Thursday, January 27, 2011

Photographer or camera collector?

So over the years I have realized that you can divide photographers in to two general categories; those that have a camera or two, and those that have 20+.  One phrase you will often hear if you take any kind of formal instruction is that “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer”.  Basically a good photographer can create good photographs regardless of the equipment.  So the question can then be asked why would any photographer want or need more than a camera or two?
There are obvious reasons why some photographers don’t have an arsenal at their disposal.  Money comes to the top, if you don’t have the financial ability to purchase and maintain numerous cameras then you will use what you can afford.  Others develop a very specific style and find and stick to the equipment that allows them to realize their vision.  I could go on, but I really can’t talk from this side of the divide with any real knowledge as I fall very clearly on the other side of the divide.
There is where I admit I have a problem….I own around 30 cameras.  I own a Hasselblad 500C, Graflex 4x5, Razzle (an old Polaroid converted to 4x5), Nikon FM2N, around 10 Holgas (4-5 Holgmod Holga 120N’s, a 120S, a pinhole Holga, a Holgaroid, and a TLR Holga), about 5 Diana cameras and her clones, and 8 various Polaroid cameras (including a 180, SX-70 Sonar, SX-70, 600SE, and Big Swinger 3000), 2 Fujipet Thunderbirds, my one digital camera a Canon 50D, and various other toy cameras (Sprocket Rocket,  Ansco Pix Panorama or two).  These are just the cameras I own currently, over the years I have purchased, used, and resold easily 20-30 others.
So the question becomes why?  Why do I need/want more than a camera or two?  Why does anyone?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I love cameras.  So part of the answer I am a collector of sorts.  Some of the cameras that have passed through my hands have been used as display pieces in my home.  But there is more to it than that.  I am an engineer by day, so I think cameras speak to that side of my brain.  There are so many different cameras, different ways a device can be designed to do the same thing that I enjoy holding them and learning to use them.  A fun result of this is I can usually pick up any camera and figure out how to use it without instructions in a few minutes.  This is less true for digital mainly because not nearly as many digital cameras have passed through my hands, plus figuring out the levers and dials of old film cameras is just easier, finding functions buried in a menu is just not as intuitive.
There is still more to the equation if you will.  Different cameras have different effects on the image.  Each design has it’s unique methods of capturing light and that leads to visible effects on the final image as well as the effects the physical design has on how you the photographer captures an image.  An easy example is the different between a pocket point and shoot and a large 4x5 view camera.  The view camera requires a tripod, the film is huge and takes up space and the camera requires that you take time to set it up, focus it, set the aperture and shutter speed.  This is long time consuming process and the equipment is not really portable so you can’t capture a fleeting moment that you pass on the street on your way to the bank like you could with that point and shoot.  Another easy example is a toy camera vs a “real” camera.  Toy cameras in general have cheap plastic lenses and little to no controls.  Images tend to have soft focus (if any at all), vignetting, light leaks, etc…These effects can lend an old feel to an image and even kind of a dream like feel.  You aren’t going to use a camera like this when you need sharp and precise focus.  So basically finding the right camera to assist you in capturing the image you want is important, and if you are an eclectic shooter like me this means you will want various types of cameras.
Then there is also the “cool” factor.  Some cameras are just cool and fun to have.  They may not be a camera I use often, but they are fun and sometimes they help me just get through ruts.  I may not be inspired to shoot anything, but how can I pass up the opportunity to walk around town running some instant film through my Big Swinger 3000?
Then there are the toy cameras I own.  It’s is actually typical to own multiple Holgas.  Some are used to tryout various hacks or alterations, but mainly having 2-3 in your bag allows you to shoot longer before having to reload film.  They are light weight so carrying a bunch around is easy.  I also tend to pick up a Diana or clone here and there simply because they aren’t made anymore and I know when the few I have die beyond repair I’ll want to have a few spares.
So I guess the simple answer is I just like cameras, and I am lucky to have been able to purchase a bunch that makes me happy.  I usually have a few on hand that haven’t been used yet and those provide great incentive to shoot when I don’t have any real inspiration or don’t feel like shooting for any of my ongoing projects.  Currently my list of cameras that I need to take out for their first spin are the Razzle, Sprocket Rocket, Holga pinhole.  I just ran my first few rolls through the Fujipet!
I guess I should note that in general my camera bag usually has the same equipment.  A holga or two, the hassi or Nikon, and about 60% of the time the digital.  So the vast majority of my cameras are used more for fun or for very specific reasons.  I could easily live with the Hassi, Nikon, Digital and a couple of Holgas and maybe one of my new Fujipets.  That’s not to say I’d give up any of the other cameras unless I really had to.

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Fujipet Thunderbird, Razzle, Greflex Speedgraphic 4x5, Polaroid 180
SX-70 Sonar, Impossible PX600 (Batch 6/10)

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