Photo Trip: How to Chose the Right Gear by Jake Horn

If you’re like most photographers, the chances are good that you have more than one camera in your arsenal. In my case, the different cameras I use are due to a dramatic difference in abilities (i.e. large format, medium formats, and 35mm). While having options is great, there’s the unfortunate downside to having options. There’s a phenomenon known as the “Paradox of Choice”. There has been much study and debate done on this paradox, but what I have taken from it is that more options drives more confusion into our decisions. I take this concept and relate it to my photography. Too often on a trip, I’ve been left with thoughts of regret about bringing the wrong gear.

Take for example, you decide to bring a 4x5 camera out west to capture the grandeur of the mountains. But then you wonder while packing, what if you see a big horn sheep? That hypothetical situation causes worry that an opportunity may be missed if you don’t bring a long telephoto lens. This thought progression alters how we feel about the initial choice. All this extra consideration about something as trivial as gear is wasteful. In reality, we’ll make great photos regardless of what gear we bring. So how do we overcome this paradox and remove this toxic emotion from our joy of photography?

For my upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon, I’ve gone through this camera choice dilemma. There are some powerful tools that I’ve been exposed to in the engineering world that might be able to help out. While tabulating differences in features helps, I’ve found the Pugh Method extremely useful in highlighting the optimal gear selection. With Pugh, you take one option (called the datum) and compare it to each of your other cameras in features and performance.

To tackle this situation, I researched the park and planned what type of shots I wish to take (it is important to also consider how the images will be used). Much of this is guesswork to a certain degree because you never truly know how you’ll connect with a place until you’re there. But with a good plan to move forward, I used the Pugh method to help me decide what my primary rig will be.

THE CAMERAS (links to my reviews embedded)

Without going down a deep rabbit hole, you simply develop some key criteria to compare the cameras in. For backpacking, I am very concerned with weight, space, and flexibility. While image size is important, I knew going in that I didn't plan on hiking a large format camera out of the canyon. I then compared the cameras by noting whether the camera performs better (+), worse (-), or the same in a given categorize. It helps a lot to start at one criteria row and work your way to the right. This keeps you focused on what the criteria means to you. For example, I have 'wide angle' listed in features. This relates back to my current selection of lenses and if I have the right type of lens for the photography I wish to do.

In this example, I chose the Fotoman 69 as the datum

In this example, I chose the Fotoman 69 as the datum

I would not go by the summary at the bottom exclusively. You really need to review each answer and decide how that feature is weighted versus the others. You may be shooting travel shots to post on Instagram and resolution may not be that big of a concern for that trip. But for landscape photography, resolution may be king. In this case, I chose the Pentax 645Nii. I found that the space and system weight advantages over the Fotoman outweighed the image size difference. 

I realize that the best long term solution for tackling the Paradox of Choice is to reduce the total number of choices. This minimalist philosophy is a great goal to work towards. But this will not happen overnight, so I recommend getting scientific about your decision and take the emotion out of your gear selections. This exercise can also be used for purchasing new gear.

The Most Important Thing...Get Out There and Make Images

The Most Important Thing...Get Out There and Make Images