The danger of sound bites is that they lack nuance, and they sometimes come back to bite you in the ass. A dozen years ago, I coined the phrase, “Gear is Good, Vision is Better.” Some of you were around when I sent that out into the world. Some of you started reading my words because I wrote it. It was a mantra of sorts, and I’ve tried with varying levels of success to live up to it, and to let it give me focus.
Once in a while, I write something that touches somewhat gently on the topic of gear. I mostly dance around it. I try to be a voice of reason in an industry that makes its money from a continuous cycle of upgrades and the promises that the latest batch of gear will do what the last batch could never do. I try to find the middle path in a subculture that often puts more energy into arguing about gear or its importance in the picture-making process than it does into creative ways to explore the collaboration between the human and the mechanical.
It has taken me a dozen years to realize that it’s not vision, per se, that I care about, though it’s important. And it’s not the camera, though I like cameras very much. It’s you.
It’s the human experience of picture-making. The whole thing. It’s the way we use our cameras (and why) that fascinates me. It’s how we see the world with those cameras and—often—how we see the world because of those same cameras. I am much more interested in finding words that will give you the freedom to explore those hidden corners rather than the well-trod avenues of endless gear reviews and the kind of this-not-that thinking that turns those avenues into ruts of stagnant thoughts.
So I’d like to offer what might be a very unexpected update to my mantra: gear is not just good, it’s miraculous. What it allows us to do, or helps us to do, is nothing short of alchemy.
The buttons, the dials, the optics, the film or the sensor: our tools. Light and time, our raw materials. Our tools allow us to write with light! That should make us stare at our little black boxes of plastic and glass with awe and wonder.
Of course, what we do with those tools and materials depends on us. No one tool is universally better than another; what might be unnecessary to you might be indispensable for me. This is why I prefer to write about the way we think as photographers rather than the tools we use: how we think about choosing those tools (or not being restricted by those choices) and how we think about using those tools rather than being used by them.
So no one was more surprised than I was when I recently switched camera systems. It was a move I didn’t anticipate, and one I’m a little embarrassed to even talk about because for a couple of weeks that new gear made me happier than I should ever confess to people who might mistakenly believe I’m only and always about vision. Maybe it’s good that you know that underneath the whole artsy-fartsy poet-warrior exterior, there’s also still a kid who is mesmerized by the gear.
I made the change (replacing Fujifilm with Sony, to my shock) because my old gear was no longer doing what my new work requires, and what it was doing it was not doing as well.
It’s not like my Fujifilm gear changed, but I have, and so has my photography.
My work is becoming more enmeshed with wilderness and wildlife, and I found that I need the longer, faster lenses that Sony offers and Fujifilm does not. I need cameras that focus faster and more reliably; while my Fujifilm cameras worked great on the streets, they were missing far too many shots of faster subjects. And I need bigger sensors—not necessarily full-frame, but the flexibility of larger image sizes is nice as I move to selling more prints.
So, taking my own advice about choosing the best tool for the job (and despite the fact that I’ve never really warmed to Sony as a brand), I switched systems entirely—and the “gear is good, vision is better” guy found himself giggling on the shores of Hudson Bay recently because he was making photographs he just couldn’t have made previously. My focus was locking on fast-moving animals (finally!). I wasn’t missing shots. I was using focal lengths (1200mm!) previously unavailable to me. And I was thrilled at what this change in tools made possible.
Unexpectedly, I was also more excited to make photographs than I had been in a very long time. I was learning new things. I was curious. I was less frustrated with my results. At times, I was giddy.
I haven’t usually needed new gear to experience that; most often it’s the images themselves that make me so happy, but this time it gave me joy, which has been conspicuously harder to find the last two years. That’s worth something. In fact anything that puts a camera into your hand and a smile on your face these days—and gets you photographing in a time many of us aren’t real sure when we last made a photograph (or smiled)—is a good thing.
My New Year’s wish for you is that you’ll do whatever it takes to keep putting the camera to your eye or to pick up the camera again—to be playful and look at the world in different ways. And if that takes a new piece of gear, then I hope you can enjoy that the same way a musician might find delight in playing a new guitar: it won’t make them a better musician, but it might allow them to make a different kind of music. It might blow the dust off and make things fun again.
Maybe it’s not the gear as much as it is the process, and this is the year to put some film in that old 35mm camera or learn to use the traditional darkroom. Or maybe it’s putting yourself in front of different things. And maybe it’s doing more with the images you make and extending your creativity beyond the camera.
When was the last time you put your work into a book, made a slideshow, or updated your website and showed the world what it looks like through your eyes? Whatever it takes to find that curiosity and joy again, do it. Go all in.
I’m flying to Kenya in a couple of days (nervously, to be sure), but I think it’s going to be a while before I travel internationally the way I once did. Maybe I’ll never return to it in the same way, and I wonder how many of you are feeling similarly. But I can travel locally, and the lessons I’ve learned over the last 20 years of intense world travel can be applied as easily to exploring Vancouver Island and British Columbia as to the back alleys of India. So that’s what I plan to do in 2022.
I’m not just seeing the world differently; I’m seeing myself differently. I’m seeing new possibilities. If that’s what you need in 2022, I wish that for you as well. Maybe it’s time to shake things up. Maybe it’s time to create a body of work that’s different from anything you’ve done before. To be a different kind of photographer than the one you’ve become so comfortable with. Maybe the way to make more photographs in 2022, if your options have to remain limited due to the pandemic, is to make different photographs. I have a feeling it is for me.
For the Love of the Photograph,
PS – I’ve had a couple people ask me, specifically, which gear I am now using. I tried to avoid this because I’m so nervous about having these discussions without the nuance needed to parse out particular decisions, etc., but for the curious: my gear now includes 2 Sony a1 bodies, a 16-35/2.8, 100-400mm, and 600/4.0 plus 2x and 1.4x teleconverters. This will also eventually include a 14mm lens for underwater work, and possibly something along the lines of a 24-105 lens for travel. This replaces all my Fuji gear, as well as all my Nikon gear that I was using for underwater work.
Hey David! It’s been a long time since visiting your blog…so nice to be BACK and following again. I’m a little late to the party here on this post, but was actually a bit shocked to see you went from Fuji to Sony. I did the opposite…sold all of my Sony gear (except for one Sony A7r for my underwater work), and bought the GFX100s and the X100V. I have fallen completely in love with my GFX and the lenses…I have never seen so much detail and resolution, and the color profiles are simply sublime (one of my major complaints with the Sony was with color). I have a 64″ printer and have never been happier with the prints I am now making from the GFX. Yes, I had to sacrifice the awesome focusing speed of the Sony, and the long lenses, but holy cow, that GFX is one amazing camera and the X100V is so much fun to shoot for street photography!! Looks like your trip to Kenya was fantastic, and happy you are happy with your new gear!
Hey Scotty, welcome back! Nice to have you around again!
So glad you got back to Kenya, just sorry I was not yet back to welcome you! Delightful article, as usual, though not sure if it nudged me to buy the Canon R5 or to NOT buy it. I must admit, my reasoning is mostly to get rid of the sound of the shutter clack while shooting wildlife in Samburu…ahhhhhh
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I love this read. Glad to hear your new gear is bringing you new found joy. I can relate a little to this. I recently added a camera of a different brand than I’ve been using since I first switched to digital and a different format, mirrorless instead of DSLR. And I never thought I would do that. And using that camera for the exact reasons I decided to purchase it brings me a lot of joy and I create more images now that I have it. And I feel more creative freedom with it because I’m not locked into my old habits of my old gear.
I also recently decided not to buy a piece of gear that sounded cool but didn’t really fit my photography style or allow me to do more fun stuff and instead bought a relatively boring piece of gear that allowed me to get more images with what I already have and fits into the goals I am already pursuing.
Review and adapt! i switched out my Nikon D500 to the new Canon RF line to make better wildlife images for several reasons but the focus was on what met the needs today to go forward. I keep my Fuji kit for everything else and have found these tools to be the best fit. I think your honesty about what you did and why you chose to do it again gives us the latitude to the same. Safe travels!
It seems an age since I was planning to fly up to Vancouver to meet you for a long weekend of camaraderie and photo talk. My, how the world has changed.
Your article is timely. I’m stuck in NZ because our government has effectively locked is in. As a photographer who loves to travel, I’m finding that hard.
In order to continue to be creative I’ve had to move to concentrating on the many landscapes we have here in NZ.
To do that I also felt my existing tools weren’t adequate. I have switched from the Olympus system to the Fujifilm GFX 100s. I’ve tried Sony and didn’t really get on with it. Could have gone back to Nikon but I thought that heck, if you’re going to change you may as well try a big change and what better for landscapes and portraits than a weather resistant 102MP system?
If we can ever travel freely again it’ll mean a very different approach, which will be interesting. Or even a second system.
For now, I’m looking forward to getting out into the back country and using that resolution and the amazing lenses.
Best of luck with Sony and stay well.
I shoot two systems…fuji for travel and family and for fun. I shoot Nikon full frame for wildlife. Two different tools for different types of shooting. I have a Nikon 300 f4 lens with 1.4 teleconverter. Would love a 500mm or 600mm lens someday!
David, thanks for another thought provoking post which could, and should not, degenerate into a product comparison thread.
As I see it, you have chosen the appropriate tools to enable you to do the job. Also Sony has the range of glass to match the cameras and no-one wants to have two different systems in the camera bag. It’s hard enough with different caeras from the same manufacturer with varying menus.
Someone much wiser than I am once said that nobody wants a 1/4 drill, they want a 1/4 inch hole 🙂
BIG mistake David (somebody has to say it)! I mean you’re back to bigger camera bodies, bulkier and heavier lens which will require you to carry a bigger and heavier tripod, and a bulkier and heavier gear carrier…and ya know we ain’t get’n any younger! Although you lightened your wallet considerably in this move (at least figuratively speaking since we all use plastic now :o). I predict in five years time (or less) you’ll come back to your senses and downsize to lighten your load once again. After photographing for over 55 years I’ve finally stopped chasing the latest and greatest gear. It took me about 50 years to learn that lesson! As photographers, I’m always amazed at our infinite capacity to justify the “NEED” for new gear :o). I’ll stick to my current kit and put the money saved towards cross Canada road trips (hopefully starting up again in 2022)? Always look forward to seeing your work. Have a safe trip.
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Good day David,
I happened upon an older series of emails from you during a clean up and was oddly, yet relieved to see you walk away from the social media circuit. A quick Google search and I found you without problem. Firstly, I’m so happy to read that you are following your passion. It’s too few that allow themselves to do this in life.
Your blog post spoke directly to me. My own journey has offered the same conclusion, Gear does matter. It’s a tool and with that you need the right ones to make the work more enjoyable.
I’m currently reworking through the lessons of the older emails. As time progresses, so does our vision or/and or goals. These pandemic years have taught us all so much about ourselves, our neighbours and in general the world. I wish you safe travels. I will be back to read more about your insights into the joy of photography.
Great timing, as it seems is usual for you. I have, for quite a few years owned a couple Olympus OM-D bodies and through a couple rounds of used gear purchases owned all the glass anyone could possibly want. I visualize in roughly 24mm-28mm whether it’s landscapes, cityscapes, or abstracts, but could justify the other glass based on shooting styles I’ve had in the past. In contrast to that I’ve generally been a minimalist with what I carry at any one time. Additionally, I don’t enjoy post processing, as a matter of fact my favorite part of photographing is visualizing what I thick the image would/should look like before the shutter is even released. Based on all that, I’ve been seeing how far I can take phone photography and have been testing the limits of my Pixel 3 for about a year now. For the most part I’ve been happy with the results and learning process. With the introduction of the iPhone 13 a few of the more problematic setbacks for the Pixel have been solved and with that I sold all of my camera gear, committing 100% to iPhone 13 pro phone photography, which has brought back the joy photography used to bring to me.
Thank you for the honest words and for the great new year’s present! Those wallpapers look great and I’m sure my son will enjoy seeing the lovely animals on my screen 🙂
I am going through a similar face myself moving the other way around… from Sony to Fujifilm. I think there is something about having new gear that feels good and inspiring, or at least it might, if that gear fits you. I have also had new gear that didn’t excite me that much, but when it does, it is really calling you to go out and take pictures. As you said, new gear also brings new challenges and we need to adapt to the changes and learn new things. That is likely part of the fun.
Having said that, I also wonder: could it be that we are only seeing the shiny surface on a new piece of gear? When we know a camera or a lens we can better see their shortcomings, and our brain focuses on those instead of the many advantages that also have. Once we get to know the new gear and that shiny surface erodes a bit, we start seeing the things we miss and had before. As everything in life, I guess there is most likely no better or worse, just what better suits you and your work at that point of time, or what makes you feel in a more positive way.
Anyway, I hope you have lots of fun in Kenya and keep enjoying your new gear for a long time!
I started photography age 65 now at 76, am dealing with the equipment question. My Nikon DSLR’s just don’t have the horsepower of the Sony lines in wildlife. Its expensive to switch gear, especially considering all the peripherals, but so are new cars every 5 to 6 years. I’m very happy for you to have found the call of the wild. You’ve given me instruction in “vision” which works with wildlife as well. Having started there, I have tried some street work using your guidelines. Not very successfully yet, but at least its a start. The sony A series is a great camera for that. The new mirrorless technology just can’t be ignored. I’m sure we are all very supportive of your “transition” and stepping up your new tools.
I always enjoy your honestly written and informative posts, and have learnt a lot from them. They are given with such a generous spirit and they often make me smile as I can relate to much of what you write. I hope you will continue to send them to us in 2022. Thank you.
For me, the “Gear is good. Vision is better” is still valid and intact. The expression that always annoyed me (still does) is “Gear doesn’t matter”, which continues to be misconstrued and interpreted without nuance by any number of photographers.
There is no question you’ve upgraded your gear moving from Fujifilm’s X-Series to Sony and its A1 with GM glass. Fujifilm has is stuck in 2019 with its AF system; and its newest X-Series zoom lenses seem aimed at soccer moms. The company seems to have largely abandoned Kaizen and shifted its attention to GFX. This may be the right call for the company but it kind of screws the X-Series enthusiasts that put Fujifilm back on the map as a camera maker. Last summer, I moved from Fuji’s X-Series to Canon’s new RF line for many of the same reasons you made the switch to Sony. The groundbreaking lens designs Canon is producing; and an AF system that has lapped Fujifilm several times over.
That said, I think everyone would be better off not trying to justify changes like this. James Popsys recently explained a new lens purchase as motivated by the fact that he was bored with the lens it replaced and wanted something that seemed more exotic. He admitted the purchase was stupid and advised his viewers NOT to follow his example. I think it might be the most honest explanation for a gear change that I’ve seen.
Hello David and happy new year.
I must say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that you were swapping gear once again and so it does remind me of that mantra of “Your Gear is good enough” that came with one or more of your courses.
Then I remembered being told in your “India Thing” that if you had to choose just one lens then the 14 to 38 mm was your lens so what’s with the 1,000mm Paparazzi Special may I ask as that is out of most people’s price range.
I mistakenly swapped or added an Olympus to my Canon collection and oh my God what a learning curve that was and still is. Things get complicated and so I get reminded of the Wisdom of duChemin when he says “The Camera should not get in front of the Composition” or something like that and so when I am trying to figure out “Why it did that” while the subject simply runs away. So I came to the point of now thinking about why am I finding myself in this situation after four long years of hassles. Big hands holding a small camera with a puny grip does mean that the hand sits over the joystick and the nose touches the touch screen and alters settings so Maybe this is the Year of the Gear and we all need to think that maybe it is time after all.
Enjoy your trip. Enjoy your year.
Hey Allen, I knew there would be some for whom this was frustrating. Perhaps I’m not explaining it well. My 16-35mm is still my favourite focal length for my travel and urban work. Landscapes too. But for polar bears? Grizzlies? Lions? Small critters that won’t even register with an ultra-wide lens? It’s not the right tool. All lenses cost something and while many couldn’t afford the 600/4.0 lens I’m using now, there are other ways to access these focal lengths. Would I use 600mm in India, with people? Not a chance. So like I said, I’m changing, and so is my photography. For the next while, as travel to India is less desirable, I’ll be photographing wilderness and that requires longer lenses. Choose the best tool for the photographs you want to make. That’s what I’m trying to say.
Happy New Year David. I just want to tell you how much it’s appreciated the time you take away from your family and work to reach out to us. Your words and thoughts are always inspiring and so helpful. You give us so much and ask nothing in return. Now who does that these days. Thank you and I love the new wallpaper you shared.
I found this oddly satisfying to read. Friends were buying Fuji but I felt I “needed” something different. The Fuji system looks great but I felt it wasn’t right for me. I watched with curiosity but resisted the buy to try. Perhaps it’s a case of FOMO but it results in wondering if I was overspending on other brands when maybe I didn’t have to.
I’ll never be able to identify which camera you used for a particular image and it doesn’t matter. What matters is identifying real-world problems that are fixable and buying for that reason and only that reason.
I rarely comment but I read it all. Best wishes for always a better future.
Love your enthusiasm on the changed mindset. Fun read!! Enjoy the new photo opportunities and Happy New Year!!
Thank you David for your evolving insights. I appreciate the inward focus of (I, me, and we) as well as the outward focus of (they, them) that inspires my individual photographic journey(s); however, I rely on the “alchemy” you mentioned. I am primarily an action photographer (mainly sports) and the challenge of capturing the critical moment-in-time, whether it be ball position or the emotions of human interaction, is the reward. Like your evolving endeavors, frames per second and fast glass are my friends and help me provide what I consider to be a perfect rendering of any moment (be human or in many cases fauna).
Thank you for doing what you do to inspire us upward along our creative journey. Safe travels and Happy New Year.
Just read your article on new gear, it struck a nerve. I was slow to move from Film to Digital, And slow to move from Digital to Mirrorless, carefully keeping one foot in Digital. You never know things could change. But in November I thought to myself 1) you’re not getting any younger and 2) your shooting more and more with the Nikon Z6 than you are with the D850 . And the reason was clear, I had more fun, or as you’d say, joy shooting with the Mirrorless. My Z6 was allowing me to think and see and have a vision to feel inspired and to surprise myself more often I was able to do this because my little Z6 didn’t demand all my attention, and the time not thinking of the mechanics of the process allowed me to create. So back in November I made a decision to go all Mirrorless and I ordered a Nikon Z9. Now the really hard part, waiting for the new camera to arrive.
Just what I needed David my lovely hubby bought me a new camera for my birthday and I’ve been looking at it all the wrong way. I’ve been frustrated when I can’t use it as proficiently as my old and yet when I do take the time the results are great. Thank you for that kick in the ass just what I needed to get the mojo back
Every few years David tries to start a gear based riot by switching brands. Don’t think we’ve forgotten when you tried to incite us with your Canon to Nikon switch, David! However, this audience is far to savvy for those games – maybe you should try doing something Mac vs PC related! 😀
Seriously though, I always lusted after a full frame camera, and in 2018 I finally pulled the trigger on a Canon 5D Mk IV. It is such a good camera in so many ways, and may well go down as the best do-it-all DSLR ever.
However, Canon released the R series a couple of months later, leading to a little buyer’s remorse, and despite the stunning technical quality of the images, I don’t find myself feeling inspired to take pictures. Then I look at David’s work and think, maybe those Fuji cameras he uses have some inspirational juice in them? Maybe I should get one of those? Then I flick through “Within the Frame” and see the same inspiring images….taken with a Canon 5D Mk1.
You’re on to me, Gavin! 😂 I figure the gear is like this: no one on the other side of the image will know what camera or see a difference. They’re all so very capable and have been for a long time. But the maker of the photograph will know, in terms of the experience of using the tool, and what it makes possible. I hope very much that no one will ever be looking at my photographs and say, “oh, so that’s when he started using Nikon or Fuji, I thought I could tell a difference!” 😁
I’m happy that you’re happy as a kid with your new gear. Have a great and safe trip to Kenya..
Happy New Year David/Cynthia!
Hi David, Happy New Year!
I made a similar experience. Until ten years ago I photographed in bw with a Hasselblad 501 and developed in my own darkroom. Due to private circumstances (my wife died and I needed to take care of our son while going to work) I abandonded the hobby for ten years and used a Nikon DSLR for familiy photos.
Last year I bought the 907x which I can use with newer AF lenses or alternatively as a digital back for my 501. With either tool I created in 2021 digital bw photos which I am very fond of. The XCD 120 Makro lense and the AF allows me to take close-ups, which hadnt been possible before and the digital back on the 501 allows immediate checking of the picture. Bute nevertheless the gear is still clumsy and slow compared to the Nikon DSLR and is thereby improving the quality of my pictures by forcing me “think before shoot”. On the other hand the key elements (aperture, time, ISO, AF to M) are much more easily changed, which facilitates my work. It is therefore as you say: the tool needs to fit the photographer and its subjects!
Keep up your great work and enjoy the travels.
Best regards from Switzerland, Adrian
Happy New Year 🙂
This! “It’s not like my <> gear changed, but I have, and so has my photography.”
That’s how I feel. I’m not blaming my tools, but what I seek to experience and capture no longer marries with what my camera and I used to achieve together.
Have a wonderful trip to Kenya! I am desperately missing travel, and unfortunately the pandemic has escalated my travel worrying. Would you mind sharing any of the measures you are taking to help settle your travel nerves?
Hi Meghan – This is a great question. My travel nerves have never been so on edge. I took a couple commercial flights to get to Churchill 2 months ago and my anxiety was pretty high ahead of time. But once I got there I found airports quieter than usual, people were respectful, and it all felt very safe and stress-free. Of course, I was in Canada and we don’t get the same kind of traffic other places do. So I’m prepared for things to take longer, and I’m packing extra patience and a sense of humour. I’m well equipped with good surgical masks and sanitizer and we sprung for business seats so we have a little more room, specifically pods on the trans-atlantic rather than being cheek and jowl with others. Some Xanax doesn’t hurt either. 🙂 Business class also gets you priority boarding and gets you off the plane first, and this helps too – not to mention priority services if there are delays / cancellations. Not going to lie, the anticipation is usually part of the fun but right now it’s just making things more stressful. The other things we’re doing is going for longer. If this is the one big trip, and the flights are the hard part, we’re going to squeeze in as much time there as possible. We’ve booked 30 nights, I think.
Thanks so much for sharing, David. Churchill and Prince Rupert are on my hopeful schedule for 2023 after postponing for a couple of years. I guess I’ll wait and see how Australia’s border and quarantine requirements evolve. Yes, the flying is my primary worry so your flight upgrades and more-days-per-flight is clever! Some day I’ll get back to Kenya (hard to believe it’s been 8 years) so I’ll be looking forward to your images.
Keep after it, David – always nice to hear from you. I almost bought a GFX-100s last year – then came to my senses. Gear is miraculous indeed – but what I had was more than enough. So not worrying about it and getting out where I can. Take care from Central Illinois. Dave Vernon
Happy New Year David! I hope it’s a good one, whatever “good” may mean.
The change of gear is ringing true for me also. Someone passed on to me a Nikon body that was a big upgrade a little while ago and it has prompted me to look again at my own picture taking. This has also been prompted by the recent acquisition of a mobile phone with a much more capable camera than anything I have had before. Both of these new to me tools are allowing me to make pictures I’m happier with which, in turn, is making me more confident and adventurous.
Have a good year, David, and stay safe wherever your travels take you. We have moved into the heart of Italian wine country in Verona. If you’re coming this way do get in touch.
All the best,
Thanks, David! Hope you’re all well!
Interesting perspective, David. 😉 I try not to worry too much about gear – instead I think of it as a painter’s canvas. All the great artists eventually outgrew their canvas. Some invested in a bigger canvas, others changed the shape of the canvas and others dropped the canvas to the floor and broke the rules. I’m still a humble amateur, but if my canvas (gear) is restricting my vision, it’s time to expand.
Beautifully expressed, Paul! Happy New Year!
New toys are fun, probably more from the learning something new perspective. They also give a short lived boost to your enthusiasm for photography. Nowadays photography is mainly for my own enjoyment, although I do share some of my travels with family and friends. To be completely honest, I probably enjoy the process more than the result. It draws me into my environment and I see things that I may have otherwise missed as a casual traveler. I find myself slowing down to experiencing life around me and appreciate the simple things that are revealed.
Thank you for this, David. I know it’s weird, but there is some strange thing about discussing gear. Even though it doesn’t always matter, it’s still a curiosity and fun discussion for many of us!
You are now the second photographer in my orbit to switch to Sony for wildlife. There certainly seems to be some eye-autofocus and other advancements that gives Sony an edge there. Can I ask – is this system much heavier than your Fuji set up? (I have no experience with Sony.)
I am still enjoying shooting with my Fuji cameras. I took your advice (in advance!) and bought myself an X100V for my birthday. Loving getting to know this little camera and thinking about the kinds of images I might make with it. New ideas, new inspiration. Maybe let that freak flag fly this year. (Well, as much as an introvert can. Also going to try to kick that crutch to the curb; appreciated your words on that topic.)
Finally – I share some of the same feelings as Tom. As someone who loves photographing wildlife and being in the wild, over the past few years I found my feeds just saturated with wild animals. With a few notable exceptions, they were starting to look the same. So – I am not blowing sunshine up your skirt when I say that yours are not looking like what I often see in the aggregate. When I see emotions, environment, context… much like your latest monograph – that’s good stuff. Those images are so beautiful and they say something. I don’t know what the future holds for travel, either. You are very lucky to live in such a beautiful, wild place and I am looking forward to seeing more of your image stories, whatever tool you’re using. 🙂
All good things in the new year to you and Cynthia – Sharon
Oh – Have a fabulous, safe trip to Kenya (beyond jealous, but in a good way)!
Thanks for that, Sharon. I like to think (hope) that my wildlife work carries a similar stamp as my other work and will remain that way. It’s so, so easy to get seduced by the subject and to believe that a beautiful animal makes a beautiful photograph, and to forget that composition, choice of moment, great/interesting light and mood, not to mention story are what make a photograph compelling. Having been at this a long time I try hard to do more than fill a frame with “look, here’s a lion!” 😉 So thank you for your kind words. It means the world to me. Happy New Year. I’ll say hello to Kenya for you.
Somehow you always manage to show up with a helpful perspective on just what I’m thinking about – or with the questions I need to ask – or both! Today’s post was no exception. I’ve been feeling creatively stale for the past while, and it’s showing in my photographs. Just no pizzazz. I was very excited two years ago when I bought my new Nikon Z6, which enabled me to do a lot of fun things I couldn’t do with my previous camera. I still love my camera, but realized this past summer that without some additional equipment (a reliable tripod that doesn’t collapse on me, a flash for those times I need it, lenses that give me more range than the one the camera came with), I can’t take things to the next level. And sometimes can’t even take things to any level, like when the aforementioned tripod collapses on me in mid-photo!
A new lens is still outside my current pay grade, but I finally went out today and bought a sturdy tripod and the first flash I’ve owned in years. I’m also taking your advice about putting my work into a book, and am setting aside some time this week to sort through my photos and decide which ones are worth printing. AND…even though photography isn’t part of my official “work” (i.e. what I get paid to do), I’m adding a photography page to my soon-to-be-updated website, just because it will bring me joy to do that, and … well … who knows?
So – thank you for your thoughtful advice, your excellent teaching, and your ongoing encouragement. Wishing you everything of the best for 2022, and exciting new possibilities around every corner!
Yes! David, this article speaks to the complexity and the breadth of what I think and feel. Thank you. I also want to spend more time with the comments others have made. They are very thoughtful. And you (appropriately) are very loved and appreciated.
Your timing on this article is rather interesting as I just sold/traded my Sony gear and moved into the Micro 4/3 world with Olympus…E-M1 MkIII and a couple of lenses, I also just had the pleasure of visiting the Leica Store Boston where I did EXACTLY what my wife said I would do (any married man with half a brain knows to do EXACTLY what his wife says he will do so as not to disappoint her hehe)……bought a Leica compact for my work travels which are generally light and fast and I just don’t have space for the EM-1. These two cameras have really helped me get into shooting more street and travel photo’s but also allow me to continue with my landscape and wildlife photography. I think the gear helps us see differently and can act as an impetus for us to get out and shoot, but without the vision the gear is just that, gear. Enjoy your new gear and hopefully it helps keep the vision alive and growing.
Here’s to a much better 2022!
Happy New Year to you and Cynthia (and your Mom it seems). I hope 2022 is a great year for you healthwise and photographically. Think about you from time to time sitting here on Mayne Island looking over the ocean at the sun setting above you on Vancouver Island. It has been a long time since we meet in Laos and Cambodia when you were still dancing with that cane in the rain. Very good memories. Hope you are still dancing in the rain.
After retiring after 40 years as a physician taking care of others, I thought I was both fairly “normal’ and fairly “healthy” for my age and planned to travel doing as much street/travel photography as I could. Only when I started reviewing all the latest peer-reviewed medical literature on the few “normal” problems that I was experiencing did I learn that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline diabetes, being over-weight, arthritis, etc. were not normal parts of human aging. They were only “normal” because most of us were leading the same unhealthy western lifestyle and that all were preventable and reversible. So I refocused my attention on reinventing myself from a health and wellness perspective. This wellness journey has been a truly magical transition. I’m feeling younger than I have in 20 years. I am off all my prescription medications and disease/symptom free. The level of energy I experience is now is so remarkable that my family physician did a work up for hyperthyroidism but concluded I was just bouncing off the walls because of all the new-found energy. So I am now not just a Professor Emeritus Faculty of Medicine UBC but a new member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
And now looking to get back into street and hopefully soon travel photography like you inspired me to do years ago. So your note about switching systems is very timely. The Sony systems seem to be very popular with some of the long distance hikers I follow so was thinking of looking at them and now you have confirmed this inclination. Hopefully I can use it wildlife photography kayaking around the Gulf Islands, street photography in Vancouver where I still maintain a residence, and travel photography when it gets just a little bit easier.
So anyway travel safe, enjoy Kenya, and maybe we can catch-up during a little photwalk perhaps on Saltspring or in Chemanus when you are back? I will buy lunch!
Excellent perspective about positioning ‘gear’ in our creative lives. I am a Fuji shooter but not sports and wildlife… I am hoping that the forthcoming X-H2 will measure up to current competition.
I was even more intrigued with your perspective about travel. I too feel that appreciating my own country, yes Canada, for what it presents is something I want to get into for the next several years. We don’t have Monument Alley but we have Algonquin!
I wish you a safe trip to Kenya. I look forward to some images from there. I will likely never go there…
First off, Happy New Year to you and Cynthia! I really hope this year is a great one for all.
Loved the article and what you had to say about gear. I think anything that can stimulate our imagination and creative voice is worthwhile. The last few years (for me) have been hard and I’ve lost my love of photography. I received a small prime lens for xmas and it makes me want to experiment.
A fun thing I did for new year’s was to pull out my instax Fujifilm camera. We had two friends over and ate, drank, laughed, and even danced! The most fun ever. We used my camera to take quick poloroids of us enjoying ourselves and mementos for them to take home. Reminded me of my love of photography. Saving those moments.
I hope you have a wonderful and very safe to to Kenya and can’t wait to hear your stories!! Take care 🥰
I read your article about gear and vision today.
It took about 30 minutes.
That’s because, when I recognize that what I have started to read grabs my attention, then I start to read carefully.
I’m sure it took you some time to write the article.
What takes more time is more important.
Thank you for sending me this article.
All the best for this new year 2022.
Thank you for this article.
Gear does matter. Five years ago I moved from APS-C to full frame and bought some fast lenses. That upped my game a lot as I could shoot things like high-iso theater and indoor sports pictures that had not been possible before, at least not in sufficient image quality. In addition I finally could realize the look I wanted.
A little later, I felt the need for lighter equipment for travelling. So I ended up with an Olympus E-M1 Mark II alongside my D750 – and with a lot of lenses for both of them.
This may not be practical for everyone, let alone affordable, but it works well for me. I know about the advantages and shortcomings of both systems and can choose accordingly.
Trying not to succumb to the need for a longer lens, but after having missed my 2nd shot (first a cardinal in a tree too far, then a brilliantly crowned woodpecker this morning in the suddenly sub-freezing temps of North Texas) in the past 5 days due to the limited reach of my XF 18-55, compounding my existing desire for something with more, I’ve been looking at MPB for a used XF 55-200, since apparently the 70-300 is still too new to find used. Sometimes, our own evolution is too constrained by the tools on hand, and different ones are required 🙂
Happy New Year, David and community!
And yet sometimes we find that we can appreciate that which we have more in trying the greener grass.
Ninty-five percent of my work is on film, both medium and large format. My camera of choice is a 25 year old Mamiya RZ67 that weighs over eight pounds with a lens. It’s a haul on hikes and I was pining for a Hasselblad 500. Smaller, lighter, and oh those Zeiss lenses.
So I rented one.
I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t smitten either. It was smaller and lighter, but it had baggage of its own. The images are beautiful, but my Sekor glass is just as good, only different. And I honestly missed my tripod when shooting handheld.
So no, a new system is not what I needed. But trying one gave me a new appreciation for that which was in my possession already. I HIGHLY recommend renting whatever you think you might want to buy. A week-long rental may just scratch that itch and make you see the grass on your side of the fence more clearly.
And were I going to Kenya would I take it? In a heartbeat.
Excellent article David. I at times have found myself more “gear driven” than passion driven. I have way more gear than I use regularly but hate to part with any of it “just in case”. Lol. I haven’t changed entire systems mostly because I can’t afford it. There’s nothing “wrong” with my current system other than being a couple generations outdated. Still gives me great pictures that give me joy. Your article has given me pause for thought though about my process, especially about going back through finished stuff to make books, “re-see” some of my older highlights that I’ve forgotten about. I’m headed into 2022 with new goals if not new gear. As you say, and I agree “for the love of the photograph”. Thanks, Happy New Year, safe travels & God bless.
Very thoughtful and inspiring.
Happy New Year and safe travels 🙂
Glad that you are calling cameras, etc “tools” because that is what they are …
I’ve been trying to preach to some folks that cameras [now the bodies are only computers with lenses attached…] and programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom, etc are nothing more than tools that let us do something. Kind of like screwdrivers in your tool box … there are different ones to use with different kinds of screws but at the end of the day they are just tools … who sits for hours debating whether Craftsman screwdrivers are better than Kobalt?? They all allow you to do the job you want … but sometimes you need a different screwdriver to work with a different screw head.
So glad to see you getting the wilderness and wildlife bug. What better reason to change systems. I hope you offer workshops in the greater NW. if you do, I’ll be quick to sign up.
Alas, another one goes to the dark side :-). Joking aside, I was a bit disappointed after reading this article. Hopefully you are not abandoning the art of street and travel photography. There is certainly an overabundance of wildlife photographer “influencers” out there (do we really need another one?). They all take amazing photos with gear that the average person cannot possibly afford in locations that we generally cannot access. The things I’ve enjoyed about reading your articles and tutorials in the past was the emphasis on the craft rather than the gear. I’d much rather read about how to use light effectively and ideas on improving composition than how to capture a(nother) grizzly bear catching a salmon with a 1200mm lens. Just my $0.02.
Wishing your a prosperous 2022! Enjoy you new gear!
Hi Tom. No need to worry, I’m not abandoning my love for street and travel photography, just taking a detour into the only real possibilities that are currently open to me and which also really appeal to me. I’ll keep photographing what draws my curiosity as I always have, and not limit myself to any particular genre. I like to think the work I do is the sum of more than just a big lens and a budget or access others don’t have, just as it always has. My work has never been about the subject, and I’ve always encouraged my readers not to be seduced by the exotic. So don’t sweat it. I’m still the “vision is better” guy. Promise. But yeah, you’ll be seeing work that’s more wild then urban for a while….
David, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It makes total sense given the times we live in. Don’t get me wrong, I love wildlife photography and the challenge it presents, but I also like the “I have my camera with me, let’s see if I can make something new and interesting” photography which, of course, has it’s own set of challenges. I so much look forward to traveling again (sigh).
As I see it, Fuji is a little too hung up on the aesthetics of the camera and their tech is lagging. I’m invested in the system and have my eyes on the next iteration of the XT series, but if that doesn’t pan out, Sony is looking better and better. Being able to autofocus quickly and accurately on the eye of a bird seems like a fantasy with Fuji but I hear tell it’s a reality with Sony. Fuji’s big push is their film simulations for JPEGS, which is great but all of those can be approximated in post.
As I get older I want to lighten the load in my backpack which is one of the reasons I love Fuji and it’s lenses. The only thing to me that is lacking with Fuji is the ability to quickly lock focus on an animal. I too have been looking at the Sony A7iv as it seems to do it all. I also have the Nikon D850 which is great and would like to stay with Nikon but they don’t have what I’m looking for. Hopefully a Z8 will be the one if and when it shows up. Curious what Sony model you went with David.
Thank you David.
I am reading Within The Frame……again.
How interesting your honesty right now.
Your comment is correct, vision is better. You wrote that at a time when you being the person you were believed it. I would have been more surprised if you have not evolved.
In 2021 I have spent more time using a second hand X-Pro 1.
I have all the coolest gear you can imagine. The X-Pro 1 with the XF18mm F2 were my companions. I loved it really loved creating images with this old tool.
I am a gear head, if money wasn’t an issue, I would be tempted to try my hand at using a Leica, just for the feeling to see what the fuss is about.
I agree with you, it’s the process I love.
This process has taught me a lot about myself.
“Our tools allow us to write with light! That should make us stare at our little black boxes of plastic and glass with awe and wonder.”
I guess I have always experienced photography through the above quote, especially the second half of the statement… Your idea is similar to what I remember reading in the TIME-Life Photography books 45 years ago.
Some gear has allowed me to do things I could not otherwise do, be it a tripod or perhaps a macro lens, other pieces have been a marketing trap and a complete waste of money. When I worked in sales (my retirement plan to allow me access to gear) at a local camera store I can remember un-selling a lens to a customer. He had a hole burning in his pocket and although he still did not understand the very basic operation of his camera he wanted to spend another $2400.00 dollars on a lens. It would have been the easiest sale I ever made, but I convinced him to learn his camera first, understand the CRAFT so he could begin to understand how to implement his VISION with the gear he would need. He thanked me… and his wife also thanked me.
Each year I remember a blog you wrote in December 2011 that encouraged readers to make a RESOLVE, not just a resolution, making a plan and not just a wish. I have done that each year since.
Happy New Year David and Cynthia.
Many thanks for your message.
Different routes, different photographs, lots of sense!
All the best in 2022 and so forth!
Happy New Year David.
Great article and it brings to mind the saying ” it’s not the tool but the Carpenter using it”. My point is that better equipment will certainly allow you to produce better images but at the end of the day it’s more about knowing the tool and how to use it. Better equipment in unskilled, uneducated hands will not produce the results that come with knowledge and experience. Get to know the camera and what the lenses will do. My take is that it’s a combination of the equipment and the user, it takes both to make superb images. But at the end of the day no matter what equipment you have and what your skill level is, just get out and take pictures. When you get home take a look at your images and decide what you could do to improve them then go out and try again.
Excited that your excited. I changed to mirrorless a few years ago to save weight in my pack. Just traded in two lenses for a 14-24mm f-2.8 lens that is over 1 lb lighter than my other one. I’m excited since I’m getting into night photography more and chasing the Milky Way and playing with night painting. A good friend looked at my latest calendar and said that he realized that I probably did not think about work when I was behind the camera. I had never thought about it before but he is right. The camera is a relief from all the crazy stuff going on in the world. Have an awesome and safe trip to Africa. I’ll see you after you get back. Also, have an awesome 2022. Cheers. Jim
Your discussion re new gear is very timely. Photography has become a more lonely experience due to the restrictions that have limited human connections for one-on-one/ group photo-outings, photographer meet-ups, etc. Getting new gear is perhaps a replacement of sorts for the inspiration that another photographer could offer me while discussing our latest photos in person. The acquisition of new gear and the initial excitement that comes with it, I’m afraid, may be short-lived, while the real satisfaction of comparing notes with fellow photographers, in person, is still missing.
Thanks for this honest assessment of your decision to switch gear. I made the decision several years ago to sell a very sizable kit of Nikon gear in favor of Fujifilm. As a wildlife shooter I have some mixed emotions about the change but find that as I get older it is nice to be able to handhold my gear at long tele lengths and get what I deem to me very acceptable results. Then again, I find that shooting events and low light conditions, my Fuji is just not up to par. Perhaps it is my technique. That said, I will gut it out a little longer and evaluate my options. Bye the way, are those wallpaper shots taken with Fuji’s or Sony? If the former, you results were stellar even before the switch. Thanks for you continuing words of inspiration and wisdom.
Thanks, Arno. The photographs in the desktop wallpapers are about half and half, maybe more Fuji. Anything with polar bears, arctic fox, or northern lights were made after the switch.
Hi David ~ The right tool for the job is important but I’ve also come to believe that if that tool is also pleasurable to use, then that’s even better. So congrats to not falling victim to sunk costs and choosing a tool (camera system) that works better for you.
BTW, we’re heading to Kenya this week. I’ll try not to take all the good photos and leave some for you 😉
Scott! Have a great trip. Perhaps we’ll see you there. Shoot me a note about where you plan to be and when.
Done done & done. I replied to the email for this post.
Enjoy Kenya – I cannot believe it has been 11 years since we were there!! It was such a life-changing trip. Some my favourite photos are from that time there with you and our group. Plus I made some friends for life!!
Such wonderful memories, Maureen! Life changing for me, too! So excited to be heading back there for the month. MIss you, friend. Now that my mother is out west with us, there are fewer and fewer trips out east. Happy New year!!
‘Happy New Year’ David from your Java Jiver photographer friends!
Looking forward to connecting with you again on Zoom but perhaps in person maybe during the 2022 year 🙂
Wishing you good health and creativity in the coming year.
Hi David, Happy New Year. What a surprise reading about gear and your big change. All your articles are always interesting and inspirational, even this gear article. I have been in a bit of a rut the last couple of years as well (living in Brisbane Australia not sure if Covid is the cause). I have looked at new lenses for my Pentax system, looked at moving to Full Frame etc. However at the end of the day as I tend to shoot ICM and abstract, I have convinced myself, the gear I have is more than adequate- I am now sure I need to get my act together and take more photos. And as you mentioned about a picture book – I hink this will be my inspiration for 2022.
Thank you once again for another great blog. Happy travelling.
Thank you for being honest. New kit may make capturing the image easier, faster or more accurate, but as you’ve written here, it will only record what one sees. However, as you also said here, it can act as a prod to get one behind a viewfinder. Knowing me as I do, I could easily bankrupt myself buying kit, but I now feel I am past the addictive stage, happy with the kit I have and hoping for some inspiration from another source. Please keep the blog coming!
Thank you, and I hope 2022 brings you most of what you’d like.