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Thursday, 30 June 2011


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Best advice ever. Your answer is exactly what I did when I went digital: two expendable bodies, two lenses, good monitor/computer setup. I'm extremely pleased with the results and may not bother going shopping when my five years lapses in 2012.

I don't count buying up funky old film cameras as "shopping," though.

Good post, with usefull information

I did enjoy reading this article...the first thing I read this morning. It impressed me in so many ways.

Excellent advice. Especially on printing. Even much older, more experienced photographers need that advice.

On cameras pick something you can always have with you. Yes, this is a cliche, but one that is hard to abide by. More often paid lip service than practiced. Ignore specs and concentrate on what feels right. It may take years to find equipment that really clicks, but make pictures anyway. Think of it as a zen thing...

Find people who make the journey easier, not harder. Hanging out with other photographers can be either a wonderful learning experience of a complete distraction. Learn to tell the difference. Ditto your life outside of photography. Choose a path that inspires and supports the act of creation.

Feel free to take lots of photos, but think and do something different between each picture.

If you see a shot worth shooting, take it. The opportunity is seldom there upon returning.


I've been shooting 35+ years, but it took redundancy after 20 years in the IT world to make me seriously look at trying to make a living from photography.

If I could go back ... I wish I'd had the courage to make a full time committment to photography when I left University instead of taking the "safe" road. I've pretty much ended up following my heart in the end anyway, but after a huge detour.

In terms of equipment, I think the main lesson I've learned is there are no short cuts to quality. A cheap telephoto / wideangle etc. is not a saving. It will ultimately disappoint, so you end up buying what you really wanted in the first place making the "bargain" purchase a complete waste of money.

In short -less, but better, equipment

Why two bodies though? In case one fails? To learn with a consistent camera interface? To force you to stay with a particular model and not get too caught up in "gear"?

Why not buy one body and just buy the other when the replacement of it comes out, with invariably better functionality and at a lower price? Or do you think the DSLR market has stabilised sufficiently to just ignore the forces of the market at the moment...


At the core of your post (best advice ever, I concur) seems to be the idea 'Expend to practice'. I love that, in all respects, but especially when applied to printing: buy a printer, buy ink and paper and print, print, print, striving for perfection. Yes, that's the way to learn.


There was one other thing that I thought of after thinking about this post for a while. And that's: setting some goals, and what kind of goals are realistic. Around camera / photo taking technique, post-processing, printing, archiving, and photographic history.

I think this is probably just as important as your recommendations, as I believe your recommendations have got some of these goals already pre-set in your mind. Would you mind perhaps sharing these so that we get some context? (BTW: great post)

Cheers, Pak

You forgot, set up an onsite and offsite backup schedule, make it automatic and test it; it's no good having a calibrated monitor when you've lost all your work

As a 23 year old professional photographer who has been in the field for a little over a year now i can say this is sound advice throughout. I don't quite print daily, but sure wish i could and am striving towards it.
I always carry two cameras to a job for redundancy. You never know when you drop one in a pond, someone steps on it or something else happens. This way at least i dont lose the income from the job if this happens.

As another piece of advice for anyone getting into the business (not gear-related, i know): don't underprice yourself. Doing jobs for free or next to no money is useless in the long run.

I concur with others and I think this is a truly excellent article.

But in my opinion, the best part is what has nothing to do with photography.

Well said, sir. All the same advice I would have given myself 25-odd years ago if I'd known then half of what I know now, about life, success and failure.

And Mike - you run a very good blog. Truth be told, to call it a blog is something I find quite offensive in your case - TOP is much, much more than a vain, self-aggrandizing place for you to blow your own trumpet, which is the connotation the word carries for me. This is a place of thought and learning, with a useful and helpful community and not a little humour thrown in; you should be proud of what you have done here.

To that end, I'm going to take your advice and run with it, to see if I can stretch my (figurative) wings and fly, because I've been kicking around the idea of being a rooly-trooly photobloke for over 2 years now, and I need a change of job. ;) (Don't fear, I won't quit my day job just yet, but I will make a commitment to myself to push the envelope.)

I enjoyed that Mike, thanks. And I'm glad I've never been tempted to try to make a living in photography.

One question - do you think B&W photography would be as important to you if you were a 23-year old starting now?


Sound advice Mike, unless of course you believe DSLR's will go the way of the Dodo in less than 5 years (save for professionals who have large lens collections), as I do.

Any 23 year old is likely going to be revolted by looking through a tiny viewfinder on a DSLR, since they grew up looking at the LCD's on the back of their P&S, or the retina display on their iPhone. Why force a paradigm shift (camera to face), when the technology is marching in the opposite direction?

There is no advantage my Nikon D3100 (currently the hottest APS-C DSLR) has over, lets say, the new E-P3 model introduced today (save ISO 3200+ shooting). Touch screen focus on an OLED is the wave of the future. I can say with some degree of certainty that using a DSLR is an order of magnitude slower than using the new generation touch screen models for m43. This is based on my use of a GH2 and D3100 side by side. The D3100 feels like a dog, and is far less fun, imho. Before you say, 'he isn't doing it right', I have been using Nikon DSLR's for almost 10 years, as both a professional and for fun.

APS-C DSLR's are HUGE, and there are zero AF pancakes available for the systems that count (nikon and canon). For a two DSLR setup to cover, lets say, 24mm to 300mm (in 35mm terms), would take something the size of a small backpack. m43 affords you the same flexibility for about 1/3 the size. The difference in image quality isn't there to justify the bigger system. The $350 I paid for my E-P1 nets me the same image quality as my $5000 D2X, and has better skintones to boot. It is also stabilized.

Also, entry level APS-C cameras have at most one cross type AF sensor, meaning they are a bitch to focus if your subject isn't centered (and there is some thumb fumbling)... if you have to manipulate the thumb selector on the back of the camera, why not just point on a screen exactly where you want to focus? The E-P3 has 35 cross type sensors (I hear), making it about 35X more efficient than a D3100, at least for my needs :).

“I'd get two lenses, a moderate wide and a moderate telephoto. Small and portable.” Except that those lenses don’t exist for the two biggest manufacturers. Could you tell me the lenses to which you refer? Nikon nor Canon make such lenses for APS-C. A moderate telephoto means an FX lens, huge. A moderate wide... nikon only makes a 50mm equivalent, hardly wide. Nikons 24mm won’t focus on a D3100 or D5100. Same with Canon, their widest that will focus on APS-C on a base model seems to be a 28mm. Of course, I am assuming you are talking primes. Zooms for APS-C are small but extremely slow in aperture. You give up quite a bit for portability with these systems, and again not nearly as portable as a m43 with, lets say a 20mm panny or even the new 25mm leica.

I love this essay mike, and the parts about being true to yourself are perhaps the most important lesson one can take away from your years of experience. That resonates with me on a very personal level, because I tried so hard to be like other photographers as a means of getting better in the beginning, bad idea.

I guess that’s why my first million photos sucked. :P

I really wish I had read this 10 years ago, lol

This will probably come across as self-serving from someone who prints for others, but I'm sorry Mike I'd recommend that someone starting out NOT get a printer.

By all means, show your work as often as you can as prints on the wall (competitions, group shows, community events, wherever) but find someone you can work with who will turn your images into the best possible results. You won't earn brownie points by being able to claim "it's all my own work", only on the finished results. A good printmaker can show you possibilities with your own images you'd never think of, plus give feedback garnered over years of experience with a range of clients to help make you a better photographer ... at least technically. Printing is just as deep as photography and there's little overlap in the technical skills required. So concentrate on your photography instead (but get the good monitor). When you finally become a big name photographer, buy your own lab.

This was the best part in the excellent posting: "The stopping of shopping is the hardest thing for photographers to do."

Maybe practice makes perfect?

Really solid post Mike. You could have meandered for pages to make your points, but instead delivered solid points and reasoning.

I would pretty much agree with the approach. I particularly note the difference between photography and digital imaging, and the emphasis on printing.

Of course, any one of us can start doing this today, even if you were, um, 47.

Great advice. Now would someone tell me where the time machine is?

"I'd get two lenses, a moderate wide and a moderate telephoto. Small and portable."

I assume you mean two fast-ish primes, say f2, with an angle of view equal to 28~35mm and 85~100mm on a full frame, 24X36mm format.

For APS-C with a 1.5X factor?
In todays zoom crazy photography market?

Well.....good luck with that search.

I'm really glad you wrote this, I've been thinking about this a lot.

I might quibble a little on the choice of DSLRs. Refurbished Micro4/3s cameras are really quite inexpensive now, and most of them are pocketable*, and have none of the backfocus/frontfocus problems of DSLRs. The 17mm f/3.5 is pretty affordable, and an adapted manual focus moderate telephoto is dirt cheap. Of course, my bad experiences were all about not having the camera with me, and chasing ruinous focus errors.


*cargo pants pockets, jackets, stretchy old-man shorts, etc.

This is probably the best thing I've ever read on TOP........

Never mind getting started - this sounds like a great plan of campaign for anyone suffering from digital overload. The only flaw I can see is the (relative) unavailability of decent wideangle primes for APS-C. Mind you Pentax has that covered

You're making me feel seriously good, though I'm 42 and use a dye printer.

Uberbloke has a great point about automatic, no-brainer, offsite backup to supplement what you use locally. After a lot of thought, we decided on Backblaze as a good balance between specialist features, price and likelihood of survival as a supplier — it's worth testing. I'm pleased — I pay $50/year upfront for each machine, there's unlimited storage and our test restores have been easy and successful. Image files are large but anyone with a megabit upstream should consider supplementing their local backup (I use Time Machine) with something remote and hassle-free. That initial backup will seem to take forever but there's a weight off your shoulders when it's done. (There's a trade-off between security and testing, which I won't go into here.)

Many of the remote, off-site backup schemes (including Backblaze) have affiliate schemes — you could consider adding one to your list of recommended services if you find one you yourself are happy with. Happy to help with pointers and tips, though the TOP team is not exactly short of technical folks. :-)

"If you see a shot worth shooting, take it. The opportunity is seldom there upon returning."

Yes! We call this the COSTCO rule. If you see something you want to buy, get it then. It may not be there in a couple of days/weeks!

I have lost some potentially good shots by not following the above!

"If I were actually 23 right now I'd be a bright idiot just like I actually was when I was 23"

a bright idiot; I love that phrase. Is it the opposite of an idiot savant?

So Mike, what you're saying is that if you could do it all over again, you would be a twenty-three-year-old man with absolute (and positive) control over your hormone-directed priorities.

To all you young fellas, who somehow found the time to read this blog - Good Luck With That!


Cheers! Jay

I would only consider cameras with viewfinders as I would want want to be "one" with my chosen instrument, drawn into the process as opposed to looking at a screen on the back of the camera. Framing inside the camera brings an intimacy and helps to look at the world in pieces. Viewfinders help develop a connection between user and instrument.

Amusingly, in 1980 I was re-entering photography after my only hiatus since I got serious in 1969. I was 25 at the time, quite close to the age for your hypothetical. (My M3 and Asahi Pentax Spotmatic had been stolen, and it took me a while to get around to spending the insurance money.)

What I bought was a Nikon FM, 35/2, and 105/2.5 lenses. (Plus the auto-winder; because I'm left-eyed, and the FM needed the wind lever sticking out to activate the meter if you didn't have the winder on it. I don't think the winder is something one generally needed.)

So apparently I pretty much agreed with you at the time!

I'm doubtful about Lightroom instead of Photoshop; but I may be misleading myself by equating Lightroom and Bibble Pro. Seems to me, though, that thinking much more about local adjustments (in darkroom terms, dodging and burning, and contrast masks) is important. And I have the impression Lightroom doesn't really encourage that (Bibble certainly can do that, it's just not a nice workflow; is Lightroom much better?).


How did you know so much for someone just starting out? :)

I thought you'd just use an iPhone and get all those cool photo apps. :))

A piece missing here, one important to me as I started out, is committing oneself to looking at, and studying, works of others, including paintings. I regularly bought inexpensive (then) books, visited museums and galleries, and educated myself on what made a great work of art.

The eye is the most important tool one has.

Sh*t Mike.

I'm living the dream.

Why not buy one body and just buy the other when the replacement of it comes out, with invariably better functionality and at a lower price?

I'm not Mike, but I'd like to give it a try: when you have two bodies different in functionality and/or quality, you will almost certainly go after the better one. You will use the other one only after the first one fails. With two identical bodies, it doesn't matter which one you pick and it will lessen the wear and tear on both.

Mike, in regard to the day job: I'd suggest at least trying to give photography an undivided shot. Yeah, I know, the surest way to kill a loving hobby is to turn it into a job. But still, you (any 'you' out there) might surprise yourself and achieve more than if you just drag the photography along. A job doesn't have to be 9 to 5 drudgery, either.

Why two bodies though? In case one fails? To learn with a consistent camera interface? To force you to stay with a particular model and not get too caught up in "gear"?

Mike does mention the value of having a second body so he can keep shooting if one fails. But a key part of his advice, not just in this post but over many, many posts, is the importance of mastery. That's why he wants a simple setup- one body type, two lenses, one program, one printer- because it means there are fewer things to master and you will have deep mastery of those few things. With a simple, unchanging setup, you'll know what your lens and camera can stop futzing around with gear and focus on picture taking.

If you have room for it, a 17" printer is generally more economical. Sure, the initial cost is more, but the amount of ink you get with it more than offsets it if you compare the per ml cost of the associated ink cartridges. The added bonus is that your per print cost will be substantially reduced over the long haul.

Why two identical bodies? I see the utility, of course, but I can't really remember a time when I wished I had a second body with me. If you're planning to cover events or sports, sure, tools of the trade, but a walk-arounder can make do nicely with one camera at a time. At least I always have.

Owning more than one camera? Sure. For years I was able to choose between a Nikon FM2, a Mamiya C23 and a Canonet. More interesting to me to spend that hard-earned (day job) money on something completely different for a second or third camera.

Probably missed your point somewhere, but I would always consider precious limited funds. An extra identical body seems an unnecessary luxury for a beginner. Otherwise, fine advice.

Thanks Mike! At (damn near) 40 I needed some clear instructions! :)

I agree, except that one of the cameras should absolutely be a M4/3!


We're talking about me here, and I'd definitely practice photography and not "digital imaging"—that is, I'd make pictures that respected the lens image, that were intended to be true to the world, to reality. Whatever Photoshop skills I learned would be in the service of that principle.

While I like the emphasis on photography, processing to be "true to the lens" would be what I would necessarily aim: I would want to be true to what I want to express.


"And what's the real work?"

Allen Ginsberg: "Well, while I’m here I’ll do the work — and what’s the work? To ease the pain of living. Everything else, drunken dumbshow.”

Sage advice, Mike. Inspiring. I will go photograph something today.

I'm 24, and faced a similar situation. Having tried out a few digital SLRs/equivalents (Olympus DSLRs and M4/3 cameras) I settled on a Leica. Last year I shot over 400 B&W rolls of film - film just works for me in ways that digital doesn't.

I hear you about printing, and I remember something purportedly said by Robert Frank, which was that one's pictures should live as prints. My next goal is to buy an enlarger and get started with a darkroom printing set up, but I don't know how the first thing about printing and am a little apprehensive. I'm starting school in the fall and don't know when I'll have time to set up, to put in the practice time necessary to get great prints.

Wish I had been born 20 years earlier...

@Pak-Ming Wan: for backup and also for those times when you wish you had the second camera mounted with your other lens and didn't have time to switch the lens out.

"Of course, there's no such thing as a 23-year-old with 31 years of experience. Too bad about that." -Mike

Not so sure about that, Mike. Maybe we'd be too disillusioned to try. Kind of in the same vein as the Bob Seeger line, "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."

Dear Pak,

"Why not buy one body and just buy the other when the replacement of it comes out, with invariably better functionality and at a lower price?"

I think that would violate what Mike said here,

"I'd only allow myself to shop for cameras once every five years."

He's trying, I think, to force the student into not thinking like a gearhead.

pax / Ctein

Fm3a, nikkor 20/3.5,28/2.8 ais, 50/1.8 AIS, 105/2.5 AIS and Ektar and TMax 400.

Or maybe M9 and 28, 35, 50 am 90 cron's.

Or d700 and 17-35 and 85 AF and 180/2.8

Or screw it and just my minolta tc-1.

....still undecided :-)


Your advice stands the test of time! I have far too much gear and I ask myself...why?

Why did I spend 20 years of moving from Pentax,Canon,Olympus,and Minolta to Nikon and Leica FF digital? Where did the money go? Where did it come from? How did my spouse put up with this bed-hopping between formats and brands? What makes a tool of the trade essential versus just plain lustful or client marketing cache?

My pair of M8.2 (sold to fund a M9) and the M9 seriously disappointed over my film experiences. This Leica let down caused some soul searching and reconsideration of my expectations of all the gear acquired over the years but more importantly my expectations of myself as a photographer. The Leica gear went fast on GetDPI and am now getting ready to part with my Nikon D3 and a trio of zoom lenses. Moving from both extremes to find a middle ground in 35mm* photography is I hope my path back to a beginner's mind.

So I am pairing down (literally) to two "near pro level" digital cameras (likely Nikon) with two manual focus Zeiss lenses, the 35mm 1.4 and the 85mm 1.5 for color work. But I am still keeping my trusty OM-1N and OM-2s and 35 and a 85 or 90 lens for "real" black and white.

Serious landscape and portrait work (that "pays")...well my Contax 645 system will stay with me for the time being.


Neely Fallon

*What do we talk about when we talk about 35mm in the digital age? FF photography? DX photography? m4/3rds? and on and on? Sigh. Probably does not matter as in 3 years the sensor is considered 'old' and you MUST obey and buy the next generation just to meet a paying clients expectations lest your competition out market you on gear alone. Well I say enough is enough.

I was glad to see you emphasized the need for photographers to make paper prints.

For me (admittedly an old fart in training), photographs aren’t finished until they are printed on paper and it seems that most of the kids I talk with about photography today seldom give any thought to making their images visible anywhere but on an LCD screen.

"I'd make pictures that respected the lens image, that were intended to be true to the world, to reality"

The whole essay is a sweet piece of writing! The above sentence really sums it up. I know exactly what you mean without getting all balled up in what is reality, what is proper photography, what, what, what.

I agree with the logic that you have to lock yourself into a basic set-up and commit to using it for a long while before you drop any more money.

I think the sequence of purchasing is important, too. I tend to believe you learn your software, monitor, and printer once you have a camera and photos to play with, and you need a camera that plays well with the resolution and color from your lenses. I think of it as "lenses first."

It takes a fair bit of printing with any pigment inkjet printer until you know what kind of resolution and color fidelity you can milk out of it, but there's no sense in getting something too expensive if you already settled for a camera incapable of giving you anything but noisy images, with blurry, vignetted corners because you settled for a slow, cheap zoom lens. At which point: a) you spend more time playing with gimmicky art filters than you do shooting, or b) you get caught into wanting new gear every year.

I think all things being tied to lenses in the end, I've always appreciated the maxim that you start with the 3 best fastest prime lenses you can afford for wide, normal, and telephoto, and then get the most affordable camera (or 2) that puts you in complete quick control of focus, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity without drilling through menus. Years later, you still have the lenses.

I'd define goals first. What do you want to do with a camera? Is this a hobby or a career attempt? Is the majority interest in displaying prints in analog form, or primarily digital?

After setting goals then choose where and how to invest time & $.

What's that saying? Youth is wasted on the young.

Allow me to present a quote, that I randomly encountered today:

Over the past 19 years I've rather obsessively investigated lenses within the range of focal lengths I use for my work, meaning 35mm to 90mm with a few outliers at 28mm and 100 or 105mm. I've tested literally dozens upon dozens of lenses from virtually every major maker (and a few very esoteric ones), and from every period of history from the 1950s (I've used every version of 50mm Summicron, for example).

Mike Johnston, September 5, 1999

Sorry, I could not help it :-)

"I'd do my level best to be true to myself. I'd take myself seriously. I don't mean in the sense of being humorless or self-important; I mean I'd believe in myself."

As a 27 year old still in the beginning stages of life, this was helpful for me, and are all sorts of things I have been taking into consideration, and 'yo-yoing' about as I figure out who the heck I really am, and shoulder-push my way into the world of success.

Thanks for the wise insight! I have my beloved, trusty Canon 40D I bought used 2 years ago, and a used 10D I got used 4 years ago that soon needs to retire. I have some trusty old lenses, and a lot of energy, and passion for what I do, and all the other things that I do. Lets hope I can get it all figured, and sorted out for myself, before I'm too tired to 'do it all'!

Exactly so. And looking back, I think that's one of the reasons I'm not known now as a photographer.


Great post.

Long time ago I read something Don McCullin wrote: "If you can't get the shot with a 35mm and a 135mm, you can't get it at all" - or words to that effect.

5D or 5D2 (for the big clear viewfinder), 35mm lens, and 135mm lens. Pretty much my standard kit for years, and the same lenses with film for most of the previous 25 years.

First time I looked through a 35mm lens (35 years ago) I was hooked - 28mm lenses or 40mm lenses just didn't work for me - must match
my natural view or something.

One of the best things I've ever bought for photography was my Epson 4800 printer - fill it with cheapish Epson Matte paper, and it just works and works - no problem to print 50 different prints in an evening.

I'll bet when you were 23 you thought you had 31 years of experience though - as I did :-)

Excellent and thought provoking post again.
The comments add some nice advice as well; always have a camera with you, buy quality, good back-up schedule.
I like how the advice is pitched as hobby but with a very professional focus. My job has nothing to do with my hobbies so they are always hobbies, never a chore, so would your "proper" job just be for pin money while you use photography to make up the difference?
As @Pak asks; goals are interesting: are the prints solely to please you, or others as well? to hang and sell in an art gallery or to put in your personal album? to make extra money? I suppose you could say that once you've become a master photographer/printer you can take it where you like, so goals can be whatever the person wants, - once you have the core skills anything else can follow.
The problem with life is that living it gets in the way of what you want to do with it - especially when you're 23.

cheers phil

"two identical, common, and not-too-precious camera bodies—either entry-level or mid-level ... two lenses, a moderate wide and a moderate telephoto"

That seems like 1970s - 1980s think to me. Buy two or three lenses you really like and a pair of the cheapest compatible bodies, both for redundancy and so that you can keep two kinds of film loaded, plus a Yashicamat for daylight fill flash portraits or anything where the client is paying for quality but not enough for equipment rental. And a Vivitar 283 with a Paramount synch cord.

If I were 23 and just starting out now ... I think I'd either go with the rich wife option, or pick a specialty and or end product , then get whatever it takes to do that one thing well.

If you really want to be a generalist freelance photographer get whatever impresses your clients, an old Canon 1Ds will do do nicely especially if you can get them to see how the thing weighs about as much as a baby (with lens).

Oh and stay the hell out of New York until you have figured out your shtick or your rich wife gets a job at Conde Nast*. It's a nice town to be a successful photographer in, but the supply of 23 year old photographers with just enough money to work for free for a year until they get established would fill an IKEA or all the Starbucks in Manhattan http://youtu.be/CwYxuV2dVzw

*It's a Joke. I am told that a spouse at Conde Nast will not help at all.

(To all those who replied) Yeah, I figured that was the intent -- to stay away from gear. The only problem being I remember having distinctly less money in my early 20s... So buying two bodies at the same time as a printer and lenses, would have been borderline infeasible. I suppose it could have always been done incrementally...


I got my first DSLR (a humble Canon 450D) when I was 22. At 23 I had a normal/wide 28/1.8 and a short telephoto 85/1.8 as my two "real" lenses. At 24 I added an M6 and a VC 35/1.4 (after much re-reading of the "Leica Year" post). I'm 25 now and primarily use the M6 when I'm not busy with work. The only reasonable gear additions I intend to make some time in the next few years are a 6x6 MF camera with an 80mm lens (probably a 500-series Hassselblad), and a FF DSLR (probably a second-hand 5D2 when the 5D3 is released, and replace the 28mm with a 35mm lens).

I dont know how I'll feel in another 25 years, but I guess I'm doing pretty well by your thinking on the subject. Although, I have essentially no experience with priting, inkjet or otherwise. I'd like to get an enlarger and start doing so at home, but there is no suitable place for one where I live, and it's already tricky to develop B&W film at home for scanning.

The other really useful tool is a pen and a piece of paper.
What you do is gather up all the gear you have (and you WILL have heaps, because you decided earlier on that you needed to be able to handle any eventuality), take it all on a nice long trip, then come home and go through your photos.
You pick out the good ones, and even some almost-there shots, and then write down what equipment you used for them, and for zoom lenses what focal length they were set at.
Inevitably, you will find that the shots you like were almost all taken with one camera, one or two focal lengths, and maybe one or two bits of additional gear (filters, etc).
Now, you've just proved you don't need all the other stuff, so get rid of it all and go take photos!

"There is no advantage my Nikon D3100 (currently the hottest APS-C DSLR) has over, lets say, the new E-P3 model introduced today (save ISO 3200+ shooting). Touch screen focus on an OLED is the wave of the future. I can say with some degree of certainty that using a DSLR is an order of magnitude slower than using the new generation touch screen models for m43. This is based on my use of a GH2 and D3100 side by side. The D3100 feels like a dog, and is far less fun, imho. Before you say, 'he isn't doing it right', I have been using Nikon DSLR's for almost 10 years, as both a professional and for fun."
As a guy that takes most of his photographs underwater I can't figure out this piece. I agree with Mike and also with the concept of not being a professional since I think there are probably less than 20 underwater guys making most of their living being an UW photographer. In any case, I haven't yet found despite looking hard any micro 4/3 system that is anywhere near responsive (in terms of shutter lag and focus time) as a 7D/D7000. Otherwise, I think the advice to young folks about going out and wearing out your camera is a great idea. As for shopping underwater guys have you all beat and none of us can ever stop shopping


Great advice for a starting photographer. Quoting that other internet photography guru in my life, David Hobby, "...remembering that light gives you far more bang-for-the-buck than does fast glass or the latest digital camera or 300/2.8...", I would add a simple off camera light kit to that 23 year old's basic equipment list.

I don't think you are practicing photography this way either, you'll be mostly practicing post processing and printing. I think it makes more sense if you want to learn photography, is to try to use JPEG as much as possible, with as large as sensor as possible, with as many megapixels as possible and let someone else handle the printing, which is what your Leica for a year thing was about.

Using a low end camera will make you develop bad habits which are harder to break later as you upgrade.

If your end goal is to drive tractor trailers then driving a automatic Toyota Prius isn't going to get any closer to your goal than if you just started with learning how to drive a tractor trailer in the first place.

Hi Mike.

Good suggestions. But I'm curious - why do you suggest buying a good printer? I assume it is because of the convenience of printing at any time, control over the process and greater ability to experiment (especially with different papers)? But do you think there are any quality gains? Do pigment based printers equal or exceed online commercial photo printing options? I'm not a pro and am not concerned with turnaround times or deadlines. And, I've had some average experiences with inkjets in the past (admittedly, long time ago and cheaper models). Has the quality improved so much that you would thoroughly recommend them? Have read several glowing reviews in recent months, but none that really compares the end result with commercial printers - they only compare with other desktop models.


Dear Paul and other folks discussing printers,

Read this, plus the associated comments:

"Why I Love My Epson 3880"


pax / Ctein

The only thing I'd add on to your recommendations for a 23 year old self is:

Don't let your gear limit your vision, because one of them has got to give.

I would only change one thing in your advice. I would advise newcomers to the photography profession to invest in Full Frame instead of APS-C size. Why? They would familiarize themselves from the very beginning to lens formats and Points of View of classic lenses. They could then "follow in the footsteps" of the great photographers of recent history who also used this format. This would come in handy if they ever decided to work with film-making and give them the possibility of working with much better quality lenses. When one is young, one can lug around the heavier full frame bodies without complaint. When they get older (and tired) they can then happily switch to lighter systems. It's interesting to note that, in my opinion, when one becomes accustomed to a certain type of camera when one is young, one tends to "see" better with that type of camera and photography becomes more natural. I started out with a SLR and believe that I will always work better with that format. Cartier-Bresson always used a rangefinder and I'm sure he felt that it was "natural". I guess I'm more of a Doisneau type so prefer DSRL over rangefinders. Best Regards, Alex P.

does printing really matter in the age of internet?

Any 23 year olds reading this are probably thinking: "Gee, seems like a roundabout alternative to using my iPhone and my Tumblr account..."

Mike, having read reply to yunfat, I think you should definitely let yourself off the hook. You are an excellent writer and a really patient man. Some of the responders should reread the article, then think about it and then respond on their own blog!

The first article by you that I read was "Great Photographers on the Internet" (?) wherein you spoofed typical internet forum reviews of some photographs including the 3million dollar Steichen, an HCB and some other classics. I was totally hooked. Thank you!

All this talk and no mention of flash or lighting equipment. I suppose it would not be "pure" enough. Different strokes for different folks.

I'm new to your website (and photography, really!) and this was such a great post to read for me, personally. I'm approaching my 20s and have been grappling with finding appropriate advice for someone just starting out. Glad to see I may be doing a few things right. Thank you!

Glad to hear it, and welcome to TOP. I'll be interested to know if you stick around or not. Sometimes we get a little like the two guys in the box in the XRCD cartoon...guilty here on that count.


I'm definitely, definitively an available-light photographer. To me, half the fun of photography is "found light." I certainly am aware that there are people who make controlled lighting a major part of their hobby or their professional expertise, and I've used studio lighting for commercial work (and product shots even on TOP, for instance in this post) extensively, but you won't find me writing about anything close to on-camera flash. Fortunately, David Hobby relieves me of the responsibility of covering that here, even vestigially, since he does such a great job of it on Strobist.blogspot.com, which I often recommend to people.


BTW, old CRTs can often be had for a song and work very well. If you're on a tight budget, this is a way to go.

& don't go into debt. In a deflationary economy, personal debt is Bad.

I'd definitely, absolutely, unquestionably get a printer—any 13" pigment-ink model. I'd start printing from day one. I'd spend all my money on ink and paper. What else do you need?

Mike, that last suggestion seems a little "old-fashioned" if you ask me. I'm kind of surprised that you didn't suggest starting a blog---or some other online means to share the photos with the largest possible number of people...

Dear Mike
I am very sorry, but your excellent article awakens an old shopping-related question: What are the 35mm-e options available and - especially - what do you think of them? Given your lens expertise and interest in that particular focal length a future article about this would be very interesting.

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