From curated Instagram accounts to the digital aisles of online stores, the temptation of shiny new tech is everpresent. There’s always something new and improved that I ‘need’ to be a better photographer. A filter for this, an adapter for that, an extra few megapixels here, a pinch of dynamic range there… and don’t get me started on lenses, tripods, and backpacks.
Truth be told, practice — not purchase — makes perfect. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, said it best: The more you know, the less you need.
Brand after brand, I bought into the cycle of consumerism, with my camera kit growing steadily. I had it all. My burgeoning arsenal sure made me look the part but paralysed by choice, my shooting experience actually started to suffer. The more you have, the more choices you have, and this is the fundamental flaw in the cycle of more, and more.
In December 2017 it reached a tipping point. Midway through a trip across Lesotho, in the remote Sehlabathebe National Park, I finally realised how much my accumulated gear was slowing me down.
With two Sony bodies, more lenses than I could carry, various bags and accessories of all shapes and sizes, packing a bag for a simple day hike would give me anxiety. What if I forgot something? What if I wanted that 18mm Zeiss Prime and I only had the Sigma 18–35mm? I better grab that 50mm f1.8 in case I want to snap some portraits. Oh, damn, now there’s no room for my spare drone batteries. And which camera will be going on the gimbal?!
There’s only so much that one person can do. Unnecessary choices fatigue us, clutter distracts us. I believe this is true with most pursuits in life: Limit your decisions, simplify your process, and spend the maximum time with a singleminded focus.
As soon as we got back to Cape Town I went into Orms, traded all of my extras in, and simplified my camera kit. I made decisions based on what I used, not what I thought I might need. This was the best move I’ve made.
Here are my 4 tips for anyone looking to simplify their camera kit:
Rent the gear you don’t regularly need.
I am an outdoor and landscape photographer, and my 16–35mm lens stays on my camera 90% of the time. It’s light, versatile, and by switching to APS-C mode on my A7riii, I can essentially extend this lens to a 50mm range*. For everything else I need, that 70–200mm has it covered. On the off occasion I’m shooting portraiture I can rent an 85mm F1.4. And when I know I’ll be shooting wildlife, you can be sure I’ll rent something in the 500mm range. Purchase your essential items, and rent the rest as and when you need them.
Choose the least. Spend the most.
Whether you shoot Mirrorless, DSLR, Sony, Nikon, Canon or Fuji, embracing a less is more approach will have a hugely positive impact on your shooting experience. From street photography to portraiture, to landscape photography, figure out what is the minimum you need to get the job done and then invest in the absolute best gear you can afford. Always opt of less gear of better quality. Especially when it comes to supporting items like backpacks, and tripods. My F-Stop Sukha is not the cheapest backpack out there, but it is tough as nails and made to perform. I’ve never regretted the money spent. Buy quality, and neither will you.
There is Life Beyond Bokeh.
It took me a while to realise that not everyone needs a wide aperture lens. Look, I love a creamy bokeh as much as the next guy, but the F2.8 lenses in the focal lengths I need are big, heavy, and massively expensive. Make no mistake, these are stunning pieces of glass, but it all comes down to the subject matter you shoot most. As a landscape photographer, I’m generally in the F5.6 < space. So the extra weight and price of F2.8 glass aren’t justifiable for me. Take an honest look at the subject matter you shoot and purchase the gear that works for the majority, not the exception.
Remove the Temptations.
Imagine being on a diet and spending all day watching Chef’s Table. Even the strongest willpower will crumble. It’s the same with gear. To keep my addiction at bay, I’ve made a conscious effort to stop following gear pages, avoid articles on all the new releases, and steer clear of the YouTube vortex of ‘Camera A vs Camera B’. When my skills begin to outperform the gear I have, I’ll step back into the marketplace and take a gander at what’s on offer. Until then, I’m going to focus more time on shooting better images, and less time daydreaming about how gear will help me get there.
As an aside for the gear nerds out there, my camera kit — for video and stills work — now consists of:
Sony A7riii, Sony 16–35 F4, Sony 70–200 F4, Circular Polariser, Variable ND, x5 Hanel Batteries, X2 128GB Lexar SD Cards, X1 64GB Lexar SD Card, Basic Cleaning Kit, RedMi Power Bank, Sirui ET-2204 Carbon Fibre Tripod, DJI Ronin-S Gimbal, Rode Video Mic Pro, Sony UWD-P 11 Lapel Mic.
The EVOC CP 26l is my daily camera bag & the F-Stop Sukha + Small ICU is my outdoor camera and hiking backpack. The F-Stop system is flawless, and the only reason I don’t exclusively use the Sukha is its size. Day-to-day, I just don’t need a 75l pack.
Now, I’m not professing that I have the most minimal setup on earth…although I’m working on it. I’m also fortunate to have invested in some top quality gear. Gear that works perfectly for me. And this simplified setup limits my decision-making process, making packing and shooting effortless. It’s not easy to get rid of excess things, but it’s a liberating experience. Keep the essentials, ditch the rest. You won’t look back.
Have any tips to share on a minimalist approach to camera gear? Please drop them in the comments!
About the Author
Matt Bouch is a South African photographer with a passion for the mountains. He is a member of the Nature First Alliance and encourages all photographers to think of the conservation of wilderness areas comes before any image, workshop, tour, social media post, or commercial endeavor.
In 2019, Matt completed a Mountain Leader Award with Peak High Mountaineering. He guides photographic workshops in the Drakensberg, which you can join by contacting him.
You’ll find more of Matt’s work on his website, Instagram, and Facebook, and you can sign up for his newsletter to get more useful and fun content from Matt. This article was also published here and shared with permission.