Want – Need – Afford
Pick Any Two
Panasonic GH1 with 14-140mm, @ ISO 100
Photographic equipment, for reasons which will be explored in a moment, is in somewhat of a different category than most other purchases. For this reason both the price and value of things find themselves subject to a great deal of discussion in online forums.
The reason why camera gear is different than say, cars, boats, homes, watches, or golf clubs, is because while these and similar items are both practical as well as lifestyle purchases, photo equipment can also be associated with a person's profession, avocation, hobby, or art. As such it isn't simply a matter of being able to afford a high-end item, and therefore buying it, as with an S Class Mercedes, or a Jaeger Le Cultre watch. The rich can, if they wish. The less rich can't. It's as simple as that.
But a Leica S2 or a Nikon D3x isn't just an expensive consumer item. It can be the means by which some people earn their livelihood, a tool for creating their art, or simply their desired means for self-expression.
As a consequence it is subject to more than just ones ability to pay for it. Want and Need are major factors to be considered, as well of course as ones ability to Afford to make the purchase.
Wanting is a very human desire. We all want many things – health, happiness, success, and naturally enough – things. I want to go into space aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, as a number of civilians already have. But, much as I might want to do this, I simply can't afford it. I really, really want to do it. I really, really can't afford it. Too bad. It just ain't gunna happen.
I want to go to New Zealand to do photography. I can afford it, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Will I do it? Maybe next year.
Just wanting something and being able to afford it doesn't mean that it's necessarily going to happen. There are a great many places I'd love to visit and things I'd like to own or do, but the realities of my life, such as other commitments, finances, and time availability, all trump wanting.
Wanting is thus a necessary impulse when it comes to making an acquisition. Sort of. Sometimes one really doesn't want a particular item, but maybe it's all that's available. Maybe it's all one can afford. Or, maybe it's all that one needs.
If one doesn't need something one is unlikely to search it out. Or, maybe not.
Many photographers buy cameras and lenses that they want, but don't really need, don't they? Obviously wanting and needing are quite different things, and both can be children of that all-too-human impulse, rationalization.
Assuming that a felt need is indeed that, and not just a mistaken want or rationalization, then usually the only limitation is the depth of ones wallet. Of course this is the tricky part – differentiating between need and want.
Do you really need that Hasselblad, or 1Ds MKIII? Will 39 Megapixels or 8 FPS mean that you can take images that are superior to what you might have gotten with something a bit less stratospheric in price?
Notice that in the previous paragraph I've underlined the word "you". I'm not asking if "one" can take better photographs with one of these high-end and expensive tools, but rather whether "you" can.
Of course only you can answer this. Not some pundit, or some sniper on a web site, but you – when face to face with your conscience and your pocket book.
Panasonic GH1 with 14-140mm @ ISO 320
Which of course brings us to the question of whether or not one can afford a particular purchase. If you're a retired dot com millionaire, or someone with a platinum Amex card – great. Go for it. If $5,000 or even $50,000 is a discretionary purchase for you, the way that $50 (or even $500) is to some, then who's to gainsay that decision?
What seems an extravagant purchase to one person is simply filling a "want" for others. Similarly, if one "needs" a particular tool to do one's work, then even if the price is a stretch the ability to get the shot or to win the assignment makes it worthwhile.
In other words, the question of "value" is subjective. It depends on a particular person's wants, needs and ability to afford. That new Leica S2, for example, may seem like an indulgence to one person, but be a satisfying and affordable purchase to another, and a necessary tool to someone else.
There's nothing profound to any of this. It's simply an attempt to shed some light on a sometimes contentious topic that is rarely brought out in face-to-face conversation. In person we're usually all too polite to be openly critical of other people's spending habits. But, because of the anonymity of the web this too often becomes the source of contention when exotic gear is discussed online. It really shouldn't be.