So often I see, hear and read about people who always have to have the best and latest camera, or always need to upgrade their camera; in some ways I’m a culprit of this too…having upgraded digital SLRs twice in about twelve months, but now I’m going to stick with what I’ve got, which is what I believe to be a happy balance between performance and value. I believed would be a sensible next step after much consideration and research.
The camera industry is massive, even if you only consider two of the big brand competitors like Canon and Nikon. It is easy to get sucked in to the marketing ploys used to encourage the average consumer as well as professional photographers to part with their money. I’ve been quite happy with older, second hand cameras, and it was only because of a particularly good part exchange deal that I even made this latest upgrade in the first place.
But my question here though is, do we even need all this?
Taking a look on Google for some compilations of the most the ‘most iconic images’ shows a real emphasis on the message that the photographer is portraying, and I notice that the vast majority of these are from a long time before digital cameras were even invented. Dare I say it, there are photographers from the 1920s and 1930s who took much better pictures than the vast majority of photographers today (I use the term ‘photographers’ fairly loosely here, before anyone gets offended). There’s no denying that cameras are getting better and cheaper, but how do we define ‘better’? Largely, it is more megapixels and better performance in low light. Better quality optics mean lenses are improving too, although professional grade lenses would often tend to outlive the camera bodies in terms of their useful life. Cameras’ abilities to make decisions on aperture and shutter speed, autofocus and to follow moving subjects are constantly improving, but really we don’t have to go back very far in the timeline of photography to when there was no such thing as a camera that could do any one of these things.
There are some great examples of work where basic equipment has been used, and everything I’ve said here has been said before by other people time and time again, but I think it needs to be. One great demonstration to prove that the camera doesn’t matter is this series of images by Wilson Tsoi. Even at the time of shooting in 2008, the Canon Powershot A620 that he used was a three year old, basic point and shoot camera.
Another great example I’ve found, and I realise that there is a lot of additional equipment involved with this one, but I really want to emphasise the camera itself. Lee Morris is a cofounder of Fstoppers.com, and he did an entire fashion shoot using an iPhone 3GS. It’s worth a read, and the video embedded in the article is well worth watching too.
Blue sky and clouds taken with iPhone 5s. Headline image also taken on iPhone 5s.
I’m certainly not wanting to say don’t go and upgrade your camera, or to buy the cheapest one you can find, because you may find yourself disappointed with the results, but I think it’s important to realise that owning the best camera and carrying it around with you does not make you a photographer. Yes, the camera can do a lot of calculations for you, and yes you can do a lot with presets in post production, but a photographer understands the limitations of what the camera is able to do and how the camera makes its decisions. But most importantly, a photographer has the creative eye, the patience, the timing and the foresight to use whatever camera they have available to them to capture something they have seen in order to tell a story.
If you’re wanting to get started in photography, start with something cheap; probably a used entry-level Digital SLR (make sure it has manual controls, and learn to use them), and then upgrade only when you really feel that you have outgrown what the camera can do for you.