Friday, February 24, 2012

Does Equipment Matter?


I want to get this question laid to rest as quickly as possible - does the camera that you use make a big difference in your photographs? According to Ken Rockwell, it's not supposed to, but yet, I read his column every day (kenrockwell.com), and he always seems to be wetting his pants over the latest and greatest cameras, including the "pre-ordered" Nikon D800 and his Lieca M9, which if you don't know are extremely expensive cameras!

I've always gone with the cheapest gear I can get away with, because when I only paid $5.00 for a camera or a lens at a yard sale and take a fabulous picture with it, I feel that gives me more to brag about than any picture I might take with a $10,000 camera, which I will never own in this lifetime! Case in point - this picture was taken with a very old Russian made Zorki 35mm film camera, with absolutely no electronics in it whatsoever - not even a built in light meter. In fact, when I look back at photos I took with that camera, and similar old gear like a Zenit SLR, or an Olympus Trip-35, I think in many ways I was a much better photographer back then. That old film gear made me really think about everything I was doing; because it was film, every shot had to count - I refused to waste film. I also had to calculate all my camera settings in my head, all within the narrow confines of ASA 100 to 400, and shutter speeds that only went as high as 1/500. Just about every picture I took back then was as good as this one. I took a lot less pictures of course, because there had to be something "magical" happening, and I couldn't waste any shots.

So, yes, equipment does make a big difference, but not in the way you might think. I too sit and drool over at dpreview.com over the latest trends and features happening in the world of digital cameras, but nothing about the latest DSLR with ISO's that go to 12,800 and higher, and shutter speeds of 1/8000 shooting at 8 fps is going to enable me to take a picture any better than the one you see above.

Move ahead 4 years, and I've made tremendous changes. I now hate film, in spite of the tremendous successes I had with it. I'm on my sixth Digital Camera now, actually my third DSLR - a Canon EOS 40D which I just bought used at an amazingly low price. I truly believe that digital is the way to go - there are so many advantages, I cannot fathom that I would ever shoot a roll of film again. But I highly recommend that any and all photographers should start out with a completely manual film camera - that's how you learn the craft. And then, when you graduate to digital photography, try and pretend you're still using film. Don't go shooting everything and anything just because you now can. Keep on looking for the magic, and make every shot count, as if you know in advance that you are going to be picking up an envelope of 24 or 36 photographs, some of which you might have taken last spring, and you don't want a bag full of disappointment.

It is somewhat helpful to buy old school manual-only lenses if you have a DSLR. I have a great collection of M42 thread-mount, and Pentax K-Mount Prime Lenses with which I must focus and set my exposures manually. The camera's built in computer cannot communicate with these lenses at all, so I'm still forcing myself to slow down and think about the "craft" of photography. Even better, none of these lenses cost more than $75, with some I actually picked up for $5 with working cameras attached. When I manage to pull off a great photo with one of these lenses, I feel more like bragging about it than when I'm using my $600 fully automatic Sigma Zoom (not worth bragging about anyway, because a lot of new DSLR lenses are well over $2000). I steadfastly refuse to spend large sums of money on cameras and lenses when I know I actually do much better on a low budget.

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