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The Camera and Lens I Wish I Had Never Sold

Many photographers buy and sell gear at a steady pace, always looking for some interesting new lens or body to try. I am no different, and I have bought and sold my fair share of gear over the years.  I have come to regret selling one specific camera and lens, though.

I spend a fair amount of time on Fred Miranda’s buy/sell forum, looking for interesting cameras or lenses to try out. Most pass through my camera bag and are sold again on the same forum after a few months. Once in a while, one finds a more permanent place in my collection. However, I have occasionally made a mistake by selling a camera or a lens and eventually (or immediately) coming to regret the decision. 

Mamiya 645 AFD

Image by Flickr user Didjeridoo_tom, used under Creative Commons.

Hoo boy, did I love this camera. I grew up shooting 35mm film on cheap cameras, and I always loved photography, but I never got serious about it until I grew up, which meant I never got to experience the joys of really nice equipment until then. I bought this camera in 2013 along with 35mm f/3.5, 80mm f/2.8, and 150mm f/3.5 lenses. It was my first experience with medium format, and the feeling of seeing a true 6×4.5 negative for the first time was astounding. The detail was jaw-dropping, the focus roll-off beautiful, and the medium format look addictive. 

The 645AFD looked and handled like a giant, well-designed SLR. It had all the normal built-in metering and exposure functions, a fairly decent (for medium format film) phase detection autofocus system, and all the normal features you would expect from such a camera. I normally ran Ilford 120 film through it, opting to shoot in black and white because the way the tonality and focus roll-off combined was just so beautiful. 

I really loved that camera. It was impractical, but on the same token, I would never (and will never) own a top-end medium format digital camera, so this was my chance to dabble with that world. 

Why did I sell it after two years? Well, I did not see the financial benefit of it. I never shot medium format film for clients, and 120 film is expensive to shoot and just as expensive to develop. I was trying to consolidate my kit at the time and reduce it to essentials. Furthermore, I did not shoot it that often. Unless it is your specialty, you just do not pull out a medium format film camera very much, saving it for specific situations where the combination of its look and creative inspiration justify the cost of shooting with it. In those two years I owned it, I probably shot about 200 negatives, taking it out on maybe 15 occasions. I managed to sell the kit for about the same price I paid for it, so in the end, I just paid for the film and developing costs.

Why did I regret selling it then? It was expensive, impractical, and rarely used — all valid reasons for jettisoning it from my kit. Well, the very things that made it expensive, impractical, and rarely used were the things that made it special. I learned after the fact that just because I did not shoot it that often did not mean it did not deserve a place in my kit; there is not a direct correlation between the number of frames that pass through a camera and its worthiness. The 645 film experience was something entirely different. It slowed me down, it made me think differently, and most of all, it got me excited. It returned me to a sort of pure photography, whatever that was.

Though I never reacquired the Mamiya, down the road, I purchased another medium format film camera. This time, I wanted something a bit simpler and less expensive, so I opted for a Fujifilm GW690 III with a 90mm f/3.5 lens (the 80mm was my most used lens with the Mamiya), and I know this camera will remain in my kit for years to come. 

Canon EF 135mm f/2L

As my favorite meme says: “the risk I took was calculated, but man, am I bad at math.” The EF 135mm f/2L was my first real lens, and I remember the first time I took a photo with it on my original Canon 7D. It was instant magic. There was that narrow depth of field, that sharpness, that beautiful, smoky contrast. It is a lens that produces beautiful images with minimal fuss: autofocus is fast and accurate, aberrations are well controlled, sharpness is good, and the bokeh is just gorgeous. 

So, why did I sell it? I’m bad at math. It started when I got the famous EF 85mm f/1.2L II. The 85mm f/1.2L is a legendary lens for good reason. It combines an extremely wide aperture with a characteristic 3D “pop” that few other lenses exhibit, making images taken with it instantly jump off the screen. It is also a royal pain in the neck to use. Autofocus is slow and fickle, and you miss a good chunk of shots due to that. Eventually, though, I decided that having both the 85mm and 135mm was a bit redundant for my work. I decided to sell the 135mm, mostly because its working distance was sometimes a bit of a hassle, especially indoors. Man, am I bad at math.

I immediately regretted the decision. The 85mm, while more practical on paper, was nowhere near as fun as the 135mm. When shooting with it, I had to direct all my attention to making sure I nailed focus and dealing with its general fickleness. On the other hand, with the 135mm, it was just pure fun: fast and reliable. You got 90% of the 85mm’s image characteristics for 10% of the hassle. And beyond those objective reasons, I was just sentimental over my first real lens.

Two months later, I was sitting in a booth at the local Cheesecake Factory, buying another copy of the lens. My new copy wasn’t quite as good as the old one, but it is still fantastic. Boy, did I miss it. It is everything a lens should be: it has character, it’s technically strong, it’s reliable, and it’s a joy to shoot. It surely has a permanent place in my bag now, and I use it more than ever.

What Are Yours?

Have you ever gotten rid of a piece of gear and come to regret it? Tell me your story in the comments. 

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