Photography equipment is a circle…

…and not because the lenses and control dials are round.

[Tongue in cheek] The phases of equipment euphoria go something like this:

Absolute newbie: Buys the sexiest, smallest point and shoot they can find. Then gets frustrated that it’s slow or the pictures look horrible in low light.

Modern alternative: Cameraphone.

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Canon IXUS SD780IS. It was the sexiest, smallest, point and shoot I could find at the time. But I had my reasons for buying it, as you’ll see later.

Beginning hobbyist: Upgrades to a prosumer thing, the more buttons and dials the better; a longer zoom is just a bonus, as is if it looks like a DSLR – take that Nikon thingy with the 24-1000mm lens, for instance. 1000mm!

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Leica D-Lux 5.

Amateur: A DSLR is a must. But why bother with the SLR bit if you’re going to hold it at arms’ length and use live view?

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Nikon D40, swallowed by 400/2.8VR hood.

Serious amateur: A bigger, more serious DSLR. Maybe the same one as before, but with a battery grip and telephoto lens. Carries it around everywhere they go, complete with backpack containing 1001 other ‘essentials’ such as cleaning supplies, chargers, spare tripod heads, etc. Given a few years, will develop into an aspiring pro.

Semi-pro: An anomaly: may just use whatever midrange DSLR is given by their company, or use serious amateur gear.

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Why choose between systems when you can have both?

Aspiring pro: Always has the latest and greatest; a pair of pro bodies, full set of f2.8 zooms and f1.4 primes, carbon fiber tripods, and…no work to pay for it all.

Pro: Only carries what they need; usually a matched pair of bodies for redundancy, with one lens each, and maybe a flash. No superfluous gear, because they know how much of a pain it is to carry. After several years, will develop a pronounced lean towards the shoulder that carries the spare body and a stoop from carrying 5kg around their necks.

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Going light. Olympus Pen Mini.

Old hand: May or may not have been a pro, but now forced to sell some or all of their gear to cover chiropractor bills and divorce settlement after wife got ignored on too many holidays in favor of sunsets and sunrises and magic hour reflections; still can’t quite let go of the photography bug, so they look for the lightest thing they can find that just manages to do the job, but at the same time not require eating ramen or baked beans for a year.

And guess what: we’re right back where we started.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’ve got photos of all of this gear: at some point or other, I went through it. Read carefully, and seriously, learn from my costly mistakes before you have both a bad back and an empty wallet. You have been warned. MT


  1. Stewart James says:

    I suspect that some ‘aspiring photographers’ (myself included) have at one time (or continue to be) willing victims of slickly-marketed ad campaigns that plant (in an unguarded mind) ill-conceived notions such as: ownership of “CAMERA-X” is, to be ‘a photographer’.

    Duly seduced, we now have all the gear, but no idea. A true case of cart before the horse. Perhaps its the delusion we purchase rather than the new camera?


    • The problem is the camera companies cannot sell ‘photography’; it’s a subjective idea that’s equipment-independent. The marketers think that will not sell cameras. In reality, support of the art is far more likely to sell cameras to people who influence other people than spec sheets…

  2. Will Needham says:

    At the heady age of 28(!) I’m possibly on my second time around this loop. Growing up both my parents were professional photographers and I spend a long time using decent gear and (hopefully) getting a bit of an eye for a decent photograph. Then I got bored of living life behind a lens and packed it all in for a couple of years. Then I bought an S95 and started to enjoy taking photographs again. Then I started playing with my one remaining SLR (a 1960’s Praktica worth ~£0). Now I’ve just bought myself a 5D mark 1 with a 50mm 1.4 lens and am trying to stretch myself.

    Where it will end up I am not sure. I have no aspiration to become pro or shoot for anyone other than myself. I’ve seen the pitfall of too much gear. Equally though, I have no desire to minimise right now. Where-ever it ends up it will be an interesting journey. If I can take a few images half as good as yours along the way then I’ll be a very happy man.

  3. There is a huge subset of photographers that are chasing latest gear, asking using what camera/settings/gear a particular photo was taken, thinking that gear makes a difference and always carrying those huge photography backpacks with everything and the kitchen sink in them, boasting about taking a photo in M-mode … sigh … whatever is in your pocket, A/P-mode and fire away. As someone said, the best camera is the one you have with you.

    • I’m as much of a gearhead as the next guy, but ultimately, it’s a tool – either it works or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, out it goes. I can use M mode but I’d rather not, because it’s more effort and doesn’t really get me anything extra. Nothing wrong with enjoying good equipment, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.

  4. I think it is the part and parcel of a learning curve for an asipring photographer until he/she realised how expensive to road they had tracked ….

  5. I’m not sure whether it’s due to embarrassment and/or denial, but I can’t seem to box myself into one of these categories 🙂

    • If you want to buy every new release you see, then it’s pretty obvious. If you know what you need already, you wouldn’t have asked the question. 🙂

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