If you’re like me, someone whose thoughts turn to photography everyday in some form or another, you’re likely also drawn into and pushing away from the constant temptation to collect cameras and lenses.
As we approach the holidays and go through days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we’re inundated with marketing from our favorite stores tempting us with the gear, whether the latest technology or the film camera that you’ve always wanted for whatever reason.
It all seems so innocent, the thought that a different camera might be fun to shoot with or somehow change the quality of our images. Since I’ve moved to film, I’ve found that I’m less distracted by new gear. I’m not entirely immune but nowhere near as eager to acquire cameras as I used to be when shooting digital.
The arguments for and against new gear are easier if you shoot film. Who can argue that a new sensor technology is something you need when you change your sensor every time with a new roll of film. No sensor cleaning required, no megapixel challenges and no sensor degradation or technological obsolescence. Remember, film is already “obsolete.” Having accepted we’re using “obsolete” technology and the fact that it is a medium we already love and are content to shoot with, what could pull us away? Not very much when you truly consider it. Perhaps we shoot 35mm film and want to add 120mm or large format film photography to our portfolio. That could create a want for a new camera but once you settle on a format and a camera/lens combination all wants are satisfied, right? Well maybe not.
Social media creates a tension and can drive wants, not necessarily needs. The photography community is rife with gear reviews and constant chatter about what we shoot with. We see other photographers we respect post amazing images frequently citing the camera, lens and film used. We chase hardware but for the most part, we’re chasing abstractions. We believe that gear dictates quality even though we’re continually reminded that it’s not the gear, it’s the photographer behind the lens. We can also be pulled back and forth over and under the proverbial fence when we compare film and digital images. Sometimes we think that digital has the qualities we want and other times we are brought back, drawn by the inherent qualities of film.
What to do? We can either succumb to the continual temptations or we can work to shut it all off. Easily said, hard to do you say? You’re right. It is hard. Here’s how I try to do it, not always successfully but for the most part it works for me.
I try to commit to what I already have, not only with my camera gear but also the quality of my life in general. I grew up with almost nothing in my younger years. I saved up for months to buy a bike to work a paper route. I coveted a small Sony transistor radio with a black leather case. I listened to Radio Luxembourg every night when the signal came through more clearly and I was content. Simple things. Everything I had as a youngster was from my own hard work. As life moved on the opportunities in my life improved. I now look back on those days and consider what I have now. How fortunate I am to have two Leica film bodies, two amazingly good lenses and a Rolleiflex camera. I put those things in the context of my younger years and think of how grateful I should be to have the things I have now. My thoughts turn to how good it is now. How good life is with what I have. I always will want more, it’s inevitably human. However, looking back to where I’ve come from reminds me that I don’t really need anything at all.
So I focus on improving my photography. Moving to film makes that harder and that’s another reason to love it. It’s not that the medium of film is inconsistent, it’s my understanding of how film works in general and how it behaves as I shoot it in differing light. The challenge that comes with working with film is something I can’t let go of. Film is an adventure.
In fact, working in film photography requires me to limit the variables of equipment and film types to help focus on understanding and perfecting technique. Shooting with film quells the desire for new gear. i strive to shoot with a single focal length in all my cameras. I shoot a 50mm prime lens on each of my two Leica’s and an equivalent in my Rolleiflex which has an 80mm Zeiss Planar lens that renders in a 50mm equivalent focal plane in medium format. Three different cameras for the most part using the same film, either Ilford HP5+ or Portra 400. It’s still challenging.
Film photography is my muse but I still go back to digital occasionally. I have a Fujifilm X100s and a Nikon D300. I use the X100s for convenience, primarily for quick family shots or if I’m asked to support an event at church, at work and even the annual golf tournament. Delivering digital files is convenient and I can put them on a website within a matter of hours. But as good as my files are, they don’t excite me as much as shooting with a film camera does.
Film stimulates me as an artist wannabe. Digital works for me for quick delivery. I’m not going to say that I’m now not attracted as much to the latest in digital camera technology. I still am. But when I am, I ask myself how I’d use that camera. Usually on further reflection I realize that it just doesn’t fit me as a creative, it’s not enough. Other film cameras can likely give me a different experience when shooting and they may deliver other qualities but I again remind myself how lucky I am to own what I have today and that I still have challenging work to master. Another film camera is a never ending chase your tail phenomena. I really, really try to be content with what I have.
Turning away from the hype of marketing is tough. Of course there are reasons to buy new stuff, but often new gear won’t always satisfy the continual drone of marketing hype that wants to sell us new stuff.
I’m grateful for what I have. I still have plenty of room to grow within the limitations of the gear I have. New gear just makes the ultimate quest more complex. I think if you can do the same, turn away from the continual temptation, you’ll not only be happier but you’ll eventually be a better photographer. My two cents.
As always, thanks for reading.