Philosophy The Obsession with "gear"

grebeman

Old Codgers Group
Just why do so many of us seem to acquire more and more "gear" in pursuit of photographs?

Lets just look at one of my favourite photographers, James Ravilious. Although he studied at art school (under an assumed name since he was the son of a famous engraver Eric Ravilious) he was a self taught photographer. Between 1972 and 1991 he worked part time as a photographer for the Beaford Art Centre in north Devon mainly working on a project to document the life of rural communities within about a 20 mile radius of the Arts Centre. During that time he amassed some 80,000 negatives that have become a priceless record of a now all but vanished way of life. They show rural people at work and at play, farm labourers, village fetes, farm animals, lambing, hedging, you name it he photographed it. Like Cartier Bresson he preferred to frame his images in camera and always left a black border created by the enlarger light around his prints.

He published 5 books as author or co-author, illustrated 12 books for other authors and had 18 photographic exhibitions including the Royal Photographic Society (twice), The Photographers Gallery in London, The Curwen Gallery in London, The Leica Gallery in New York, 2 in France and most of the rest in South West England, either resident or traveling.

His life was cut short by illness and he died aged 60 in 1999. Whilst in the last couple of years of his life he started to use larger format cameras and in particular settled on a 6 x 9 negative size, for the rural project he used a Leica M3 and the following lenses, 28mm f/6.3 Hektor, 35mm f/3.5 Elmar, 50mm f/3.5 Elmar, 50mm f?2.8 Elmar and 90mm f/4 Elmar. He framed his images with a Viooh external viewfinder. I hope you'll agree that that's a rather modest kit but if you see the results they're superlative. He almost exclusively worked in monochrome and many of his images show a beautiful understanding and use of light, many are contrejour but retain excellent shadow detail. His very limited kit and deep understanding of it enabled him to concentrate on the essentials of the image.

How many of us can say we do that?

Barrie
 

gryphon1911

All-Pro
Location
Central Ohio, USA
Real Name
Andrew
Each person has their own reasons for doing whatever it is they do, regardless of whether it is photography, cars, books, etc.

For photography, there are many things to consider.

1) times have changed and we can afford to have more gear now then we could in the past.
2) There is potentially more choice.
3) Marketing leads most to believe that they need more, and society is not telling them they are wrong.

I buy gear because I love to experience all that there is out there. I don't have a false belief that newer, "better", more expensive gear will make my photography better. What I do KNOW is that some gear, regardless of price, makes the acquisition of said photopgraphs easier and therefore makes the experience of photography easier and in a way more enjoyable.

Photography for some is more than just capturing moments. While that is truly the end goal - photography as an activity is more than the sum of its parts. It is a day out, a trip to a place you've never been or a return to a place you've been to thousands of times - looking for that something different you or anyone else has not seen yet. It is about connections with people, places. It is about the process of framing and exposing light in such a way as to share the story that you see or experience with others.

It is about the aftermath - post processing the images, cleaning the gear.

For others, it is also about a brotherhood/sisterhood. A group of people that are looking to have a common interest and an artistic way of expressing themselves.

I "collect gear" because I can. I have the ability now to afford pretty much whatever I desire and will do so until I can no longer. Each piece of kit serves a purpose and one thing does something better or different than another. Some pieces could be purely sentimental, while others help me think in different ways or provide an aesthetic that is pleasing to me or serves an end goal to a client.

Now, I go through all that in hopes of somehow giving you a partial answer for all, but I can only really give you a specific answer for me.
 

legine

Regular
Location
Hampshire UK
Just why do so many of us seem to acquire more and more "gear" in pursuit of photographs?

Lets just look at one of my favourite photographers, James Ravilious. Although he studied at art school (under an assumed name since he was the son of a famous engraver Eric Ravilious) he was a self taught photographer. Between 1972 and 1991 he worked part time as a photographer for the Beaford Art Centre in north Devon mainly working on a project to document the life of rural communities within about a 20 mile radius of the Arts Centre. During that time he amassed some 80,000 negatives that have become a priceless record of a now all but vanished way of life. They show rural people at work and at play, farm labourers, village fetes, farm animals, lambing, hedging, you name it he photographed it. Like Cartier Bresson he preferred to frame his images in camera and always left a black border created by the enlarger light around his prints.

He published 5 books as author or co-author, illustrated 12 books for other authors and had 18 photographic exhibitions including the Royal Photographic Society (twice), The Photographers Gallery in London, The Curwen Gallery in London, The Leica Gallery in New York, 2 in France and most of the rest in South West England, either resident or traveling.

His life was cut short by illness and he died aged 60 in 1999. Whilst in the last couple of years of his life he started to use larger format cameras and in particular settled on a 6 x 9 negative size, for the rural project he used a Leica M3 and the following lenses, 28mm f/6.3 Hektor, 35mm f/3.5 Elmar, 50mm f/3.5 Elmar, 50mm f?2.8 Elmar and 90mm f/4 Elmar. He framed his images with a Viooh external viewfinder. I hope you'll agree that that's a rather modest kit but if you see the results they're superlative. He almost exclusively worked in monochrome and many of his images show a beautiful understanding and use of light, many are contrejour but retain excellent shadow detail. His very limited kit and deep understanding of it enabled him to concentrate on the essentials of the image.

How many of us can say we do that?

Barrie
I stumbled across Ravilios one blazing hot day, bumbling around Barnstable. Fell in the doors of the local museum for a bit of respite - didn't expect to find such a collection of stunning work in a such a sleepy provincial town. Just goes to show, you never can tell what gems lurk behind unpromising council doors. In my humble opinion the man is up there with the best of them. Vastly under-represented. The photographic society should organise a national tour - when we able to roam risk free!
 
Location
Switzerland
Real Name
Matt
I "collect gear" because I can. I have the ability now to afford pretty much whatever I desire and will do so until I can no longer. Each piece of kit serves a purpose and one thing does something better or different than another. Some pieces could be purely sentimental, while others help me think in different ways or provide an aesthetic that is pleasing to me or serves an end goal to a client.
^ That - minus the client thing in my case (clients and assignments are too rare to warrant any kind of acquisition).

I *never* bought gear because I thought it would make my photography any better. I wanted to experience something and use it - and furthermore, substitution of one thing through another often doesn't really satisfy and leads to further acquistions. I've come to think that it's better to buy what I desire - and sell it if it doesn't work for me. But most often nowadays, it works - and thus, the amount of gear I keep has become smaller.

And now I'm going to organise the delivery of the Contax 45mm f/2.8 Tessar I won an auction on yesterday - finally replacing the lens I ruined (in a tumble) a couple of months back ...

M.
 

grebeman

Old Codgers Group
Each person has their own reasons for doing whatever it is they do, regardless of whether it is photography, cars, books, etc.

Now, I go through all that in hopes of somehow giving you a partial answer for all, but I can only really give you a specific answer for me.
Andrew, I'm fully in agreement with your first statement. Thank you for taking the time to give me your thoughts and yes, your answer applies to you and probably you alone.

Barrie
 

grebeman

Old Codgers Group
I *never* bought gear because I thought it would make my photography any better. I wanted to experience something and use it - and furthermore, substitution of one thing through another often doesn't really satisfy and leads to further acquistions. I've come to think that it's better to buy what I desire - and sell it if it doesn't work for me. But most often nowadays, it works - and thus, the amount of gear I keep has become smaller.
M.
Thank you for your thoughts Matt. I'm certainly not without guilt in this area. I tend to buy gear when it's at the end of it's run or secondhand. I do usually buy because I think it will make my photography better in terms of resolution, probably a result of my starting off using medium format gear back at the beginning of the 1970's. My failing is not to try and sell gear on but by the time I might be ready to sell it these days it's not going to fetch much money so I tend to avoid the hassle. I was early into m4/3 having mistakenly started off down the 4/3 route. With the low number of lenses available at the start I got into adapted lenses which is why I have a good collection of Voigtlander LTM lenses. I was a little disappointed with smearing at the edges of images particularly with wide angle lenses. Now I have an aged Ricoh GXR with the A12 Leica mount module I'm finding they are coming into their own. Focusing can be a bit hit and miss with the longer lenses but of course I was well used to zone focusing with my old Voigtlander Bessa 1 8 on 120 roll film camera.

In terms of resolution I've just run a series of tests comparing several cameras, thus with Panasonic, the GF1, GX7 and GX8 using the same lenses. The GF1 is obviously showing its age. The GX 7 isn't too far short of the GX8 if I'm honest, the GX8 shows itself better as you use longer focus lenses, the difference is less pronounced with wider angle lenses. The Leica D Lux Typ 109 is quite a surprise contender and isn't far behind, or even equal to the GX7 and is a good contender for an always with you camera. The Ricoh has a charm of its own and I love using the old Voigtlander lenses with it. The outcome of those tests is probably I'll be staying with what I've got and making use of it, when it breaks well too bad, although I'd be very upset if the Ricoh broke!

Barrie
 

grebeman

Old Codgers Group
The photographic society should organise a national tour - when we able to roam risk free!
Oh how I wish they would, I've only experienced him through his books and a friend who sends me the post cards available from the Beaford Arts Centre. I'd love to see some original prints. I once saw an Ansel Adams exhibition at the V and A in London, wow do those prints glow as if they had a light source within them.

Barrie
 
I have a lot of lenses- want to experience and characterize the rendering and performance of the lens. The latter- can be done on a bench. Rendering of a lens- can only be determined by using it. I've never lost money on a lens when selling it. I used to work on them for other people, or convert lenses on request from forum members and professional photographers. I took a lot of pride when a photography instructor overseas asked for a custom converted lens. I do not consider myself an expert in this field. Just someone that has accumulated a lot of experience using a lot of lenses. That requires the accumulation of gear. If someone has a question on what makes a Sonnar different from other lenses, I can answer from experience.

I'm also a collector- but one with a theme. Sonnar formula 50mm lenses: thirty-five in Leica mount that cover their evolution from 1932 to the present. I've shot with all of them.

When I grab a camera to go out shooting, I consider the subject and my mood. I can pick out a lens to match.
 
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grebeman

Old Codgers Group
I consider the subject and my mood.
Brian, I'm hoping to apply a similar philosophy to the business of making monochrome conversions. Health issues as well as the current situation mean I'm not able to walk as far as I used to and will come to rely more and more on hard drives full of old images. With hopefully better knowledge of what I'm doing gained over the years I'll be able to keep myself amused going back through my back catalogue and adding new images as and when. Thanks for your thoughts.

Barrie
 
I always enjoy reading older books on photography, those from the 1930s through 1960s- where B&W was the rule. Lots of good information on the use of filters and how they affect the image. You will find this applies to doing monochrome conversions in Lightroom and Silver Efex.
 

grebeman

Old Codgers Group
I always enjoy reading older books on photography, those from the 1930s through 1960s- where B&W was the rule. Lots of good information on the use of filters and how they affect the image. You will find this applies to doing monochrome conversions in Lightroom and Silver Efex.
I have access to Silver Efex using CS6 but I tend to use a linux machine these days some I'd doing it via GIMP and mono mixer (channel mixer in Photoshop terminology), it's the same but is already configured for mono (hence the name), no little mono box to tick as in Photoshop. I like Silver Efex but I think it's very easy to overdo the conversion and get what I consider to be an unrealistic result. I was a monochrome film man for many years, both in medium format (Mamiya Press) and 35mm (Leica M3). Ansel Adams series, The Negative, The Print, Natural Light Photography and so on used to be my go to books, they're still on the book shelf.

Barrie
 

mnhoj

gee aahrr
Location
Los Angeles
Real Name
John
My obsessions and compulsions have always been there.
It used to be things of far less social acceptance. I got married, started a family and it turned into camera gear.
Certified justifications of gear upgrades to improve my photography have been far and few between. Notably, sensor improvements mostly in the early years.
I've recently received an AF improvement that has helped me gain more keepers but it may be just that I've never really learned to use previous models to the extent of their capabilities.

I guess for me it'll always be the pursuit over the photographs.
And I'm fine with it.
 

gordo

Veteran
Location
Arizona
Real Name
Gordon
Interesting read so far. :coffee-79:

I consider myself a hobbyist, not a photographer. I am very technical-minded, much less creative and I lack the photographer's eye. I'm under no illusion that the limiting factor in my photography is myself, not the gear.

I spend a lot of time learning about photography, and most of my photos are still snapshots. Occasionally I'll get something right and something will resemble a photograph. That's OK. Photography (for me) is a means to document family and friends, experiences I've had and places I've been, for later memories. It is also my main source of relaxation and stress relief.

Collecting gear... I do so simply because I enjoy the process of using the gear. Sometimes I trade or buy simply to try something new. If I don't use it, or stop using it, or don't enjoy it - it goes. And as time moves on and I age, and my discretionary income drops due to inflation, my gear collection shrinks.
 

Jonathan F/2

Top Veteran
Location
Los Angeles, USA
The majority of my interest though lay in lenses. I have my work lenses, travel lenses, portrait lenses, small format lenses, manual lenses and then my artsy lenses. I don't use everything all the time, but I like having access to them! Some are expensive, others aren't, but I appreciate all of them for their unique capabilities.

Saying that, I also love editing. I don't think enough attention is put into the raw processing of digital photography. I appreciate digital raws, akin to film photographers liking their analog! Every digital camera capable of raw images all have their unique signature look and properties!
 
Location
Milwaukee, WI USA
Real Name
Luke
Just why do so many of us seem to acquire more and more "gear" in pursuit of photographs?

I would suggest that many acquire "gear" in pursuit of photographs because it is simpler to hand over some credit card digits than to put in the many hours required to hone one's skill. I have learned the lesson and no longer buy gear. And I also have stopped putting in the time to get better at photography.

I feel that in any pursuit, if you work at it for a certain length of time and cease to improve, than you have hit your ceiling in that discipline. I have discovered that there is no Ansel Adams within me, so I don't need to keep pushing and I certainly can stop buying the gear.
 

agentlossing

Top Veteran
Location
S. Oregon Coast (the Northernmost-Cal of them All)
Real Name
Andrew Lossing
Photography has definitely been pulled into the machine of mass culture, which is driven by advertisement, innovation, pushing of the mass-produced. I think many areas of our lives are similarly affected by mass advertising and the collective consumerism that drives society.

When I look at the older photographic greats, they were after photographs which said the most, featured the most interesting or informing or unexpected. Photography as it was growing was a far more interesting medium than it is now, and most of that is due to the gear factor. For sure, new gear came out in the past and when it did it often revolutionized the art for individual photographers, but when they found something that transformed their abilities, they usually stuck with it for a long time. Nowadays, especially because digital technology is always improving slightly and sensors aren't interchangeable, we're constantly told we need new camera bodies, and that different lenses can take advantage of them in new ways. It's all part of the way we've been conditioned to be consumers, we look at gear with the eyes of mass advertising, whether we realize it or not

Photography itself and the teaching of photographic knowledge is the same. It's so much about replication these days, getting the same level of results as the people we attribute mastership to, quality, quality quality. But quality means nothing if we're taking boring photos. Somehow, the mass of popular photography these days thinks that taking a technically excellent "pretty picture" is the most meaningful end goal of photography. In reality, those are the photos that mean the least, and stick with us for the shortest time. Why do we do this? Because technically proficient photos of beauty are what are used to sell products. We unconsciously make our photos resemble the advertisements we are always seeing. Youth, beauty, financial stability, fun... All the things which make viewers feel good because they take us away from our own worries and fear of eventual death, and let us live in a fantasy land of eternal youth and happiness. I really think the themes of photographs all over Instagram and other platforms online are driven by this fantasy. It's the flip side of the coin of advertising. We respond to the urge that has been planted in us for gear that is "better" in some arbitrary way from what we had before, and then we try to make photos that reflect the imagery that advertising uses to get us to respond in every small everyday thing that we're exposed to.

I'm becoming a bit of a nut and conspiracy theorist, maybe, but this is kind of how I see the state of photography if I take the internet as a whole as a good indicator. Present company excluded, of course! Most here are not so easily lulled into herd responsiveness, which is why I like it here.
 

grebeman

Old Codgers Group
Photography has definitely been pulled into the machine of mass culture, which is driven by advertisement, innovation, pushing of the mass-produced. I think many areas of our lives are similarly affected by mass advertising and the collective consumerism that drives society.

When I look at the older photographic greats, they were after photographs which said the most, featured the most interesting or informing or unexpected. Photography as it was growing was a far more interesting medium than it is now, and most of that is due to the gear factor. For sure, new gear came out in the past and when it did it often revolutionized the art for individual photographers, but when they found something that transformed their abilities, they usually stuck with it for a long time. Nowadays, especially because digital technology is always improving slightly and sensors aren't interchangeable, we're constantly told we need new camera bodies, and that different lenses can take advantage of them in new ways. It's all part of the way we've been conditioned to be consumers, we look at gear with the eyes of mass advertising, whether we realize it or not

Photography itself and the teaching of photographic knowledge is the same. It's so much about replication these days, getting the same level of results as the people we attribute mastership to, quality, quality quality. But quality means nothing if we're taking boring photos. Somehow, the mass of popular photography these days thinks that taking a technically excellent "pretty picture" is the most meaningful end goal of photography. In reality, those are the photos that mean the least, and stick with us for the shortest time. Why do we do this? Because technically proficient photos of beauty are what are used to sell products. We unconsciously make our photos resemble the advertisements we are always seeing. Youth, beauty, financial stability, fun... All the things which make viewers feel good because they take us away from our own worries and fear of eventual death, and let us live in a fantasy land of eternal youth and happiness. I really think the themes of photographs all over Instagram and other platforms online are driven by this fantasy. It's the flip side of the coin of advertising. We respond to the urge that has been planted in us for gear that is "better" in some arbitrary way from what we had before, and then we try to make photos that reflect the imagery that advertising uses to get us to respond in every small everyday thing that we're exposed to.

I'm becoming a bit of a nut and conspiracy theorist, maybe, but this is kind of how I see the state of photography if I take the internet as a whole as a good indicator. Present company excluded, of course! Most here are not so easily lulled into herd responsiveness, which is why I like it here.
Andrew, many thanks for your very thoughtful response, I'm certainly enjoying the responses to my original question and learning quite a bit about some of you guys in the process, great stuff.

Barrie
 

tonyturley

Legend
Location
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Real Name
Tony
Some of Andrew's thoughts apply to me, as well, although I have no clients and likely never will. I also love exploring new places with a camera, and exploring old familiar places in search of new viewpoints. I enjoy jousting about with you lot online, sharing insights both photographic and not. I enjoy going through the images from my outings, often nearly as soon as I've come through the door and paused just long enough for a shower. Like many, I went through a long acquisition period, building up a substantial mix of lenses and cameras. It took me a few years, but I finally cleared out pretty much all of my photo gear other than a few old cameras I keep on my shelf as decorative ornaments, and the two small digital cameras I regularly use. I have one native lens, the Olympus 17/1.8, and one adapted, the Pen F 38/1.8. I do enjoy photographing birds and animals around the yard, though, so I'm considering small-ish telephoto lenses. After much reading and research, I've decided against any of the m4/3 consumer tele-zooms. I intend to buy one more good lens, but the options for my use-case are few. The Panny 35-100/2.8 is about the shortest lens that would work for what I want. I did put in a bid for one, but it's a pretty low-ball offer, so I fully expect to be outbid. The PL 50-200 is huge and very expensive, and the same applies for the Oly 40-150/2.8 and 12-100/4. Not much left out there for my particular application.
 

William Lewis

Veteran
Location
Hayward WI
Real Name
William Lewis
For me, I've been doing a little bit of tail chasing right now because of my recent ( > six months) change to Nikon from m4/3. I want a nice set of manual and auto focus primes and I'm really quite close to being done with that quest. This is due to the fact that Nikon lenses - MF & first generation AF at least - are really quite reasonable and there are a few newer DX only lenses that are dirt cheap.

Those prices are one of the reasons I changed over. I could not afford to upgrade my Olympus body any further and they seem to be only interested in high end Pro zooms rather than, say, a set of lenses like the 17/2.8 that was one of my favorites on that system.
 
Good question. What is this obsession?
P5010011-2.jpg

Is it a sensual thing?
P5010014-2.jpg


After all, in the end it is merely 'gear'.
P5010007-2.jpg


It shouldn't matter what it feels like in our hands...
P5010006-2.jpg


...or if it sings to our souls ...
P5010004-2.jpg


after all, they are just objects, tools of a trade.
P5010020.jpg


Not object of our affections ...
P5010024.jpg


We probably shouldn't be so obsessed with our toys. Like children with their playthings. We are no longer children, are we?

Ah...but that Pen-F does whisper "touch me here" so sweetly! Perhaps the poet is right.
 
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