I have a problem. It is definitely a “first world problem”.
I currently have too many cameras in my house. This is what is sitting on my shelf at the moment (all the cameras I own):
- Leica MP
- Hasselblad 501c
- Fujifilm x100T
- Ricoh GR
- Contax T3
Too many damn cameras.
The other day, I wanted to go out and shoot. I then had that moment of hesitation and thought to myself, “Shoot, which camera should I bring out today?”
That moment of even having to think about what camera to bring with me caused a lot of stress.
I then settled on my Hasselblad, and then I thought to myself, “Shoot, which bag should I bring?”
I have a ton of camera bags at home as well— and I spent the next few minutes trying to “re-arrange” my camera bag. I tried to choose the “ideal” camera bag for my camera for the day.
One camera and one lens
Now you know that on my blog I am a huge advocate for the “one camera and one lens” philosophy. It is truly the best way in my experience that reduces stress when it comes to dealing with the “tyranny of choice” that we have today.
We live in an affluent and abundant society in which the stress we have isn’t from having too few cameras— but having too many cameras. The same goes with clothing: if you ever stressed about what outfit to wear for the day, which sunglasses to wear, which shoes to wear, which jacket to wear (you also deal with the “tyranny of choice”).
Steve Jobs famously only had one signature outfit or “uniform”: his black turtleneck sweater (he apparently had hundreds of them made), his blue jeans, and his white shoes. This gave him less stress in the morning of worrying about what to wear. Therefore he could be focused on innovating ideas for Apple.
Similarly, apparently Barack Obama only has 2 suit jackets (I think a black and a navy blue one). This allows him to have more mental energy to focus on what is important — making big key decisions.
My experience with the “one camera and one lens” philosophy
For the most of my photography, I use about 90% of my street photography with my Leica MP. I only own one lens (the Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH) — which is lovely; I don’t have to worry about what lens to shoot with. It always stays on— and is married to my body.
But when I went to Japan a few years ago— I wanted something a little more compact (and also a 35mm focal length), so I picked up a Contax T3. It is a lovely camera to take with me when I go to the supermarket, when I want something pocketable. It is also a good backup when I am traveling, in-case my Leica breaks on-the-road (knock on wood, hope this doesn’t happen).
But even having 2 choices in the 35mm film department is stressful. There will be days I’m dedicated to shooting 35mm, and I am not sure whether I should bring my Leica or Contax T3. I think to myself: the Leica is good for doing almost everything, but is still a bit bulky and heavy. The T3 is superbly compact and portable, but not as quick as the Leica. I have to go back-and-forth between these options, which causes me unnecessary stress and hesitation when going out and shooting.
And of course when I leave the house, I will often regret having not bringing the other camera. For example, if I bring the Leica I will think to myself, “Damn, this thing is so heavy. I should have brought the Contax”. When I have the Contax and it shoots a bit slower I think to myself, “Damn, I wish I had my Leica and I could shoot quicker.”
I would say I was a lot happier before I had the T3 (to be perfectly honest). I had the “luxury of no choice”— the Leica was the only thing on my shelf, and I would shoot with that.
Medium format stress
I love shooting with the Hasselblad, especially when shooting around my neighborhood. I love the 6×6 format, the way it helps me slow down, and the big and beautiful negatives.
But the downside is that it is so damn big and heavy. It is a big pain in the ass to carry around, and I’m not sure if the “experience” of shooting medium-format is honestly worth it.
Whenever I take a shot on the Hasselblad, I have to take out my light meter, take a light reading, take off my front cap, take off the dark slide, pop up the waist-finder, focus, adjust the aperture and shutter speed, hold my breath, and then click.
Once again, it is a nice “meditative” style of shooting— but I prefer the Leica: I just take it out, quickly focus, and just click.
At the moment I shoot a lot of square-format photos on my smartphone, process it in-camera in VSCO, and upload them to Instagram (much easier). I might ditch the Hasselblad and just shoot photos more on my phone.
Digital vs film stress
I also personally hate having the choice between shooting digitally vs on film.
To be honest, I would prefer to like digital over film. Digital is a lot cheaper, storage is easier, and more convenient.
But the matter of the fact is that I prefer the process of shooting film. I like how it slows me down, how I don’t get film processed for several months, how I don’t feel like in a rush to see my images, the delayed gratification, and also the aesthetic of color film (vs photos I post-process in digital to look like film photos).
Ever since Fujifilm gave me a x100T, I have been shooting with it quite a bit (partly to use it to write a review, and also to see how I like the camera).
I actually quite like the x100T a lot— it is a great size, takes great photos (in terms of image quality), has fast and accurate autofocus, and is easy to carry with me everywhere I go.
But ultimately it doesn’t bring me the same joy that I get from shooting film on my Leica. I think if I worked on my post-processing skills on the x100T I could get them to look pretty similar to Kodak Portra 400, but it won’t be quite the same. And once again, I prefer shooting film for the slower process.
I think this is the biggest problems of trying to shoot both film and digital: you don’t know which camera to use.
For example, I think that trying to shoot with the Fujifilm x100T is just distracting me from my long-term projects that I’ve been shooting for my “Suits” and “Only in America” series (all shot on 35mm film).
A solution (if you own more than one camera)
I have come up with a practical solution if you own a lot of cameras and don’t want to restrict yourself creatively: use a different camera for a different project.
About a year ago, I attended a photography lecture by Alec Soth in Detroit, and he said sometimes he felt pigeon-holed for shooting color 8×10 photos. He said he wanted to be more like a film director— in which for each film, he decides which camera, film (black and white or color), look, etc.
So I currently am dividing my work as the following: my color photography is all on Kodak Portra 400 film, and my black and white work is all digital (Fujifilm and Ricoh). I also prefer to use black and white for more documentary-style photography (like what I did documenting the Gallo boxing gym in Michigan, and for the portrait series I did in Provincetown for the Magnum workshop).
How many cameras are too many?
To be honest— I get stressed out by having too many cameras. I know it is a first world problem— but I think having true freedom is having fewer choices.
For the time being— I’m just going to stick to a very simple setup: my North Face Backpack, my Leica MP and 35mm camera, Kodak Portra 400 film, and my smartphone for square-crop urban landscapes. And probably will hold onto the Contax T3 just as a backup for my Leica (in case the Leica breaks on the road). But when I don’t need the T3 (when I’m at home, I will probably lend it out to some friends).
I will probably end up selling the Hasselblad, and might buy another medium-format camera in the future (perhaps a Mamiya 7) if I want to shoot more medium-format. As much as I love the Hasselblad, I think shooting squares on my phone is just much more practical for me at the moment. The weight of the Hasselblad is a bit too much to carry around my neighborhood, and scanning takes me too long.
I will keep the X100T for now, and might use it for some more documentary-style work down the road. The Ricoh is also a great backup.
Giving away cameras
I have found that having fewer options in terms of what cameras or lenses to use is incredibly liberating. Not only that, but I think that giving away cameras is one of the biggest gifts and joys out there.
Some cameras I have given away in the past:
- Leica M6 (to my friend Bill Reeves in Austin)
- Ricoh GR1v (to my friend Josh White in Korea)
- Canon 5D (to my friend’s younger brother who went to college to study photography)
- Rebel XT (to my best friend Justin Lee in SF)
- Pentax K3 (to my friend Mehdi Bouqua in Downtown LA)
- Fujifilm x100s (to a good friend Vu Nguyen in Vietnam)
- Fujifilm X-T1 (on long-term loan to my friend Joe Agguire in SF)
It brings me a lot of joy knowing that these cameras are being used to create beautiful art (instead of just collecting dust at home).
So if you have a spare camera that you aren’t doing anything with— consider giving it to a friend, family member, or photography student who is inspired and would make great use of it.
Either that, or you can always sell the camera — and use that cash to buy photography books, attend workshops, travel, buy film, or go on a road trip. Money can only buy you happiness if you spend it on experiences, not material things.
Furthermore, money brings us the most happiness when we spend it on others, not ourselves. So perhaps you can use some of that cash to buy photography books, classes, or little gifts for your friends— or take them out for a beer, coffee, or dinner.
I am affected by GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) as much as everyone else out there. My eyes glitter when I look at the newest fanciest cameras out there, and I am a sucker for technology— and like to play with the newest and shiniest things.
But at the same time, all of this lust for new gear, cameras, etc stresses the hell out of me. It makes me less content with what I have, makes me forget to count my blessings, and ultimately brings a lot of dissatisfaction and frustration in my life.
Ultimately I want to be happy in my life, to live simply, and to be productive in my photography and writing. The more I care about physical possessions— the more I get off my path.
I also am selfish when it comes to money and my own well-being. But I have found through my experiences that spending money on others, giving cameras away as gifts, and investing in others has brought me the greatest happiness. I honestly have all the material things I need (laptop, smartphone, camera, car)— what else do I need? I want to just have enough money to buy photography books, money to travel, educate myself, and have some financial cushion to write and research.
I don’t mean to write this article to also be condescending to anyone out there who owns lots of cameras, lenses, or equipment. I know a lot of photographers who thrive off having lots of cameras and gear— and if that works for them, that is totally cool.
But I am writing this article almost as a form of self-therapy for myself, and for anyone else out there who might suffer from unnecessary and additional stress for owning too much gear.
If you liked this article, I also recommend reading these following articles from my blog:
Articles on Happiness
- 8 Ways How Money Can Buy You Happiness in Street Photography
- On Happiness and Street Photography
- 3 Stoic Techniques that Can Help You Gain Tranquility in Street Photography
- On Jealousy and Street Photography
- 12 Scientifically Proven Ways to Have More Happiness in Street Photography
Articles on GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
- 10 Tips on How to Cure Yourself of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
- F$%K GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
- What to Consider When Buying a New Camera for Street Photography
- The 1 Year, 1 Camera, 1 Lens Project
- 3 Reasons Why You Should Shoot with One Camera and One Lens
For those of you who own several cameras for street photography, does it stress you out at all? If not, why not? If so, why and how do you overcome it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!