Living with GAS, one film photographer’s story so far…

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WARNING: The contents of this article may have a detrimental and irrecoverable affect on your financial health. You have been warned…

GAS doesn’t necessarily kill you, but as a “syndrome” there are steps you can take to live as normal a life as possible with GAS. This article seeks to educate others about GAS, identify the early warning signs of GAS and tell my story of GAS exposure, increasing, GAS prices and self-medicating with GAS.


I. What is GAS?

GAS means many things to many people. The OED Online has many definitions, but this one seems to sum it up neatly: “Gas is one of the three or (including plasma) four classical states of matter.” Since I am neither a chemist nor a physicist, that is not the type of “gas” to which I am referring. Instead, I am talking about “Gear Acquisition Syndrome.” That phrase is defined in the glossary section of shuttermuse.com as:

GAS stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome and it describes a “condition” that some people have which causes them to want to purchase new camera gear, even when their current camera setup is perfectly good. It must be noted that this is NOT a legitimate medical condition of course 🙂 It’s just a bit of fun, but it is often talked about.

GAS usually occurs when a photographer’s chosen camera manufacturer releases a new upgrade to a camera or lens that the photographer already owns. Up to that point they had been perfectly happy with their camera and the photos it was creating, but now all of a sudden it seems unsuitable.

Living with GAS – Lens GAS

That’s a general definition of GAS, but for we film photographers, there are generally no “new” upgrades to our equipment. Actually, there is precious little new camera gear to buy (and by “new,” I mean brand new, not “new to you” or “new old stock” (NOS)). Instead, we “analog” shooters have to rely on third party sellers and resellers.

GAS creeps up on you slowly, it is not only silent, but deceptive. I mean if I can get a “good” used Nikon F2 for between $175 – $200 with the DP-12 finder on it, making it the “F2AS,” or spend that same amount on filling my car up with gasoline two or three times, that’s not a close call, the F2AS wins every time, even though I commute to work in my car. Honestly, the train might be a better option that week, right???

I wrote that paragraph in red because the word red begins with the letter “R.” That letter is also the first letter in the word “Rationalize”, which is what I did in that paragraph. By comparing the cost of the Nikon F2AS to something I consider trivial or that I could go without for a week, it is easy for me to decide to purchase that camera. Of course, despite the rationalizations and the purchase, I still filled my car up with gasoline (twice) that week. And that’s the thing about GAS: GAS convinces you that you need something; motivates you to find that thing (camera, lens, camera bag, expired film, more cameras, more lenses, clothing, filters, shutter releases and tripods) at “reasonable” prices; and finally, GAS helps you to rationalize the purchase regardless of the sanity of the purchase or your actual “need” for the item.


Now that we have defined GAS; how to recognize its symptoms; and how it grabs a hold of you, let’s move on to the question of how one acquires the Syndrome and how to deal with it once your brain is corrupted by the Syndrome. Just a quick note here about healthcare insurance in the US and GAS. The most recent version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) maintained by the World Health Organization currently classifies GAS as a psychiatric or mental illness. As a result, few if any private or public health insurers will reimburse you for any professional help you may seek to try and cure your GAS. As a result, my advice is to save the money you would be forced to spend on psychologists or psychiatrists and use that money for more gear. Seriously.

II. My Story

My battle with GAS is different than most. I am told that I was likely infected at age 12 or 13, but was asymptomatic until approximately one week before my 51st birthday in December 2018. (For those of you schooled in the Queen’s English, that makes me the “geezer of gear.”)

A. The Early Years

In the early years, my mom gave me her Nikon Nikkormat FT. That thing was carved out of whatever stone from which the Hammer of Thor was also carved. I mean it was heavy. It had an equally heavy black and chrome Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (more on that later). Being young and a know-it-all, I thought that camera was old and outdated, I mean after all it was 1980! So I promptly traded my first Nikon, which had accompanied my parents on their “Grand Tour” honeymoon through every European capital and countryside and had taken spectacularly perfectly exposed Kodachrome slides (both the fast and the slow emulsions — 64 and 25) of all of the major cities in Europe and the “Eastern Bloc.”

I had occasion to see some of those slides again not too long ago, and honestly, while they have been stored in a dark “hat box” at the top of a closet, when I held them up to the light, I could not believe the colors held up THAT well. Paul Simon was right when he famously sang: “Kodachrome. They give us those nice bright colors. They give us the greens of summers. Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah.”

Living with GAS –Nikon GAS

He, like both me and my mom, also owned a “Nikon Camera.” (Of course like everything else that we seem to cherish from years gone by, the chemical process of developing Kodachrome, seemingly killed all living things on the earth. I recently heard that the yellow dye used in the dye destruction process when developing the film had been placed on the EPA’s list of banned chemicals, as in banned forever. Makes you understand why, allegedly, Kodak destroyed all of the copies of the formula to process the film and similarly the machinery. I just read an article here on EMULSIVE about the ability to reproduce an EPA approved chemical process to develop Kodachrome again. Can’t wait, I still have 4 rolls of deep-frozen Kodachrome II 200 ISO, just in case … Remember, it “makes all the world a sunny day, oh yeah!”)

In any event, back to the story. So, being young and impetuous, what did I do with that Nikkormat??? I traded that old heavy camera for a slightly lighter less old camera and not one but 2 lenses. (Was I so gullible that I did not even realize that such a trade meant that I was getting the worst of the deal? Sady, yes, I was an idiot.) In exchange for the camera made by the Gods, I got a smaller version (thankfully also made by the Nikon Gods), this time in all black. Not that “outdated” chrome and black. I got…wait for it… a black Nikon FM with the Series E “pancake” 50mm f/1.8 and the Series E “pancake” 28mm f/2.8. Honestly, I still love that camera, but I gave the lenses away a few months ago. I wanted the FM, because it took an autowinder, the MD-12, and I had dreams of being a professional “sports photographer.”

Living with GAS –More Nikon GAS

The FM travelled with me, served as my primary camera for almost 40 years. I became the “co-photo editor” of my senior high school yearbook. Once I graduated High School and went off to college, I worked part-time photography jobs and in “one hour” photo labs in malls. I worked as a photographer’s assistant shooting weddings, bar mitzvahs, communions, and other events. (In doing that, I was able to use real pro medium format gear — Hasselblads). It was then I discovered my passion for darkroom printing, not black & white, but color.

Let me say, by 1987 I was suffering from a mild undiagnosed, short-lived, bout with GAS. I had a Beseler 23CIIXL enlarger and an EL-Nikkor enlarging lens (what else?). I had a grain focuser, I had a Beseler drum paper processor with a motor base to agitate, but I did not have a dial in color head, so I had to use gelatin filters to adjust color and do exposure test strips. My god it took forever to make one print, but it was worth it. I fell in love with making Ilford Cibachrome (and I mean Cibachrome, not Ilfochrome) prints. To this day, those are surely the best photos I ever printed. Since I could process all of the E6 I wanted for free (at the mini-lab) and could send the Kodachrome out for processing at a discount, my GAS was solidly focused on dark room equipment and supplies.


B. The Interim Period

In 1989, having graduated University with a degree in “political science,” and having given up my dream of being a professional photographer of any sort (but still working in mini-labs), I went to law school. And that was the beginning of the end. By the time I graduated from law school in 1992, the era of digital photography had begun. Suddenly everyone was a photographer (but not all good). It was during this period that my GAS subsided for years. I had no interest in digital photography, not because I thought it was inferior, but because I could not understand what people would do with all of those electronic files. Plus it meant giving up my beloved FM. It was at that time that put down my camera. Sure, I picked it up when I first travelled (for the first time) to London in 1997 and on other “unique” trips and experiences. But, for the most part, it was collecting dust in a closet.

Living with GAS – GAS bags and GAS tees

Throughout my lifetime I have never owned a truly digital camera other than the camera built into my cell phone du jour. However, the prevalence of good cell phone cameras is a relatively new invention. My kids were born in 2008 and 2011 respectively. Stil, I never felt the desire to invest in a digital kit. By then my various Android phones’ cameras were respectable enough to document what I needed. Plus, they marvelously also shot video. My FM could not do that. Despite the fact that Nikon was making (and makes) respectable DSLRs that shot video, I still was able to keep my GAS in check. Oddly.

C. The Resurgence

The year was 2018. We had moved in 2016 and I was going through the last few boxes from the old house….and then it happened. I smelled an old familiar smell (literally, I smelled it). What could that be, mold? No. Mildew? No. It was the sweet smell of my old Tenba camera bag. To quote Robert Duvall from the movie Apocalypse Now…It “smelled like victory.”

I quickly opened it. There was my trusty FM, the 28mm and 50mm Series E lenses, but wait, what was this, a clean perfectly intact Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (a beautiful piece of glass to be sure, even if I could not recall exactly how I acquired it). Also in a separate case was a Hanimex 80-200mm f/4.5 two-ring zoom lens (also of unknown origin). In the front pocket of the back were two screw-in rubber retractable Nikon lens hoods, a cable release and the receipt for the 105 lens (from a long defunct camera shop near where I lived). I started laughing. My kids overheard me chortling to myself and came to see what treasures I had found!

Living with GAS – Nikon F3

My youngest, quickly asked, what’s that? A camera? She quickly asked me to take a picture of her. And wait, what’s this, there’s film still in the camera! The winder was still attached, but sadly, I had failed to take the 1987 batteries out of it and they leaked creating an acid soaked, plastic glue killing that winder forever. I quickly unscrewed the winder, checked the camera’s battery compartment. Good news, no battery. For some reason I had a battery that fit the camera in my house. I popped it in, the meter lit up and we were in business. (Remember, the FM has a fully mechanical shutter, so even if the meter hadn’t lit up, I’d still have been able to shoot).

By now my oldest had started to become interested. Particularly when I started shooting pictures of his sister. I ripped off the rest of the roll — Kodak Tri-X 400. When I was done I put the camera down and the kids looked on the back of the camera where the square “memo holder” is located and kept asking me why they couldn’t see the pictures I had just taken. I said, because it’s a film camera. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks, just as the question came out of their mouths in unison “Daddy, what’s film?” What indeed? I tried to explain it. I did a poor job. Finally, I settled on explaining the chemical process of film photography as magic.

I was able to get the film processed and scanned (D&S as opposed to when I worked in the industry — D&P (Develop & Print)), at a local lab not far from my office. To my utter shock, there were good images on the first 26 frames and the last 10 frames. The first 26 frames were of London circa 1997-98. The last 10 frames were taken in my house some 20 years later in December 2018!

As I walked out of the lab and back to my office, I whipped out my phone, logged onto eBay and was already searching for a used Nikon MD-12 to replace the battery damaged one I threw out the day before. Oh, here was one for $30 (a horrifyingly low price – to me). Surely, at that price, it could not work, but it was “worth a shot.” By the time I made it back to the office, I was awaiting delivery of the MD-12, had bid on a Nikon F, a cool old Nikon leather camera bag and an old Linhof aluminium tripod made in “West” Germany. By the end of the day, I had won all three auctions. The seller of the Nikon F (which was an older version and did not take the Photomic finder) “threw in” a “kit lens” — a Nikkor 50mm non-ai f/2.0. I do not remember what I paid for all 4 items in total, but it did not exceed $250. I was back! The GAS that had lain dormant in my body for so many years now filled my lungs and my nasal passages. It smelled like victory!!


D. The Present Day

As I write this, it is May, 2020, we are presently “locked down,” but the result of my almost 2 year bout GAS is a fully mature “analog camera collection.” That collection has grown unimaginably since December 2018:

  • 2x Nikon F’s
  • 2x Nikon F2’s
  • 1x Nikon F3
  • 1x Nikon F3AF
  • 1x Nikon F4
  • 2x Nikon FM’s
  • 2x Nikon FE2’s (had 3, but gave one to someone I work with for Christmas)
  • 1x Nikon 35Ti
  • 1x Bronica ETRSi (medium format)
  • 1x Bronica S2A (the budget shopper’s Hasselblad)
  • 1x Bronica EC-TL (the first medium format camera with a reliable built-in light meter)

Because I am an admittedly Nikon fanboy, all of the camera bodies I bought are able to use any of the lenses I have purchased, which are too many in number to list here. Suffice to say, all of the lenses on my top 10 Nikkor list, I have acquired. Including the 50mm f/1.4, that was originally attached to the Nikkormat.

Living with GAS – I don’t JUST collection Nikons…but

In addition, I’ve come into possession of the following Nikkors: 500mm reflex (fixed) f/8; 85mm f/1.4 AI-s; 28mm f/2.8 AI; 35 – 200mm macro focusing f/3.5 zoom; 200mm f/4 and 300mm fixed focal length telephotos; and many others. In addition, I was able to obtain Nikon adapters for M42 and Exata mount lenses so I got a Meyer Optik Gorlitz Primoplan “red V” 58mm f/1.9 and a Carl Zeiss in Jena 25mm f/4 Flektogon. The Bokeh and color rendition on both of these lenses even with adapters for use on the Nikon bodies is shockingly great after all these years and somewhat different than that of my Nikkors (easy there fellow fanboys, I said different, not better).

Living with GAS – Medium format GAS

With regard to the Bronicas, when I decided to “branch out” into medium format, I chose Bronica because when the cameras first came out, the lenses were made by Nikkor, Zeiss in Jena, Komura, and Zenzanon. I mean Nikkor made a 200, 400, 600, 800, and yes even a 1200mm telephoto lens that fit both the S2A and EC-TL … how could I resist (I own only the 200mm, the rest are entirely too long, heavy, and unwieldy). Not to mention when using the waist level finder with the CZJ 80mm f/2.8 the image on the focusing screen actually appears three dimensional and when you adjust the aperture ring, you see the bokeh on the screen itself.

Note: In researching links for this article, I came across this article by David Hancock on EMULSIVE. I had totally forgotten about this Nikkor 250 mm f/4 for Bronica (probably because it was written before I owned the Bronica S2A), so now I can feel the GAS starting to bubble up in my brain. I seem to recall that good copies of this lens are elusive. That makes the bubbling increase ever more….

III. How You Can Self-Medicate

GAS is everywhere now, you can feed your addiction on your cell phone, without leaving your house (which is important now since you really shouldn’t leave your house). You can medicate with actual camera gear, film (new and expired), “accessories” like filters, and even clothing (as I write this I’m wearing one of Em’s orange “Big F” t-shirts I purchased to keep myself from buying another Nikon body (which I bought anyway).

As I said above, for we film photographers, there are generally no “new” upgrades to our equipment. There is precious little new camera gear to buy (and by “new,” I mean brand new, not “new to you” or “new old stock” (NOS)). Instead, we “analog” shooters have to rely on third party sellers and resellers. And that can be tricky. There are many shady sellers out there coupled with sellers who simply found a load of stuff in their Gran’s attic and decided to sell it. Having no idea it’s true condition or value.

Living with GAS – Meyer-Optik Görlitz GAS

That’s where God aka Japan Camera Hunter, can be very helpful. JCH (or Mr. JCH to you) is the one person you can trust, not only when buying all sorts of vintage gear, new clothing and other knick-knacks online, but also the one person you can trust to source that gear for you if he does not presently have it in stock. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he’s actually located in Japan, where stocks of the gear you want and need is plentiful! In addition, I can personally attest to his honesty and integrity. On more than one occasion Mr. JCH has told me frankly that the cost for him to acquire an item in very good condition, coupled with his fee/commission plus the costs of shipping, made it more economical for me to look elsewhere, given the plentiful nature of the items I was looking for at the time. Nevertheless, when I wanted the Nikkor 500mm f/8 reflex (macro focusing) and the 85mm f/1.4 (a bokeh monster!), there was only one place I considered trustworthy enough to source those two giant pieces of glass — Japan Camera Hunter.


If, like me, you enjoy the “hunt” for the gear just as much as acquiring it, there are always cites like eBay, CataWiki, Amazon, resellers online, and perhaps some surviving local “shops” that sell digital photography equipment, but maintain a separate “section” for “used gear” sales. And for the more adventurous “hunters” among us who need ever larger and more “exotic” GAS fixes there is generally Rakuten Ichiba (a sort of Amazon and eBay mash-up from Japan) and one of its “stores” Nikon DIrect, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary! (Of course since neither Nikon Direct nor Rakuten Ichiba publish their cites natively in english nor ship abroad, you’ll need to become adept with both google translate and Rakuten Global Express, which serves as a drop shipper in Japan and provides you with a “local” japanese mailing address and then once your items arrive in its warehouse, packages them and ships them off to you — its much more efficient than I’ve described).

IV. Conclusion

This piece was obviously written tongue in cheek and it was started before anyone knew just how bad this pandemic would turn out to be. Obviously, your health and safety and that of your families is paramount. Therefore, you must be circumspect about where you order and how you clean the gear you receive from any location on the planet. In addition, shipping from all places and by any means has slowed substantially. Finally, given these troubling financial times, please, in all seriousness, do not spend foolishly on 50 year old gear in lieu of something you actually need to live.

At some point, I came to terms with my syndrome. I long ago ceased rationalizing my purchases as something I needed to get a particular shot or make a particular image. I mean really. I have accepted the fact that me and my gear make images that I love and others occasionally like. But, I now understand that I am a collector as much as a user of all of this gear, and as such, enjoy collecting as much as making the images.

VI. Epilogue

A different kind of Canon GAS

That bit above in the conclusion about being at peace with my self-described role as a collector is crap. I forgot to tell you that in my battle with GAS I purchased a Canon Pixma-Pro 10 printer and a Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ed negative scanner because I was fed up with the prints and scanning I was getting from labs far and wide. Now, if I could just scrape together enough for a Filmomat 2020!

~ David

Note: Back when we first spoke about this article in late March, EM suggested that the working title of this post be “GAS: The Silent Killer.” Nevertheless, given the current state of affairs, that seemed in poor taste. So I changed the title, yet included this note so I could have the best of both worlds!

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9 thoughts on “Living with GAS, one film photographer’s story so far…”

  1. What is it about 2018 and film? I discovered my old Contax 139 Quartz with it’s Planar 1.7/50 lens in a box in the wardrobe, got the film processed fifteen years after it was shot and now suddenly I have a cupboard full of cameras, including four more Contax, three Mamiya 67, a Rolleiflex 6002 and assorted other wonders. The film scanner came during lockdown and I have made a start on forty-five years plus of negatives and slides. There must be something in the air I think!

    Reply
    • I agree, 2018 was an oddly good year for film and gear acquisition. It was when the market was still plentiful and prices hadn’t shot up. Kodak was only rumored to be reintroducing Ektachrome and no one knew what would happen. I have to say that Contax with a 50mm 1.7 Planar is a phenomenal discovery! The fact that you’ve done so much scanning is fantastic!

      Reply
  2. I’m probably not helping when I say that, in the UK, charity shops are a great way of finding cheap gear. There are also the market stalls that proliferate the ‘vintage’ section of Portobello road, which is where I bought my Nikon F2. I was so overjoyed at finding one that, while I checked the lens was fine, I didn’t check the camera out at all! Thankfully it was in good condition and has served my very well over the last three years. Camden market will probably have someone who sells camera gear too. And then sometimes you get very lucky and a friend or relative actually gives you old cameras for free, just because you like them :).
    I hope that you continue to collect/take photos/write funny and rambling articles and enjoy life with GAS.

    Reply
    • James, thanks for your response. It is helpful. I neglected to include charity shops because we do not have a thriving group of them near where I live, nevertheless you are correct they are great sources of gear. Thanks for your encouragement, I am hoping to submit another funny, rambling article. Hopefully, EM will publish it!

      Reply
  3. David. Enjoyed reading about your journey and experiences in the area of photography. While I can’t say I understood all the details about the vintage gear, related to photography, which you described, your passion for photography, as a creative art form, was quite evident in this piece.

    Reply
  4. Why ? why did you spoke about Filmomat 2020 ?

    In fact i did not even know the existence of this machine but now i want one ! i need one !!
    Thank you and i wish you to not recover too fast from your GAS, they’re plenty of gears to buy 🙂

    Reply
    • The Filmomat looks great. You can check it out on IG @filmomatofficial. Also, since the date I submitted this article I was able to acquire 5 more “new/old” Nikkor lenses 105mm; 28mm; 25mm; 35mm all pre-Ai; and 40mm GN

      Reply
  5. David, wonderful to read and to know that there are many co-sufferers out there…
    None of us wants to be treated for this kind of a wonderful “mental” disease..
    Because the end of the day; this disease is not hurting anybody else.
    I am more in…well, everything else but also Nikon as well…
    This is a disease which makes us being very flexible in our way to suffer I guess…
    Again, thank you for the wonderful read here tonight and please, gift us with more of your mindful ingredients in the nearest future..
    Because there is also a spiritual GAS floating around, which in terms of reading makes us “crying for more”…
    Stay safe and keep going please…
    With joy and respect
    Harry D. Machold

    Reply
    • Harry, thanks for your delightful comment. It makes me happy that I was able to shine some light on this issue. And you’re correct, it is the best kind of illness: it hurts no one else (actually benefits sellers); brings joy to you (albeit briefly); and also helps to perpetuate analog film photography — which in turn drives people to learn how to repair this gear, which keeps the gear alive and keeps film manufacturers making film, etc. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article and if Em will print more of my rambling stories, I will certainly continue to write them. Keep it up!

      Reply

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