It’s Okay to Like Cameras More Than You Like Photography

It’s Okay to Like Cameras More Than You Like Photography

2400 1350 James Tocchio

People sometimes ask me what I do for work. Good question. What is my job at Casual Photophile. Author, editor, founder, photographer; these apply, sure. But let’s be honest. It’s more accurate when I attach my name to the job title that I invented when I started this site. If I’m anything at all, I’m a Professional Camera Liker.

But now and then I get the impression that, for some people, this isn’t enough. You see it in the comments here on occasion. But the tension between “craft” and “collecting” is most apparent in the wider online world, on places like Instagram and YouTube, where it’s easy to stumble into arguments between those who identify as photo-centric and those who identify as camera-centric within the hobby/profession of photography.

The whole conflict is kind of pointless, but it’s also prevalent enough that, here I am, writing an article about it.

To start, let me state my position: I like cameras more than I like photos. I can hear the collective gasp!

But I’m not alone. Plenty of my readers simply love playing with cameras. We love the feel of them, the noises they make, the history of the machines and the people who made them. We stare into the crystal depths of the 55mm F/1.2 Nikkor, lost in the dusky innards of the optical assembly which we know, because we care about things like that, is a double Gauss design comprised of seven elements in five groups.

We also know, incidentally, that ninety-nine out of a hundred photos we take with the thing will be shot with a wide open aperture and that all but three of them will be, inevitably, out of focus.

But we don’t care. We simply don’t. Because we have the camera, we have the lens. The “excellent photo” is one that we enjoy as a bonus. We take those with the others, the perfect three out of a technically terrible hundred. And that’s enough.

That’s not to say that we don’t love the act of photography. We love shooting the camera. We carry it and use it to make a lifetime of family photos. We revel in the haptics of it, at the mechanics and electronics and ithe object’s ability to make a photograph. But in the end, it’s the camera that matters, an obvious truth when you realize that we’re always ready and willing to chat the ear off of any poor passerby who happens to innocently remark, “I like your camera.”

“Oh, you like it? Did you know that the guy who designed it studied automotive engineering at Waseda University in Japan, and that at age twenty, before even graduating, he’d already designed his first camera? And did you know that it was originally called the M1, but then they had to change the name? Do you know why they had to change the name? Do you? Of course you do, we all do. **knowing eye-roll** Leica.”

Yeah, for many of us (though we don’t all admit it) the thing itself is the most important thing. The photo is secondary.

But for other (very vocal) people, this perspective is bonkers. It’s anathema to the whole damn thing. For these types, the photo is paramount. It is, in fact, the only thing that matters. And they seem to take it personal when others don’t agree. Other people putting the camera first betrays the hobby and the art and the science of photography, with a capital P, to which they’ve pledged their lives.

Don’t ask these people what camera or lens they used to take a given photo. They don’t like that. You’ll find yourself a ghost, floating above your corpse, looking down from heaven as they hold your detached head aloft and scream to the sky, “Would you dare ask DaVinci which brush he used?!”

I’ve not encountered anyone who recognizes this phenomenon (and shines a light on it) so well as my friend, Matt Wright. Matt runs a site called Leica Lenses For Normal People, and his articles often touch on the push and pull between photography and camera-liking. He calls cameras “Legos” and calls collecting them “playing at cameras.”

His lens reviews are (extremely) pragmatic. They scythe mercilessly at the marketing buzzwords and lay bare the reality, the pulpy root that bokeh is over-rated and that sharpness is a moot point if the photo is a good one. His opinions are the opposite of those of the tone bros and influencers of the film and digital photography blogs and YouTube channels. While reading his work I can almost see his wry smirk. He really gets it. That it’s fine to love photography, and it’s fine to love cameras, and everyone should know who they are, accept who they are while understanding that it’s okay to think the other way, and that all of us should just get along.

I can’t recommend his writing enough. Read his site for a month. You may never stress about chromatic aberration again, and it may change your idea of what it means to engage with the hobby photography.

To be perfectly fair, I don’t exactly know the purpose of this article that I’ve written and that you’ve now read. I was simply holding my beloved Nikon SP mere moments ago and noticed that my brain went, “I haven’t taken a picture with this in about three months.”

I felt a sudden rush of something like anxiety – Why do I have this camera if I’m not taking pictures with it? Have I ever taken a good picture with this four-thousand-dollar camera? Have I ever taken a good picture, period? (Or I guess, question mark).

And then I thought, “Wait, do I give a damn?”

Well, I don’t. And just because other people might, that doesn’t change the number, nor the intensity, of the damns I give. It’s still zero.

Thus, this article has landed. And if this article is anything at all, it’s perhaps nothing more than a knowing nod, a hand rested lightly on the shoulder (or raised exubirantly in high five) to you, a fellow camera liker. 

If you’ve ever felt like a fraud, that your pictures aren’t good enough to justify the time, energy, and expense of this hobby, don’t worry about it. You’re not alone. Enjoy yourself and enjoy your cameras. Read about them here and on the other great websites which share your perspective. Ignore the faux-high-minded criticisms of others.

Buy some cameras and lenses. And in the meantime, use the ones you’ve got. Shoot some shots. Enjoy the rare good ones. As the expression goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.

And if you’re of the type who values the photo over the camera, and can’t understand those of us who simply love cameras, just relax. Enjoy your hobby and I’ll enjoy mine.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Thank you. Just thank you.

  • Amen. And I am convinced that the same is true of 100% of film camera buyers and *all* dealers in them, but they’ll never cop to it. As though the sheer tactile pleasure of handling and operating a sweet geared bit of fine industrial design was a perversion of the ranker sort. And when the lighning strikes, and a nice little photograph is made with it, O! Ma’Donn’ !

  • I don’t know, James. I believe there’s a thin line between loving cameras and loving owning cameras. if I like looking at a camera, holding it, its design, its sounds isn’t it like owning a toy? But a camera is not a toy, in my opinion. Too many people collect cameras, causing prices to rise and making photography less accessible for new film shooters.
    Someone said that a man (or a woman) should not own more than his (her) heart can love, and I believe it’s a beautiful and powerful principle to (try to) live by.
    In a recent article you wrote about the pleasure of taking pictures of your family, of how that was important to you. I completely agreed with that. I myself rarely manage to take great pictures, but I love taking pictures of people I care about and of places I go with them. I love photography, and I believe you do too!

    Just my two cents, of course

    • Oh, you just had to bring my kids into it! Now I’ll have to write the “I like photography more than I like cameras” article… All joking aside, you make great points, and I can’t argue with any of it.

      • If someone likes photography more than they like cameras, then they should probably be taking photos with their phone. Or at the very least, using a digital camera in full auto program mode. Isn’t that what Program Mode is for? These folks don’t need to shoot film at all.

    • Is it expensive to own a Leica M or the gorgeous anniversary rangefinder James shows us in the article? Sure. But getting into film photography isn’t honestly that expensive. You can get a seriously solid and well-performing Canon FTb, Canon EF, Nikon FE or FA, a range of great Pentax bodies, etc. and a few solid lenses for a fraction of what even a decent digital camera would cost you. I don’t think hoarding massive numbers of cameras is anywhere near the primary cause of insane prices of collector cameras, and, anyway, the cost of the models I listed as examples above are fairly stable because they’re ubiquitous and easy to find. Honestly, I think many of us simply want to own and shoot the Ferrari 911s of photography when those amazing machines don’t improve one’s skill (and can even limit it); the less sexy SLRs are probably the fastest and most economical way to taking good photographs for the hobbyist photographer, and they’re relatively affordable.

  • People like trucks and they don’t do any hauling! LOL Nothing wrong with collecting, liking, and just enjoying cameras.

  • Thank You. Just thank you.

  • I must confess that while this subject has crossed my mind upon occasion, I have never really read a lot about it. I am so glad you wrote this as it causes me to re-examine my own motivations. I may alter my opinion later, but at the moment I find I have a foot in both camps. I want to say I get it from both sides. Not sure what the count is right now, but not too long ago had under my care a dozen digital cameras and almost 3 dozen film cameras. No way to regularly shoot all of those so I started a “thinning of the heard”. This due in part to an upcoming household move, so ugly reality rears its head. Truth be told I only have 2 medium format folding cameras that I have yet to put film through (Isolette III and Moscova V), but I have a project in mind to correct that. Good read.

  • Like tech.

  • Jerome (EarthSunFilm) October 11, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    Hi James, your essay brings to mind a recent purchase. I bought a Konica Pearl II folder in pristine condition from a seller who bought it new in 1960. He said he only took it out to test it periodically but had never shot a roll of film. He bought it because of engineering and aesthetics.  

    Part of me wondered why someone would buy a camera and never use it. However, the other part was very grateful to get such a beautiful machine in perfect condition. It takes all kinds to make a world interesting—some use cameras, and others preserve them. It all works out in the end.  

    After thinking about using cameras versus preserving them (and prompted by your essay), I wrote this post on the types of photographers I’ve met.

    I am grateful to be a part of such a diverse and vibrant community. Live and let live!

  • I think I’m about 50:50. I love my cameras (but not to the point of obsessing about which lens formula I have) and I love the photos I take of the people I care about (but not to the point of being obsessed with particular film and developer combinations). I enjoy cameras and photography equally.

  • This absolutely describes me. I love cameras, the way they look, the way they feel, the way they sound, etc. I also enjoy using them and the photos they make, but for me, the cameras are the thing I like the most. This is why out of a 5000+ word review on my site, maybe 10% of that is spent discussing the images they make, the rest the camera itself.

  • Such a joy to find your website again 😉
    Miss it so much.

  • The day I visited with Youxin Ye and he completely disassembled my Leica M6 before my eyes while his wife was on the other side of the kitchen table working on a vintage Leica lens, and we talked about his visits to the Leica facility, and he described to me why Leica glass is so superior and his living room was full of unopened boxes with cameras and lenses awaiting repair and he bought me lunch and I paid him a lot of money was a day I will always remember. Another time I visited with David Odess and we talked about his career with Hasselblad in New Jersey, and he showed me his tools to calibrate a Hasselblad lens. Yeah, they were both hired to fix my broken old stuff but I got to experience their craftsmanship and see first hand how precise film cameras were made and how complex they are. Why did I pay to revive these old warhorses? Because I love everything about them. The sound, the feel, the weight, the history and the slow process and when I get it right (rarely) the quality of the images. I could go on for days on this one….Louis.

  • Case in point, as I’m halfway through the article I happen upon the cover photo of the Nikon rangefinder and stop reading for a sec to think to myself “Oh, what an attractive rangefinder! I wonder if it’s expensive to get one. Probably expensive… but I’ll just trot over to eBay for a sec to find out.”

  • I have a film camera “collection” but I would not call myself a “collector”. I consider it more like a toolbox than some static display. The way I look at it, my cameras are secondary to the lenses I use with them. I have many more lenses, in a variety of mounts, than I do camera bodies. In fact, as my analog toolbox expanded, I would usually acquire a new lens before I had a camera to mount it on. I’m not all about getting the best lens or the best camera. I’m looking to get good value for money, finding those items that punch above their price point, or tend to be overlooked, and that can provide me with a variety of different shooting experiences that I can tailor to the type of photography I’m planning. I do use all my equipment and I try to cycle through it regularly so that nothing is left sitting for too long, but it’s hard not to have favorites.

    I get satisfaction out of having a varied collection of cameras and lenses with which to shoot film, and make images I’m happy with. I get satisfaction from knowing that my collection is largely based on maximizing value and I like knowing that I can make good photos using cheap cameras and lenses. I don’t look at my collection as anything other than an investment in my current and future enjoyment. For everyone else, you should buy what makes you happy. Nobody absolutely “needs” any of this film photography gear anymore, so these purchases are more of a “want”. I may not always agree with what someone buys, why someone buys it, or how much they spend, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to do it.

  • I know some collector, … whaouuu this is impressive, several hundreds cameras, some very rare …
    In fact, If I have many, this is only to answer to my feeling at the moment, and to answer to one way to take pictures. If you ask me which one is the best to take the best pictures, I will tell you, everyone included the cameras I have not. I have seen pictures made with a 10 dollars cameras, fantastic pictures, and some from a 50.000 camera which were … …
    I like all my cameras, I have them because everyone has something I like I give you two examples. I like the viewfinder of the M3 and the precision of the camera, and I like also my Canon Cannot QL 17, we cannot really compare this cameras, but on the field both do the job. Sometimes I prefer the lighter Cannot than the heavier M3, … pfffff
    What I like the most it is the have them because all of them are a part of great industrial and engineering work, a Cannonet ql 17 and a Contax T, can you see all the improvements of each camera. I think everyone can speak about the cameras he/she uses and why, it is very very very interesting.
    So, I start. Why the Contax T ?
    Simply I can keep it in my pocket, it is inside. I can walk, without thinking taking pictures, but if I see something, I can take it. Lens is very good, meter is is very good, and viewfinder is very bright for the size. But this is a fragile camera, you have to care of it like a baby. It’s ok. So what about you ?

  • The same battle rages in the field of guitar – those who play, those who collect, those who do both. It’s been interesting to watch in the 45+ years I’ve been playing guitar how we’ve gone from the idea of an old guitar perhaps being better than a new one to some instruments being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Compared to serious guitar collecting, cameras are cheap 😁

    Good thought provoking article, James.

  • Considering that I started shooting film in 1960 when I was seven years old I would say I am first a photographer. Next I learned to develop and print in 7th grade graphic arts class. Then my first serious camera was purchased in 1972, the SRT-101, and not only liked the photos but liked the camera as a machine. Much like I appreciate cars and typewriters and collect both and use both. Today there is over 200 cameras in my collection but 90% bought prior to 2005 when they were being given away for single dollars at times. Now many are going for 5-10 times what I paid back then. It’s crazy. Today I still shoot my cameras but instead of collecting I have now taught myself to repair cameras starting with Exakta, to Pentax, to Minolta. Which is another thing I like to do besides collecting and it is repairing an old machine. You should see my new focus, two IBM Selectric II’s.

    • Interesting article! It made me think about audiophiles and the love for their gear over their love for the music… glad I came across your blog.

  • I love digital photography and film cameras, I’ll bet there are many like me out there…..

  • This! I like both, and I’m not ashamed to admit it 🤣
    Although of course as a photographer it still grinds my gears when someone sees a photo of mine they like and say, “wow, that’s what you can do with a really good camera”.

  • For me it’s both a matter of the destination and the journey. I try to “see” the world around me and create a respectable photograph. I also value the camera and lens that captures what I see. As to cameras and lenses my collection is pretty modest. Mostly Nikon SLRs from the late 1979s/1980s when I “came of age” and really started to learn photography. My collection includes a FM2n, FE2, F3 with motor drive, F100, and a Nikkormat. Each has its own attraction for me. For example, the FM2n is, for me, the perfect partner. Simple, mechanical, lightweight with no menu driven distractions. My F100 is the best balance of form and function. The nostalgia champ is a Kodak Retina IIa my mother in law took to Europe for a month long trip in 1955. Because of my interest in cameras she gave me the Retina which I occasionally use. And we have her still stunning and vivid Kodachrome slides.

    While I have several digital Nikons they are being replaced by a Fujifilm X-T3. Once set up the Fuji is essentially the modern version of the FE/FM- all aperture rings and shutter speed dials. The Fuji just makes the journey more enjoyable again.

  • Peter Bidel Schwambach November 5, 2022 at 6:43 pm

    Not gonna lie, I can’t really say off the top of my head whether I prefer cameras or photography itself. I spend a good portion of my free time looking at, editing and having prints of my photos made, as well as poring over what I like or dislike about this or that photo, and having my scans back from the lab gets me all giddy, but Iove the look and feel of a good camera, the mechanical character of springs and levers and knobs and dials, the sounds and sometimes even that familiar scent of a camera that’s been stored for too long.

    I wouldn’t call myself a collector, but I did gather a small number of interesting cameras along the last couple years, which I mostly ended up trading or selling off due to not really using them. I kept my Nikon FM2, FM3 and FG bodies, a few lenses and my Canonet, but since cleaning up, even more interesting cameras have found their way to me, like a free hand me down Minolta XD with a 50mm 1.4 Rokkor, a Ricoh Singlex with a couple Pentax M42 lenses, and a very dirty, but very functional L35AF for what amounts to 3.57 dollars in local currency. I’m not sure what to do with them, and I’m not sure I’ll even be using them much, but I’ve taken them in for service, and it’s nice just holding them, cranking them and listening to the noises they make. Brazil still has so many great cameras being sold for affordable prices or lying forgotten in people’s attics, it’d be a crime no to rescue them….

  • Actually, I would love to ask DaVinci which brush he used (the answer, I believe, is that he made it himself, along with his paints). I would love to ask him ANY question.

  • That’s a lovely Nikon rangefinder camera.

    I’m a long-time fan of Arbus and recently figured it’d be interesting to have a camera around like the one she used in the mid-late sixties. A week or so ago bid on a Mamiya C3 TLR (sold ‘as is’) and was surprised when my very low bid won – hers was the slightly later C33 model BTW. The rival bidders, probably hard up newbie-to-film photographers/students, would most likely have wanted it to make pictures out in the world with it, and I had the odd feeling I’d be putting a bird in a cage instead.

  • Thank you sooooooo much….I landed here looking for an the answers you gave me! Now I can proudly say that I’m not a wannabe photographer, I’m a (not professional) “Camera Liker” 😀

  • Someone finally understands me. I’m sending this to my girlfriend.

  • I’ve just breathed a sigh, realizing there are others out there just like me who love the look, feel, sound and history of cameras! I have severe GAS. My affinity is Barnack Leicas and prewar Contax I and II’s. I buy cosmetically excellent camera bodies that may have “issues” and match them to period correct lenses. Then, I send them off for long overdue CLA’s and to resolve the issues.

    Once I get a camera back, I open it up, inspect the mechanics and play with it. I focus and refocus the rangefinder on subjects near and far, both inside and out. I set and reset lens apertures. I cock the shutter, press the release, set a new speed and repeat! To me, the sound these German mechanical masterpieces produce is solid, amazing! The Leica “thunk” and Contax slow speed “whir”. As I hold the camera in my hands and up to my eye, I wonder where the camera has been, what scenes it has recorded and the previous owners who used them. This is even more true with prewar and wartime cameras.

    On the flip side, I use my cameras too, but not near as much as I would like. I’ve found though, that each time I take one of these jewels out to shoot, I’m invariably stopped and asked about it; the most common questions being, “What kind of camera is that?”, or “Is film still available?” and “Where do you get film developed”, (I develop my own btw which people find amazing!). I spend more time answering the scores of questions asked and allowing others to hold the camera and experience the heft than I do taking photos. In a world of modern, digital wonder-cameras which rarely evoke any comments or attention, it’s the classic Barnack or Contax that people are interested in!

    Thanks for a great article!

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio