A few years ago I wrote a post called "Tools :: On Why Gear Really Does Matter" and I have wanted to do an update, or at least carry the conversation further ever since. I blame all of this gear talk on David Duchemin, he's the one who started it, or at least focused on it ('scuse the pun!) But David is a kindred spirit and we teach much of the same things. Always asking "What if?"
This time on the expanded conversation of photography gear, I'm adding a focus (there you go again with the puns!) on software as well as the hardware we use.To me the discussion of gear should include everything we use to create an image. I know this industry is geared towards the next new thing, and companies who cater to our industry feel a need to create FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on the latest tech, but I have a serious question for you (and them): what exactly are you missing out on then?
It can be agreed in the industry generally that the Megapixel Wars are over. Who won? If your current camera and lens(es), your imaging software and computer, all the tools you have give you great results and you are creating the images you want, why would they not do so tomorrow? When I came up in the photography field, in the analog film days, you bought gear that could arguably last you a 30-40 year career as a professional if you were so lucky to be working that long. All the pro photographers I know bought gear: cameras, lenses, studio strobes, stands, etc that were built to last. When you get down to it the gear essentially did the same thing, year after year. With digital that all has changed (many things for the better). But it has come at an expensive cost, and I don't just mean money-wise.
There was an interesting exchange on my Aperture Users Group about the topic of this planned obsolescence in the tech/photo world. On the topic of the computers we use as our digital darkrooms, one member opined: "the other reality is a computer is good 3-5 years for production. Then it goes to secondary use or is sold." I think that perspective is short sighted and plays into the hands of those who want to keep selling us the new shiny thing. I believe there can be a longer productive life to the things we own and the gear we use. My answer to that statement on computers was to point to this post I did about using only Aperture to create a filmic portrait.
I also mentioned I'm running Aperture (five years after it was discontinued) on a computer that is 10+ years old and an OS that is 3+ years old. The RAW file I edited for that image was taken five years ago on a camera & lens that I bought 6+ years ago new: a model that came out 11+ years ago (and is since discontinued). So you see, who really says what the life of gear is if you make it work for you?
But I get it, I hear everyone (mostly) saying they like/want the shiny new thing with the promise of doing things "better", "faster" more "efficiently!" I'm not against those things, but I ask myself what exactly is better? And then it comes at a greater cost (and one that effectively never ends). The cost financially of keeping up with the Jonses is one part, the other is the cost in anxiety I see in others and have experienced on which choice, model, version, etc. to select? The legion of people who will switch their perfectly fine camera & lenses to another manufacturer because an industry influencer did so. Even upgrading within a brand to the latest camera because of the bells & whistles your camera is lacking. Do you really need those bells & whistles? Will the images you create be SO much better? What if you mastered what you have, I mean really mastered your tools and gear?
The very fun (and funny) Cheap Camera Challenge with photographer Lara Jade illustrates the point in its most absurd sense. Master what you have until it no longer serves you. Sadly with our digital photo life we have software that renders hardware obsolete, hardware that renders software no longer viable, camera models with image files that render software no longer usable unless you upgrade. And upgrading the software may mean you also have to upgrade your hardware... and it's all a never ending cycle. All this not to mention the mountains of digital refuse that clogs our landfills!
I'm approaching this whole photography gear thing, in all of its elements, with my own paradigm of maximizing the usefulness of what I have, free from any fear of missing out on shiny new things. And when it is time to replace an item of gear, I know I will have gotten the most usefulness from it!