Back to my roots.

In the late summer of 2018, life got hard. I started questioning photography as a business and wondering if I had sabotaged myself by turning my passion into my profession. It was also a transitional period in my personal life and truthfully, I felt a little lost. So, I simplified. It seemed a good idea at the time. I sold off all my gear and the great gear trial and error experiment began. 

It was dumb really, all predicated on feeling a loss of control and trying desperately to control what I could. I have regretted it many times in the past three years. Prior to that very rash decision, I had been happy with my kit for over four years. No buying and selling like a mad woman. I had one camera and four prime lenses and that was all I needed or wanted.

As I closed my business and life stabilized, I made another mistake. Instead of just going back to my roots and recreating that kit, that nearly perfect kit that met all my needs, I decided to go a new route and try a bunch of different gear, seeking that same kind of perfection. 

Three years, three camera brands, nine camera bodies, and ten lenses later, I’ve come to my senses. You can’t make yourself like something. It doesn’t matter how good other people say it is (and yes, I tried Leica). It doesn’t matter what the spec sheet lists (and yes, I tried the gear with the newest sensor and tech). It doesn’t matter if it looks the best aesthetically (Leica again?). None of those things mean it will match our personal qualifications for perfection.

I made the switch to mirrorless in mid-2015 with a Fujifilm X-T1, which I had previously rented. And you know what? The X-T line is still my favorite. It’s not the prettiest or the smallest, but it does seem to be the best fit for me. Maybe not every iteration of it, but in general, it seems to be the best mix of comfort, style, and performance. 

That said, I’m really over buying the newest camera bodies. They’re updated too frequently and therefore, the amount of depreciation is too great in my book. I also realized I don’t like owning multiple bodies. I really only need one and if it breaks, I’ll get a different one. I really hate deliberating on which camera to bring. I wind up brining all of them and then only using one. 

I am however, going to begin building up my lens collection again. Nothing crazy, but since gifting my daughter my X-T1 and now sharing my lenses with her, I find I need a few more options. We tend to favor the same ones and often, when I pick I up my camera to shoot, the lens I want is upstairs, mounted to her camera.

It’s been a wild ride these last three years. I’m sure I’ve wasted some money along the way. Yep, definitely. But I learned a valuable lesson and while I may be more stubborn than most, three years isn’t really so long in the span of a lifetime. 

Fighting for mediocrity and setting goals. I’m looking at you, 2022.

Maybe I’m afraid of change. Not afraid exactly, I just don’t like it. Change equates to complication and I guess that’s what I really have issues with. I prefer simplicity. I want things to work – effortlessly – and when they do, I’m at my creative best. When they don’t, my creativity runs dry. It’s the reason I’m constantly trying new gear, new accessories, watching tutorials and trying to improve. I feel like I spend about 90% of my time searching for the perfect combination of gear, skill, inspiration, and luck so that I can exist in a productively creative space the other 10% of the time.

I get really frustrated at times, knowing that the images I’m producing are crap, having difficulty executing the small snippet of vision I’ve fought so hard for, only to have it dissipate further with each mediocre click of the shutter. Maybe mediocrity shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Maybe the production of consistently mediocre work is an acheivement. Consistency in anything is hard to come by – maybe that makes it a more worthy goal.

I don’t expect to ever be a great photographer. But I do hope to document my own life and my own family with sincerity and authenticity. I hope for them to look back on pictures from their childhoods and relive, not only the moments, but also the emotion associated with them. I hope to capture that well. For me, sure, but mostly for them.

I don’t have a single picture of myself with both of my siblings growing up. The few pictures I have from my childhood are only of me. I know my siblings existed in them someplace, but for some reason, my mother cut us each out of the photos. A ziploc bag of oddly shaped cut outs of myself is what I recieved. I look so alone, but I wasn’t. You’d think I was an only child. These pictures don’t represent my life.

I want to give my kids a complete picture. One that tells the whole story. A story that includes sofa cuddles, family vacations, grumpy holidays (and good ones too), board games on rainy days, and our famously unplanned “Hartman Family Adventures,” just to name a few. I want them to have a visual history of their lives, of where they come from. 

What an amazing medium photography is! I love words, but a picture is worth a thousand of them, right? 

As I have pondered what 2022 holds for me creatively, I’ve also reflected on what 2021 offered. The truth is that this year was creatively dry for me. I wasn’t really inspired to shoot. I didn’t have much of a desire to pick up my camera at all.

That said, earlier this month, I got my new iPhone and it has been a game changer. Not only does it allow me to get shots of my camera averse family, I’ve also been continually surprised by the image quality and the ease of use, not only taking pictures, but in editing them as well. There’s no doubt that it’s a tool for creatives. 

So, I’ve decided to do something bold for 2022 and start the year off by using ONLY my iPhone 13 Pro for the month of January. And I’m excited about it. Less pressure, less decisions and frankly, way easier to take anywhere. It’s weather resistant, offers three separate lenses with pretty wide apertures, and I really want to learn how to use it to its fullest potential. I do that best when I limit myself. I’ve basically already started as it’s been my favorite camera all month and the only camera I used on my recent vacation. I know it will have limitations, but I’m cool with that. Working within limitations is a great way to grow as a photographer.

2021 was all about gear but 2022 will be all about photography. See you then.

P.S. I can’t wait.

*All photos taken with my iPhone 13 Pro.

So, will I buy a Leica?

The last week with the Leica CL and Elmarit 18mm f/2.8 lens has shown me a few things. Firstly, as beautiful and high quality as the camera is, it didn’t inspire me to shoot any more than my ‘ol Fuji X-E2. This surprised me a little bit. I wanted to hold the camera, fidget with it, feel the weight of it in my hand, appreciate the beauty of it – like a work of art. And I did. But I didn’t necessarily take more pictures with it than I would’ve without it. 

There were also times when both cameras were sitting right next to each other and I grabbed my Fujifilm instead. I’m comfortable with it, and that alone makes it a more useful tool sometimes. I know this would be remedied if I purchased a Leica because eventually, I would learn it and using it would become second nature as well. 

But that wasn’t the only reason I gravitated toward Bagheera (I name my cameras, remember?). The CL really sucks in low light at high ISO. And I shoot high ISO quite often. When the lighting was good, I grabbed the CL, but when the lighting was poor, I grabbed my Fuji. Much of my photography is documenting my family and that involves a lot of dim, indoor lighting. I tried to push the CL’s ISO capabilities, but the results were pretty poor. Gross even. A camera that I can’t shoot above ISO 3200 just isn’t a good fit for me, especially if it doesn’t offer IBIS so that I can shoot low shutter speeds. (The Ricoh GRIII does offer 3-stop IS so even though I wouldn’t shoot it above 3200 for similar reasons, I did have the option of slow shutter speeds to compensate).

I’m also concerned about the longevity of the CL system. Leica doesn’t seem too invested in it. It’s a beautiful camera, but almost appears as an afterthought to the company. It seems to get the leftovers from the TL system and the SL system, both of which are on their second iterations while the CL has yet to be updated four years after its announcement. Would it be wise to invest that much money into a system that looks like it may be discontinued in the not too distant future? After all, isn’t that longevity one of the reasons the M system is so beloved? One of the things I love so much about Fujifilm is that they continue to innovate and provide firmware updates, even for older models. This really extends the life of the system.

I’m glad I rented the CL because it answered a question I’ve had for a long time. But now I know that Leica is not the system for me. The M series has no autofocus. The SL system is huge. The TL system isn’t tactile enough for me, relying primarily on touch screen. And though I loved the CL in many ways, it doesn’t really meet my photographic needs. 

That said, if I got one for Christmas, I wouldn’t complain. But I also might return it and get an X-Pro3.