Irrational purchases versus marketing strength.

(postcard mailer)


(new camera of the moment)

Or this....

A piazza in Rome.
Street shooting in Rome.

I love cameras as much as the next guy. Maybe even more. But, at some point the mania of researching, buying, testing, trading and selling off cameras, and then wading through the next generation of offerings seems...over the top.  This isn't really me talking, it's my book on Commercial Photography.  I re-read it last night after having coffee with a pragmatic gentleman yesterday who mentioned the book.  

I get that it took a number of years and a number of tries for camera makers to get digital cameras back to the same level of working transparency that they'd achieved decades ago in film cameras.  Up until the time of the Canon 5D2 and the Nikon D3 we could easily rationalize that we "needed" to upgrade our camera to take advantage of the curve that was still grasping for true "holistic" usability in our professional tools.  But boy did we sacrifice some hard earned money, time and mental rigor.

Around 2009 all of the pieces were firmly in place.  Any of the top cameras on the market that year are totally satisfactory for the function of creating great images and mastering the needs of the mainstream commercial marketplace.  My Olympus EP2 was a perfect camera for the leisurely hobby of shooting fun stuff while on a walk or road trip.  And it still is.

My Canon 5Dmk2 is a perfected working tool for what I need to do to keep my clients happy.  In fact, the 1DS mk2 from 2004 was just about there as well.  When you think about it, just about every camera with delusions of professional competency made since 2008 or 2009 is probably better, overall, than us operators.  And in point of hard fact most professional assignments are usually done either on a stout tripod (at a reasonably low ISO) or in complicity with electronic flash or other supplemental lighting (also at a reasonably low ISO) and can be handled with a wide range of cameras and lenses.  Including (when stopped down) most recent zoom lenses.

What's fueling the race to make every camera full frame?  What's the cattle prod that keeps the herd begging for higher and higher pixel counts?  And what's the new fascination with the new "rangefinder" styled cameras.....that are anything but?  Desire and marketing?

It's fun to buy new cameras but even I have limits.  I was drooling over the Fuji X pro camera shown on Michael Johnston's blog and all over the web when my inner business guy (deeply repressed during most camera buying escapades) emerged, beating me about the head and shoulders with a rolled up copy of my own business book.  

He had a couple of questions.  But first he looked around the studio and started counting cameras and lenses and lights and gadgets.  He was still counting an hour later when I came back from lunch.... and then he turned on me like a spreadsheet badger and demanded to know what the hell I was thinking.

"I see enough cameras to re-brick a wall." He shouted. "But I don't see any new promotional mailers.  I don't see a revised contact list.  I don't see any work being done on adding to the e-mail lists.  Where the hell is the new portfolio of people we've been talking about, ad nauseum?  And why am I stepping over three or four different camera systems here?  Are you fucking nuts?  Or did you just win the lottery?"

(My inner business guy can really get in my face...)

But he had a point.  And I could see it pretty clearly.  And so can my bank account.  

"Hey, Photo-Punk."  My inner business guy taunted.  "Let me give you a quick lesson on asset allocation."  I slunk down in my chair and got ready for the lecture I knew I deserved...

He began:  "I see you have the Canon 1DX on order already.  Pretty sweet.  But dude (he calls me that when he's really pissed...) we're talking seven large  ($7,000) for that one camera body.  And how often, when making one of your executive photos or your product shots of electronic toys do you actually need like, 10 frames per second?  Or more throughput? (said with a vicious sneer...)  What you really need are more new clients and more return visits from old clients and, guess what?  They like the gear  you're shooting with right now just fine."

I reached for my cup of coffee and he slapped my hand with a ruler, hard.  Then he looked at the Starbucks label and just shook his head.  "We'll deal with that money leak in another conversation..."

Back to business:  "For the same $7,000 you could finance a coherent, effective direct mail campaign to every art buyer and worthwhile art director in Texas.  One thousand postcards, printed, would run you around $200.  One thousand stamps for said will run you another $430.  A little more elbow grease and a little less time haunting the Photo Equipment Porno sites and you'd have your mailing list in good shape.  Throw some cash at a good graphic designer and for less than $1,000 you can reach a pretty well defined list of potential, check writing clients.  And you could do that seven times in one year for the price of that one camera body!!!!!"   He was screaming and foaming at the mouth by this point...

"If you get a handful of new clients from just that advertising it would return a zillion times more cash to your pocket than a camera that you'll be convinced is obsolete by the time the next big photo trade show rolls around."  (Then he muttered something unflattering under his breath.  Very much a hard nosed business guy....not a marketing guy.  A marketing guy can insult you and smile at the same time.)

I decided to stand up for my inner artist.  I said that I needed the tools that would make my inner artist happy.  That was the argument I trotted out.  Bad move.

"Your inner-f-ing artist????  You gotta be kidding me.  That guy was happy shooting on the streets with an old Hasselblad, a used lens and a pocket full of slow film.  I haven't seen anything from these profit vampire digital cameras that looks any better.  And do you know why?  Because you keep spending all your money on toys.  Back when a camera would last you longer than indigestion you could put money aside for travel and adventure.  Remember travel and adventure?  A hell of a lot more fun to do, and write about, than the buttons on the lastest f-ing point and shoot cameras.  Wouldn't you agree?"

I looked back down at my shoes and tried to remember the last time I got on an airplane and left town to shoot art for myself.....

"Let's take that same $7,000 and see what you could do if you were smart enough to use if for a trip.  Shall we?"  

"Hey look!   Here on Expedia.  You could get a round trip ticket and ten nights at a decent hotel in Tokyo for less than $2,800 bucks.  But wait, don't you have a friend with an extra room in Paris?  And a couple million frequent flier miles?  So all you'd have to pay for is.....film?  No, not even that?  Just food?  And you're standing around your office, getting older and slower and looking at dinky ass digital cameras?  Just grab one out of the drawer, throw a couple of lenses in a bag and get your sad butt in gear.  What the hell are you waiting for?  Or take the $7,000 and go to Rome for a month.  Maybe you could even write a book about it.  Where's your old penchant for blue sky?  Have you turned into a photo pussy?"

He was right.  Where was my inner business guy as we got all wrapped up in the digital marketplace?  Now that we've got cameras that are more or less as transparent as the film cameras they replaced what was my excuse to buy more?  Was it the habit we got into as we feverishly tried to master early digital?  Or was it just resistance and the thinly disguised belief that we "techie" photographers have that the newest camera is like a magic talisman that will give us power over our competitors?  According to my inner business guy the only real magic is the work you do on your marketing to clients.

Everything else is just addiction to the "new car smell."

1DX order cancelled. Passport renewed.  Cards in process. How's that for a kick in the ass for the New Year?


Alf said...

Coffee in Rome. Mmm.

GNAT said...

My news years resolution was to stop wasting time & money unless it is getting me to a specific end goal. Doing photo bike tour in Japan in May. Can't wait

shooter said...

Kirk every time I read your latest post I always come away with a smile.

Whilst you are an accomplished photographer I really do think you are an outstanding writer, your style is eminently readable, funny and always on the money.

Hell you have even made me take stock and decide to kick my gear addiction. Like you the Fuji X1 pro is calling to me like a line of coke to an investment banker. Whether I manage to get a grip and not purchase said precious is another thing though.

I recently acquired the EP3 complete with 12mm 20mm pan and 45mm lenses, this was down to mainly you and your reviews of said kit. I have to say i don't regret the acquisition at all I love it, trouble is I'm thinking the pany 25mm and that great bokeh.

Since then it's with me whenever I venture out, the Pentax K5 and assorted glass is sneering at me like a lover who finds out you've been cheating on her.

2012 is the year to change all that and end the year with one system only, I appreciate that compared to your cornucopia of camera bling I am an on the bottom rung of a twelve story ladder.

Look forward to your review of the X1 pro !

Josef said...

that is truly brilliant! well done!

bmillios said...

Ow. My butt hurts from your business guy's boot.

Raianerastha said...

Kirk, I always like how you "come to your senses" about gear and use a set of standards that never fail.

Will the purchase help your business?

Will the purchase help your passion for photography (rather than for gear)?

In developing my own photography as a business, I'm finding my budget is indeed better spent on promoting the business than on new gear. People are asking for my work based on my current gear, so why be in a hurry to upgrade, except as needed to handle client demands?

Anonymous said...

But...the X-Pro1...I want it :-(

James Weekes said...

I like the trade-off. Time in Rome instead of the newest/latest. Look at those old Kodak files and smile. I'd trade equipment for travel any day. Provence is my drug of choice. Last year I brought a Pentax K-5, a small Canon superzoom and a brand spanking new Panny GF3 with the kit lens and the 20mm. We stayed a month and I photographed every day. I kept a blog and, when all the dust had settled, about 75% of the pictures were with the GF3 and the 20mm.

I'll travel lighter this year.

Ken Tanaka said...

"Everything else is just addiction to the "new car smell."

Ha, you've taken the words right out of my fingers, Kirk. I had a very similarly-spirited article on my list for my monthly contribution to TOP.

I love that new car smell and have the cameras and lenses to prove it. An insane inventory, actually. But at this point I've called a moratorium on all new dslrs, declaring that my 5DII, 1DsII, and Phase One 645DF are all I could ever possibly need for any task.

Still, I do manage to make rational calls when push comes to need. I recently spent two weeks in Japan on a non-tourist mission with not a single slr. Only my trusty Canon S90 and Sony NEX-5N. I wanted for nothing and did not miss my heavy artillery! So I enthusiastically second the notion that today's smaller, lighter, powerful cameras are a dream come true for candid personal work...and, yes, even for some pro work!

Pavel Derka said...

Blah. Canon cancelled and Fuji on order, would be, I think, the order for the day.

The fact that I have a Fuji on order has nothing to do with you understand. Nothing!