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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.

Two women clapping at a festival in Al Hamra, Oman.

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.

And equally,

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.

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Canada shortly after sunrise. Camera gear doesn't matter if you want to take great photos.

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.

Black and white photo of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland. Proof that camera equipment doesn't matter.

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.

About The Author

Tiffany is a Swiss travel writer, digital nomad, and photographer, who, after a fateful journey through Africa, has decided to get her passport renewed, sell all her junk, and live out of a suitcase in various corners of the world, as well as share the experiences with other travel enthusiasts. This blog is intended to inspire you to pack your bags, leave everything behind for a while, and make you go discover the world. Check her out on .

29 Responses

  1. Clive Hislop

    As a landscape guy, I would like a D810 and a series 5 Gitzo, but then I stop and think about how many prints I would need to sell to justify the expense.

    Maybe I’ll stick with my D7100…

    Reply
  2. Paper Boat Sailor

    Could. Not. Agree. More.
    I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked about my camera and lenses instead of the thoughts that went into making the photos some people seemed to love.
    This is a really relevant post in a time of gadget fetish and creative genocide.
    Thanks for the wise words!
    Paper Boat Sailor recently posted…A Teacher Learns in JaffnaMy Profile

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Gadget fetish and creative genocide really hits the nail on the head! Keep your head up, luckily there are still people out there who can see and appreciate the actual work that goes into a photo and don’t care about gear.

      Reply
  3. Alex

    Hi Tiffany,

    Good post and a topic I was thinking about recently. Like you, I use a pretty basic DSLR, but don’t worry we can have a canon / nikon fight – I use a D3100.

    Thanks for sharing the links, I like the pro photographer / cheap camera concept that digital rev have been doing.

    Sometimes when I’m out doing photography in busy tourist spots I am speechless at the expensive gear some tourists use. I see loads of D800s and 5Ds with kit lenses being used on auto and no thought on composition. It’s a shame because they would probably get much nicer photos out of a basic DLR and a better lens, plus it’d be lighter and easier for them to use.

    Like you I also did spend a little on some extra lenses, I have a 50mm that I think really does make a difference, I buy into the concept that fixed focal length lenses have nicer optics. But even while I say the lens makes a difference, in my opinion it’s only improving what are already good compositions with good light etc. it does nothing for bad or mediocre shots.

    Ive also spent a little money on a few yongnuo speed light flashes (£60 each) plus cheap stands, 1 shoot through umbrella and a few filtery things.

    So my total range of gear; 1 DSLR, 3 lenses (50mm, 10-20mm, 90mm macro), plus above lighting equipment still cost substantially less than a d800 or 5d body alone. Considering some of my lenses were bought used I think I have spent around £1000 total.

    I know that I can still learn and do so much more with this equipment. The only thing holding me back is my experience, my creativity, and most importantly sometimes my confidence with street photography, I’m pretty good at being confident to shoot, but sometimes I’m not in the right frame of mind. The great thing is, improving most of these things is free!

    The only real equipments constraint I feel I have is probably related to low light performance. And I know if I wanted to do some concert or similar style photography I would struggle with low light and the fact don’t have an appropriate lens. So I could probably benefit from a good low light sensor body and a good fast telephoto lens, but that’s where we start getting into big money.

    I’m actually trying to move from a career in business into photography and I actually feel pressured to buy a d810 or d4 plus some lensesor similar not for its capability, but just for the image factor of looking professional.

    I also get friends on facebook seeing my photos and asking straight away, wow – what camera do you use. I just try to take it as a compliment and explain to them that it’s just basic equipment and they can also take good shots by learning a few basics and having the right psychological approach to taking photos. My best shots come when I’m relaxed and not self conscious, kind of in a meditative zone.

    Nice to see your site.

    Alex

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Wow thanks so much for your detailed comment Alex! I definitely agree with you 100% – I see so, so many tourists with the top of the line DSLR’s in auto mode. I mean it’s nice that they have the money and I try not to be jealous, but it’s definitely overkill for most people. They’d be better of with a good point and shoot or camera phone.

      I also get the peer pressure from other professional photographers. I have attended so many events where I kind of felt silly with my 700D in the presence of all the 5D guys and felt like I needed a more professional model to be taken seriously. I have started owning it though and I hope my work speaks for itself. I think it’s more important to buy good glass, as lenses will last you forever if you treat them well. Meanwhile, camera bodies come and go. Like you, I got the lenses I love (among others also a 50mm and 10-20mm + I can totally recommend a 70-200mm) and I’m actually very happy with the kit I have.

      Oh yes, the lowlight performance… luckily I shoot mostly landscapes on ISO 100 anyway and it doesn’t matter. But dear god, my camera’s lowlight performance is simply brutal and anything over ISO 400 starts to get unusable. Since I want to branch out more, it’s a big reason for me to update the body eventually. But again, if you’re not looking to sell your higher ISO images, what I have is totally fine.

      Thanks again!

      Reply
  4. Mohd Zuhaib

    Exact post, at exact moment!
    I was thinking to buy a dslr yeah entry level. I started searching, I started with D3100 and went went upto D5300. You wont believe I decided to buy D5300, my mind made fake reasons to buy it, like extra af points and battery and what not! After reading this article I decided to buy D3200. And I now think it is a good update from my fujifilm bridge cam. Our mind can easily be manipulated you see? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Haha you’re welcome 🙂 I know exactly how you feel, the mind is a tricky beast. Congrats on the new camera though, you’ll have fun with it!

      Reply
  5. Nicolas

    It’s very true that your photography is only as good as the person behind the camera. Many beginning photographers should better spend their money on classes about light, shutter speed aperture and composition than on the most professional equipment.
    However, depending on what you want to shoot, decent equipment is a must. You can’t do with an iPhone what you can with a DSLR, period.
    If you want to do post processing you need to be able to shoot in RAW, and if you want to “shoot” (maybe this isn’t the right choice of words, but you get what I mean) animals in the wild, you need a tele lens.
    Nicolas recently posted…Bird Watching in the PantanalMy Profile

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Yes, totally agree, that is why I mentioned that when the time comes when you want to specialize (for example get more into wildlife photography) some equipment that fits those needs is pretty much a must.

      Reply
  6. Vedant

    I’m so glad I read this today just when I was thinking about getting a high-end camera. Girl, you just saved me close to 2000$ and I owe you one for that :).
    I am also a Canon rebel user and I love my camera and can take pretty good pictures considering that I started photography not so long ago and still learning a lot every day I take out my camera. Reading this made me realize that it was more of peer-pressure that made we want to buy expensive gear. Your mind gets plagued when everyone around you is using 5D’s and it makes you want to get one too.
    Ansel Adams was a great example as well. I also look up to Jay Maisel who only has a single camera with the lens around his neck and nothing more.

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      I’m really glad I could help and inspire you. It’s definitely such a peer pressure thing, keep rocking that Rebel as long as you feel comfortable with it! Jay Maisel is also a great example, thanks for mentioning that.

      Reply
  7. Hugh Mobley

    My Canon 550D with a Canon 24-105L lens on it takes beautiful photos, not bad with my old Tamron 28-75 2.8 either, Photos are a result of who us behind the lens, and its not the camera
    Hugh Mobley recently posted…A Good Snapshot!!!My Profile

    Reply
  8. Sophie Sparsis

    Totally agree with everything you’ve said! I’ve been into photography for several years now. I currently have a canon 1100d, which I’ve now had for 9 months, and just using a point and shoot before that. I’ve produced some great results on both cameras, despite using seemingly lower quality cameras. I’ve only done a little bit of landscape and architecture photography with it, but a lot of sports photography and astrophotography, and the camera has performed very well in all areas, and it certainly does me a lot of good. And I still get useable images even at ISO 3200, and the odd few at 6400!

    However, I am drawn to upgrading to the 7D. The 8 fps is very enticing because I do a lot of sports photography, and it’s a lot more durable and rigid compared to my current camera. And I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling in my job when I leave college, so I’m going to need a strong camera to cope with that. Apart from them factors, I’m more than happy with my 1100d 🙂

    Apart from that, I absolutely love your photography. Your photos are so well composed and are always a joy to look at. And, in my opinion, you and Brendan have two of the best photography blogs I’ve come across. I’ve learnt so much from reading the posts on both blogs.

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Thanks so much Sophie 🙂 I just got the 7D Mark II back in December and I can very much recommend it (I heard the older 7D is pretty great too)! It’s really is built like a tank and can deal with getting banged around a bit when travelling. I’ve used it in a wide variety of situations and while it is obviously especially great for sports and wildlife, I love shooting landscapes and portraits on it as well. Very good noise handling for a crop sensor as well! But till then, rock that 1100d. Btw, I’d love to see the results if you have a page where you share your work.

      Reply
      • Sophie Sparsis

        Thank you! Have you seen Digitalrev’s video where they test the 7D’s durability? That really shows how well built that thing is! I think good noise handling is alway a must with sports photography, especially when shooting indoors which I do a lot. I’ve only ever tried portraits with my dog, but it’s worked very well. I got a 10-24mm lens in December and I really want to shoot some landscapes and cityscapes with it but I just don’t get the chance to. But I’m going to Paris on Tuesday for 4 days, and I can’t wait to really try it out there. I only had instagram (@sophiesparsis), until up to about an hour ago! I’ve just made a flickr account which I’ve been meaning to make for ages. I uploaded some of my favourite shots that I’ve taken over the past few months. The link is http://www.flickr.com/photos/131272985@N04/
        Sophie Sparsis recently posted…IMG_7052My Profile

      • Tiffany

        Yeah I’ve seen it, it really is almost indestructible and Digitalrev is known for flinging cameras around here and there. I really think the camera would be great for you, it also got that flicker mode, which helps when photographing under flickering light that’s supposed to be great for sports photographers. Have tons of fun in Paris, I love your photos (especially the star trails!) and can’t wait to see how you capture that beautiful city.

  9. David

    I shot with a 450d for 4 years before upgrading to a 7d. The reason was the 19af points. This allows for a lot of flexibility that the 450d’s 9af points can’t match. Also, when Im traveling with friends and something catched my eyes, I can ready a shot much faster than my friends shooting with a smart phone who have to unlock the phone and wait for the camera app to open.
    There are real advantages to good equipment but I also agree with the main point that it is better to spend money on travel than on top of the line equipment and being left with no funds to travel.

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Yep I totally agree on more autofocus points being incredibly useful. Since I wrote this post my 700D finally crapped out and I upgraded to a 7D Mark II with 65, all cross-type autofocus points. I have noticed that I am now able to get shots I’d have missed with my old camera and the whole process of taking a photo in general is a lot quicker. But the quality of the images is still just about the same 🙂

      Reply
  10. Sophie Sparsis

    (Reply to last response from you) Thanks so much! I love shooting star trails but it’s so hard to get out away from my back garden. Not being able to drive doesn’t help much. In my opinion no other crop sensor camera can really compare to what the 7D mark 2 can do. I believe it was on one of Digitalrev’s videos where Kai said its essentially a 1DX with a crop sensor and smaller body. I’m saving up for it now, but it’s going to be some time before I have enough to buy it! I had a lovely time in Paris, thanks. The weather wasn’t great unfortunately. Fully clouded over pretty much the whole time with about 20 minutes of blue sky. It was also quite hard to get out in the evenings to shoot, especially being a teenager in an unfamiliar city. Still got a few shots I like though. Haven’t got round to editing all of them yet. Started earlier today 😛 They should be up on flickr pretty soon, if all goes to plan
    Sophie Sparsis recently posted…IMG_7052My Profile

    Reply
    • Tiffany

      Exactly, it’s why I got it and I still haven’t regretted not switching to a full frame for a minute. Glad you got some shots in Paris! I love shooting when it’s cloudy as it adds that little bit extra interest to an image (while a plain blue sky can be pretty boring). As long as it doesn’t rain on me, I’m usually really happy to see some clouds.

      Reply
      • Sophie Sparsis

        Thank you! Unfortunately, the clouds we got completely covered the sky so it was just greyish-white. There was a moment of blue sky combined with clouds, which I made the most of! I still haven’t got round to editing them though, because college life is so incredibly busy. I have just uploaded some pictures from the last few days though. I must say, the canon 50mm is such a beautiful lens. I’ve started using it so much recently. I really think a good lens makes a bigger difference than a good camera. Even on my 1100d, which only has 12 megapixels, the 50mm produces high quality, stunning images
        Sophie Sparsis recently posted…star trails 9thMy Profile

  11. David

    OMG how dumb can I be? I just noticed that you link that EXACT episode in the body of your post. duh!

    Reply

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