Cabin Fever, better than GAS

I’ve been stuck in the house all week because of the extreme heat.  The time for introspection has helped me graduate from the first and worst round of newbie photographer GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

GAS is to the photographic hobby as larval stage is to programming.  It’s not pleasant but generally considered necessary to produce decent amateur photographers.  It’s that stage where, having had some experience with low end gear, you start to see how much better you could be with high end gear and assume that’s the natural progression.  Or you start to feel that your low end gear is holding you back.  Getting over this takes time because you won’t listen to the wise old timers.  After all, they use high-end gear themselves!

But it’s important to know a few things:  your gear is not holding you back unless it’s actually broken.  To illustrate this, put a new amateur behind a Canon EOS 1D X with an L-series lens and an old, experienced amateur behind a $90 Nikon Coolpix point-n-shoot.  Which do you think will produce the better picture?  Experience and skill will always trump expensive gear.

So why does expensive gear even exist if everyone takes good pictures with cheap stuff?  Here are a few places where expensive gear makes a difference:

  • Portability – expensive gear is smaller and weighs less than cheap gear
  • Durability – expensive gear will still produce excellent quality reliably even when put through abuse
  • Speed – when you absolutely need to get the shot no matter what (e.g. for a pro)
  • Image Quality – this one is tricky.  We’re talking about making it possible to use the shot as a full-page glossy advertisement or an illustration in a textbook.  Not for putting in the family album or sharing via facebook.  Unless you’re going to be shooting for an archive, magazine, ad agency, etc., you probably don’t need the extra boost in quality that high-end gear can give.

A big factor is attitude toward one’s gear.  If you think of your camera and lenses as paintbrushes and an easel, then you’re starting to get the right idea.  You don’t take up golf to buy expensive clubs, nor do expensive clubs turn beginners into pros.  Same goes for photography.  Now you should take care of your stuff.  Broken gear does no one any good.  But you also shouldn’t treat your camera and lenses as sacred.  If you scratch the almond white finish on your pricey L series lens and cry “OMG!  A Scratch!” it better be because it’s a rental and you’re going to lose your cosmetic damage deposit.  On the other hand if you cry “Hell Yeah!  I got the shot!” you’re doing it right.  The point is that your gear lets you take pictures.  If you only take pictures to play with your gear, you have your priorities backward.  That’s not to say it shouldn’t be fun but the thrill should come from seeing that you’ve captured the shot that you intended to.  The one you visualized, perfectly, clearly, in focus, with the right lighting and depth of field.  That’s the joy of photography.

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