There was a thread on DPR’s Medium Format board (full disclosure: I’m a moderator there) that started out the way a lot of threads there do. An MF-curious poster said that he was using FF gear and wondered what buying an MF camera would do for him. I asked what he didn’t like about his present gear. He said that he was totally satisfied with it, but just wanted to know if there was something that could make his pictures better. I pressed the point. He reiterated his satisfaction. I told him I couldn’t help him. We explored some use cases that happened to all favor the FF solution, and there it ended.
Today, I asked myself if I had ever been completely happy with any piece of gear. I decided the answer was no. I’ll just run through some cameras in chronological order.
My first camera, which was given to me when I was 6 or 7, was a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. After using it for a few years, I decided the fixed-focus, fixed-aperture nature of the camera was too limiting.
Then I borrowed my father’s folding Zeiss Ikon 645 (although we didn’t call them 645s in those days). The biggest problem was no rangefinder, which made using wider apertures a crap shoot. I also didn’t like the fact that the normal orientation was portrait instead of landscape.
Next up was an Argus C3. It was awkward to hold, had a limited supply of interchangeable lenses, and no X synch.
I then splurged on a used Nikon S2. It had a lot of good features (I still have it), but my biggest issue with it was parallax errors when using the rangefinder.
I got a Speed Graphic 3 1/4 x 4 1/4. I then realized that hardly any equipment in the darkrooms I was using were compatible with that size negative.
I quickly traded it in on a Speed Graphic 4×5. I didn’t like the limited view camera movements, and the fact that you couldn’t conveniently swap lenses and still use the rangefinder. The focal plane shutter was also a bad joke.
I got a Nikon F. Parallax problems solved. But I yearned for greater print quality in my B&W prints, and I knew I wasn’t going to get it in a 35mm camera.
I bought a Hasselblad 501c. Now I could get 10×10 inch prints I really liked, and 15×15 inch ones that weren’t bad at all. But the ergonomics were poor, and it was a slow camera to use. Nevertheless, I bought a succession of V-series ‘blads, and used them for more than 30 years.
Seeking more portability for travel, I got a Plaubel Makina 67. Parallax issues returned.
I got a Sinar F 4×5. It took forever to set up, to the point where I would watch the light change over my shoulder as I struggled with the camera.
I got a Linhof Master Technika. It was quicker to set up, but was difficult to use with short lenses. With a 47 mm lens, you had to do all the focusing by sliding the back of the camera on four skinny, ungeared posts.
I bought Arca Swiss 4×5 and 8×10 cameras (really one set of components that could be put together to handle either format). It was fine for studio use, but too heavy and fiddly for the field
I got an Arca Swiss folding-monorail 6×9 camera. I used it for part of this series. I needed a low point of view, and the reflex finder made that possible. However, the reflex finder proved to be too fragile for a travel camera.
That’s just a partial history, and only for film cameras. There was no perfect camera for me. In fact, there was no perfect camera for the range of tasks I was doing at any given time.
I was never satisfied with my camera gear. I was always looking for something better. Hence my inability to understand how anyone could be happy with their gear and still want to change. Boredom?
How about you? Are you completely satisfied with your gear?
I did the Hasselblad 500CM, Sinar F2, Linhof Master Technica, ArcaSwiss 4×5, ArcaSwiss 6×9 and Toyo 45AIIL along with assorted 35mm film bodies from Nikon and Canon. Now I have just my iPhone… and am deciding where to jump into digital for landscape work… the iPhone covers candids and video just fine. I have been renting gear for several years. So far, that approach has beaten depreciation and technological obsolescence… but as I have more time to shoot, I am going to have to take the plunge.
I’m 100% happy with my lenses (a bunch of Contax and Hasselblad Zeiss lenses, and a tilt-shift adapter for the Hasselblad lenses) but only 95% happy with my cameras; I’m perfectly fine with my 1Ds3 for most purposes but I eventually want to get a 1Dx2 so I can have modern sensor performance with the largest FF viewfinder that will take an Ec-S focusing screen.
I don’t feel the need for ultra high resolution.
For film I’m not yet fully satisfied. I don’t use my Contax 35mm cameras much anymore because it’s easier to manual focus with my 1Ds3. My 500CM is great for a different shooting experience but I’d love using its lenses for Instax, which I find far more fun than shooting negatives or slide film. I’m planning on rigging up an unholy contraption using Hasselblad macro bellows I have ordered and a butchered Instax SQ1.
Do I want to *change* my gear despite being (mostly) happy with it? No way.
since I was 13, I always had the feeling that my gear wasn’t “enough” – mostly because I did not haver so much budget;-)). but since I changed from analogue Leica M System to digital offers, and then choose the Fujifilm GFX System, I am very happy. the only thing I would criticize at the moment is the lack of an 28 mm wide angle (between 23 and 50 mm, or especially bialy the “80” mm, which actually is a kind of 60 mm lens in “full frame” dimensions) – and the lack of a really fast 45 m “standard” lens for reportage… I do not take photos of sport or wild life, therefore the speed of the camera itself doesn’t matter to me. the only alternative i could imagine would be a kind of Mama 7 digital with certain lenses… I believe that we arrived a kind of technological plateau. Al improvements in the future will be marginal – more or less.
What’s wrong with the 30mm GF lens? That’s pretty close to 28.
pardon,-) I meant the full frame equivalent… so: 23-(30)- 35-( 45)-80
As a boy of 8 or 9 I got a cheap rangefinder from my parents. Later I earned some money by delivering newspapers and bought a russian SRL with 50mm lens. Not very sharp… A couple of years later came Nikkormat and other Nikons. Like you, I craved larger formats, but could not afford it for a long time. Then came Yashica 6×6, etc. Now I use analog 4×5 and 6×7 and digital FF and MF.
No camera (system) is perfect for everything. I accepted this fact and decided to use „horses for courses“ and am quite content. All I want is largest possible format for planned occasion. Being landscaper, minor usability points are of no problem, I have time enough and sich things like fastest focus are of no concern. My main point is the highest possible negative/file-quality for given tour , occasion and motive. Higher and farther rucksack gets heavier and/or format smaller. Karma. With the image quality of current cameras is high enough for me, I cannot say I feel constrained. Life is nice…
I wish we could have a digital large format camera. Seems its impossible with silicone though.
I think you mean silicon.
Moving away from the obvious (to me at least) fact that gear hunting is an escape route from the things I do not enjoy doing daily (i.e. work), but I have to do in order to survive, I would say I am happy with my gear in the following sense.
Having gear fit-for-purpose vs my usual/probable photo tasks keeps me satisfied.
– For my ‘decent light’ events it ensures I do not feel beaten up after hours of standing up and moving around on a wedding day. It also provides a great all in one travel solution, an excellent platform for manual lenses and a very capable macro platform as well.
FF & DX (DSLR and Mirrorless)
– for any low light need (e.g. event, theater rehearsals) and for fast moving action (mainly sports)
I do not get hang up on brands. What I look for (even with diminishing returns) is the ‘transparency’ of the equipment during the photographing act (mainly AF performance and ergonomics) and the look of the final image. Those who are into high end sound can sympathize I believe.