You Are Not Your Camera. Are You?

When I was growing up, I remember my dad being heavily involved with cars, one way or another.

At one point he had a fleet of taxis, and at other times a car sales lot of perhaps 25 cars too.

And for his own car, well, it seemed every changing, I guess because he was in the right industry to do so easily.

Plus his tastes and requirements seem to change like the wind too. One month a hot hatch, another a 4×4, another a luxurious and comfortable Jaguar.

Because of this, much of what dad talked about revolved around cars.

And because when you’re young, a large part of your lens on the world is provided by your experiences with your parents and their interests, I absorbed plenty about cars too.

For example I can still recall which year of production each letter at the start or end of a number plate signified.

I figured out at a young age that 1985, when new cars were registered with a B or C plate (eg B123 ABC) would be my starting point on this age scale, then I’d work forward or backwards from there. 1984 was A/B, 1986 was C/D, and so on.

Pretty useless information to anyone outside the car sales industry, but it did feed into my early curiosity in numbers, letters and patterns.

What it also did was let me see at at a glance the age of a car in the street.

I think here I also heavily imbued some of my dad’s opinions on various cars and the kind of people that drive them.

Which, while it may have some truth very broadly, is unfortunately just another way of judging or stereotyping people. (My dad had a number of other ways.)

This seems to have stuck with me, and I catch myself being overtaken or cut up by, say what I’d call a fancy car that’s only a year or two old, and thinking the person driving thinks they’re superior to anyone else who may have a “lesser” or older car.

Cars are just objects, tools to get us from one place to another as efficiently/safely/quickly/comfortably as possible, depending on one’s specific criteria and priorities.

But people do get attached to them like they might do a person, or a pet.

An Englishman’s home is his castle, the saying goes, and perhaps his car too. A private place where others aren’t welcome to enter (or drive too close), or else face his/her full wrath.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about other objects some of us define ourselves (and others) by.

Like cameras.

The only camera equivalent I can recall of my car judging upbringing comes from kids parties, and not recently, now nearly everyone just uses their phone to make photographs.

A decade ago, when our oldest child was just starting that kids party era, at every event there seemed to be one parent (nearly always a dad, not a mum) who had a huge DSLR with a lens the size of a small bazooka.

They’d have the camera across their chest on the obligatory four inch wide strap with Nikon emblazoned all over it in bright yellow (but occasionally Canon in red and white), then another strap (their camera bag) crossing their chest the other way, akin to some mercenary soldier with bullets slung across his chest, overlapping with an X in the centre.

Oh yes, camera commandos they were, ready for battle!

And battle they did, mostly with themselves, as they swung round that ridiculously unwieldy and top heavy camera/lens combo, repeatedly avoiding knocking a small child unconscious by a mere whisper.

Their equally weighty camera bag (with matching named strap, and filled, no doubt, with another three lenses and perhaps even a back up camera) was flailing around most often in the opposite direction of the photographer, causing them to hitch it back round behind them every few seconds, like some exaggerated nervous twitch.

Quite a balancing act, and one they were frequently failing at.

I could never quite work out how much of this performance was an attempt to impress other parents (look how much gear I have and how big and heavy it is, I must be an amazing photographer, and rich too, ha!) or they were genuinely into photography to the extent they felt they needed so much equipment, and did achieve some lovely shots of their kids they couldn’t have got with a point and shoot.

I suspect the former.

The phrase “all the gear and no idea” came to mind.

Going back to the cars, this was akin to someone in fast, expensive and highly capable car that they only used to take the children to school half a mile away at a maximum 20 miles per hour.

So what do I think my favourite cameras say about me?

I think that upbringing of judging people by the cars has had an influence, along with my direct experience that, as with cars, you don’t need to spend much on a camera to have a huge amount of fun with it, and get the experience and outcome you hope for.

I’d go so far as to say perhaps I have a kind of inverted snobbery about cameras – the cheaper and simpler the better.

Part of this relates to a kind of expectation index, linked to a camera’s cost.

In other words, a camera you maybe only pay £10 for, you don’t have much expectation for. So when you get some decent shots, you’re elated!

If instead the camera cost £100, £500, £1000, or more, that expectation is greatly magnified. You feel you need to justify the outlay, and create stellar images that make that investment worthwhile.

This is a large reason why I’ve never spent more than £300 on a camera – and then only once, a decade ago.

Since then, my invisible ceiling has been around £150, a figure I’ve gone to three times I think, though virtually all other camera have cost £25 or less. Plenty of cheap and cheerful fun!

There’s also that kind of preciousness factor.

If a camera is expensive in your eyes, you’re going to be afraid of dropping, scratching or otherwise damaging it, or it simply stop working and become useless, an expensive misjudgement.

So you’re far more inhibited in using it than one that cost a few pounds and could be easily replaced with little emotional or financial damage.

Which cramps your style, your flow, your general enjoyment of photography.

Another part of me just likes avoiding the mainstream, not following the masses and buying whatever we’re told is the latest and greatest.

There is a strange yet genuine joy in sourcing a 15 year old digital camera for £25 (like my Pentax CCD DLSRs) and making pictures that delight you.

How about you? What do you think your camera(s) says about you? What do you think other people’s say about them?

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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11 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Camera. Are You?”

  1. People are always asking me what kind of film I’m shooting. Because my Fuji digital camera is black and silver. Fuji did a nice job designing it, the body is quite nondescript, convincingly retro-appearing. On the small side, I think that might be what especially fools people.It’s five or six years old and pretty scratched up, too. It’s always bit of a letdown when I have to tell them it’s not film I’m using, more often than not the conversation stops dead in its tracks like a car stalled on the train tracks, haha! And this is very telling. For I’m perfectly capable of having (and enjoy) a very nuanced discussion or philosophical discourse about what I might be after from a photographic standpoint, at any particular time. On some very rare occasions I’ve run into kindred spirits who lock on to that joy of the hunt (or discovery?). but usually people don’t delve that deep, it’s more about the model of camera. it’s really a shame. But that’ just how it is.

    Hope you’re having a good week Dan. And btw, I like the closeup, here.

    1. I had to laugh when I read about people confusing your Fuji with a film camera. I was recently photographing a house demolition with my Leica IIIf when a young man walked up and said “Cool camera. How many megapixels?”

      1. I told him it was a film camera made in 1957. I don’t recall exactly how the conversation went but I do remember that we talked about the difference between black & white and color film.

    2. I wonder how much of this is because we’re so programmed to judge a camera by its model, MP, features etc, or people are just trying to connect genuinely and a good opener is “what camera are you using”?

      I read an article the other day about small talk, and how most people think other people (especially strangers) are only interested in (or prepared to converse with) small talk, rather than anything with more depth and substance. But the experiments they carried out found that conversations with strangers around deeper topics (they were given a set of prompts and questions to use) were just as fulfilling as the same depth of conversations with close friends and family. Very interesting. I avoid small talk wherever possible. I’d much rather someone asked what my favourite record is right now, or what I love to do in my free time than ramble about the weather ask “so what do you do”, ie what’s your job…

      The Fuji X series are a great uncharted ocean for me. I’ve had two or three older (c2003/4 ish) Fuji cameras and been very impressed with the pictures from the “Super CCD” sensors, and the general build and quality. I’ve looked at the original X100 dozens of times, but never pull the trigger on buying one. Then I’ve tried to look at the fixed lens X cameras and pretty quickly been completely overwhelmed by the choice and given up! Maybe one day…

  2. A decade ago, when our oldest child was just starting that kids party era, at every event, there seemed to be one parent (nearly always a dad, not a mum) who had a huge DSLR with a lens the size of a small bazooka.

    In the USA, the parent photographer was the mom, with the bulky DSLR, usually a Canon, which was typically set to AUTO everything. I was always the odd dad representing the males. 🙂 The method I used to gauge how serious they were about the craft was to ask, “what aperture are you using”. A blank stare meant that further conversation about photography was not worth pursuing. An “I read the manual but I don’t yet understand how that works” meant they had some intention to learn.

    Going back to the cars, this was akin to someone in a fast, expensive and highly capable car that they only used to take the children to school half a mile away at a maximum 20 miles per hour.

    Yeah. Exactly. As I like to tell my brother-in-law, “On these 35 mph Princeton country roads, my Honda goes just as fast as your Lexus”.

    I admit that when I see or hear an amateur photographer with a Leica, I think, “What a pretentious little sh*t”. 🙂

    I wonder what people think when they see my Fuji X? I tend to like sporty compact Japanese cars? What does that say about me?

    1. That’s very interesting about the mums with the camera. Nowadays yes both parents would use their phones to take pictures, but I can’t ever recall a kids party where I saw any mum with a complex camera.

      I’ve seen many people take awful pictures with phones (I know as they’ve sent them to me after). I wish anyone using any camera (inc camera phones) were given three pieces of advice – 1. learn how to (auto)focus the camera on the right part of the frame 2. stay as still as possible or every picture is going to be super blurred and useless and 3. wherever possible don’t zoom with a phone camera as the lens quality generally plummets drastically the more you’ve zoomed (and of course camera shake is increasingly likely with the longer focal length).

      Ha, great line about the Honda being just as fast as a Lexus or anything else on 35mph roads! I’d much rather have small, economical and more manoeuvrable car in a town or on a school run than some huge wannabe 4×4 half the population of parents seem to have over here.

      1. I have a brother-in-law who actually handed me his iPhone XS and asked me to fix it because his picture were not as good as mine. When I suggested he take an inexpensive online course on how to use his smartphone for photography he was offended. But then I turned it around and told him I was offended that he thought that my photos were only better because I had a newer (but still older) model iPhone. I’ve tried teaching him but he just want to push the “make good photos button”. He just upgrade to the iPhone 13. I guess he has the $$$$$$$!

      2. This is just like people who are always reading camera reviews to find the “best” camera to make them an overnight photography genius, rather than putting the hours in with something basic and learning the core aspects of photography. Money can’t buy experience, or, £10,000 doesn’t equal 10,000 hours!

  3. Hi Dan,

    Well to be totally frank with you I would imagine that if someone was to comment on what I use for my photography, they would no doubt feel sorry for me and think..”poor thing, he probably picked them up from a charity shop” as using old hat cameras like the Ricoh GX100 and a Fuji XE1, which I although the Ricoh is in mint as new condition it has that compact basic point and shoot from the 90’s look, and the XE1 looks battered which it is really as its been used to death and seen more action than a war veterans Leica…So there is no way someone would be thinking “look at him..all the gear and no idea..”more like look at him full of ideas but not an ounce of gear…”

    1. Ha ha, I quite like that though, for someone to think my camera was rubbish and ancient, then see some pictures and be impressed I was able to make anything half decent with such an “inadequate” machine.

      I still have my GX100 but haven’t used it for ages, sadly. Fantastic little things. I have been using its big brother the GRD III more than any other camera in the last couple of months though!

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