Avoid Useless Gear

Except for antipasto, which is always useful.

We photographers are a notorious lot when it comes to having serious GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). For your reading pleasure, here are a few items you can safely avoid:

1. Brand New Anything: It can be VERY tempting, especially when you’ve heard about a product months in advance, to get it the day it’s released. Assuming that’s even possible (there will, after all, be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who’ve read the same speculation and leaked specs), you should actually be thankful if you can’t get your sweaty palms on a product in its early stages. It’s one thing to get a lousy sample; it’s something else altogether when that hotly anticipated product ends up being a dud, or has critical issues that impede its performance (hot pixels, dead pixels, overheating issues, distortion issues, et cetera.

2. Limited Use Anything: This can be true of bodies, lenses (how many people buy a fisheye lens only to have it gather more dust than photos?), and lots of other doodads that OEM and aftermarket manufacturers are always so eager to foist upon us. If it’s going to be absolutely vital once or twice, or if you’re not altogether sure how much use you’ll get out of it, rent or borrow it. If you’re not sure whether you need it, wait ’til it becomes necessary, and see the previous step.

3. Cheap Anything: Not that much comes cheap when it comes to photography. And there are some cheap pieces of kit that I’d argue you really ought to have in your bag (air blower, wireless remote, microfiber cleaning cloths). But some purchases are easy, and tempting, just ’cause they’re so inexpensive relative to most of the rest of your kit that they’re pretty easy to rationalize. Just bear in mind that those $19.95 purchases add up quickly if you’re making them often.

4. Really Expensive Anything:* Sometimes, good enough really is good enough. There are reasons that companies make lenses that run into the tens of thousands of dollars; a professional buying one can reasonably expect to recoup the price of the lens by using it. However, there are also reasons that lower-cost (and usually lower-specced) alternatives exist. Some of us are just shooting for the joy of it. If you’re one of those somebodies, bear in mind that if you’re willing to take the tradeoffs between one piece of equipment and another (lack of a built-in focus motor, for instance), that’s money that could be spent on other things, whether it’s other gear, or a nice dinner out with your long-suffering non-photographer significant other.

5. A Photography Degree: I’ll probably get flamed for this, and will have more to say on it another time. In the meantime, speaking of expensive… This is not to say you shouldn’t take the time and care to learn the fundamentals of the craft, and always work to improve them. With that said, the same calculus of cost versus ROI comes very much into play here as it would with a body or lens. Given that a degree currently comes at a cost that makes a Sigma 200-500mm 2.8 lens seem like a bargain, think twice before enrolling in a photography degree program. There are several other ways to learn the craft that don’t involve mortgaging the house, donating every organ you have two of, and signing a promissory note that puts your offspring in hock to a lender. Explore those first.

That’s just my top five. What are yours? In the comments, let me know the kinds of photography-related swag you habitually avoid.

*There’s a hidden corollary to this rule, however. Anything that’s so insanely expensive that you’d never once consider buying it — like a Sigma 200-500, or one of the hundreds of special edition Leica M9s that the company puts out on a regular basis for people who don’t take photos — automatically stops being expensive, ’cause you weren’t going to buy it anyway. Talk about cheap gear!

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