The holidays are a great time for gift giving, which also normally means they’re a time for cleaning out closets and camera bags. Every year, I find myself needing to get rid of old stuff that has been replaced; or dealing with the thoughtful but odd and/or useless gifts given to me by well-meaning family and friends.
But what to do with that redundant lens or knitted camera cozy? The simplest answer is to return or re-sell it, but sometimes there’s no gift receipt to be found or the gizmo in question is too beaten up to be sold for any real value. Fortunately, there’s plenty of ways to find a use for your used gear.
1. Donate it!
You might not be able to use that old camera, but someone else could. Why not donate it? And I don’t mean just dropping it off at a Goodwill (although that’s certainly an option).
One interesting charity is the Cameras for Kids Foundation, which uses donated equipment to provide cameras and photography lessons to foster children. Consider also checking local High Schools to see if they offer photography classes. Many loan out equipment to student who don’t have a camera and will likely be just as happy to receive decades-old film SLR’s as the latest Nikon full-frame — well, almost as happy anyway.
With either of these options, your unwanted equipment may introduce a young person, or many, to photography.
There’s other options too. If you have a favorite non-photography related charity, Recycling for Charities lets you convert donations of electronics into cash donation to charities of your choice.
2. Customize it!
So Aunt Margaret bought you a bedazzled tripod. It’s so thoughtful! Really! You’ll use it all the time! Problem is, you already have a tripod, and have no intention of setting up on a mountain ridge at sunrise with a rig covered in sequins.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of ways to salvage old gear for new use. If you’ve got a spare DSLR lying around, for example, you can convert it to an infrared or monochrome-only camera to try putting a new spin on your images.
Extra cameras also means extra body caps, and you can use one of these to build your very own pinhole lens. It won’t be too useful for sealing the lens cavity anymore, but dealing with a handmade lens is both an educational and uniquely rewarding experience.
If you’re willing to irreparably repurpose (it sounds nicer than “destroy”) a normal lens, you can tear the lens mount off to turn it into a makeshift tilt-shift lens, like Sam Hurd did with his Nikkor 50mm. Some have even tried chopping up old lenses and turning them into jewelry.
Bring the same creativity and resourcefulness you use in a photo shoot to creating a new photography experience, whether that means changing the functionality of your gear or simply the aesthetics with a custom paint job or grip. Consider these design concepts put together by photographer Sherwin Sibala for inspiration.
There are always unique ways to use other outdated or unnecessary parts of your kit, too. Sometimes, that means repurposing gear for non-photography purposes. One company, Phlite, is currently working on a Kickstartr campaign to launch a hot-shoe mountable light that can turn most cameras and tripods into a desk or floor lamp.
3. Destroy it!
I keep an old Canon Powershot G10 in the glove box of my car at all times. It’s a beat up little thing; the strap mount on one side has been ripped out, leaving the strap hanging from one side like a Canon-labeled lanyard. There’s grit in most of the dials, and the LCD has a nice little crack in one of the corners.
I use it almost exclusively in conditions that make me second-guess bringing my DSLR, or even my backup compact. Like when I’m out playing beach volleyball with friends, or walking through a particularly sketchy neighborhood, or dancing around at a rainy music festivals.
Like dirty tennis shoes for garden work, I think there’s a lot to be gained from keeping a camera around that you wouldn’t feel bad about ruining. Not only does it take away any excuse for not bringing a camera when conditions get messy, but it gives you license to take some risks you never would otherwise.
What I mean is to say that it’s not a bad thing to have a backup for your backup camera, but don’t let it just sit in a drawer waiting for the off-chance that all of the rest of your gear will fail to work on the same day. Put it to work in risky or even potentially disastrous situations!
Strap it to a RC car and drive it up to a pride of lions like New Zealand photographer Chris McLennan. Pull it out in a sandstorm, or a monsoon, or sub-zero temperatures. Tie it to a weather balloon and send it to space like Colin Rich. Use it in a way that you assume will break it, and consider it a blessing every time it comes home alive. You’ll capture things you never could have with a camera you were worried about protecting.