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Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Gear Acquisition Syndrome is a funny and unfortunately very real thing. GAS, as it’s more well known in the photography world, is the result of an over-abundance of choice and constant upgrade cycles on camera bodies and lenses throughout the year. These upgrade cycles certainly aren’t unique to photography: smartphones, computers, game systems and even sports equipment go through constant upgrade cycles. No matter what your hobby or profession is, there’s always something bigger and better around the corner.

Shiny, new, top of the line things appeal to me as a consumer, but in searching for what feels right as a photographer, I’ve gone through a lot of equipment. In the case of lenses I decided to go to that shiny, new, top of the line range (albeit at used eBay prices), but was that a smart choice or did GAS secretly win again?

The glass you look through is important…

Consider renting before making the final purchase.

Consider renting before making the final purchase.

In the case of the lens system for my micro four thirds kit, I haven’t regretted owning the 12-35mm f/2.8 and the 35-100mm f/2.8 for a second. Both lenses, even at eBay prices, were more expensive than the camera body I use, but when it comes to glass and after deciding through trial and error that I didn’t want to carry an extensive prime set, I settled on the fastest two zoom lenses that would cover a wide range of focal lengths. The vast majority of all of the images you’ll see on this site are taken with these two lenses, apart from a few that were taken with the 100-300mm f/4.0 - 5.6.

In hindsight, I encourage trial and error to find the right lenses, but in order to make sure that you’re not just suffering from GAS and to prevent the possibility of buyer’s remorse, I definitely recommend sites like Borrowlenses.com or local camera shops that let you rent the gear before you fully purchase them. Had I had either option when I lived in Sydney, I think there are a few primes and zooms that I would have skipped when I settled on the pro zooms for the Panasonic G6 camera body.

My advice: rent the glass before you go into the purchase / sell eBay spiral.

Speaking of camera bodies…

I think this is an area that I still struggle with GAS. I settled on the Panasonic G6 because of it’s lower entry price point but also because of the video capabilities of the camera, which a lot of other manufacturers still haven’t been able to compete with. Knowing that there are other micro four thirds camera bodies like the Panasonic GH4 and the Olympus OMD E-M1 out there make me constantly wonder if I should upgrade - but this is where you need to be able to put the brakes on. In an effort to avoid the trial and error that I experienced with the lenses, I have to ask myself, “What would I really gain from owning a GH4 or an E-M1?” Would either one allow me to make better photographs? Realistically I’d have to say, “No.” Sure, the GH4 and E-M1 both offer excellent additional features like 4K video on the GH4 and a better EVF and higher shutter speeds on the E-M1 (note: this is not an exhaustive list by any means of the advantages of these two cameras over the G6), but my photography doesn’t call for either of those right now. In reality, the sensor on my G6 is nearly identical in quality to the sensors in both of those cameras, so in this case I can defeat the GAS by simply admitting that what I currently have is all I need for the image quality of the work I am doing. You have to give GAS a slight victory here by admitting that my needs may change of course in the coming year or two (weather proofing would be nice!), but to upgrade now just for the sake of upgrading is silly, especially when the perpetual cycle of the “next best thing” is right around the corner.

My advice: sometimes you have to realize that what you already have fits your needs nicely, and that the top of the line won’t be on top for long.

But what about those other camera systems?

I went micro four thirds for three main reasons: price, size and great image quality. I read a ton of information and viewed some amazing m43 sample images, so I felt very content that Panasonic / Olympus had a great camera system on their hands. I haven’t regretted that observation, especially because of the amazing lens line up and portability of these cameras. Having said that, GAS always manages to creep in and at times I have eyed other camera systems with some degree of envy.

The video autofocus of Canon’s 70D made me jealous when I saw the sample videos, because I had been struggling at that time with the endlessly spinning focus rings on m43 lenses during manual focus pulls in video. That GAS bout didn’t last long though, because I simply wouldn’t give up the size and affordability of m43 to go to a dSLR. Easy win.

The Fuji X-T1 is probably the camera that I eye the most these days. Having been using a few older 35mm SLRs again recently, I really like the way the controls are laid out on top of Fuji’s flagship camera. Also, everyone absolutely raves about the amazing EVF and the “Fuji look”, but the problem here is the commitment I’ve made to m43. If I were to go Fuji, which is an APS-C sensor, I’d have to go through the hassle of selling my m43 gear and committing to Fuji’s X system lenses. I’ve heard great things about theses lenses, mostly about the primes, but it could be tiresome to rebuild a lens kit at this point. I can beat this bout with GAS by admitting that I don’t want to go through the hassle of selling my m43 gear that works brilliantly for me already. Further, I really enjoy the touch screen on the G6 and use it constantly (something the X-T1 doesn’t offer), and if I were going to bump up to a different camera body, I’d be better off staying in the m43 system and getting whatever Panasonic or Olympus camera appeals to me next so that I can continue to use the lenses I already have.

I love the manual controls at the top of the X-T1, but it's not enough to make me change lens systems altogether.

I love the manual controls at the top of the X-T1, but it's not enough to make me change lens systems altogether.

And yes, full frame would be great, if not for that size and weight! I took a photo for a family at the summit of Mount Tremblant last weekend, and the mother had a D800 that she offered to me. I handed my Mamiya 500DTL to my girlfriend and was immediately taken aback by the weight of the D800 with the attached zoom lens. GAS has no fight here: for the foreseeable future I won’t be carrying larger, heavier bags and larger, heavier cameras and lenses to get the added resolution. Is that inexperience talking? No, I fully understand that full frame is superior image quality to micro four thirds, but it’s just not for me!

It isn’t all victories against GAS though, sometimes I lose…

Perhaps the fight against the X-T1 GAS isn’t really a victory after all, maybe it was a draw. The aspect of the “Fuji look” appealed to me, I wanted to know more. Also, I was experiencing times when I wanted to have a camera handy but I didn’t want to drag out the G6 and have to change lenses - I just wanted something lighter and portable. In my head, I made a compromise with the GAS and we settled on a really great deal on a pre-owned X100S with accessories on eBay. I ended up getting it at that great price (everyone else on eBay must have been asleep at the wheel), and I now have a camera with nearly the same image quality that I could expect from the X-T1 (granted, at a fixed 23mm). Fuji makes great products and supports them well. It’s nice to have a go-to very high end camera in a small package that I can take with me on casual shoots.

Wait...50% off? OK, now I'm in.

Wait...50% off? OK, now I'm in.

GAS also had another clear victory where my credit card literally jumped out of my wallet without a second thought. For some time I have been enamored with the Prores / RAW recording capabilities of BlackMagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera, but the thought of spending $1,000 on it had given me pause. I had read some of the reviews stating that the firmware wasn’t quite ‘there’ yet, and with a few quirks (black hole sensor issues) that needed to be worked out, I decided that I would hold off. I concentrated on still photography and loved it, while the G6 also provided ample video when called upon, albeit at AVCHD quality. Still, when BlackMagic dropped the price of the Pocket Cinema Camera to $495 this summer, I had to react. With m43 lenses and memory cards fast enough to work with the Pocket Cinema Camera’s RAW recording capabilities already secured, GAS kicked into high gear and I made the purchase, albeit at 50% less than normal cost. In the end, the firmware has been updated and matured so much on the Pocket Cinema Camera that I still have to recommend it. There are plenty of reviews on the pro’s and con’s of the Pocket Cinema Camera, but after my initial testing I can tell you that the RAW video is so workable in Davinci Resolve that I’m amazed a $500 camera can produce it. The price has since gone back up to $1,000, but the question is would I pay $1,000 for it even after seeing these incredible first results? Perhaps surprisingly, my answer is probably not. If you're going to invest $1,000 into the camera and you're serious about using it, you’d probably be better off looking into one of their higher level Cinema Cameras at that point...or is that just the GAS talking?

Rules to live by... 

Here’s how I’ve learned to contain my GAS (I say contain because it can never truly be defeated):

  • Research what you need to obtain the results you desire. Don't be impulsive.
  • Rent what you want to see if it’s truly worthy of a purchase (thus preventing buyers remorse). This is where places like Borrowlenses.com or your local photo shop come in handy.
  • It’s ok to look, but don’t touch (your credit card).
  • Use your kit extensively before adding to it (something I failed to do early on - purchasing accessories up front without truly needing them right away can be costly. Test what you have, use experience to guide you into understanding what you truly need after that)
  • Never, under any circumstances, let purchasing equipment put you into a financial hardship. There are too many low cost alternatives that allow for making beautiful and engaging images without putting yourself into debt of any kind. In short, don’t go right into a medium format camera if you’re coming from your iPhone and want to get started in photography. 
  • If you’re a professional photographer with an itchy credit card trigger finger, consider implementing a yearly equipment upgrade cycle into your budget. A self-imposed time restriction may help you refrain from jumping at new gear impulsively.
  • If you're just starting out, get something affordable and have fun with it. Use it as a tool to learn the key concepts of photography before you jump to the higher end equipment.

Bottom line: USE what you have instead of being envious of what else is out there. After all, it’s not always about the shiny new equipment that you think will somehow improve your photography skills. Only you can improve your skills with practice, time and dedication. I think Ansel Adams put it best:

 

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” 

 

Product images above courtesy of B&H Photo

 

OpinionRob ZeiglerGearComment