how I pick cameras

what I look for

As this website will attest, I've written a lot of garbage over the years about my experiences with different cameras and photo techniques. I've bought and sold entire camera systems, delved deep into film, had my left eye socket fitted with a M42 screw mount (I lie), not to mention that time when I heard the term "strobist" and got really into flash photography for 45 seconds. I'm open minded and willing to experiment.

My Hasselblad Xpan II with the 45mm "normal" lens.

twelve horrible photography-filled years

But, I am starting to feel like I know what I'm looking for when I pick a camera. After only 12 years (is that right? twelve sounds good, a good, even number, "12" it is) of taking this hobby "seriously" (I am a super duper serious individual), I am finally beginning to get to the point where I visualize what I'm trying to achieve before I attempt to achieve it.

This may seem like a basic step to some people, and if you're one of those people, I say to you, "go to hell, you quick learner, with all of your intelligence and increased comprehension skills! go right to hell!"

Shot on a Pentax SF1 and a 21mm lens using Ilford Delta 3200 film.

hell is other photographers

Two days ago, I had an a real-life conversation with a fellow camera enthusiast. He explained to me that he shoots with dual full-frame dSLRs, Adobe RGB, 14-bit color, RAW, using his 12-24mm zoom, 24-70mm zoom, and 70-200mm zoom lenses. He explained that he shoots every photo using 7-step bracketing, and then puts everything through HDR processing. His justification was that since he only gets one opportunity to take each photo, he wants to make absolutely sure that the photo comes out.

He was baffled when I explained that I shoot JPG, using prime lenses, on a crop sensor, bracketing nothing, eschewing HDR, and dabbling in film. Actually, to say he was "baffled" is an understatement – this guy was adamant that I was taking my photos so wrong that I was wasting my time. I'm confident in my own work, but when I tried to explain "Yes, your methods sound great and all, but my methods are fine for me, because they give me the results I'm looking for," it fell on deaf ears. "Why would I want to see your JPGs?" He had no interest in looking at photos that weren't made using methods he approved of.

Canon Rebel 2000 with Canon's awesome 40mm pancake lens, a lens 15 years newer than the body it's attached to.

So this is just one asshole, and I'm not hung up on it. But the conversation did make me realize that I actually know what I'm doing (at least a little). All this guy's equipment and bracketing and RAW shooting were a symptom of him not being confident in being able to make the photos he wanted on the first try. Despite the rudeness, I wasn't offended. Honest, I felt warm and fuzzy after the conversation, because the interaction made me realize that when I go out to make a photo of something, I'm confident that the photo I make will be the photo I'm happy with.

how dare you insult my precious RAWs!

Look, shoot RAW if you have to. I get it. But if you don't have to, why would you? Yeah, I post-process my photos, sometimes heavily, but I think people underestimate the flexibility of JPGs. Yes, RAWs are even more flexible, but in the two years since I stopped shooting RAW, I haven't missed them. Literally, I've never been editing a photo and thought "gee, I wish I shot in this in RAW". No exaggeration. I know that people don't agree with me, so I've stopped talking about it, except here, where this is my website so I'll say whatever I want.

Shot using the Fujfilm X-T1 and 16mm lens, Classic Chrome film simulation, square aspect ratio, JPG.

shut up already, tell us what you look for

I love the act of making photos. Standing there, pointing the camera at something, setting all the settings so that my vision will be reflected in an image, that is by far my favorite part of photography. I am a hobbyist, so I'd better be having fun in my hobby. And the fun part is the creation, it's using these tools to make something out of nothing. So the camera had better be damn fun to use.

What makes a camera fun? Sometimes it's age. When I'm out with the Leica M3 (first made in 1954, my model is from 1960ish) or the Kowa/SIX (also from the 60s) I feel the history weighing down on me. Running a camera that old, knowing it's been well maintained and loved over the years, adds to my experience. It helps me understand the context of photography, and how what I'm doing reflects myself.

Minolta SRT101 accompanied by the beastly Vivitar 20mm f/3.8 lens from the 70s.

Sometimes a camera is fun because it's absurd. Shooting with cameras renown for being difficult, or with film that's wildly expired and poorly stored, or mis-matched equipment, this is also fun. The fun comes from the challenge, seeing if any results at all turn out.

On the digital side, where the equipment itself is modern and reliable, there is still ample fun to be had from bringing my vision into the story. Whether it's an event, a static street scene, a landscape, or whatever, what I choose to put or not put into the frame, and how those elements are composed, is entirely my own. I know my tools well enough to make them portray the image I see in my head, and seeing those aspects all come together in the camera is a rush. For me, right now, that camera is the Fujifilm X-T1, usually paired with one of Fujifilm's more compact XF lenses. The camera is small, flexible, and quiet in way that works well for me.

Leica M3 sporting the snazzy leather smock and 35mm goggles lens.

what about your next camera?

I have no designs on any "next" camera. There's nothing I'm lusting after, no feeling that my current setup is inadequate. But as a hobbyist photographer and gearhoud, I understand the inevitability of there being a "next" camera. I know that, at some point, I will purchase another camera. But what will that camera have? If it's digital, it will have even more versatility, compactness, and sleekness than the X-T1. By "versatility" I mean more options to set custom image styles in-camera, so that I can spend less time in Lightroom editing my photos. The "compactness" is straightforward. And by "sleekness" I mean a camera that draws even less attention to itself.

My next film camera will likely be something even weirder, obscurer, harder to find than anything I have now. That's the beauty of film cameras – there's an entire century of 35mm film cameras for the camera collector to pick from, versus the mere 20ish years of digital (so far). I don't think I can improve on my current film camera collection in terms of being awesome for the photos I know I take, so the next film camera will have to be something bizarre.

The Kowa/SIX in all its glory.

does this article have a point?

My point, or at least my inspiration for writing this article, is that knowing what I was trying to achieve before attempting to achieve it was advice I always tried to follow, but always found it difficult to do so. I'm still working on it now, but I wanted to stop and reflect that I am least making progress on that road. I now know what I want! Sort of, some times. Yay!

Shot using wildly expired Ektachrome film in the Xpan II at 45mm.

First published on 13 May 2017; last updated on 13 May 2017.

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