I've been taking pictures for a long time. A lot of people started out with a Kodak Instamatic - something like an Instamatic 104. I think I did. But to be honest, I'm too old to remember. I found one recently for sale somewhere on the internet. Not brand new, but still in the original box, a 1970's model - $17.99. No need to worry about film. The ad says it comes with one unopened roll of film, dated March 1978. I'm sure that will work well. Sadly, no flash cubes with this one though. I'm still thinking about buying it. I'd really like to see what kind of picture I can make with it. I'll bet I can still make some good ones.
Since those days I've traversed through a small fortune of photography gear, perhaps more video than still cameras, but a lot of gear nonetheless. I've lived through the birth (and subsequent death) of Beta, then VHS. I've had both. Loved both for different reasons. 8-track, 4-track, cassettes. Had one of the first Macintosh computers in 1984. Been there for all of that. I personally installed a quad speaker 8-track stereo system in the car of my high school girlfriend. So I'm kind of technically qualified to write about all of this.
Since the dawn of the digital age of photography, I've spent plenty of hard earned $ on camera gear - and on the latest technology of just about anything. Try as I may, it's hard to resist that self-induced need for the latest, greatest gear. Witness Steve Jobs. A man who didn't really want to make a cell phone, but ended up doing so. Now his company pretty much owns the world market for cellphones. Or I guess it's smartphones now. I think Jobs was the smart part of that revolution.
Me? Ok, so I do have the latest, greatest iPhone. But I only have it because it makes me more proficient, more efficient, a better person perhaps. It helps me have better conversations with people. I swear it does.
Cameras have been no different. Cameras seem to be the epitome of latest & greatest. Many of the most popular photography websites and blogs out there - or here - or wherever we actually are - will occasionally, if not frequently, talk about how the camera is just a tool, that the latest & greatest isn't going to suddenly cause you to take better pictures, to make better photographs. Yet those same sites usually contain pages of articles and blogs about gear. New gear. Old gear. The latest gear. Gear updates. Gear upgrades. The latest firmware. And most of those same sites are plastered with links and connections to all the usual online and retail photography gear stores - hoping you click and buy something, preferably the latest & greatest, so that they can earn a small commission. It's no coincidence that the latest & greatest of anything usually costs more.
Alert readers will notice that my site is not plastered with such advertising. That's mostly because, well, not a lot of people visit my site or read anything I write.
When Nikon came out with the D200 digital camera I had to have one. After all, we were in the 21st century now and digital had to be better. Of course you need the appropriate lenses to go with it, not to mention other accessories - spare batteries, filters. It's only logical. Really. Just logic, that's all. But then came the D300 ... surely that would offer so many new features that my photography would have to improve. D300s. D3. D3s. D800E. You get the picture. I skipped the D4 & D5. Ran out of money.
How could it get any better, you ask?
Alas, Fujifilm introduced its line of digital X-cameras, starting with the original X100 circa 2011. It was a visual throwback to the old days. I came from those days. Those days that some very smart Fujifilm marketing guru correctly assumed someone like me would long for. It just looked so cool. I knew that if I had one it would surely be so simple and subtle and discreet that I could once again concentrate on actual composition and image making.
What happened next? Fuji X-Pro1, X-E1, X100S, X-T1. New lens lineup, new accessories. Of course.
A couple of interesting things then happened to me. All of my Fuji gear and most of my Nikon gear was stolen. Someone who knew what they were looking at took great pains to take everything Fuji in particular, including all my Fuji lenses and accessories, chargers, lens caps, batteries. Several of my Nikon pro lenses were taken as well. I guess it's somewhat comforting to know that the thief had pro camera gear knowledge and taste. I still have one Nikon body, one lens and a Ricoh GR II. Fortunately, they were with me somewhere else at the time.
So there's that whole silver lining thing. For a while now, I've been relegated to one Nikon body, one lens and the nothing-short-of-amazing Ricoh GR II. What would I do without the wide variety of camera bodies, lenses and accessories that - well, I couldn't carry with me at one time any more even if I had the inclination to do so?
What I did was to continue taking pictures with what I had. It wasn't that long ago. But I'm still doing so. Some of the best pictures I've taken recently have been with a Ricoh GR. It's the smallest, least expensive camera I've owned in the last 20+ years. Every picture in my Seattle Collection was taken with a Ricoh GR. It's affordable and easy to carry with me wherever I go.
About the same time as the disappearance of most of my camera gear, I came across a blown up, mounted, framed picture of one of my daughters that I took in the early 1980's with a film Canon Sure Shot pocket camera. My daughter was on the top of a houseboat, sitting on top of one of those big yellow things on which you sit and are ruthlessly pulled around by a boat until you are mercilessly thrown off. I think this one was named 'Ski Bob'. She was bouncing on it. She was about 4 years old at the time. Behind her was the setting sun, glowing through her blonde hair that was blowing in the wind against a backdrop of Arizona red rock buttes. I saw her and said to myself 'Wow, there's a picture!'. I frequently talk to myself. The Sure Shot happened to be nearby. I quickly grabbed it, took one shot. Her face was illuminated with only the camera's built-in flash. No time to change gear or camera settings. Just point and shoot.
Once developed, it was obvious from the negative and small print that I had captured a near perfect moment. To this day that remains one of my favorite photos of all time, taken by me or anyone - which is all that really matters.
I wasn't rigged up with a professional studio in those days. I showed the print and negative to a good friend of mine who was a well-known professional photographer. He had a huge, sophisticated studio in the Los Angeles area. He took one look and said, 'Wow, there's a picture!'. He wanted the negative and said he'd call me in a couple weeks. He blew it up, printed and matted it on a roughly 24x36 foam board and presented it to me. He asked how I got that shot. Throwing embarrassment out the window, I told him. He said if I had paid him $10k to fly there, set up, duplicate that shot, he probably couldn't.
A bit of luck, sure. Pretty close to zero talent or expensive gear involved in making that photograph. Right place at the right time, no doubt. Pixels not required.
But for me there's a massive lesson in all of this that has been lost on me for quite a few years - and at the cost of quite a few dollars.
I may be a slow learner, but eventually I catch on.
It really isn't about the camera, the gear or equipment. It's about what you capture. That moment in time. That fleeting nanosecond that will be recorded forever. That moment that will bring back emotional memories for you, and hopefully others, for decades into the future.
Since that time I've spent a lot of money on gear and taken hundreds of thousands of pictures. But very, very few are as meaningful and memorable to me as that one of my daughter on that summer day a lifetime ago. In the end, that is what photography should be about. The latest & greatest isn't necessarily going to get you there. You've got to shoot for the moment.
A few years after installing that really cool 8-track stereo in my girlfriend's car back in high school - she married me. We're still together. I remember installing that stereo like it was yesterday. That's a picture I wish I could have captured. In a way I did. Too bad I didn't have a Canon Sure Shot or an Instamatic 104 with me at the time.
Unless you're a professional making your living taking pictures of things for which a specific technology can make a difference in getting the job or the shot, forget about the latest & greatest. Spend your time and money making memories.