Camera Gear: An Expensive Example of the Law of Diminishing Returns

I sold thousands worth of camera gear and scaled down to a simple £160 ($200) set-up. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my photography life.

The addiction of buying camera gear is something pretty much all of us are guilty of, either during our honeymoon stage when we’re beginners and/or throughout our whole photography life. But that’s okay: we’re only human.

It’s hard to resists the modern design of a gun grey metal and glass lens, which promises edge-to-edge sharpness. And it’s hard to resist saving up for the beast that the latest full-frame DSLRs or mirrorless camera on offer, throwing around numbers and features, most of which we’ll never need.

However, the longer it takes us to realise this human weakness, the more expensive it gets. For me, it was thousands. I wish it was a means to an end, but it just keeps going. The viscous cycle of trading in old lenses to buy news ones doesn’t stop. We’ll never be satisfied with our set-up because we’re always chasing the next shiny toy.

Dozens of Canon lenses, lined up next to each other.
Promotional image, taken by Canon.

Camera gear is an expensive example of the Law of Diminishing Returns. We’ll often start with a point-and-shoot camera or entry-level DSLR. Then, we’ll watch YouTube videos of someone who has a fancy lens, like a Canon L-series or Sigma Art lens. (How pretentious is it to call a lens range the Art range? Anyway, that’s for another time.) And suddenly, we “need” that lens too, to create images just like theirs.

There’s no all-in-one lens that can be used for everything; all lenses seem to be restrictive and dedicated to only a handful of scenarios. There’s always something missing; a downside of that lens. And so, our collecting carries on.

I mean just how much better can cameras really get? Has Canon’s CMOS sensor really changed that much, if at all? Slap a standard kit lens on both an EOS 1100D and EOS 1D Mark iii. I guarantee you won’t be able to tell which one took the photo. All cameras that are made by the well-known companies these days are capable of taking a clean, sharp, RAW image. And that’s all we need. The rest is up to the photographer.

So many models are released by Canon alone. If THEY can’t keep up with the amount of gear they bring out, how can WE? They even have a virtual museum where you can search every discontinued product. The amount of cameras on that list will shock you.

This isn’t specific to photography, either. We see this all the time in this modern world of advancing consumer tech. Phones, for example. We buy the latest model, and before we know it, that same company brings out a new one, making ours feel inferior or obsolete.

The best thing we can do to avoid getting caught in this viscous cycle is to look at what stage we’re at right now and decide what path we’re taking on our photography journey. Just by getting a vague idea of the direction we’re heading will clear our mind to be realistic about what gear we need and want. It will allow us to set a stricter set of rules when temptation comes knocking.

Downgrading saved my passion for photography. I once got to a stage where I was so consumed by getting the perfect images from the very best gear that I got extremely overwhelmed and frustrated. To a point where I hated photography and left my camera to gather dust for a few months.

Shooting sunset with the Canon EOS-M.

Shortly after, I THOUGHT that it was time for me to move on to something else. So I sold all of my cameras and lenses. I said goodbye to the hobby I’d been working on since I won my first point-and-shoot back in high school.

But about a year later, I found myself getting into photography again, via my phone. I then realised that photographers never truly stop seeing the world around them as a picture. Our eyes are programmed to frame an image out of any scene. And phones can shoot RAW these days, which is great. But I soon pined for a camera again: the look of a CMOS censor; the feel of a camera in my hand; even the sound of a shutter going off.

So, I bought the Canon EOS-M, with a 22mm pancake lens. It was bought second-hand from a store called CeX. As photographers are known to look after their gear, the camera was in excellent condition.

A camera body and lens, on a wooden table.
A camera body and lens, on a wooden table.
Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 and Canon EOS-M Body.

The Canon EOS-M was Canon’s first ever compact system camera, released back in 2012. Cramming DSLRs into smaller packages was the new trendy thing back then. Canon didn’t jump on the bandwagon straight away, like others. They took their time.

They must’ve done something right because, 8 years later, here I am using that camera, creating some of the best images I’ve ever created. For example:

Portrait of a blonde girl in a blue dress. She’s holding a drawing of a girl who looks and is dressed similarly.
Portrait of a blonde girl in a blue dress. She’s holding a drawing of a girl who looks and is dressed similarly.
The 22mm f/2 lens gives beautiful sharp results.

What’s great about the Canon EOS-M specifically is that Canon quickly forgot about it, after releasing more EOS-M models in quick succession. As mentioned earlier, they have a reputation for discontinuing cameras. I feel this is why it’s such a cheap camera. You can pick up the body from that same store for just £82 ($103).

Instead of getting bogged down by gear, I’m simple grabbing my camera on my way out and focusing solely on what I want to shoot. Instead of changing lenses while I’m about and about, I’m simply holding my camera while looking at the world around me. When I see something I like… click!

I have to say, I am so surprisingly happy and utterly content with my small, simple set-up. I can see myself keeping this camera and lens for years to come, without ever upgrading or adding to it.

It took me 12 years of chasing and saving for the next piece of gear I desperately “needed” to realise what I was doing. Don’t make that mistake.

Looking at this from a psychological view, I don’t have an answer as to why we love to buy gear and gadgets. It’s hard to be objective about something I myself have been trapped in for so long. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s just part of general commercialism.

If I could go back and do it all again, I would be super cautious before making a decision on gear. I would weigh up the pros and cons; will I really get enough uses out of this to make it worth my investment?

Don’t make the same mistake that I did. If you’re already stuck in that rut, don’t threat. It’s never too late to shed some weight off your shoulders. Re-evaluate your photography journey. Look at what you really need and stick with the gear that makes you happy.

Optimist | Minimalist | Photographer | Walker

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