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Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Thank you for putting into words a conundrum I've had for some time: I feel like I'm a medium format in the body of a 35 mm frame. The only way I see to test this is to find a Mamiya 7 and go shoot with it. Asking " What do I want to photograph with it? " can cut through the OMG what a great price for a lens or camera I never knew I wanted.

Great thoughts, thanks. I have been debating a lens that falls outside my necessary & comfort zone - yeah, it would really be an expensive toy. But just this week it dawned on me - Why not just rent it for a week? If I fall in love with it, then I can justify it. If I don't,it will be just a fun week of shooting in a different range. Win win!

I went through a thought process like this not long after winning enough money that I could afford to upgrade my system from an E-P1 to something like a K-5. My final conclusion was that I simply wasn't going to get enough value from the upgrade to make it worthwhile. Instead, when my winnings arrived, I chose to expand my existing system. Although Oly's current financial struggles make me concerned about the future, when I pick up a bag that has two bodies and five lenses, but weighs less than a single K-5 with a bright zoom, I am plenty content with the present.

I have two things to add to this. First, I realized that now is the time for people who want high quality on a tight budget to go back and buy film cameras. Shoot less, and get more keepers. This year, I was able to buy a Sinar X new in box for $500. This is one of the few pieces of equipment, or anything for that matter, that I own, which cost the manufacturer more to make than what I paid for it.

The second thing is that I buy a lot of my equipment based on a gut feeling. After I read all the reviews I can find, I usually just go into my local camera store, and if it feels right, I buy the piece of gear, if it doesn't, I don't. Regardless of any reviews, if you like something on a purely emotional level, you will use it more. Buy what you really want, it will save you money in the long run.

And, don't forget you may be able to rent a lens or camera for a special project.

It's a very sensible way of looking at things. I crave simplicity in my kit (I haven't achieved it) and want a small number of quality lenses where each one has a purpose that's well known and significant to me. I currently get there with 5 lenses. Well, plus a 6th old big tele on a spare body from another system. Plus my NEX kit. So simplicity remains elusive :) While my overall expenditure has been substantial over the years, it averages out to a modest annual sum. And while I *can* dump a chunk of change on a lens if my needs change and I convince myself that it's important, I'm of the same mind as you when it comes to whims. I don't want to spend much money on a whim and typically find that while looking for a bargain, I lose interest anyway. If the lensbaby were substantially less expensive, I'd probably own one, but while it would be fun to play with, the answer to the "what would I shoot with it" question tells me it's value to me is much lower than its cost.

As you note, “affordable” means different things to different people. For some, the question is whether they have enough credit available to cover the purchase price or their check will clear their bank, whereas for others, the issue has to less to do with money per se and more to do with their perception of value.

IIRC, at one point, you mortgaged your house to stockpile dye-transfer materials, and earlier this year, you received more than enough from the sale of some of your Jim Marshall photos to buy the same medium-format digital outfit you borrowed, yet you apparently chose to spend that money in other ways, which is certainly your prerogative.

Personally, I only could “afford” a medium-format digital outfit because I decided not to replace my car for another three years, among other things. Many non-photographers I know think I was nuts to spend so much money on my camera gear, yet they think nothing of spending exactly the same amount of money on six weeks’ worth of vacations over the next three years, which I think is silly.

The bottom line? Everybody must decide for themselves how much (or little) they can “afford” to spend on camera gear relative to their particular financial condition and social conscience, and having decided that, they then must further decide how best to spend that money. As a reviewer, you can only help them address the latter, because the former is solely their responsibility.

Regarding standards, my problem is becoming accustomed to something, and then automatically comparing everything to that. Sure, I don't usually need the level of results I get from the better gear, but knowing that I'm getting less is a constant irritant, particular when the results disappoint for some reason. Makes it very hard to finally bite the bullet and abandon big DSLRs entirely for micro 4/3, in spite of the many compelling attributes of the latter.

It depends on what you shoot and what you shoot for. Displaying your view on the world can easily be managed using an LX3......but if you want to depict the world in all of its splendor and more, you need a different tool. A 4x5 or 8x10 can then do the trick even if you only print 20 inch prints you have to be visually impaired not to notice the difference. Big transparancies make the world super-real.....and somehow surreal as well. But not the camera for a fast action shot.....no.

Greetings, Ed

Good points, Ctein.

The most significant aspect of any camera or lens is whether or not you'll really use it. I am frequently reminded that I recorded many of my own favorite images with quite modest cameras. (And relatively few with the most costly.) Moreover, having access to some of the most cherished photography in history I am ever mindful that many of these images were created using cameras that many of us wouldn't pee on if we found them afire.

Still, reading camera and lens reviews is and has always been great imaginative sport for most photographers. For many of us, whether pro or weekend snappers, the experience of photography is rather parallel to that of fishing, isn't it? Gear reviews and stories fill the dry times.

Bying used definitely helps a lot with the "comfort level."

But Jeffrey, vacations are when you travel to interesting places to photograph!

I did what Garrett suggests, rented the lens I was debating for 10 days (about 10% of the cost of buying the lens). I liked it, but that ended the debate for me. Renting it was a great way to find out that the price exceeded its value *to me.*

Debbie said a lot for me: "Asking " What do I want to photograph with it? " can cut through the OMG what a great price for a lens or camera I never knew I wanted."

Dennis also said a lot for me: "So simplicity remains elusive."

It has helped somewhat to ask what my purpose is for any particular purchase, but then I bow to my usual weakness of seeing and purchasing a "bargain" lens.

If I had it "my way" and was able to control my psychological aberrations in the field of photographic equipment acquisition, I would just stay with my tried-and-true Pentax 645. After all, it has been my company for many years of long solo hikes in the high country, even with the added weight of the system.

Are there counselors available to deal with my shortcomings? Or do I have to use some kind of aversion therapy on myself?

Jeffrey put it well: "As a reviewer, you can only help them address the latter, because the former is solely their responsibility."

So really Ctein, you don't actually need to answer my questions above. Because I doubt that there is an answer from anyone but myself. I am making a start though, by pasting a note on my all-camera bag, keeping in mind the equipment I already have: "What will I use any new equipment for, and is it worth the cost?"

I like little cameras too, but they are film so I make little prints. Typical for my half frame is 6X8 inch on 8X10 paper. Nothing makes small negs look crisp and clean like a small print.

The question, "What should I buy?" has plenty of answers. But there are too many answers, except for the most simple. If you want to photograph, you should buy a camera. If the camera doesn't come with a lens, you should also buy a lens. If the camera uses film, you should also buy film. Your pocket book will dictate what you can afford.

As for what to photograph, well, now, that's a whole column by itself, right?

"I am using X; what am I missing by not moving up to Y?" . Ah! But that is the eternal nagging question! It's not the solution, it's the problem! I moved to m4/3 because it is the best compromise for me, in my eyes, right now. But it nags me, it nags me. I know, I know for a fact, that scans from my small collection of 4x5 negatives and chromes just take my breath away in subtle tonalities. Yes, the Graflex isn't hugely convenient to use and I now never use it. But a FF digital camera maybe, maybe, would get me closer to close that gap? Or wouldn't it? Or would it but I'd never really use it? Or, I would use it, but have another collection of photos that no one's looking at at any time, just as no one's looking at my 4x5's?....

"But a FF digital camera maybe, maybe, would get me closer to close that gap?"

Speaking from experience, no.


Michael Bearman has just increased language difficulty for those of us with short term memory problems by adding five new unpronounceable acronyms to the language. Mike Johnston's response rates as the funniest cocktail party banter (CPB) I've seen on this site.

I am going through this process at the moment...not dithering over a new lens or camera but an iPad!

And Debbie you might be disappointed with the Mamiya 7. You need to try one first. I sold mine some years ago as although it is great for landscapes it isn't much good for low light shooting and I found it difficult to focus. Borrow one for a while if possible....wish i could borrow an iPad to see whether I really need one.

I bet most of us enjoy reading reviews of fancy expensive cameras for the same reason we read road tests of exotic cars, about fancy yachts or travel to exotic places or other pricey stuff - we like our fantasies! But the reality can be quite different. Remember even Enzo Ferrari drove a FIAT to work every day.

As I move from film to a DSLR with 3 lens I am amazed at how little I really need. In the past there were two F4S bodies and a N8008 backup with a bivy of lens covery Nikon's full range plus a number of SB24's. I had to handle each shoot with what will I need and load the bag.

I'm finding that I can do with far less than I had ever imagined. Isn't digital wonderful.

On the otherhand it just can't touch a 4x5 when it comes to personal satisfaction!

I think I'm still stuck in the SNP thus ANP vs IIN (Is It Necessary)! Just loved that logic path!

I've noticed one thing: thinking about a purchase too much raises the spending pain threshold greatly.

The late and great 'LIFE' photographer Andereas Feininger put it succinctly in his 1954 book; 'Successful Photography'......Cameras should be aquired by means of the '3P's'.....ie., the photographers purpose, pocket and personality.

One point I would add to Ctien's well-presented guidelines is that hobbyists should reality check-potential purchases by comparing the price to other aspects of their lives. It's easy, as I think Mike Johnson has discussed before, to get a distorted view of what is "expensive" when reading a steady diet of high-end gear reviews (cf. $10,0000 "bargain" stereo speakers). The photo enthusiast who has invested in an interchangeable lens system is likely to quickly feel that a $300 lens is "inexpensive," regardless of their personal finances, and in a sense it's true. This de/illusion can be offset by being careful to compare that hypothetical $300 discretionary spend against what it means in other areas of one's life. Have you ever passed up an $10 desert because it seemed extravagant? Put off reading a $15 hardback? Stayed at home instead of a taking a weekend trip because, well, $300 seems like a lot to spend for nice mini-vacation? These thought exercises can offset the "value creep" that can set in when making buying decisions in an area with a very high high-end like photography.

I haven't bought a lens since Sept. 2005. I bought four prime lenses over the space of a year. I bought them for shooting people with and I've stuck to doing just that. I reckon I've got two too many, but they've kept their value.

"Remember even Enzo Ferrari drove a FIAT to work every day."

Really? I never knew that.


One thing that has reduced my need for more cameras (especially of the large format variety) is the possibility to do so many things very successfully using an SLR and a computer, for instance stitching.

Carrying a D7000, traveller carbon tripod and a good low distortion flat image field prime (like a 50 F1.4) is a lot easier than lugging an MF back around for landscape shots and gives much more DOF at larger apertures allowing me to use ISO100 to max out the DR.

I also use a DX body to save the cost and weight of a larger telephoto lens on my FX camera. At the same time the FX camera means I don't need a wideangle lens (also expensive) for the DX camera. Hence one extra body saved me the cost of two quite expensive lenses and gave me a decent backup option.

So I feel I have the based covered with the minimum gear count, plus I can fit almost everything into a backpack.

So if I buy anything now, it's an upgrade and the cost is offset against resale of the old gear. My new J1 for instance has replaced two digicams and an old camcorder.

Peter F.,
But that works the other way around, too. Sometimes people don't buy cameras or lenses because they're "too expensive" when they don't think twice about spending the same amount of money for things they want less. They're thinking relatively too.


Peter F. and Mike, it also greatly depends on what you value. For instance, it's perfectly easy for me to imagine valuing the mini-vacation more than a lens. (Particularly since the $300 won't buy what I really want. :))


The Enzo Ferrari anecdote I heard was that he told a journalist he drove a Fiat 132, "great car, very reliable". And when asked why he didn't drive a Ferrari he looked indignantly at the journalist and said: "Do you have any idea how much they cost??". Ahem.

On your "But a FF digital camera maybe, maybe, would get me closer to close that gap?" - 'Speaking from experience, no.'

I don't know if I should rejoice or despair. I don't see a deficit in resolution or noise performance in smaller cameras. But I see vastly better tonalities from large format film and I suspected (hoped? feared?) that FF would be somehow better there too (as of DxOMark it should, right?). It's a mystery to me btw - why do large format sources look so much better in tonality even after scanning and on 96 dpi monitors that can barely display 7 bit? Or for that matter why does my v700 scanner produce banding in subtle sky gradations when I scan 35mm film at 2800 dpi, 8-bit or 16-bit no matter, but not at 4000 dpi 8-bit and downsampled to the same size? Why does higher source resolution result in smoother tonality even if the recording medium stays the same and is inferior?

I like to wander with a 6x9 folder, then make contact prints off the negs, but then I once ran an old Rolls in the 80s, just for the fun of it: great to drive, miserable to park -- pretty much like camera equipment, really.

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