Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Does Gear Matter?

     Recently, I had the opportunity to take some visitors to our country on a quick, whirlwind tour of the Alberta Rockies. We stopped at a few of the more iconic stops along the way. This proved to be a good chance to snap a few shots with my i-phone. As far as camera phones go, the one I have is no slouch, one of the newer versions and able to shoot in raw format. Below are a few of the shots, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise and the Banff Springs Hotel. For me, they tic off some of the boxes that make a good photograph: light, atmosphere, composition, strong subject. I ran them through Lightroom using some of the same editing techniques that I normally use, but as you can see they are pretty noisy images. The image quality just isn't there to print them much larger than you see here.

      This made me think about a question that many newbie photographers have: Does it matter what type of gear I use? Should I invest in the most expensive equipment or can I get by with lower end stuff?  If you listen to the camera equipment manufacturers, they give the impression that the only thing stopping you from making great images is the gear you use. Spend thousands, get the latest. Now you're a pro!  On the other hand, many pros that use the latest and the greatest tell you that it doesn't really matter. You can take great photos with any camera. If that's true, why did they spend 10 grand on their latest body and lens? Who is right? Actually, they both are.........kind of.
      Improving your photography and making beautiful images starts with you, not your gear. Work on your ability to see and compose. Find great subject matter. Chase the light and atmosphere.These 3 suggestions are, in my opinion, the 3 best things you can do to improve. These are the things that will make you a 'photographer' and not simply a 'picture taker'. You can do this with your camera phone, point and shoot or cheap DSLR. Do this and your images will soar! That being said..........
      The pros spend thousands. Even though some of them seem to tell us that gear doesn't really matter, the truth is, it does. What do I mean by that?  Think about this: you need surgery. One surgeon uses an electrocautery scalpel. The other a butter knife. Who would you choose? Think about this: Why do athletes use the latest, lightest most high tech equipment they can get? Does it make them better athletes? Not necessarily. But it can improve their results. Think about this: Find an amazing photographer who has a great eye and is very creative. Many years developing their skills and techniques. Now clone him or her. Give one your camera phone and the other the latest top of the line DSLR or mirrorless body with the most expensive glass. Which one will produce the best images? I think we know the answer. The photos above help to illustrate this. If I had my full frame DSLR, filters, tripod etc. with me I would have composed these shots the same way. But the end result would have been better than what we see here. I could have had more dynamic range, long exposures, depth of field, brighter colors, less noise.I would have been able to print these much larger than what we see here. This is where gear can really make a difference. 
        Want amazing landscape vistas? Wide angle lenses really help.. Want creamy soft backgrounds in your portraits? You need fast lenses. Want to shoot in low light and not have noisy photos? Full frame camera bodies with high ISO capability work the best. Want great astrophotography images? Full frame, high ISO and fast glass. What about super sharp, close up wildlife shots? Frames per second and big, bad zooms definitely help.   Ka-ching!
       Yes, gear does matter. If we want to print large, good quality images our equipment can go a long way in helping us do this. BUT, will it make you a skilled photographer? Not really. In my experience, working on my creativity and technical skills in the field and in post processing has been the best bang for my buck. But over time, and in small increments, upgrading gear certainly has its benefits.



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