What Would Thom Buy?

I get the question in the above headline quite often, and it's a dangerous question that shouldn't be answered ;~).


Because the immediate comeback should be "what is Thom doing?" As in, what work is Thom going to do with what he buys? 

When I was more active professionally and working for a wider variety of clients with very different needs, my problem was basically this: is it better to have specialized gear for every individual task or just one generalized set of gear that could perform most tasks? (Notice how the questions keep piling up.) The answer was often a bit of both. 

What provokes the headline question from most readers is something different: they have a limited budget and are trying to find their Goldilocks solution: gear that is "just right" for everything they might encounter. Why they think I'm Goldilocks is a question for another Web site (or your therapist).

I'll save you the trouble of endlessly searching the B&H Web site for your Goldilocks solution: it doesn't exist. 

Oh, certainly you can find products that are more generalized versus more specialized. I've spent a lot of time in recent years writing about "the best all-around" cameras you can buy, and I'll stick by my recommendations there. However, those cameras are going to fail you in some way at some point, and you're going to find out that even if you get one of those remarkably versatile cameras, the question just shifts to "what is the best lens I should get?" Uh, same problem: tell me what you're doing and how you evaluate success at doing that, and I might be able to give you some direction. Otherwise, go to Las Vegas, find the nearest roulette wheel, and buy a lens based upon the next roll:

  • Green 0/00 — Don't buy anything
  • Black even value — Get a zoom
  • Black odd value — Get a prime
  • Red even value — Buy fastest possible fixed aperture
  • Red odd value — Buy the slower aperture version

Seriously. Some of the questions I get are probably best answered by the roulette strategy. Often I see folk that seem to be doing some variant of just that (e.g. buying randomly), and still staying happy, at least until their next GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) buildup arrives.

Therefore, I have a question for you: why are you buying gear, at all? Something like the original Z6 with the 24-70mm f/4 kit lens is perfectly capable of producing darned good looking 24" prints, so what is it that you can't do with a basic kit like that? What pie-in-the-sky goal are you trying to achieve, and why?

The truth of the matter is that most of the time purchasing equipment for many of you comes down to:

  • Keeping up with the Joneses. Someone else in your photo club got the latest and greatest, and now his or her photos are going to be the best in club shows, right?
  • Succumbing to marketing and influencing messages. Most of the photography sites on the Internet all pay their bills via getting you to buy something. Or at least click on it (so that targeted ads will start hounding you until you succumb). Ask yourself this: how much of your Internet use actually is providing true news or useful information, and how much is just glorified marketing masked as the same?
  • Feeling inadequate. While related to the above, there's definitely a group of folk with disposable income that seem to think more expensive is better, newer is better, and top gear conveys status. Note that these folks' gear isn't inadequate, it's their own low self esteem that they're trying to paper over.
  • Desiring the emperor's new clothes. While this is related to the above, often things come down simply to thinking that "new gear solves old problems." You haven't mastered exposure or focus, so you believe a smarter camera will do that for you. Sorry, it will just give you more things to master (otherwise there wouldn't be any buttons, dials, or other controls on those expensive new cameras, would there?).
  • Prioritizing the wrong things. If you own, say, a Canon 5D Mark IV or Nikon D850, you have a highly competent camera. You likely have several highly competent lenses. You don't need a new camera or lens, you need to find opportunities to use your camera. You'd be better off spending the money you set aside for that R3 or Z9 instead on a travel experience appropriate to using what you have. Maybe even a photo workshop. Even I take workshops from others from time to time; it's part of my life-long learning instinct. 

A really good set of questions to ask yourself before buying any new gear are this trio:

  1. What can't I do with the gear I have?
  2. What problem do I have that the new gear solves?
  3. What level improvement would I need to see in order to justify the $X dollar purchase?

If you can't answer all three of those questions specifically, then you don't need new gear and you're likely in one of the groups I outlined above.

As for what would Thom buy? Right now, virtually nothing. I already have top-notch gear capable of performing the tasks I need it to photographically. (I have considered buying a 4x4 RV so that I can go use some of that gear for long periods in places I haven't been to in a while, though. But the time/money equation probably says I should just rent such a vehicle a couple of times a year.)

I can't pick gear for you. I can help you assess your needs and requirements to find the right gear. I can help you figure out how to make your current gear work better for you. But I'm not going to fan-boy you into a buying frenzy over the latest and greatest. 

Finally, an observation: many of the people asking me purchase questions are spending money instead of time. That's backwards. Time is the first thing you should invest in to make your photography better. There's not a single person that's come to one of my photo workshops that's left a worse photographer. That's because spending time with me is going to push you in lots of different ways that will improve your photography, no matter what gear you brought with you. Would buying an equivalent cost lens have done the same thing? Nope. Not unless you spent the time mastering it and then using it, which just gets us back to my "time is more important than gear" assertion. 


Bonus: It's not a coincidence that I recently posted a brief synopsis of the telephoto options in the Z-mount. Nikon's recent lens releases, coupled with what we can bring over from the F-mount, have a lot of folk trying to figure out exactly what the best option for them is, and it's been a constant question in my In Box lately. The option they should own may have existed before the 400mm f/4.5 S (or latest telephoto lens release) was announced.

The good news is that Nikon is now providing you with plenty of options. The bad news is that you have to figure out which option is right for you, or you're going to end up with a lot of needless duplication and spending. 

 Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | mirrorless: sansmirror.com | Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

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