Last week I spent $450 on a camera.
That might not be much in the scheme of things, nor much in the world of fancy cameras, but in my current scheme of things, it's a pretty hefty chunk of money. The kind of chunk of money that ended up being put on a credit card.
I'm really good at living on a shoestring. I've been poor pretty much forever, although I am now on the cusp of a career where I can make enough money to actually have savings. So throughout graduate school and since, I've tried to keep my spending very limited. I currently make enough money to pay the rent, feed myself, pay a tiny chunk towards my student loans every month or two, and go out for drinks occasionally. But that's about it. I've been avoiding large purchases of any kind, focusing on needs instead of wants (apart from the drinks...).
So when, several months ago, I had to give back the lovely camera that had been loaned to me for 3 years (which I used all through the New Zealand trip), I bought a basic point-and-shoot camera for less than $100 and figured I would get by without a nicer one until I got a better job. It didn't work out like that.
This is basically a story of "having something taken away from you makes you realize how much you love it." I knew I really liked using a good quality camera, and I very much appreciated the quality of the photos it took. I know next to nothing about photography, but I caught the bug of documenting things using photos, finding cool angles and lighting, neat candid shots, and trying to capture the wonder of the cool places I was seeing. It just wasn't the same with a cheap camera. The quality of the photos began to feel fake to me, like I wasn't capturing the full essence of things. I didn't feel the same. I missed the heft of a big camera in my hands, twisting the lens to zoom, the weight on the strap around my neck. Not to mention the ability to mess with multiple settings to get the picture just right. Over the last month or so, I began to realize that having a good quality camera is actually a boon to my mental health. Weird as that sounds. There is a profound form of satisfaction that I get from taking nice pictures (even if it's the camera doing most of the work), and living without that was getting extremely hard, and making me feel restless.
So, after a bit of thought and debate, I began to make the decision to spend money I didn't have in order to get that feeling of satisfaction back. I got the final bit of validation I needed from my very wise friend Lydia. When I explained the situation to her, she said this: "Well, you can wait until you're 60 and have the money, or you can buy it now and enjoy it when you actually want to enjoy it." Exactly.
I am now the owner of a Nikon D3100 digital SLR camera, and I'm completely in love.
It's a bottom-of-the-line camera in terms of dSLRs, but it's a million times better than any camera I've ever used. Such that I can only claim a small percentage of the credit for photos like these:
I still know next to nothing about how to really use a camera, what changes in aperture and shutter speed mean, and those kinds of things. A photography class is on my list of things to accomplish this year, and there's a good one coming up this fall at a community arts center, which focuses on learning to use a dSLR as well as general photography skills.
At some point in the last three years, I caught the photography bug, and it's not going away. I can feel it becoming as vital to me as writing is, to process my feelings and experiences. This is a good reminder to me that while wants often masquerade as needs, the opposite is also true. And that sometimes it's solidly worth it to put yourself in the red a little bit to satisfy those needs.