Camera Collecting – Does The Puzzle Fit The Pieces, Or The Pieces Fit The Puzzle?

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).

Thanks for looking.

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8 thoughts on “Camera Collecting – Does The Puzzle Fit The Pieces, Or The Pieces Fit The Puzzle?”

  1. You’ve just made a great argument for ‘bridge’ cameras. 🙂
    My additions to equipment are aimed at fulfilling specific needs – now. This has not always been the case, of course. In fact up until the 1Ds the purchases have been a a bit Zen-like or serendipitous.
    But hey the Nikon P610 still covers the widest variety of circumstances, even if it does none of it perfectly.

    1. Whilst generally more of a purist, I’m something of a late convert to bridge cameras, that Lumix FZ38 brings many a smile to my face!

      The trouble with having, say, an arsenal of half a dozen lenses to cover all possible eventualities, is that you have to have them all with you, which is heavy and cumbersome, and of course the outlay in the first place. These days I just want to grab a small, capable camera, and go!

  2. Personally I’m a strong advocate of the just-enjoy-what-you-already-have idea. Collecting cameras is a bit like collecting vacuum cleaners or microwave ovens – you are just adding more options to do the same job. I feel I am more and more working to the ideal situation of having just one camera, in my case my phone cam. No more indecisiveness, just one conveniant and fun tool that fits 99% of all photogenic situations.

    1. Robert, I think i’m probably closer to being able to use just my phone camera and nothing else than since around 2011, the last time that the only camera I had WAS my phone camera.

      Still that allure of having something that handles and feels better, and so gives a more rewarding tactile experience exists though.

  3. I am really glad that I found this blog! The obnoxious youtube videos were starting to get to me.

    Having started photography as a hobby just over a year ago I haven’t had much time or money to dive deep into the gear. I started with a film camera, then got curious about digital ones and made the mistake of purchasing an old mirrorless (X-E1). It produced great quality pictures, but I think I should’ve bought an old DSLR, because the focusing and operation speed was sub-par.

    Now, however, I try to enjoy my Nikon dslr with the two lenses that I have. Being a student it’s hard to justify spending a few hundred Euros/USD on gear, so it’s a little easier for me!

    1. Hi Arunas, thank you for reading, and commenting.

      I think still an old DSLR can offer fantastic value as well as being a great tool for learning more about photography, as you can start with everything Auto, and concentrate purely on composition, then ease your way into different modes like Aperture and Shutter Priority to learn the effects changing the aperture and shutter speed have on the final image.

      Enjoy your Nikon!

  4. Your son has the correct approach, Dan 🙂
    The more I learn, the more I understand that too much gear is a distraction. And the more I find out that having something that works well in every situation (while perhaps not excelling in some of them) is what I want, instead of one perfect piece of gear for every situation. Because I end up being the weak link for changing gear so often that I don’t make the best use of it… does that make sense?

    1. Yeh that make sense. Undoubtedly for each of us there is an optimum number of tools we can use to a highly competent (or even averagely competent) level, before we forget how to use key elements of come of them, because there are too many. This is true whether it’s cameras or phones or TVs or cars or software applications or anything similar. Better to have fewer, and use them better (and have that increased enjoyment that comes from a certain confidence in your tools).

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