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Tennis Shoes, Camera Lenses, and My Problem With Overconsumption

During an effort to rid my house of excess belongings this weekend, I stumbled upon an analogy that should help inform my gear buying decisions going forward.

Now, will this newfound common sense trickle down into my business acumen? Probably not. But the parallel was clear, just the same, and I thought I’d share. So, what was this big realization? I have way, way too many pairs of shoes. Let me explain.

I like sneakers. One of the big bonuses of my job as a photographer, specifically one who shoots a lot of activewear campaigns, is that I get to wear sneakers to work. As someone who has had many a day job that required a three-piece suit and shiny black dress shoes, being able to walk around all day in the same shoes I’d wear to go to the gym is a major plus. Seeing as though many of the athletic brands that I shoot for officially/unofficially require that I be wearing their brand of athletic shoe on set, I can even make a business case for why I have no choice but to plunk down the money for a new pair of Air Jordans.

But, if we’re being honest, I’ve had way too many pairs of sneakers since the days long before visible logos became an issue. As much as I like shoes, what I seem to enjoy is buying shoes. The collecting seems to be as much fun as the actual wearing. I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked past a discount shoe sale without stopping to check out the bargains in my life. And, it’s safe to say that when it comes to options, I’ve got all my bases covered. More than covered. Does anyone need six different pairs of green hightops?

Yet, try as I might, despite my love of shoes, I have, up to this point, still been unable to grow more than two feet. This means that, unless I decided to put shoes on my hands, it’s fairly certain that I can only wear one pair at a time. No matter how cool a pair of shoes might look on the rack, only one can be in action at any given moment. If we are being honest, despite the wide variety of options available, it does tend to still be the same handful of pairs that tend to get worn day-in and day-out while the majority of the pairs sit in my shoe closet collecting dust. Yes, I have a closet for sneakers. I told you. I have a problem.

So, what does all this talk of sneakers have to do with photography, you might ask? Well, if I look into my buying behavior for lenses closely enough, I can spot many of the same troubling trends. This time, however, they come with a far higher price tag.

The concept of selective spending is particularly relevant to me these days because the camera market is currently in the midst of change. If you’ve read my columns over the years, you’ll know that I am a DSLR diehard and that, in many ways, I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into mirrorless. But, despite what my optometrist might tell you, I am not blind. I do understand that mirrorless cameras are on the rise and that soon enough even my beloved D850 will become a rotational player rather than a starter. Maybe even upon the arrival of the Z 9.  

As a lifelong Nikonian, I’ve slowly acquired a wide range of F-mount glass over the years. With everyone rushing to trade in their old glass, I’ve even bought more F mount lenses in recent years at ridiculously low prices via the used market, which has finally allowed me to “complete” my lens lineup to cover every focal length from wide to long that I could ever conceive of ever needing. But, of course, new camera mounts come with new camera lenses. And while you can certainly adapt most older lenses to the newer mirrorless bodies, at some point, you are likely going to want to maximize the new technology with native glass.

Well, just like I’ve never seen a pair of shoes that I didn’t want to own, lenses tend to tickle my fancy. They are technological marvels and getting to know the feel and balance of a new piece of glass is one of my joys in photography. I want them all. But, do I need them all? Probably not. Regardless of what I may or may not have available to me at the moment, much like my well-scuffed go-to sneakers, I tend to stick with the same one or two lenses to shoot 99% of my work, while the others only make it out of the lens case for special occasions.

So do I need to keep buying glass? I think a case could be made that I need the mirrorless equivalent of my go-to lens, the 24-70mm f/2.8. This is the lens that tends to live on my camera and is always the first lens range I invest in when buying into a new system. I own both the Nikon F and Z versions, the Canon RF version, and even the Fujifilm GF equivalent, the 45-100mm. So, whatever body I end up using, I’m pretty well covered with the best possible lens for my use case. Perhaps the 70-200mm and a 40mm walkaround pancake would also fall into the category of heavy rotation. But beyond that? Do I need to buy something new? Or, considering that most of the other lenses in my case are only used in limited situations, would it make more sense to simply hold onto the older lenses I own and use the adapter?

The logical answer seems pretty clear to me. Whether common sense will win out over my urge to collect things is yet to be seen. I’m sure, in your situation, you can think of the lenses that you positively need to purchase and at least one or two that have found their way into your collection that is simply there to collect dust.

So, this weekend, as I continue my cleaning and attempt to purge my house of belongings that no longer “spark joy,” at some point, I will most likely find myself staring at a shoe rack filled with rows of sneakers that rarely get worn and consider if there isn’t a better shoe and lens investment strategy I should employ going forward. Just like I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time, I can only mount one lens at any given moment. And as the transition to a new camera system begins, it makes sense to step back and have a look at which of those lenses is going to be worth the investment and which are going to end up just sitting around collecting dust next to that pair of lavender Reeboks.

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14 Comments

William Murray's picture

Gday Christopher,

It seems to me you started at too high a level (or should that be too low? That always throws me). You say you have a problem, but you don't articulate why it's a problem.

If you choose to collect, and from time to time, you use parts of your collection, I don't see how that's an issue. However, if having too much stuff, or a pathological need to acquire more stuff is decreasing your well-being, then yes, you have a problem.

Of course, you can frame the question in purely economic terms; does my existing gear fail to do soemthing I need it to do? Has my camera body reached the end of its serviceable life? Or, I just damaged that piece of gear.

That said, there's a hell of a lot to be said for minimalism, in terms of increasing your personal well-being, improving financial health, and reducing ecological footprint.

Sam Sims's picture

Since moving from DSLR to mirrorless in 2019 I have definitely minimalised my setup down to just one camera and one prime lens. Gear only gets you so far but going out and taking photographs teaches you so much more and is a lot more rewarding than staring at a shelf (or bag) full of camera gear.

Michael Kuszla's picture

Having 2 pairs of sneakers (for 5 years), one of flip-flops - I'm already think that's too much.
Owning 5 lenses for one body and think to resale one because that's also too much - mainly because lenses are pro tools, with diferent specs, diferent style - and I know my needs as pro photographer, as holidays photographer.

For years I usually work with no more than one Zoom lens and 2 to 3 primes, I got the fifth as long telephoto zoom, mainly for landscape or hollidays.
(as in the past I worked with 3 zoom lenses and 6 primes, most useless).

Stuart C's picture

You only have 2 pairs of trainers, and one is a flip flop?

Michael Kuszla's picture

I do. :)
Even I live in Switzerland with warm summer and pretty cold winter.
I got a pair of Onistuga tiger mexico 66 for the warm weather. A pair of Onitsuga Tiger Horizona for cold weather. As I am a "flip-flop" anywhere guy, I have a nice pair of full ruber flip-flops from summer to indoor winter.

I have to admit that I also have 1 hiking shoes (hey, I live near mountains), 1 Snow shoes, and 1 snowboard boots. For the technical parts.

So a total of 6, and that's a lot. But i don't know how to have less shoes actually.

After 10 years in the snowboard and surf industry as Art Director, i let my shoes' whims far away from me. ah ah ah

Stuart C's picture

I might have an issue then haha, ive got about 25 pairs, but thats walking boots, work boots, casual shoes and boots, trainers, summer shoes etc.

Michael Kuszla's picture

I don't think about an issue.
Or I also have one.

I think that it depends on your need, passions, mix'n'match with clothes, age, environment, ... Shoes can also be an emotionnal buying. So I understand a lot.
And when I've worked in the Snowboard and Surf industry I collected more than 30 per year.
Per year! Indecent when I'm thinking about it - even I let the 1 year-old one to people without money.

I was young (ah ah ah).

David Pavlich's picture

With this sort of discussion, I look at budget first. If you're not taking away from your needed things like food, rent, utility bills, etc, to support your wants, then you're fine. It's disposable income and you've earned it. How you spend it is not my concern, nor should it be anyone else's.

Remember, when you buy something, someone else benefits whether it's the manufacturer, the people that had to make the stuff, or the sales staff. I love to point out that if someone has the means to buy a Gulfstream G650, I'm all for it. That bizjet sale has far reaching affects when it comes to economics. It takes people to build it, maintain it, fly it, not to mention the companies that supply the navigational equipment, tires, fuel, oil, and all that stuff that make it a lovely form of transport.

We have to make decisions about our lives. How you or anyone else chooses to live is not our concern unless it affects you or I negatively. Then we can complain. Otherwise, use your phone for photos or buy that Phase One, as long as it's in the budget.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

That is how poor people think. "Should I save my money???" LOL. For what? Trust me, you have no clue what is going on here.

Charles Mercier's picture

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David Reiling's picture

Also a sneakerhead with 50+ pairs. I've recently started using them as subjects on days I have nothing to shoot/edit. Being able to combine passions in art is awesome.
I find that depending on the technique I use, whether portrait with off camera flash, long exposure and light painting, outside and natural light, etc., keeps my lens selection varied. Otherwise, my tele would pretty much live on camera pretty much full time except for video work.

My lens collection likely won't ever rival my sneakers, but when it comes to tools I'm all about quality. Collectables are a different story. Colors, textures, silhouettes, details are what matter most to me.

I'm glad there's another with similar stories. I don't feel as foolish when I look at my sneaker closet now!

charles hoffman's picture

I don't know about "less is more"
but I do know that Less is Easier to Carry

Christopher Malcolm's picture

I'm using that as my new motto :-)