For Many Photographers, the Experience Matters More Than Features and Specs

A vintage-style camera with silver top, black leather body, and a lens labeled "fujinon aspherical lens super ebc f=23mm" against a colorful, abstract background.

I’ve always been fascinated by the latest and greatest technology, and that obsession has carried over to photography ever since I picked up my first camera. However, as cameras have improved, I’ve begun prioritizing how a camera makes me feel rather than what the camera offers regarding specs and features. Given the most popular cameras these days, I’m not alone in seeking joy over performance.

Although a camera like the Fujifilm X100 VI has Fujifilm’s most recent and arguably best image sensor, the X-Trans CMOS 5 HR, it is far from Fujifilm’s most capable X Series camera. Arguably, it’s one of the least versatile and flexible cameras in Fujifilm’s currently lineup.

However, as evidenced by the opinions of PetaPixel‘s editor-in-chief, Jaron Schneider, and our YouTube duo Chris Niccolls and Jordan Drake, there are few cameras more fun to use. This trio has used about as many new cameras in the last decade-plus as just about anybody, and nonetheless, they not only still love the X100 VI, they actively miss it now that the review units have been returned to Fujifilm, ready to be sent off to other reviewers. Not to put words in anyone’s mouth, but missing a camera is rare.

The all-in-one compact camera doesn’t excel anywhere on spec sheets. But it has something not every camera does: soul. And that cannot be purchased by adding more megapixels, additional frames per second, or a more sophisticated autofocus system.

Of course, the X100 VI does have some modern accouterments, so there are perhaps better examples to illustrate the essential nature of fun in photography. Consider the Ricoh GR III series. While Ricoh (Pentax) has steadily released “new” versions of the camera, the foundation of the GR III has remained generally unchanged since the original model launched in early 2019 — more than five years ago. Even then, the technology wasn’t cutting-edge. And now? It’s old, even in the GR III HDF that was announced last month. Nonetheless, the GR III is regularly sold out because people keep buying them.

Meanwhile, the Sony a9 III, one of the most impressive technological achievements in the photography space ever, is readily available. Granted, it’s a $6,000 camera, so maybe its availability shouldn’t be that surprising. Perhaps Sony is simply better at producing enough cameras to meet demand than some of its competitors.

But I think there’s a bit more to it than that. Consider luxury photography company Leica, which is experiencing some of its best market performance ever. Even expensive models like the M11, which costs $8,995 for just the body, are selling well. The Leica M11 is technically sound, but whatever it achieves technologically is far outstripped by what the camera offers in terms of experience. Nobody buys the Leica M11 because of any one photographic feature, they shell out some serious cash because of the overall experience of using the camera.

Thankfully, the idea that photography should be fun is something many people appreciate and can afford. You certainly don’t need a Leica camera to have fun. It’s a good thing, too, because I sure as heck can’t afford one.

The primary point is that more and better features and performance are rarely the path toward enjoyment, at least not for many photographers.

I think this is a big reason why analog has experienced a resurgence. Film once offered more resolution and better image quality than digital cameras, but those days are long gone. For a while, it seemed like film was totally dead. However, against all odds, it’s back in a big way.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be that surprised, though, because film photography offers something more tactile and experiential than even the most soulful digital cameras. In some ways, the slow, deliberate nature of analog photography is what makes it so attractive to some photographers. This may sound absurd to some, but it may resonate with others: The inconvenience makes it more fun. The fact that every individual frame must be carefully considered makes the experience richer.

I’ve seen this time and again with different cameras. Whenever I take stock of the past year when doing roundups or helping pick cameras and lenses for awards, I think most fondly back on equipment that gave me memorable moments. Somehow, the better a camera or lens, the more forgettable it is.

Vintage advertisement featuring various nikon camera models and photography equipment arranged neatly, with the text "enjoy nikon world" prominently displayed.
A vintage advertisement for the Nikon F2 from 1977. The F2 remains a popular 35mm film camera, even today. | Credit: Nikon

No, you don’t need to suffer for photography to be memorable. But I think that being involved in the photographic process itself, whatever form that takes, makes the process of photography more fun. Some cameras are just so good at everything that I end up feeling detached and bored.

When I’m undergoing a medical procedure, then yeah, I’m all about perfection and sterility. Boring is good. But when it comes to taking pictures, I prefer when everything is just a bit messy and imperfect. If I’m having a blast but don’t get the best possible shot, so what? That’s still a win.

Photography should be fun, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that it is any more fun because a camera has more features or better performance.

Admittedly, there was a time when I may have turned my nose up at someone having fun using a “lesser” camera that I knew was “bad.” Thankfully, I’ve realized that the much better choice is to celebrate anytime someone clicks the shutter and smiles, no matter what camera they use. I care much more about the fun factor than I used to, and chatting with my colleagues and peers in the industry, I’m not alone.

There will always be photographers who enjoy shooting with the most impressive, fastest, and capable camera for one reason or another, whether it’s because they need their camera as part of their job or because they just genuinely get all giddy about the newest tech (I get it, I can nerd out with the best of them).

A hasselblad medium format camera body with a digital back on a wooden surface, showing a detailed view of the camera's lens mount and sensor.
The Hasselblad 907X CFV 100C is one of my favorite cameras so far this year, and I can assure you, by no means is it as “good” as the Hasselblad X2D 100C.

Some photographers enjoy buying the newest and best gear, and I’m glad they do because the premium prices they’re willing to pay keep camera companies alive.

Some need the best equipment because what fun is photography if your gear lets you down, and photography is how you keep a roof over your head and food on the table? I get that, and for these shooters, the options are better than ever.

However, they’re the exception. For most of us, the stakes aren’t so high. It’s okay if a camera isn’t the most this or the best that. When taking photos is fun, that’s not simply good enough — it’s everything.