Simple Photography-do we all need the latest camera gear?

The photography industry – let’s call it the photography industrial complex! – consists of camera manufacturers, distributors, retailers and a host of ancillary functions such as camera review sites and Youtube channels explaining how to use your camera.

All are oriented towards getting you to upgrade to the latest camera gear.

Most web site and Youtube reviewers earn sales commissions through affiliate links to “where to buy” retailers. This is how most web sites and Youtube channels make their living. In effect, everyone is a sales person on behalf of the camera makers and retailers. Some reviewers receive loaned or free gear in hopes there will be a positive review produced.

Everyone in the photo world has become a gear pusher – even the user community! Online forums are filled with posts from users commenting on the intricacies of sensor noise, dynamic range, lens corner sharpness, bokeh – and a host of items that make a difference in specific usage scenarios and typically for those who make money from their photography (which is a smaller subset).

Everyone piles on – believing they need the latest camera gear – right now! The gear they buy today will be obsolete, by their own definition, when next year’s model comes out. Most of us have little use for the new features – and often do not use the full capabilities of the gear we already own. Instead, we suffer from “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” or GAS.

We live in a “consumer society” where we are flooded with incentives and encouragement to constantly buy more stuff! Even when we are overflowing with stuff in our lives!

As I jog around my neighborhood on the weekends I see a lot of garage doors open and the garages half or entirely filled with “stuff” that people are storing. People have so much stuff they no longer have room to store all of it, let alone use it!

Many of us succumb to the 24 x 7 wall to wall marketing propaganda that surrounds us. The marketing noise is so intense that we often no longer recognize it – its just there, all the time.

We suffer from a fear of being left behind, or being less attractive, or less well thought of if we are using last year’s model. This fear drives people to upgrade their $1,000 smart phones every year, to buy (or lease) new cars every other year, and to spend money on newer stuff. (Such people frequently complain they do not have enough money – gee, wonder why?)

Do we really need to live our lives this way?

When it comes to cameras, do we really need to upgrade that camera body or lens because there’s a new toy on the market?

Great photos are taken by photographers – they are not made by camera bodies (with few exceptions such as landscape and architecture photography which really do depend on very high resolution sensors for some of their work, or certain low light usage scenarios.) I have seen a few professional photographers write that their greatest earning photos were taken users ago with far lesser cameras than we have today.

Another peculiarity is the amount of money consumers are willing to spend on photography. By consumer I mean someone who is not a professional, and is not earning any serious money from their photography. It’s basically a hobby, albeit, a serious hobby with practitioners striving for excellence.

But a $3,500 camera body attached to an assortment of lenses that may run $2,000 to $20,000 is wild. The camera body alone has the value of perhaps 7 notebook computers. With lenses, people are walking around with high value density goods – literally, in a bag they’ve got the equivalent of the value of a car!

The camera makers are moving further up scale as new cameras – even those formerly targeted at consumers with under $1,000 price points – are gradually rising to $2,000 and up.

All of this depends on this broad ecosystem of marketing propaganda to persuade everyone they really do need to move upscale and spend more money.

But do they?

I know I’m a weirdo who is years behind on acquiring stuff. For the most part, this lets me do what I want to do at a fraction of the cost. Recently I noticed the cost of a single camera that would do roughly the features I wanted, starts at $2,000 and goes up from there. Instead, I have a combination of older cameras, each bought typically for $200 to $300, used – that together gives me more features and capabilities for far less than buying a single new camera. (One has better low light capability, another is water proof but not so great at low light-for me, low light is an indoor thing and rain is an outdoor, decent lighting thing so separate used cameras!)

Perhaps this is related to voluntary simplicity – seems like it would be of interest to others. Literally, no one reviews older cameras – yet many older cameras stand the march of time and on many measures continue to compare favorably against the latest and greatest gear. A year ago I met a top ranked, award winning professional photographer from Canada – she shoots with her 16 megapixel Nikon D4 because it delivers the results her clients want. She also had a ton of business sense, in multiple ways, and one is her recognition that the gear is not the #1 way she adds value to her clients. Another Canadian photographer sold his high end “pro” Nikon gear and does all of his work now with “low end” Nikon 1 cameras – finding the small size, and less depth of field, was advantageous to the work he does.

Of course, camera makers and retailers depend on new gear sales – the incentives are to push consumers to buy, buy, buy. This discourages most anyone from reviewing older gear and being heretical by suggesting an older or “lesser” camera might actually be a good deal 🙂

Update from today’s Business News

28 percent of shoppers are entering this holiday season still paying off debt from last year’s [Christmas] festivities, according to NerdWallet.

Wow. 28% are still carrying credit card from Christmas 12 months ago. We presently have a strong economy with very low unemployment. What happens when the next recession or depression hits and all these people are carrying excess debt?

Perhaps people need to live within their means and not succumb to marketing propaganda pressure to buy things they probably do not need.

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