Eric Kim: What to consider when buying a new camera for street photography
[all photos: Eric Kim]
On my flight from Dubai back to the states I just finished an excellent book by psychologist Barry Schwartz titled: 'The Paradox of Choice.' In the book, Schwartz addresses the following question in Western society: Why is it that people are getting more miserable when the amount of choices we are given goes up?
I am sure we have all experienced this problem. Whenever we go to the grocery store and want to pick up a box of cereal, we are given hundreds of options. Whenever we go to buy a new car, there are so many different companies, models, and options to choose from. Not only that, but when it comes to buying cameras we are given so many choices in terms of what type of camera/sensor (Full-frame DSLR, ASPC-sensor, Micro 4/3rds, Compact, etc) as well as a choice of lenses.
Schwartz gives solutions in the book in terms of how to deal with the overabundance of choice and stress that it comes with. I have found this advice to be invaluable both in terms of my everyday life and when it comes to photography/buying equipment. I hope these tips help you, as they have very much helped me.
For this post, I have also included some new photos from Istanbul that I shot last year.
1. Be a 'satisficer', not a 'maximizer'
In the book Schwartz categorizes the two main types of people there are when it comes to making decisions. The first type of person he describes is the "satisficer" someone who makes decisions that are "good enough" that satisfies them. The second type of person is the "maximizer" someone who tries to make the "best" decisions given a certain situation and strives for perfection.
For example, a satisficer might go to a store looking for a camera that suits his or her needs - and once he/she finds the camera that they find to be reasonably good, they will buy it.
The maximizer is the type of person that is looking for the "perfect camera" and spends hours agonizing over reviews, sharpness tests, and specification tables.
Guess who tends to be more regretful/miserable when it comes to making decisions? You guessed it - the maximizer.
The fist concept of "satisficing" came around in the 1950's from Nobel Prize-winning economist and psychologist Herbert Simon. This is how Schwartz describes Simon's position in the book:
"Simon suggested that when all the costs (in time, money, and anguish) involved in getting information about all the options are factored in, satisfying is, in fact, the maximizing strategy."
So how do you know if you are a satisficer or a maximizer? Well take this survey below. Write a number from 1-7 (completely agree to completely disagree) and add up the numbers. If your score is 40 or lower, you are a satisficer. If your score is 65 or higher, you are a maximizer.
- Whenever I'm faced with a choice, I try to imagine what all the other possibilities are, even ones that aren't present at the moment.
- No matter how satisfied I am with my job, it's only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities.
- When I am in the car listening to the radio, I often check other stations to see if something better is playing, even if I am relatively satisfied with what I'm listening to.
- When I watch TV, I channel surf, often scanning through the available options even while attempting to watch one program.
- I treat relationships like clothing: I expect to try a lot on before finding the perfect fit.
- I often find it is difficult to shop for a gift for a friend.
- Renting videos is really difficult. I'm alway struggling to pick up the best one.
- When shopping, I have a hard time finding clothing that I really love.
- I'm a big fan of lists that attempt to rank things (the best movies, the best singers, the best athletes, the best novels etc).
- I find that writing is very difficult, even if it's just writing a letter to a friend, because it’s so hard to word things just right. I often do several drafts of even simple things.
- No matter what I do, I have the highest standards for myself.
- I never settle for second best.
- I often fantasize about living in ways that are quite different from my actual life.
(From the American Psychological Association)
When Schwartz studied the differences between satisficers and maximizers, he found the following tendencies:
- Maximizers engage in more product comparisons than satisficers, both before and after they make purchasing decisions.
- Maximizers take longer than satisficers to decide on a purchase.
- Maximizers spend more time than satisficers comparing their purchasing decisions to the decisions of others.
- Maximizers are more likely to experience regret after a purchase.
- Maximizers are more likely to spend time thinking about hypothetical alternatives to the purchases they've made.
- Maximizers generally feel less positive about their purchasing decisions.
Not only that, but there was more negative attributes that Schwartz discovered about maximizers:
- Maximizers savor positive events less than satisficers and do not cope as well (by their own admission) with negative events.
- After something bad happens to them, maximizers' sense of well-being takes longer to recover.
- Maximizers tend to brood or ruminate more than satisficers.
When it comes to buying cameras for street photography, I think it is far better to be a "satisficer" than a "maximizer."
There is no such thing as the perfect camera for street photography. Every camera has its pros and its cons. Therefore the search for the "perfect camera" is a fruitless one that will lead to dissatisfaction.
One rule-of-thumb I mentioned in my previous post is the idea of getting a camera that works 80% well for you. Getting a camera that is "good enough" for your needs in the streets is ideal. This will allow you to focus more on the photographing and less worrying about if the gear you have is perfect.
So I recommend not spending so much time on gear review sites and forums which focus on every little difference between all the cameras out there. What I recommend instead is going to a camera store, perhaps borrowing it for a day or two and trying it out on the streets.
Things that people talk about on the internet (ergonomics, feel, handling) is something you have to try out for yourself. Your hands may be too big/too small for a camera, and the weight and balance of a camera is also an important consideration (you cannot get online).
2. Make your purchases non-reversible
In today's consumer world, we love refunds and 100% money-back guarantees. It gives us the feeling of security – that if we don't wholly love our purchase we can just return it.
However the reality is that if a purchase we make is refundable, it actually makes us less satisfied.
For example, there was a study in which participants chose one photograph from a set of 8 x 10, black and white prints they made in a photography class. In another case, they chose one small poster from a set of fine art print reproductions. The interesting finding was that although the participants valued being able to reverse their choices, almost nobody actually decided to do so. The participants who had the option to change their minds were less satisfied with their choices than the participants who weren't able to change their choices.
This has to do a lot with the "endowment effect" in which people don't like to part with something once they obtain it. This also happened in another study in which participants were given a coffee mug or a nice pen for participating. The gifts were worth roughly the same value. The participants were then given the opportunity to trade. What also ended up happening was very few trades happened. Once you own something, it feels like it's yours. And to give it away would entail a loss. Because losses feel more painful than gains, to give it away is more painful.
And even more interestingly in another study, participants were given a mug to examine and asked the price they would demand to sell it (if they owned it). A few minutes later, they were actually given the mug, and the opportunity to sell it. Once they owned the mug, they demanded 30% more to sell it than what they said a few minutes earlier. Once again, once you feel that you own something, to part with it is quite painful.
Another theory why non-reversible decisions are better than reversible decisions is that once we make a non-reversible decision, we don't think about "what ifs" and rather focus on psychological coping mechanisms. For example, we will spend more time justifying why we purchased something and seeing the good aspects of it (rather than the negatives).
We can also use the analogy of marriage. Once you choose a life partner, (hopefully) that partner will be with you for life. Of course the "grass is always greener on the other side." There will always be others who will be younger, more attractive, funnier, smarter, understanding, or intelligent than your partner. But once you make that life-long commitment, you learn to see past your partner's flaws, and see their strengths. Knowing that you made a choice in marriage that is non-reversible will allow you to focus your energy on improving the relationship instead of always second-guessing it.
When it comes to purchasing your cameras, it may seem counter-intuitive, but purchase it where they don't offer a money-back guarantee.
In my personal experiences, I have bought many cameras and lenses over the years. I started with a point-and-shoot, upgraded to a Canon 350D, got a bunch of prime and zoom lenses, got a full-frame Canon 5D, upgraded to a Leica M9, messed around with a 21mm and a 35mm, then sold it off and got a film Leica MP.
For the lenses that I purchased online which were refundable, I would always think in the back of my head: "what if another lens was better than this?" Then after testing out the lens for a bit, I would be tempted to return it and try out another lens. Whereas when I have bought lenses from people (in person) which were non-refundable, I worried less about the "what ifs" and focused on rather using my lens and getting more comfortable with it (and seeing past its flaws).
Nowadays most online merchants offer returns or money-back guarantees. So perhaps purchase from online retailers which don't offer returns or money-back guarantees, and either buy your cameras or lenses in-person.