In the next month I need to drop some money on equipment purchases to please my tax accountant and I’ve spent some time evaluating my bag and what upgrades will not only let me spend money (part of the goal), but improve my business and my work through the purchases themselves.

 

Coeds on Chulalongkorn's main campus in Bangkok

Fuji Finepix X100  F5.6 1/90th  35mm  ISO 200

 

I’m current shooting an 8-9 year old Canon 1ds Mark II, a $8000 super camera during its day, and a more current Canon 5d Mark II, a $2500 enthusiast DSLR of its day.  Many would think the 1ds Mark II mostly sits on the shelf, but it still pulls its own weight for qualities I compare here between both bodies.  As you can imagine, this raises some eyebrows among my peers and even some of my workshop students with the newest gear in their bags are holding back questions like “dude, is your business doing that bad?”

Yes and no.  It is about business and no I’m not doing bad at all.  What I’m doing is my best to be realistic as to what new purchases will actually help me earn more money, and how long that purchase will take to recoup its cost and start producing a profit (ROI or return on investment).  All requirements not considered in the decisions of a hobbyist.

To be 100% truthful I’ve never had a client tell me I needed new gear, or that there wasn’t enough resolution or dynamic range in my images.  I have had clients (rarely) tell me I didn’t meet expectations, but always because our visions for the final product didn’t mesh.  Even today there is no pressing need for a higher resolution body, or a body with any single better image quality trait.

Where I’m getting complaints are from my own internal evaluation and critique sessions.  You know, those times when you review a wedding or portrait session and notice you achieved critical focus only 50% of the time and you know with a better AF system you could improve that number to 70%.  Or the frame rate of 3fps often syncs wrong with the kiss or cake cutting and you could have got that slightly better shot if only you had 6fps..  Or the times you were working an outdoor glam session and the sunlight on your small out of date LCD required you to turn your back to your subject for seconds at a time to be able to read the screen.  All the tangibles you as the photographer would know could and should be better, but which must stand the test of ROI because ultimately it’s a business expense.

 

1999 Cobra Mustang< Car Show Champaign IL 2012

Fuji Finepix X100  F8  1/600th  35mm  ISO 200

 

Hobbyists are different.  If their bills are paid and they have enough in their account and it won’t upset the wife then that new camera looks all the more desirable. They spend a lot of time on forums exchanging posts ‘discussing’ the merits of the latest piece of technology and who wouldn’t want to be one of these ‘first adopters’ posting the very first shots with their new camera? And for those who list the contents of their entire bag in their signature line? Y ou don’t really need to buy the equipment to fill out your bag.  Just list the gear! Y ou can do this because no one really cares what equipment you post in your signature line..

I’ve had other professionals tell me they must upgrade to the newest system because “competition demands it.” I think they may be over playing their hand.  We’ve all seen the blurbs in advertising “we use the latest digital camera systems”, but have we seen “we use the latest Canon 5d Mark III (and it’s better than the 5d Mark II) digital camera systems?”  Or do we have poor ROI discipline and the hobbyist that resides within all professionals is screaming at us to get the newest gear?  I know, it’s hard to be me..

Or maybe we want that specific camera model listed on our Yellow Page or LinkedIn account because it boosts our own image of ourselves?  If this is you try to resist, no one cares what camera you’re using.  What they do care about is can you get the shots and is their image quality within the class standard.  That’s it.  You won’t get away with using a $200 PNS for a professional sports gig, but you don’t necessarily need the latest gear either.  Let your work speak for itself. In fact, what I love is letting your work speak for itself despite using gear almost a decade old.

In fact there are many professionals making money hand over first using point and shoot compacts or entry level DSLR’s in canned studios or for weddings.  Next time you’re at your local mall ask to stick your head inside and see t heir equipment and lighting.  You’ll normally nice lighting on professional wall and floor mounts (lighting is 80% + of a portrait), but the camera is likely to be a better point in shoot (PNS) compact.  Shooting at ISO 100-200 and with their more common 12-16mb, these PNS cameras provide all the image quality such a business needs.  I’d guess an overwhelming majority of wedding photographers are using entry level DSLR’s including entry level micro 4/3’s systems.  At the more average price points this gear makes a lot of business sense.

And they certainly don’t replace their gear because the new model is released.  Heck no, it’s already making money and will continue to make them money until it breaks beyond economic repair.

 

The Hot Slugs Jamming at Kranart Center Champaign IL

Fuji Finepix X100  F2  1/60th  35mm  ISO 3200

 

Workshops are a different story. I feel one of the significant benefits of a well ran workshop is where gear is made available to the client(s) to experience as necessary.  For instance, during a portrait workshop we discuss the merits of a modern 24-70mm F2.8 vs. the quintessential 85mm portrait lens, a student deserves the opportunity to experience both.  This runs into problems when the hobbyist client firmly believes the professional instructor can’t possibly be on top of his game without the latest gear.  And of course it’s the instructors job to teach him past this mindset.  Yet, I’m sure to maintain such an inventory to cover whatever genre I agree to teach. And I see several lenses I’ll be purchasing to this end.

And of course as a professional photographer, especially if you teach photography workshops, you’ll have a steady stream of people coming to you for advice on their latest upgrade.  And now you can see they’re asking you for advice to fit their perspective as a hobbyist.

I can’t begin to describe how hard it is to explain to a workshop student that their money would be much better spent taking a college course or even another workshop than buying new gear.  But as a hobbyist we get caught up in the glitz and glamour of new gear and of course the bragging rights. It’s really incredible.

Yet, there’s more than a little bit of hobbyist in every professional, and perhaps a bit of professional in every hobbyist.  Only our personal discipline keeps us on track.