The pain came on like a sharp knife digging into my back. In a moment, years of lifting heavy lenses and avoiding exercise caught up with me and I couldn’t move. A hospital visit and an MRI later, and it was discovered to be a bulging disc messing with a nerve. That meant no photography for a while and lots of physical therapy.
The first thing I did is call clients to inform them about the situation, offering replacement photographers where I could.
The second thought I had is: What am I doing?
Like the sneaking up of the Freshman 15 when you go to college, or the “dad bod” after kids, my gear slowly increased in weight. What started as a point-and-shoot camera when I went out and about 10 years ago became an APS-C camera with a prime lens became a full-frame DSLR and 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, which became a few extra lenses and a flash in the bag all the time, because I just couldn’t afford to not have the big guns for every single moment in my family’s life.
And that was just in my personal life. When on a wedding shoot, I’d add a Pelican 1510 case full of more flashes and lenses, and then lighting supports and tripods on top of it. For sports I’d add heavy telephoto lenses. Between all of that and a sedentary job and lifestyle, I was doomed.
I’m not the first and certainly not the last photographer to feel the pain. Famed filmmaker Philip Bloom suffered three herniated discs in 2016 and had to sell some of his gear to cover costs. Luckily he seems to be back in action, though the danger is always lurking when we’re lugging around lots of gear. I’m just lucky that photography is not my sole source of income.
I couldn’t go on carrying all this stuff all the time. For a couple of weeks after the inciting incident, I couldn’t even walk or lie down easily, let alone carry equipment. A couple of months after, and carrying heavy gear is still not an easy prospect.
A few years back, I bought some amount of Micro 4/3 gear to shoot video. While my Panasonic Lumix GH3 has been my main squeeze for the occasional video for all that time, I didn’t really lean on it or the system for photos, poo-pooing the smaller sensor. Sure, I took it out on the occasional vacation, but nothing close to a daily driver. But now, that system seems much more appealing. My Panasonic Lumix GM1 is the size of a deck of cards, and at 9.6 oz., a third of the weight of my Nikon D700 (29.1 oz. without the grip!) or my D750 or Canon EOS 6D (both about 27 oz.). When you add up the weight savings in the lenses as well, it’s a lot easier on the back. I looked back on some old photos I took with it and remembered why I bought it in the first place, besides the fact that it's orange.
While it’s great that Canon and Nikon have entered the mirrorless fray (for real this time), it’s a shame to see that smaller and lighter bodies aren’t really in the cards. After my injury, I had the chance to try a Nikon Z7, and it was excellent in the hand and a joy to use, but it sure was heavier than I was expecting or hoping for. I looked it up later and it was still a rather hefty 23.8 oz. The EOS R isn’t much lighter at 23.3 oz.
I’m realizing the benefits of Micro 4/3 more and more as I’m (more or less) forced to use it for weight reasons. Looking at Panasonic’s current lineup, it’s a shame the system seems to have bloated over time; there’s nothing as svelte as the GM1 in the lineup. While Panasonic is pursuing full-frame these days, it would be great to see them play to the original strengths of the Micro 4/3 system — small and light bodies and lenses that punch well above their weight. And weight is a real concern when you can feel the toll of every ounce on your back. When you’re carrying your kids, their stuff, and a camera on top of it all, it’s nice to know that you can get something like this moment with a camera that fits, quite literally, in the palm of my hand:
Have you had a photography-related injury? How has it affected your work or hobby? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.