set them up for each and/or have it saved in a custom setting.
So the choices out in the field come down to the essentials of photography – composition, light, shade, where to focus, depth of field, and so on.
What about this puzzle making approaching when it comes to choosing a new camera?
If you look at what you already have, your plan may then be to see where the gaps are – the missing pieces – and seek to fill them.
Maybe you have a great 35mm f/2.8 lens but would like something wider, like 24mm, or faster, like f/2.4 or f/2.
Maybe you have an excellent DSLR but would like something much smaller that still gives excellent results, but can be slipped in a pocket?
And so on.
The alternative, akin to picking up a piece of puzzle and seeing where it might fit, is where you might wander those alluring and abundant treasure troves of cameras – online and off – just seeing what you come across, buying it, then seeing how it might fit into your existing arsenal.
Again, you can see merits in both approaches.
The first is a more measured and scientific way to try to build the definitive camera (and lens) collection, with no waste or misfits.
The downsides are that it’s a bit predictable, and doesn’t really open you to potential surprises and benefits of trying different gear you may not even be aware of.
The second approach is one of far more variety and spontaneity, and as such is generally more exciting and stimulating.
But along the way there will be a fair amount of gear you just don’t like using, and you’ll likely use up precious photography money and time finding this out.
Also, you could argue equally strongly that both approaches foster an accumulation mentality, and one of feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled.
Rather than just being happy with what you have and making the most of it.
Just seeing what you have as an unfinished puzzle means by definition you need to add more to complete it.
How about you? Are you someone who seeks specific new cameras (pieces) to fit your collection (puzzle), or do you prefer to stumble across a new camera (piece) more serendipitously, then see where it might fit in the collection (puzzle)? Or do you just enjoy what you already have?
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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