Lately, my gear has settled really well. Little improvements I desired have effortlessly come to pass, bigger things are promised on the horizon.
Looking back at my kits of the past, I must admit to seeing a pattern. Sometimes the very same gear gets bought, sometimes the same role is filled with similar variations and sometimes an actual improvement, a better application of an old idea is achieved.
In my “L”/primes only phase my landscape kit looked something like this;
5D body, 24 T/S, 35L, 50 macro (the only sensible one), 100 macro (swapped out for an 85 f1.8 if not doing landscapes), 135L, 200L, 400L, 1.4x extender, 25mm ext tube, filters in three sizes with stepping rings, all stuffed (some how) into a Lowepro Flipside 400. This required a monster tripod (Berlebach, Manfrotto 058) with an even bigger gauge head (029 Manfrotto). Results were mixed, with the 200mm never settling down fully even on the wooden Berlebach tripod.
Pride over common sense 9/10 productivity 4/10
This became a more realistic and sensible* kit, by repeating some past purchases.
5D body, 17-40 f4L, 50 macro, 70-200 f4L, extender, tube, filters in two sizes with stepping rings etc and the 400L as an option. Same bag and tripod, smaller head (the little magnesium 460), but less stuffed, allowing me to carry non photographic items. I still owned the primes, but saved them for more logical applications.
Pride over common sense 7/10 productivity 7/10
Pen F (or EM1 depending on weather), 12-100, filters. This fits in either an Inverse 100 bag or Turnstyle 10 sling. The tripod is a small 190 Manfrotto with Promaster 425 head (no plate required for the Pen F with grip). This also allows the kit to be carried with an expedition back pack not instead of (backup gear included). The lens covers my needs for macro, long, wide and sharp.
Pride over common sense 2/10 productivity 9/10
The results out of each kit were potentially the same, but the consistency of anticipated results got better as I went along. From concept to photo to pack-up with the first kit, could take 2-10 minutes always employing a tripod. With the latest kit 3-5 seconds hand held or 15 seconds to 2-3 minutes with a tripod and filters.
The “five stages of the photographer” cite as (I think) step 2 or 3, the “gear hoarder”. I have repeated this one at least twice, I even think I am in a mini re-run now***. This comes from the feeling that you can now control all elements of a photographic situation as long as you have the wide/close/long/fast/sharp aspects all covered. The gear is king, because the photographer is not yet.
Now here is the thing.
If you were presented with a subject rich photographic environment and any reasonable camera and prime lens combination (from a plastic film camera to a medium format monster) and were asked to exhaust the photographic opportunities within that environment, you probably never could, especially if time was not an issue.
Having more options covered with gear is a false safety net. Just to get anything done photographically, a decision has to be made using your perceptions and drawing from your memory. This is limited and flawed. You are not a computer, so save your sanity, your mind makes the available options limited to those that fit with your acceptance of what makes a good image and habits of the past. The opportunities offered will vary with each subject, but most likely your responses will not.
Preconception of an image, based on experience with your gear and memories of images that inspire you** will usually take over, unless you deliberately choose to experiment and go outside of your comfort zone. If you have a lot of gear, you have a lot of choices to make, but those will likely each become more limited due to option overload. Possibly this means you can work one subject to death with all of the options at hand, so a 10 foot hike may be possible! I used to get untold variety out of a garden we had, but more lenses, less travel is not ideal.
A seasoned photographer who has gone through this process at least once would be able to say (not arrogantly, just realistically), that they could take an image with any lens/camera in any circumstances and possibly even, an image to their liking. They are not saying they would take the best image or even the one they would like to take, but an image none the less, because the available photographic options in any one place, even with only one perspective available are almost unlimited and an experienced shooter should know how to find some with any kit.
As you grow as a photographer, your ability to see images through more lens perspectives will grow, but most likely, your lens needs will become more defined and reduce naturally. Many experienced and specialist image makers can even function with a single lens for an entire photographic situation.
Look at the work of any photographer you admire. Chances are they have limited their gear and technique options, so they can concentrate on the subject. Many of my favourites use a single prime (2-3 at most) and a semi fixed style, to free their senses and in turn their creativity within these limits. They know if they tried to cover every eventuality, they would most likely lose this deeper connection to their creative side.
What would I tell my past self? A 24-105 zoom would do for landscapes, add in a fast 35 and 135 for street and maybe a 300mm for events and all would be done, but that would be cheating!
*Landscape photography is an exception to my own rule of “no zooms because they introduce too many speed reducing variables”. Time is on your side, so heavy cropping and rushed compositions are not needed. This is when a zoom is brilliant. I also never see the value in f2.8 zooms for landscape shooting. The widest aperture will never be used, the quality is the same, but they weight and cost twice as much.
**There is nothing wrong with this, it is all part of the process, but it needs to be recognised for what it is. Ansell Adams coined the phrase “pre-visualisation” to describe the process of deliberately seeing the end product in in your head before taking and processing. Trying to predict out comes. This is not possible if you do not limit variables.
***I think I am in an advanced form of this where I feel I need to cover all of the types of rendering lenses can offer. This includes 3d look, Bokeh and that “indefinable something”.