DOES GEAR MATTER?
By Antun Cerovecki
I have been very fortunate in having the opportunity to test all kinds of cameras, from entry level mirrorless to medium format digital (yes, this is my idea of fun). Over the years, I’ve come to realize how different cameras affect my workflow and image making process. With some cameras I feel constrained and have to concentrate on operating the buttons and dials, while others allow me more freedom. As a result, I know which cameras I like using and why. I could talk all day about it, but that would defeat the purpose of this article. We photographers (especially male photographers) are kind of a gear junkies and tend to spend more time talking about gear than photography. On the few past sites that I operated, I noticed that most clicks came from gear reviews, not the articles that talked about techniques or vision. I’ve also noticed that most of gear talks come from aspiring amateurs, not pro’s. In my opinion, the reason for this is twofold. First, most pro’s actually use pro gear so it’s kind of logical to think that if Joe Amateur wants to achieve results like Mark Pro, he should have professional equipment. And if you look at Mark’s photos, the easiest way to quantify his “level of professionalism” is through equipment. Quality is perhaps a bit of a strong word.
There is nothing wrong with discussing gear, but I believe that it is unfair when we try to present photography simply as a technical skill in which gear plays a vital part. I’ve spent years trying to do that and in my experience, it doesn’t work. Coming back from a trip with undesirable photos and endlessly debating whether wide angle distortion on lens X is too much and should you use a build-in profile to correct it or buy a new Y lens, will certainly not make my photos better. Concentrating on vision and better communication through visual language will. Putting too much emphasis on gear will lead you on the wrong path. By the way, you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to take the most boring photo even with an expensive camera.
It is possible to take a perfectly boring photo even with a Pentax 645Z.
New camera, new problem
Every time you have to learn to use a new camera, lens, raw converter etc., you can’t focus on photography, only gear. Every time you search the web for L-plate, new extra batteries, compare prices and so on, you don’t focus on improving your photography. You focus on improving your gear. Debates about which camera and lens you should buy have far less importance than we like to give them. Saying to someone that he/she should buy this camera/lens because they are great is like saying that they would prefer oranges to bananas. It’s personal taste. There is no shortcut. There is no guarantee that you’ll prefer Phase One back over the camera on your iPhone.
or less boring one with your mobile phone
So, how important is gear anyway?
That may surprise you, but I believe that it’s very important. I also think that it is equally (or more) important how you feel that day, what you ate for breakfast and if your shoes are comfortable. Yes, you can’t take pictures with your shoes, but if you have uncomfortable footwear, you won’t be able to concentrate on the image making process. Your feet will hurt and you’ll be distracted. The problem with our consumer society is that we always want more. We are never satisfied and camera makers know this and continue to fuel our desire to constantly upgrade. However, what you should upgrade is only the weakest link. If that is your camera, that’s fine.
The thing is, cameras are really good these days and they are rarely the weakest link in the image chain. More often than not, the weakest link is the photographer. He is also the hardest thing to upgrade and it takes the most time and effort to upgrade him. That is the reason why so many of us choose to upgrade our photography gear first. It appears to be the shortest route to success, but it really isn’t. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
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