PetaPixel

Technically Obsessed: Why “Gear Lust” and “Pixel Peeping” Are Good for You

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I came into still photography by way of video. Throughout my younger years I was always playing with video cameras, and when I graduated college I set out to buy one of my own.

Like so many others, I turned to the Internet for guidance. I got lost in a whirlwind of blogs, forums and tutorials. As a recovering technophobe, it was overwhelming and scary. This was to be my first major post college purchase, and I wanted to research the subject diligently.

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Finally pulling the trigger on that camera, I often still found myself visiting those same websites and forums. This had become a daily habit over the past few months, and the compulsion never seemed to go away.

I read up on every detail, rumor and review about new cameras and old. I became obsessed with the technology of photography. I understand the reason some people see this as unhealthy, but let’s try and comprehend the positives that go along with this obvious case of “gear lust”.

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For one, it helped me learn and understand the technical side of photography. Remember, our art is half science too. Soon after getting that first video camera I became entranced by still photos.

The only problem was I couldn’t tell you the difference between a point and shoot, SLR or rangefinder, 35mm or 120mm, medium format, full frame or APS-C. It was all Klingon to me.

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I made it a point to absorb everything I was reading. If a blog was talking about a “wide angle lens” I needed to know exactly what that meant. I know, for an experienced photographer, this may sound rudimentary, but think back to those days before you could explain the process of Debayering. Back before you knew what “stopping down” a lens meant.

These forums and blogs helped immensely. Not only in answering my questions, but raising the questions in the first place.

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Reading about new cameras and techniques also helped me understand how some people were getting the results they were. I know we’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.” While true, no photographer can take a smart phone and make it look like 120 slide film.

Reading up on different cameras helped me understand you have to use the right tool for the right job. If you envision a project or a shoot, you’ll know what’s at your disposal to bring that idea to fruition.

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Having a healthy curiosity of what tools are out there keeps you up to date with present and future trends, but it also might lead you towards trends of the past. I never would have thought I’d be shooting and developing 120 film in my bathroom, but the more I read about older cameras and lenses, the more I wanted to experiment. And I’m better for it.

You’d be surprised how shooting with old equipment and dabbling with older methods helps you understand and appreciate what we have today (not to mention, 120 film is a beautiful and unique tool).

Pixel peeping, like many other vices, can be an extremely destructive habit if not done in moderation. That said, a healthy dose of obsession can actually benefit one’s eye.

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There was a time in my life where I spent hours looking at 400% cropped in images of soup cans and color charts, analyzing the detail, the noise and grain structures and lens distortions. If a layman walked by and saw my face pressed against a blurry screen of pixels they’d think I was a maniac, and to be honest, most of us pixel peepers are a bit crazy.

But by dissecting lens and camera tests I’ve grown a more discerning eye. There’s a practical reason to keep up with new and emerging technology too. Much like older photographers might read about new film emulsions from Kodak and Fujifilm, in the digital age we must keep up on new sensor technology.

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It’s been said before and it’s worth noting again: When we buy a new camera we are essentially committing to one type of film, for lack of a better analogy. In the old days you could buy a camera and switch films in seconds. Now, we have to make sure we are making informed purchases because we are more or less stuck with what we have until our next camera.

I believe there is a distinct difference between gear lust and Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Obsessing over these cameras and visiting the websites, forums and tutorials that indulge that obsession has been beneficial to my craft. I love learning about new devices, cameras, and technologies and how they are affecting the industry.

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Looking at new designs and reviews and tests grows my love and appreciation for not only the artistic side of the art, but also for the technicians and ideas that make it all possible. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is something that comes from this and you must fight it with all your might.

You don’t have to own every new camera. It’s not necessary and it’s not recommended. It’ll take an enormous amount of willpower to keep from buying everything you see (especially if you can swing it financially), but it’s better for you in the long run.

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I agree with the old Orson Welles quote, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” The common misconception about the hours one spends reading up on gear forums, blogs and magazines is that it keeps you from getting out there and actually taking pictures. While this certainly is the case in some circumstances, it’s most surely a whole different issue.

If you need to be told to stop looking at camera websites, to get off forums, to go out there and practice your art, your problem isn’t gear lust. You’re just not that interested in being a photographer. And that’s okay.