Gear Purchase Decisions

Gear purchase decisions can be complex, and can have significant financial impacts if we don’t take the time to think things through. Taking a longer term view, like 10 year purchase decisions, are actions that we seldom do as photographers. Like many folks I typically had a 3-5 year perspective when buying camera gear. I had fallen into the ‘incrementalism’ trap by thinking that if a sufficient number of incremental improvements in specifications occurred it would make upgrading equipment every 3 to 5 years logical and worthwhile.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

NIKON 1 V2 + NIKON 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 200, 1/500, f/5.6

So, like many people I kept investing money in camera gear. Along the way I changed formats a few times, going from APS-C to full frame, then into Nikon 1. Fortunately throughout the process I was able to sell my used gear for decent money which helped minimize the financial impacts of my purchase decisions.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 400, 1/320, f/5.6

An unexpected thing happened along the way. I came to the realization that it didn’t matter at all what other photographers thought. Or what was written in online gear reviews. Or what agonizing over detailed comparisons of specifications revealed.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 77.1mm, ISO 1600, 1/125, f/5.6

It really came down to what I wanted to create with my camera gear, and most importantly how much I enjoyed using it. Buying equipment based on published specifications and incremental improvements didn’t do anything for me… other than suck money out of my wallet.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 69mm, ISO 800, 1/60, f/7.1

When I bought my full frame Nikon D800 it was arguably one of the finest cameras available at the time. That model was a wonderful piece of kit. I could point it at just about anything and be confident that I’d get a good, usable image. The D800 was launched almost 11 years ago and I occasionally meet photographers who are still using that model today. It still meets their needs and they’ve had no motivation to ‘upgrade’ to something else.

NIKON 1 V2 + 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7.3mm, ISO 160, 1/125, f/5.6

Many of the professional photographers that I’ve known over the years have kept their camera gear far longer before replacing it, than enthusiasts often do. For professionals, cameras and lenses are simply tools of the trade. The purpose of which is to make a living.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @ 157mm, efov 424mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-2500

Back in July 2015 when I decided to sell all of my full frame gear and use the Nikon 1 system exclusively for my client safety video work as well as for my personal needs… it had nothing to do with dynamic range, colour depth, or low light performance. It was all about business efficiency.

Nikon 1 J5 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-220, 16mm Vello extension tube

Being able to shoot video segments at f/2.8 for client projects, and get sufficiently deep depth-of-field when compared to my full frame D800 at f/8, was a game changer for me. It meant I didn’t have to bring 4-6 studio lights with me, and go to the trouble of multiple onsite lighting set-ups. Up to ISO-800 there was no difference in the quality of the video files produced by the two formats. I was able to get my onsite work done faster, which my clients appreciated. None of them cared what gear I was using as long as I created the work they needed.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm (efov 810mm), f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2000

As far as purchase decisions go, moving to Nikon 1 proved to be the right move for me from a business perspective. It was also one of those purchase decisions that was very instructive on a personal level. It was the first time that I experienced a feeling of real connectedness with camera equipment.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @208 mm, efov 562 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-4500

I felt energized and creative when I held it in my hands. If Nikon had continued with the product line and my clients’ needs didn’t change, it’s possible that I’d still be shooting with Nikon 1 today. This may sound odd, but using Nikon 1 gear allowed me to explore my creativity more, and helped me improve as a photographer.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 90mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-2800, Movo extension tubes

But, staying with Nikon 1 was not to be. The Nikon 1 system was discontinued in July  2018. This did not come as a surprise to me. Warning signs were visible and I had been adding to my Nikon 1 kit in an attempt to future proof it. Then, some clients began asking about 4K video and it became apparent that I needed to consider some changes with my camera gear if I was going to be able to meet their evolving needs.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6, 7mm, f/8, -0.7 step, 1/160, ISO-400

I knew I had no interest whatsoever in going back into a full frame system. So, I looked at M4/3 as my most viable equipment option. Back in the summer of 2015 I had a disappointing experience with Panasonic… the only costs of which were some nominal restocking charges I incurred when I returned the gear for credit. So, that left Olympus as my primary option. The challenge was that I knew absolutely nothing about the brand at that point.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-200, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 3966 pixels on the width, distance to subject 14.9 metres

Fortunately in May 2019 I was able to qualify for the Olympus Pro Loaner program. This gave me the opportunity to test out some Olympus gear for a couple of months with no risk or obligation. At the time I struggled with whether I should loan an E-M1 Mark II or ask Olympus to borrow their recently released E-M1X. I decided on the E-M1X. To my surprise Olympus was kind enough to send me both camera bodies to test out.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 12-100 mm f/4 IS PRO @54 mm, efov 108 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-5000, Hand-held Hi Res Mode

It took less than an hour for me to rule out the E-M1 Mark II. I have large hands and I instantly fell in love with the ergonomics, handling and comfort of the E-M1X. So, I quickly came to the realization that I would be moving into an Olympus M4/3 system. The big challenge was to decide on individual kit elements.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 PRO @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/3.5, 1/200, ISO-10000

The first thing that I did was take a longer term view. Rather than viewing my pending movement into a M4/3 Olympus system with a typical 3 to 5 year time frame… I decided that I needed to look at this investment in camera gear with at least a 10 year time window.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, 1/60, f/5.6, ISO-6400, subject distance 1.4 metres

Being a senior citizen I realized that this investment would need to transcend the expected length of time I would be doing client work. It would also need to meet my personal creative needs into my retirement years.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, f/11, 1/250 ISO-200, subject distance 270 mm

After reviewing financial aspects of our business, my wife and I decided it would take some time to build out an appropriate kit. We started by purchasing an E-M1X and the trio of PRO f/2.8 zooms that we’d need for our client video work, as well as the MC-14 teleconverter and 60 mm f/2.8 macro.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, 1/1600, ISO-2500, cropped to 4457 pixels on width

Over the next 18 months we made a few more planned purchase decisions and added another E-M1X, an E-M1 Mark III, and some additional M.Zuiko lenses. These included the 100-400 mm IS, PRO 45 mm f/1.2, 12-100 mm PRO f/4 IS, 14-150 mm f/4-5.6 II, and 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 II. We completed our kit with an MC-20 teleconverter, STF-8 twin macro flash, FL-700WR flash and FC-WR wireless flash commander.

Olympus OMD-E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/50, ISO-1250, subject distance 610 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

We will soon be coming up to 4 years since we made the first of our Olympus M4/3 purchase decisions… and we couldn’t be happier. Using my E-M1X bodies and M.Zuiko lenses has become a Zen-like experience. The cameras fuel my creativity with all of their computational photography options.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/5000, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4212 pixels on the width, subject distance 10.5 metres

The E-M1X never get in the way and always feels like an extension of my being. Our selection of M.Zuiko lenses provide all of the flexibility and optical performance we need. The teleconverters and flashes further extend the flexibility of our kit.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/50, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking

Taking a longer term, 10-year view was very important for us when making our gear purchase decisions. It forced us to consider how our photographic needs may shift over time. It also helped us choose components for our kit that would be complimentary so we could get the most from our investments in camera equipment.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking

The camera sensor format, brand and model of camera that each of us decides to buy is a personal decision. Taking a longer term view of gear purchase decisions can help each of us make choices that will best meet our needs and avoid the pitfalls of short term incrementalism.

The sooner we stop caring about what other photographers think, or slavishly following what we read in camera reviews, and start to really focus on understanding our specific needs… the better our choice of camera gear will be.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files or out-of-camera focus stacked jpeg images using my standard approach in post. This is the 1,227 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-6400 Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, Pro Capture L, 3005 pixels on the width, subject distance 129.9 metres

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10 thoughts on “Gear Purchase Decisions”

  1. Dear Mr. Thomas,

    Don´t get me wrong, I still like gear… But each day I like more and more, the feeling of “looking” and “making” a photograph instead of just “taking one”.
    You and others like you are helping a lot with that journey.
    So… Thank you very much for this reflection.
    All the best to you and your family

  2. Hear, hear sir. You’re obviously an excellent photographer and your choice of gear is up to your skills. Many photography forum are full of commentary from people purchasing the latest, most expensive gear in hope of improving their skills — clearly a fool’s errand in many cases. As a fellow Olympus fan I say “thank you.”

  3. I went from 35mm film to 2/3″ (Fujifilm X20) to APS-C (Fujifilm X100 series) to Nikon FX (Df). Then added 1″ (Nikon 1 series) to supplement the Df. Never say never, I know, but I do not plan to switch. I did purchase a Nikon D800E, but only for film scanning, not general photography.

    The reason I don’t see my self moving away from the Df, despite the resolution having been surpassed, is that it is obvious that there will be no more F-mount cameras made. I simply love the controls and results from my Ai-Nikkors and AF-D Nikkors on the Df. I can’t see myself giving up the aperture ring, and the Df lets me use it! The resolution the Df delivers is more than adequate for any work I do. Mirrorless is the future, but I find I really like the DSLR experience.

    As for the Nikon 1s, They provide Nikon build-quality and lens interchangeability in a very small package. The IQ, at least in adequate light, is just as good as the Df. I use the 1s for traveling light, and the Dfs when the photography itself is the object.

    At 74 years, my plan is a 20-year one, and it is basically to enjoy what I have, and gradually sell off what I seldom use.

    1. Hi Martin,

      I can appreciate how you feel about the Df… that’s how I feel about my E-M1Xs… I just love how they handle and feel in hand. The last few months we’ve been selling off gear that we seldom use as well. Camera bodies, lenses, tripods, tripod heads, filters, some camera supports and a few other odds and sods. My gear closet is starting to look far less cluttered for sure.

      It took me a while to come to grips with parting with some of my gear that I loved using, but that was now collecting dust. I finally came to appreciate that it is important to get that seldom used gear out into the hands of other folks who will really enjoy using it and will appreciate it.

      Tom

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