The Real Reason You Get Such Monumentally Bad G.A.S.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome isn’t found in the New England Journal of Medicine, but it’s a reality for photographers the world over. But why?

Now, the obvious answer is because, well, we love to have the latest and greatest. This isn’t a tough concept, as for the most part, we humans like new and shiny things. Add to that the passion that creatives have for the craft, and there’s no end to wanting new tools. So, when the likes of Apple, Sony, Canon, Godox, or any other manufacturer have a new announcement, there’s a palpable tremble felt in the industry much like Yoda senses a disturbance in the Force. Mmm... R3 arrived, it has.

But what about when we keep buying gear past the point of justification? These are situations like: “My current system is less than two years old, but I could have 45 megapixels over my current 22!” In my experience, what drives the purchasing frenzy is a lack of skill. Now, hear me out before you jump to the comments section. I’m not saying photographers that buy new gear have no skill; what I’m saying is that we tend to overcompensate with new gadgets in an effort to make up for a lack of as-yet undeveloped skills — emphasis on "as-yet undeveloped" because with time, we learn. It just takes patience and dedication. And dealing with our FOMO.

An example from my path is when Profoto released the B10 series of lights. I do a fair amount of on-location work providing businesses with headshots. These lights are compact, well made, and fire every time I pull the trigger, so it wasn't a stretch to add them to the ol' cart. At the time, I was fairly busy, so I justified the purchase for the two-pack thinking it would pay for itself in a matter of weeks. And then, as what happens for anyone running a small business happens, on-location bookings went to nada very quickly. So, I was sitting on $3,600 for two lights that weren’t being used, which gave me time to think through the wisdom here.

Did I need this level of light for my work? Is it worth having that much capital tied up in gear that may go unused for long periods? Do I need these over a much cheaper option for any reason? (I cover this in more detail here.)

Ultimately, I decided to part with them because although they’re solid lights, a set of Godox 200ADs is more than enough for my work, and they don’t compromise on quality. The reason I bought them was to feel more like a pro because I use "this brand" of gear. They didn’t actually offer me any features to improve my work beyond being more durable and having a well-known name. But from that standpoint, I can buy 10 of the Godox lights over a period of 10 years, when needed, rather than be tied into the higher cost of these two lights. The brand doesn't matter as much as my knowledge level.

The same argument can be made when someone asks for the settings from an image they like. Knowing the settings won’t really help as much as knowing what the setup was and how best to replicate the look. What that person is really asking for is “how did you light this” because then, it’s a matter of experimenting on their own. It’s not the settings that matter; it’s the learned skill.

The longer I take photos, the more I’m shown this is an art that not just requires time, it demands time. It takes time to understand the technical side. To know what type of images I want to create. To develop my own creative eye and know what works and what doesn’t. To grow confident in my experience and also humility regarding what I don’t yet know.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the R5, just because it exists in the world and isn’t in my hands. I want the new M1 Max MacBook Pro, but my 2019 16” Mac is sitting there dutifully burning through my retouching with no issue. I’ll update at some point when it makes the most sense. Most importantly, I’m better at knowing how to use the new features to improve my work rather than depending on them to just make it better for me.

Happy shooting.

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Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, there are also saturation levels, where you have the lenses that suit you most and everything else is just ... as you wrote, new and shine, but not that much better, if at all.

I went through many fifties, the plastic fantastic from Canon, the classic EF 50/1.4, the Zeiss Distagon 50/1.4 and now a second hand Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH. All previous lenses were sold. Is the Leica the best lens? Probably not, the new RF 50/1.2 would be fantastic too, and nearly equally priced (Leica second hand and Canon new, of course). Anyway, I don't want to carry fat lenses anymore, they are too heavy and I'm getting old (well, not that old, but i don't need that lens carrying gymnastics each time).

Sometimes I'd like to have a 75mm lens, just for fun, like the Voigtländer 75/1.5 Nokton or the Meyer Görlitz Primoplan, lenses that have many aperture blades and nice character, but well, they probably can't beat my old Canon FD 85/1.2 L, which is sharpest and has tons of character due to old coatings. There are so many beautiful lenses out there, but at the moment I can't justify even the cheapest of them. It just would be stupid.

I guess I've reached my personal saturation level, having a bunch of beasts at hand to use when the light is ready. For my personal fun, as I'm not making money from photography.

adam carter's picture

It depends on your tolerance for levels of sh1tness, if you’ve gone through 10 cheapie flashes then your exposure to the point where they become bad is much higher than if you’d paid for professional gear once. I went through many elinchrom lights thinking they were budget but decent, until I went to profoto and have not needed to buy new ones in the 5 years of constant daily use. Buy cheap buy twice.

David Pavlich's picture

In a word, budget. We all have a budget. I want a 600mm f4 LII, but I own a 150-600 Sigma. You buy what your budget allows. You do that, and you have nobody to justify your purchases to.....nobody.

Fact is, I hope all the new stuff from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, etc goes flying off the shelves. I want these companies to succeed and continue to make stuff that gives us GAS.

As and editorial comment, I am continually amazed at how many seem to get all in a tizz about how someone else spends THEIR money. Why does anyone care that the shooter next to you has a Phase One and is taking pictures of cats? Good for them! They're helping Phase One stay in business. I'll probably never afford an Aston Martin DB11, but I hope people keep buying them because one day, I might find that a long lost uncle just filled my bank account with a gazillion dollars. Hopefully, Aston Martin will still be in business at that time.

Hector Belfort's picture

I have 600 F4 and their are days when I wish it was a 150-600. It’s a great lens but so inflexible and heavy. GAS is an interesting phenomenon, I’m certainly at a point where it’s passed. I’ve skipped the R5 and R3. Maybe the R1 will tempt me. I prefer to spend the money going places (if allowed), than new gear. Much better value for money

Tommy C's picture

I use to have gear envy, wanting that new iPhone, camera, laptop, but reality hits fast when I see the lack of funds in the old bank account.
Sadly, I have moved on from wanting the best and now I sit here wondering if I have the best for me.
I just got back onto the Canon system, left Sony, and now I look at Fuji wondering if I got the best camera for me.
I look at my M1 Mac mini that I just got earlier this year and wonder if I should have gone back to Windows and found a really good laptop there.
Even looking at my iPhone 11 that I have and works great, but wonder if that new Pixel 6 is something I might find more useful/helpful.
I am happy with what I have, gets the job done, just with I could find happiness with having the gear I have.

Deleted Account's picture

There's something consistently missing from this conversation, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

It's probably around the core motivation for photography being that it makes you happy; but buying more stuff only makes you happy very briefly (coincident with a release of neurotransmitters), then you just end up with too much crap. It has been strongly argued that choice maximisation decreases wellbeing (Schwartz 2004), which is contrary to the fundamental reason to take photos.

In turn, it makes me think the *I only have a Leica M10 and a 50mm Summicron, and I'm in it for the experience* crowd are onto something fundamentally significant.

Michael Plant's picture

I do have a Leica M10 and a 50mm Summicron as well as a 28mm elmarit, 35mm Summicron and a 75mm Summarit, a really nice small kit just right for my kind of photography.
However the whole article misses a significant point in that professional photographers while susceptible to GAS can and do get to write off their photographic tools of against their taxes and should have a annual budget for purchasing and replacing equipment when it needs to be,

Deleted Account's picture

I view a business owner as being in a different category; there really shouldn't be a lot of emotion in capital investment - although, there often tends to be.

Joe Bodego's picture

I am still holding on to my 3 alien bees B1600, my Nikon D800, SB900 and 910 flashes, with no issues however I did buy the Godox V1 to do a wedding just before the Covid outbreak 2 years ago, it sat there until October this year when i finally shot the wedding. Light is Light, it doesn't matter where it comes from and we are foolish to think that there is a "Better" light. Hold on to your gear friends, don't fall sucker to cleaver marketing. I don't want new gear, i want more customers/money.

Alan Edelman's picture

GAS may just be a synonym for Retail Therapy.

winzehnt gates's picture

For me photography is a hobby, so I don't have to look at return on invest.
I try to keep my G.A.S. in check with the following rule: Don't own two pieces of gear for the same occasion. E.g. don't own multiple lenses for portraits, or don't own multille options for holiday hiking or for family events.
So, every time I want something new, I think about which piece of gear I already have would be replaced by it. More often than not I realize that I don't want to part with what I have and the new shiny piecd stays in the shop.

John Reed's picture

Nice article thanks Joe. For most of us I think GAS is one of those minor afflictions that we have to learn to live with as a condition for life. For the few who are badly infected the nuclear option may be the best and they have to come out to friends and self-identify - as a collector. One or two people may never speak to you again, but you can hide the latest acquisitions amongst last year’s bodies and the abysmal ( aka ‘characterful’) lenses in plain sight. Anyone visiting who can tell an a7riva from an a7riv at five paces needs to be restrained and taken back to their camera repair workshop - for their own good. Nobody else can tell the difference anyway.

It could be a lot worse. Some poor souls are afflicted with a need to restore old cars or take up smoking. For the ultimate rush both at the same time…..