Will someone stop this Gear Acquisition Syndrome-madness?


I’m warning all of you : this post is going to be a rant on the current climate in the gear-industry

So if you’re still reading, I hope you’ll enjoy this. This whole post came about because of the fact I talked a friend of mine not long ago out of buying a newer camera. This friend was shooting a Nikon D40x. A nice a simple 10 Megapixel camera. Basically everything you could need if all you shoot are occasional stuff at home, a birthday party, you know everyday stuff like a lot of people.

She wrote me an email asking my advice on her upgrade possibility. She wanted to upgrade to the recently released Nikon D3200. The D3200 to me, embodies everything that’s currently going wrong with the photo-gear industry but more on that later.
So my friend asked me what I thought of it. First of all, I replied by asking her what camera she was currently using (I didn’t know at the time she was shooting a D40X) , what she shot 90% of the time and what she wanted to upgrade to.

She replied that she shot what most people shoot most of the time : the occasional party, her dog when it was acting funny, the occasional landscape, and general pictures while on holiday. Nothing professionally, special, just everyday stuff. She also told me she had set her eye on the D3200.

I replied by asking her ‘Well, why do you feel the need to upgrade? Are you unsatisfied with the camera now? What’s so good about the D3200 that makes you want to switch?”

More after the jump

Her reply to this was the following (more or less) “We’ll my camera shoots only 10 MP, and this D3200 is like 24MP, so my pictures will be better right? Plus, I read it shoots 2 fps faster than mine now, and come to think of it, I might shoot my boyfriends football match soon and that might come in handy right? Oh, yeah, and it shoot High Definition video! High Definition! Awesome right?”

After the initial sigh, and the idea to just let her buy the damn camera I cooled down and decided to take the time to write an extensive answer, which eventually led to this blogpost because I felt I needed to share this with the rest of you guys.

Double the size, double the fun?

In 2007, Nikon released the groundbreaking D3. It was truly groundbreaking, because never before had a digital camera (who had only existed for about 7 years at that time) made it possible to shoot in low light, at a fast rate (9-11 fps), with lots of megapixels (12.1 MP). Before that there was the semi-professional D200 that shot at 10.2 MP. Nikon also released the D300 – the D3’s baby brother – that was sporting the same Megapixel resolution of 12 MP’s. The D3 quickly became to go-to workhorse of all the Nikon professionals.

For a long time these 12 MP’s would remain the standard for professional-grade camera’s in the Nikon stable. In 2010 (3 years later) Nikon released an updated version of the D3, called the D3S. It featured a better low-light processing technique (which was logical due to the technological advances). A big shocker however was this : It STILL had a 12.1 MP sensor! Nikon did not upgrade the size of the pictures, even 3 years later.

Nikon did however release another D3 version : the D3X which featured a 24MP sensor and was targeted towards studio-professionals who needed the MP’s to shoot billboard-sized advertising campaigns. The price was close to 8.000€. This could be done with the D3/D3S but Nikon wanted to make sure they didn’t lose that market segment of working professionals to the likes of Mamiya, Hasselblad and PhaseONE. The D3X was targeted toward professionals who needed to capture extreme detail during beauty, product, fashion shoots and whatnot. Working professionals realised that it was not really the camera to use when one wasn’t in a controlled environment. Due to the very large amount of megapixels noise-levels were worse than the D3/D3S, shooting speeds were lower, etc… What a lot of people don’t realise is that when you go from 12 MP to 24 MP , that’s DOUBLE the amount of pixels YOU have to fill in with correctly shot images.

This trio (D3,D3S & D3X) were the flagship camera’s of the Nikon lineup for 5 years. That’s half a decade and 2/3’s of that lineup where shooting 12 Megapixels. Working professionals around the world filled magazines, books, billboards and the internet with shots taken by these machines and the more-or-less similar cousins from the Canon family.

Going back to my friend I asked her why she thought 24 mp (double the size of the actual pixels) would make for better photos. She replied by telling me prints would look bigger, and a lot of other non-significant crap. I asked if she had ever printed out a photo larger than A2 which was already pretty big. Evidently she replied she hadn’t.

All in all, I can’t blame her. Camera manufacturers bombard people with technicalities that claim to improve their photos, and it seems Nikon and Canon amongt others are crapping out camera’s every month now.

Here are a few quick tips for those who feel they’re in the same boat as my friend :

1. Take a real, long look at yourself.
Now don’t go and stand in front of a mirror for an hour. I mean, take a long hard look at you as a shooter. Don’t persuade yourself to be something you’re not. If you shot 3 soccer/baseball/…games you are NOT a sports shooter. Don’t upgrade your camera for a 2fps increase.

2. Embrace your camera’s flaws.
There isn’t a single camera in the world that is perfect. Not one. And those who come close often cost thousands, and thousands of dollars.
Do you need it? Probably not. If your camera has bad low-light capabilities, work against them or work witht them. Light your shot differently so that you can lower your ISO. Or go with the flow and embrace the noise as Helmut Newtonian. I worked with a D200 for quite some time. This was a terrific camera, and I still have it as a backup because I love it. However, it really, really didn’t excel in the noise department. During a night fashion shoot, I used the noise to create this Helmut Newton-vibe. The pictures turned out great. Did I think of running out and buying a D3S for this to shoot at a gazillion ISO? Hell no.

3. Before considering upgrading, consider read your user manual.
A lot of people don’t know very well how their camera works. Everyone is different, and the feel of the pictures varies as well. Knowing every in and out of your camera works in your advantage. Knowing that your camera doesn’t handle this well or that well lets you adapt BEFORE shooting to those circumstances.

4. In stead of buying it, rent it.
After that D200 night shoot I planned a new shoot, where however the D200 would not work because I was going to need clean, noiseless images. Knowing my camera like I did, I knew it wouldn’t shoot this gig. Did I shell out 4,000€ on a D3S? Hell no. Did I shell out 50€ to rent it ? Hell yes.
People often forget that most of the gear you need, you can rent.

5. Still want to buy? Rent it first.
If you’ve cut the rope and decided on buying, then at least rent it first if it’s a big piece of equipment. You never know : it might not perform as expected (remember : advertising is still advertising), it may not feel right, …tons of things. I’d rather shell out 50€ and realise it’s not really what I expected then 4.000€.
Tip : if you’re going to buy your camera at your usual dealer/large store try the following : Ask if you can rent it for the day/weekend whatever. Say that you might buy one after you returned it, and it’s for a final test. A lot of store-owners will deduct the renting fee from the total of the camera if you buy it at their shop. If they don’t propose it, ask nicely. You’d be suprised! And as I said, if however I didn’t like it, i’d rather be 50€ poorer than 4000€.

Conclusion :

This marks an interesting evolution in photography :
Camera’s are becoming more and more readily available to everyone. The fact that the learning curve has become increasingly less steep due to online training, instant results plays a big factor in that. 10 years ago, the difference between amateurs and professionals was based on a few factors, but a very important one was the difference in gear. An amateur wouldn’t spend the thousands and thousands of dollars on gear needed to provide professional image quality.

The shift in availability has resulted in the fact that low-priced gear nowadays delivers amazing results. Expensive gear needed to the pro’s are being counterfeited into working alternatives (e.g. Pocket Wizards & Cactus triggers) and are thus becoming available to amateurs. the rise of amateur photographers has been EXPLOSIVE. Nobody can keep up with it anymore.Flickr’s servers must be located in their own solar system.

This leads to a phrase that will define the border between professional and amateurs for the coming decade :

Vision is more important than gear.
To prove to you that it’s not just a load of crap, I uploaded a clip from June Newton’s (Helmut’s wife) video-diary in which Helmut is shooting Claudia Schiffer (The Heidi Klum of the 90’s) with an consumer-grade Canon film camera. ‘Nuff said.)

If camera’s give the same amazing results to everyone, and there is no border anymore between the image quality in terms of noise, size (MP), between amateurs and professionals, what will define both groups? VISION

Helmut Newton knew it. Richard Avedon knew it, Annie Leibovitz knows it.

End note : do you think Cartier-Bresson changed camera bodies because Leica came out with a model with a faster flash sync speed?

(If your answer was yes on this, re-read the post untill it turns into No)


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