My last blog talked about how less choice can be helpful, but there is another aspect to this that is particularly applicable to photography. Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about what gear to buy. What is interesting is that we don't just compare the options, which would be hard enough, but we also compare the options to a hypothetical ideal that doesn't exist. We do this because it is easy to imagine. Here are two examples:
1. Lenses. When buying lenses I will often be looking for the sharpest lens I can get my hands on, but what does sharpest really mean? If you go with a wide aperture lens, most have some noticeable degradation wide open compared to stopped down results. Most are aware that stopped down to f/8 even inexpensive lenses perform well. The hard part is that we can easily imagine the perfect lens - light, wide aperture, range of focal lengths, sharp, nice bokeh, fast focus, etc - and ideally all for a low price! Yet while we can easily imagine all these traits combined in a single package, that lens doesn't really exist. Most of the different aspects involve trade-offs - wide aperture increases weight and price. Eliminating CA and other optical defects may impact bokeh and also increases price. Light weight compromises durability and weatherproofing. In other words, we can't have it all - but it s very easy to imagine it.
2. Camera bodies. When I bought my last camera body, the 7D, it was once again a matter of looking at the available options in the lineup and comparing them. It used to be we just had the Rebel, 50D and 5D (unless you are looking at 1 series bodies), but the 7D split the middle into two with the 60D so now there is a dazzling array of choices. Yet you really can't have it all - even moving up the line in price removes features. The flip out screen isn't available on any of the bodies from the 7D and up to even the pro models. AF microadjust and flash sync aren't on the lower bodies. Wireless flash trigger is on the 60D and 7D but not if you go above that as they don't have built in flash. The 7D's great AF system is not on the 5D above it, and then above the 5D we have a totally different focus system. The 5D has fewer fps and worse AF tracking that the 7D 'below' it. Once again, it is easy to imagine a new 5D with the 7D's AF system and a flip out screen, and then for many that body would 'have it all'.
The difference with lenses and cameras is that for lenses physics are against us, while for the camera body it seems more just a matter of price. The key to camera happiness is to truly identify your needs, find something that meets those needs, and then stop looking and be happy :) If you buy a body and love it, and then two weeks later a new one comes out that has the one feature you wanted but decided you could live without it doesn't or shouldn't change your satisfaction with what you have...
My advice when evaluating and making decisions is to be sure that the choices you are comparing actually exist. Don't rate the choices against a hypothetical ideal or even the most capable equipment will fall short of expectations right out of the gate.
Photo credits: Andrei Levitskiy, Brad Calkins, Jeff Cleveland, Jntvisual.