Entertaining myself downtown and on South Congress Ave. on my afternoon off. Leica SL in Monochrome (mostly) and the Lumix S 50mm f1.8.


Kirk's Five Rules for Buying Cameras You Know You Don't Need


Here are my five rules for buying cameras you absolutely know you don't "need" but can't seem to get out of your mind. But before we get started we should establish ground rules for personal safety and well-being. It's dangerous to buy cameras, or indeed any luxury item if you can't afford it or will have to plunge yourself into debt to make the acquisition. Survival comes first, family is a close second and long term self-sufficiency is the third road block to reckless and unnecessary expenditures.

Before you trot out the scorching hot credit card for that M series Noctilux for your secondary camera system you'll want to have: paid off your house. Fully funded your retirement. Gotten your kids through college. Paid off your cars and credit accounts and have, as your biggest problem --- how to spend money fast enough so it doesn't just stack up in your accounts. If you have to bring your calculator to the grocery store to see which items you can put in your cart then the whole idea of buying photo gear you don't need is perilous. Misguided.

That being said, there is a basic level of photographic gear which you must have to happy. That consists of a good camera, one good lens and some sort of device on which to process and share your photographs. None of this gear needs to be at all current or luxe. It just has to work and you have to be able to make the kinds of photographs with it that you want to make. A first generation Canon digital rebel with a consumer zoom lens might qualify as might any digital camera made in the past ten years. Ditto for the lens. 

At a subsistence photo level I would dismiss film cameras out of hand unless you are so disciplined that you can get by shooting just a few rolls of film a month. Film and processing are just too expensive to contemplate. 

If you worked hard all your life and are now plagued with "over savings syndrome" and could no more outlive your savings than defy gravity you are ready to consider the five rules for buying cameras you know you don't need.

1. Always have a good rationalization for any purchase. It need not be entirely logical as long as it makes sense for you. While explaining your "need" for a Sony Alpha One and a new G-Master lens you might say that you have found that slower AF acquisition and overall frame rate in your current cameras is holding you back from getting perfectly focused shots at precisely the exact moment the scene attains absolute perfection. Who can argue with you? Who can say that you just need to work on technique? No one. And if this new camera might help you attain perfect results what could possibly be holding you back?

The good rationalization goes a long way to circumventing arguments with significant others just because a fabricated need case is ultimately so subjective. And the only people who can convincingly argue against your premise are likewise ---- ardent photographers. And they are likely to support your contentions.   Usually spouses or financial partners don't have enough information to counter-argue. It's a winning strategy. Rule #1: learn to really "own" your gear rationalizations!

2. My favorite rules for "selling" a new camera or lens to myself, or to the approval of my financial partner, while I work as a professional photographer, is the concept (however accurate) that this particular piece of new gear will raise the "level" of my work and help me to increase billings and profitability. As in, "I really need to buy the Leica SL2-S because its high ISO files are so clean my event images will outshine all other competitors and make me a sure lock for future work." Or: "Well, I predict all my peers are going to arm themselves with the new medium format cameras and I'll be left behind by my clients once they see the difference medium format makes. I need to upgrade now to stay competitive. And, just to leapfrog my competitors, I'll chose the Leica S3 camera and lenses because clients will always be able to discern that "leica look." At this point you rest your argument and work on the assumption that this new gear is = money in the bank. So, rule #2 is: You always need to keep upgrading or you'll be left behind.  A subset of this rule for the recently retired is: "if I had this camera/lens/system I could start earning some extra money from my hobby." It's a remarkably good mini-rule for someone with grandkids who play sports. What grandparent could resist your logic that your new 400mm f2.0 lens is vital to shoring up your grandkid's self-esteem on the fields of competition?

3. This one is my favorite rules when considering horribly expensive used equipment. Rule 3: If you come across a wonderful camera on a used shelf and realize it's one of the models you pined for back when you seriously could never afford to buy it new you must buy it right away because you imagine that it was the magic bullet and might still be. Couple that with: "this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to pick up a very rare XXX"  There is something about the model that was a flagship (Canon 1DSmk3), at a time when the most you could afford to spend was the cost of a used Canon Sureshot, to get your blood circulating and your wallet at the ready. A variation of this rule is that you must buy the classic camera you always craved because: a. it's so rare it's a collectible. b. so scarce you'll never have the opportunity to own one again. c. it's a hand made work of art that will outlast all this digital garbage. d. It was a Leica special edition and they only made 250,000 of them....

4. Some will counsel you not to buy a camera that is: too big, too heavy, too pricey. This is predicated on the misguided assumption that you want, or deserve, or are condemned to have only one camera and the barest contingent of lenses to support it. I cry "foul" on the basic thought. A good rule; the 4th rule, is that one should have at least one camera for every photographic specialty one might be interested in. "The right tool for the job at hand." The perfect fit. 

Suppose you were to force yourself to operate only with one Sony a6600 and a 35mm equivalent lens because you just don't do much beyond snapshots. But then, one day, you meet a gloriously beautiful person in a coffee shop. You strike up a conversation and discover that you have good social chemistry with this person and that he or she is in need of beautiful headshots to launch their career as a model. They adore the work of Peter Lindbergh or Irving Penn. But then you pull out a camera and lens that's little more that a step up from a phone camera. The once happy expression on your new friend's face falls like ten pound of feathers in a vacuum. You part ways --- devastated. But if you heed rule 4 you'll know it's just fine to own a camera that's mostly good for snapshots and also a different one like that Phase One camera with 100 megapixels and a raft of Schneider or Zeiss lenses. Just because you own a bigger or heavier camera doesn't mean you are required to keep it with you all the time. That's what the smaller, hobbyist camera is for. Rule #4 is: Never rule out a camera you think you might need just because it's smaller or larger or more expensive than you imagined a camera should be. Or one that shoots in a different style/format. Go ahead and plan for a future filled with swimsuit models and beautifully compressed headshots with endless detail. You deserve it. (which, actually, should be rule #1). It's okay to own a range of tools. Just ask a sculptor. Or a mechanic. Or a carpenter. Etc.

5. None of us "need" to head to a great restaurant and order an expensive meal. We can always sit at home with the heat off, microwaving oatmeal and pulling fresh kale out of our gardens for a side dish. Need protein? Sprinkle some whey powder on that oatmeal... But, in reality, in happy world, nice restaurant meals are a pleasure. Something we don't need to acquire but want to be cause they are enjoyable. We spend the money and there's no way to rationalize that restaurant expense as any sort of investment!

By the same logical process why would one feel that just because they could make do with a very plastic and very basic camera, and a lens that's decent when stopped down to f8.0, that this is a path they have to take??? Wags on the web might encourage you to buy "just enough" camera to make your visual ends meet. Something so light a newborn could wield it. Something so cheap you could buy it by trading beans for it. Something so "acceptable" that all the fun was designed out of it long ago. But once you've finished patting yourself on the back for being a gear martyr you'll probably end up hating the camera and using it so infrequently that it become ruinously expensive to your own mental health. And calculated on a price versus use scale is actually more expensive than a better, happier camera you'd use all the time.

Rule 5 says: since photography for most of us is centered around the pursuit of fun and creative fulfillment it's A-Okay to choose fabulous tools with which to pursue said fun. Can you imagine a person whose hobby is collecting wine but limits themselves only to what they can find and buy on the shelves of Walmart or the local Seven-Eleven? A marathon runner who only buys Red Wing work boots because they last a long time and you can use them in so many different pursuits? A commuter who limits himself to driving a Yugo to work each day even when they could easily afford any other car? An investor who only buys Enron stock because it's just so darn cheap? A watch "collector" who only collects current, cheap, mass market quartz watches?

Rule 5 simply states: If you can afford it you can own any camera you find interesting specifically just because you find it to be interesting. Rarely is the purchase of any camera a life or death decision. Rarely will the purchase of any currently made and mass marketed camera lead directly to your financial demise. But shorting yourself on simple pleasures taints the pursuit of happiness with too many unnecessary restrictions. What's the optimum number of cameras to own? As many as you like. As big and small as you like. Any format you can imagine. Anything you can easily afford.

Trying always to remember that this photography thing is meant to be a fun and fulfilling hobby, is generally much, much less economically fraught than the keeping of a stunning mistress, the collecting of Italian sports cars, the care and feeding of a private plane, the sunk cost of a nice boat, or even the maintenance cost of a BMW M5 that's just run out of warranty. Certainly much more economical (and useful) than a vacation/second home.  Further, cameras are easy to take with you, require surprising little (if any) maintenance and last for a very long time. You can keep them around and useful for many years; decades even. And by then you will have long forgotten what you spent to acquire them and will always remember the wonderful images they helped you make. 

So, don't waste time and effort (and happiness) trying to search for your singular, perfectly logical camera. Instead spend that time acquiring all the ones you've been lusting after, are interested in trying out, and the ones that also fill a specific need. One for big portraits, another for amiable street photography, one specifically tuned for landscape work and one just for the relentless fun of having the best. Life is too short to limit oneself to only logical, single choices. Go beyond your "oatmeal" camera.

And, if you find that the camera you wished for falls short in the flesh the little dears are surprisingly easy to resell.

So, essentially, the basic overarching rule is that there is no clinical hierarchy of choice that mandates one solution anymore than your favorite restaurant placing only one item on the menu. It's okay to go off script.

Final bonus rule: If you are taken to task by a photo nerd for your desire to own a camera that isn't as well specced on paper as some other more popular brand or model a good response is:  "Well, it may only be able to shoot at XX frames per second but that's not why I bought it. I bought it because I think it's a remarkably wonderful example of superlative INDUSTRIAL DESIGN. It was worth the price even if I just keep it on the shelf to admire it as a ART PIECE." That rationale seems to be all the rage these days as far as counter arguments go. I use it a lot with my artsier friends. And it's especially useful to people who think Leicas are silly. Try it with any camera. But make a strong statement. Presentation is everything...