There was a time when even photographers in smaller, secondary markets maintained gloriously large studio spaces. At one time Austin was one of the cheapest cities in which to live in all of Texas. Finding a centrally located, converted warehouse studio of 2500 square feet and 14 foot ceilings was relatively easy and cost far less each month than the mortgage on a mediocre house. It was also an age in which photographers could justify keeping scores of different cameras. After all, a view camera makes a lousy action camera, and a heavy duty studio view camera is a hassle to take on location when compared to a folding field camera; even though both took 4x5 inch film.
We stocked two kinds of view cameras. When it came to medium format there were multiple Hasselblad cameras (some with built-in motors and some without) and a full complement of lenses. But we also had a Mamiya 6 system (complete with a back up body) for shooting fast, in the street. We had a free flowing supply, more or less, of SLR systems and always a Leica M system with bodies for each lens. It seemed that there was always a special niche that only a certain kind of camera would fill. But then we were jacks of all trades. We might be shooting architecture for a shelter magazine one day, food for a cookbook the next, and always the portraits and product shots which were the bread and butter. We filled in the gaps with event photography, done with 35mm cameras.
When we started buying Kodak professional digital cameras we sloughed off formats, one by one. First to go were the 35mm SLRs. They were followed by the medium format stuff while the 4x5's and the Leica hung on through the first decade of the new century. In place of the film cameras we subjected ourselves and our checkbooks to a seemingly endless flow of digital cameras, each just a hair better than the ones that came before them.
I think, in our collective consciousness, we all were working under the presumption that the prevailing "gold standard" was always going to be the big print, the double truck spread in a printed, glossy magazine, the trade show graphic the size of a house. We chose our new range of digital cameras accordingly and, working under the "big print" presumption we stocked in a range of cameras, from fun ones to serious ones. When our history told us that 40 by 60 inch prints would always be in vogue we believed in the race for infinite megapixels. And truthfully, there's still tiny niches here and there that make use of as much resolution as a photographer and his camera can conjure. But those niches shrink daily. And they provide commerce for a few thousand skilled workers, worldwide.
The rest of the world is coming to grips with the reality that our last century understanding of photography is quickly becoming obsolete. The precious, physical manifestation of photography; as embodied by the fine print, is quickly (very quickly) coming to a close, replaced by work shown on multiple screens. We are out of the gallery and onto the phone, and we're not likely to head back. We are looking at multiple images from a shoot instead of one "keeper."
But even more of a change is the embrace, by consumers and the marketplace, of video. If you are already looking at a screen why wouldn't marketers use a more compelling medium, one that can hold a consumer's attention for minutes instead of seconds while delivering multiple messages, or more in-depth messages? Galleries are vanishing. Magazines devoted to singular, fine images are evaporating, while V-logging and video content across the web is proliferating. The writing isn't on the wall anymore, it's on the screens of hundreds of millions of people who are voting with their clicks.
So, after all the years of camera collecting, diversifying and niche-ing I'm in the process of finally finding a "multiverse" solution. I've sold off everything but a couple of Panasonic GH5's, a G85 and an FZ2500. All my current cameras are capable of providing files that are more than sufficient for any electronic display use and, in the case of video, a performance that shames larger and more expensive DSLRs. While they can't compete with cameras like the D850 and A7Rii in sheer resolution they are just as good (or better) for color discrimination and tonal response.
I may be wrong. I could have misjudged the market. There could be a revival of super high quality magazines, printed on heavy, glossy paper stock. They could re-take the imaginations of new generations --- but I don't think so. Attention spans are shorter and budgets much more constrained. The future, as far as I can tell, is firmly wedded to a series of encounters between art and screens.
The Millenial Generation has more or less invented the idea of "access instead of ownership". If the infrastructure were in place to facilitate quick and reliable rents of all the different gear I work with I would consider picking the camera I want to use for each job. But, then again, I'm trained by my own history to want to work with my own core selection of gear. But I watch young photographers order a lens from lens rental for a specific project and then happily send it back. They get the use of a specialized piece of gear without the deep investment. They dodge the risk of "opportunity costs." They can spend their money on something other than a $2,000 lens they might only use a few times a year.
A number of newly minted photographers borrow or rent their lighting as needed. And for most the idea of back up equipment is kind of silly because their experiences with most digital cameras is that they've never experienced a complete failure --- as we often did in the film days.
So, the benefit to me in consistently shrinking my overall equipment footprint is that I now have perhaps the best video cameras under $10,000 on today's market. I have cameras that are smaller and more efficient. Files sizes that are effective but not bloated. And a family of menus that is mostly logical and consistent from model to model.
I'm steeling myself for the online backlash of people insisting that my equipment change is just ADHD or G.A.S. or a short attention span. But what I think is important, at least to me, is that with each shift we are making our inventory smaller, more rational, and much cheaper. Might not be the pathway a gear collector would take but from a business point of view it's an approach that cuts opportunity cost. And one that leaves me largely debt free.
If you can do satisfying work across two media with one set of cameras and you can do it with cameras and lenses that are smaller and lighter, and much cheaper, why on earth would you keep in permanent inventory what are quickly becoming niche-y specialty cameras whose full potential you might use only a few times a year until you ultimately decide that they too have become obsolete?
Of course, all of this supposes that your are using your cameras to make a living, have a need for 4K video, and have come to grips with the idea that the market is constantly shifting away from our old paradigm. If you do photography for fun you are best suited using the stuff you have right now until the parts fall off and the rubber grips turn toxic. A few more pixels won't buy you much more pleasure...
This is the first time in over 30 years that I have had only four cameras in my possession. It engenders a great feeling of freedom and lightness. There's more space. Fewer choices. Less to decide. Now I need to winnow down the lights..,.