Most Photography Gear Doesn’t Matter

I want to share a quick post about my thoughts about photography gear. It’s a topic that many people feel is very important — almost absolutely necessary — in making good images.

It’s easy to get enthralled by gear and technology. As a tech nerd myself, I find myself always looking at (read: salivating over) the newest technology, should it be mobile phones, TVs, audio, or camera gear. But how much does good gear play into the quality of images? Is good photography a result of great technology?

I remember when I got my first SLR camera. I was convinced that this is what I was missing and that instantly my pictures were going to be amazing. That was not the case. What went wrong?

The overall answer is that the quality of your photography gear will have LITTLE to NO impact on the quality of your images. Perhaps better said, terrible gear can create great photography.

The truth of the matter is that good photography is more a product of planning, composition, consideration of light, and time in the field than anything you can carry on your back.

It’s true that you can benefit from some essentials:

  • It’s good to have a camera that will allow you manual controls (notice, I did not say an SLR camera) to affect the depth and shutter speed, and adjust ISO to obtain an acceptably exposed images.
  • A tripod is very helpful to allow you to firmly place your camera and, perhaps alongside a remote cable, allow longer exposures.
  • Some filters (like polarizing and dark neutral density filters) can interact with light and/or creative effects that would otherwise be impossible or hard to do.
  • You could benefit from some security for your electronics, like a generic bag and lens hoods to guard from the elements when you are shooting.

Outside of that, everything else either has extremely specialized uses or is just outright frivolous.

Consider the tech that gets gearheads excited and their specific uses. For most people, these aren’t realistic scenarios for where their photography would go.

  • A full frame camera with 36mp will allow you to comfortably print over 60″ while maintaining image quality; for photography on the web and intended for prints in your home, a 12mp camera will do great (and save you hard drive space)
  • A fast lens at f/1.2 will allow you to gather faint starlight at twilight; generally, a fast lens like this will compromise depth. Even if you shoot portraits, you will likely find yourself shooting at f/4 or so, which is where most kit lenses start
  • A Canon “L” lens or Nikon “G” lens will allow you better image quality only really visible at large mural sizes. All other lenses are fair game! Even if you lose corner sharpness, introduce chromatic aberration, etc. you will not notice or care until you start to print large.

While you read this you may see elsewhere that my gear includes… A 36mp camera and fast G lenses. Why don’t I practice this myself? Well, part of it is that I learned this the hard way and gathered a lot of gear before I focused on my craft. The other part is nowadays, I do print large and shoot at night and therefore benefit from some of the very specialized uses of this gear.

If you don’t believe my rant, check out the 2014 Winners of the iPhone photography contest. These images are better than most of the images I see with expensive SLR equipment and accessories, and many of them did not even have the luxury of using manual controls.

Even further, here’s an image of mine from New Zealand in 2008. This was shot with an entry level dSLR and a kit lens (Canon Digital Rebel XT and Canon 18-55 3.5-5.6) — a package that retailed for less than $500. The image quality in this shot is great! A better dSLR and lens would do nothing but make the image more printable at a large size. To this day, I have not printed this image… so I didn’t need the extra capability. Some more examples of shots with this basic package can be found in this post.

Franz Joseph Glacier

Franz Joseph Glacier; shot with an 8mp Canon Digital Rebel XT and 18-55 kit lens

What does this mean for you? If you are a photographer and want to improve the quality of your work, spend time learning the craft and spending money traveling or taking workshops with people you respect versus spending time researching and spending money on equipment. Make a concerted effort to become a better artist and do what it takes to understand how to craft images.

I guarantee if you take this approach, you will take better pictures and will get more back from the craft of photography. Find another way to quench your thirst for gear, as I try to. There is A LOT of other tech out there to keep us more than busy 🙂

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