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“What camera do you use?”
It’s a question I hear basically every single day.
Now don’t take this the wrong way – but the question is often unnecessary and can even be a bit insulting. I know, maybe you are just genuinely curious about what camera I use, want to compare or need a suggestion on what body to buy for yourself. I’m also sure all of you asking me about my equipment mean well and I’m usually very happy to answer all your questions and do so constantly.
But, and here’s the big but, exclaiming upon seeing my photos that my camera must indeed be very good is just not the nicest thing to say to a photographer.
Let me ask you a question in turn: You just had this amazing meal in a restaurant, dill sprinkled salmon cooked to absolute perfection, crusty on the outside and still juicy and tender on the inside with a side of incredible gratin. Instead of simply sending your compliments to the chef, would you waltz into the kitchen and congratulate the cook on his stove?
Of course you wouldn’t. But intelligent people who would never attribute Salvador Dali’s art to his paint brushes, Mark Twain’s stories to his typewriter or the chef’s meal to his excellent stove seem to think that it’s the camera that drags itself up a mountain for three hours, finds a great composition, interprets the light, chooses the correct settings and probably does the post-processing too. It’s part of an assumption that all it takes to create great photos is a great camera.
Just like a good cook could very likely produce an equally amazing dish over a neanderthal-dug fire-pit, good photographers can take incredible photos with shitty equipment.
Don’t believe me?
We all know photography legend Ansel Adams, who is still considered to be one of the greatest photographer of all time because of these spectacular black and white landscape photos he took back in the 1940s. Even with all the sharpness, dynamic range and grain improvements made to modern cameras and lenses, even though photographers have attempted to shoot the exact same locations he did under similar light conditions, people still struggle with even coming close to achieving the impact of these powerful photos taken 80 years ago on a cumbersome, large format camera.
Check out the incredible photos the photojournalist David Burnett took with a Holga, basically a crude Chinese toy camera worth about 15 bucks.
Look at the creative and inspiring pictures taken by iPhone photographers on the iPhone Photography Awards page.
Or read about how the award winning Chinese fashion photographer Zhang Jingna talks about how she took many of her famous photos with a Canon 350D and a kit lens.
Pro photographers regularly get challenged to take photos on toy cameras and amaze the audience with the results, for example Zack Arias here on DigitalREV:
Buying a great camera won’t miraculously make your photos great.
You don’t need a high end professional camera that costs several thousand dollars to take great photos.
I know it’s easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking “if only I could afford a better camera, my photos would be better” or “If I had lens X, I could do Y”, I have been there myself. There is always a newer and better piece of equipment being released and there are always these lenses and bodies we wished we had. There is nothing wrong with salivating over gear, putting a couple items on your wish list, upgrading when you have the cash and treating yourself to some new toys, but in the end, not having a certain, expensive piece of equipment shouldn’t hold you back as a photographer. Developing your skill, training your eye, working on your composition and shooting at the right time of day is how you get better. Your creativity and imagination is what will take your art to the next level and make it unique.
But, you might ask, if equipment doesn’t matter, then why do all the professionals use the top-of the line gear? The answer is convenience and specialization. The high end gear, the top bodies and the expensive lenses simply make life as a photographer a lot easier. If you have an older or an entry level model, you have to work harder to get the same shot.
Professionals also use their equipment every single day and apart from speed and convenience, they are also looking for durability. I for example am out in nature every day, drag my equipment across the world and thus, am looking for something really weather sealed that is built like a tank and will last me a while. Some additional features like extra focus points, more buttons for faster controls and quick access help too.
I can’t deny that equipment matters a little bit, but it doesn’t matter as much as you might think and you can work around most issues with some out-of the box thinking. Gear matters in a way that once you hit a certain level of expertise or want to specialize, you probably want to upgrade to something that specifically fits your needs.
But fact is that pro cameras might make a photographer’s life a lot easier, but they don’t automatically make his or her photos any better. It’s still talent that ensures this. The camera and lenses are just tools helping you capture what you first have see with your eyes and imagine in your mind.
So, what camera do I use?
To this day I still use a Canon 700D, an entry level DSLR. Because despite me wishing it would, money still refuses to grow on trees and I know I can take great photos with the equipment I have. I have bought some additional lenses that I love and although the body has sometimes been a source of frustration, I have made it work in almost every instance and have produced all those images of landscapes, people and wildlife you have admired. Now that I have saved up some money and the 700D is starting to fail on me, I plan to upgrade in the near future. Having to replace that trusted rebel that has been through so much with me and taught me a whole lot has partly inspired this post.
Ansel Adams once said: “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it”
So make Ansel proud, take all the time you used to worry about equipment and use it to go out there and practice every day, learn how to see and stop telling yourself that you need a better camera to improve.