7.30.2015

Using it up. Getting your money's worth out of your gear.



If you are like me then there are some products in your inventory that you buy once and use almost forever. You use and abuse light stands right up until the moment they succumb to metal fatigue and collapse in final exhaustion. Who goes out impulse shopping for sandbags? And background stands? I'm still working on the set I bought nearly 30 years ago. Yeah, they're a little bent but they still work.

I keep some stuff around forever, like Super Clamps and "A" clamps, and the arm that holds up my collapsible reflectors, and my twelve year old Canon ink jet printer. All the stuff that just works and does basically the same job it's always done just seems to stick around and keep helping me make new photographs.

I looked at my set today in Johnson City and started tallying the ages of the gear I was using. With the exception of my D810 and the 24-120mm f4 I had on the front of the camera everything else was at least five years old. The panels and flags and scrims? Closer to ten years old. The light stands? It's not polite to ask when stuff gets that old....

But here's the thing that I've been thinking about lately. Since I have to spend so much money to get a state-of-the-art camera body every year to eighteen months I tend to baby the best stuff I have for nearly all of its time with me. Let me explain: I buy a Nikon D810 because I research it and convince myself that it's a spectacular performer. But after dropping $3200 on the body I think to myself that I should "save it" for the big, paying jobs. Wouldn't I feel depressed if
I took it out to a birthday party or out shooting on a personal "art" project and broke it? Then I wouldn't have the use of this "necessary" tool when the next big job comes around. I leave it in the cabinet until a job that's big enough to justify the risk that something might happen to it comes along. Then I baby it in transit. It rides in a nice rolling case. It's carefully placed on a tripod and when I've finished using it for the day it's right back into the case.

At times I am so fearful that I'll lose the opportunity to use the "ultimate" camera that I substitute other cameras for my own work even though I know the images could potentially be better with the more expensive camera.

A case in point;  I got the first D610 camera as a back up to the D810. But I started subbing the D610 for 70-80% of the stuff I shoot to "preserve" the life of the D810 for the day when the big job rolls around. Then I bought a second D610 to back up the first one. When I head out for a walk it's almost always a D610 that tags along. When I head out in the rain...D610. Just about any time except when shooting for big money it's the D610. And that makes me think that I'm wasting a depreciating resource. What is my strategy? To baby this camera until it's superseded by the next "ultimate" camera, all the while settling for less than the best performance?

I pulled the D810 out today for a walk around the lake. I decided to think of it as a carton of milk (admittedly, expensive milk) with an expiration date. My new goal is to use the camera for every conceivable situation until I've used it up. A commensurate goal is to end up "needing" to buy the next camera because I've worn this one down to a nubbin. You know, parts held on with gaff tape, scuffs, brassing (if there is any brass under there) and general wear and tear. I want to squeeze all the potential out of this camera with every shot I make.

So, you think I'm a bit off and you are more logical? How's your best camera doing? Is it your "go to" machine? You don't think twice about taking it everywhere?  Hmm. Maybe you're better adjusted than I am. But the first step is awareness...

Resolved. No more conservation of camera resources. I want to use them up. I want to feel like I squeezed all the best frames out of the D810 before I give it up for the next generation.







24 comments:

Eliot Graeme said...

i use everything
i only recently bothered to get a bag.. it had always just been a small finger loop made of a cut from some paracord.
my gear has to be able to put up with my velveteen rabbit approach to my things:

"It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

when i use something.. if its in like new condition a year later... i didnt love it enuf to bother ever owning it in the first place. my kindle, my ipad, my laptop, my imac,... hell, even my dog only has 1 eye.. tho that wasnt because of ME ;)

Kepano said...

The D3s may be my terminal DSLR purchase. I rented a D810 for a recent gig, and was really quite happy to return it to the rental shop, keeping more money in my checking account. The images produced by the D810 are wonderful, but I'm happy with our 12mp cameras most of the time.

neopavlik said...

I've done the same thing for the last 2 years for walk around stuff.
Usually its to save weight and file size and get every ounce of $ use out of the lowest cost camera (I kept cost to shutter click ratios and my D40 was awesome and my D70S has to be getting close to that).

I'm starting to reverse the trend because the widest my D70S/D3200 see right now is ~"42mm" and I'm using the D600 instead of spending the $ 50-100 to get an 18-55 for the DX.

Gary said...

I love the way you discuss, forthrightly, the psychology of gear--or rather, your personal relationship to gear. I'm sure most of us play out these varying scenarios in our minds, even if we don't have the business considerations that professionals do. I recently purchased another Nikon FE2 even though I already have an FE2--and an FM2 and an FM3A. Well, the new one is black, so different. But mainly because I love the simplicity and precision and compactness and "rightness" of these cameras. I do use them, although not most of the time. I'll never shoot enough film to "use up" all these cameras. I take really good care of them, too, never feeling the need to make them age in order to justify their supernumerarity (if that's a word).

I'll be next in line for the shrink, after you.

jason gold said...

I lost some Leica lenses on an attack on my car..
I stopped carrying my Leica M3 everywhere..
A photojournalist friend said "Pity they didn't get that too..!!"
I realized he was right. The M3 came out of hiding and once more into the breech.
If you have "stuff" use it, learn it, ENJOY it.

Max Rottersman said...

This post surprised me. You don't seem like one of those camera-fetish guys ;) Is the moral of the story, don't buy a camera that is so expensive you'll be afraid to use it? Fear has no place in art! (Easy for me to say, I haven't spent three thousand on a camera body!)

A few events have cured me of worrying about cameras. I have a Panasonic GM1. It was a camera I bought to try and sell. A month after I bought it I dropped it 2 feet and the mechanical shutter stopped working. I sent it to Panasonic. No luck. So I figured I might as well keep it. In the past year I've gotten some great shots, because of its silent shutter, that I'm glad I dropped it and wasn't able to sell it.

My A7. I lent it out to a young man I mentor, so to speak. He used the hell out of it. Lost the eyepiece, etc. I gave him the old man lecture of protecting another guy's equipment but just felt ashamed at the end. With the camera he has grown by leaps and bounds as a photographer. I'm proud of that. The camera works fine. He used the camera for what it's made for. I still use it and now never think about selling it for an upgrade.

Indeed, the more banged up (less re-sale value) the camera has, the freer and better I am as a photographer.

As Gary said, thanks for talking about this stuff honestly. Interesting stuff.

Mike Rosiak said...

Well, a hobbyist will have different needs, of course. My LX7, in the butchered Leica belt case which had fit my old LX5 like a glove, is my take-everywhere camera. Almost shelfware is the GX7, except when I want to play with adapted lenses, or for vacation travel. True shelfware is my GH2. Enough time between uses that the battery goes dead. The rankings correspond to the convenience factor.

That said, I well understand the "too good to use" feeling. Grew up with that. I wonder if it's a carry-over from parents who experienced the Great Depression? Either that, or we are just not yet accustomed to the amazing wealth that we enjoy in this era, in this country?

Gato said...

I'm that way about clothes - a favorite shirt will grow old hanging in the closet because I keep saving it for special days. My favorite Lucchese boots are 20 years old and probably have not walked 2 miles.

My D800 is a little bit different. I do tend to "save" it. Partly I don't want the financial risk of it riding around in the car, and I want to preserve resale value - Sony is looking more and more attractive. But mostly it becomes a matter of whether I want to carry the extra weight and bulk. The beast makes great photos, but now that the novelty has worn off I find myself using it less and less, in favor of the smaller m43 kit.

So is the money tied up in the D800 wasted? I'm beginning to think about that. Maybe I need to either "use it or lose it." I could get back about what I paid for it, enough for a nice pair of boots.

Unknown said...

"Using up" a camera is also a smart business decision for any working pro. A pro buys equipment not just to enjoy it, but in the hope that it will help increase productivity and profitability. You don't get much productivity and profit out of something you don't use. Even the IRS assumes you will use it up and wear it out: They allow pros to depreciate capital equipment. The reality, however, is that if you know how to use it -- and you do -- the really good stuff will keep cranking out amazing images even when it's considered "worthless" to people impressed only by cosmetics.

Anonymous said...

KT

Darn, I'm the same way about cars. So years ago I bought a wonderful, dream (to me) car. No not some 100K or more supercar but it was well into 5 figures. Problem was, as much as I loved driving it, I was always somewhat afraid of what might happen to it with all the other careless drivers on the road. So as it happened- it was a weekend car and spent most of its time in the garage. Darn. It dawned on me one day I was simply saving it in nearly new condition for the next owner. Who probably would not "love" it as I did. Its just a car, use it, enjoy it, it can be repaired if need be. Nope. Could not enjoy it. I finally sold it.

I have never spent that kind of money on a car again. I can't enjoy them always worrying about what might happen to it. Darn. So, use it, use it up. Cars, cameras, its just stuff.

Jb

Wayne said...

Maybe it's time to sell the 610's and buy another 810. Less choices that way, just saying... Sure was easier when we were shooting film.

Wayne

Anonymous said...

I take as good a care of my cameras, computers, cars, clothes, etc. as I can -- I don't intentionally abuse my gear -- but my first priority is using things as intended. You can't take it with you when you die and you'll never get back all the money you sank into it (even if you get some of it back when selling it, there is the opportunity cost of what else you could've done with that money while it was tied up in something gathering dust on a shelf, in a closet or in a garage). So - unless you're a collector (or even if you are) - what's the point of buying 'things' if you don't use them? Life is short, and getting shorter as the years pass, so I am trying (not always successfully!) to buy fewer 'things' and getting the most out of each in the pursuit of nonmaterial things/experiences. Damn, didn't mean to sound all hippy dippy there...
Ken

Anonymous said...

I think people don't "use up" Nikon D810s so much as they get restless and move onto other things. Next year, everything will be last year's model.

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Entertaining, as always, but if the 810 becomes your standard carry everywhere camera then how can you get your moneys worth out of your 610's and EM-5 II's? I never worry much about which camera I take. I buy what I can afford and have it insured if it's pricey.

Mark Levison said...

Well I'm just a hobbyist not a pro, but my Nikon D300 is still alive and kicking. Sometime in the next I will start testing replacements.

Cpt Kent said...

Sounds fair. And Wayne has a point. Sell the 610's because now you need a 810 backup...

Carlo Santin said...

I'm not so gentle with my gear and I should take more care with it. Most of my stuff I buy used and it's not really worth a lot so if it gets ruined or stolen I'm not going to be too upset, but the few nice pieces I do have don't fare any better than the cheap stuff. I don't worry about it too much but I'm just a hobbyist so I don't have my mortgage riding on my camera gear. I would probably act differently if I did.

Sanjay said...

Agreed! I have the same exact problem though. Don't want to take the expensive camera (or pen or _____) out. I like this change in attitude and will try to implement

Roger Alison said...

Good post.
I sold my Leica M2 and lens because it was too precious to use.

I've worn out a Tamron 90mm macro lens (long ago, manual focus film days). Used it until it started to fall apart.

More recently, I've worn out a Canon 135/2.0L lens. Had to replace the autofocus motors. Not bad going for an amateur user. Sold it and bought the same again. Figured it had been good value.

Have to run a shiny executive car for work. Hate the fact that I will have to fix any scratch. Mmuch happier when I'm driving my 30 year old Land Rover and don't have to worry.

bpr said...

My philosophy with a digital camera is that once I leaves the shop you bought it in or the courier drops tha Amazon box off the residual value becomes ZERO. I just use it, if something happens? That's what insurance and repair shops are for!!!

On the other hand my vintage gear (stuff like my Contax 85/1.4 & 35PC) I look after because what's the use of new for old on vintage gear you chose for its "look?"

Steve Mack said...

...which means that I can cheerfully use my Nikon D7000 without worrying about marring the collector value of it. What a minute! It doesn't HAVE any collector value...

With best regards,

Stephen

Tim Auger said...

I do that with lenses rather than camera bodies. Then several years on, as things have improved, I find that the old lens wasn't that great anyway and I needn't have worried. C'est la vie.

Charles David Gryder said...

Very interesting, as always. Try this: go to nikonshuttercount.com, and shoot a jpeg with your D810 - it will tell you how many shutter actuations you have on your camera. The D800-series shutters are rated for 150K shots, but in the large camera rental house I work in, we routinely see these cameras far exceeding that count. Digital cameras are not dragging film through them as our cameras used to, and their mechanisms seem to last much longer than even the best cameras of old. You may not be wearing that D810 out as quickly as you think!

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that many think digital cameras last longer than ancient film cameras. This 85 year old has film cameras that still function though they are fifty years old. Friends who have digital seem to regard five years old as a good age for digital cameras. Particularly those who change lenses a lot as they seem to suffer from dust problems as their cameras age.
I wonder how many correspondents find they have to clean sensors every time they go shooting. Keep up the good work in your Visual Science blog, sooner read it than watch TV. It makes my weekend.

Alan in England.