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Friday, 28 May 2010


7 months ago I bought an aps-c canon with the kit lens. Two months later I bought a 50mm f1.8 lens - I did it after reading this article: http://vothphoto.com/spotlight/articles/forgotten_lens/forgotten-lens.htm (I didn't know about the crop factor at the time). My friends are amazed at how a dslr that (almost) looks like a large point and shoot without a gigantic lens can take that good pictures. I'm hoping the get a 35mm lens to imitate the actual 50mm lens and be done with it. well maybe I can go for the 5d mrk2 (if I can put together the money) - then I'll have to get an 85mm f1.8 as well for portrait stuff.

Superb!Better keep an eye out for camera company hit men,they are sure to be guning
for you now that youve exposed them.

Can't tell if the silly 25-step advice was meant to just be silly or not, because if there was even a snarky element of seriousness in it, you've totally lost your mind, George. Your apparent evolution in camera equipment acquisition does not mirror mine, nor many other photogs who are perfectly happy with the many photos they've taken over the years. My Fuji F30 has taken some brilliant shots, as has my G9, and my LX3, and so on... and I've enjoyed each of them in every case, and usually managed to sell them back on eBay for a wash or, in some cases, a profit... rarely a big loss. Which means I've enjoyed my picture taking and spend relatively little money in the process... and I have thousands of pics to show for it.

So don't take his ridiculously pretentious advice, Mr. Johnston, and content yourself in the meantime with a Pentax K10d or any number of other low-priced entry DSLR's with a kit zoom. You'll figure out what you need as you go along, and you'll be happy doing it.

Ha! Was this common before digital, and the internet? My first camera was a used pentax slr, whatever the ones every student used were–5000 something or something like that. With a 50mm lens. That broke in mexico, cost more to fix than it was worth, so I borrowed a TLR from my photo professor for a year or so. Had to return that when I graduated, but got to borrow a IIIf for a week, which convinced me to get an M3 and an old 35 for graduation. Picked up a 90 along the way, then didn't give a whit for plenty of years.

Then came the internet, which is quite an inspiration–for wanting stuff!!! Fortunately I already knew what I liked, and picked up a d50 for macro on the way to an m8. With an M3 and an old, half working rollei, I feel pretty settled for what I like to do. So I had my own process, not so bad early on, expensive for a year or two, now settled again. Still, there's always the nagging thought, about what you could do with that extra half stop... Maybe I'll just turn an old broken folder into a pinhole camera.

Regardless, things were a lot simpler before I ever bothered to READ about cameras and lenses!!!! HA!!!

Millions of people are happy with the pictures they get from their cell phones and $100 point-n-shoots. Most take their SD cards to Wal-Mart or Rite Aid for printing or simply post them to Face Book.

Many inexpensive cameras take better pictures automatically than most people do when they start fiddling with the buttons.

When someone can tell me honestly and accurately how they are going to use their camera and how much they plan to spend then I (or most readers of this blog) can recommend a camera or two.

It's a hobby. Buying, selling and talking about equipment is a big part of it. The only part for some.

The D700 doesn't shoot video... (excellent read!)

oops... I meant that Mike had totally lost his mind (in spite of the fact that I think you're on the most enjoyable and interesting photogs on the Internet).

OMG sooooo true

After some 30 steps I've ended up with D700, 24/2,8 AiS, 35/2 AiS, 50/1,8 AFD and that 80-200/2,8 zoom in the closet, shooting mainly with those AiS lenses :D

I've also bought used IXUS 55 lately and find myself using it more and more often, 'cause it fits my shirt-pocket so easily. But yes - D700 is a great camera ;)

All broadly true, and I have the equipment shelf to prove it.
However, my experience is that there are a great many people who, when matched with the right camera just go out and start taking pictures. They don't pixel peep, they don't read camera reviews, and they don't obsess. In fact they don't think about equipment again until they genuinely need something new, or their camera breaks.
Maybe we should all go outside (or inside) and take pictures...
just saying. (and guilty as charged, of course)
P.S. $400.... S90, G11, u4/3, or pentax Kx

I´m sending out a plea to any novice who distrusts this post or feels he´s better informed than Mike. You´re totally and utterly wrong, there is just no need to go through the tortuous 25 steps. Enough of us have already climbed up this bloody path! Skip these 25 steps, follow Mike´s sound advice and your life in general will be much happier. Photography will probably not intrude in other aspects of your life, there will be no existential angst ,no yearning for a better camera as you sit half listening to your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend.
In fact do yourself a favour and read three or four of Mike´s classic posts every time you start doubting where your photography is heading. Afterwards buy a book on Amazon through TOP´S link I can assure we all owe Mike a few favours thanks to these posts.
Remember, photography is to be enjoyed and I can assure those 25 Steps are pure hell.

my odyssey

step 1 bought a canon p&s.el cheapo.35-135 range ,full manual controls ,is,.
lovin it.
2)6000 images later i managed to break it..oh well
3)pulled my old 500n from the closet put my dusty[inside] 50 1,8 and started shooting again.cheap print film with a wide exposure latitude[wider than digital] .i also have the 28-80 kit zoom on it which is probably the worst lens man has ever made

the end

ps:basicly if he says he has 400 bucks to spend that's what he has..it's like recomending me a 5d mkII .if i had access to that kind of money i would buy it in an instant. but i don't
so i try to make do with what i have


Are you finding any time to walk the dog these days?

this is hilarious. except in my story, suddenly i decided to buy a bunch of polaroid cameras and film. and i really am not planning on buying a nikon d700, despite hearing the "voice" about my canon rebel T1i. See, now i have Canon lenses, how can i switch to Nikon? ;)

Haven't heard anyone mention Graham's number since I was at school. Was worth it just for that :)

You just shot yourself in the foot, Mike.
There goes your affiliate income...

Brilliant post! Mirrors a large part of my progress without of course the fact that I recouped with work about 10x the invested money in all the gear in the last 6 years. But I would have loved to have skipped everything and gotten to the present gear without all the bumps and learning. It builds character though! :D

Step 29. Buy a Leica M8 (used).
Step 31. Buy a Leica M9 (new).
Step 32. Get divorced.
Step 33. Buy Photoshop. Use it to tweak all your old family photos late at night in your empty bachelor pad.
Step 35. Become infatuated with the supposed authenticity of film and buy a Leica M7.
Step 36. Buy a Leica MP.
Step 38. When your pictures from the MP come out poorly, decide you need the superior resolution of medium format. Buy a used Hasselblad on eBay.
Step 40. Stop taking pictures altogether.
Step 41. Feel guilty about all the stuff in your closet and give it away.
Step 56. Get remarried.
Step 62. Buy a point-and-shoot.

*(Added bonus step if you're under 30: Buy a Holga.)

I would have recommended to your imaginary friend an entry level dslr to learn on with the kit lens. Whatever he buys will be obsolete in 3 years anyway and should be sufficient to get his feet wet and learn for himself what to buy next.
A writer needs to find his voice and a photographer his eye--his vision of what is important to photograph. Equipment choices should be driven by vision and need to explore that vision. Otherwise, you are an equipment collector (a fun hobby) not a photographer.
Three additional things I find essential are a bounceable ttl flash, a notebook and a large trash can. Anything that does not fit my vision goes immediately in the trash. Just sayin.

I can rationalize any purchase and truly justify none of them.

Brilliant, Mike, just brilliant!

You really underscore the experience of many of us.

I totally get your satire of the lust for gear. However, you don't have to be unhappy with the gear you have.
I've had my macro for nearly a year and have been extremely happy with it. Macro is very hard to shoot well, but failing at it is a crash course in composition, lighting, depth of field, and focus. Also the the trick is to use it for more than just macro work. It's about the best I can do in price / aperture in that focal length (100mm)-- light years ahead of the kit lens for portrait and product photography.

Classic post

HaHa I love this, especially this bit:

Step 22. Shut up, tiny voice, shut up, shut up, shut up.

That voice never goes away, mine currently is whispering about an M9. :(

LOL! The 85mm f/1.8 arrived last weekend... along with a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. Nikon's version of the later, was just too expensive, and lacks stabilisation. Though, I'd have resisted their purchase if I hadn't been told "you're going to be my wedding photographer." My protests were in vain.

The disadvantages of full-frame outweigh the advantages. At least, they do for now...

Skipped quite a few of the steps by starting at prosumer, then onto one of the last D200's (i.e. greatly reduced price... Scotsman). But have filled in some of the gaps by buying (George's old) lower spec D40 as an extra, and smaller, body.

Did follow Thom Hogan's tripod advice, as others have mentioned.

And in my crystal ball? Do I see an article headed "Camera closet confessions"? My film SLR and lenses from the early 1980's are languishing in my wardrobe (UK speak) - unused since 2005. Half considering taking a couple of rolls of B&W film at that wedding, with the old gear - for fun.


I am that counterman at the local camera shop, who can stand there without flinching when someone tells me that they want to buy a better camera to become "a semi-professional landscape photographer", or is proud that they take photos in nightclubs for blogs. I'm the one who has to explain to people that the EF-S 55-250 is a better lens than the EF 75-300, even though it has "less zoom". And I'm the one who has to hand people the 18-200 lenses of the world, because they're buying their first SLR and want it to be as unlike an interchangeable-lens camera as possible.

It's not an easy job. And it has very little to do with getting people what they need, it's all about what they want. Telling someone something that they don't expect, or giving them another option that they hadn't thought about - even if it's perfect for them - is a guaranteed way to sow confusion and lose a sale. I'd still do it sometimes, but mostly people have to walk their twenty-five step program for themselves.

For what it's worth, I use a D700 with the 35/2 and 85/1.8 pair, and the 35/2.8 and 85/2.8 shift lenses as well.

Dear Mike,
You do me a disservice by delaying writing this letter by some 31 years. I needed to read this when I bought my first camera--a 10-year old used Pentax SV plus Takumar 55mm f/1.8 back in 1979 for A$125. In that same shop there was a 20 year old M3 for A$350 without a lens, and an old 50mm (I think a Summitar) for another A$300. I needed two years to save up to buy the latter set, which I didn't--to my regret. If I had read your letter then, I would have borrowed money to buy the other contraption, and would not have wasted many times more in the next 30 years.

I'm trying to decide whether putting in links to Amazon or BHPhoto for all of that gear you mentioned would be too ironic or good for your site.

You forgot about the "Rangefinders are the True Path" phase. Add $15k. That reminds me, I need to swap out my paperweight, I've seen the D1h long enough, maybe it's time for the Lensbaby.

Graham's number? Ouch. You just killed a couple hours thinking about how impossibly big that is.

For what it's worth I went from a Canon 1Ds to a succession of smaller cheaper cameras trying to find something that didn't hurt to carry around and had reasonable image quality and ergonomics. First the Sony R1, even better image quality 90 percent of the time, but kind of slow and bulky and fragile. (fragile compared to the 1Ds which I actually dented a taxicab with while I was riding my bicycle in NYC traffic) Then my shoulder healed enough to use the 1Ds again and I tried the image stabilized 24-105 , was appalled by the image quality , returned it for the Pentax K10 which was lightweight and fast but not quite as good as the Sony R1 in terms of image quality, and the image stabilization turned out to be about as good as hand holding the R1 without image stabilization.
I recently got rid of the Pentax for a 5d mk2, Love the live view, hate the SLR autofocusing and am having fun trying out all manner of manual focusing lenses on it. Somehow I now have 7 50mm or 55mm lenses!

Anyway the point is that even if you go directly to what you think is the best available camera, you can still end up spending a lot trying to fine tune you gear to suit you needs.

Maybe I'll trade in the 1Ds or the R1 for one of those Sony nex-5 cameras.

I think I'm permanently stuck in step 22.

The problem with this is that, while you're advice is undoubtedly spot on (and the D700 35mm f2 combination is exactly where I ended up and use 90% of the time), if George started off with this set up at the beginning he would never understand why it is so good.

I think everyone has to play with toys, discover the joys of zooming in and out with zooms, discover why zooms aren't the bees knees after all, and so on and so forth. Most people get stuck at the megazoom toy stage, because they're more interested in the toys than the pictures. And there's nothing wrong with that - there's nothing to say that everyone who owns a camera has to be a photographer.

OMG! Is it that predictable!? :D I skipped a few steps, sold all my digital stuff and ended up somewhere else, but everything else matches so close it's scary!

Two things though that make it a bit of a different story...
I never really sold stuff at much of a loss cause I really never buy new, except for the D40 that was cheap to begin with.

And although I should have spent the 4000 dollars on day 1, on day 1 I didn't know that what I really wanted to work with every day was a Leica and a 28mm lens.

In the last six years I’ve bought four lenses and two cameras. The four lenses are 35mm f/1.4, 50 mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 135 mm f/2.0. Logic dictates that I really should have sold the 50 when I got the 35 but I’d got by with it and the 85 for two years so I became very fond of it and am still. I didn’t need the 135, I really should not have bought it and I should have sold it by now, I have no real answer to why I haven’t other than I don’t tend to buy much and I don’t sell much. My normal lens for almost two years was the 50 on a 20D which is not exactly “normal” but it was for me. I do also have a 70-200mm f/4.0 IS and I definitely don’t need it and would never buy one, the only reason I own it is because I helped somebody out and that’s how they repaid me.

There wasn’t any rational thought behind the purchase of the second camera, I’d been very happy with my 20D for four years. I’d been married for two months when a tumour was discovered on my Wife’s liver. The odds of surviving liver cancer are slim as it’s normally spotted late, it’s often found while searching for other things as was the case with my wife. Well the first Dr told her in it was cancer but to try not to worry and wait for a full MRI scan. Total time from the discovery to final diagnoses was 24 days; you know the kind of days that seem like years, years whose days are long. It turned out to be benign

I bought a 1ds mark lll soon after. It’s heavy and has a zillion and one things on it I don’t need. Not a sensible choice for my style of shooting or my income but I spend my of my time shooting my wife Diane with it and anything related to her. I’ve had my money back and more

You're being a little hard on the poor guy, don't you think? He'd be fine with an entry level DSLR and a kit zoom. If he buys a reconditioned D40, that'll fall inside his $400 limit.

That isn't the last camera he'll own — assuming he sticks with photography — but it'll get him going on the road to learn more. And if he never gets a better camera — well, so what?

The problem with recommending high-end gear to beginners is that following such advice requires the beginner to have the knowledge and perfect self-confidence — before even starting — that he will actually get his money's worth out of it.

What happens if, despite the $3200 dropped on a top-end camera and lenses, George loses interest in photography?

Sure, he can sell the gear and recoup some of the money. But there's more to this than just money.

Which would make you feel like a bigger fool? Blowing only $400 on a potential hobby that doesn't work out — or blowing $3200 on it before you make that discovery?

All George is trying to do is limit his downside loss in the event that photography just isn't his bag. He's a better judge of his committment level than anyone is, so let's show a little more sympathy for the guy.

And where along the way is there to be time for practising composition. All the time has to go into mastering the technology, learning how the equipments functions.
Where is the time to learn the language of image making, the poetry of creating meaning...

This is so sad. I'm not a photographer. I never will be one. But your desolate brilliant article reminds me of golf. I could bore the pants off you with the golf equivalent, all the new drivers, the wedges, the belly putters... and then we could talk balls.

Boys will have toys.

The art of seeing need not die.

"In my own defense, I can only say that it doesn't really matter anyway, since no one who asks me for purchasing advice ever actually follows that advice anyway! (Really.)"


About 3 years ago I asked you for a beginner camera recommendation and told you what things I like (mechanical items), what I want to shoot, etc. You recommended a Rolleicord with a Tessar or Xenar lens. So I went on eBay and took a risk on a poorly listed Rolleicord at $100 hoping to get a steal or only be out $100 if it turned out to be a dud. When the camera showed up it was excellent cosmetically and was a Vb version but mechanically...who knows? I meant to send it to a specialist for an examination and a CLA but somehow it sat on a shelf for 3 years (my wife being pregnant and then raising our daughter had something to do with that). I finally decided that I had better hurry before my daughter is in college and I missed the chance to take lots of pictures of her (she's 2 now). Last month I finally sent it off to Krimar Camera and the well-recommended Krikor Maralian. Mr. Maralian told me how horribly some ham-fisted person with good intentions messed up the mechanicals. I had an "unexpected windfall" of money so I paid the price to get it fixed and adjusted. So, here is one person who actually took your advice even if it took 3 years! The total price of getting the camera working properly was $300. So the grand total for your camera recommendation...$400!

Of course, now that I've shot half a roll and have not yet gotten used to the flipped image I'm wondering if I should just stick with a mechanical, 35mm SLR. I'm hoping that seeing the first 6x6 negatives will heal me of that.

Mike, Clearly you misunderstood the purpose of the older, still posessed gear. It is a private musuem collection on the history of photographic cameras as seen from the POV of one photographer....
I tell myself this everytime I open the closet door....

I have to say I jumped quite a few steps here but I do know what your saying. I never bought a P&S. my first camera was a pentax 35mm slr and then I bought DSLR 6 years later. I do have to say I disagree with the lens ideas here but I do only buy lenses that will work on bigger bodies now. I generally carry 2 lenses out in the field and have for the last 4 years. both are zooms.

I'm currently at step 4, and so far quite happy with my G11. Since I used a Pentax MX for about 25 years, it may take me a long time to progress to step 25.

The A900 with a fast 50mm is around my neck...and a cabinet full of lenses and bodies remain in my closet. Ebay, here I come!

Magnificent story, and all so fitting that it's creepy.

Just lucky that I bought the biggest thing on the list and skipped the startup dslr.

Now only get my wife to read this.

"...gradually increasing the sophistication of your taste by looking at great work that appeals to you, learning to edit, and discovering your own visual passions, rather than being a matter of equipment."

Could you please provide a comparable step by step program (or maybe just the last one) to learn how to edit? I already did all of these, and thus my shooting skills are complete ;~)

p.s. your use of "angelic sky-facing pie-hole" was magnificent.

My 40 year journey began with Pentax S1a's and four Takumars ( 24,50,90and 135 ) then switched to Nikon because Pentax changed from screw mount. Then there was two years or so of getting used to the different imaging that Nikon brought. Eventually the film era anded with an F4 and 5 lenses (24-120, 35,85,200,400). Then along came digital and the Nikon 990 was the first of a trail of upgrades the ended in a D700 with a D200 backup. Then came the backache of using the 80-200 zoom and now I have the two nikons for wide to short tele use and Olympus with 14-54 and 50-200 for telephoto use. The Olympus is the closest thing to a two lens kit that covers almost everything and now I find I use it the most.
In the digital age it's hard to stop upgrading but really, do any of us need more than what is now available to us in our present bags? My equipment capability now far exceeds my equipment capability in film days.
SO my needs seem to be met, if I wander around any camera store I can't see anything I really need, so this past year I estimate I've cut at least $2000 off my budget.

I feel like I did this all the right way, as I was able to squeeze all 25 steps into one year! ;) :)


LOL, all of it so true; still, going through all those silly steps does expand the brain far more than by just quietly following advice.

I'm definitely with you on doing it right the first time. Although, because I travel A LOT, I've ended up with a Canon S90 for a p/s and have yet to pick up a DSLR only because time is a little objective.

I'm also eagerly waiting for the Canon 5D mark iii // any ideas on release dates? I didn't want to get the dated mark ii but the 7D did seem tempting...

I'm the guy that instead of buying a $1000 bicycle bought the one for $3000 and has readily enjoyed every minute of it! I don't have to waste more $$$ on upgrades.

Heh heh heh. Heh heh heh.

Heh heh heh.

It's already a classic post ! Thanks for this really precise description.

I made the same during the last 5 years...with film.

It's the same idea...with so much choice, but cheap...and GREAT!
I think it's a lot less painful (even to buy me a present!-).
I have one dslr (K20D) but I tried lot's of SLR's and lenses.
Maxxum 5, ME, MX, OM1, LX, MZ5, 67,...

I liked/like all of them. I scan what I want and have no need for 1,2,3, 4 hard disks...etc.
Only 1 scanner, 1 calibration probe and 1 darkroom...
I learned a lot!

Hopefully everybody is not consuming dslr like you described. Some people are wise enough to be happy with the material they have. I hope for our world full of frustrated human beings...
and also full of user with their D700 always on AUTO-everything!!!(pathetic)


This reminds me of Old Hat, New Hat.

I'm actually not too depressed with my purchases over the past five years. I promised myself, when I bought my D80, to get five years out of the thing. Two more years to go! And then… I don't know. Maybe another Nikon, or some future compact camera. Nothing right now compels. D90 and D300: not dramatically better. D700: too big. 5DMkII: icky ergonomics.

Of course, if I were starting again, I'd do it differently (probably buy a film M or Ikon and 35mm Summilux, and maybe an entry-level DSLR - the KX and D5000 look nice). But then, in another five years, I'd want to do it all differently yet again. I'm curious and like to play around and experiment.

you missed something - the point when you suddenly find out that FILM is so much better and you buy a used rolleiflex... then a darkroom... and a scanner... and a printer...

Here's my $400 recommendation:

1. Nikon FM2N: $150 if you know where you're looking
2. 50mm F/1.8 AI-S lens: $60 - again, look around
3. Vivitar 283: $15
5. 10 rolls of Kodak Gold 400: $30
6. Batteries: $10
7. 52mm UV filter: $15
8. Lens Pen for cleaning: $10

Total cost: $290

Which leaves you $20 to cover shipping charges; $50 for film, scan, and print processing; and $35 for soda, popcorn, and tickets to take your significant other to the movies for 2 excruciating hours of "Sex and the City 2." Also, you got $5 to spare.

If you drop this camera, no worries - the thing is better built than anything on the market today. Since you got a flash and a fast lens, you won't have to throw away $50 on a plastic tripod you'll never use anyway, and also you'll be getting better tonality and dynamic range because it's "full frame."

Wow...and people say *I'm* snarky.

I never give advice quite that accurate though.
That little tirade should be condensed and printed in leaflet form and handed out while applying for a *permit* to own an SLR.

Well done Mike - a very good article. Thanks for that first, but I've got three points:

1. Sound advice

Your initial recommendation of both the camera as well as the lenses is as perfect as it can get - at least I would be perfectly happy with those.

2. A point for George

Nevertheless, I pity George, and I really hope he's an imaginary "virtual" person, because he's a bit mocked upon here. Let me explain:

You cannot do it for 400$ maybe, that's true. But I'm the sole income source for a family of three, so I started it all with 450€. What did I get for that? An Olympus E-520 double zoom kit. That was half a year ago.

Why? First, I just love the format. 4:3 for me is much more "natural" than 3:2. I seldom use it in portrait mode, but I sometimes even crop portraits to 1:1. I *do* use portrait mode sometimes when shooting wide angle for instance, but 4:3 in landscape really looks nice to me.

Second, the out of camera jpg pictures from Olympus are as good as they get. Oh, I mostly use the raw orf format now, but I struggled a long time until I got close to the colours which the camera does in its conversion to jpg.

Am I happy with it? Absolutely. Tho

3. That tiny voice

soon crept in. I saw banding with ISO 1600, then also with ISO 800. Plus the E-520 has a somewhat strong antialiasing filter; an E-510 would have been better in that regard. Plus I soon discovered (of course) the longish DoF of the smallish 4/3rds sensor size and the smallish open apertures of the kit lenses plus the "slowness" of max apertures of 3.5 or even 4.

So I looked for faster primes, and - what a surprise - there weren't any except a wonderfully sharp 2.0 50mm macro, and some 1.4 50mm, 30mm, and 25mm 3rd party. That macro would have cost more than the initial DZ kit, some of the 3rd parties had some comments about front- and/or backfocusing issues, and the 25mm would have completely broken the bank for me. So I bought an old legacy 1.8 50mm to do portraits with available light. Costs with adapter: 72€

After that came the best image stabilizer there is: a tripod (I had chosen the 520 over the 420 mainly because of the in-body IS, and I'm still glad about this, but you know what I mean. A tripod is a must). Cost: 30€

Still I had the problem with the ISO settings, so I needed more light. I added a cheap manual (no TTL) chinese flash (36€) and wireless radio remotes (30€), and apart from a bag, that's about it. 450€ for the camera set, and less than 200€ on add-ons, and I'm set.

I *do* still hear that tiny voice from time to time, since there is nothing like the µ43rd 1.7 20mm for four thirds, nothing like a Canon 1.2 85mm on an EOS 5D Mk II for four thirds, and an E-30 would have been better anyway (and the D-90 has the best APS-C sensor and... and...). But if you consider what I've bought, and for what a price, I'm really more than happy with what I have.

Would I recommend all of that to George? Depends. I'm not sure what he wants to shoot, not everyone likes manual focusing with a small viewfinder (or even knows about hyperfocal distance and such), and in general we'd need to know a lot more about him than only the "All of my friends use zoom lenses" statement to really being able to give advice.

Sorry for the long comment. But I felt someone just had to plead for George. May he deserve it or not...

Everyone should map out their digital camera purchases. I was perfectly happy for 10+ years with a Canon EOS 630 and a couple of primes (well, mostly...I did lust after a Mamiya 6), but once I started with digital, the urge to upgrade and try out equipment took over. My path looks like this:

Canon G3 > Canon EOS 20D > Pentax K10D > Pentax K10D + Ricoh GX200 (gotta have something smaller when I don't feel like carrying the bag) > Pentax K10D + Panasonic LX3 > Pentax K10D + Canon G10 > Panasonic GF1 and the 20mm.

Kinda pathetic. But playing with all of these different cameras has been fun.

I had the same epiphany that so many others seem to have had in recent years, and got sick of carrying around a huge SLR and a bag full of equipment. Right now I love the GF1 and having one prime lens, but I'm not making any promises about where i'll be in a couple years.

Unreal -

I'm _so_ at Step 21. Step 23 actually came around about Step 3 for me.

(where's the bit about frantically checking the TOP feed every morning ? Where does that come in ?)

Mike Jones: "Andrews! Surely you mean Julie Christie!"

That was exactly what I was thinking!

I was waiting for the protagonist in this story to encounter a Leica M8 at some point. But I suppose that would have turned tragedy into farce.

How about $400 or so for a top film SLR and a couple of lenses, say Nikon F100 and a 50/1.8 and 28/2.8, the rest on travel, film, developing and scanning. :)


I am surprised you didn't just recommend that George buy an old M2 with a Leica 50/f2.0 and shoot B&W film, every day, for 1 year?

(Whatever happened to the folks who promised to do that anyway?)

You could have just pointed him to your old article on this subject and saved yourself from that long, humorous, take-a-swipe-at-most-of-your-audience, tale.


Cheers! Jay

Well, I was saved by the fact that I was never much of a zoom fan, so the only zooms I have are ultrawides, since Canon doesn't make any practical primes in that range. (I am currently pondering if I should replace my 17-40 with that lovely small Voigtlaender 20mm). I solved the Macro problem by getting the Canon 50mm macro, since I mostly shoot with a 50mm anyway, and I solved the full-frame challenge by still shooting mostly film.
My only problem: I currently own five 50mm lenses (and a 30mm DX)...

Just got an S2 with 35mm (28mm effective) and an iPhone with it's 28
mm effective. Great starter kit, skip all 25 steps.
Guess this is two lens setup too

Priceless. Truly priceless. This ranks right up there with "Great Photographers on the Internet", and is destined to become a classic.

I can think of any other consumer good that has this effect. I used to lust after motorcycles, but that's not the same. Perhaps if we could by crappy $150 motorcycles at Walmart it would be.

In the 4/3 world our main upgrade path is through lenses. When you finally buy a super high grade you know you are in deep, and not so long after that you have an increased chance of complaining about the shortcomings of the whole system, and why the hell haven't they released the E5 yet...

Pure genius!

You've missed step 26, where the person gets tired of lugging around the D700 and starts looking enviously at (micro) 4/3 cameras. And gets one with associated lenses. And the tiny voice says that the quality just isn't the same. And the tiny voice is right, but it's not like there are any better options... yet.

(Also, regarding lens purchases, if you stick to high-end lenses, you typically don't lose much when you sell. Used high-end glass is an even better option. It's the kit lenses and the 3rd party stuff where you get killed).


I actually took your advice...kinda sorta.

Dear Mike,

You were right. I have done all that. Now I only need to know one thing. What to get next?


This is one beautiful piece of writing. You hit the nail on the head, Mike.

Started out with a TLR Yashica 635 in the early 70s. I went through a Nikon EM then a Minolta Maxxum 7000 (AF) before getting bitten by the digital bug. Promptly went out and got a Sony Cybershot 505V. That was a 1.5 year experience I decided to cut short when I realized that the batteries would die out in extreme cold quite suddenly and usually at the most critical of times!

Back to manual film cameras, I now use a FM3A, an FE2 and more recently acquired an M6. They have never failed from the cold of the Mitre Peak in the South Island, New Zealand to Ladakh in the western Himalayas. Swear by manual now and I don't expose myself to the rapid rates of obsolescence experienced in the digital world either.

It will be good to get rid of a few of the primes sitting in that closet, I admit.

~ Pritam

dag-nab-it... how in the world did you get in my head and know what i was thinking? LOL yup that is about how it works... and i am about half way thru it ... ( it works the same with canon by the way...)
now to short cut to the end...


ps still figuring out how to kill the little voice...

Nice one! A veritable cornucopia of chuckles!

This is a lesson I learned the hard way as well. But ever since I figured it out, and it did take a while, my approach to buying stuff has simply been to buy the very best I can afford right from the git-go. It works! Even my long-suffering wife understands the economic principle involved and doesn't complain.

Makes perfectly good sense to me now, but I think this is a principle that has to be learned through experience.

Good thing you didn't recommend he buy the Leica S2.

Mike, that was a very enjoyable read to start my Saturday morning - thank you! Like the others I can relate to this progression. There's a further line of developments barely hinted at above - the post-digital return to film, and exploring different formats. I've just enjoyed a few days at the coast, juggling the dSLR with a few nice AF primes, the LX with its own set of contemporary primes, a Hasselblad with ... (I think you have the pattern by now), and finally a few hours with a 4x5. Oh, and I was trying to shoot some (new-to-me) Ektar in the 'blad as well as my normal B&W. I know I should have left most of it in the closet. But it was fun, and those big negs mean further fun in the darkroom. Is there any hope for me?

"It would be nice if someone could tell us which lenses we want before we knew ourselves. Unfortunately, the only way to figure that out is going to require some experimentation."

Yes, that's very true.


I can imagine the story continuing when he finds the D700 too big and imposing and hears about the Leica M9, starts reading about "The Leica Look" and the history, and suddenly the D700 isn't doing its job like it used to. This, of course, is after dabbling in m43 and film cameras.

Cameras I have known: http://www.flickr.com/photos/poagao/3472571990/

Genius post. But then there's the 40 Step Program where, just after the D90 stage, you instead start reading about Leicas and film, buy the M6, follow with several primes to find the right one/two/three lens kit (going through multiple versions of each focal length), drive yourself mad trying uncountable combinations of film and developer, buy a scanner, buy a better scanner, buy the enlarger, buy a better enlarger, and ultimately have only yourself and the little voice in your head saying you will never be complete without an MP. And black paint lenses.

oh man.. that is my story.. except you left out the part where you then discover strobist and buy pocketwizards, then radio poppers and then go back to pocketwizards... and then get busted for writing bad checks (kidding).

"no one who asks me for purchasing advice ever actually follows that advice anyway! (Really.)"

Absolutely true. I sent a private e-mail to Mike Johnston asking advice about loudspeakers for my computer/soundcard.

I bought the complete opposite, and sent photographs to Mr. Johnston, showing him what I did.


Great post, as it happens got an email today from a darkroom student asking: " was thinking of getting myself a Hasselblad 501CM. Do you think this camera would be fitting to start with?"
Note the "to start with". Wonder if he read this post? Anyway I am going to say yes and see what happens (he would actually make good use of it right away judging by what he is doing now with 35mm).

Ah, Mike, you're forgetting the classic step 21.1:

After the exhilirating one-normal-lens-and-one-camera experience, you go to an Edward Weston exhibit. Suddenly you realize that you need a Deardorff and a 300mm Sironar to achieve the prints that would truly satisfy you. So you shelve the DSLR and get into 8x10 with a camera and a lens (used $1000, new $5000). Six months later you hate dust specks so much that the 8x10 goes into the closet, never to return.

Don't tell George about Leica.

Remarkable pathology you've laid out here. I agree with the above poster(s) who called it an instant classic.

I love TOP

ah so true, great read..

I would add that the cycle you mentioned also has branches...

at some point, usually around the concrete block point, you will say "hmm.. i yearn for those days when i could have a camera with me at all times, i should get a new point and shooter as they have really improved lately" and then go off and buy the latest top of the line point and shooter and convince yourself that as you have grown as a photographer, combined with the technology improving, the photos will now be awesome.

Thus spawning a new instance of the cycle which may mean you end up buying a lot of the gear you sold a year or so ago.

And then of course, there's.... video!

the question that i'm left with is, "why does it take 3 grand to purchase a decent digital kit with a pair of fast wide and tele primes?"

Really I enjoyed the ironia that exhumes this letter.
25 steps! you are a goldsmith. And all of us are addicts to chats on photographs.
We Would Be able to live speaking or bought, provided to avoid the effort by the artistic task.
I ask excuses by my English. Un abrazo para todos. Rodolfo.

Step 26 for me was when I discovered that the iPhone consistently delivers the absolute best images I've produced in 50+ years of photography. (note I did not say the most technically superb). At that point I re discovered what I forgot when I shelved my 30+ year old Nikon F for digital...namely what photography is all about.


LOL... Brilliant. But as mentioned above, don't forget:

- The epiphanies about the importance of tripods and professional lighting setups (including a minimalist "strobist" phase) and their respective sagas.

- There's also the realization that even a D700 + prime is too big and heavy, resulting in adventures with mirrorless cameras that are much smaller, but still not quite as pocketable as expected.

- Also, a side adventure with manual focus lenses either using adapted Leicas or M42's with the m4/3 body, or Zeiss ZF lenses with the D700 when you read on the Internet that Nikon wideangle primes are way past their, um, prime, and are not even as sharp as a good zoom lens in that range, and the subsequent realization that the novelty of MF lenses have worn off, and that you miss auto-focus.

Step 26. Next buy some 35mm film manual focus SLRs, step-up to medium-format, shoot Tri-X and vivid and contrasty negatives. I am so beyond that.

Bravo, if i had only realized that earlier in my life i would be a richer man. My wife grew up in the garment industry in N.Y.C. There is a saying " by cheap, get cheap" or as a friend says, " buy once, cry once".
steve mason

Wife liked it when I got to the Holga at step 26. Now all my cameras come from Goodwill and junk stores. There is a D70 around here somewhere. It was the last camera that cost over 40 dollars.

too good not to be shared LoL, i'm spreading this article around! hahahaha

$400 will get you a decent film SLR, a couple of good primes, a swag of film and enough left over for processing for a few months. And George will probably learn a hell of a lot more.

meh, digital is ridiculous

Step 26... Buy used. Hunt Ebay and Adorama and Craigslist. Wait for a bargain, they happen. Now you can buy and sell all you want. Never again be the victim immediate depreciation. (as mentioned above all the packing and shipping is a hassle and waste of time)

Step 27... As with all things digital you will lust after the D700's replacement. Start saving.

Step 28... Become a "real" photographer. Just buy a Leica M film camera. Get the Voigtlander 35mm Skopar 2.5 and an old Leica 90mm 2.8 tele. Both very affordable and both very good. Learn how to develop and print B&W film and never again ride the hellish, never ending train of digital oblivion.

Great insight into a key aspect of photographer psychology, as others have noted. For me, though, the kicker is that I think this is the first time I've seen a reference to Graham's number since reading about it in Martin Gardner's Scientific American column 33 years ago.

I'm putting my tinfoil cone hat back on so you can't read my thoughts anymore. Must have D700 and eat brains.... :-) Letter to George is a classic.

"the kicker is that I think this is the first time I've seen a reference to Graham's number since reading about it in Martin Gardner's Scientific American column 33 years ago."

Martin Gardner...is he the guy who wrote "The Night is Large"? I read that...just don't ask me if I understood it. :-\


Absolutely Brilliant and if Nikon doesn't hire you to promote, they should.I have had the exact same experience over the last yrs with people, and yrs later they come back and say "i should have listened.

Haha, reminds me of this incident.

Was at the camera shop and met a friend.. asked me for recommendation on camera between D90 & 500D. I recommended him D700 knowing that he can afford it and his character.

He followed my advise.

1 yr later when I met him. He was carrying a M9 with Sumilux 35!

Apropos Hugh's post, I, too, three increasingly pricey DSLRs on from a Sony R1 (it resides on a shelf; the closet's full of other crap), have this awful feeling that on a good day, working within its limitations, the latter produces cleaner images than any of the stuff that's followed. Bloody Sony, raising my expectations only to fulfil them!

Some people really have no sense of humour. Missed the point totally. Of course there is no specific George - there are a lot of "Georges", however.

The same routine goes for tripods. And fly fishing gear, but that's another story. And bicycles. And cars. Oh, and houses. It's best to just suck up the cost and get that carbon fiber Gitzo and a RRS ballhead and skip all the cheap crap.

Great post Mike.

OMG...OMG...I got that A630 two years ago. THAT'S why I have to get the....NO! That would be a mistake...it actually would be a mistake. It would! I can't afford expensive mistakes...Oh my...I...I...didn't expect this...I really wasn't seriously looking...oh.


Great writing and to the point!

However, I'm tempted to write a response "How I bought a 400 euro digicamera and survived with it for 20 months".

Every time I notice a tempting camera on the market, I finally compare it with my current camera - and are not tempted any more. Thus, the LX3 has saved me from a shopping spree.

Going with Leica at the beginning is a good choice. The lenses are so expensive, one can afford only 1 or 2, 3 at the most. The high cost limits buying sprees for needless stuff.

CLASSIC!!! You're soooo right

Cheers Vincent

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