#295. Memory and humility, how to spend less on GAS

By philberphoto | Opinion

Nov 17

You know what GAS stands for: it is the dreaded Gear Acquisition Syndrome. When we desire, covet, lust for more, more expensive gear, which hopefully will make for better pictures.

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That this doesn’t exactly work out like that, at least in my case, is demonstrated  by the high number of lenses I have owned that have yielded less than 3 of my Top-200 pictures. Less than 3 means 2, 1, or even 0. Not exactly value for my hard-earned, you will agree.

So, let’s begin the count: from all the zooms I’ve owned combined, and I’ve owned 8: 3 pics! From my first 2 primes: 0. From my 3 long teles: 1. From my 2 135mm lenses: 2. From my fish-eye: 2. From my first 28mm: 0. From my first 35mm: 2. From my first 24mm: 0. From my 55mm: 0. From my 75mm: 2. From my 100mm: 1. From another 100mm: 0. From another 35mm: 0. From my 90mm: 2. From my 45mm: 2. Pretty shocking, isn’t it? Even now, from what I own: my 80mm: 0, and not looking so good. My 28mm: 1, but looking very good.


So, lest you think I’ve owned hundreds of lenses, let’s look at the opposite: how many lenses have produced most of my Top-200 images? 1 50mm lens, 1 85mm, 1 35mm, another 35mm, 1 21mm, 1 12mm on crop, 1 28mm on crop 1 35mm on crop, 1 50mm on crop, 1 24mm on crop, 1 18mm on crop, 1 60mm, 1 50mm, 1 35mm.

Basically, if getting shots that are part of my Top-200 was/is the goal, I could almost just as well have done without a full 2/3 of my lenses! What a waste of time, money, and opportunity!


What is to be learned from that?

1. I have certain performance/user experience standards (rightly or wrongly, and, in any case, they are highly individual). Buying a lens that doesn’t fully meet them, “just because I need that focal length” has always ended up a losing gambit. Always.

That seems to suggest that I must buy “quality first”, and forget the rest, right? BUT

2. There are focal lengths that I know how to use, and others not. Obviously, the heart of my photography revolves around 50mm, with 35mm a close second. Buying a long tele (or even a 135mm for that matter) just because those are superb lenses delivering great shots for others doesn’t make me able to match their expertise. Wides and ultra-wides are not my favorite focal lengths either, though I’ve had some moderate success with them.SONY DSC

That seems to suggest that I buy “focal length first”, and the rest second, right? BUT see (1) above…

3. Zooms aren’t for me. I shoot by and large only stationary subjects, so AF doesn’t matter either. To some extent, I even prefer MF.

Now comes the interesting part. What are the last 3 lenses I lusted for? A 50mm prime. I bought it, love it, and am getting keepers from it. The Zeiss Loxia 50mm. Then the Sony G 70-200mm zoom. I tried it, an didn’t buy it primarily because it wouldn’t fit my bag in terms of size and weight. The Sony-Zeiss 16-35mm f:4.0 zoom. It is to be available next week, I have seen promising pictures, it would let me get rid of my lovely Zeiss Touit 12mm, which is crop only, etc… yadda, yadda, yadda…


There you have it. I have had ZERO results with zoom lenses (not because one can’t of course, it is just me. They bring out the lazy-bones, the oaf, the couch potato in me. I just zoom to fit instead of thinking about composition and working it). Yet 2 of the last 3 lenses I looked at are zooms. I haven’t had many winners with wide angles, and none with long teles, and one of the zooms is a wide-angle, and the other a long tele. I hate heavy lenses (always have!), and the one I may buy is just that. Ugh!

How does this work? Am I crazy, or what? Fortunately, I am not alone in this sort of disease, known as GAS. There are actually much worse offenders than I, all the way up to lens collectors, who might have a dozen different 50mm lenses. So, how did I get into this?


Problem 1. I look at many pictures made by others, including, of course, with the newest lenses. The problem begins when I admire the pictures (and the lens behind it) without asking myself whether I would be able to produce such pictures, or even interested in them. So,in essence, this leads me to buy lenses that other people make fine images with…

Problem 2. I go into a situation with the lenses “that make the most sense”. For example, landscape photography requires wide lenses, right? So, when my trip to Patagonia begins, one of my DSLR’s sports a 25mm lens, and the other one a 35mm lens. Where was my favorite 50? In my bag. Until, one day, in the middle of a tough forest hike, I wanted to lighten my camera load. Fact was, the 50 was my lightest lens. Guess what, my favorite shots of the trip from then on came from my 50. Travel forward. My camera is now a crop NEX 7. Instead of buying another copy of the 35 I had loved, I bought a faster, supposedly better one. Never liked it, so I ended without that focal length for as long as I kept it. When I moved back to FF, the 50mm- -that-I-had-loved-on-crop didn’t work, and I had to let it go. Again, without a 50. Come a new one, and, again, like in that Patagonian forest, it was like coming home. Much more important than “doing it like it is supposed to be done!”


Now the title of this post is “Memory and humility, how to spend less on GAS”, so what is it? The answer is: look at your past pictures. Find your favorites. What gear you shot them with. That is where you need to spend your money, if you must. Not where reviews tell you to spend it. Not where manufacturers release new and sexy lenses. Not in order to replicate pictures that are foreign to your style. Remember and replicate, that’s all. Then of course, you could say: how to get out of my comfort zone? How to improve? Well, keep reading DearSusan, something tells me there will be a challenge that will answer this very question fairly soon.

So, in conclusion, am I going to buy that heavy ultra-wide zoom, now that I know that ultra-wides are not my territory, and zooms not my thing, and, besides, that I hate all heavy lenses? Certainly not, right? Well, it isn’t quite that simple. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be GAS, right? :-)))))


PS. You may ask: what is the purpose of the pictures? Simply, they are all pics which I shot not because they “felt right”, but because that was the lens I had on the camera at the time, or a lens I felt I had to use it in order to justify having bought it and brought it, or whatever. Bad pics? Not really, at least I don’t think so, otherwise I wouldn’t have processed them, and wouldn’t impose them on you. But nowhere close to my Top-200. Actually, that’s not the whole truth. One of them is actually one of my Top 200. That the prankster in me. Sorry…

PPS I just wrote an article on not getting carried away by GAS, so I feel I have to honour it by passing on the Sony-Zeiss 16-35 f:4.0. Right? Wrong! I may actually pass but only because I saw pictures from it, and the corners at f:8.0 don’t look sharp at all at 16mm. First, that shouldn’t matter at all, because I never -or almost never- shoot that wide. Second, because expecting a zoom to perform like one of the world’s best primes just isn’t going to happen, so I should have known all along. So I guess that the Sony is out. Now what to do about that empty feeling? Well, there just happens to be that diminutive and awfully clever new Voigtländer 40mm Heliar f:2.8. Very small, light and cheap. And in the middle of my “hot zone”. So I am being reasonable again, right?  Well, unless you ask yourself: this guy has a 35 that he is very happy with, and the same with a 50. How many extra keepers will an extra 40mm actually get him? You are right, dear readers, I am a hopeless case…

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  • Steve says:

    Interesting article and it stimulates a lot of self-analysis.
    For me, I like a good zoom, but tend not to be too analytic about edge-detail. What counts for me is the visual effect of a picture – do observers say “Wow!”; they don’t look at the edges.
    Although I have a few primes for my A7R and A6000, they were chosen for their relatively wide apertures – the zooms are limited to f4, which can create problems, even with the good ISO control of these cameras. And for their lightness when I am in the mountains; then I make a wide-angle choice and depend upon the ability to enlarge the important bit of the image, if the picture I want needs it. The resolving power of the Sony captors is a godsend in this regard.

  • Mike says:

    Great article! I have a slightly different version of GAS. I’m in search of the Ideal 35 and 50 mm (or equivalent) lens(es). I think I have the ideal lens for my Nex-6, the Zeiss Touit 32 1.8. fantastic lens. I just need a Zeiss 24mm 1.8 to complete my outfit. Also need to find the ideal standard prime for my Sony A77. i have a Sigma Art 35mm but it is too heavy for a daily walk around lens. Bothers my wrist after about an hour of use. I am seriously considering replacing this with an A7/Zeiss standard lens combo. Part to save my wrist but also because the A7 is so cool. I guess that would be just plan GAS :-).

  • pascaljappy says:

    I do remember Ken Rockwell recommending we F.A.R.T. a lot more. Although not referring to GAS, he too had introspection on his mind.

    Wonderful – if slightly painful (as all introspection tends to be 😉 ) article. Going through our faves is something we should do regularly, not only to see how our tastes evolve over time but also to reflect on technique and gear.

    Lens manufacturers might go bankrupt because of your suggestion, but art will surely benefit. I particularly like that you emphasise how those 2/3 ‘fruitless’ lenses were not only a waste of money but also a waste of opportunity.

    I think the value of primes over zooms is that we amateurs can more easily learn to use them well. There are simply so many configurations with zooms that previsualisation requires the mind of a genius. Som much simpler to stick a 35mm on the body and live with it for a year.

    I’m learning all this the hard way as I realise that my Loxia 50 has been riveted to my camera since it’s been mine for all the wrong reasons. It’s incredibly good to use and I love it so much. But, so far, my ‘greatest hit’ rate seems a lot lower than with the ol’ FE35 or R50/2. Ouch.

    Thanks for the pain, though 😉

  • Luca says:

    Great article, I agree wholeheartedly.

    There are various nifty (and often free) additions for Lightroom that can plot all kind of useful datas (usage statistics for cameras, lenses, but also shutter speeds, Iso etc.) on a graphic or a table automatically. If you use, like me, legacy lenses you can use LensTagger (another add-on) to write into the exif the info about each lens; it is pretty fast once you save a template for each lens you use (and comes in handy even more for film scans).

    I use the plotting plugins regularly, let’s say every year or so, exactly to avoid buying useless (for me) gear and before every big purchase to focus on the things that I end up actually using.

    For example when I ended up buying the Nex 7 I was obsessing on full size examples at 1600 iso. Then I checked my statistics, and saw that the last time I used anything over 100 Iso was at least a couple years before, and just to shoot pictures with a few friends at the New Year’s Eve. I guess high Iso for me are not a factor when shopping for a new camera!

    Btw, even if in this article you talk mostly about lenses, bad timing to “preach” moderation: with the Sony A9 (or whatever it will be called) coming out in a month or so with probably 50 or more megapixels, a new sensor, and 5-axis IBIS stabilization I can feel my G.A.S. mounting up, and I suppose the same is happening to pretty much every other Leica M lover out there. :))

    • philberphoto says:

      Luca, many thanks for your comment. I salute you for being a true Wise Man, the one who knows what he doesn’t need. I am only beginning to get there, as the article shows, but I am trying hard, and your example inspires me! Oh, and that A9 you want? Well, you can’t get it, bro! ’cause it’s got my name all over it! :-))))

      • Luca says:

        The Wise Man you saluted actually spent for years a small fortune on pretty much every camera for every format and every lens until it came to the same epiphany you had, and for the most part my realization was the fruit of a bad back.

        When I got tired of lugging around in the woods an Hasselblad 500c/m PLUS a Linhof Technica 13x18cm (yep!) with two lenses for each, films, metal film holders and, least but not last, a 5kg tripod with a 1Kg Arca head I saw the light :))

        Well, it was that or going back 20 years to be again my younger self. Where is an atomic driven DeLorean when you need it…

        And don’t worry, you can have the A9. I will put forward a preorder for the A9r :)))))

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