Cameras and Gear Blah Blah Blah
There’s been a lot of talk recently regarding the decline of the photography industry as a whole. I thought I’d chime in on a topic I feel is relevant to the issue. That is, the incessant coverage of cameras and photo related gear that has exploded in the past decade. I’m not going to cover the entire history of this problem, but speak on why I think it’s contributed to the decline of the industry and where do artists go from here.
Before I get into the details, let me start by saying I love photography. I love the art form immensely. Way back when I first got my start, I enjoyed picking up magazines and reading about various artists in the field(past and present) and dreaming of having a similar career. It was exciting when I first started, and still excites me to this day. In the beginning, I knew very little about taking great pictures. I could identify one, but not create one of my own. All the technical jargon was foreign to me and it took a while to come to grips with concepts like the exposure triangle, the inverse square law, and various other photographic principles crucial for creating successful photographs.
With my lack of experience, I had to try lots of equipment. I tried different cameras, lenses, lights, modifiers, and anything I felt would help me create the type of images I wanted to make. It made complete sense to be a bit gear obsessed at the time as I’d never used any of it firsthand. I could pick up a magazine and see a professional use a certain light modifier but I wouldn’t know if it was appropriate for me until I tried it out. Eventually I came to a point of satisfaction with what I was using.
Fast forward many years later and as my style has evolved and I’ve shifted focus in subject matter, the tools I use have changed as well. I pretty much know what items I need to create the type of images I want, so I don’t find myself jumping at new gear releases as much as I used to. If something new does comes out, I’ll read over the news and see if it somehow offers an advantage for what I do. If it does, and I can see a return on the investment, I’ll give it a try. Sometimes this works well (e.g., my Nikon Z7) and other times it results in disappointment (e.g., the Panasonic S1R).
It’s good to try new things and add new tools to your kit. But spending too much time on this ridiculous need to have the latest and greatest does nothing but waste time and money. All which could have been spent on actually creating great photographs. Recently, I allowed myself to fall into this trap and have vowed never to be tempted by shiny new objects again. I’m focused on my work and I think that’s where many of us need to be in order to actually enjoy the art form. Be a photographer (artist) first, not a gearhead.
THE SKY IS FALLING
Several months ago, Canon did an interview detailing their view of the declining photography market. Basically in the years to come they project a steep decline of the market for digital cameras. I read comments across the web with interest. Some were defiant, some acquiescent. My reaction was more “meh” than anything. Sure, Canon and other camera companies are going to adjust their projections as the market is in fact shrinking. Cell phone cameras are great for most people but that’s not the single crux of the issue.
Another reason I can blame for camera sales declining year over year is: current camera tech is excellent.
Most of the cameras created in the past 5-7 years are amazing. The Nikon D800 is still an awesome camera today. The 5D Mark III, still great today. Fuji X-T2 still great today. Sony A7RII, still great today. And there are dozens more I could mention. If you’ve purchased one of these, odds are you’re more than content with what you have in terms of a camera. You may want video features or some new lenses, but even once you’ve acquired those, you reach a point of diminishing returns. A plateau so to speak. The updates now seem more incremental than game changing.
“I have all this amazing gear! Now what?” probably goes through one’s head. For professionals, they keep creating photographs for their clients or own creative pursuits. For the hobbyists, the cameras are so good, they probably just use them until they fail.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify a new camera purchase that offers minimal improvement. Oh, it has image stablization! But do you really need it? It shoots 12 frames per second! But do you ever shoot that fast? Oh, it’s weather sealed! How often are you in bad weather conditions?
Fuji just announced their new GFX100 Medium Format camera. This thing is drool-worthy. 100 megapixels, IBIS, 4K with no recording limit, Phase Detect AF across the entire sensor, weather sealing, and more. It’s a marvel of a camera, but I simply can’t justify the cost of it as of yet. It’s $10,000 for the camera plus another $2000-4000 in lenses and other misc accessories. You’ll easily be out of $15,000 investing in such a camera so that puts it out of reach for many people. And like the cellphone is enough for your average consumer, full-frame mirrorless/DSLR cameras are more than enough for most photographers. Professional or otherwise.
Camera companies can no longer expect people to turn out in droves for the latest releases like they used to. Look at recent iPhone releases over the past several years to see how a once phenomenon can dwindle over time. Unless the change is revolutionary, most people are more than provided for with their current tech.
Second reason I blame is: camera company’s thinking the gravy train will last forever.
I recall around 2013/14 Sony was releasing new cameras every 6-8 months. And people were buying them! Over time they’ve dialed that back quite a bit because the reality is people don’t need a new camera every 6 months. I will add that Sony’s market position was a bit unique at the time with them trying to penetrate a camera market ruled primarily by Canon and Nikon. This paid dividends with them taking the top spot in the mirrorless, full-frame market. However, fast forward to today, and they’re seeing declines as well. They no longer release cameras as frequently either.
The gravy train doesn’t run forever. So projections will need to be adjusted in order for shareholders to stay grounded in their expectations and companies not scoff at positive, but reduced profits.
ALL GEAR ALL THE TIME AND THE PROBLEM WITH THIS
Switching over to the photography industry media and you’ll see most of the content provided is gear related. Most magazines, videos or blog posts is related to gear. Magazine are comprised of mostly ads for camera related gear with the odd interview here and there sprinkled in. The YouTube photography community has exploded and in many ways uprooted blogs and magazines from the go to places for photography industry news.
However, the majority of YouTube content seems to be similar to the following:
“What lens is best for this...”
“Testing the Sigma 85 with a hot model...”
“My top three lenses for portraits...”
“Canon or Sony?”
“Sigma Art or Nikon/Canon/Sony…”
“Why you should buy <insert camera>...”
“This camera sucks and why...”
On and on and on. So much of the content is regurgitated and similar to other videos (from weeks ago) that is gets old fast. It’s only so long you can keep an audience interested unless they’re content with being perpetual hobbyists.
For a working professional, they’re probably busy, I don’t know, taking pictures, trying to book more clients, and have an actual career.
You can be a YouTuber/Vlogger/Blogger if you’d like. There are entire careers in that. But some people have gotten into the art form to make money off actually taking pictures. Which I understand all to well, is very hard to do. YouTubing and Blogging to get clicks through affiliate links are just an addition to their business efforts, not the business itself. Unless that’s all you wish it to be. Otherwise, you’ll probably spend more of your time creating pictures and trying to do better work.
Looking at the YouTube crowd, it’s obvious many of them are JUST YouTubers. All they know is gear but looking at their portfolios, it’s apparent they haven’t put the time in to hone their craft. Sometime I see videos of them with a “model” and they are the most awkward, uncomfortable people I’ve ever seen working with a subject. Gear reviewer, yes. Working pro, no.
The problem with all this gear talk is that it continues to perpetuate this notion that in order to create great photographs, you need the latest and greatest equipment. You don’t. It’s nice to have a new lens, camera, etc. But, unless you have unlimited funds, you’ll often have to make do with what you have.
I recall only having one light, one camera, and one lens. I shot my very first wedding with a Canon 5D (which I bought used) and a 50mm 1.8 (which cost $150). It was all I could afford on my college student budget at the time. There I was photographing this couple’s wedding and they had no idea the stress I was feeling. Not just to take pictures of their event, but if something went wrong with my camera or lens, I was screwed. Luckily, I managed to get through it, but that sort of situation is the norm for many beginners.
Now I have access to much more stuff, but still get presented with situations where I have to make do with little. I can’t haul an entire truck of gear on a job. That’s ridiculous. And failures happen. You have to be prepared to use that crappy little kit lens to get the job done.
Less of the discussion should focus on gear and more on technique, business, and challenges of the profession. I think that would be far more useful overall and give potential artists a more level-headed view of the profession as a whole.
Photography is by it’s nature a very tech-centric art form, but that doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to the tech.
Some of the worst types that perpetuate this gear lust reside on YouTube. The Northrups, Jared Polin, Matt Granger, Three Blind Men and an Elephant, Georges Camera TV, Gordon Laing, Kai Wong, Richard Wong, The Angry Photographer, etc.
I could write an entire blog post on all the channels out there. These are just off the top of my head. Most of these channels use clickbait tactics and sensationalism to garner interest. And some are downright obnoxious. Just look at this thumbnail for Georges CamerasTV Panasonic S1 and S1R “review”.
In the Georges CameraTV review video, the kid is wearing a FujiFilm shirt the entire time. *facepalm* They just don’t care. Just click the affiliate links and give us money!
I used to really like The Angry Photographer (and the Northrups). His Nikon lens recommendations are still gold. But so much of his recent content is just drivel. He’s dismissing of other opinions because he owns every lens. Who cares that you own them? Let’s see what you can do with them. And get to the freakin’ point instead of waffling for minutes about something totally unrelated. The amount of ego and dismissiveness in his recent videos is off-putting to say the least.
“This lens has amazing microcontrast.”
Okay. Show me!
Doesn’t show me, but continues to talk about unrelated stuff and owning lots of gear.
If you like these channels, I’m happy for you. But don’t try to convince me they care about the art of photography more than making money through sponsorships and affiliate marketing. You can also tell where their intentions are when they have a terrible product and do mental gymnastics to say something favorable about it. DPReview comes to mind.
The Angry Photographer is the exception though since he doesn’t plug links or have sponsors. He does ask for donations which is okay. Kudos to him for at least having integrity.
All is not lost though. There are some good eggs on YouTube and the Blogosphere. I personally like:
Darren Miles (Reviews) - great presenter, good photographer, genuine guy. “Sunny Southwest Florida.”
Dustin Abbott (Reviews) - seems like a genuine guy who wants to provide useful information. Good Guy Dustin I call him.
Tech360.TV (Reviews) - they’re the best review channel out there at the moment in my opinion. The presenter, Bobby Tonelli, is awesome. Just look at this S1R review. The passion, delivery, and content is top notch. Also check out his Fuji GFX 50R review. Level headed and fair assessments across the board.
Mattius Burling (Reviews) - Great images and great delivery style.
Phillip McCordall (Lessons) - Veteran photographer teaching brilliant tips for creating great photographs.
MicroFourNerds (Reviews & Lessons) - Great channel with informative reviews, excellent tips, and Emily is a hilarious presenter.
The Monochrome Memoirs (Lessons) - A relatively new channel I stumbled upon, but love the no-nonsense approach and less focus on gear.
Kirk Tuck aka Visual Science Lab (Blog) - Love his content and it’s refreshing to read a perspective about the industry and craft from an older accomplished artist.
So where do we go from here?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m making a commitment to not post about camera gear ad nauseam. Occasionally I will mention gear but more in the context of creating photographs that are work/portfolio related. No charts or graphs regarding sharpness or photos taken in a lab to highlight resolving power of a lens.
I’ll be discussing how I make certain images, what’s inspiring me, projects I have in the pipeline, and anything else of interest. I’m trying to “Be the change you want to see” and all that.
Hope you’ll join me. Perhaps this can usher in a new era of photography discussion on the internet. More on the craft and less about the gear.
That’s probably just wishful thinking.
I hope you enjoyed this post! If so, give it a like or even leave a comment!