I had a conversation recently about choosing photo gear and I walked away from it pondering where an individual should spend their money. Here are my thoughts.
A friend of mine posted on twitter that he wanted a new camera. He is running a Canon S95 point and shoot currently. Given that I’m a pro photographer I often get asked about gear choice and selection. A good answer is “buy the gear that gets you shooting!”. For some that is nothing more than an S95 and for others they need a bit more to encourage them to shoot more. Just so you can understand where I am coming from here is a list of the top four cameras I use.
1 – Nikon D3S – this is my main camera for all my Pro work.
2 – Fuji X100 – this is my choice for everyday life and is always with me.
3 – Olympus XZ-1 – this camera I gave to my wife to use for pictures of the kids.
4 – Apple iPhone – this is always in my pocket and is used to share things with my friends vie Instagram.
Ok now that you have an idea of what I use let me tell you that they are three very different cameras but ALL of them take amazing pictures. The above picture was taken with the XZ-1 on the top of Blackcomb Ski Mountain this summer. Technically it has a small sensor, less control, smaller lens, and lots of other issues compared to the D3S. Lets face it though, the aesthetic of the picture and the cameras ability to capture what the scene was like is still very strong. Would I shoot a billboard campaign with the XZ-1? Of course not, but not for the reasons you would think. I could make a very similar and compelling billboard picture with both cameras and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference of them aesthetically. The reason I would shoot the D3S in this case is because I would like to have the file size for blowing up the picture to such a large size.
Lets face it, you can make great images with anything as long as you get used to it’s abilities and faults. Once you learn a particular piece of gear you can work within it’s limits to create amazing photo’s that will inspire your friends and colleagues. If we chase the aesthetic, gear doesn’t matter.
Ok lets define aesthetic. It is “having a sense of the beautiful”. I really like that definition. Photography is about chasing a sense of beauty. As photography moves forward we keep worrying about pixels, sharpness, file size, and a host of other tech specs that really don’t help with the purpose of photography.
A good friend of mine David duChemin has a mantra that I’m sure his followers are sick of by now. “Gear is good but vision is better.” I cant agree more with him and I’m proud of his determination in soap boxing this message. We as photographers need to stop worrying about the gear we have and concentrate more on the aesthetic quality of the pictures that we take with the gear we have.
What we really want is for someone to look at out pictures and find something beyond all the technical mumbo jumbo. Something beautiful, pleasing, and engaging. My new answer to anyone asking about gear is: “spend as little as you can, and just what you need, to start taking pictures” because the aesthetic will come from you not the gear. If you can’t find this aesthetic with your iPhone a D3S and the sexiest glass in the world is not going to help you find it.