|Just some of the many cameras, lenses and accessories which have (somehow) collected in my apartment in the past decade and a half.|
First, I really do not like the term ‘G.A.S’. You’ve undoubtedly seen it used in comments and in forums – it stands for ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome,’ and it’s most often referenced in a cringey, half-mocking way by people who still find flatulence funny. “Sounds like a bad case of G.A.S”, “I admit, I suffer from chronic G.A.S”, etc. Yeah yeah, we get it. Farts. Good one.
Whatever you want to call it, the syndrome is real. And while not restricted exclusively to photography, our hobby is particularly fertile ground for the collective delusion that more gear – better gear – will result in better photographs. A lifetime ago when I worked in camera retail, I was regularly asked, usually by men of a certain age, “what camera/lens do I need to take better pictures of X?”. Sometimes, ‘X’ was the kind of subject matter where gear really did matter, like professional motorsports, but usually, it wasn’t.
Naïve, principled salesperson that I was, I started out by trying to dissuade customers from buying ludicrously expensive gear that I didn’t think they needed (I wasn’t on commission) but after a while, I gave up. If buying a £3,000 lens made someone happy, who was I to interfere? Needless to say, I sold a lot of Canon L-series lenses that I doubt were used to capture anything more challenging than an occasional school sports day.
At the time, I rolled my eyes, but twenty-something years later, with closets and Pelican cases full of gear, I get it. Provided that you’re not spending money you don’t have (more on that later), I think Gear Acquisition Syndrome should be celebrated as an important part of the photography experience.
When I think back over my history of buying and using camera equipment, many of my most enjoyable projects and expeditions have come about because I was impatient to use a newly-purchased camera or lens
I’m not too proud to admit that my cameras and lenses are toys. Sure, they have a function, but the pleasure I get from planning activities around them, handling them, and interacting with them isn’t dissimilar to the joy that I remember from childhood, building and playing with LEGO bricks or designing and flying wooden model gliders. Even when I return from a photo expedition with few or no decent photographs to show for it (which happens to the best of us), I’ve always had fun in the attempt.
Similarly, when I think back over my history of buying and using camera equipment, many of my most enjoyable projects and expeditions have come about because I was impatient to use a newly-purchased camera or lens. I’ve written before about one of my pandemic photo projects based around a vintage Nikon 1000mm F11 mirror lens, and my recent experiments in IR imaging were the subject of another recent article, but those are far from the only examples. Just recently, I traded in a couple of lenses I wasn’t using much and bought a Nikon Z 400mm F4.5. I’ve never owned a true telephoto prime lens before, but I enjoyed shooting a gallery on that lens for DPReview so much that I decided to add it to my collection. And I have to tell you, I have no regrets about that decision.
A brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, embarking on its delivery flight from Seattle to Melbourne Australia, for service with Qantas. As a huge airplane nerd, I’ve always enjoyed casual aviation photography, but the enjoyment of using a newly-acquired Nikon Z 400mm F4.5 has led me to take it more seriously.
Nikon Z9, Nikkor Z 400mm F4.5 VR | ISO 220 | 1/1600 sec | F8
Small and light enough to fit into my backpack, the 400mm has accompanied me everywhere for the past few months, and I love having a reason to take it out. Since I bought it earlier this year, I’ve photographed birds, boats, landscapes, and a lot of airplanes.
A few weekends ago, with nothing on my calendar, I set up a chair at the Paine Field viewing area north of Seattle and took pictures of the planes landing and taking off. Only one of the resulting photos will ever be seen by anyone other than me (it ended up being a late addition to my recent update to the Z 400mm F4.5 gallery here on DPReview), but I had a great day, chatting with other plane nerds, and – yes – playing. Had it not been for the lens, I wouldn’t have been there. I’m hoping to catch a couple of airshows this summer, and I already know that having a reason to shoot with my Z9 and long lenses will be a big part of the enjoyment.
Many photographers have at some point experienced the vicious cycle of gear acquisition
I had a similar experience following the purchase of a 85mm F2.8 tilt/shift macro lens. It was a bargain of the “too good to pass up” kind. And unexpectedly, it has become my go-to lens for product photography whenever I sell equipment or need to illustrate an article, making it a rare toy that has actually paid for itself.
Of course, I can’t talk about money without talking about the dark side of G.A.S. Many photographers have at some point experienced the vicious cycle of gear acquisition, where an initial, speculative purchase led to another, which led to another, until we’ve spent far more than we ever intended to, to “complete the kit.” If you find yourself compulsively purchasing gear that you know you don’t need and can’t afford, you’re exhibiting addictive behavior, and you should probably seek help. If you haven’t been there, lucky you. But you probably know someone who has.
|My Nikon D3S, shot for a recent DPReview article using my Nikkor 85mm F2.8 PC – an impulse buy, but one that sees a lot of use for product shots and which I enjoy shooting with immensely.
Nikon Z7, Nikon 85mm F2.8 PC (via FTZ II adapter) | ISO 100, 1/200sec F11
In my experience, one of the worst kinds of equipment in this regard (aside from Leica’s, which… well, entire psychiatric case studies could be written about Leica G.A.S sufferers, they’re a different breed) is camera supports – tripods, brackets, ball-heads and all the rest of it. It’s a slippery slope. Most photographers start out with a cheap tripod, if they have one at all. And many never upgrade. After all, most photography doesn’t require a tripod, and tripods are boring – they’re the last thing most photographers want to spend money on. But for many of us, depending on the kind of photography we do, there eventually comes a realization that, just maybe, supporting thousands of dollars of camera equipment on a wobbly support that cost fifty dollars on Amazon might have been a false economy.
|Really Right Stuff tripods and supports are of the highest quality, and like any high-end brand, once you’ve upgraded, it’s hard to go back (and easy to spend even more money).|
My gateway drug was a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head, purchased used. If you know RRS, you know that when it comes to quality manufacturing, the company is up there with the best. And as soon as I paired the BH-55 with my decidedly budget tripod, it was clear that the sticks were on borrowed time. Frankly, I was embarrassed for them. Before I knew it, I had a set of RRS heads, legs, plates, clamps, a leveling base… even a gimbal. Almost all purchased second-hand, but still – what started as another “too good to pass up” bargain led to more than $2,000 of additional spending, spread over about a year.
I’m an amateur, and these days, the money I spend on photography represents an investment less in my career and more in my mental health
If professional photographers thought about gear acquisition in the same way that I do they would never make any money. Most of the professionals I know go to great lengths to avoid replacing or augmenting their gear, and they hammer the life out of it to extract the maximum value from every dollar. If I were in their shoes I’d do the same, but I’m not. I tried being a full-time professional photographer once, years ago, but it wasn’t for me. Instead, I’m an amateur, and these days, the money I spend on photography represents an investment less in my career and more in my mental health.
In order to maintain my financial health, however, I have rules: First, only the small amount of money I make from photography (and from writing articles like this) can go towards the purchase of new equipment. Second, big purchases, like that Z 400mm F4.5, must be funded in part by selling or trading in a piece of kit that I don’t use regularly, and third, every year, around my birthday, I audit my gear and sell anything that I haven’t shot with since the last time I did it. I even have a Google spreadsheet to track it all, because I’m a nerd (also for taxes).
It’s a lot easier to spend money on an idea than it is for that idea to make you any money.
Naturally, I break those rules from time to time, but I know that if I’m not somewhat strict with myself, I’ll end up scrambling for funds at the end of the month. I try to remind myself that it’s a lot easier to spend money on an idea (“I’ll buy this lens and become a successful sports photographer!”) than it is for that idea to make you any money. And camera gear depreciates quickly.
A view from Ecola state park in Oregon, looking towards Cannon Beach. I shot this with a full-spectrum converted Panasonic Lumix DMC-S1R, using an IR Chrome filter. I purchased and converted the camera in an attempt to get out of a creative rut – it worked.
Panasonic S1R (IR Chrome filter), Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm F2.8 | ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | F8
In conclusion, I want to bring this article full circle. Acquiring a new camera or lens is one of the quickest ways to unlock new avenues for creativity in your photography, and see the world in a new way. That’s worth spending money on. But don’t kid yourself that your expensive gear will appreciate in value, or stress about generating income from it if you don’t need to. If, occasionally, you generate a bit of cash from a favorable trade or from selling your photography, then good for you! That’s a bonus. But it’s not a certainty, and it definitely shouldn’t be the justification for handing over your credit card.
My advice to amateur photographers everywhere is to think about your cameras and lenses as a child would – as toys. Hopefully, when you buy new gear, you’re investing in an experience that you enjoy, which makes you happy and ultimately makes you more creative. If it doesn’t, it’s time to check the return policy.