Why GAS might actually turn out to be good for you

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One is bad enough. Two is…well, probably a signal that some form of clinical treatment is required. Full disclosure: the second one was supplied as a spare for the Thaipusam video; we didn’t use it.

At the risk of severely contradicting myself, I’m going to offer an alternative point of view to several of my posts from earlier this year (namely, this one on diminishing returns; this one on finding the right camera and moving on; this one on ideal formats for a given creative output). Many of you have pointed out in the comments and subsequent emails etc. that things are not really quite so clear cut; I’ve given this some thought and spent some time rationalising my own equipment journey – especially since from an external standpoint, it might appear that I’m probably the worst offender of all. The conclusion, is of course one of very fine balance – like most things in photography; and like most things creative, a little tension is required to produce not-safe and not-boring results. Here are my thoughts on why…

As always, personal motivations and their underlying psychology sit at the core of things. We must return to the original question of why we photograph at all; even if you do it for a living and you have no other transferrable vocational skills, there must have been something to push photography over an easier profession as a means to make a living. In every case, the answer boils down to there being something about the process or the results that appeals to us. There is an emotional return. There may no longer be an emotional return after an extended period of pursuing photography; this is generally the point at which pros lose their edge and become unmotivated or uncompetitive, or land up exiting the industry; for amateurs*, the first symptom is taking fewer images, then eventually hanging up the camera and no longer having DPReview as your browser homepage. Sometimes the interest returns after a break, sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes overdoing things can result in burnout. Important point number one: we photograph because we enjoy it, and we seek to photograph things or use equipment we enjoy.

*I use these terms in the purest definition of the term: somebody who photographs for personal pleasure and not profit, vs whose primary income derives from photography – regardless of skill level.

There are of course exceptions; in fact, most of the time, hardware and subject choices are a compromise – and not just because the ‘perfect combination’ for every situation is necessarily different, expensive, heavy, or simply does not exist. We use what we can afford (or commercially justify), what we have access to, and photograph places and subjects that are convenient (either easy for us to access, or in the case of pros, offered to us as clients). Depending on your means and ability, this may or may not continue to be sufficiently satisfying over an extended period of time. I’ve had the chance to ask a lot of people what their ideal subject and hardware would be, with no limits imposed: most people actually don’t know, which prompted a whole separate discussion on creative (proactive) vs documentary (reactive) mindsets. Most of us therefore require constant injections of dictated ‘new’ to avoid getting acclimatised and comfortable – whether this takes the form of travel, subjects or lenses. Important point number two: fatigue is environmental, and there’s such a thing as the right amount of choice to spur creativity.

The internet has made two things much easier: firstly, the ability to see what’s possible at other destinations or with other subjects, which has the knock-on effect of either making it very difficult to be satisfied with one’s own images when you see what else can be produced – or leaving the feeling of being jaded because there’s nothing new. (Of course, it’s equally possible to use such resources as a guide to what not to shoot if you want to make a unique image.) Even if one succeeds in creating something unique, that tends to not last for very long: it’s just as easy for somebody else to see what you’ve been up to, which is probably exacerbated by our own desire to use social media share and show off. The second part is obvious: not only do we get new camera information immediately, but we tend to get it before ‘official’ releases thanks to rumour sites and the like – to the point that there is some seriously obsessive behaviour taking place on internet forums as though such speculations were not just religion, but immediate life or death and treasonous. There is no more being contented and un-curious, because it’s not just held up in front of our faces, it comes with a handy ‘buy it now’ link, too. We can blame the marketing people for that. Important point number three: too much information makes you want more information, and yesterday.

Unfortunately, such patterns are probably addictive in the same way as anything else: we need bigger and bigger hits to give us the same amount of satisfaction, eventually leading to other problems when technological or financial limits are reached. One of two things happens now: you quit, or you make pictures. You can of course shortcut the whole process by just ‘going for the best you can afford’ and then on to the making pictures bit; this is probably the most desirable route for all creatives. Execution is an important part of the creative process, too: if you don’t feel like you’re getting a positive emotional return from handling and shooting with the hardware, then you’re probably not going to be inclined to use it as much, which in turn means you shoot less, experiment less, and make worse images. Better, sexier cameras do make better photos – but not for the reasons that immediately come to mind. The fire eventually has to be fed, though, and inevitably – if there’s enough focus on the creative part, ideas will surface that hit executional limitations – and the cycle begins again. Important point number four: beyond technical capabilities, the emotional appeal of hardware also matters because it affects our motivation to make images – which of course in turn affects the images themselves.

This is where I’ve found myself over the last five years: in possession of the best tool for my immediate creative needs and a bit more, but then pushed a little further by client, evolution of own ideas, or simply experimentation leading to inadequacies you cannot compensate for in current hardware being made obvious – then balancing that off with economic return and the state of my bank account. I’m fortunate to have reached the ultimate endpoint in that game – having the very best hardware and not just access to but being involved in development of the next generation – and curiously, I find myself not pursuing absolute numbers and specs so much as considering emotional factors. Whilst it’s a given that we will produce the best image quality we can, and make it as ergonomic and well-made as possible – I’m acutely aware that there has to be something more to drive you to want to pick it up, shoot with it, and not want to put it down. Call it object quality; call it experience; call it tactility – there’s no hiding that any piece of gear that gives us a major itch is going to get fondled, shot and enjoyed a lot more than something unemotional that doesn’t. Given that the market is moving into a more mature state where the hardcore pros keep going even though there are easier ways to make money, and pretty much all requirements for amateur use have been long surpassed – I firmly believe this is the only way to go. MT

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Comments

  1. It’s one of the things I don’t understand with the camera manufacturers – they have very little that’s affordable for impulse purchases. So most of the time my GAS is satisfied by third parties: grip, off camera speed lights, modifiers, remote, timer, neck strap.

    Pretty much everything for which the immediate ROI couldn’t justify it but the emotional need was present.

  2. I’m not proud of my GAS, and it’s only this year that I’ve felt I’ve finally managed to build up the appropriate systems I needed. I’ve jumped from Canon to Nikon, and Sony mirrorless to Fuji in the last 5 years. I’ve gone through 3 different camera bodies over the past year alone, and literally a dozen lenses. When I stop to think about it, that’s a LOT of money that I honestly could’ve put to better use, more so when I realize how much money that came up to in total.

    But as painful and expensive as the process was, it’s also been an important, though not necessary part to my learning. By going through this many camera brands, bodies and lenses, I’m finally able to nail down what matters to me in terms of camera ergonomics and handling, the image output, lens character, personal preference for focal lengths and how much gear I’m willing to bring with me.

    I’m now only keeping the workhorse accessories that I definitely need for work and enjoy using for my personal projects, and that’s it. There will always be a new lens or camera that I feel I could benefit from, but as it is, I have everything that I need, and whatever gear that I may be lacking (such as an ultra wide angle lens), it would open up some options to have them but I don’t desperately need it to get a job done.

    • I’d argue it’s not just that: sometimes we also need to see the grass isn’t greener on the other side, but the hard way…nobody more guilty of that than I! 🙂

      • True that, but I had some very valid reasons for making the jump from Canon to Nikon. The main reason was the awful customer support from Canon Malaysia who could somehow take a perfectly working camera and completely mess up the autofocus unit for me. The second reason was despite having several full-frame lenses as an APS-C user, there wasn’t a Canon full frame body that really fit my budget and had the feature set of the NIkon equivalent. The 6D kit wasn’t that much cheaper than a D750 kit, and it’s nowhere as capable. There’s also budget. Aside from the 24-120 kit, all my other lenses are the AF-D screw-drive lenses, which are far cheaper, and allows me to adapt them over to my mirrorless cameras as well. About the only things I missed from using a Canon were the Dual Pixel live view, and touchscreen interface of the 70 which both were admittedly excellent. Nikon DSLR live view is embarrassingly bad in comparison.

        As for the Sony to Fuji however, the intention of getting a Song a6000 was to build a secondary workhorse. I relied on the trio of cheap and very good Sigma 19, 30 and 60mm lenses. There wasn’t any real problem with the lenses, but they were contrast detect only, so the focusing tended to be rather slow in low light. I waited for years for Sony to come up with a native E-mount 16-50 f2.8 zoom, but it just never materialized, so I jumped ship to Fuji instead when the need for an alternate, smaller workhorse became more pressing.

        • If only there was some sort of rental house here where we could try out gear before committing to a whole system… 😛

          • Michael Demeyer says:

            LensRentals.com is great here in the US.

            • Except those of us who don’t live in the US – myself included – don’t have that option 🙂

              • Exactly, that’s the problem with the Malaysian camera market. There’s no option to rent, or buy refurbished models that come with a warranty. You pretty much have to take the plunge with a new camera and pray you don’t get a lemon. Most stores won’t let you open the box test the unit until you’ve paid for it, since the camera would be treated as used once opened. And unless you have a very severe problem like the camera not being able to switch on, the shop isn’t going to give you a one to one exchange.

                I happened to buy a 70D with a faulty autofocus unit. Shooting through the OVF, I would get randomly out of focus shots for no good reason, even when the lighting conditions are pretty easy.. I did a tripod test, took dozens of shots and found that I basically have 1 in 10 shots on average that’s not going to come out properly focused, no matter what kind of lighting or lens I was using. It wasn’t an AF fine tune issue because the other 90% would come out perfectly in focus, and the problem disappears in live view.

                So I went back to Canon Malaysia with my test shots, and the technician snidely remarked I should learn to use the camera. Canon refused to acknowledge there was a problem with my camera and wouldn’t even take a look at it. Between that and Canon previously messing up my 650D’s autofocus module when I sent it in for calibration, I didn’t feel enough confidence to buy a third Canon body by that point. So I traded up for a Nikon D750 instead, and thankfully the camera had served me well since.

  3. It seems to me that men (mostly) & women, need a focus point somewhere to be heading and photography enables that. Maybe a new ,better lens is next, or maybe the next day will have better light for our favourite place to shoot. Maybe that next camera will be better or lighter or more reliable. Maybe we need to drive to our next focus point, and shoot away, just so long as we are moving in reality, or metaphorically by looking for a focus point through a viewfinder.
    So GAS also allows us to move by moving towards that next best…whatever it is. It is good for us. Maybe not in easily explained rational terms but still allows us a long term focus , and so a release..even if it gets blurred at times,we just stop, think and start all over again, by buying another , better gizmo…;)

    • I would distinguish between “GA” and “GAS”. The “s” is important as it refers to “syndrome” more often applied to a health or medical condition. “GA” is perfectly normal; we all strive to improve our photography and skill level and more sophisticated equipment can help us further our goals. But when we do this, I’d argue that we have knowingly reached a point where our kit can no longer deliver what we need.

      “GAS”, however, is where be believe the next best thing will somehow transport us to a higher plane, and this is where the “S” comes into play. We acquire a piece of kit which somehow doesn’t seem to deliver, so we tend to blame that rather than our own lack of skill or imagination, and then get something technically better in the vain hope that this is what we need. Then the “S” really takes hold and we simply must have the latest because this will, obviously, answer all our prayers.

  4. Kristian Wannebo says:

    The link
    “a whole separate discussion on creative (proactive) vs documentary (reactive) mindsets”
    seems to be broken.

  5. What are you all going on about? I love lenses. I love to have has many lenses as possible because I love to hold them
    And look through them and shoot through them. They are to me one of the wonders of the world and I make no apologies.
    I also love cameras. I have never ever shot a camera and heard the clicking sound of the shutter that I did not enjoy.
    I am an amateur and a lousy photographer but I love using my gear. One day I’m going to buy an 8×10 Deardorf because
    I want to look through it even though I decided never to fool around with film, and one day I’m going to buy a 100mp
    Hd6 because I want to see what a 100mp file looks like, even though 32k for a camera is absurd.

  6. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Ming. I have the gear I “want” – not necessarily the “best” (whatever that means), although perhaps the best I can afford – but even within that financial constraint, before I purchased it, I sat down and considered what I would use it for, and why I considered it would be a good idea to acquire it. One purchase has since been superseded by technology, but that happens. As for the rest, I am happy with it. And use it. All of it. Some of it more than other bits, but that’s inevitable – and within the scope of the whole equipment thing.
    With the previous set-up I had for analogue photography, I always had a tele lens – but for decades, I found I scarcely ever used it. If I’m desperate for one now, I can “make do” with what I’ve got – the zoom lens that came with my HF, for example. So I made a conscious decision that – for my purposes – a tele lens for my main cam – my FF DSLR – would simply be a waste of money.
    And with the gear I have, I maintain accurate records of usage. Partly because it helps me to improve my skill set, by monitoring the shots I take – but also to monitor whether I really do need or use “this” or “that” piece of gear.
    On another blog, one photographer made this comment – My view is “what can I use this for?” rather than “who would want that?”
    I think that sums it up rather well. 🙂

    • I think it’s not wrong to ask what/ how one can deploy new tech – often creative advances come out of speculative experimentation after all – but it’s a perilously thin line between that and pure buying for the sake of it. I realize that whilst I like fast primes, I tend to do most of my work with zooms, for instance. And after a while you realize you are merely romanticizing and no creative advances happen, merely drainage of the bank account…

  7. The marriage that didn’t last long……..
    I knew my friend was in trouble when on his honeymoon night he was busy fondling his new Leica M6 ( a wedding gift from his father in law ) and not his wife!
    They are no longer married and my friend has gone on the newer models…….

  8. Totally agree, Ming. The emotion factor in a tool is crucial. Ask any real craftsman if he’s (she’s) indifferent to her tools. But that’s also a good reason to KEEP the tools we love, irrespective of technological evolution.

    PS: It’s refreshing to see Ming discovering the non-technical aspects of the trade, the “why” we shoot. Next, perhaps, will be giving up on the sacred graal of absolute sharpness as “image quality”, which is maybe necessary in certain contexts (esp. pro work) but rarely a guarantee of, nor necessary for, “image emotion”…

    • Yes and no – I’ve a lot of essays on these topics in the archives, and my aim is still to have it all – quality and emotion. Why compromise? That’s the road to mediocrity…

  9. Ok , Imma give in and get the X1D. GAS or not I can’t hold it anymore. Ming please tell them to make the 65mm a wide aperture one (or at least wider than other) , Pleeaasseee. Thank you 🙂

  10. Egmont Bonomi says:

    G.A.S.? I have no idea what you’re going on about here Ming… Purchasing gear based on the emotional response we get from just looking at it, who would do such a thing? 😉

  11. Frans Richard says:

    “Given that the market is moving into a more mature state […] and pretty much all requirements for amateur use have been long surpassed ”

    If you’re referring to technical image aspects like IQ, number of pixels and ability to control DOF and motion blur, I agree. But photographers, amateurs especially, have other requirements that no camera maker currently offers: user friendly workflow.

    If you look at the current generation of smartphones you will know what I mean. Why can’t a ‘real’ camera connect to my home WiFi to (automatically) transfer images to my storage at home? Why can’t I post an image to Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, … directly from my camera, anywhere, anytime? Why can’t I put my camera down on a table and it will start charging? Need I go on?

    Thinking the camera market is moving into a more mature state may get you caught by surprise when Apple or similar company decides to introduce a ‘real’ camera.

  12. Hi, Ming, I could have sworn I saw a 40mmcfe if yesterday. Any photos from that lens or comment? Thanks, Calvin.

  13. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    I gave up GAS for photography years ago. I shoot only to please myself and found that all I need is a Nikon FM2n plus a small handful of prime lenses and I’m good to go. I havent bought a single piece of camera gear in many, many years.

  14. Alex Carnes says:

    I still don’t really know whether I have GAS or not; although I’ll admit from the outset that I’m guilty of pre-ordering the D850.

    Of course part of the reason is curiosity: I want to check it out and see for myself what it can do. At present I have a D810 and a D750, and I bought the latter basically for shooting gigs: the D810’s AF is pretty shocking in low light! If the new camera offers the D810’s amazing image quality with improved AF, especially in low light, then I’ve won. The plan is to part exchange the D750 for the new camera although lord knows when I’ll actually receive the ordered D850…!!

    The only other thing I’m really GASing after is a replacement for my Ricoh GR. I want a better pocket rocket, but the Leica Q is a ripoff, Ricoh seem to be abandoning the camera market, Nikon have abandoned the Coolpix A, and Fuji show no signs of replacing their awful 19mm prime.

    I love shooting the Nikons but there’s a gap in my life for a smaller meaner camera that I can just keep on me for spotting the moment… a camera that’s enjoyable to shoot, which the GR certainly is not in my opinion!

  15. I feel completely vindicated. Thank you 😉

  16. Julian Macedo says:

    “any piece of gear that gives us a major itch is going to get fondled, shot and enjoyed a lot more than something unemotional that doesn’t” Expresses exactly why my carry-around kit has moved from Nikon FF+crop bodies and brace of 2.8 lenses, to a Fuji X-E2, kit lens and 50 year old Russian 135mm. I love using the old manual lens. It’s tactile, slightly sticky in operation, and good enough quality for my purposes. It goes with the retro looks of the body. It gives me an overall sense of mechanics working to capture an image, instead of electronics. Do I miss wider apertures and IS? Of course, but not enough to deter me from shooting.

    • By and large, I agree: they just don’t make lenses like they used to mechanically – part of that has to do with the requirements to enable autofocus, part of that has to do with market expectations on price…

  17. I have found that just like the physical sort of gas, the photographic kind just goes away by itself. I have decent equipment, nothing special, and it does the job.
    The GAS relief is helped along, for example, by a review I read several hours ago about using a Leica M10 for a year. The owner was quite taken with his camera, even though it turns out he had to return the first one as defective after a few weeks, the replacement had to be replaced shortly after he got it, and the third one, (which he bubbled had worked perfectly for the last ten months), did have the usual heating up problem when using the EVF a lot, and tended to blow out highlights. Well for heavens sake, what do you expect for a mere $7000?
    This sort of thing has also provided not only GAS relief, but a bit of comic relief as well.
    You mention that some people hit a sort of saturation point and then just get on with taking pictures. I couldn’t agree more.

  18. Dr. Ming? Could I have a prescription for some really strong camera gear? 100C sounds like an appropriate dose for my particular illness.

  19. I think it’s simple human nature to crave “more and better”, and this nature often over-rides our logical minds. For instance, I’d LOVE to shoot with a 100MP medium format body, be it Hasselblad or Phase One, but my logical mind knows that this is overkill a million times over for someone like myself who almost never prints and, when I do, usually at postcard size and for friends.

    Couple of other points which you bring up :

    “…and no longer having DPReview as your browser homepage”

    I think that having DPReview as your browser homepage is probably a major contributor to a precipitous crash in one’s enjoyment of photography 🙂 (“I note that in your picture of the brick wall, which you shot with a 100MP Phase One, that the brick at the bottom left is slightly soft in comparison with the others, and here is proof which you need a PHD in math to understand. This means that Phase One is no good and that (my preferred brand) is better”).

    “I’m acutely aware that there has to be something more to drive you to want to pick it up, shoot with it, and not want to put it down. Call it object quality; call it experience; call it tactility – there’s no hiding that any piece of gear that gives us a major itch is going to get fondled, shot and enjoyed a lot more than something unemotional that doesn’t.”

    This is an interesting point and until recently, I would have fully agreed with it. However…my Sony RX10 recently gave up the ghost, and I picked up the mark 3 (the 24-600 equivalent) to replace it, as I already had a spare battery and charger. I never really got the “itch” with the mark 1, but the sheer versatility made up for it. Same with the mark 3 : I enjoy using my Epson R-D1 more in every possible way, but when you have 24-600 with pretty darn decent image quality (more than enough for the web), then you start to use it more and more because it just expands your photographic horizons so much.

    It’s probably a question of “phases”, too. Your current phase would appear to be “highest possible IQ”, leading to your choice of the Hasselblads. Prior to that, there were probably the “good enough” phase, the “convenience” phase, the “light as possible” phase, etc. I’m now in the “as little gear as possible to get as much as possible” phase, hence the RX10 3.

    A thought-provoking article as usual!

    • Actually, I’m perpetually in the “tradeoff” phase: I want the best balance between performance, IQ, cost, weight, reliability, durability etc…but that equation hanged changes depending on what I’m shooting on any given day. I agree over time you land up with much bigger shifts as one’s own work and clients change…

    • Michael Demeyer says:

      Mark,

      I think your point goes to Ming’s comment about which aspect of the process of photography resonates most with you. I personally bias toward the “taking” from a derived pleasure standpoint, and consider the processing tolerable drudgery. Interestingly, I have the same feeling about my other serious hobby which is recording classical music. I love going out on the hunt, but don’t enjoy butchering the meat. Back in the film days, I did love the darkroom aspect of photography. So it’s not just being out and about…

      What that means for me is that there must be pleasure in shooting. And that means (for me) that I have to enjoy using the equipment. I loved 4c5 view camera work and my current Cambo Actus for the things they are suited to. And I confess that I find shooting my Leica M10 much more
      pleasurable than the modified Sony that backs it up and does duty on the Actus. As a result, I do carry it more, shoot more, and make better images with it. Could I have made them (technically) with the Sony? Of course. Would I have? No. It would have been at home.

      I once said in a thread here that hobbies are made to consume time and money in pleasurable pursuit. What I use matters in achieving that end.

      Michael

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