How to make your brain a bit more efficient. Sell off all the cameras and lenses you don't need or use.

From a production at Zach Theatre. ©2016 Kirk Tuck.

If nothing else I have spent the last few years unintentionally proving to myself and everyone around me that the actual camera I take out and use on a job hardly matters at all.  I often come to realize this when I head over to Zach Theatre to shoot dress rehearsals. In the last year and a half I have dragged over bags full of Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic cameras; in formats ranging from one inch sensor models to full framers, and lenses as current as last week, and as old at the 1960's. But the differences between the images are less effected by the size of the sensor than by the distance to the stage, or my sense of timing and composition on any given day.

When I look at the image above I always presume it's one I made using the Nikon D750 but when I look at the exif information I find that it was done with a Panasonic GH4. I recently did some additional available light portraits for a corporate client. I thought I'd done the first round with a full frame camera and a relatively fast lens, stopped down to f4.0 so I could make sure the subjects' ears would be in focus. I presumed I was using the same combination I did the time before because the color and the out of focus rendering looked like a good match. But when I went back to Lightroom to post process the new batch I took at look at one of the earlier batches and realized that those images had been done with an Olympus EM5.2 and the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 shot at f2.0. 

While many of my readers are logical engineers who thrive on the idea of finding the "best practices" of a task, and doing it over and over again, always with the same equipment, I am not wired the same way. I get easily bored with repetition; at least where the technical part of a process is involved. I like to mess things up a bit and see if I can still pull out the images I want. 

I recently followed one assignment at Zach Theatre, where I shot with two full frame cameras, with a second, similar assignment where I shot with nothing but a Sony RX10ii camera. In the Theatre's final use, even across big, transluminated graphics, the images were more of less identically capable.

I have switched between formats on many assignments and have come to understand that, if the "seeing" is consistent, and the "style" of shooting is consistent, then, except under specialized conditions, the choice of camera is really incidental. 

One thing that does bother me when I switch between cameras is the operational differences between cameras. I dislike having to keep an assortment of radically different camera menus in mind almost as much as I dislike having to remember, across camera lines, which functions I have assigned to what custom function buttons --- and why. 

I bristle at having to stock different batteries across the brands (and across models) and I chaff at having to learn the rhythm of the batteries' inevitable declines, from model to model.

I have talked about simplifying my camera and lens choices on this blog for years. In the past I have never seemed to be able to
let go. To actually open the drawers and dump everything into some voracious camera bags and expunge them all from my life. Cameras under my care tend to proliferate like bacteria in a ripe Petri dish. A few weeks ago I was taking stock and I found drawers with Panasonic and Olympus cameras and lenses. Another drawer with Sony RX10's and a drawer filled with full frame Nikon cameras, as well as one drawer just filled with Nikon, Sigma and Rokinon lenses.

But here's the kicker. Most of the gear is almost unused, sporadically embraced and then pushed away. And then there is the stuff I used on day-to-day assignment work. While there were exceptions I usually try now to press everything toward the tender mercies of my Sony RX10ii cameras. 

A couple of weeks ago a random camera sale and purchase caused a shift in my way of thinking. 
I'd just spent a day struggling with two systems. I'd brought my Olympus cameras to shoot a public relations job that turned into a "flash fest." A non-stop, on camera flash situation that required great flash exposures, on the fly, with the Olympus cameras. And I must say that fast moving, on camera flash work is not their strength. If it is I have not mastered it during my years with the Olympus cameras. Back into the drawer they went.

The next job was a portrait assignment and, having been recently chastened by my experiences with the Olympus cameras in a situation in which they did not excel I decided to go with the "safe" choice and press the full frame, well reviewed, much lauded Nikon D810 into service. Everything looked great on site but back at the studio everything fell apart. The files were tedious to work with. I could never quite nail the right color balance for flesh tone and the images were heavy. Almost an exaggerated shadow density that wasn't helped much by changing profiles or settings. It wasn't awful and, after some work the files looked good, but I never struggle like this with the mirrorless cameras. They just seem to be more tightly coordinated between review images on the camera's screen and the final results on screen. At the end of a long post processing session I was left with the feeling that I could have had a chunk of my life back had I been shooting with a "lesser" camera.....

Now, most of this might be attributable to a "reverse placebo" effect in which I have poor results with cameras because I have some personal sense of dis-harmony with the cameras in question. Why else would I switch them with such ferocity?

But, of course, there is always a disruption in the stasis of my camera universe. I made the "mistake" of getting interested in the Sony a6000 as an alternative platform for my use of the Olympus Pen F manual focus lenses. I bought one. It was fun. The images from it looked great. I got hooked and bought a Sony zoom lens for the camera. I got hooked some more. 

One interesting aspect of buying the a6000 was my realization that the menus between the RX10, the RX10ii and the a6000 were almost identical and, while not necessarily pretty or logical, they were very consistent.  Then the a6300 landed, with its 4K video, and I added one of those to the mix for an assignment (that got cancelled...).  Across two formats and four models there was a consistency in both set up and operation that was (and is) very comforting. I can pick up any one of four cameras and not have a moment of hesitation or confusion, and, at the same time, I really like the look of the files I get out of all four cameras. Pretty amazing. 

As I bought more Sony cameras I used them for everything that came across my assignment calendar. I enjoyed using them. My clients liked the look of the files. One client was amazed at the quality of the videos we were pulling off the RX10ii. I genuinely smiled when I realized that all the batteries were identical and could be interchanged between all the cameras. And then it dawned on me. I was well into the process of simplifying my life, I just hadn't gotten rid of the clutter yet. 

Last week I made the final step in the decluttering process; I bought a Sony A7R2, and a couple of lenses, to cover those times when I wanted to shoot full frame or ultra-high resolution, and then I packed up, traded or sold off every vestige of every other interchangeable lens camera and lens from every other system. All but a handful of lenses that I kept around because they have utility across systems. 

I kept a couple of Rokinon Cinema lenses and their Nikon-to-Sony E adapters. I couldn't quite part with the 105mm f2.5 so I kept the best copy I owned. Same with the Nikon 55mm f2.8 micro lens. 

When I packed a kit to go on an environmental portrait job yesterday the choosing of gear was easy, and quick. The A7R2 went into the weatherproof Pelican case, along with the 70-200mm and the 24-70mm. I tossed in the a6300 as a back-up camera, along with a few extra batteries. Nothing else to choose from. No tortured decision process and no second thoughts. 

So, how did the assignment turn out? Just as it would have if I'd used the Nikon only the raw files were a bit easier to edit, and a bit more together right out of the camera. Not that one system is hugely better in the final image results but in this day and age I just can't seem to get used to going back and forth between an optical viewfinder methodology and a electronic viewfinder methodology and I'm pretty certain which one works for me. 

I'm enjoying this simplification. It's nice. Three formats, all with the same handling and interface attributes. All with the same color family and rendition. 

One small detail... I still haven't decided what to do with the two Panasonic fz 1000s. They are just so nice. And so earnest. 


George Beinhorn said...

Wonderful image! Kirk, two things struck me as I read. First was the phrase "how close to the stage." Shooting with my little old Nikon V1, I've learned that the quality I can get depends (much more so than with a D750) on how close I can frame the subject. Which is very nice, because for my taste the best pics are always the ones I shoot the most close-up. Second: consistency of camera dials and menus. I've used the bedrock-simple Nikon D3300, midrange D7000, and high-end D750, and I love, love, love that they all feel pretty much the same. First time I used the D750 I felt right at home, no surprises there, hardly had to pause as I worked through the menus and controls to familiarize. Anyway, thanks for writing straight out of your practice, which makes these articles very useful and interesting to read.

Doug said...

Kirk: Simplifying is always exhilarating provided what's left does the job. If you plan on ditching the FZ1000, I might be interested. Might work great in Africa where I travel several months per year. :)

ODL Designs said...

Hey Kirk,
Quick question, are you using the uncompressed RAW or the standard compressed RAW?

Thanks and best of luck!

hugh said...

What's happened to the Hasselblad and the 150mm lens?

Jim said...

I have thought about selling off all the cameras I don't use but there are a few I just can't part with. The Wista cherry field camera for example. It is just a beautiful thing that I enjoy owning even if I never use it again. And then there is my EOS 7 that I paid big bucks for in its day and is now worth about $10. It is worth more to me than a 10 dollar bill. I have some other stuff that I will sell or donate but there are that few that I'm just attached to for one reason or another.

Kirk Tuck said...

ODL, compressed. It's fine for the uses I have for RAW.

To Hugh, Even the emotional tug of the Hasselblad did not turn me from my task...

Jim, there might still be a film leica or two in the drawer somewhere that I intentionally missed....

Doug, no decision yet made as to the disposition of the Panasonics... Will keep you advised.

Daniel Walker said...

What is the way to unload gear.

Dan Boney said...

I recently came to a very similar conclusion - had a Sony RX10 which replaced an entire Pentax DSLR system with the beloved Limited series prime lenses (okay, I kept the 15mm and 70mm "just in case" Ricoh/Pentax does a mirrorless body that I find interesting down the road...) and I just had to recently get a used Leica X-Vario as a special "feels so right" kind of treat but otherwise the RX10 along with a RX100 for "pocket cam" scenarios and a RX1RII will satisfy my FF urges in a simplification kind of way (fixed lens!), the similar menus/operation across the Sony trio is indeed the most efficient way to cover all the photographic bases... The icing on the cake for me is that all of these Sony cams can shoot square format which is a very good thing...

Ash Crill said...

Wow Kirk, this is a pretty huge step to take.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hey Ash, so what's the real downside? That a client won't like the Sony files as much as the Nikon files? I've taken much bigger risks. Ask me about running an ad agency or investing in a feature film. Lots more crazy and lots more downside. If I stub my toe on something here I can always purchase something different. I gotta tell you, it feels nice to trim it down..

Daniel Walker said...

I shoot 4 different formats also. I have tried to achieve consistency across formats but find it very difficult. For example I was on assignment in Savannah doing o photo shoot on Southern cooking. Along with the food I made a number of accent shoots of tree lined roads. I was shooting Sony a7 and a Pano fz1000. I loved the compression of the 400 lens, however when I returned my editor want some poster size images of the live oaks for promotion of the article. Unfortunately the 400mm shot lost out in favor of the full frame shots.

Kirk Tuck said...

Daniel, if you are in a hurry you can trade in most stuff at your local camera store. If you want the most $$$ return then you sell it privately. Run an ad on the "for sale" on Luminous Landscape or in Fred Miranda. How would you sell a duplicate microwave oven if you had more than one?

Kirk Tuck said...

Dan, I'm right there with you.

HBernstein said...

Ah, so the Sony circle has been closed! It took a few years.

Enjoy the wonderful tools.

Ash Crill said...

No downside that I can see, except that you may get bored going full Sony and want something different to use. The upside is everything you posted about, especially the consistency in image tone/colour that will help speed up your post-processing.

Mentally, it means you will have a clearer picture in your head of what the final image will look like before you trip the shutter.

The huge part of it is getting rid of all your other gear. Thats not easy for anyone to do even when it makes sense.

Craig said...


If you still have one of the FZ1000 cameras available, drop me an email with what you're willing to take.


Craig C.

Tom Northenscold said...

Less than four months ago you named the Olympus OM-D EM5 MkII your most fun camera purchase of the year. Now it's on the chopping block. Sure, I know, it's all about going for innovation and not having your head stuck in the sand and getting the right tool for the job. I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. The issue I have with your constant gear churn is that it perpetuates the myth that chasing gear will advance your photography. My strong suspicion is that your constant gear churn has more to do with boredom. It feels as if you're going through the motions photographically, so the only way to mix it up is to change your gear. I could be way off base and you'd be perfectly within your rights to bury this comment and chalk it up to some know-it-all Minnesotan sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong, but I suspect if you were honest with yourself you'd admit that there might be more than a grain of truth to what I have written. What if instead of changing your gear you sought to bring new life and vitality to your photography. Now that would be worth reading about as opposed to your latest gear infatuation.

Anonymous said...

Very nice Kirk...I give you a month...really. :-))

Andrew B said...

Ah, Sony now.
You are fascinating, and bewildering at the same time.
A wonderful writer, a great dissertation on photography - and life.
But I truly can't keep up.
Another strategy for the same outcome - stop buying new gear!
Have you not said a good photographer will make good images with any camera?
I recommend the Barry Schwartz TED lecture 'The Paradox of Choice'.
His tip for happiness? Lower expectations.

Nicolas Woollaston said...

Bad experience struggling with Oly flash leads you to get rid of the Nikons too? That doesn't quite make sense to me as I thought the Nikon flash capabilities are one of the areas where Nikon is clearly better than Sony ?


MO said...

Tom from where i stand i dont see how one rules out the other. its not either or for me. my argue would be: That you might be caught in your own arguement.Its all about not getting cought up in the same stuff. How u break the crikel is for me irellevant;)Giving Your self restrictions for what is the right way to get out off ur daly rutine of same old same, gets u cougt right up in that crikel. Atleast in my opinion:)

Kind regards Mads

Dave said...

To me this makes sense for you in a way it likely doesn't for hobby shooters like myself. I liked the A6000 a great deal but the lens selection and price points for Sony were problematic. The RX100 almost goes with me everywhere and the RX10 makes a great accompaniment but I do still find myself wanting a larger sensor on occasion. But I won't be revisiting Sony to do that. It may very well be a used Nikon D610 since it fires up my bargain hunter at sub $1,000 pricing.

Paul B said...

I for one have enjoyed reading about your equipment roller coaster ride. It seems you have proved to yourself what all photographers know in their gut, that it is your vision the matters. To many ameteurs like myself think that if we could just buy the latest and greatest equipment that so an so used to make those images we so admire then we could do the same. I have finally dropped the gear lust and realized that the camera is just a tool. It makes sense to simplify so the camera is not in the way.

i have settled on using Panasonic cameras for the consistent interface and because the quality meets my needs. I do not print big or shoot often where I need high ISO so these cameras are perfect. With the wonderful Leica branded zooms I am now free to focus on developing my seeing. I find myself reaching more and more for the FZ1000. What a marvelous simple tool it is.

I find it interesting that most of the arguing over formats, megapixels, low light performance, etc. that seems to consume 90% of the photo blog sites is almost never supported by any photographs.

I would love to see you focus more on how you use lighting and composition to express your vision. As you have proven to yourself and to those of us who really pay attention to your writings, the actual camera is not that important.

Scott Hone said...

Hey Tom,
I totally disagree with what you write about chasing gear will advance your photography.

From what I understand about Kirk, as a working self employed photographer is, to stay profitable is to stay current. To move with the times. To adapt and overcome. What better way to adapt than to try new systems. If something works or makes a job easier and it pays for itself for less than half a days work, then it is worth it.

I understand Kirk was once a stills photography only. Then with the sony a77's he dabbled in video. Which fulfilled the clients needs. And now he is doing more and more video.

Perhaps it has to do with boredom, or perhaps it has to do with using a system out in the field in real world use. You can talk about reviews all day. But real world use with an expert eye is something different.

I love that Kirk is not fixated with only one system. That he will happily try something else. And if it doesn't add value, he is also happy to move on.

His views have certainly influenced my move from one system to another.

And isn't that what Kirk is doing? Always looking for new life and vitality? He goes for a photo walk every day! And usually with a different camera. He shows us samples. How many accountants go and do accounting in their spare time?

And Kirk, I love that you chop and change. And I love reading the reasons behind it. Your portraits and detail have had quite an influence in my photos over the years. Hopefully I will be back in Austin and I can say hi in person.

Ken said...

I'm sure the two Panasonic's can make a dent in the price of a RX10.3 so you can still have the big zoom.

Dave Jenkins said...

Here we go again. . .

Noons said...

I find it amazing how folks who cannot see beyond an OVF use low battery life as an excuse for not trying EVF cameras.
Clearly they haven't been aware battery technology evolved as well, and batteries for things like M4/3 or Sonys are much lighter and definitely more efficient than the good old Eveready or Mallory C-size!
I've carried two with my EM5M2 and used to do the same with the EM5 and the EPL2 before, and have yet to run out of juice when needed most. In fact I rarely use more than one in a single outing!
I do entirely agree the flash system of Nikons is better than most, including Oly and Sony. The only reason why I keep using two Nikon cameras - one a film slr and the other a dslr.
For everything else I find the m4/3 format so much better there is simply no comparison. And I have very little need for large sensor sizes: they are mostly based on old film concepts, designs and needs and have no place in this day and age of advanced, ultra-sensitive electronic sensors.
But what is even better is reading that a pro such as you can have the guts to break away and do something really new gear-wise. That's inspiring, for the rest of us!
Being a pro is completely different from running a blog and the two should indeed never be confused.

Hugh said...

A great post - thankyou!

dasar photography said...

I started reading your blog exactly when you made the same choice.
However, things changed a lot from that time and I find your move
very consistent for what Sony is offering now.
If I had enough money I would like to buy exactly the same cameras.
So ... welcome back to Sony.

Paul said...

Kirk's choice is pretty logical given the work he is doing.

More importantly, he's also prompted me to trade in my last 2 Canon lenses, then I too will be down to one brand that suits the photography I currently like doing.

neopavlik said...

When the A7R2 was a reality I posted a comment that I'd keep an eye on that because with adapters that could be the one camera to rule them all for stills so I'm jealous in that respect. I look forward to seeing you put it through the ringer to see if you have to deal with potential overheating and service with Sony since those seem to be the only possible knocks left on it.

I'm still enjoying my D600 and have been buying gels to add flair to my photography and maybe start finally working into video as well. I've got enough disposable $ to do some damage now so I'm looking for the best area to apply that $.

Mike said...

Daniel Walker said...

"What is the way to unload gear."

I totally agree. This in itself is a burdensome task. I end up giving equipment away, to friends and family, just to free myself of the chore of picking the "right" camera/lens for the job. Too many choices is never a good thing, and my "vision" doesn't really change with the viewfinder in hand, so I am training myself to stick with a proven kit. I find that selling used digital cameras is much more difficult than it was for film cameras. For many people, "digital" equates to "obsolete" the second it's purchased, and Canon, Nikon, et al. have done a fantastic job at assuring this.