Are you ‘at one’ with your camera gear?

I don’t know if it is a positive or a negative that I’m not a ‘gear head’ when it comes to camera equipment. I suppose this blog would have a much bigger audience if I spent my time doing numerous reviews of camera bodies and lenses. No doubt these kinds of technical insights are extremely important to a large portion of the photographic community. But…that’s just not me. I think a bigger and more important question is, “Are you ‘at one’ with your camera gear?”

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 49mm, efov 132mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-3200, 16mm extension tube used

To me being ‘at one’ with a camera means that you have a special connection, a bond with it. In essence the camera has become an extension of you and your creativity. It forms a seamless bridge between you and the wonders you see in the world around you. It enables you.  It is a spark that ignites your creativity.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO-800

I’ve used a number of cameras over the years and many folks would argue that I’ve used a lot ‘better’ gear in the past than I do currently. From a purely technical standpoint they would be absolutely correct!

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 14mm, efov 38mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

The full frame D800 I used to own was an incredible camera. The dynamic range and colour depth were superb. I could point it at just about anything and I knew I’d get images that my clients would approve without hesitation.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-720

My problem was that I was never able to connect with it. All my D800 ever was to me was a tool to do a job. A means to an end. At times it felt that it simply got in the way of my creative urges. It was an impediment.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 37mm, efov 100mm, f/8, 1/3200, ISO-160, -0.7 step

If you asked me why that was the case I don’t think I could give you a logical answer. Perhaps logic doesn’t enter into this at all. At the heart of being ‘at one’ is a visceral thing. An emotion. A feeling of calmness that is created every time you hold it in your hands.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 201mm, efov 543mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-3200

The camera transports you to another realm. Another vantage point that allows you to see and experience the world around you differently. More completely.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 74mm, efov 200mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-2200

Like many people I used to get caught up in the technical specifications of camera gear. I chased after ‘better’ gear, erroneously thinking it would somehow make me a ‘better’ photographer because of its technical superiority.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 32mm, efov 86mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-3200

Whether my work today is ‘better’ than it was in the past is a subjective assessment. I think the best way of knowing whether you own and use the right equipment is how you feel when you use it.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, efov 297mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-3200

When you ask yourself if you are ‘at one’ with your camera, what answer do you get?

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to make a modest $10 donation through PayPal to support my work it would be most appreciated. You can use the Donate button below. Larger donations can be made to through PayPal.

As a reminder to our Canadian readers, you can get a special 5% discount when ordering Tamron or Rokinon lenses and other products directly from the Amplis Store.

Article  Copyright 2017 and images Copyright as noted Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending web sites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

20 thoughts on “Are you ‘at one’ with your camera gear?”

  1. Thomas, I’ve enjoyed your articles at PL and here. I had the V1 and loved it for school classroom and playground work, and general photojournalism. I was very dissatisfied with the low-light performance and the ability to crop heavily, so I sold it and bought Canon 6D. I am very comfortable with three of the lenses I scraped to buy: 135/2, 16-35/4 IS, 24-105. But, as you’ve said here, I LIKE the camera and lenses, and I’ve had incredible success with it WHERE THE GEAR was the best solution: for stage events, portraits, dark scenes, etc. But for all else, the V1 still lingers as the absolutely best choice. When I go back and look at those classroom shots taken with the wonderful 6.7-13, I’m stunned. How could that tiny 10 mpx sensor DO THAT? Same for your wonderful nature, scenic, and bird pics – I marvel. The point of all this is that I’ve come to the conclusion that while “either/or” thinking is comfortable, neat, and convenient – it doesn’t really match up very well with reality. I now understand that my best solution is to have the gear in hand that is best for solving the problem at hand. And for many, many situations the 1 Series are just marvelous. So, not either-or, but both-and. The V1 was just wonderful to carry, so easy and “happy” to shoot with. It’s a tremendously well-made body, and I just might buy another, or the J5 or V3. Thank you for making me think!

    1. Hi George,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and adding to the discussion! Over the years I’ve had interesting chats with lots of readers, always stressing that the choice of camera gear is intensely personal. What may be a great solution for one photographer may not be at all suitable for another. No doubt the Canon 6D is a very capable camera, and from your comment is doing a great job for you!

      Since I seldom do work in low light conditions, Nikon 1 fits my needs very well. In fact, I just ordered a third J5 yesterday. Of all of the cameras that I have owned over the years, the Nikon 1 J5 has emerged as the one with which I’ve had the most fun and have enjoyed using the most.


      1. Thomas, thank you – that’s a question I would have liked to ask. I’ll consider the J5, for sure. I’ve been very impressed with the imagine quality of your photos I’ve seen that were taken with the J5.

        1. P.S. I love the photo at the top of your PL article “Why I Prefer Shooting with Nikon 1.” (Red motorcycle close-up in left half of frame, with mountains in distance, all in good focus.) It highlights a feature that worked tremendously well for me – the wonderful depth of field. With the 6.7-13, I could place a person close-up in part of the frame, and the viewer could easily see what was going on in the rest of the room. With the FF 6D – not so much!

          1. Hi George,
            Using wider angles lenses certainly does help with DOF. As your comment notes, the 6.7-13 is stellar in this regard. On the flip side, bokeh is more of a challenge.

        2. Hi George,
          The 20.8MP BSI sensor is noticeably better than the Aptina sensors in other Nikon 1 models. The trade-off is that the J5 does not have a viewfinder. I originally dismissed this camera out-of-hand because of the lack of an EVF. Now, I don’t even think about it and actually prefer shooting with the J5 over my V2s or V3s…except for birds-in-flight.

  2. Mr. Stirr,

    I discovered you and your photography via Photography Life. Your article on the Nikon 1 J5 and your accompanying images were what caught my attention.

    First of all, your images are truly inspiring. That they were taken handheld with a tiny mirrorless camera, the Nikon 1 J5, is even more awe-inspiring. I tried the Nikon 1 several years ago and quickly returned it as I was unhappy with the image quality it gave me. Whether it was a fault of the equipment, or the photographer, I am unsure. Nevertheless, I gave up on Nikon 1.
    Apparently, so has Nikon. One quick question, now that Nikon has officially discontinued the Nikon 1 what are your plans? Are you intending to move to another mirrorless?

    Anyway, I did not give up on mirrorless. I first acquired an Olympus OMD EM10, on a trip to Las Vegas…I was enthralled. The tiny form factor made it ideal to “gun and run”, so to speak. After a bit of time, we (my wife and I) moved up to the EM1, then the EM5MII and now the PEN-F and the EM1MII. We are VERY happy with the quality of images we’re capturing with both…although my preference is the PEN-F (NOT the EM1MII!). If they improve the PEN-F with weather proofing and the same sensor/capability as the EM1MII, we will move towards that.

    Yes, I agree with you…gear is great, but it does NOT make one a better photographer. I’m a musician (piano) and I’ve been playing for over 50 years. I have played everything from the cheesiest CASIO (I did a wedding with a borrowed 49 key consumer model in Puerto Rico) to a classic, beautiful Steinway at Water Studios in Hoboken. If I may…a good musician will make ANY instrument sound good…in the same manner, a good photographer will produce stunning images with ANY camera.

    Curiously, the Nikon 1 J5 is still available via Amazon. I’m sure the various lenses are also available. For the record, I still shoot my Nikon D750 for heavy-duty client work (architectural and industrial – my wife shoots the Nikon D500). We reserve the mirrorless cameras for a great deal of our personal work, and they are the first ones we reach for when we go out (never leave home without them!).

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful images. And thank you for reminding me that the camera is nothing more than a tool…the one that wields that tool is the real craftsman.

    Frank Villafane & Rose Rios

    1. Hi Frank,

      Thanks very much for your comment and sharing some of your experiences – it is always great to hear from a reader! As far as I know Nikon has not discontinued the Nikon 1 system. The V3 has been reported to be discontinued but that doesn’t mean that the entire system is also discontinued.

      As far as my choice of camera gear goes, I intend on shooting with Nikon 1 exclusively for many years to come. I have a good selection of 1 Nikon lenses and 6 Nikon 1 bodies (three V2s, two J5s, and a V3) so I have plenty of gear to meet my photographic and video needs for quite a few years to come.

      At this point I have not seen any other camera system that is of any interest to me whatsoever…so I’ll keep shooting with what I currently own…Nikon 1.


  3. Thomas – great article.

    I used to fly for the airlines. We had all sorts of different equipment, some cutting edge and some tried and true. They all did the job, and then some.

    Cameras have become like this too: you can find a perfectly good camera from just about any manufacturer now. It’s all good, just different.

    But back to aircraft again: which one did I enjoy the most? Simply, the one with the most comfortable seat. When you sit for eight to ten hours every day at work, a good seat is the one thing that mattered to me, not necessarily hot, new tech.

    That’s just me of course… and I love both my cameras equally too: The Nikon V1 and the Panasonic gx8. They just fit who I am.

  4. Agree with you Thomas. It takes time to get in sync with the camera one has. But once you know the nuances, it becomes difficult to imagine parting with it. In fact it becomes a joy to take photos with it !

  5. Hi Tom
    I like my Nikon FFs very much. They simply sit well in my hands, I need and like the optical viewer, use new and old lenses etc. 36mp are wellcome for blow ups, but my Df is simply the camera which feels best. So 36mp for large landscapes, 16mp for walkabouts. I do not use all those technological electronical features they provide and use them the same way like I used my F2 and Fm in the film days. With AF-lenses AF gets used too, but that is essentially all. So perhaps I am (still) connected, because I use them like manual film cameras before.
    Once I tried a Fuji, and yes, I gave it away (to my daughter, who is naturally younger than me and never used a film camera). She likes her Fuji. I missed the aperture ring, manual usage was too complicated, two essential things to me. I could “learn the camera”, but I did not want to. What would I do, if they moved the manual mode from one menu or button to another? Something like this would make me very angry 😉
    Since a couple of weeks I am traveling in Italy and use Nikon 1 system. My wife, my dog and me are walking about, meeting people, looking at things and for this Nikon 1 is unprecedented. Three bodies with “Tom’s Holy Trinity” (Do not want change lenses in windy weather) have place in one shoulder bag and those cameras are lovely to use. Even the sound of the shutter (especially V3) is music to my ears and reminds me of Fm. I do not like EVFs, but the quick and precise AF, large DOF are more than compensation. For me, Nikon 1 is perfect for “running and gunning”. Just point/compose and klick. Occasionally, I return to a spot with my D810 and a macro or a PC lens and a tripod.
    There were times I was thinking about a change, but then I realised, that all those “independent” blogs just have to live and are simply forced to write about new cameras, otherwise there would be less klicks for them. I suspect, that more often than not they simply like all technical things. This is, of course, perfectly OK, but one has to take this possibility into account. How can it be otherwise, that all over internet one week it is Sony A9, next Hasselblad, etc.!
    Secondly, I still am only learning to grasp and use (all?) the possibilities of PS and cannot say, that my cameras are not good enough for me. On the contrary, a friend of mine, who changed his gear more than once (Pentax, Minolta, Canon) lost a lot of money and above all, time to get used to different cameras. Only after he became one with his last camera I got chance to see his photographs.
    So that’s all. Sorry for writing so much, but over here we have very nice evening at the seaside…, oh well, good night 🙂

    (sorry for my english)

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thank you very much for your detailed comment, which I certainly enjoyed reading. It sounds like you have struck a nice balance with the various camera formats you are using, and that you seamlessly move from one to another depending on your photographic needs. Keep shooting and keep smiling!

  6. Hopefully a lot of people will read this article to put “expensive” gear vs. “less expensive gear” in perspective. Besides Nikon 1 cameras, I can also relate to the Sony Nex-7 body I have in spite of the somewhat strange Sony menus. I have some also “expensive” Nikon gear that I cannot relate to very well. Cheers.

    1. Hi Robert,
      I don’t necessarily think that the cost of camera equipment determines whether a photographer is ‘at one’ with it or not. It really depends on how a person feels when they use the camera, and if that camera enhances or impedes their creativity. Some folks may have that feeling when using expensive full frame gear or even larger format cameras, while others may not. For whatever reason I am ‘at one’ with my Nikon one kit. I have a friend who owns a D4 and absolutely feels ‘at one’ with it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *