My friend and mentor Herbert (see his blog here: Hearty Express)says I have a serious problem. For a long time I resisted, but of late I have found it increasingly hard and find myself giving in a little too often for comfort. There are a few names for it; gear envy, equipment envy, getting caught in the technology upgrade cycle. Whatever its called, I became totally hooked sometime last year and don’t see myself breaking free of its grip anytime soon.
My journey in photography, as described in my previous post,started at a young age, mainly due to the influence of my dad in my formative years . And I guess it was in those formative years that gear envy first bit, mostly because at the time I didn’t have a camera of my own. I remember that first bite quiet clearly in fact; it was a school excursion to Just Donuts (and a few other places I don’t remember but that’s an addiction to discuss at length at another time) in Durban when a classmate brought along an Agfa disposable camera. I remember using it to take a few pics and being amazed, wishing I had one of my own even tho I never actually saw the resulting pictures. But I was not hooked immediately.
I got my first digital camera some time later, early in 2007 if I recall correctly. After taking the advice of a few friends and doing some research I decided to make what at the time for me was a big investment and bought myself a Panasonic FZ18. It was a superbridge camera, more advanced than a compact camera but not quite a DSLR, with 18x optical zoom (28-504mm equivalent – I’ll explain this in more detail in a future blog soon, but 28mm focal length is wide angle for landscapes and 504mm telephoto for things far away). However the megapixel count was only 8 megapixels (equivalent to most smartphone cameras now) which today sounds quite low but at the time was not too shabby. The Panasonic went almost everywhere with me because it was small and easy to carry around in its little camera bag, with only and extra battery and no extra lenses to carry around. While it had the ability to shoot in modes other than full auto, I did not venture beyond the auto mode for most of the pictures I took with it, only experimenting a few times with longer shutter speeds and shorter depth of fields. In the almost 4 years I had it I took some 13000 photos, including all of my travel while I was in the UK and on the trips I made into Europe. It was used mostly to document where I had been and the sights I had seen and quite a few birthday parties along the way.
In 2011 I decided to take a step up. While the Panasonic bridge camera was good for documenting my travels, I felt I was being held back a little bit and wanted to be able to do more and be more in control. Again, after much more research on my own this time, primarily using the http://www.dpreview.com site, I chose to go with a mid-ranged consumer DSLR (digital single lens reflex) interchangable lens camera in the Canon 550D. And boy was I glad that I took that step. The camera came with 2 standard lenses, the 18-55mm wide angle kit lens and the 50-250mm telefocus. I also added the 50mm F1.8 so called plastic fantastic lens after reading rave reviews of it while doing my research. With 18 megapixels, 9 autofocus points and more responsive shooting modes I was able to suddenly take my photography to the next level. One of the first controlled shots I attempted was one of getting the starburst effect on the lights at the construction site at the World Trade Centre. When I got it right I was elated.
I used the 550D for 4 and a half years, over time mastering how to shoot with it in manual mode, doing long exposures, shallow depth of fields, exposure bracketing, focus point manipulation among a host of other tricks the camera allowed. I found myself struggling to get crisp shots with the 50-250mm and this was the first lens I updated, buying myself a 70-300mm lens for nature photography which I found myself enjoying more. After a good year or so I then added a wide angle 10-22mm lens to my kit for landscape photography (Sample gallery here: Landscapes ). This remains one of my favourite and most used lenses in my kit to this day. Then, after much deliberation and saving, I finally added a 100mm F2.8 L macro lens to the kit late in 2013. Not only is this lens great for close up macro shots of flowers and insects but its sharpness makes for an excellent portrait lens as well. All the while I kept shooting with the body and took some 30000 photos.
The next step in my technology journey was actually not a camera, but a computer. I previously bought a laptop with the 550D in 2011, however I used this mainly to store my photos. This was stolen a year later and I was reluctant to replace it after the loss. But as I shot more I began to find that I required the ability to process images after shooting more and more, with JPEG files shot in camera offering a limited range of manipulation. I therefore got myself a computer capable of handling larger files fast and efficiently and then also got the requisite photo editing software to allow me to begin editing photos.
Last year, I decided to upgrade the camera body, after once again carrying out extensive research on what the next step should be. I initially wanted to go for a full frame camera, but was finally swayed towards the Canon 7D mark II, opting for faster shooting rates and dual processors that would be better for shooting nature photography. And that I think is when the hook set. My camera body’s ability meant that I needed better lenses, and after testing one out I got the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 lens which performed admirably when I used it to shoot in the Kruger Park. I then found myself looking for extra length mostly to capture birds better and first bought a second hand 300mm F4 lens before adding a 1.4x converter to making it a 420mm F5.6 equivalent. The combination of the 300mm and 1.4x converter have almost always stayed on my camera body since getting then, resulting in some sharp birding photos (Sample gallery here: Birds). However I’m still not satisfied and have been desperately searching for a better 300mm or 400mm lens to pair with a camera body that is supremely capable. And of course, with the new equipment comes all the ancillaries including new camera bag, reflectors, spare batteries, memory cards, flash stand and umbrellas…
The itch, as they say, now needs to be scratched. That full frame camera body is still something I feel I want to buy soon. Then I will need to get a landscape lens that will work on it. I want to set up a studio as well so will have to start investing or save up for a set of studio lights. More ancillaries, additional storage to back-up, and the better 300mm or 400mm lens if I can find it second hand. And through it all still need to travel and find the time to take photos (I have a bit of a plan which I will share as well) and also have the constant worry of a weakening South African Rand to contend with. They say teach your children photography and they will have no time or money for anything else. Unfortunately, of late, I have found that to be more than just a little bit true.
In camera circles there is an age old debate of whether improving the technology you use improves your photography. My personal view is that there will be times that you will be limited by the technology you are shooting with and every so often the technology itself makes such a giant leap that you are almost forced to stop and consider it. A few years back the mirrorless systems from Panasonic and then later Sony and Olympus did exactly that and many DSLR shooters switched over to the more compact systems. Recently the trend in DSLRs has been massive megapixel counts with 36, 42 and 51 megapixels from Nikon, Sony and Canon at associated massive cost though. I feel the important thing is to do the best with the equipment you may have. Learn as much as you can and use the equipment to its fullest and know what it is capable of. But also learn about different techniques, about composition, editing and lighting. So you know when its time to upgrade. You see there’s no stopping the addiction, just placating it for periods of time until it comes back stronger and harder….