Many discussions in online photography groups and discussions revolve around “What’s the best camera brand?” or “What is the best lens for x?” or “Thinking about upgrading, should I pick between camera x or camera y?” and so on.
It seems that a lot of people think that there is a Holy Grail of camera gear that will solve all their problems if only they can achieve it. However they fail to understand that it isn’t the gear that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts.
So many people praise Ansel Adams or Cartier-Bresson as peers of the craft, yet those photographers were dealing with old film cameras. The camera in your cell phone is more powerful and advanced in technology by light years in comparison.
If all the photographers in history were capable of making lasting impactful images with old film camera hardware and development techniques – if you have a modern camera (of whatever brand you choose) or even just your cell phone – what is your excuse?
It isn’t about the gear. It has never been about the gear and as soon as you realize that, you will be free to create and shoot in a new and exciting way.
Let’s Count the Ways That Gear Doesn’t Matter
- The camera doesn’t decide what brand or model you buy, or what lens you opt for. You do your own research (presumably), make your choices, place the order and pay the money. Or perhaps you were gifted with some gear or loaned it. Maybe you just have a phone with a camera. It doesn’t matter, they are all cameras with essentially the same capability to capture images.
- Your camera doesn’t haul itself out of bed early in the morning to get to the desired destination for a sunrise shot. It doesn’t drive for hours to get to a pretty lake, nor does it pack itself into a backpack and hike its way into the mountains to get the perfect shot – would be nice if it did though!
- The camera doesn’t decide what the composition will be, it doesn’t walk this way and that way, crouch down low, or climb up looking for a better vantage point.
- The camera doesn’t go without its daily latte for a year, while it saves up to go on holiday to an exotic destination so it can take lovely new photos while its there.
- Your camera doesn’t sit for hours on the side of a river, lake, or estuary waiting for the birds to come close enough to shoot.
- The lens doesn’t decide, “Hey I want to be the lens on your camera today, shoot with me all day”.
- Unless you are a complete beginner and shooting with everything on Auto, the camera doesn’t decide what settings it’s going to use. Nor does it decide when to click the shutter, when is exactly the right time to take the shot.
- The camera doesn’t say, “I don’t want to shoot macro today, instead let’s do architecture instead, I’m bored with flowers”.
- The camera doesn’t go, “I know it’s going to be cold and frosty tomorrow in the snow but it will be super pretty so let’s get up early to take photos before everyone walks all over it”.
There are so many decisions that you, the photographer make, that are essential to the image being created. But you could get the same shot with a Canon, or Nikon/Pentax/Sony or whatever brand you have.
For many of the shots that are taken, a recent cellphone has a pretty good camera in it and will do a good job too.
What the Photographer Does Matters
- You are the one saving up to go on the exciting holiday, deciding where to go, what time of year, what places to visit, what things you might want to see and photograph.
- It’s you that decides how your image is going to be composed – portrait/landscape, close in or far away, what the subject is, what aperture or shutter speed to use for the desired creative outcome.
- You choose your subject, you decide how the image is going to look, where you will shoot from, what height/angle, and what settings you will use.
- You make the creative choices such as is it going to be macro, or shot with a very wide open aperture for a blurred background. Perhaps a long telephoto lens to separate the subject from the background. Maybe an ultrawide or fisheye lens for a different look, or even an old vintage lens with swirly bokeh. You choose the gear and decide how you are going to use it at any given point in time.
- It’s you that makes the sacrifice to get out of bed early in the morning for the sunrise shots.
- You load up the gear, put on walking shoes, load up a drink bottle and head off into the unknown for an adventure and you earn your blisters and sore feet.
- If you are a food photographer, you might spend hours baking in the kitchen to create tasty treats which you then spend ages styling and propping before you eventually shoot.
- If you are a portrait photographer you might dabble in hair or makeup, and you absolutely need to have control of the light, shaping and modifying it to suit the desired outcome.
- Maternity photographers probably have to do some hair/makeup/clothing as well as set design and lighting for newborn shots.
- If you are a wedding photographer you probably have a bag full of tricks and emergency supplies to cope with any last minute drama or wardrobe failure, plus you have to wrangle all of the people on what is often a stressful day.
There are so many creative choices that you can make – high key or low key, black and white or color, cool or warm tones, tight abstract or bigger picture, low to the ground or eye level, morning/daytime/evening light – but none of these references your gear at all. These are all things you may even decide before you even pick up the camera.
So much of what we do is visualizing the image in our heads, and putting in place the required circumstances or situations to make that image happen. You may have to save for a couple of years to afford the trip to Patagonia or Alaska. Perhaps you might chase storms for months before you get the absolute best cloud formation or lightning shot you were after.
You might get up night after night to capture an aurora or every morning for a month to get the stunning sunrise. Maybe you have to wait until the next breeding season to get the shot of the bird that only flies in once a year. Plus you have to stake out a nest, build a hide and keep it secret.
Sometimes Gear Does Matter
Yes, there are absolutely situations when having a specific piece of gear totally matters. It is difficult to take macro shots of things if you don’t have a macro lens, or extension tubes or similar options.
Having a longer lens makes those birding shots a lot easier as well, not only are birds skittish, they can fly away from you. Plus you should be a responsible environmentally aware photographer and stay out of their habitat and not scare them deliberately.
I don’t shoot astrophotography but am aware that there are recommended lens choices to get the best outcome for your night shots.
Sports, action, and wildlife photographers usually want a camera with a high burst rate for the action shots, fast focus action, and reasonably good high ISO for low light situations and a really long lens.
Wedding photographers need high-performance camera/lens options that are adaptable to a range of situations and can work in low light.
If you want to do soft flowing waterfalls and waves, neutral density filters, a tripod, and a remote shutter are usually requirements.
So yes, there will always be situations where you do need specialty gear, but the same rules apply. You still need to make all the creative choices and decisions. Adding that extra hardware choice into the mix just becomes part of it.
Being there matters. Having the right light matters. Your subject choice matters. How you choose to frame up the composition matters. Your creative choices matter. Post-processing matters.
What gear you use to take the shot – doesn’t matter.
Any general camera gear can do the job for the vast majority of images taken. Does the brand matter? No.
Is it a cell phone? If you can take images you are happy with on a cell phone, then keep doing it.
Are there situations where specific lenses or gear makes a difference? Absolutely, and yes you probably will need to have what’s required to make those images.
But not everyone wants to do macro. Lots of people have no need for a tilt-shift lens for those architecture shots. 600mm lens that weighs several kilos? No thanks!
But even when you do get the specialty gear, there are usually multiple choices of options to purchase. But again, the brand doesn’t matter.
Even if you do have the top-end camera with the fanciest tripod, the longest lens with all the bells and whistles…unless YOU take it out and use it, it isn’t going off and having photography adventures on its own.
As the saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you” so work with what you have, learn to use it to the best of your ability. Experiment, be creative, try different things, push your boundaries and have fun.
My camera does landscape, nature, birds, macro, food, still life, fine art self-portraits, flowers, cats, long exposures, black and whites, high key, low key, sports, abstract, events and probably many other things I have yet to point it at.
What does matter is that you are out there, with whatever gear you have, and are using it.