Recently, I had one of those revelations that the way you’re doing something is in fact entirely at odds with your reasons for doing it in the first place.
To elaborate, despite one of the main reasons I love photography being the ability to escape from the day to day and become lost in the moment, I was too often lost in the future instead.
More specifically, the future being which new (new to me, usually at least 30 years old!) camera and lens I would be using next.
So rather than being immersed and enjoying the equipment I’d chosen for that particular photoramble, I was trying to hurry it through, just to get to the next one.
An overwhelming contributing factor was having too many new lenses and cameras I’d bought but not yet tested, and this evolving into an anxiety almost that I must get through them as quickly as possible.
Something needed to change.
The first step in overcoming a problem, they say, is to acknowledge it.
So here it is – I buy way too much new camera kit and this gets in the way of me enjoying what I have.
How it gets in the way
1. Future, not present. The most obvious is what I’ve already mentioned. Whichever camera/lens I’m using, I’m thinking about which one to use next, or even to buy next, not the one I’m currently using. If your eyes are always on the horizon, you’ll never see the beauty at your feet.
2. Buying more kit means more time looking for it. Most often on eBay. I have limited “photography time” overall, as we all do, so time when I’m not able to be out with camera, I’d rather be spending editing photos already taken and communicating here with you, rather than shopping.
3. Limiting my total kit means when one comes in, another goes out. Again, usually via eBay, which means spending more time photographing and listing the stuff I’m selling, instead of investing this time in other ways – see point 2 above.
4. Never finding my favourite cameras and lenses. With cameras this is not as bad, and I know the half dozen cameras that form the cornerstones of my kit. With lenses though, I have far more, and seem to seek them out more. Because I’m rarely going on two consecutive shoots with the same lens, I’m not getting to know (m)any of them enough to find my absolute favourites. Which is unsatisfying.
5. Never finding my favourite combos. This is an extension of point 4 above. Simply speaking, even two cameras with two lenses gives you four combinations. Three cameras and three lenses gives you nine different match ups. If you went out on a photoramble even once a week, that’s nine weeks before you’d tried every combo once. Shooting film adds another variable. Three cameras, three lenses, three films equals 27 combos!
A part of me longs for the time when I know which combos give me the most satisfying photographs, and not just yet another “quite good but not spectacular” handful of photographs.
What I’m doing to stop the spiral
You’d think the first step would be obvious – stop buying. But for this to work for me, I need to know I have a good enough sample/range at my disposal to not be constantly thinking of new possible replacements.
So to get to this point, I’ve had to work backwards a little, and first narrow the parameters.
Essentially this has come down to limiting three things – cameras, lens mounts, and focal lengths.
I now have a range of cameras I love.
For film, Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F (M42), Contax 139 Quartz (C/Y mount, but now used exclusively for M42 via adapter), Canon EOS 300V (EF mount, but now also used exclusively for M42), Pentax Program A (Pentax K mount, but also has an M42 adapter), and Minolta Dynax 7000i (Minolta AF mount, plus another M42 adapter. Have you spotted a pattern?!)
On the digital front I have two. Sony a100 DSLR which I use with a couple of Minolta AF lenses (same mount as the Dynax 7000i), plus have an adapter to use M42. Again. Then a Sony NEX 3N with adapters for, you guessed it, M42, plus Pentax K.
You’ll notice now there are only three lens mounts.
Minolta/Sony AF of which I have two lenses, Pentax K which number maybe eight lenses, and M42 which amount to around another 12 lenses.
The choice of these three lens mounts has a specific logic, at least to me.
M42 – huge range of gorgeous all manual vintage lenses, very affordable, very easy to adapt to a range of cameras.
Pentax K (PK) – smaller but also very capable range of lenses (most of mine are Pentax’s own), very compact, smooth, high build quality lenses with some automation compared with M42.
Minolta/Sony AF – a wide range available, though I only feel the need for two, a 35-70/4 and 50/2.8 Macro, which allow for excellent results, plus far more automation than the mounts above.
Finally the third element was focal lengths.
Whilst with compact cameras (a whole other subset outside of this post!) 35mm seems the natural choice, with occasional dips into wider focal lengths like 30, 28 or 24mm, with SLRs 50/55 is my normal, go-to length. Aside from a sole 35mm lens (the wonderful Flektogon 35/2.4) I don’t really get on with anything wider than 50mm.
In recent times though, I have come to greatly love 135mm. In between 50 and 135, I have two or three lenses that are either primes (like the Asahi Takumar 105/2.8) or zooms that bridge part of the gap (like the Minolta AF 35-70mm or SMC Pentax-M 75-150mm).
I can’t see me seeking out anything wider than 50mm in the near future, or anything longer than 135mm (aside from the 150mm long end of that Pentax-M zoom). Or much else in between.
So by restricting myself to these three mounts, and mostly just two focal lengths, it becomes drastically easier to see an end to the binge, purge, repeat cycle of photographic kit consumption this post is all about tackling.
Minolta AF mount I just tried because the Sony a100 so impressed me with M42 lenses, I was curious about the vintage native mount glass, ie Minolta (before Sony bought them out). The two lenses I have are so remarkable I can’t bear to part with them, though this would simplify my whole system to just the two mounts.
Anyway, I have no plans or temptation to seek out a full arsenal of Minolta AF lenses, not least of all because AF lenses – however capable – only have limited, occasional appeal for me. I just prefer giving my hands more to do when shooting.
In both M42 and PK mounts I have too many 50s, and too many 135s.
But what I do know is I have pretty much the best I’m likely to find in both mounts, without spending silly money, and that both mounts offer some of the best lenses ever made, again without getting into vast amounts of money for high end Contax/Zeiss or Leica glass, for example.
So I’m looking forward to something of a new era with my photography.
One of finding the best of the best 50s and 135s in the mounts I’ve chosen, and then exploring the combos that work best with each of these.
I recognise there might come a time when I might want to try an 85 or 90mm or a 28mm again.
But by already having limited my choice of mounts and camera bodies, I can do this in a manageable way, without needing to try out every 28/85/90mm lenses made in any mount ever.
In short, my first port of call would be either an M42 Takumar, an SMC Pentax-M in PK mount, or a Minolta AF, depending on the automation needed, and the camera(s) I planned to use it with most.
Photography, for me, is hugely about escaping and immersing in the moment and the beauty of what you’ve chosen to frame in that little rectangle. When I lose sight of this, I know it’s time to ask a few questions, and get back on track.
With an ample lashing of logic and a smattering of willpower, I’m confident that in the coming months I’ll be able to do that, and after selling off the last few also rans, have a core kit that offers all I need without spending a penny more.
What are your consumption habits with camera kit?
Do you find yourself on similar binge, purge, repeat cycles that get in the way of you just enjoying and connecting with the best kit you already own?
Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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