Why Are Photographers Obsessed With Other Photographers' Gear Changes?

Why Are Photographers Obsessed With Other Photographers' Gear Changes?

It seems like there is always a video from a major YouTuber about selling his or her gear, and these videos can rack up hundreds of thousands of views. I’m not sure why that is.

Sometimes, a provocative headline can draw someone in. When I worked at Canon, the entire company was abuzz over Scott Kelby’s switch to its gear from Nikon. Yes, I found the cabinet at work where we kept his old Nikon gear and joined in the strange sense of pride in using his old equipment to test against Canons. 

In any case, I can’t help but wonder why switching gear is such big news in the world of photos. At the end of the day, they’re all digital boxes making pictures and video. I can’t appreciably say that the already talented Scott Kelby got better when he made the switch to Canon, for instance, or that there was any real difference in the style or tone of photography from others I have seen.

Likewise, in my own career, I started with Canon and was a die-hard loyalist who would fight anyone who spoke ill of “my” brand. But then, I worked at a school that got a consignment deal from Nikon, and I switched out of loyalty to the brand that showed my school the same. I was hooked on how good the cameras were, but objectively, I wouldn’t say the Nikon D700 I bought to replace my 5D Mark II made my photography any better. Really, that could be attributed to time, experience, and education. At that level of experience, though, I certainly thought the new gear made my photography better.

Since then, I’ve moved on to Panasonic, Olympus, and Fuji gear, and the biggest thing that using such a variety of gear has taught me is that it really doesn’t matter what you’re using. I've gone from full frame sensors to Micro Four Thirds interchangeably. A good lens and a halfway decent body (and in 2020, all bodies are at least halfway decent) will get you where you need to be. While I may rip on the finer points of something like the more affordable Canon EOS RP and its horrendous viewfinder, the truth is, just over a decade ago, I was shooting Panasonic mirrorless cameras with even worse viewfinders and enjoying it. There just wasn’t anything to compare to.

Perhaps the reason there is such interest in these YouTubers and their gear is the same reason kids watch that Ryan kid open up toys on video: envy — not for the YouTubers themselves, but for all the gear that they’re parting with. Perhaps it’s because there are many people in the world of photography where I was when I started, with a fierce, but unreasonable brand loyalty to a brand that doesn’t care about them one way or another.

It all comes back to something I always say about cameras when I have a friend or student thinking of jumping ship to another brand for what is essentially a lateral move: your camera never takes worse pictures than the day you bought it.

Happy holidays, readers, and remember to love the gear you’ve got.

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33 Comments

David Pavlich's picture

Some are very defensive about their gear choice. When a 'celebrity' changes from the gear that they use to something else, they are either offended or envious. I like it when people change gear. It means that the camera manufacturers just earned a little more money and that keeps them going.

It's their money, so why get all knicker twisted when someone else spends their money? It never ceases to amaze me.

David Yoon's picture

Oftentimes, it’s not the gear that people are watching the videos for. It can be for the personalities on the screen that they are watching for. They are invested in what the YouTube personality is up to and their content. Sure some care about the brand of the cameras and they want to be justified in their purchases that someone notable is using the same thing that they are using. Somehow that validates their purchase and decision making. But often it’s really people catching up on the latest content from one of their favorite content creators.

Ed C's picture

Why is this blog obsessed with posting articles about the same thing?

Sam Sims's picture

I find a lot of blogs/YouTube channels, in an effort to keep posting regular content, eventually must run out of truly meaningful things to discuss because we end up with too many clickbaity and pointless opinion pieces.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

is just camers
adams use deardorf and i laff

Malcolm Wright's picture

I don't think it is envy, that makes people watch.
It's more like irony, watching someone who has extolled the virtues of whatever brand, contort themselves and try to justify not only to themselves but their wider audience (who may be just along for the laughs), their reasoning or lack of for their sudden road to Damascus moment.

Elchin Jabbarov's picture

i started with sony but after having fuji xt3 i feel its real camera and fullfills all my demands. my advice if smbd needs, go for that what makes you feel your photo power and not under marketing.

Indy Thomas's picture

Because people want to know whether they bought the right gear because we all know that if you buy anything other than THE BEST BRAND your pictures will suck.

Wolfgang Post's picture

It's called confirmation bias. We want to get confirmation about our choice by checking whether other people in our peer group do the same or agree to what we did. It's one of these subconscious drivers of human behavior, often also (ab)used by marketing, training and other influential activities.
The people watching such videos simply wan to get confirmation about their gear choices. The people doing these videos seek the same confirmation or simply get paid to make such statements and influencing others.
In short, best to stay away from such stuff.

Chris Jablonski's picture

I believe Ernst Haas, famously a Leica user, said something like: "Leica, schmeica - the camera is like a toothbrush. It does the job". I've seen variants of this quote, and wonder if he was often asked if his images owed their quality to his use of a Leica. Obviously I'll have to sell the house and car, and switch...

Sam Sims's picture

The first photographers in the title is a bit misleading. Try ‘gearheads’ and that’ll also pretty much give you the answer.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Speaking as a pro who's switched and/or added systems in my 25-year career, I find it helpful to hear about others' decision points in order to learn pros and cons of various changes. Even if my priorities are different from others', I get a fuller list of factors to consider, which reduces the odds of some unforeseen gotcha or of unknowingly accepting a compromise I hadn't thought of. I can thus make my choices with more confidence, and can spend less by buying just what I actually need and not what I think I might need.

Mu Tru's picture

"I started with Canon and was a die-hard loyalist who would fight anyone who spoke ill of 'my' brand"

You answered your own question early on. Photographers are not immune to tribalism. You fed it by fighting with people, and people like to band together to fight other groups. So we start to focus on photography rather than photographic gear by sharing photos and photographic techniques without mentioning brands.

Try it.

RT Simon's picture

Brand obsession is ultimately about investment and resale value. Say over a decade one spends 25-50K on gear. How does it depreciate and in some cases, retain value? One’s gear choices are reflected in the type and value of the work produced. Back in the day, many photographers rarely updated their camera lenses.One added focal lengths, or perhaps went to larger formats, but there was not that much perceived difference. Lenses tended to be ‘sharp enough’ for the job at hand. If it looked sharp with a loupe, that was the goal. If print was the result, enlargers and their lenses were the next bottleneck, and only Leitz self focusing Focomat enlargers and their calibrated lenses were going to get the most out of a Leitz Summilux f1.4.

Joseph Kwan's picture

Because they are all sitting at home and despite how they tell you they have not been hit by covid and business is still booming for them, they actually got jack to do but to go online and critique fellow photographers.

Rich Umfleet's picture

Unlike most photographers, popular YouTubers and vloggers get the oppurtunity to try out lots of new stuff. Camera companies send them things to test and review before they even hit the market. When they switch, they must know something the rest of us don't. While I can't switch gear like they do, I watch to see how it compares to my brand and look on in anticipation of what my brand is rumored to have coming down the pipeline. I'm not obsessed with their gear or their change so much as I want the most up-to-date info before I make my next $1000+ purchase.

N A's picture

Not just photographers. Musicians are similar. It's a big deal when a popular drummer switches from Zildjian to Sabian, or unforgivably, Meinl. I guess there's vicarious loyalty there. We tend to believe popular musicians choose the best tools available and it validates our own choices. How an instrument sounds is only part of the equation. Aesthetics play a large role. DW has a prestigious presence on stage, no matter how badly tuned they are.

Brand loyalty is odd. Some guitarists wouldn't run their six string through a Peavey head if their life depended on it. Others love the company for the 5150 alone and relish saying the kinda icky name in public. Defiantly using an undesirable brand and making it sound like gold is a badge of honor for some people.

It swings both ways in terms of old/new. Some people need to have the latest and greatest. Others make a production out of using antique equipment. Super8 is making a comeback with the vanlife crowd. It's a total pita format but the kids are getting into it to differentiate themselves and rack up some old school credibility.

I have a thing for higher quality previous generation gear and buying it close to end of life. It's a weird fetish. I picked up a 5D4 new for a song. It's a great all rounder and I got it cheap. For a hobbyist that's a win. RF is so damn expensive it's actually a relief to be locked in to EF.

David Pavlich's picture

Ain't that the truth! I think it's Guitar Center that has a huge site dedicated to all things guitar related. Talk about Fender vs Gibson vs Ibanez vs Carvin vs PRS ad nauseum. Much worse than this place.

N A's picture

Isn't Guitar Center the chain that drove all the mom & pop shops out of business only to find themselves in a state of perpetual bankruptcy?

David Pavlich's picture

Yep! They had good deals and a very nice return policy. But their business model was not so good.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I've been using EF glass with a converter for the EOS R - it still works great. You'll get many years more out of those EF lenses even if you switch.

Ian Cuthbert's picture

I think the answer is very simple, but it involves very complex patterns of human behaviour. I think this is all a form of groupthink. The same behaviour exists across the human world.

We choose our brand and we associate with other people who agree with our choice - our group. We become culturally and behaviorally very attached to the brand and the group and we then defend it vigorously and to a large degree subjectively. We seek out evidence to support our choice and that of our group - a form of confirmation bias. It's often reinforced by the financial commitment we've made - no one wants to think that they've wasted a huge amount of hard earned money.

I think many of us also have difficulty recognising that there are myriad ways of taking pictures and that people's needs are often very different. But astro isn't sport; portraiture isn't macro (usually!); landscape isn't performing arts.

Social media can exacerbate the conflict as there are always plenty of people who just want an argument to help themselves feel cleverer, bigger, more important than others.

But, at its heart, it's groupthink and it closes our minds to other creative possibilities.

Sam Sims's picture

People’s needs are indeed very different but it doesn’t stop some people berating others for choosing the ‘wrong’ photography gear. Never understood that bizarre and quite pathetic mentality. I’ve been berated a few times because I like Voigtlander manual lenses as if I’m somehow stuck in the past and an insult to ‘real photographers who all are all now using modern eye autofocus technology.’ It’s strange how one persons choices can offend others so much.

Ian Cuthbert's picture

I completely agree! I love my Voigtlander 65 but that doesn't stop me also loving my little Samyang 45 or someone else's bridge camera or mobile phone. In fact I love taking photos on my four year old phone. Whatever makes the photos you like is all that matters. :-)

Ian Cuthbert's picture

One final comment on this: it's pretty much always men.

N A's picture

Chelsea Northup changes systems like shoes.

Drew Rickerson's picture

I'm just here to comment how much I appreciate that the author managed to put the Canon EOS RP and the common nickname "R.I.P." into the same sentence. :oD

Don Smith's picture

No one likes to know they made a bad choice. For some people that is worse than others, and those people are often the highly defensive one over their brand. It is their own character, or lack of, on show in many cases with these highly defensive people who will not even consider, never mind admit, that something else may be better.

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

It's probably marketing algorithms that push those "brand-focused" videos up in the YouTube recommendations. After all, YouTube makes money out of ads.

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