The Gear Acquisition Syndrome Horseshoe

Just a bit of fun. I’ve been thinking about Gear Acquisition Syndrome and what it means to me. I thought about writing a post about it but decided instead it could be better summed up with a diagram.

My descriptions are perhaps a little facetious, but hopefully they make the point. This is of course not intended to be taken entirely seriously!

In case you are on a small screen and can’t read them:

1. Genius GAS

Experienced by the people buy a Noctilux and win prizes for their outstanding work with it.
(No one knows the photos were taken with a Noctilux)

2. Curiosity GAS

Experienced by the people who buy a Noctilux out of pure curiosity.
(They sell it after the novelty wears off as they realise it’s entirety impractical for their day to day needs)

3. Collectors GAS

Experienced by the people who buy all of the different Noctilux lenses
(They get fungus – not the lenses, they’re hermetically sealed – it’s the collectors themselves that have the fungus from lack of money to look after themselves)

4. Jewellery GAS

Experienced by the people who buy a Noctilux and take more pictures of it than with it.
(It eventually gets stolen. That’s what happens when you tell everyone you meet how expensive your stuff is)

5. Delusion GAS

Experienced by the people who buy a Noctilux thinking its going to help them win prizes for their work.
(It never does. Everyone knows which lens all their photos are taken with)

The Horseshoe

The horseshoe shape is important as it simultaneously brings the motivations of the delusional close to those of the genius, but also keeps them very separate.

How do you identify?

I can think of times I have sat in all of these (except probably “Genius GAS” unfortunately). These days I think I most closely identify with “Curiosity GAS”. Though I also think I probably have a bit of “Delusional GAS” denial.

How do you identify?

Cheers for reading


(This post was in part inspired by Dan K’s first post about GAS on JCH – That guy needs a 12 step plan for sure!)

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58 thoughts on “The Gear Acquisition Syndrome Horseshoe”

  1. Hamish. having just bought that rather battered rigid Summicron 2 I mentioned to you yesterday, I am definitely a curious/delusional as they would say in focus groups. Happy New Year to you and all your readers.

    1. Hah!
      Well good look with your rigid, you’ll have to let me know how you get on with it!
      Happy new year!
      (I’ve pulled my finger out and replied to your email too, sorry for the delay)

  2. As someone who shoots 9 out of 10 images at f8 of f11, which is the great leveller of 35mm lenses, I have yet to flirt with lens GAS in a serious way. f1.0 would be wasted on me. This isn’t puritanism, good luck to those who like big-eye lenses, but I get frisky about a nice f3.5!

  3. My form of GAS is very different, and maybe you wouldn’t call it GAS in the same sense.

    I have little interest with the likes of a Leica or Noctilux, or feel that a very expensive camera/lens will suddenly transform my photography. But I do have something of a compulsion to buy old cameras, mostly for the pleasure of using and exploring (with) them. It’s a case of so many cameras, so little time.

    Though I do often wonder if I would be better off buying one camera that cost a few hundred and use it exclusively for a year, than 30 that cost £5-10 each and rarely shooting two consecutive films in one camera before moving on to another.

    1. “Better off” is definitely subjective too. You’d have less cameras, you might even take better photos, but would you be happier?

      1. This is an excellent point. I know some of the pleasure in photography for me is in “playing” with different cameras. I may not be able to replace that pleasure with the pleasure I get from taking “better” photos.

  4. My GAS is so bad that I inspire people to write articles about GAS. And yet… I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with the idea that GAS is all bad. “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” was coined to sound like a medical affliction, a mental delusion or unhealthy compulsion to be cured through therapy. The moniker is sometimes invoked by a person that regrets over spending, but more commonly as a way of patronising people who are seen to be ‘going through a phase’ of trying to buy better photography instead of improving his skills. The accuser implies that he is more advanced than the GAS sufferer in both skill and knowledge because he has somehow transcended above the gear. Perhaps the aura of his genius somehow contact prints himself like Jesus onto the Shroud of Turin? No; I don’t think so.

    Likewise, although I agree each aspect of GAS that you have identified is valid, I do not agree that they are discrete and exclusive pigeon-holes. Personally I see something of myself in each one.

    GENIUS: I think what you mean by “Genius GAS” is the ability for someone to pre-visualise a shot that they wish to create and select the most appropriate lens for the task. In truth, many of us qualify as geniuses and aren’t aware of it. I have heard ‘genius’ described as the top 1% of ability among practitioners. Put a hundred people with an interest in photography in a room and you will probably not find anyone who can hold their own in a conversation about the practical differences in rendering between a Noctilux vs a Hyperprime, let alone topics like the subtle differences between a Minolta Varisoft vs Nikon DC vs a soft filter. This is independent from having a genius-level artistic ability. It’s when the artistic ability and technical knowledge come together that overall mastery is achieved.

    CURIOSITY: Just how are we supposed to gain this comprehensive and detailed knowledge of gear? Through hands on experience and the sharing of knowledge. I don’t just read reviews and forum posts; much of this is written on spec, or is recycled garbage. I would feel dishonest writing about gear if I did not have at least a few hours of hands-on experience with it. Ideally, I purchase the item, evaluate it from a technical perspective, compare it against its peers and become intimately familiar with it over a course of months before writing. I am intensely curious about not only new gear, but old gear; not only about the legends but more modest cameras.

    COLLECTION: In the course of gathering cameras for knowledge-building and in building a pool of gear to use, I have bought enough gear to qualify as a collection. Realising this, I sought out the missing items that would round out the collection. For example, owning all the 58mm 1:1.2 lenses except the Canon FL, I stumbled upon a fantastic lens that wasn’t on everybody’s top ten list.

    JEWELLERY: Anyone who buys enough exotic gear to qualify as GAS has some item they consider jewellery. It’s natural; it only seems weird to an outsider. Anything desirable that is seen in public is jewellery.

    DELUSION: Do I delude myself that a new piece of kit will improve my photography? Of course! And deliberately so. But with that delusion comes a burst of enthusiasm, inspiration and joy.

    1. I completely agree that it’s impossible to pigeon hole, or at least rare. And indeed that GAS is always a bad thing.
      I had a strong feeling you would hold a similar view to me on all of this.
      As we’ve chatted about before, it’s only my aversion to the accumulation of things that prevents me from having a large collection of cameras like yours. (Well, that and a lack of cash)
      What you say about accusers who use the word GAS as a way to patronise is something that I have experienced a good number of times. As you point out, it often feels like the accuser is using their lack of GAS as something that makes them superior. Yet, I’ve learned so much from all the different cameras I’ve owned. I’m a self taught photographer, and I taught myself through practice not theory. I remember the day I forced myself into going out with a Voigtlander vito b and an old Leningrad light meter. I vividly remember the moment the concept of reciprocity clicked into place in my head. That is an extreme example, but it is just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge and skill I have built up through using various cameras. And that is of course only talking about my photography.
      I have a whole other hobby and interest that almost sits adjacent to photography; the hobby of cameras themselves. The hobby of cameras is to me an almost completely separate thing to the hobby of photography. Of course they cross over into each other, and sometimes interfere negatively, as well as positively with each other. I just find it a frustration that the hobby of cameras is almost looked down upon by photographers who don’t share in it. This goes back to the point about being patronised I suppose… Anyway, as I say, more in another post another time…

      1. You and our common friend, Dave Lam, are much alike. You’ve both owned a great many cameras and lenses, but tend to move them on to make room for the next camera.

        This qualifies are gear acquisition, if not gear accumulation. The only difference is when you buy something, you have unbridled joy, rather than a little anxiety attack when you go to put it away and discover you already own three others.

        This post was a good read; I’m posting my comments to stimulate a little debate about the nature of GAS, as opposed to criticising your sound reasoning.

        My main points were (1) your types were more motivations than types of people and hence more than one motive may apply and (2) it is possible that GAS can be beneficial.. up to a point. The breaking point is where too much gear becomes a drawback. For some people, the limiting factor is money, for others it is space or time. For some of us the limit is having more gear than can be used, leaving a lingering feeling that much of it is going to waste.

        ATB, Dan K

        1. Types of people is a whole other concept isn’t it?! Though this definitely covers the topic a little, at least in my definitions, people types is definitely a a subject that could be explored further!
          As for gas being beneficial, that was definitely one of my motivations of this post (as discussed with Jeremy).
          And yes, breaking point, well that indeed could also be a whole other subject.
          All quite an interesting topic really! Your thoughts are definitely welcome – I’m looking forward to the next instalment on JCH too!

    2. I love what you say here – ” But with that delusion comes a burst of enthusiasm, inspiration and joy” and think it’s so true.

      Even though we might visit the same locations and scenes, when we look through the viewfinder of a new (to us) camera with its different handling and shape and feel and scents and sounds and history, it does bring a fresh inspiration to the experience, however the final photographs we take turn out…

  5. One of the salutary lessons about cameras vs photography is the amount of useful, even important images, that have been made on cameras “serious” photographers would dismiss without a second glance. Looking back at shots from the 1970s for example, I’m continually amazed at the record of ordinary life people made on their Zenits and Prakticas, putting prodigious amounts of film through their cameras without worrying about the status of the cameras themselves.

    It’s a universal truth that too many photographers fuss over their equipment, splitting hairs over whether cult lens a) out-resolves cult lens b), and forgetting the bigger picture. I took a lot of photographs in the 1970s and 1980s but I also worried whether my Chinon, then my OM1, then my Nikon F, were the right tools for the job, when each did basically the same thing, and I could have spent my money on more film. When I look at photographers I admire, most were/are associated with one or two cameras.

    1. I completely get that, but that perhaps assumes (though I suspect you personally aren’t making that assumption) that the likes of me, (or indeed Dan) fuss over cameras because we worry about how they impact on our photography. Of course it would be madness to try and deny that there isn’t a element of that in my buying and trying of kit, but even when perfect kit is found, it still doesn’t quash my desire to try more.
      I am genuinely convinced that I could sell everything tomorrow and be satisfied as a photographer by just my M-A and Sonnar… but would I be satisfied as a camera enthusiast? no, I most certainly wouldn’t! I know for a fact that all the money I made would go straight back on more gear. Because I need it? no, because I want to experience it. It is this that makes me both a photographer AND camera enthusiast

      1. On balance, I think there probably is an ideal camera and lens (or two) to satisfy most people’s photographic interests. Beyond that, the interest is in gear, which is a different hobby. Film gear has taken a front seat since the advent of digital photography, because in one sense it’s all “redundant”, and people are less likely to choose it as a professional medium, meaning film equipment occupies a different place in their affections to the one it once did.

        As the owner of close to 100 film cameras I’m in no position to throw GAS accusations at anyone, but I use no more than two or three of those cameras with my “serious” photographic head on. That’s just my personal response, I’m not preaching.

  6. I suppose it’s how one defines GAS. I don’t consider a genius who has made the most of a fine lens to be GAS

    1. Well I suppose that’s the point I’m trying to make. The definition of GAS is often just seen as a negative, whereas I think it is likely something that everyone experiences, even those who make the “correct” decisions

      1. I’ve always thought of GAS as a bit of a sickness where one buys gear for the sake of owning it with the associated deluded rationalising. In my experience it can stifle creativity. I’d say that genius wouldn’t be encumbered by gear acquisition.
        In any case, the rest of the horseshoe is spot on 🙂

        1. I suppose that’s the very conception I’m trying to debunk. It’s a sickness by those who suffer it. I actually enjoy it… I find enjoyment in finding a camera I want to try for whatever reason, researching it, then hunting down a good one… It’s all part of the fun!

          1. I couldn’t agree more with you. Curious GAS is the most worthy as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. It is a bit obsessive, which I called it a sickness, I meant that in a humorous way, should have used ” “.

  7. What an wonderful discussion! I’ve spent the last week pondering the implications of my latest spending (sorry Hamish, was planning on getting the Sonnar but got distracted by a fine piece of Swedish camera engineering). While thoroughly enjoying getting to know and explore my latest camera, I kept thinking about the GAS label, one camera one lens and all the pros’s writing about how all they want to carry around is their mobile phone or small compact. But then I reminded myself that the whole reason we have hobbies, passions and pastimes is for the pleasure we get out of them, whether it be an amazing photo or finding that piece of gear we spent weeks researching. I, like many, would love to be able to spend more time on my photography. But between work and family, it’s often days before I get an hour or so to enjoy something as simple as polishing an already spotless lens. I really don’t think it matters what part of photography you’re into so long as you’re getting a bit of enjoyment out of it. So I’ve now decided to be quite proud of my GAS (pardon me)…

    1. Swedish? Do tell!
      The one lens one camera thing is perfectly valid, but the mantra gets tiring when it’s preached as some sort of higher path.
      You are so right, the ultimate goal should always be enjoyment, and therefore what ever floats for the individual is surely the really the higher path for said individual…
      I shall join you in the GAS pride! 😉

      1. It’s a minty fresh Hasselblad 501CM. My first MF camera actually. I do see the technical merits of sticking with one lens and the same camera, I’ve had the same little biogon on my M6 for most of 2015. But I’ve been having so much fun learning about medium format that I really don’t feel any remorse! Whatever keeps you interested and finger on the button, one camera one lens: at a time. That’ll work for me 😉

        1. Very nice!
          And I’m completely on the same page! I very rarely take more than one camera and one lens out. I do sometime, but when I only have one camera and one lens I feel quite liberated by the simplicity and limitation. I just don’t need to own one camera and one lens to feel that!

  8. Christos Theofilogiannakos

    I guess “curiosity GAS” mostly, although I would replace the Noctilux with any 0.99 GBP / Euro camera if it wasn’t for those damn postage costs!

    1. I’m with you there Christos! The Noctilux example sent the discussion in the boutique/cult direction and I think I missed Hamish’s point. I also have endless fascination for the unconsidered trifles of photography’s past. These include a box of 25 different point and shoot cameras for £5 (24 of them work!). Replace Noctilux with plastic triplet lens and I’m a curiosity gas tart.

      1. Haha!
        If you guys want to suggest some alternative definitions I’ll happily add them to the post along side the Noctilux ones. I think conceptually I’m not far off with this, but if it can be made more logical I’m all ears 😀

  9. Related to this whole discussion, I have noticed in my patterns of acquisition I will stumble across a new type of camera (and this is not as general as SLR or rangefinder, more like “80s AF compact with a 35mm f/2.8 lens”, for example) then seem to seek out a number of variations that are in fact all very very similar. It’s like I’m exploring a sub niche of film photography’s past to see what the best (for me) options is, and can do so for very little outlay.

    Also, and I don’t think anyone’s touched on this other than Christos with his witty comment, there’s a part of me that loves a bargain, and I must have bought at least a dozen or two different cameras each for 99p plus a few pounds postage on eBay, and 9/10 times they work fine. Being able to make photographs on such a tiny budget is very thrilling in its own way, regardless of the tech specs of the camera… These days you can get very little for 99p, so to have a fully functioning camera capable of potentially wonderful photographs is amazing to me.

    I wonder if anyone else experiences this kind of photography cheapskate thrill?

  10. I like simplicity, and for me, the less gear, the better. One camera, one lens (ok, maybe 2 lenses) and focus on developing my skills with that kit is my plan for now. Like Hamish, I bought a Leica M-A, so I don’t feel any need to own another 35 mm film camera, or at least I didn’t until he ordered everyone to get an LTM! If I buy new kit in the near future, it will probably be an enlarger or other dark room gear.

    Does GAS only affect film camera enthusiasts? I don’t read of people who feel the need to acquire old digital cameras, or maybe I just visit sites and blogs related to film.

    1. GAS if often the worst in digital shooters as they crave the newest and the “best”. It is they who most frequently fall foul of the “Delusional GAS” (says the man who’s about to buy a Sony A7r ii to replace his A7r)

  11. I’m currently battling Type 4/5 GAS over a rather tidy Fuji DL Super Mini I’ve seen on eBay. The problem is that after looking at loads of photos taken with it, I’m pretty sure it’s actually not as good a camera as the Mju II I already own. But it’s so pretty…

    It’ll be about £80 with shipping, which is rather a lot for a good-but-not-great compact. That amount of money’s not so much of an issue (I’m rewarding myself for winning a new contract for my business) but I’ve also seen a rather battered, but very charming, thread mount Leica that would cost the same. Bonding with cameras you don’t own yet is a dangerous game!

      1. I think I’ve talked myself out of buying the Fuji. Smart as it looks, the it loses out to the Mju on overall sharpness and weatherproofness.

        As for the Leica, if it’s still there when the ink dries on the contract I’ll buy it. It might take me quite a while to get it CLA’d (which it does need) and to find an appropriate lens (though I have an Industar that will do for a stop-gap), but there’s something about this camera, even though I know it would be better value overall to find one with a lens. Which do you think is the best lens to go for out of the LTM Elmar, Summar and Summitar?

  12. Hey Hamish,

    Great site by the way. First time weighing in.
    It seems like some have a bit of anxiety whether they have GAS or not.
    Your horseshoe diagram is somewhat accurate which makes it humorous. I am thinking there needs to be another dimension added to reflect the amount of time with “boots on the ground” making photographs. To me, this seems like a natural offset to GAS. If one actively uses all(or most) of their cameras, who cares how many you have? For example, I have been working in residential construction for the past 9 years. I have collected 6 different hammers, from a wooden mallet to a 6 lbs sledge. All have a specific purpose. Do I have “Hammer Acquisition Syndrome”? No. I have the right tool for the job. I believe it is the accumulation WITHOUT use, that gives you GAS. I see GAS is a product of “talking the talk, but not walking the walk”. Hence, the Noctilux!
    If you admit you are a camera collector(and not a photographer), I cannot see how you would ever get GAS? It’s like stamp collecting, quantity and quality only adds to the collection.
    If one is a collector and a photographer, it would be important to not have crossover. The crossover without defined boundaries on the purpose or use of a camera or lens, will give GAS.
    Then again, don’t beat yourself up, no one has every died from GAS. If you get hungry, you will sell your cameras…

  13. Definitely curiosity. I just bought a barnack-style setup (canon ivsb2 + serenar 35mm f2.8) that is absolutely beautiful but I realized that I’d rather sell it and use the money towards film for my half-frames lol go figure.

  14. Curiosity and Delusional. I think some elements of G.A.S are quite positive though and can actually be a good thing. Any kit which inspires you is worth it in my opinion, you just have to be realistic in what you can afford and not cripple yourself. Yes I have G.A.S for an M10, I sure do (oh my god!), but I can’t afford it so I’m looking at what I can afford and trying to be happy with what I already have. I look ruefully at my A7 and think if it was the only camera I had I wouldn’t be inspired to shoot anything, I know it’ll do a very fine job of course, but G.A.S has caused me to get an M2 and the thought of using that is much more exciting and inspiring to me. Without G.A.S I wouldn’t have got the Leica, or arrived at a place where I’ve condensed down so much of what I have already into one camera and one lens, realising along the way what I like and what I don’t like about the various cameras and lenses I’ve owned.

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    1. The article is interesting but, time and time again, I ask why? The Pentax SV was the lowest end model of that era Pentax line up…and it is a half century old..for about the same acquisition cost, you might have selected a Japanese made K-1000 (later models were made/assembled in Hong Kong and?? then China and some felt quality suffered) or a Canon FTb, or Minolta SR-T…perhaps I am fortunate, living in Oregon in the US…here in Oregon we have Blue Moon Camera, famous for their knowledge and depth of selection, but we also have upstarts like ShadowSmith in Corvallis, Oregon where the Nikon F with a 50 sells for 1/4 the price of Blue Moon…a Nikon F and lens for $125 us…a professional hockey puck with many repair people around the world. Here a Starbucks drink costs maybe $5…a pint at a local $7 $125 for a Nikon F (FM OM 1 etc) kit is an insane value stretch for something beyond the low end model and go forth and shoot it

      The 14.99 pound pence point and shoot pictured was not really designed to be repaired even when new.

      Why wait? Dive in while there are still exceptional values to be found!

      1. I think you posted this comment on the wrong article.
        Regardless, the SV wasn’t the low end model. It was the last of the Pentax line from before the spotmatics. I chose the older camera based on a desire for a simpler camera with lens parts to go wrong. I wanted a auto-aperture m42 camera with little more than a shutter dial. That’s what the sv offers.
        Short of the issue I had with it, it’s a very nice camera. Solid as a rock and very smooth feeling mechanically.
        I have a bunch of other SLRs, but this was specifically for shooting m42 lenses

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