Gear Acquisition Syndrome is the friendly name given to a hopeless condition suffered by many photographers, whereby they add equipment to their arsenal at a feverish rate, using the feeblest excuse to justify new purchases. One minute you have just a couple of items and the next, cupboards and drawers are overflowing with the stuff. Sneaking it into the house passed a loved one can involve complex levels of deceit that a politician would be proud of. Hiding the financial drain catapults the web of lies to whole new level almost tantamount to infidelity.
Humour aside, why do some (myself included) feel the need to keep buying stuff that gets used and appreciated, but the urge to purchase more and more gear never seems to go away? I thought I would trace my own case of GAS back to see if there was more to it than just feeble minded weakness and the desire to have the latest shiny shiny.
When I first decided to get serious about photography I brushed aside my childhood Kodak 110 and Polaroid cameras, replacing them with a single Russian SLR body and standard lens which served its purpose very well in most situations. As my interest in Photography grew, I replaced this with my first ‘real’ (read Japanese) SLR and 50mm lens. I soon found my photographic horizons expanding therefore a requirement for wide angle and telephoto lenses rumbled closer with imminent certainty. So far so good I think – there is nothing wrong with this. But in the following years I found myself adding a gaggle of wide angle, macro and telephoto lenses, the angle of view of many separated by just a couple of degrees. I had somehow convinced myself that I needed 21, 24, 28 and 35mm wide angles when in reality just one or possibly two would do the job. Similarly my telephoto collection grew exponentially which was bizarre as I never really had much of a requirement, or interest in telephoto lenses. 50mm lenses multiplied and before I knew it, I had a bad case of GAS on my hands, which soon spread to acquiring more camera bodies and peripherals - more that could ever see regular use.
The easiest way for me to analyse this is to look at other interests I have been passionate about. Let’s take Hi-Fi and fishing as examples, two subjects I once could not live without. In my late teens and early 20’s I was mad on Hi-Fi gear, purchasing turntables, amps, speaker systems and open reel tape recorders to the point where my room looked like a recording studio. I always seemed to be selling an item to help finance another. Similarly my fishing habits grew from a kid with a split cane fishing rod who carried his meagre kit in a jacket pocket and used a plastic bag for a seat, to one who had so much stuff it half-filled a garden shed. The thing is that I used it all at some point in an effort to expand my own knowledge from first-hand experience rather than basing it on the comments of others, or from reviews in magazines.
Interestingly, my passions in the above examples went full circle; From a Hi-Fi perspective, I am now content with my iPod and a small integrated entertainment unit that lives in the kitchen. Gone are the reel to reel tape recorders, turntables with carbon fibre gimbal-tracked tone arms and monstrous speaker systems. A lifetime of collecting music now fits in a pocket. Similarly, gone also are the mahogany float boxes, nets, holdalls, tackle boxes, poles, rods and reels. I have not fished for many years, but my final days were a return to the first – I once more sat on a plastic bag on the river bank with just a handful of bits and pieces stashed in a pocket.
But my Hi-Fi and fishing journeys were not a waste of money; the experience that came with heavy investment and ownership has never been forgotten.
Returning to photography, I can apply the same process to my GAS problems in an effort to justify the considerable amount of money spent through the decades. From starting out all those years ago with a single camera and lens, through the years of lugging bags full of lenses, bodies and tripods about, I have now returned predominantly to a one-camera one-lens mentality for my personal work, in the form of the Leica X1.
But there is one difference; I will not be reducing my equipment collection, unless as part of a culling program to raise cash for more gear, as a) it is needed for PhotoArk assignments and b) I simply love fiddling about with camera stuff. GAS has allowed me to learn the subtleties contained within the optical formulae of different focal lengths. I know from first-hand experience how certain items function, their strengths and weaknesses. The internet could have taught me this without the heavy financial investment made over the years. But my photo GAS has given me experience in a similar way to my Hi-Fi and fishing GAS – and what better way to learn about any subject that by hands on experience?