Binge, Purge, Repeat – Learning How To Escape The Camera Consumption Spiral

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/1.7 lens

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. 

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M42 lenses, January 2017

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 Pentax Mount lens

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.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, York Photo 100 expired film

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, Pentacon Auto 135mm f/2.8 M42 lens

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-M 75-150mm f/4 Pentax K mount lens

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax 55mm f/2 Pentax K mount lens

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.

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Sony a100, Minolta AF 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens

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).

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/4 Macro Pentax K mount lens

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.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 M42 lens

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.

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Pentax MZ-5N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 Pentax K mount lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

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.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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21 thoughts on “Binge, Purge, Repeat – Learning How To Escape The Camera Consumption Spiral

  1. I used everything from 4×5 to 110 or 16mm cameras over the past few years. I have settled on folding medium format cameras for my main film cameras. I love the big beautiful 4.5×6, 6×6 and 6×9 negatives they make. I have a Nikon D7000 DSLR and a small Cannon s95 for digital. I am keeping my Nikon N80’s as they use the same glass as the digital Nikon. I also plan to keep 35mm cameras that I have had CLA’d, a Konica T4 and a Minolta 7s. That way I have 35mm for shots the folding cameras are not suited for. Also, a 35mm Minolta Weathermatic for the beach, rain and snow. So far I have sold 16 cameras/lenses and have a few to go.

  2. Hi Dan, I’m currently down to an Olympus XA2, an Olympus Trip 35, my Leica IIIa with three 50mm lenses (why???) and a Nikon FM2 with ONE 50mm lens (still to arrive). Guess I’ll stay there… and perhaps, oh perhaps (pardon the blasphemy), I’ll get rid of the Leica….

    That’s enough… I make my best photographs with the XA2 anyways!

    1. Hi Frank, I think it speaks volumes that you make your best photographs with one of the simplest cameras. It’s so refreshing to pick up something automated and pocketable isn’t it, instead of being faced with a complex SLR and arsenal of lenses?

      With the Leica are the lenses three examples of the same lens or different models/brands?

      1. I have a 1952 Leitz Summitar, a seventies Jupiter 8 and an Industar 50 of about the same vintage. The Indistar is by far the sharpest, clinically so, the Jupiter is…. well, call it interesting. Not bad, bur with some lovable flaws. The Summitar shown just the right balance of optical quality and vintage feeling for my taste. All three are totally valid lenses, each in it’s own field. Though the Summitar is perhaps the one I prefer.

      2. When lenses each have their unique charm and look, I think it’s easy to justify keeping them. I’d rather have, say, three distinctive 50s, than a 35, 50 and 135 that are all average, just for the sake of having that range of focal lengths.

        Why are you considering selling the Leica kit altogether?

      3. It’s a charming, thrilling camera that has it’s flaws. Biggest one is the viewfinder that’s unfit for old four-eyes like me. Then there’s the cost factor. I’m tempted by other lenses such as the Voigtländer Heliar 15mm but they are expensive…. and I really don’t have any cash to throw away… l’ll make a decision one day soon when I know how the FM2 that’s on the way works out for me

      4. Frank, it’s fascinating to hear the factors that influence our camera choices. I’ve noticed in the last year my eyes are not what they were, and some cameras make my eyes very tired. Which makes cameras like compacts with simple viewfinders to frame with, and my digital NEX with its screen and focus peaking aids, become far more enjoyable and usable than an old rangefinder or SLR with a poor VF where I’m squinting and struggling to focus every shot.

  3. When I restarted my camera collection ten years ago I just wanted to try them all. Now I’ve figure it out: I was born to shoot manual, metal 35mm SLRs. And I know which ones I like best: my Pentaxes and my Nikons.

    When I started reviewing cameras for my blog it was just because I wanted something to write about. And then the Internet’s long tail brought me a lot of traffic (eventually) to those reviews. And so now that I no longer consider myself a collector, but a photographer, and am pretty much ready to stop acquiring cameras and just get out and shoot the good ones I have — well, reviewing cameras still plays well on the blog. And I still enjoy trying new gear out. So I keep shooting new-to-me old cameras.

    Except I’ve bought maybe two in the last year. The rest were given to me.

    An old friend’s dad was a photo buff and is at an age where he’s getting rid of decades of accumulated stuff. He boxed up all the cameras he’s owned over the years and shipped them all to me. A Yashica TLR, a Retina, a couple higher-end point and shoots, and more.

    And a reader of my blog has shipped me probably eight cameras he’s bought, tried, wasn’t fully thrilled with, but thought I might like. He sends them gratis, no strings attached. It’s amazing! And humbling; I have no idea what I did to deserve it.

    I keep trying to sell off or give away the cameras I’m not going to use anymore, but for every one that goes out, another comes in.

  4. Jim, I first found your blog through a couple of camera reviews, and read through most of them shortly after!

    I’ve wrestled with the balance between photographer and collector for a few years.

    Like you, I just think it’s time to focus my energy on honing my absolutely favourite cameras and lenses, then using them to continue to (hopefully) improve my photographs.

  5. Interesting post and it chimes with me as I am trying to consolidate my collection. I’m trying to come to a set of film cameras I can use and I am kinda focussing on one manufacturer (Voigtlander).
    I have an Olympus Pen-F for digital which I can pair with the modern lenses or fit vintage to so I have an M39 Jupiter or an Intustar (both) 50mm and a 38mm F.Zuiko from an original Pen-F that I use (I can put the Jupiter on my Fed-3 too). I got rid of my Canon dSLR kit when I downsized to the mirrorless.
    So then in the film (as well as the Fed which I am not totally convinced about) I love my little Voigtlander Vitomatic and my ‘new’ Bessa RF which covers 35mm and 120 formats. But those are fixed lens cameras so flexibility is limited. I have a desire to try large format and have a Burke and James 6×4 press style camera which I am yet to use. I am trying to stick with Voigtlander and deciding what to do with the rest of my collection; keep because I like it or sell to make space for other Vs. Candidates for selling are an old Kodak Junior, a Rolliecord TLR plus some other less notables. Some cameras I just like the look of aesthetically and will keep those for that reason alone such as my Busch Pressman, Polaroid 800 Land Camera and a Kodak Jiffy Six16.
    Having said that your blog is getting me excited about M42 mount lenses and now I have just ordered one without any camera to pair it with.

    1. Hi SilverFox, thanks for your thoughts.

      I’m curious, why is it you’re focusing on Voigtlander? It’s intriguing how people make these decisions – I know myself that some brands I just seem to connect with, and it’s beyond anything you can list on a features sheet. It’s partly just a gut feeling you have when you pick the cameras/lenses up and use them. I had a couple of Vito Bs, absolutely beautiful little things and very impressive lenses.

      I think so many us now have this dual approach with having vintage lenses we can use on their original intended film bodies and modern digital DSLRs or mirrorless. It’s very exciting having whole ranges of lenses given new life and potential with cameras like your Olympus digital and my Son NEX.

      On the M42 front, yes I love M42! It’s partly the simplicity of the screw mount, partly the age and range and affordability of the available lenses, and partly because some of my all time favourite lenses like the Helios 44-2, Takumar 55/1.8 and Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4 are M42 mount. Enjoy this new adventure, and let me know if I can advise at all!

      1. Voigtlander because my father gave me his Vito B and it was my first ‘proper’ camera (see https://carrotroom.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/cameras-voigtlander-vito-b/) It is a wonderful little camera that took me a while to get to grips with. So I have a fondness for them because of that and also they are one of the better manufacturers that are slight less known (or less mainstream I guess) so for the quality they are mostly inexpensive.
        Thanks I have a Yashica Auto Yashinon DS 50mm f1.9 on the way and was looking at an old Pentacon to put it on.

      2. The Vito Bs are wonderful, I had a couple but despite admiring them, they were never a camera I seemed to want to reach for when I wanted to shoot film. So I sold them.

        I’ve had a couple of Yashinons in M42, a 50/2 and a 50/1.9. Both were very capable and gave excellent results. I’ve been tempted by others a few times recently, but then remember I don’t really need them with the Takumar 55/1.8 and Pancolar 50/1.8 I have in M42.

        The Yashicas I’ve had in C/Y mount have been impressive too, they’re generally an underrated brand.

  6. I love this! I often find myself trapped in that cycle of buying new equipment but I realised that using the same equipment can actually make you better !

    Just wondering if you have any tips for the trip 35 photography though because my images from mine always come out in a weird tint.

    1. Callie, thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed the post.

      Regarding the Trip 35, can you direct me to some examples online so I might be able to see what’s happening?

  7. Same problem for me but in a different way – it’s the allure of ancient cameras such as Box Brownies for me, and the excitement of seeing a picture taken on a camera that hasn’t been used for half a century. I should try to focus on taking better pictures and stop trawling Ebay for Zorkis. My wife would approve..

    1. Yeh I relate to “trawling eBay”, and it’s fun up to a point, but then almost becomes mindless consumption, just for the sake of it. That’s the time to stop!

      I do agree in a slightly different way about pictures taken on old cameras – for me it’s partly the enjoyment of reviving a lens/camera that hasn’t taken a picture for years, and partly the challenge of being able to make a halfway decent photograph with a lens/camera I’ve never used myself before.

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