Friday, October 16, 2020

The Underequipped Photographer

c. 1950 Nash Ambassador. Old U.S. Highway 27, Chattooga

County, GA. Jpeg from Fuji X-Pro1, 27mm f2.8 lens. I like the

way the X-Pro handles this very contrasty scene.


Many photographers would consider me underequipped. That's because my approach to photography is not equipment-centric. 

What about you? Is your primary interest photography or photographic equipment?  

For many of us, it's both. Owning and using fine, precision equipment can be very pleasurable in itself, and of course there are certain kinds of photography, such as action and sports that are difficult to do well without specialized equipment.  

But if photography itself is our primary interest, most of us could get by with very little equipment. In the 1930s through the '60s, photographers such as Fritz Henle traveled the world with nothing but a twin-lens reflex. Their pictures can certainly hold their own in comparison to the work being done today. Edward Weston did most of his work with an 8x10 view camera and one lens, although he also used a 4x5 Graphlex single-lens reflex (we would consider it almost unusably primitive) for portraits. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt were Leica photographers who mostly used 50mm lenses, and travel photographer Gerald Brimacombe did great work with a pair of early digital cameras with built-in zoom lenses. The last time we corresponded he told me that he now carries one Nikon D610 and a 24-120mm zoom lens when he travels. Nothing else. Like those named above, he has adapted his vision to fit the equipment he uses.

I will confess that for most of my career I had Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). However, being frugal (okay a cheapskate), I mostly indulged my addiction by buying, using, and selling second-hand equipment. It was fun, and didn't break the bank. Also, I learned a lot about how to buy good used equipment. In fact, everything I now use in my work was acquired second-hand and serves me well.

All the photographs in my just-concluded series of posts about our tour of the wild, wild west in 2018 were made with just three cameras and three lenses -- the Fuji X-Pro1, X-T1, and X-T20 bodies and the 27mm f2.8, 16-50 f3.5-5.6, and 50-230 f4.8-6.3 lenses. All were bought used through on-line fora. The workhorse was the X-T20. 

However, I did run into one problem, because each camera has slightly different menus. I wrote about that here. I solved that problem earlier this year by buying a Fuji X-H1. Again, used, and again, through an online forum. I find the X-H1 to be just about the perfect camera for me. I'll also hang on to the X-Pro1 because the menu is relatively simple and the files have a special character that I love. The X-T1 and the X-T20, both lovely cameras, are now for sale. 

With two bodies and three lenses I have what I need. I don't need anything else. And don't despise my cheap lenses. They aren't as well built, perhaps, as their more expensive brethren, but they don't give much away in terms of sharpness, as I wrote here and here, and they will probably outlast me. Also, they give me a great range -- 24mm to 345mm in full-frame equivalents.   

So am I underequipped? I don't think so. I love cameras, but when I have the equipment I need to do the work I want to do, I'm more interested in what I can do with it than in the equipment itself. And I no longer have GAS.  

Of course, there are a few things it would be nice to have. . .maybe the 60mm macro lens, or the 56mm f1.2. . .

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts? 

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020) 

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone


  1. I recently sold all my equipment and bought the X-T4 with the very fine 16-55 F2.8 lens to have one camera and one lens. But I wonder if I should have gone for the 18-55 F2.8-4 'kit lens' that I used in the past. The 16-55 is quite heavy and possibly not that much better optically.

  2. harking back to MaximumEquipment MinimalPhotography -
    Shouldn't the argument then be (and I happen to believe this) that the creative mind is best driven when the tools to accomplish the goal are sufficient but absolutely no more. So no AF, no AE, a lens or two, and a sensor. Is there such a digital camera? An old Leica RF with a film one knows well might be a more pure answr.

  3. That's a tough call, Marcus. The weight of the 16-55 would probably be a deal-killer for me, unless I really needed the extra two mm. at the wide end. Personally, I'm quite happy with the light and sharp 16-50mm kit lens because I seldom need a fast lens and am not big on shallow depth-of-field effects. All three of these lenses are sharp enough that you will not be able to detect a difference in any size prints you are likely to make.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Retrocrank. Obviously that approach worked for Erwitt and Cartier-Bresson. I'm going to talk more about this in next Monday's post.

  5. I'm still building it out, but the final kit will be one Fuji X-T2, XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, XF27mmF2.8, XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR and XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR.

    Shooting bird wildlife with a XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR would be very frustrating and street photography with a XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR would be creepy.