Operation Thin the Herd: Choosing the cameras I’ll keep

Kodak Monitor Six-20

I’ve lost count of how many cameras I own, but it must be more than 100.

When I thought of myself as a camera collector, that wasn’t a problem. I envisioned displaying them in glass-fronted barrister bookcases all over my home. I was going to be that strange old man who lived alone with all those cameras.

Canon AE-1 Program

I never bought the bookcases. And I got married. But most importantly, I now consider myself a photographer far more than a collector. As such, I own far more cameras than I can possibly use.

I don’t even like using some of the cameras I own. Something about each one attracted me enough to buy it. But as I put film through many of them, the romance ended. I didn’t enjoy using them, or I didn’t like the images I got from them, or both.

Olympus XA

And I’ve gained so much experience as a photographer that cameras I enjoyed when I shot them many years ago might not please me now.

What’s the point of continuing to own cameras I won’t use?

And so it begins: Operation Thin the Herd, in which I systematically work my way to owning just the cameras I enjoy and will use again and again.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

For each camera I own, I will first hold it in my hands. Does holding it make me want to shoot it? If not, I will give it away or sell it.

Otherwise, I will immediately put a roll of film into it and start shooting it.

If shooting it, or seeing the resulting images, makes me feel joy, I will keep it. Otherwise, I will give it away or sell it. Then I’ll repeat the process on the next camera in my collection.

Rollei A110

When I’ve done this with all of my cameras, I will review those that survived. If they number more than I can reasonably store, the difficult work begins: evaluating which of them I believe I will realistically use at least once every 12 to 18 months. Those that don’t clear that bar, I will reluctantly give away or sell.

There will be exceptions.

Pentax KM

Several cameras have been given to me as special gifts or have sentimental value. They will remain.

I own more than one of a few cameras. If one of them brings joy in use, I’ll keep only one.

I am likely to keep an SLR body for every major lens mount, so that when I find an interesting lens I will be able to try it.

Ansco B2 Speedex

And a select few cameras might stay just because they’re iconic or marvels of engineering. (I’m looking at you, Polaroid SX-70!)

This does not mean this blog is taking a hiatus on camera reviews. I own several cameras I’ve yet to shoot and will find time to work them in. And I will continue to buy and try old cameras. I’ll just keep only the ones that bring me joy.

Kodak Pony 135

The one thing I haven’t decided yet is how to give away or sell the unwanted cameras. eBay is an obvious option. But I’ve sold cameras there before and don’t enjoy how much time and effort it takes, especially for what little money most of my cameras bring. If you have ideas, let me know.

I will blog about every camera I shoot during Operation Thin the Herd. I’ve already evaluated the first camera, a medium-format box camera; that post is written and that camera is a keeper. Film is in the second camera now, a well-regarded compact rangefinder. 12 frames in, it’s not bringing me joy. It’s days are likely numbered.

I’ll be at this for a good long while — two or three years, I’m sure. So keep coming back to see Operation Thin the Herd’s progress.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.


32 responses to “Operation Thin the Herd: Choosing the cameras I’ll keep”

  1. dan james Avatar

    Jim, fascinating to see your evolution from collector/photographer to photographer/collector.

    As you know I’ve been on (and still am on) a similar adventure.

    I think your philosophy for the Operation Thin the Herd project is very sound. It reminds me of that quote from William Morris – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

    Having duplicates of one particular camera I’m currently struggling a little with. A part of me feels if I love a camera enough, it might be of more value and make more sense to have another the same, rather than a different camera that I don’t like as much instead.

    With the two “twins” you might use them for different lenses (eg M42/PK, or wide angle/tele), or one for colour and the other black and white, so each camera could be optimised for that style of shooting. I’ve kind of done this with my K10D and its Samsung GX10 clone.

    I don’t really see any point in having two identical, and shooting them in an identical way (which is why I recently sold one each of my two Contax 139Qs and Olympus LT-1s!).

    Part of me also quite likes the idea of camera museums where beautiful examples of vintage classics are displayed in glass cases for everyone’s enjoyment – and from a historical educative point of view. I just don’t really want (or have the space for) a camera museum in my house.

    Regarding passing on the cameras you don’t want, I’ve seen other blogs where they’ve simply written a new post with them all listed, the condition and the price and invited interested readers to message them directly.

    You have enough readers that I expect many/most cameras would go to good homes. If you wanted you could just ask for postage costs and otherwise give the cameras away.

    I’m sure it would only endear your readers to you even more.

    Or you could do some kind of competition or raffle?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If a camera were to be used heavily I can see keeping twins. I own two Nikon F2s; I can see keeping my 50/2 on one and my 35/2.8 on the other. (After I get the one F2 CLAd; it needs it.) The F2s are wonderful and were also special gifts so I already know I’m keeping them both.

      But otherwise, no. I own two Olympus OM-1 bodies, for example, and can’t imagine shooting them often enough to need them both.

      I love to give a camera to someone I know, even if only through the electronic ether, who would be delighted by it. I’ve done that many times and will surely do it again and again. But for cameras with no obvious new home I’d like to make a buck off them, to fund future film processing and camera purchases. I’ve considered putting up a For Sale page on this blog and directing readers to it. Or maybe listing on eBay anyway, but doing Buy It Now or Best Offer and giving blog readers preferential and generous discounts. One thing about eBay, its seller and buyer protections do add value.

      1. dan james Avatar

        Your F2s are an excellent example of where it makes sense to keep two.

        Definitely worth trying a post on your blog listing the cameras and seeing if there’s any interest.

        eBay is amazing, it’s just a bit of a faff and time suck!

  2. Sam Avatar

    Right on the money Jim! I feel the same way except these days I see myself more as a collector. How I long to feel like a photographer again! 😊

    1. dan james Avatar

      Sam, interesting thoughts, what would need to happen for you to feel like a photographer again?

      1. Sam Avatar

        Hi Dan, for me to become a photographer again I think I need to get rid of my gear and go back to one camera, two lenses. Not sure it can be done but I’m trying it! 😊

        1. dan james Avatar

          Hi Sam, kind of the same thing I’ve been gradually doing over the last 6-9 months.

          I notice from your top posts on your blog you’re pretty fond of the GR Digital! Do you still have it? I got a III recently, then a GX100, absolutely love them both.

          I’m now starting to wonder if a later GR with APS-C sensor might make my three DSLRs redundant…

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping you can find your way back!

  3. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    I need to do some thinning myself, so will be interested to see what works for you.

    It has been a while since I sold anything on ebay, but one technique I found success with in the past was to sell low value cameras as a group. It cuts down on your time per camera, and tends to keep the shipping cost per camera more reasonable.

    1. dan james Avatar

      Dan, good tip about selling in batches. From personal experience I would say make sure you weigh and measure the package and check the postage costs! I’ve done this before, underestimated the postage, and ending up paying the buyer to take the stuff away in effect, plus having my eBay and PayPal fees on top! Should’ve just donated the lot to a charity shop on that occasion.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Perhaps I can batch up my low-value cameras. I’ve never considered that before. It certainly would cut down on time per camera, and perhaps make the time investment worth it.

  4. […] via Operation Thin the Herd: Choosing the cameras I’ll keep — Down the Road […]

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Over the past eight years, I have tried doing this on several occasions. I doesn’t work. At least for me. Oh, I get serious for a month or two and give away or sell some cameras. Then, through some mysterious force I will never understand, an equal or greater number of new cameras appear at my house. Take it from me, the best you can do is “manage the herd.”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In August, a large box arrived at my house. A longtime collector and pro photographer was retiring and moving across the country. He boxed up a bunch of old gear and sent it to me. There are probably a dozen cameras in there!

      And then there are the cameras I buy because I can’t resist them. That hasn’t happened much in the last year as I’ve had so many cameras in the yet-to-shoot queue. But I’m not immune to a lonely camera’s charms.

      That said, I do want to get down to a storable number of cameras. I’ll manage the herd from there!

  6. lmstevens0724 Avatar

    Nice article, Jim, I have seen people do giveaways or sell equipment on Instagram using stories. They use this option to build and reward followers. Anyone interested is instructed to contact through DM. Much more direct and personalized option. All the best, Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve had thoughts about doing giveaways of some of the cameras. I hadn’t considered doing it through IG though – I’ll look at how others have done that, thanks!

  7. SilverFox Avatar

    Good luck with this Jim, it seems many of us are at a point where accumulating cameras is loosing it’s charm as we want to use them more. I myself am trying to clear down the cameras I don’t think I am going to use and/or don’t think are beautiful enough.
    Agree with Dan’s quote from William Morris.
    This year I set out to use and post about each and every camera I have and as the year is getting close to closing I have to say I am struggling with the process. I feel like when I take out a camera I am familiar with (which I have already posted about) I am less familiar than I thought and am still in the mode of ‘testing’ rather than composing and taking shots I really like. The role of camera reviewer is taking over the photographer in me somewhat.
    I really think I need to slow down and shoot with my favourites for a while and may even give up on the backlog entirely.
    One advantage of shooting the collection is that when I sell them I can say that they work (or not) and push for maximum value; there is the cost of shooting them but that should be at the bonus of getting nice pictures.
    As for selling your also-rans as you say ebay is the obvious choice and I agree bundling the lesser one’s into job lots is a good idea. There are a few online camera museums that might be worth considering too; keep us posted on the one’s you are disposing of though as you never know ;)
    BTW, agree with the shout out for the Polaroid SX-70; one of the most beautiful and clever camera designs out there (in my opinion).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I no longer want to accumulate cameras, but I still want to experience cameras that are new to me. I like the process a lot. In truth, my camera “reviews” are really only experience reports as I write them after shooting one, maaaaaaybe two rolls. That’s not enough to truly know a camera. But it is enough to get an impression. Some of the cameras I’ll shoot on Operation Thin the Herd will be only the second time I’ve ever used them!

  8. analogphotobug Avatar

    Lots of good advice here. One thing I would add in favor of “twin” cameras. I keep one spare of my favorite cameras so that I always have on for parts. I have a good camera repairman. But parts can be hard to get. Keep that in mind.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So far, when one of my cameras breaks I usually just say goodbye to it. The only time I haven’t is when my beloved Pentax ME developed a light leak. I sent it off for CLA.

  9. DougD Avatar

    Pick the 10 you like best and have Margaret take the others to the BFM store while you’re at work? Or sell them in one lot on Ebay and let someone else sort them out.

    I have the same problem with guitars, we’ll be up to 8 in the house soon. We have three players in the family, but that’s pushing it…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had to look up BFM store; apparently that’s a Canada thing! I suppose for some of my junk cameras they can go to the thrift shop but many of them have real value and I want to see them go to good homes.

  10. tbm3fan Avatar

    I like cameras. I like the workmanship that went into them. I like the technology that went into them at the time. I like the nice chrome bodies as much as I like nice chrome bumpers on my cars. Naturally there are cameras that don’t fit that criteria like the Olympus Mui II. Great tech but boring to look at. I’ll take my Koni Rapid Omega over that Olympus.

    In the last two months I have gone through what I have and it numbers over 225 give or take. At least 90 are SLRs. A few don’t fire but that is Ok as they are a duplicate. All others have been resealed, shutters cleaned where needed and blades cleaned where needed. Did four this past week: Aires 35-III, Aires Viscount, Beauty Super II and Petri 2.8 Color Corrected. Late 50’s rangefinders that are just beautiful.

    Will I thin them out? Not just yet as I would like to try them all out. I would not be trying them out to review but to see what I can get and develop with each piece. I was a photographer first and always will be. Of course, the most precious resource is time. One needs to get out from the house where one has a wife, an eight year old, ten cars (my fondest hobby), a warship to restore ( a passion), all the while working in my office. I really need an eight day week with the eight day for shooting.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have simply never found my camera-repair mojo. I’ve fixed a couple, simple fixes only. But I’ve had new light seals for my Canonet QL17 for five years now and I’ve not yet managed to install them.

      If I could have ten cars, I would.

      Like you, I love the workmanship and engineering that goes into even the simplest camera. It’s what attracted me to collecting them in the first place!

  11. Steve Perry Avatar
    Steve Perry

    Hi, Jim], Love your blog; I find it to be both inspirational and educatioal. Thank you. I’d be happy to help you “thin the herd” by giving your Pentax KM a new home. Best, Steve

    Steve Perry Stockton, CA

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Glad you enjoy my blog! The KM is almost certainly one of the cameras I’ll keep. I bought it from an old friend whose dad bought it new, and so I know it’s been perfectly maintained all these years. But stick around — other gear is going to become available.

  12. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Congratulations, that’s a big step, and generous of you to give away some of them! I hope you can find some young photographers and start them on a love affair with film.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I love to give cameras to people I know will enjoy and value them. I have given a couple cameras to budding photographers, too. All of that is on the table as I thin the herd.

  13. rr1photography Avatar

    crazy how quickly they seem to find themselves to my door. I suppose I should let a few go but I have not really found any I don’t like!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have. Not many, but some.

  14. Marc Beebe Avatar

    This series has actually made me feel a bit better about the forced departure of my hundreds of cameras.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh good! I had a similar forced departure in 2003 so what you’re reading about is the collection I rebuilt since then.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.