Friday, November 20, 2015

How Many Cameras Do You Need?

Love - Tehachapi, California
I was having a conversation yesterday with my six-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter about cameras. My son told me that he was sad that I no longer had my DSLR (or, as he called it, "the big black camera"). I'm not sure exactly why he was upset about it, but I explained that I still have other cameras and I just didn't need that one anymore.

My daughter asked, "How many other cameras do you have?"

I had to think about that for a moment and count them in my mind.

- Sony RX100 II, which is my latest digital camera and what I replaced my DSLR with.
- Nokia Lumia 1020. Yes, it's a cell phone, but it's also a high-resolution digital camera.
- Minolta XG-1 35mm SLR (and a bunch of lenses). I haven't used this camera since 2013.
- FED 5c 35mm rangefinder (with a 50mm lens). I use this camera once or twice a year.
- Holga 120N medium-format camera. It creates interesting images, but I haven't used it since 2013.
- Yashica Minister-D 35mm rangefinder that I picked up at a flea market a couple of weeks ago.
- Canon PowerShot N digital point-and-shoot. This is my wife's camera, but I've occasionally used it.

That's a lot of cameras! Too many, in fact. I don't need that many cameras. Two of them have been collecting dust for over two years. What's the point in owning them?
Brush In The Rocks - Stallion Springs, California
I remember reading several years ago in a book about photography that one should have at least two cameras: a "primary" camera that you use all of the time, and a "backup" camera should something happen to the primary camera or if you should find yourself needing two cameras at once for some reason. You should also have a "speciality" camera (maybe an infrared or a fixed-focal-length camera for street or something else that your primary and secondary cameras just aren't good for or capable of), and a "fun" camera that doesn't really serve any real purpose but you have it because you like using it.

Back when I first started out in photography I had one camera and one lens: a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm prime attached to it. Later it was a Promaster 2500PK (a Pentax SLR made by Cosina) with a 50mm lens. It wasn't until I started with digital photography that I began to accumulate gear.

I think one reason I began to accumulate cameras is because digital technology changes quickly, and camera manufacturers and camera retailers (and those who are paid by camera manufacturers and retailers) do a great job of making you think you need new gear, and that your old gear is somehow inferior. Even though your camera is only a year or two old, it's not as good as the latest-and-greatest.
Shoots & Ladder - Pasadena, California
Another reason is that I like to have things--I've become a collector. I think that's a common problem. I think some vintage camera is cool so I want to own it, even though I might not ever use it (and if I do use the camera it will be only a couple times per year). While there's nothing wrong with collecting, something that I've learned is that my collection is good at two things: collecting dust and taking up space. And so the money I've spent on this gear is wasted.

Yet another reason that I began to accumulate cameras is the imagined need for the "right" gear. In order to be a photographer you need a camera, but many people will tell you that your gear isn't the correct gear to be successful. If you want to be successful you need the Nikon D810. Or medium-format. Or whatever camera they think is best. A Sony RX100? No way! A cell phone? Are you nuts! But this is all a lie. Viewers don't care what gear was used to capture an image. They only care about the image, and if it speaks to them or moves them in some way.

A final reason is that people will tell you that one camera (and maybe even two or three) are not enough. You need different cameras because each does something different well. Maybe you need one for the dynamic range. Perhaps another for the high-ISO capabilities. You might make large prints, so you should have a mega-megapixel camera. Perhaps you need a camera that's super fast.
Reversing Rain - Tehachapi, California
Two cameras are all that anyone needs, and most don't even need that many. The fact is that you only need one camera. After all, you can't use two cameras simultaneously.

Having lots of gear will make you lazy. Why move in closer when you can just attach a telephoto zoom? Why attach a telephoto zoom when you can just crop? Instead of really becoming intimate with your subject you take the easy way out. Laziness is an enemy of creativity. Being limitless in your options is another enemy of creativity.

There are things that are important in photography. Gear isn't one of them. What is in the heart and mind of the photographer is what matters. What nonverbal communications you speak through your photography is what matters. The way in which it was reached does not matter.

You don't need to own a bunch of cameras. You simply need to use the gear you have to the best of your ability. That's when you will create great photographs.

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