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All GAS and Gaiters: A reflection on a distressing condition affecting some photographers

It's an affliction that most of us suffer from, one time or another, and it's difficult to treat effectively. Jon takes us through the tale of his own lifelong GAS, Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and discusses the remedies (if any)…

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Laughing GAS

My father, “The Reverend” happened to find the TV comedy “All Gas and Gaiters” hilariously funny as it mocked his chosen profession. While the TV series dates from the late 60s, the expression has been used to mean “a satisfactory state of affairs” or sometimes “nonsense”. For us at Macfilos, we know it refers to “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”, an affliction from which many of us suffer that can be both satisfying and nonsensical.

The frustration of GAS: Braun Paxette

My father, “The Reverend & Missionary” had developed an interest in photography when he was sent to Cote d’Ivoire as a missionary. Somehow, he afforded a Braun Paxette camera along with a Western Master light meter.

Being parsimonious by both nature and income, he never allowed me to experiment with his camera, much to my frustration. This was my first experience of GAS with the camera as an object of mechanical beauty; not necessarily because of the images I might produce.

I really wanted a camera, but had no idea of what I wanted to do with it. I also couldn’t afford one. Instead, I bought a nice mechanical watch. (I suspect there’s quite a close correlation between cameras, cars, and watches, but that’s for another day.)

Someone else’s GAS (Mike’s): Pentax ES

It wasn’t until I was at boarding school, that I discovered what you could do with a camera. My friend Mike owned a Pentax SLR and had an art project that allowed me to tag along. “The Fading Image” was intended to capture as many of Bath’s painted advertising signs as possible before the crippling effects of progress and modernity destroyed them forever. In the warm red glow of the darkroom, I could finally see and get excited about what I might be able to produce if I had a camera.

Now I had real GAS for an SLR like the Pentax, but still could not afford a camera.

Small GAS: Minox 110 S

Years passed, and I mean years, before I could afford the diminutive Minox 110 S. The pictures were OK, but I knew I “needed” something bigger and better.

Zen and the art of GAS: Olympus OM2

Working in advertising and receiving a serious bonus meant I could afford a decent camera, and, moreover, I also had a sense of what I wanted to shoot. I suspect those of us with GAS enjoy that first phase of obsessing about what to buy and making the right choice before a burst of emotions and the remorse of a bent credit card close the deal.

The OM2 was a wonderful example of Maitani compactness and lightness – I marvelled at how all that goodness could be packed into something so handy that you could take it everywhere with you. I had stumbled upon nirvana.

The photographs that people like Jane Bown (The Observer) took with it were proof positive that it could deliver emotions and simplicity. The OM2 took magical shots on Greek islands, the coast of Turkey and in every corner of France and England. I loved the crispness of the shadows and the contrast, of the perfectly captured colours of those Greek and Turkish doors and window frames in the late afternoon light. But I wanted more, as usual…

Old GAS: Canon FTB

The next phase of GAS was the hope that the simplicity of vintage could satisfy. I became fascinated with older cameras and bought a Canon FTQL, an FTB, and a few lenses. But all that did was make me realize that I wanted to explore a different and more exciting branch of photography, which required a complete gear switch.

Fast GAS: Canon A1

Enter the Canon A1, the novelty of shutter priority, and the thrill of motor racing. I bought a second body, a motor drive, and a couple of zooms from Vivitar. Perched on the infield barriers of various racetracks, I practised my panning technique and learned to accept that high-speed cars are difficult to capture. And then came a lucky break that fuelled the next GAS-filled ascent and masked the inadequacies of this photographer.

The gift of GAS — something borrowed & something new: Canon F1n

I had a French client who published a beautiful glossy international Formula 1 magazine. It was the perfect coffee table magazine, using the best of F1 photographers at the time. But what my client really lacked was the kind of circulation needed to attract advertisers and grow his business. In his financial state, he could either spend money to advertise the magazine or use top quality photographers to illustrate it, but not both.

I suggested that a joint promotion with Amateur Photographer about how to take pictures at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone could help raise his circulation. It required me to write the article explaining how to get great shots at the track without a press pass. That article was published in both magazines. The winner got a Canon AE1 camera, and their photographs were jointly published.

The sadness of parting

For my labours, I got a weekend press pass to the Grand Prix, which meant I could borrow any kit I wanted from Canon. Now that’s (almost) free GAS! Though, when all’s said and done, it will pain you to have to hand all this wonderful gear back just as you were starting to enjoy it. You can call it a brief fling or affair that leaves you wanting more, but the camera bag went home much lighter with an even stronger desire for more kit.

That Grand Prix coincided with the launch of the new Canon F1n. At the Canon press tent, I asked what happened to the demo cameras once their work was done. I learned that staff could buy them at a significant discount. But, there was no reason why I could not put my name down for some of that kit at the same discount level. A couple of months later, my “Christmas” GAS list of F1n x 2, prisms, screens and assorted lenses was ready to pick up from JJ Silber.

Anxiety from excess GAS

It didn’t take long for several dominoes to begin to fall. I might love cars and motor racing, but that didn’t mean I was any good at photographing cars at high speed, despite practising. The 10,000-hour rule still applies. I also realized that all this kit in a Billingham bag the size of a four-bedroom semi was going to cripple me if I took it all with me.

But leaving any of it at home caused anxiety about that one dreamt-of prize-winning shot I might have captured if only had brought the 200mm f/2.8 rather than the 35mm f/2.0.

I never really learned to focus on the essentials until much later in life. (There’s a moral in there somewhere.) As we know from school physics, GAS has a tendency to expand (ask Mr. Boyle) until all the molecules, or lenses if you prefer, are so numerous that they no longer make any logical sense.

Five loaves and two fishes

I gave it all to The Reverend and hoped it would bring him as much joy as the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. And that Billingham bag would certainly have been capable of holding all the multiples of five loaves and two fishes you could possibly want.

The lightening of the burden also coincided with an important lighting of a flame for a camera that has never been extinguished — a bit like the girl you saw from across the room and never forgot. I had crossed paths at work with Peter Suchet (you certainly know of his brothers and who his grandfather was) and he explained how James Jarché got THAT picture of Edward and Mrs. Simpson out in the wild. He explained how the shot had been captured and shared other shots Jarché had captured using a Leica rather than a Pressman. I wanted one! Could I afford one? No!

Bonsai GAS: Olympus XA

In exchange for all the kit I gave my father, I went minimalist as an antidote and returned to Maitani buying a little Olympus XA and then a new XA2 and a new XA4. Brilliant cameras, all of them, as everyday carries with great lenses. Despite having three at one point, it never felt like GAS, maybe because they occupied such a small space.

Pseudo GAS: Canon Ixus

That was followed by a Canon Ixus as the world turned digital. It followed in form the size of the XAs, but never felt like a “real” camera. I recently rediscovered it hiding in a drawer with old USB and RS232 cables…

GAS with a substitute label: Leica DL-5

That flickering Leica GAS-fuelled flame never went away, and was finally captured in a badge- engineering exercise with a used DL-5. As everyone knows, it was a great camera with terrific capabilities, but it was still a Panasonic behind the red dot.

A step closer to a different kind of GAS: Leica DL-109

After The Reverend passed away all that Canon F1n kit came home, though the Billingham bag had mostly been turned to shredded canvas and rubber, courtesy of years of aggressive English mice treating it like a bag of Doritos.

After I sold it all to an overjoyed film enthusiast, I saved some money for future outbreaks of GAS and bought a lovely used DL-109. It also allowed me to get into processing RAW in Lightroom and all the joy that brings. It’s a wonderful camera with such a broad footprint of capabilities that I think it’s a shame that the line stopped with the DL7, never to be continued. However, it still gets regular outings when I need something as small as the old Olympus XA gang.

GAS partially requited: Leica CL

Finally, a camera with a red dot that’s made by Leica! This is another gem that fits Maitani’s Goldilocks principles of compactness, lightness, and the adaptability of a “Swiss Army Knife”. GAS quickly developed with the acquisition of lenses from TL 11-23 to TL 55-135 and a number in-between. The sadness is that yet again that Leica has driven my choice into a cul-de-sac with no future APSC development planned. It’s still a brilliant camera that gets almost daily use. But it’s beginning to fade a little but is nowhere near taking its last gasp.

GAS distilled: Leica Q2

Another of those obsessive Menoporsche-like hot flashes that melts the credit card. I love the Q2 both for the sharpness of its 28mm lens and despite its fixed 28mm field of view. Yet again, it’s compact, if not so light, and has many “Swiss Army Knife” qualities to it. I’m so enamoured by this package that I’m on the list for a Q3.

Classical GAS: Leica M11

There is still the unresolved and unrelenting crush on the M, dating back to the early 80s and that conversation with Peter Suchet. Is it time to push all the various bits of CL kit into the centre of the table, (along with a kidney) and buy a classic M with a 35mm or 50mm lens? Is this where the GAS finally peters out, or will it continue to expand in new directions?

These are just some of the many ways you can experience GAS. But none of them could be described as a laughing matter. Unless you’re the person selling the kit, of course.

New GAS laws

So, what are the suggestions?

  1. Listen to what your heart is telling you, not your head.
  2. More is rarely better: better is more.
  3. Bragging rights rarely equal happiness.
  4. Accept no substitutes – focus on what you really want and wait until it’s affordable.
  5. Expensive doesn’t mean happiness.

With thanks to Central Camera Co. in Chicago, who allowed me to photograph versions of the cameras that I had sold over the years. Their store has been in business since 1899 and is like the last scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The shelves are packed with an assortment of vintage cameras as far as the eye can see. They are all seeking good homes with those of us who suffer from GAS.

Gas and gaiters

The title is a pun, deriving from a comic expression — “all is gas and gaiters”, meaning “all is well” — uttered by an eccentric old gentleman clad in small-clothes and grey worsted stockings in Charles Dickens’s 1839 novel Nicholas Nickleby. It was later employed by such writers as P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and Powell and Pressburger (spoken in the film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). The phrase “all gas and gaiters” has had different meanings. Sometimes it has been used to mean “a satisfactory state of affairs” and sometimes it has had the meaning of “nonsense”. The relevance of this phrase to Anglican clergy is that gaiters (worn over shoes) were part of the traditional dress of bishops and archdeacons.

Wikipedia

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24 COMMENTS

  1. I just caught up to this Chef. What a great read and reflection. Thanks so much.

    The article brought up the memories of my Dad’s Yashica and lenses with which I cut my teeth in Uganda in 1970 or so. Then came my used 1980 Nikons and the Sony Mavica in the 1999 circa part of the last century. (For bragging rights I wish I kept the Sony Macula with the 3.5 inch floppy drive!) Retirement finds me GASing again. First came the Q2 to replace a Nikon D5500 and lenses in 2022. This year I added a used M10-R. I hope to keep the Q2 and M10R until death do us part, but as you point out GAS is always a problem. The Q’s are really Leica’s gateway drug. When you graduate to mainlining an M series camera you start lusting after a SL.

    Personally, I’ll have to go to Lenses Anonymous for the M10 R. I am GASing after a lens longer than the 50 MM.

    Could you lead a 12 step camera GAS group online every week? We could all report how many times we check out new lenses, cameras, accessories, etc. and promise to stop before the group reports us to our wives or partners.

    Really we should just be happy we have nice cameras and gear of any kind! But…. what kind of 90MM + lens would….. Thanks again.

  2. Great article Jon. I still use old cameras and the only one that really tempts me is a used M240 with a 28mm elmarit asph lens. I can’t afford it at the moment. I ‘m using a 14 year old Ricoh GRD4 mostly on an everyday basis and finds it’s just a wonderful camera with wonderful colours and B&W. I accept its limitations. Since I sold my M8, I’ve kept all my old cameras and rotate them. I’m also lucky as my camera dealer is a friend of mine and I can try cameras without buying them. Nothing has really tempted me since I bought a mint XVario for 800 € earlier this year to replace my X2.
    One is happier to enjoy what one has than envy new things

    • Thanks Jean,
      There is an appeal to having opposite ends of the spectrum with the Q3 at one end and something like the old film OM2 at the other, as a way of stretching your skills. We will see!

  3. Dear Jon,
    what a wonderful article! And what a typical story. I know so many photographers who suffer from GAS (or are being told they do, by their partners, children…). I started off with an OM-1 in the 1980s, and I still own quite some Olympus OM cameras and wonderful Zuiko lenses. When I thought I needed an autofocus camera, I opted for a Nikon F90 which was excellent, but I was never really convinced by the Nikon ergonomics. So it went away for a Canon EOS3, a camera that I really loved and sadly sold only to come back to Olympus (E-1, the Four Thirds SLR).
    As for an M, I agree with SlowDriver. Let others pay the depreciation and get a second hand camera. My secret tip is the M262 if you can live without live view. It is lighter than the M240, and with the gorgeous Voigtländer Ultron 35, it makes for a capable and affordable kit. The next best thing to do is to get a regular M10, they’ve dropped in price lately. If a real Leica is to complement the body, the Summarits are good options. Keep us posted on the GAS state of affair…
    Best wishes and thanks again, JP

    • Thanks Joerg-Peter,
      The temptation is definitely there, but I’m going to see how I get on with the Q3. I will be interested to do more cropping and also manual focus with it and see if that still leaves an itch for an M.

  4. If you are lusting after an M you should probably get one. After all life is too short… I bought a new M10-P 2 years ago. I already owned (and still own) a used M9 acquired used in 2013. Would I do it again? Most likely not. $9K for a new M is really a lot of money for an in all honesty not so versatile system and with a start of the art Leica lens you are looking at $15-20K. And it is a money pit… If you like it you are likely to buy a lot more lenses. Before you know it you will have invested $30K in the system. That being said, if you don’t try it that crush is unlikely to go away anytime soon…

    • Thanks!

      See below for various “cures” for GAS that might help prevent this happening. Though I’m not sure even if we are given a sound regimen for GAS that any of us chooses to follow it.

  5. I think I should qualify my “GAS” remarks about an M11.

    The M10 Monochrom does spectacularly well for my needs, and I can get 12×18 inch enlargements from 1/4 of the frame which look like medium format images in their clarity and brilliance. That said, I hope to have an upcoming lens test here where I wished for 60MP, if only to see if that lens actually could resolve things even better than I could get at 40MP. An empty wish perhaps, because I am so pleased with the M10M.

    Now, as regards my M10R, it is a formidable machine indeed, but I do have reservations. I have feelings that there are some deficiencies in color rendition, and I would like things better. Also, unlike the M10M where all 40MP go to a monochrome image, there could well be improvements in resolution that I could use. At least I think so, and am curious.

    And no, new equipment won’t make my photography better, from an aesthetic sense or a compositional sense. But I feel there are excellences in our lenses — and not only Leica ones — that can shine only when we reach the limits 0f diffraction nearly wide-open: f/2.0 to f/4.0. For me, 60MP is the magic number. More than that and there are likely diminishing returns as to real-world sensor resolution.

    Will there be an M12 with 80MP or 100MP? Who knows what advances in sensor technology can bring.

    • Thanks Ed,
      I really do like the idea of an M10R but have not had my hands on one yet. Having just acquired a Q3 it may be a bit rich for me yet.

  6. Yesss, there is the urge to get an M11, but what for? It will not make me take better images. I’ve lived very well without it.
    Sometimes GAS hits hard and afterwards you think what the heck, was it worth it? One is eager to get a piece of equipment after reading tons of reviews, pushing aside the fact, that ones searches for positive reviews to justify the purchase. And then …, after a while the new piece gets a bit boring and disappears in the closet. This happened so many times.
    Did I stop this behavior? Almost
    It’s nice to read your journey through that long time. Thanks, for having us along.

    • Thanks Dirk,

      I wish I had you all along much earlier. Maybe you could have created placards advising me to do some thing different, or blocking my path into the camera store, or even confiscating my credit card.

      These days we maybe have too much advice and we chose to sift through it to provide the answer we want. Which is where trusted advisors come into play.

  7. Very true Jon. I liked your terms ‘menoporsche’ and the ‘hot flashes’, they brought a smile to my face. Is there a GAS spectrum, from those who have to buy a new camera every time a new version with minor upgrades arrives (a bad case), to those who can, or have to, wait years before upgrading (a mild case)? Or repressed GAS for those who think about it but never act? I’m going to follow David’s remedy.

    • Thanks Kevin,

      I think if GAS flares up there are many safe ways to calm this down. The following are “bromide” antidotes:

      Reading endless reviews in which the writers find a number of critical flaws they feel eternally damn the camera to purgatory.

      And if you’re still there, visiting online camera retailers and configuring your ideal camera kit, and then adding up how much it costs and where the money will come from…

      And tuning into forums where owners discuss glitches and bugs that cause the camera to malfunction with no obvious cure.

      There you have it: problem solved…or not…

  8. I’ve an m10 and have a yearning for something monochrom. I originally wanted the m10m but decided my first Leica should be of the colored sort. I’m also hankering for a Q, but a monochrom Q would probably leave me wanting a color Q.

    O, G.A.S. won’t you spare me over ‘til another year.

    • Thanks Brandon,

      The beauty of this dilemma is that there’s no wrong answer. You can change your mind as often as you like before you settle on something, or maybe never settle and save yourself a boatload of cash.

  9. Very true, for some photographers. But I think there is a better alternative solution.

    First, never trade in a coveted camera. Instead, when GAS rears its ugly head, revisit a favourite from your collection and use it for a week or two. Believe me, it will still work as well as it did on the day you bought it. Wonder at the quality of the results. Practise rotation of old cameras in your collection and ignore all press releases for new gear. If you think this is all hypothetical, read on.

    I am currently enjoying my original Leica M8, drawn out of retirement, and continuing to enchant me with its results. I am even circulating old images, taken 12 years ago, which are as fresh as the day I took them. Next month, repeat the challenge with another gem from your collection. Try it. Go on, actually try it!

    • Thanks David,

      I ask myself what might have been if I had kept that Olympus OM2 and just added the odd lens here and there. For sure the retirement fund might have more in it, but would life have been so enjoyable?

      I am tempted to reclaim that OM2 I photographed at Central Camera and give it a good home.

  10. Hi Jon, what a great story. Thanks for sharing your journey through the decades and through the camera models. I am glad to hear that you are closing in on the object of your long-term desire. Isn’t photography a wonderful hobby and aren’t cameras fabulous examples of human ingenuity and engineering? Thanks again. Jeff

    • Thanks Jeff,

      The fickle hand of fate got me a Q3 about three months earlier than anticipated, so M-Day has been postponed for a while.

      I am grateful though to my AD in Chicago who understands M-appeal (not the Avengers sort from the 1960’s though) and is prepared to indulgence my craving and curiosity from time to time.

  11. Very enjoyable, Jon, and true for many of us.

    Here I am now, in my 80s, with two M10s – a Monochrom and an R. Many lenses to choose from on my shelves. But I am likely to be offered an M11 shortly, in trade, and I have started to covet the possibility of 60MP rather than 40MP. I am beginning to think that the color palette of the M11 is more natural.

    And so it goes.

    • Thanks Ed,
      The cycles of “is it good enough?” lead to “is it worth upgrading?” to periods of “nirvana”. And then it begins again…

      I’m envious of those people who find a “thing” that makes them happy and they never desire to replace or upgrade it. You see them with vintage cars, cameras, hi-fi and even stoves. What gene did they get that I’m missing, I wonder? I’m going to call it “The Goldilocks Gene” I think, unless if find a better name…

      Maybe if I had actually sold a kidney in my early 20’s to find an M I would have been happy? But just as likely I would now be on my nth version as I looked for improvements, so no Goldilocks gene here.

      • Hi Jon,
        There are several things in my hobbies where I have reached (near) nirvana and have no desire to improve upon them. One is my espresso machine a La Marzocco Linea Mini, which I have had since it was relapsed nearly 10 years ago. This was after 50 years of pursuing espresso. Another was my stereo set-up, with equipment mostly 40+ years old. Ditto my automobile. Except for eventual replacement due to age.

        None of these were cheap, and each challenged my paying for them when I got them. But with each I was at peace. About my M10s, as I write above the M10M is perfection for me, and the M10R could possibly be better. I mostly take pictures of people, and knowing that I might have, let’s say, a wide angle lens on the camera when I need a close-up of that person, yet the resolution of the lens / camera dyad is such that I can crop away, is the kind of peace of mind I need.

        GAS for me has mostly been knowing that I might want to examine something that advertises as being more useful or better in some way than what I currently have. Of course there are diminishing returns a with each “upgrade”. At some point though, at least for me, that thing is “good enough” and I am at peace. The thing becomes like family. Would I trade in my dog or my wife for a better model?

      • Great article Jon and a few things resonating there for many of us. Modern medicine is wonderful these days, we have mono-clonal antibody treatments that optimise and adjust your immune system, hormone replacement therapy that deals with the aging process in by restoring chemical balance in women. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could come up with GGST (Goldilocks Gene Substitution Therapy) for afflicted photographers?

        • Thanks Röd,
          The real question is whether we would actually want the cure? Maybe we enjoy the agony and ecstasy of GAS…

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