Why You Should Always Use and Abuse Your Gear

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A true photographer's camera.

I have always been a firm believer that photographers should use and abuse their gear. This means that you shouldn’t be scared to get little scratches and minor nicks in your camera when you are out exploring for photos. This means that you shouldn’t handle your camera like a newborn child. This means that you shouldn’t worry more about the warranty than actually taking photos. This means that you shouldn’t leave your camera at home in fear of getting in stolen.

Photographers baby their gear far too much. I have seen all these gimmicky products on the internet like “Camera Armor” for your camera (which is a thin layer of rubber that goes around your camera to ‘protect’ it) that honestly don’t give you that much protection. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that you need to truly ‘protect’ your camera is a lens-hood (can reduce the impact of shock to your camera if you drop it).

The stupidest looking thing for your camera, ever. I doubt you will see any photo-journalists using this in the jungle.

Two years ago I went backpacking through Europe and did the most horrific thing to my camera– dropping it on concrete from waist-level–twice. Surprisingly enough all I got was my camera knicked just a bit in the bottom-left corner. Sure my Canon 35mm f/2’s autofocus quit working, but after a quick send to Canon (and a hundred bucks) it was up and running.

My point is that we need to quit worrying about all the bad things that can happen to our cameras in favor of all the good things that we can do with our cameras. Fear paralyzes people, to the point that they will miss photo opportunities for fear of negative things happening to their gear. For example, I know photographers who never go out and shoot in the rain in fear of getting their camera a little wet–even when using an umbrella. Some of the best photographs I have captured was while in the rain. This goes the same with extremely dry or humid regions, or places where it is a bit sandy or muddy.

Together in the rain
"Together in the Rain " - Seoul, Korea. Shot on one of the rainiest nights in Seoul.

One thing that always pisses me off is when I see people have plastic over their expensive (and comfortable) furniture. It kills the experience of actually using the couch. Instead of lying on a nice and plush couch, all you feel is an unpleasant vinyl and sticky feel on your back. Sure it makes it look ‘nicer’ to look at, but kills the actual purpose of the couch. The same goes with camera gear. Would you prefer to see it pristine and in mint-condition on your shelf, or actually go out and use it for what it was meant to be used for?

Street photographers especially have to take using and abusing their gear in consideration when out and shooting. In trying to capture the fleeting moments of everyday life, we have to get down and gritty, shoot with our camera on the ground, and always keep it in our dangling bags to capture the decisive moment. Now I am not advocating for photographers to throw your cameras and lenses off cliffs, but to be sensible when weighing their options of using vs babying their gear.

So what is your take? Do you use and abuse your camera or baby it? Leave a comment below and chime in!

32 thoughts on “Why You Should Always Use and Abuse Your Gear”

  1. But.. but.. my camera! :O I mean.. I worked so hard and waited for so long to be able to buy it, if anything should happen to it it might take me a very long time to get it fixed, whether it’s the money or the fact that I love in a country where the Canon dealership is like shit. (excuse my french) :)

  2. Just like almost everything else in life, I think it’s about balance. My camera is a tool with which to make pictures, and I don’t see myself getting the full potential of my camera if I baby it and am afraid to take it outside.

    On the other hand, however, I spent hard-earned money on my equipment, and it would be risky to take my non-weather-sealed camera out into a Typhoon.

    At the end of the day, I’m not afraid to get my camera dinged or scratched, but I also try not to take any foolish or unnecessary risks.

  3. Haha, amazing text! Abuse it abuse it! Ok, not too much dust on the chip and to many scratches on the lens but the rest: I think times are over that you buy your gear for whole life. My DSLR with a small lens fits into my rainjacket, but only if I use a little force! :-) But then I need not nessecarily take a photobag with me… That’s good. And as I’m an avid rain photographer my camera sure will die some day by water in its electronics. It will be a sad day, but I will proudly bury her (did I say her?) that day and look at some of the best photos I made with – her – help.

  4. Nice to see that you “get it” Eric. For me, it is a total waste if you own any tool and don’t use it for fear of getting it dirty or breaking it. Camera included. Bet Art Wolfe has had a mishap or two when he’s out shooting, same for anyone that uses a piece of gear day in and day out.

    Yeah DSLR’s are pricey, but it is built to be used!

  5. I loved my camera so much when I first bought it & took lots of effort to look after it, but after a while I didn’t really bother about it too much — now, it’ll get chucked just like that in my bag. I love it when my camera looks a lil worn out — like battle scars, I’d say.

    Well as long as I don’t throw around the lenses. The body’s able to absorb more impact than the lenses.


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  7. I totally agree. I used to baby my camera. Now, for the past 4-5 years, I’m pretty rough with it and the cameras show that. People see me doing stuff with it and freak out that I’m going to break it. This past year I was at Fleet Week in San Francisco and just had to get closer to get better shots and I was in a splash zone from the surf. Right as the show ended a huge wave crashed and soaked me. I rushed home to dry my camera. After looking at the shots, it was worth it.

  8. This is a great article. I agree that the only thing you need is a lens hood (I hate UV filters) and as long as you’re sensible with your gear it should remain in good working order anyway. Although if you’re one of these people that are naturally clumsy then you may just have to accept the occasional repair bill!

    Mind you, if my 50mm 1.4 got damaged I think I might cry just a little bit :D

  9. watch it.
    10 years ago i dropped my camera (inside soft case) into shallow sea water for just about 1 sec. It was a canon elan IIe (film, but full of electronics).
    It was dead at the site. Never had the money to get it repaired. 10 years passed since i would once again buy a new camera. Chose one w/ some weather sealing this time (d7000) although yes, that was stupid and probably NO camera would survive that…
    anyways, abuse guys, go for weather sealing…
    a 5d like eric’s is much more sturdy than the average rebel or d3100 that most of us have.

  10. Nice post. I agree that you need to “abuse” your camera to some extent to get shots that you wouldn’t otherwise get, but on the other hand, you still need to care for your gear if you want it to keep working.

  11. I baby my camera but photography is all still quite new to me. Maybe when I have become familiar with it, then I will be prepared to put it through its paces.

  12. I don’t baby my camera but I do take good care of it or try to. I’ve dropped it from head height onto concrete before and all that did was really just scratch a corner and get some paint off. Mind you the 7d is built very well though. And I had a lens hood on the lens which did help take some of the impact :)

  13. Love it. Agree wholeheartedly.

    And…I’m almost there. Still clinging to those dang filters. Something tells me going filterless but continuing with the hoods is enough…but I need someone to convince me.

    Care the chime in?

  14. I totally agree. After months of saving up I finally got my first SLR and I bring it everywhere. Literally. To the beach, through cities, concerts. Its come with me. It fell down a flight of stairs once and I dropped it on concrete twice. But how are you ever supposed to really know your camera unless you fully immerse yourself into the world around you with it. Besides, I think a few nicks on the body show character. I’m still not able to go filterless but I’m working on it. But I think if my Rebel looked like that first picture I might cry.

  15. Awesome post. I’ve actually been a bit afraid to take my camera out in the rain…for the shot above…were you under an umbrella? Or did you have your camera out in the rain just like it looks in the photo? I’d REALLY like to know the answer to that question actually – if you could email me, or post here – I’d appreciate it.

  16. My camera takes a beating. I have to say i dont own a single bit of gear that has not been dropped at some point. My biggest problem is knocking long lens on door ways while casually letting it hang down my side, or often leaving things on the floor and standing on it. Come on its not made of glass…… O wait it is.

  17. Would a sony a350 handle the same abuse as the 7ds or other larger stronger cams could? I abuse mine, but i dont think mine is able to handle the abuse that most are talking about. Its about balance, abuse it when you have to get that special shot, but abuse it all the time is pointless

  18. I am afraid to take it into the rain and the cold cold weather. I could have gotten some wonderful blizzard shots, third largest in recorded history but I was afraid to damage it. I was also a little shy of going out in dangerous weather but I could have been safe in my yard and on my street. Part of this I think is I am new at photography and the other part is with limited income to indulge myself I might not get another. I went several years using disposables after my 35mm broke. Years. So I err on the side of prudence I guess and while I do crawl around on the ground and snake in the grass and constantly have it dangling at my side, the elements scare me the most.

  19. Great post. My feelings exactly. The way I see it a photographer needs to always have a camera close at hand, ready to spring into action. I always carry around at least one camera in my car. Sometimes I’ve got my Yashica GSN stuck in between my car’s front seats. Can the car get really hot on a nice sunny day? Yeah. So? Film is cheap, and so was the camera.

    Right now both my Contax G1 and Nikon D200 are in their respective camera bags, in the trunk of my car, parked outside of my house. I usually just leave them there all the time so they’re close by wherever I may drive to. Can they get stollen? Yeah, I guess. As a photographer it’s a risk you just need to live with if you want to have the ability to take pictures wherever and whenever.

    Yes, definitely use and abuse your gear.

  20. Great article !
    I used to really take care of my gear.
    Now, i protect it (like with a plastic bag for instance) but i don’t let that bother me more than this.
    Rain, sand, bring it on :)

  21. Abuse it could be a little too much, but you can’t expect to take a lot of pictures and still having a mint camera.

    I don’t do much street photography although I’m trying to improve in that field. But I do a lot of wildlife and nature shots, and the camera and lenses show the use. My photography group is known as “Los cimarrones” (“the wild ones”) and we all have burnt a little our flash because of the flash extender lens, and have some nicks and dents in the camera bodies.

    I have used my D300 during the December 2010 NY blizzard, although it scared the sh**t out of my wife, and loved the pictures; and have droped it accidentally in Paris and that time it scared the sh**t out of me, but it sustained well the abuse, so it worth it.

    So I think you must take care of your equipment as much as possible but you can’t let this prevent you from using it in a reasonably safe situation. Just don’t pamper it to much

  22. I agree. I mean, if I were shooting with a Leica M9, I might be a bit more careful, but I don’t have the money for an M9 anyway, so it’s all good. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I went cliff jumping again, and as usual, when I was in the water, I was looking up at the cliff and thinking, “If only I could get a shot from here…”. After I climbed back up, I decided, what the heck, I’m just going to do it. So I grabbed my camera, wrung the strap around my wrist, and climbed back down the cliff into the water, slipped gently into the water with my hand held as high as I could, and treaded out to get my shots. Apart from my camera getting a few splashes and me getting a few scrapes on my forearm (navigating down the cliff with only one hand and a forearm is kinda tricky), everything went well! The shots didn’t turn out to be as great as I thought (also partly because I didn’t have the energy to tread around enough to get a good angle), but the experience was amazing.
    At the risk of sounding strange, I think that embarking on these kind of “adventures” with my camera sort of strengthens the bond I have with my camera. It’s wonderful.

    Oh and btw, I love your blog. I am into street photography as well, and your blog is one of the few blogs that never fails to inspire me and push my photography forward. Thanks for that!

  23. Excellent article – I agree and I try to not worry about my gear and focus on the end result. I even waded into a pool to get some pictures last week – my family thought I was nuts, but the pictures were worth it!

  24. When I was up in the Himalayan trek…my pals said to me, “Hey dude, those things are pretty expensive isn’t it?” (pointing to my DSLR). Well, later did they found out that almost none of the PNS cameras were functioning in freezing temperatures. They were either jammed or the batteries die out fast. I had the last laugh an said to them, “my pictures are more expensive than the camera”. :)

  25. I use an M9 and a GRD3, I do not baby my cameras, my M9 is mine, lots of brass showing, since I bought my GRD3 about two months ago my M9 has only been used once, the GRD is a great camera, of all the digital cameras I have had its the only one I use native black and white with, it just seems to have an edge, I never leave the house without my GRD3, a wonderful camera.

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  27. You sound like a spoilt wealthy stupid scumbag who earns so much money to the point you spoke about 100 dollars like someone else whos a NORMAL PERSON would speak about toilet paper. I cant waste my time and energy more than what I already have on trying to make you see what real life is all about. You are a scum pig who always lived in a bubble u were a spoilt daddys boy who grew up with everything almost taken for granted surrounded by wealth and plenty of money. A sad clown like you has never had any real touch of reality.

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