Occasionally I will have a flash of insight that will clarify an issue I have been struggling with; in my head I have been going over repeatedly what I can fit into my camera bag. This is my travel constraint for gear, as much as I love photography, it is not the main purpose of my travels. It is there to supplement my experience, and that experience can inter-relate with the camera gear I bring in a number of ways. First, physically it is the weight of what I carry that will determine part of my experience hikers (trackers) sometimes will modify gear removing anything not useful to save a single gram of weight. So carrying a camera is quite a commitment. Secondly its the cost, in my line of work time, as with most people who find themselves an employee of a company making an hourly wage (my thoughts on this would be a post unto itself). Every dollar I spend is one dollar less that I have for my travel experiences, and extra time I would have to spend working to earn the original dollar. When I run out of money it is time to return home. So in a very real sense it can control my life in many ways. Today I was caught in a perpetual loop thinking out the perfect kit, all the while I wanted to stop thinking about it because I knew it was irrational didn’t have much effect. I generally have the common sense to know that there is a limit to personal finances, and the responsible adult thing to do is be aware of it not crossing a certain point. Intellectually that is great, but emotionally (I’m embarrassed to admit this) I was obsessing over what the perfect lens choice would be. Then I snapped awake realizing that while I was trying to figure out how I was going to use my financial resources, I was wasting my time resources.
Every minute I spend trying to figure out how to best spend my money on acquiring a possession, I still have a dollar that I can earn back, but that minute is gone forever. Think about it this way, a purchase that I was thinking about cost about four hours of my life to earn, and in the future that could be one whole days expenses if I am frugal traveling. So to an extent an intelligent purchase is required for my photographic explorations. I find great pleasure in capturing images of beautiful places, and once done sharing them with a slowly growing audience. There are material requirement that idealism will not brush to the wayside. Photography is inherently technical, and ignoring that does not make it go away. A crucial part of this art is s collection of finely tuned instruments carefully assembled. That instrument we call a camera is useless without knowledge of basic optics, image processing, and human visual perception. Slowly I am coming to share a small piece of Ken Rockwell’s philosophy on camera gear. The photographer’s skill, and vision matter more than the gear.
Many of the iconic images in the past were shot on uncoated lenses, had severely flawed lenses, were shot on film with an iso in the tens, not hundreds or thousands, and were developed with a temperamental chemical process that varied significantly from batch to batch. The icons of photographic history were masters of their craft, and ingeniously overcame some technical hurdles we would consider absurd to even try. Admittedly since Sally Mann wet-plate photography has made a little bit of a revival. So this leads me to a little mind experiment: imagine owning the possessions you have been dreaming about, due to the theme lets say its the perfect camera setup. Lets say the newest top of the line sony A7ish camera = $3,000, a few Zeiss lenses $1,500 x 3, and some miscellaneous gear... so lets say $10,000 for a dream setup. This is not so much for a dream, some people dream about owning a sports car, so this by comparison is a cheap dream. Google says the average US hourly ware is about $20/hr, lets be generous and say $15 after taxes. Thats about 666 ⅔ hours of work (no that was not contrived), so about 17 weeks of working 40 hours per week for the average American to pay for some relatively modest dream possessions. There is a book called HOW TO TRAVEL THE WORLD ON $50 A DAY http://www.amazon.com/How-Travel-World-50-Day/dp/0399159673, taking this at face value you could buy an almost as good last years model camera with almost as good vintage manual lenses for maybe $1,500. That leaves $8,500 dollars, or almost half of a year of traveling around the world.
Between the choice of owning a bag with some stuff in it (admittedly really nicely made German and Japanese engineered stuff) that would maybe marginally improve the quality of my work in a way that most likely the average person would not even notice. Also, take into account that this dream item has expires when next years newer model comes out. This leaves us with two options: one, own a really nice bag of stuff; two, own a pretty good bag of stuff that you take with you for half a year doing whatever you want. I can’t even see it as a choice any more, sorry Zeiss, sorry Google and Amazon. I will admit even though time won over possessions, if having both were possible that would be nice too.
“Trading time for money is the worst deal you can make. Money is a renewable resource, time is not.”
-Paraphrasing Tim Ferriss-