When the camera does matter; specialised bodies and lenses and why you need them.Facebook is the world’s largest ‘image library’ with over 100 billion pictures uploaded. Sure, qualitymight be lost in quantity, but it’s a remarkable indication of how photography has changed.If you’re like me, you’ve probably been asked what camera you use, and how many megapixels ithas, followed by a dreamily wishful comment about how it would be good to have an expensivecamera that would create beautiful photographs.Obviously, the standard response is to question whether using Renoir’s paintbrushes orRachmaninoff’s piano might automatically produce mastery. Photographers create photographs,cameras just make them.But maybe this needs more thought? I’m sure that the past masters used the best tools available tothem if possible, so why can’t photographers?A great photographer values consistency. They master the craft so that they know how to create theimages that they can imagine in a range of conditions. Photography requires learning a few essentialprinciples, and sticking to them; most, but not all, of the time.On my courses, I teach that the camera doesn’t matter. A good photographer can take betterphotographs with a camera-phone than an untrained person could with the best camera in theworld. This photograph was taken in Sierra Leone with a 5mp Sony digital compact.
Most photographs aren’t printed now, and anything over 10 megapixels will give you greatenlargements, especially at low ISO sensitivities. And perfect quality isn’t even essential for abreathtaking photograph; look at Capa’s damaged negatives from the Normandy landings.So why do I carry a heavy Nikon dSLR and a plethora of weighty lenses on assignment? Or shoot abulky Hasselblad when an iPhone camera might suffice for most purposes?Put simply, because I’m incredibly aware of the limitations that gear imposes on photographicexpression. In some cases, being stuck with one focal length might be a fruitful challenge. Buthesitating to use anything over ISO 400 with a camera due to intrusive noise is just an impediment.There are clear reasons for the expensive cameras and lenses that we carry; they’re not just covetedtoys (well, maybe that’s a little bit of it!). There will be times that you will need extra, oftenspecialised gear to get the shot you envisage.
Rental is the best option if you’ll only need something occasionally, or don’t want to risk the capitaloutlay. Otherwise, good professional lenses normally hold their value well and can be sold later.I teach photography internationally, but I’m based in Barcelona. There are patterns. Most studentson the group courses have compacts, a Canon 450D or a Nikon D7000. Private students usually use aNikon D3s with an 85mm f1.4G or Leica M9. Film is very rare among my alumni; though I use amedium format camera with a Polaroid back for demonstrations.One Iranian student’s husband had invested in her hobby. She had an top-end Canon camera pairedwith a Perspective Control prime lens; one of the most expensive in their line.She was concerned that a lot of her photographs weren’t turning out as she wanted them. Of coursethe lens was to blame; she was not photographing architecture, and the camera shop probablyshould have advised her slightly better.It’s recommended to choose our gear based on what we want to achieve with it, not because it’s thelatest ‘thing’, the most recommended and well-reviewed or the largest investment.Sometimes, you’ll need to invest a lot to be sure of catching the moment. There are opportunitiesavailable with a Nikon D4 and 600mm or a Phase One that wouldn’t be possible with a Leica M3 or aSony Nex 7.When you’re considering what you need next, I advise that you consider two things; Control andOutput.
Control covers the ability to get the shot. Maybe you need a very large aperture to blur thebackground or work in low light without flash? Perhaps you need a couple of Profoto strobes toenhance the ambient light?Output requires consideration of what you’re going to do with the photos. A Hasselblad H4D shouldbe able to print billboard-size images or capture beautiful skin tones. But if you’re photographing onthe street for an online gallery, you’d probably be better off with a different camera.Photography manufacturers exist to sell you more cameras, lenses and flashes. Don’t make themistake of thinking that you need to constantly upgrade to the latest model, even if it is objectivelybetter.But nor should you think that the camera doesn’t matter, and revel in using a single lens on onebody. As your craft improves, the limitations of your current gear will become more apparent.Borrow or hire some specialised equipment and find out what suits your style. The most importantprinciple is to try the different options available and find out for yourself what fits.Ben teaches photography in Barcelona with www.BarcelonaPhotographyCourses.com and keeps aphotoblog of ‘fine art street’ photos of Barcelona at www.i-Barcelona.com. He photographsinternationally with www.EnglishPhotographer.com. He shoots Nikon, Hasselblad, Apple (iPad 3) andthose little throwaway waterproof film cameras with the plastic lenses.