How to choose lenses, cameras and accessories should be your decision, not the market’s.
Judging by the comments and email my last post elicited, I can’t have done a great job of explaining my subtractive approach to system building 😉
But first, let’s draw a line between collectors and photographers. Both represent valid hobbies, but collectors do have to (mostly) think in terms of adding, whereas I believe togs who buy to achieve a task should go about it the opposite way. So, maybe you enjoy buying for the sake of owning gear, and that’s fine. So do most people. But that’s not what this post is about.
Matt Day, on youtube is a great example of what I’m getting at. He starts with a project in mind, buys gear for it, works the project and then sells the gear. In between the collector and Matt, most people don’t have a clear way of thinking or deciding about gear. That’s why the media, and untold numbers of youtube channels and blogs have a business …
So what’s this nonsense about subtractive building? 😉
Imagine you own a camera and a lens. Now you buy something else, thinking that adding it to your bag will bring benefits. That’s our usual way of going about it. However, in reality, we can own 40 lenses, but we can only use one at a time. And what new gear does invariably bring is extra problems.
That new lens adds weight, decision paralysis when packing, the risk of getting a dud, the risk of the lens not being a good match for the project at hand, the risk you’ll never get to know it well enough because you don’t have the time to use all of your gear very much, constant dust on your sensor when you swap lenses, buyer’s remorse, spouse bickering, and probably a lot more.
That is your investment. The price you paid isn’t. Once paid, the money pains are no longer in play (at least I hope you don’t put yourself in financial difficulty for a lens). The real investment is the list of ongoing problems that lens has added to your life.
So what is the return on that investment?
The way I see it, that return has to be of the same nature as the investment: i.e. problems. So what problems and pains does that new lens remove from your amateur photographer life?
I can only suggest a list, you have to do the problems maths:
It’s not psycho-mystical mumbo-jumbo to say that material acquisitions rarely fill a void. Or that simple is beautiful. Ask Jony Ive how many hundreds of millions simplicity has made him. We all crave it, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not. Smartphones are simple, and they have buried the traditional camera in the sand, in terms of market share.
As long as we think of new gear along the lines of adding benefits and eliminating problems, we are playing according to the manufacturer’s rules. In reality, a satisfying purchase is one that removes a needle from our foot, as the French say. Bad marketers make lists of features to peddle on social media. Good marketers identify the pain that needs to be removed from their client’s life.
So I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy gear (if treecreepers and fairy wrens constitute your photographic life, that superfast AF long lens is a Godsend.) Only that when considering new gear, we should look at it from the perspective of what unwanted attributes of our current workflow it will eliminate, subtract. In the immortal words of Mandalore: “That is the way” 😉 Cheers
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