Original reader question: I am feeling lost and pretty depressed. I LOVE Photography, but continuing declining health conditions have made it all but impossible for me to use my Nikon DSLR gear anymore. I just can't carry even a body with an 18-300 zoom lens for over an hour or so without symptoms ranging from aggravating discomfort to severe pain – forget about trying to carry my full gear pack! I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t know what the future holds, but all indications are that my condition is permanent and will continue to degenerate.

I’ve given serious consideration to selling all of my DSLR gear and quitting photography altogether...but that idea sent me in to a week-long very deep depression I had a lot of trouble getting out of.

I have an iPhone 8+ and have considered also adding a Sony RX100 Mk VI and just shooting with those...but then I feel like I’ve lost the ability to pursue “real” photography. However even with their limitations, they both allow me to save my images to Raw where I can then edit and manipulate them to my heart’s content in post!

I guess my struggle is feeling like that is not “real" photography...which I know is stupid, but I can’t get that thought out of my head!

I was reading about one guy who only shoots an iPhone 5S and still prints all of his images and sells them in a gallery. What the heck is my hang up? A good image is more about subject and composition than the gear it was taken with. I know that...but somehow I feel like just using an iPhone is cheating?

Do you have any thoughts that might help me?

Interesting reader responses

Most of these are partial quotes.

Meir: Like you, I think that using a smartphone is not "real" photography; it is more like point and shoot photography, where the camera makes the decisions. But photographing with a GOOD compact camera – like the RX100, gives you all the benefits and fun of photographing with a professional camera, with the comfort of a lightweight and small gear.

Jay: Tell "Lost" he already knows the answer and just follow his heart. Like most of us, we are not using photography to become rich or famous. We do it for the joy that the creative process gives us. Grab that iPhone and start shooting.

Simon: I sympathize with your health issues as I suffer from a long standing neck/shoulder injury that I keep at bay with exercise. I moved to the Olympus Mirrorless system about 5-6 years ago as the weight of a DSLR was no fun to carry around especially when traveling. Increasingly, I shoot with my iPhone when I’m out and about and even on holidays as the quality is sufficient for my needs. There are many amazing photos taken by the iPhone or the Sony RX100 series. I have printed images taken on the iPhone up to A2 size and I am satisfied with the quality.

Colin: I also, at near 70 years old, am finding the heavy dSLR kit beginning to impair my photographic enthusiasm. However, I do not feel any great creative bond to my gear apart from the financial investment in it. I reason that the camera is just the tool I use to capture the image I want. What specific model it is does not matter – what I see and how I process that to get the image I wish to show others is where I express my vision, take, feeling and particular viewpoint about that subject, that scene, person etc.

Therefore, my opinion is that you should not stress about going lighter with the gear but, rather, embrace the freedom and use the phone and compact camera to grab the Raw data and then play with it in the comfort of your cosy home studio! Good luck exploring a more lightweight future. Throw off the shackles of heavy SLR and take to the streets feather light, fast of foot and fancy free!

Gary: Have you considered buying some flash guns or reflectors and taking up indoor photography? Much of this can be done with the camera on a tripod. Portraits, still life, food photography, certain types of macro, etc. are all there to be explored.

Cal: I was photographing a festival in Conroe, Texas and came across a younger fellow that had some very interesting photos in a booth he had set up. Quite a few were from the Middle East and very interesting. On querying him on the hassle of carrying equipment on sojourns, he laughed and brought out his iPhone, smiled and said this was all the equipment he needed.

You see, dear fellow photographer, it 'aint' the equipment, it's the EYE that sees. All the blogs are full of the latest and greatest equipment, and to no end they are touted from the person listing them all. All left brain (detail, organization, structure, language center) functions. And easily trained.

The right brain conceptualizes, in short. And is fun to develop. A professional photographer once told me he will take one student with an EYE; he/she can be taught all the camera structures (no doubt important), over all the tech savvy knowledge without a composition or artistic eye.

BTW, on a successive meeting with the young photographer, he was now a traveling photographer with National Geographic!

Vanessa: It sounds like you need to travel light so don't dismiss the idea of using your phone. Joel Sternfeld produced a photo book back in 2008 called iDubai all shot on his iPhone which sells for nearly £30 a copy.

Phone cameras have improved since then too and many now let you choose aperture etc. It's not all about the gear but getting out there and enjoying taking photos.

Leslie: In responding to the difficulties a gentleman is having in changing his photography gear and methods, his “withdrawal” pains seem to be because he’s attempting to jump from all to (almost) nothing.

Until and unless his physical condition demands he give up this love entirely, he should look for a compromise and I’d suggest he consider the Sony RX10 M IV. The fixed zoom lens covers an equivalent range of 24-600 mm (which is quite adequate a full range of subjects and conditions).

It shoots in Raw and weighs in around 3 lbs which I can manage with my own rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve been using it as an alternative to an interchangeable lens mirrorless and find it a lot easier and more accommodating, while still allowing me to shoot in full manual mode.

The mirrorless bodies are coming in quite light, but one still needs to either cart around multiple lenses or stick with only one which limits the range and subject matter. The Sony feels more like a REAL camera in your hand and behaves like a DLSR without the gear and associated weight. And it’s a really good piece of equipment with less hassle. Perhaps there is a loaner out there for this gentleman to try out? Please tell him to not give up the things that give his life pleasure without a fight!!

Nadine: I resonated with this subscriber's query as I was in a similar position eight years ago, after swine flu left me with debilitating chronic fatigue. I couldn't lift my gear or even go out taking photos with a phone camera. But I could sit at my computer for 5 or 10 minutes a couple of times a week and so I resorted to my archives. And found a new style of photography – spare, simple, minimalistic, black and white.

The processing decisions I made were influenced by the filter of chronic fatigue – complexity didn't resonate with me whereas simplicity did. Color was too much information but black and white sat well. I had a photo of a flock of maybe 500 black-winged stilts and cropped to just five sharp birds at the front, cloned out all the clutter and turned it into black and white. And loved it.There is something very powerful about creating an image that is YOU. It feels authentic. And I get more sense of deep satisfaction from these images than I ever did from my photography (or anything else) before.

So I would say to your subscriber, keep going, review old photos, look for what pleases you in your current frame of mind and health.

Keith: Remember that it’s not the camera that makes the photo, rather it’s the artist who wields it!

My response

This is my reply that I sent before posting the question in the newsletter.

Sorry to hear about your health and the struggle you’re having with your photography.
It sounds like you’ve got so used to using a digital SLR (and to the degree of control and precision that it gives you) that you have trouble associating any other type of camera with ‘serious’ photography.

I can identify with that – I use my iPhone sometimes and I’ve created some good images with it but there’s something about the process of looking at a phone screen and not having full control (not to mention not being able to use the lenses I want) that I don’t like. At one point I considered writing a book about iPhone photography but decided my heart wasn’t in using the iPhone for photography.
A compact camera like the Sony gives you lots of control, but is still a different user experience than a dSLR. You’ll probably get used to it, but you may not – only time will tell.

Another option you could consider is moving to mirrorless. I love my Fujifilm X-T1 – the light weight (compared to the heavy dSLR I used previously) has given me a real sense of freedom and liberation. It’s an easy camera to take out and about, especially if you like using the lightweight prime lenses that Fujifilm have. I’m quite happy to go out for the day with just one or two lenses, so it keeps the weight down.

The X-T1 has an APS-C sized sensor, Micro Four-Thirds cameras are even smaller.
It’s worth taking some time to explore the options. I’m sure it’s just a matter of finding the right camera that you like to work with.

Reader response

Here's what our reader wrote when I sent him all your wonderful suggestions:

A special thank you to each and every one who took a few moments of their time to help me!

Just a quick update: As I pulled out of my funk, I have made some decisions that I think are healthy and not born out of feeling sorry for myself.

1) All Nikon gear will be sold ASAP. I will be entirely out of DSLR photography!

2) With the price of the RX100 Mk VI being up near $1,200, that has me looking at what else that money could be used for. At the moment, I am very interested in the Olympus OM-D camera system, although I want to go in to my local shop and look at them as well as some other Micro Four Thirds cameras. I think that may be a useable solution that will still give me creative control.

3) I am also learning how o get the most out of my iPhone camera with some additional apps and study...as well as shooting practice. This really is a very capable little camera if you stop to learn all it can do, and

4) I’m using some time while changing camera systems to hone my editing skills. Doing a lot of education and practice with Photoshop, Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw as well as a few plugins.

So thanks again to everyone who supported me. I appreciate every one of you!