Will The Best Gear Make You a Better Photographer?


Snapshot of my first P&S camera, a Canon PowerShot A720 IS, purchased with the purpose of complementing my blog posts. The date was October 8, 2008. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Buying the best digital camera is like asking which is the best car in the world? The answer of course depends on your needs. If you want to win the Grand Prix, you need a Ferrari or something like that. But if you want to give it to your mom to buy groceries from a supermarket a few blocks from your house, a Toyota Yaris will be just fine.

Digital cameras are a little more complicated. The market of digital cameras is full of great choices. If you are in the market to buy a digital camera, you have surely seen several different types of cameras. It isn’t exactly clear what the differences between the types are, and it can be confusing trying to choose the digital camera that’s right for you.

Many people think that buying advanced and complex cameras and lenses will guarantee superb photographs.  I’m sorry to say, that is not exactly true.  Great pictures can also be shot with humble cameras.  The creative skills of the man behind the viewfinders are an important part of the equation.

David du Chemin, a well-known professional photographer, said it well in one of his recent blog posts:

“The biggest lie we can listen to, or worse, tell ourselves, is that a bigger, newer, shinier, camera will make better photographs.

The best work of the last century was made on cameras that don’t rival the advancements of all our new technology. You have in your hands more tech than Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray and Karsh and Lange and Weston and Rowell combined.  If you’re not making work that voes others like the work of those that went before you, having so much less gear, and fewer options, perhaps it’s not about the gear at all.”

I know for a fact my that pictures are not the top-of-the line photographs at all.  In fact they can’t even be called photographs.  I prefer to call them snapshots, because that is what they are.  But I like them and they are able to describe in images what I try to say in words.  Graphics and text have done the trick over all these years.

During the five years I’ve had the Point-and-Shoot camera, I think I’ve taken about three thousand pictures.  About seventy percent of them are included in Lingua Franca, the rest have been discarded and deleted.  For me that’s a good batting average, considering that photography in itself is not the end result.  My main goal is blogging about Panama and a broad range of other subjects as well.

Snapshot of a Canon PowerShot A720 IS, Point-and-Shoot compact camera. Credit: Canon Inc.

Having said that, following the herd, I decided to escalate to a DSLR camera with a modest lens.  It was a Canon EOS Rebel T2i with a modest Lens Kit EF-S 18-55 IS.  I thought that this was a wise decision, and like a magic wand, my pictures would be magical.  I was wrong.  After shooting several pictures, I realized that the difference between my compact camera and the new DSLR camera were almost identical.  In addition, the DSLR camera was heavier, intimidating, and with too many buttons.  Over the years, I mothballed the complicated camera and continued to take pictures with my old camera obscura.  The EOS Rebel camera became so dusty that it accumulated fungus which flawed the lens and almost destroyed the camera.

Snapshot of my Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSRL camera. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

A visit to Canon in Panama City saved the DSLR camera but not the lenses.  They went directly to the waste basket.  The costs to repair the lens was almost double the cost of a new one.  Serendipitously, a nephew of my wife called in to ask if I needed an almost-new Canon lens.  The requested price was only $100.00.  Based on his knowledgeably recommendations, I accepted and bought the lens without hesitations.

Snapshot of the new lens for my DSLR Canon camera. It’s a budget Canon 75-300mm telephoto lens. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of my damaged Canon EFS 18-55mm lens with Image Stabilizer. The cost to repair it was so high, I decided to dump it and buy a better lens. It went directly to the trash bin flawed with fungus. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Life is full of surprises.  By an act of fate, I’m pushed to my DSLR camera and a more powerful lens.  It’s lightweight, affordable with an Ultrasonic AF motor.  This doesn’t mean my pictures will be more powerful than before, but at least it’s another opportunity to a new beginning in a new year.  It’s time to use both brains—the left and right one.  You know what I mean.  I know it won’t be a walk in the park, but that’s okay.  Reading du Chemin’s blog post gave me the comfort of knowing that using the most expensive gear will not necessarily bring forth the best photographs.

Photography is an art and as an art it is not guaranteed by the quality of the gear.  The esthetics of photography are random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, subjective, and looking at the whole; whereas the mechanics of photographs are logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective and looks at the parts.

I have to concentrate more on concepts such as:

  • What catches the eye?
  • Composition
  • Cropping
  • Balancing Elements
  • Symmetry
  • Diagonals
  • Disequilibrium
  • Depth of Field
  • Dimensions
  • Leading Lines
  • Framing
  • Rule of Odds
  • Rule of Thirds
  • Pattern and Textures
  • Watching your Backgrounds
  • Geometric Shapes
  • Motion
Credit: David duChemin, Canadian professional photographer and author.

As you can see, I’m still wet behind my ears as far as photography is concerned.  There is still much to learn besides mastering my gear.  Good Day.

Source:  Towards Mastery. Again. – David duChemin, world and humanitarian photographer

10 thoughts on “Will The Best Gear Make You a Better Photographer?”

  1. You already have the best equipment, you have an eye for a good photo.

    Your post on the two beer bottles instantly brought back a 46 year old memory from my time stationed in the canal zone. I remembered the first time I went into Panama City and was aware of the great difference in “tidiness” between the city and the zone. The canal zone was run by the military and thousands of soldiers spent their day cleaning every square inch of the area.
    That one photo triggered all that. THAT IS photography at its best.

    I own both a pointNshoot and a DSLR (both Canon!) and I shoot way more photos with the pointNshoot simply because it is easier. When trying to catch preschool grandkids in their mischief, there is no time to lose with settings. 🙂

    jim

  2. Morning Jim and Nena:

    If you could see me now, my face is as red as a tomato. I’m blushed. Thank you so much for your wonderful words of encouragement. It’s comments like these which keeps me going.

    I share with you the preference for a Point-and-Shoot camera, but realize that eventually DSLR is the next logical step forward.

    Thank you again…and again.

    Omar.-

  3. Being an electrical engineer I was intrigued by all of the bells and whistles that could be had with a digital camera. However, a number of good friends who knew cameras stressed one thing with me; you are buying the camera for the optics, not the electronics.

    With that advice my first digital camera was a Canon, and I’ve never regretted it. Pay attention to the optics, and in snapshot cameras that means either Canon or Nikon. You won’t be sorry. I don’t have the patience for a DSLR and have stayed with point-and-shoot ever since.

  4. Hello Mazbeach:

    I still have that minimalistic idea stuck in my head, even though I own a DSLR camera obscura. Now I have no choice but to get some bang from my hard-earned bucks. Planning to visit a nearby island at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal and make my mandatory trial-and-error shots. I’ll post my experiences here.

    I feel so comfortable with my amateurish camera. So be it.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  5. Give a genius photographer like an Avadon or a Liebowitz a simple point and shoot camera and they will STILL produce great photos because they have the eye for what makes a great pic. Sure, the quality of the print might not be terrific, but the composition and the way the subject is presented is what it’s all about.

    1. Hello Richard:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. My favorite camera is the small one. Been using it for over five years now. It has been a wonderful companion worth its salt.

      Bye,

      Omar.-

  6. I really appreciated this paragraph from the linked article:

    “What would happen if we stuck with one camera for 10 years instead of switching it up every 2 or 3? How comfortable would that tool become in our hands if we’ve held it, and used it day-in and out, for longer than the now predictable cycle of planned obsolescence? And in that comfort, how much more would that gear get out of the way and allow us to do our work, making photographs?”

    That’s the reason to practice anything – to begin to become so comfortable with the process that we can enjoy what we’re producing!

    1. Hi Linda:

      That’s the reason why I have been using the Point-and-Shoot camera instead of the bigger and bulkier DSLR camera. Having said that, I think that you will taker better pictures with the latter if you do the homework to learn how it works and willing to carry the extra weight during your travel sojourns.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

  7. Omar, I’m sitting here listening to the early-morning hunting and fishing show. The guys are talking about winning tournaments (we’re just moving into the fishing tournament season). One of them just said this, and it made me think of your post.

    “Too many guys think an $80K boat, a $20K truck and a thousand dollar rod are going to guarantee them a win. They forget that you need to know what to do with them.”

    😉

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