Why Your Camera Gear Doesn’t Matter

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graffiti wall - Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter

Many discussions in online photography groups and discussions revolve around “What’s the best camera brand?” or “What is the best lens for x?” or “Thinking about upgrading, should I pick between camera x or camera y?” and so on.

It seems that a lot of people think that there is a Holy Grail of camera gear that will solve all their problems if only they can achieve it. However they fail to understand that it isn’t the gear that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - pink flower

So many people praise Ansel Adams or Cartier-Bresson as peers of the craft, yet those photographers were dealing with old film cameras. The camera in your cell phone is more powerful and advanced in technology by light years in comparison.

If all the photographers in history were capable of making lasting impactful images with old film camera hardware and development techniques – if you have a modern camera (of whatever brand you choose) or even just your cell phone – what is your excuse?

old cabin b/w - Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter

It isn’t about the gear. It has never been about the gear and as soon as you realize that, you will be free to create and shoot in a new and exciting way.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - still life image

Let’s Count the Ways That Gear Doesn’t Matter

  1. The camera doesn’t decide what brand or model you buy, or what lens you opt for. You do your own research (presumably), make your choices, place the order and pay the money. Or perhaps you were gifted with some gear or loaned it. Maybe you just have a phone with a camera. It doesn’t matter, they are all cameras with essentially the same capability to capture images.
  2. Your camera doesn’t haul itself out of bed early in the morning to get to the desired destination for a sunrise shot. It doesn’t drive for hours to get to a pretty lake, nor does it pack itself into a backpack and hike its way into the mountains to get the perfect shot – would be nice if it did though!
Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - ice and snow in the sun

This image was taken on a recent camera club trip in the mountains – roughly 4 hours drive from home. Lying full length on a snow bank to brace to get this shot, I chose to do it backlit for the desired creative outcome.

  1. The camera doesn’t decide what the composition will be, it doesn’t walk this way and that way, crouch down low, or climb up looking for a better vantage point.
  2. The camera doesn’t go without its daily latte for a year, while it saves up to go on holiday to an exotic destination so it can take lovely new photos while its there.
  3. Your camera doesn’t sit for hours on the side of a river, lake, or estuary waiting for the birds to come close enough to shoot.
  4. The lens doesn’t decide, “Hey I want to be the lens on your camera today, shoot with me all day”.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - rolling hills landscape

  1. Unless you are a complete beginner and shooting with everything on Auto, the camera doesn’t decide what settings it’s going to use. Nor does it decide when to click the shutter, when is exactly the right time to take the shot.
  2. The camera doesn’t say, “I don’t want to shoot macro today, instead let’s do architecture instead, I’m bored with flowers”.
  3. The camera doesn’t go, “I know it’s going to be cold and frosty tomorrow in the snow but it will be super pretty so let’s get up early to take photos before everyone walks all over it”.
Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - food photo setup

A behind the scenes shot of what it takes to stage a food photography shot – I haven’t even got the camera out yet.

There are so many decisions that you, the photographer make, that are essential to the image being created. But you could get the same shot with a Canon, or Nikon/Pentax/Sony or whatever brand you have.

For many of the shots that are taken, a recent cellphone has a pretty good camera in it and will do a good job too.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - flower abstract

Specifically mounted and lit against a black background, this was deliberately shot with selective focus and edited for a dark moody rich color tone.

What the Photographer Does Matters

  • You are the one saving up to go on the exciting holiday, deciding where to go, what time of year, what places to visit, what things you might want to see and photograph.
  • It’s you that decides how your image is going to be composed – portrait/landscape, close in or far away, what the subject is, what aperture or shutter speed to use for the desired creative outcome.
  • You choose your subject, you decide how the image is going to look, where you will shoot from, what height/angle, and what settings you will use.
  • You make the creative choices such as is it going to be macro, or shot with a very wide open aperture for a blurred background. Perhaps a long telephoto lens to separate the subject from the background. Maybe an ultrawide or fisheye lens for a different look, or even an old vintage lens with swirly bokeh.  You choose the gear and decide how you are going to use it at any given point in time.
  • It’s you that makes the sacrifice to get out of bed early in the morning for the sunrise shots.
  • You load up the gear, put on walking shoes, load up a drink bottle and head off into the unknown for an adventure and you earn your blisters and sore feet.
  • If you are a food photographer, you might spend hours baking in the kitchen to create tasty treats which you then spend ages styling and propping before you eventually shoot.
  • If you are a portrait photographer you might dabble in hair or makeup, and you absolutely need to have control of the light, shaping and modifying it to suit the desired outcome.
  • Maternity photographers probably have to do some hair/makeup/clothing as well as set design and lighting for newborn shots.
  • If you are a wedding photographer you probably have a bag full of tricks and emergency supplies to cope with any last minute drama or wardrobe failure, plus you have to wrangle all of the people on what is often a stressful day.
Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - frosty morning mountains

Minus 6C Hoar Frost – yeah it was pretty cold getting out of bed that morning but it was totally worth it.

There are so many creative choices that you can make – high key or low key, black and white or color, cool or warm tones, tight abstract or bigger picture, low to the ground or eye level, morning/daytime/evening light – but none of these references your gear at all. These are all things you may even decide before you even pick up the camera.

So much of what we do is visualizing the image in our heads, and putting in place the required circumstances or situations to make that image happen. You may have to save for a couple of years to afford the trip to Patagonia or Alaska. Perhaps you might chase storms for months before you get the absolute best cloud formation or lightning shot you were after.

You might get up night after night to capture an aurora or every morning for a month to get the stunning sunrise. Maybe you have to wait until the next breeding season to get the shot of the bird that only flies in once a year. Plus you have to stake out a nest, build a hide and keep it secret.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - cutlery still life

Sometimes Gear Does Matter

Yes, there are absolutely situations when having a specific piece of gear totally matters. It is difficult to take macro shots of things if you don’t have a macro lens, or extension tubes or similar options.

Having a longer lens makes those birding shots a lot easier as well, not only are birds skittish, they can fly away from you. Plus you should be a responsible environmentally aware photographer and stay out of their habitat and not scare them deliberately.

I don’t shoot astrophotography but am aware that there are recommended lens choices to get the best outcome for your night shots.

Sports, action, and wildlife photographers usually want a camera with a high burst rate for the action shots, fast focus action, and reasonably good high ISO for low light situations and a really long lens.

Wedding photographers need high-performance camera/lens options that are adaptable to a range of situations and can work in low light.

If you want to do soft flowing waterfalls and waves, neutral density filters, a tripod, and a remote shutter are usually requirements.

So yes, there will always be situations where you do need specialty gear, but the same rules apply. You still need to make all the creative choices and decisions. Adding that extra hardware choice into the mix just becomes part of it.

Why Your Camera Gear Doesn't Matter - flowing water frozen in the air

To get this shot I needed a 70-200mm lens mounted on a tripod and then I experimented with fast shutter speeds to get capture the motion in the water and the splashes.

Conclusion

Being there matters. Having the right light matters. Your subject choice matters. How you choose to frame up the composition matters. Your creative choices matter. Post-processing matters.

What gear you use to take the shot – doesn’t matter.

Any general camera gear can do the job for the vast majority of images taken. Does the brand matter? No.

Is it a cell phone? If you can take images you are happy with on a cell phone, then keep doing it.

Are there situations where specific lenses or gear makes a difference? Absolutely, and yes you probably will need to have what’s required to make those images.

But not everyone wants to do macro. Lots of people have no need for a tilt-shift lens for those architecture shots. 600mm lens that weighs several kilos? No thanks!

Street art in Melbourne, Australia. Some of these laneways are so hidden away only a local knows where to find them.

But even when you do get the specialty gear, there are usually multiple choices of options to purchase. But again, the brand doesn’t matter.

Even if you do have the top-end camera with the fanciest tripod, the longest lens with all the bells and whistles…unless YOU take it out and use it, it isn’t going off and having photography adventures on its own.

As the saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you” so work with what you have, learn to use it to the best of your ability. Experiment, be creative, try different things, push your boundaries and have fun.

My camera does landscape, nature, birds, macro, food, still life, fine art self-portraits, flowers, cats, long exposures, black and whites, high key, low key, sports, abstract, events and probably many other things I have yet to point it at.

What does matter is that you are out there, with whatever gear you have, and are using it.

Happy shooting!

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Stacey Hill invested in her first DSLR back in 2007. While having many adventures out and about in the South Island of New Zealand, Stacey took to blogging about her experiences learning photography. Recently she discovered the fun and creative possibilities to be had with Photoshop. She can be found having an opinion all over the place here.

  • dabhand

    Should be compulsory reading on every gear related facebook page / website / fanzine etc etc etc.

  • Stacey

    Thanks for that 🙂

  • Thanks for the article, Stacey. Right to the point. Gear craving is a serious “illness” that hit us all, and leave us with empty pockets without improving as a photographer.
    However, gear does matter in terms of knowing how to use it properly. It doesn’t help knowing that a i.e. a silhouette photo would be great for this specific situation without knowing which settings will help us creative a silhouette – on purpuse when the situation calls for it.

    Thanks again for the article,

    Peter
    _______
    Get my free e-book with 8 tools you should master as a photographer:
    http://signup.dam-photo.com/get-free-ebook

  • ShotbyJake

    Nailed it!

  • rickkkkkkk

    Here I was waiting to disagree that equipment does matter – sometimes – and then you added that and ruined my perfectly good disagreement. My wife will sometimes capture some awesome shots with her phone or point and shoot and I want to slap her for upstaging me. Main thing is just go shoot and figure out what works with your stuff and learn what does not.

    Had the best shot of this lady steel worker at the World Trade Center construction site and when I raised my camera, her expression changed and POOF, gone was the awesome shot of a blaise’ worker wondering when she was going to get off that day, with cigarette hanging from her mouth.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ed97c4c479042daa3ef5ccf32ff0856e81273f8de84fa9cd7cb69b227163fef1.jpg

  • Stacey

    tx

  • Stacey

    Hi Peter – yes knowing how to use your gear to achieve specific outcomes is important – but to my original point, it doesnt really matter for most general purpose photography – what brand that gear is, or which model body you have etc. Whatever you have will in many instances be quite capable for general needs, so long as you know how to use it. These days the cameras on cell phones are pretty amazing too and there are apps to give you lots of control too.

    Its the camera you have with you and that you use with intent is the one that matters.

  • Chris Sutton

    Agree 150% with everything in this article however, can you seriously walk passed the camera shop window without a sneaky peak in…..? 😉

  • Stacey

    Yes I anticipated all the gear heads taking a deep breath, about to blast out replies when I wrote this 🙂

  • Stacey

    Yup – I have everything I need, or more importantly, can AFFORD right now 🙂

    But lets face it 2 camera bodies and 7 lenses covers a lot of options now 🙂

  • Douglas Graham

    When you do shake yourself out of bed early on a cold morning and plan a long hike you do want to be prepared. A macro, wide angle and telephoto with perhaps a teleconverter is about all a person can fit in a backpack and want to carry. You will kick yourself for finding a great shot and the lens that you need is sitting at home. Even in the film days we had a lot of lens options. I think that a zoom telephoto is a must have. Pointing a lens at someone will completely destroy the shot if they see you. Everyone unconciously poses. If you can zoom in from a distance you can get the natural shot that you were hoping for. Many nice shots can be made with a point and shoot but many nice photos will be lost. Handing the brain of the camera to determine how a shot would be taken does not work for me. I do not think Ansel Adams would have made it with a telephone camera or a point and shoot.

  • Eclectic116

    While I agree with most of the article, I’d like to correct one glaring inaccuracy. In at least one area, Ansel Adams had a HUGE advantage over modern photographers because of his gear. He shot on 8″ x 10″ negatives with vastly more resolution than we have at our disposal.

    One of my photography professors in college had a print of Ansel’s “Moonrise over Hernandez New Mexico” on the wall in his office. He pointed to the cemetery in the foreground of the photo and explained that the original negative has so much resolution you can enlarge the image to the point where you can read the names on some of the headstones! Try that with any digital camera on the market and see how far you get.

    Google “Moonrise over Hernandez New Mexico” and you’ll see how truly amazing the resolution is on an 8″ x 10″ negative.

  • Nick Harman

    Oh come on everyone knows you need a Canon 5D to be a pro photographer 🙂

  • Henry Larson

    I have been capturing photographic images since 1951. I have used from a Kodak pony 135 to a Sinar F 4×5 view camera.and I cannot agree more with the concept that the photographer not the camera creates the image. My continual response to upgraders is “If you cannot use the camera that you now have to it’s maixmum you don’t need and probably shouldn’t buy a different one”
    Currently I use a Canon T5i for digital and a 1972 Mamiya RB67 for film and Yes I do shoot both.

  • Peter Bradin

    What a great post! We photographers should read this at least once a month!

  • Scott

    Stacey, This is SO well-written! I smiled the whole time I was reading. I appreciate your share here, because so often I get bogged down in what I believe I cannot do, rather than doing what I CAN with what I have! My Canon 6D and all of my lenses should be enough to have fun, be creative, be an artist, provide joy for myself and others, and leave lasting memories to celebrate through imagery. Many times I covet whatever is the “next level” before achieving my max with the gear that I have. So for me right now, my “dream” is the Canon 5D Mark IV with faster and better AF, or the Canon 6DII with more MP and more AF points. It IS true that in some situations those will help me. But in most…your article’s point exactly! Thanks again! Truly loved this! Scott from Minnesota :()

  • Floyd Summerhayes

    Great reading, many years ago when studying photography we would sometimes lust after the latest film cameras etc, our Professor always used to say “A good photographer is defined by the ability to conceive and create outstanding images, not by the gear they lug.”

  • Stacey

    Yeah I would like to go full frame at some point for the better dynamic range and more pixels etc. But right now I don’t need it nor can I afford it – having invested in better lenses myself. Good luck on your journey learning Scott and remember, have fun as well 🙂

  • Stacey

    Thanks Peter appreciate that 🙂

  • Stacey

    While there might be technical advantages to an upgrade, yes in many instances its more a GAS problem than anything else. Shiny new toyz!

  • Stacey

    I think you missed the point of my comments – where Ansel Adams was indeed working with huge negatives that far surpass anything digital can provide – it was the technology behind how he takes his shots that I was referencing. His process was slow and extremely manual, he processed his own negatives, dodging and burning by hand. For him to produce a negative ready for print might have taken weeks or months or maybe even longer and involved long hours in the dark room, filled with chemicals etc.

    Today you can whip your phone out of your pocket, take a COLOUR image, edit it on the fly and upload online within minutes. While the resolution for a large print will never compare, it will also be seen by potentially millions of people in a day.

    And yet despite the limitations of the hardware Adams was working with, he still made enduring images that still stand the test of time……..and thats the point. It *isn’t* about the gear.

  • Mike

    I use a Canon 5D mark III and a 240 film camera from 1952. Yes you have to use your gear or camera i should say. Nothing will be captured without using it. It doesnt matter if you have top of the line or whatever. What does matter is how you see the world. People see in different ways, which is how some photos are more liked than others. Some people see the world in black and white, some in circles, some in only 2D, some in diamonds. I myself see the world in lines. Everything i look at is a line, many of them. Many of the lines i see are in 2D, then if i really focus my eye I see it in 3D. Next is where the camera comes in. I dial in the camera to try to capture as close as possible at what and how I am seeing and perceiving that moment or object.

  • Stacey

    Your Professor was very wise!

  • Scott

    Thanks, Stacey! I’m going to re-read your article often! It’s so refreshing and true ?

  • Tanya E.L. Murchie

    Well written and I think every photographer should print off a copy and keep it close-by! I just completed a 5 week workshop and that is a topic that was discussed a LOT. The basis was what you can do with your camera no matter what you have and use it well to express your creativity.
    I agree whole heartedly about not getting caught up in the latest and greatest because if you don’t know how to use it then your are just wasting time and $. Well done.

  • rickkkkkkk

    It is like this in real life, as well. You can build a house with a hammer and nails, but a nail gun makes things go far quicker. Screws are stronger than nails and an impact driver is a far better thing than a screw driver or power drill. I can cut bone in surgery with something that looks like wire cutters or a mallet and chisel, but my oscillating saw or sagittal saw have far cleaner cuts. But, if those aren’t available for something like a simple amputation, I’ll get the same decent result. Just might not look quite as pretty on x-ray.

  • Omar Spence

    The best camera there is is the one you have on you, be it a note 4, a hero 6 or a 6d. What matters most is knowing how to use it well and those little tricks to wring the most out of it and how far you can go with it.

  • walwit

    You are right, I nevertheless change my gear every eight years, It feels great to go out shooting with a new camera.

  • Leyden

    Really enjoyed the melting/splashing water pic. Too many ‘moving’ water pics @ one+ minutes exposure time…..
    [Just my opinion folks-relax]

  • Leyden

    Hey you’re only 1 body and 5 lenses ahead of me, BUT I haven’t used the DLSR for months! Hello middle of the road cell fone camera. HOWEVER, to Chris’s point I have to peek….

  • Leyden

    I guess I’ll never be a pro… :-{)

  • Stacey

    Yes I specifically shot it to freeze the motion rather than soften it, I wanted the bubble and splash of the water, so thanks

  • Stacey

    Technology is constantly improving, and a tech upgrade is likely an investment.

  • Stacey

    No argument here

  • Stacey

    Thanks Tanya, interested to here about what the groups thoughts were on the subject?

  • walwit

    I don’t think so, It is an industry in constant need to sell something, not real improvements, you have to wait several years for an improvement that really matters.

  • Nick Harman

    I’m being facetious of course but it seems every amateur wanabe is toting a Canon 5D with a 80mm wide aperture lens, usually holding the camera oddly.

    Nikon seem to be mostly used now by grizzled paps.

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