Master Of None

Back in 2012 and 2013 when I was shooting up to 15 rolls of 35mm film a month, I used a range of cameras.

Although many, I was shooting them just about often enough to get used to their unique functions.

Plus, with the manual focus 35mm SLRs from the 70s and early 80s I was focusing on back then, once you’ve used a few, you realise there is great similarity in how they operate, and skills in using one can be transferred fairly seamlessly to another.

Far more recently, even with a major camera purge a few years back, I’ve found I’ve been using cameras less often overall, but the differences between them – a combination of DSLRs, Micro Four Thirds, and digital compacts across – have been greater.

Plus they’ve all had vastly more functions and options than the in comparison very primitive 35mm SLRs I used to favour.

So this greater complexity of each camera, the increased variety between models, and less usage overall, has meant much larger barriers have confronted me when I’ve tried to switch cameras.

Even though I have less than a dozen overall, and really enjoy them all, there are some I’ve not used in a couple of years, that I know would take considerable figuring out – and perhaps a dip or two into the manual even, shockingly – to become comfortable with again.

As a result I feel I’m a master of none of them.

Now there is a part of me that likes the challenge and novelty of trying to get decent images from a new to me (or unfamiliar to me due to the time passed since I last used it) camera.

This is, after all, why I went through literally hundreds over a five year period.

But these days the pluses of that variety seem to outweigh the comfort and convenience of being able to pick up a camera and just shoot, without too much mental effort and rummaging through menus to recall the optimum settings in a variety of conditions.

There are two solutions, both of them obvious.

First, shoot more often.

Whilst there have been other factors at play, I know that one obstacle to shooting more has been my confidence with using a camera.

When you know you have maybe an hour to go out and shoot, but 45 minutes or more of that will be re-familiarising yourself with the camera enough to find your flow in the last 15 minutes, it doesn’t often seem worth the effort.

Second, use fewer cameras. Preferably just one.

This is a well practised lesson for me, with numerous One Month One Camera experiments I’ve done in recent years. I know when I just use one camera, I quickly learn and lean into its particular charms and enjoy it more – and connect with it better and more quickly each time I pick it up – than if I’m choosing a different camera each time.

I don’t have any particular plans at this stage, I just want to be more mindful of the two solutions above as I move forward.

How about you? How many cameras do you use on a regular basis, and what’s the limit before you feel you’re spending too much time remembering how to use them, and not enough time just enjoying 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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14 thoughts on “Master Of None”

  1. Dan, I have just completed my own project – 50 days of 50mm, so I now have the prospect of familiarizing myself with my other lenses once more.

    1. Thanks Andy, I’ve been looking through some of your recent 50mm posts with interest.

      This is the focal length I started with, with SLRs, and I must have had at least 50 different 50mm lenses.

      You realise there’s not a huge amount between them and most manufacturers made at least one very decent 50.

      The differences for me then came down to the feel of a lens (nothing feels quite as classy and luxurious as a Takumar) and things like minimum focus.

      I assume the Pentacon you mention is an M42 Pentacon 50/1.8? A huge advantage of these compared with most 50s is the closer focus. Plus it happens to be a cracking lens anyway.

      The only downside I found was many were poor quality mechanically (or poorly maintained) and had stiff or dry or seized focus, stuck aperture blades and so on. I must have had a dozen examples of the various Pentacon 50 variations, and probably three of them all worked properly and felt smooth to use. If you find a good one, keep it!

      You may have seen this post before but I waxed lyrical about the Pentacons back in 2017 –

      What are your feelings about going back to other focal lengths? Excitement or trepidation?

      1. A little of both Dan, I do like to use a wide angle lens for my trips to Dartmoor but a fifth will never be far away.

        My Pentacon is a good copy by the way

      2. When I first tried an SLR around a decade ago now, it had a 50mm lens (a close relation to the M42 Pentacon actually, the later Prakticar version) and for ages I didn’t even think about using another lens. Even when I tried other SLRs, I didn’t really think beyond using a 50 for a long time. Most of us could quite happily stick with that versatile focal length for the rest of our days.

  2. I am shooting now a Canon EOS 7 film camera, with a prime 135mm f2.8 lens, a Fujifilm X100S for the 35mm equivalent and my Samsung S20 FE cellphone. I have still the Samsung ECX-1, and a Fujifilm DL SuperMini, but film is too expensive, it seems if I get to purchase 20 rolls I could use that money instead for a Canon SL1, or even a 6D to use with my Canon lenses, but I don’t want more cameras.
    I suspect the quarantine period maybe affected a bit the “shoot more often,” less places to shoot and more expensive products; using fewer cameras is what seems, to me, the best choice in a time when it feels any modern camera is fine. Considering your collection through the years “less than a dozen” sounds almost minimalist and without doubt have been very good mates to photograph. Greetings, Dan. : )

    1. Thanks Francis.

      I think not so much the quarantine period as I mostly shoot in fields and woodlands away from people, but more the young family period that’s been a significant factor in the last couple of years.

      You reach a certain tipping point after using so many cameras, where you know what you like and constantly seeking something that’s only very incrementally “better” doesn’t seem worth the effort. Better to lean into what you have and learn it better.

      I did like the challenge of picking up any camera and trying to get something decent from it.

      Just today one of our kids was playing with a VTech KidiZoom which we must have about 10 years now, a chunky pink thing with big rubber grips on the side and a lens that swivels 180 degrees on the top, with an all of 2MP sensor, which has happily survived multiple knocks and drops!

      I went out with it years ago to see what I could achieve and as long as you don’t want massive prints, it proved to be surprisingly capable. Which sort of proves that it doesn’t matter much which camera you pick, just pick on and get out there with it!

  3. I’ve used a total of two camera bodies and five lenses over the past 14 years of shooting digital- and one was an ancient Nikon D50, which I replaced altogether with a Nikon D5500 a few years ago.

    I don’t think that’s wisdom or foresight on my part, I was just too broke to shell out on equipment, and I’ve always thought composition comes before equipment anyway. Which has led me to neglect technical skills with camera operation in general, which is problematic in its own ways. But just the one camera seems to work absolutely fine for me, and I really don’t forget how to use anything I’ve practiced using with it any time I go out.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Adam. Well I have never had much funds for cameras, which is why I had a five years or so period of buying (and selling) dead cheap old film cameras and lenses on eBay!

      I couldn’t believe what beautifully engineered vintage gear I could pick up for literally a few pounds, which was so much better quality and feel than modern plastic stuff that cost hundreds, if not thousands of times the cost.

      This then evolved into Digital, and my favourite DLSRs are all quite similar (Pentas K100D, K-m and Samsung GX1s) and all cost between £25-30.

      Knowing a camera well enough – and using it often enough – to not have forgotten half its functions each time I pick it up, is the goal I’m talking about with this post, yeh.

      1. That’s interesting about getting them cheap, I’ve not really thought of mining the used camera markets. I’ll have to give that a shot, I’ve been thinking of converting an old DSLR into an infared camera…

      2. Reading your comment Adam reminded me that us lovers of old used camera gear aren’t the majority! I forget that not everyone has bought, used and sold dozens of old cameras on eBay ha ha!

  4. Most of my life I only had one working camera. The Contax 139Q I bought new in 1984 with the Planar 1.7/50 lens was all I used for the next twenty years. Then followed a series of digital point and shoot cameras, starting with a very basic fixed focus plastic thing from China which ate batteries and produce very sub-par photos, followed by a couple of Kodak easyshare cameras, a Canon IXUS 1000 and then my only DSLR, the entry level Canon EOS 1100D which I still have. Adapting Zeiss glass to the Canon turns it into a very capable camera! Four years ago I got back into film with the Contax, adding some lenses and additional bodies, which I still use for 90% of my photography. You could say I know the camera very well. Additional cameras have happened because people gave me stuff when they found out I like shooting film. So now I have something of a collection. But I still stick mainly to the Contax and a Mamiya RZ67 for medium format. Both great systems, and my focus is less on the gear but more on developing myself as a photographer. I have great tools, but they are only tools.

    1. Thanks Steve. As we’ve discussed numerous times, the Contax bodies are a joy to use. I think I had about five different models, and the 139 Quartz was not only my favourite Contax SLR, but my favourite SLR I’ve ever used (amongst dozens I’ve tried across multiple brands). Just feel so luxurious to use…

  5. This concept of sticking to one camera and one lens is one that I have always considered but never quite committed. When I bought my Sigma 30 1.4 Art that was my purpose, to do this with my K10D, because I like the files from it better than the files from newer cameras. But that combo was just too heavy for some occasions, and the fact that my kids practice sports always meant I’d reach for a newer camera that can use higher ISOs, and telephoto lenses.
    At least I have – until now – stuck with only one system, the Pentax APS-C system. I have some quite nice lenses to go with it, bought during these almost 10 years that I’ve been using it. Nothing too expensive, the most I’ve ever paid for a lens was that Sigma Art, and that was around 300 dollars. But lenses like my 3 Limiteds (21, 35 and 70) that I paid relatively little money for, are worth so much more than the money I put into them.
    Dan, do you still have any Micro Four Thirds? I’ve been thinking about picking up an older small 12MP Olympus body (I like that old Live MOS sensor better than the Sony sensors that came later for rendering, micro-contrast and color) with the Panasonic 20mm lens, just as a pocketable solution.

    1. I think any lens combined with the K10D is still too heavy – it’s such a hefty camera. Great as it is, that was the main reason I let mine go in favour of the smaller ones like the K100D, K-m, Samsung GX-1S etc.

      Yeh I still have a GF1 though I haven’t used it in about two years. It is a beautiful camera, I’ve liked every Lumix I’ve used (perhaps 10) and loved half of them.

      This one is one of those cameras I find easier to admire but hard to actually embrace. I don’t know, on paper it’s so good, in practice perhaps almost too good, for what I generally need.

      If you’re looking for a small capable camera with interchangeable lenses, what about the Pentax Q? I have one of the originals, they’re amazing. The 01 lens is a fantastic little prime, the 02 zoom is more than decent if you want wider and/or longer than the 01, though the quality is obviously less. And perhaps my favourite combo is with the 07 mount shield lens, which makes it an unbelievably compact option.

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