No Camera is Perfect : Embracing The 80% Principle in Photography

San Diego, 2013
San Diego, 2013

We are never satisfied. Nowadays with a barrage of advertisements and commercials– we always want the next big thing. We want something better. We want to optimize the stuff we own. We become easily dissatisfied with what we own.

I don’t own a lot of stuff, but I like owning really high quality stuff. I like owning the “best” stuff.

However this causes me to get suckered into wanting things that I don’t really need. Key emphasis on the difference between “wanting” and “needing” something.

For example, I love gadgets. I love laptops, smartphones, iPads, anything that I think will help me be more “productive”. I have always been a nerd with gadgets since I was young. I also have a fear of boredom, so I feel that these electronics will keep me entertained.

For a while I thought that I “needed” an iPad. I saw how cool everyone else looked with it, and figured that I “needed” it for my work. After all, if I wanted to be on the cutting edge – I didn’t want to be caught without an iPad. I convinced myself of how much more productive I would be, and so finally I purchased one.

However after a few weeks, I started to realize that this “need” of mine was merely a “want”. At the end of the day, the iPad was like a toy– I found my smartphone much more useful. Sure there are a lot of things the iPad is great for (looking at photos, using some cool apps) but none of these things I truly “needed”.

Similarly with cameras. Recently I have been wanting to shoot some medium format. I have been thinking a lot about purchasing a Mamiya 7 or Fujifilm medium-format rangefinder, and have been reading a lot of reviews and asking others for their opinion.

All of this deliberation of shooting medium format was sucking precious energy away from myself to actually appreciate what I have (an amazing film Leica mp) to go out and shoot. The Leica already is pretty amazing, but I thought that having a medium format rangefinder would give me an extra “edge”.

All of these “first world problems” were stressing me out. I had choice overload, and wanted to constantly “optimize” my life to make it slightly better.

The 80% idea

Then it came to me while taking a shower. I’ve written about this in the the past before, but it applies to me more than ever: applying the “80% good enough” principle.

What is this 80% “good enough” principle?

Well it is this: If something is 80% “good enough” for your needs– just stick with it. (rather than trying to “maximize” or “optimize” the physical possessions you have).

For example:

  1. If the camera you own makes you 80% satisfied, just stick with it. Don’t try to get a camera which will possibly make you 100% happy (because it doesn’t exist). There will never be a “perfect” camera.
  2. If you photograph 80% of your subject matter (or more) with the lens you own, just stick with it. For example, I photograph about 90% of my subjects with my 35mm lens. Therefore unless I am going to do some commercial shoot, I don’t need to own any other lenses.
  3. If your computer, laptop, or smartphone is 80% in still working condition– just stick to it (rather than trying to deal with the stresses of upgrading it constantly to the latest and greatest).

I give similar advice to bloggers: just write an article you are 80% satisfied with, and publish it (rather than trying to get it perfect and never publishing it).

Oddly enough, the only part of my life where I don’t follow this 80% principle is in my photography projects. I try to make my projects to make me about 90% perfect, then end up publishing them.

“Satisficing” vs “maximizing”

I always strive to be happy in life. I have found that always craving for something new only leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

I ultimately need to constantly remind myself of this– to aim to be a “satisficer” rather than a “maximizer”.

What is the difference?

  • “Satisficer”: aiming to “satisfy” and “suffice” your personal preferences, getting it about 80% good.
  • “Maximizer”: aiming to perfect something to 100%. Generally maximizers are a lot more self critical, less satisfied, and frustrated.

Conclusion

So in photography, I encourage you to make the best work you can. But know that it will never be 100% perfect, and you will never please 100% of the people who look at your work.

Similarly, the photography equipment you own will never be 100% perfect. Just have gear that is 80% “good enough” – and focus on making photos, reading photography books and experiencing life.

Further Reading

For further reading, I recommend reading the book: “the paradox of choice” and reading on “satisficing” versus “maximizing”.

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