Confusion about cameras and other equipment

What a great camera!” I first heard this at a friend’s wedding over ten years ago. At the time I was one of the (back then) few people who were using digital cameras. I had just captured the bouquet toss of the bride mid-air, when somebody attributed it to my camera gear.

When photography became available to the masses, there was always a focus on the mechanical aspects of it. Clicking the shutter seems so simplistic and mechanical. The issue arises because photography has may different uses, one of which is its use as artistic medium.

Even those of us who use photography for artistic purposes get confused at times about the role of our equipment. Most of us who use digital cameras get trapped in the “upgrade hamster wheel”, where we feel we constantly “need” the latest cameras to be able to make outstanding photographs. Photographers are probably the only visual artist who fiercely discuss merits of equipment.

When I thought about the role of equipment, I noticed that…

  1. The well-known famous photographs by past photographers were made with cameras most people wouldn’t even touch today, because they would be considered so simple. Yet the idea in those photographs is what transcends into our time, and we don’t really care what process the photographer used at the time.
  2. Nobody (except maybe some serious pixel peepers) can look at an image and tell that it was taken with a “substandard five year old digital camera”. Or to put it differently, it is better to make a great image with an older camera, than to make an insignificant image with the latest equipment.
  3. Digital cameras are marketed as electronics and follow the same patterns as other electronics. Marketing pushes new products onto us constantly with insignificant new features, although most of us don’t use all the features of our current products.
  4. We are about to reach market saturation for digital SLRs. This means that manufacturers may slow down their product cycles, and we may see longer time periods between releases of new products and more significant added features between products.
  5. Most people that have a halfway decent SLR body get more value out of a new lens than a new camera body. Most people do not make better images because their digital SLR sensor has higher resolution, but instead with a new lens that adds new capabilities.
  6. Prime lenses (fixed focal lenses) instead of zoom lenses still offer a lot of advantages, mostly in light sensitivity and weight.
  7. Not everybody needs a high resolution camera, unless images are frequently enlarged. Of course there are workarounds like stitching images, or using medium or large format film and cameras when high resolution is required.
  8. It is oftentimes better to have a less valuable camera that can be taken everywhere than to use an expensive camera that stays at home because of fear of getting stolen or damaged.
  9. We oftentimes think about buying a new camera body to get a change in pace and think this will improve our photographs. Instead it may be better to spend money on accessories that give us new capabilities, for example: inexpensive studio lighting kit (2-3 light stands, umbrellas, monolights, or continuous lights), battery-operated multi flash kit, inkjet printer to print your own work, macro lens, extreme wide-angle lens, underwater housing for camera, compact tripod for sharper images in the field.
  10. Before we can create art, we need to master the technique (or craft) of photography. When we arrive at this stage, using the camera becomes second nature and is controlled subconciously. To get there, we need to practice every day. Then we can focus on the image, how it makes us feel, what we are passionate about, whatever camera we are using.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your thoughts and comments.

Lars Waldmann

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