The Dark Side of Camera Lust

Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong
By OLIVIER DUONG

It’s a good day to be a camera maker. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s Hasselblad who’s blowing full-frame out of the water, and Fujifilm is pulling out an X-T2. Cameras are supposed to be a companion to the photographer, or at the very least a tool, but, while I love cameras like the next guy, cameras can also become a pillar to hide behind.

That is probably the single biggest reason behind my Gear Acquisition Syndrome days. I’ve left it behind, but I won’t be getting back the hard earned money I spent carelessly. I even had a custom-made large format camera, barely shot five frames with it, sold it and lost $500 right off the bat with it.

Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong

But G.A.S is not the problem, it is the symptoms of a problem. And the problem was simple, I brought cameras to feel good about myself as a photographer, I’m sad to admit.

I believe that there’s only one way to feel good about yourself as a photographer, it’s to make great images. If you are missing the mark on that, you will do everything to compensate that fact. And I am speaking from experience.

It’s not that I particularly wanted to buy cameras, it’s that I had to, because I needed things to hide behind. Instead of focusing on the work, I focused on every peripheral thing to feel better about myself.

Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong

If you want a shiny new camera, shoot, go for it if you can afford it. But observe your motivations, a new buy can be a pillar to hide behind. Plus it also provides a perfect excuse on why the work is not there, “of course I can’t get nice images, I just had this new camera.”

The good thing is, we as photographers are not alone, general people hide behind brands, designers behind their new laptops, procrastinators behind their new gadgets.

I’m guilty of hiding behind all of those except brands, but I know a few people who do. Speaking of designers, my design teacher told us a story once.

Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong

She used to work for this magazine, her co-worker’s designs were mediocre at best, and she used to hand in three designs per project. One day, a Mac landed in the office, and now instead of pulling 3-4 designs, she pulled 10-15, all mediocre.

This story illustrates a good point, things are only enhancers, not makers. Don’t be a studier and buying an electronic dictionary won’t do much for you. Be a diligent student and an electronic dictionary multiplies your learning.

Likewise in photography, if you can’t make anything with 3fps, a larger fps count probably won’t help you much, just a whole lotta the same thing, like that teacher’s example. And I’ve seen it too in my life for every single camera that I got,
I did not improve one iota, just a whole lotta the same images with different gear. Sad stuff I tell ya.

The ego is a funny thing, it will try everything to protect itself, so watch out when it starts wanting you to invest in anything but the image. Again, if you think a camera will do you good, go for it, but I wish someone told me what I wrote above before wasting all my money in cameras. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.

Olivier Duong is one of the two guys behind Inspired Eye.
Olivier Duong
Olivier Duong



  • Nice article. And true. Personally I ask myself wether the new gear I’m lusting for would actually bring something to my photos. And I’m not talking about resolution or fps.
    If the answer is no, then it’s just GAS.
    I have friends that keep taking the same mediocre photos and the only thing that changes is the depth of field (going fullframe when coming from smaller sensor cameras) or a wider/narrower angle of view when a new lens arrives.
    Luckily the price of new gear is often enough to help me keeping my feet on the ground.

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  • Sad or not, people probably don’t spend less on gear, just on other gear a.k.a. mobile gadgets. And to be honest, even from people who don’t claim to be “photographers,” there’s some amazing stuff to be found on social media channels. It’s bold, innovative, different. it’s like bringing fun back to photography. Serious photographers on the other hand often are a clique of very earnest, serious, untouchable people. I prefer the mix of it and see the transition from established to new gear as a healthy movement. So yes, gear lust is like buying jewelry, only few make real use of it. But that’s not the point of the discussion here. The point is: what makes better photographs? The lust, the yearning for better photographs. And traditional simply might not be the best tool for it much longer. Have good solid gear, and it stays with you for some years, while not ignoring the benefits these smart new mobile phone devices offer. The real innovation and progress is happening there, over there G.A.S. is not such a bad thing, because costs are under control and each upgrade delivers real performance boosts.

  • Gadgets and software boost people creativity, it’s a fact, but if a “photographer” lacks creativity, no gadget, software or new super high megapickles camera will help, and that’s when G.A.S. becomes a risk.
    The most important thing is to know what you’re going to do, the “envision” of Ansel Adams can be applied to everything.
    Spray and pray when buying could be funny if you can afford it, but I think it gets boring soon.
    I can imagine myself staring at a shelve filled with the latest/coolest gear and not knowing what to pick up: sometimes I find difficult to choose between the Sigma Quattro cameras when packing for a trip.. :)

  • jcespite

    I have a true confession of GAS. I started with a Panasonic FZ10, sold and bought a Pentax DSLR Ist Ds after reading about the 3 limited lens;after all, it’s about the glass? I acquired the 3 limited lens and the FA 80-200 F 2.8 and 2 tamrons 15-35 f2.8/4 and 28-75 2.8. Kept upgrading bodies but never happy with the Pentax autofocus -front focus or back focus or too slow indoors trying to catch my toddlers never wanting to stay still. Where was the Pentax full-frame?? Only out this year., so I sold everything not really losing out on the Pentax lense, actually broke even and gave the Tamrons to my brother along with a k10 body.

    Then bought the Sony Nex 5n when it came out, a great camera but it had issues with video. I thought I wanted to use video. After all, that was what I was reading about. I sold it and then bought the Fuji XE1 (terrible EVF for indoor manual focusing) with the kit lens and a Leica adapter for the Leica 35 2.5 and 50 1.4. Video – not very good, but I didn’t have the time (or make the time) to edit anyway. Only really lost out money on the Fuji but should have kept as Fuji constantly upgraded the firmware.

    Finally, the M8 a few years back and early this year M262 (still had full frame on the brain!!). I did not like the Sony A7R (too many options and buttons everywhere) but what I should have done was probably get the Q (for autofocus) and just use the M8 with the 35. What I do find with the Leicas, I’ve slowed right down and focus on composition and learning to use light.

    What about video? I just now use my cell phone. I bought an m adapter to use with my wife’s A5100 and I did buy a m 24 f2.8 a 90 and then the 75 2.5 because of GAS. Maybe still get rid of the m8, the 24, and the 90, I like the 75 focal length better and get the Q or do nothing and just shoot and learn.

    I’m glad I got that off my chest….

    I’ve mostly stopped reading reviewer site who seem to like everything (I do like this site and the articles are quite good) or rumour sites about what is coming next. I mostly focus on reading photography books and looking at other peoples pictures (magnum, Leica forums and the Leica meet) to improve my photography.

  • Appreciate this jcespite, and rest assured, many of us have been there and still are there, succumbing to some possessive urges that lead nowhere.

    In fact, this website does itself a kind of disservice by reiterating to not always buy the latest and greatest. Sure I’d like to push sales and thereby earn small commission fees, yet that’s neither ethically nor professionally correct. So THEME is quite a bit anti-establishment and contrarian, and I guess that’s also in part what many of the readers like about it.

    Bought many many cameras over the years, yet put a stop to it some two years ago and still completely satisfied with it (and two lenses), despite newer and faster and better and shinier and and gear being made available. Doesn’t mean I’m not venturing out with shiny new gear now and then to test it, but found my tool and like its style, responsiveness and ergonomics, so whatever newer shinier gear is promised down the road, developed a kind of sane resistance.

    So in this sense, you seem to have made progress and are fine with what you now have and have achieved with your photography? Now don’t tempt me with trying to sell your M8 and the 24mm…

    Remember, love is not lust. Camera love? A milder, completely creative and sane form of the possessive, expensive, often destructive lust.