“It’s not the gear, it’s the photographer.”
Bullsh*t. Well, kind of…
Gear lust is probably natural in every single craft, but upgrading to the next greatest thing is not a necessity to be a good at that specialty. Every other day, I seem to come across a new blog post or article written by photographers who cling to the idea and regurgitate the mantra that it’s the photographer that makes great pictures and not the camera itself. “The gear isn’t everything and a good photographer can make a compelling image with anything.” I do agree with that statement. But I also now disagree with the constant negativity surrounding potentially upgrading because new camera gear can make you a better photographer.
Long story shot, my Nikon D7000 has taken a pretty good beating over the years (including a mysterious small sensor scratch) and after months of research, internal debate, and a Craiglist firesale, I’ve now taken the plunge into a full frame with a Nikon D610. Online, you won’t necessarily notice a difference right now in my images, but to me, the difference has already been huge. The images I’m now producing are simply sharper, the dynamic range is much larger allowing me to recover some under/overexposed shots I screwed up in capture, high-ISO’s are relatively clean of noise, and I’ve gotten more usable video in the last month than I had with my D7000 over two years.
To show what I’m talking about, I have unknowingly conducted a very scientific analysis. And by “scientific analysis,” I really just mean “general sarcastic observations.”
Experiment #1: Over the years, I have attempted to get more in to nighttime and star photography. I’m out camping and hiking anyway, so it made sense, right? I watched tutorials, I read about various techniques, and I practiced. In theory, Education + Practice = Better Results. But every time I got back home in front of the computer to edit, there was major disappointment. I never really come away with a clean night-time star image that I was happy with. The shots I made were always dull with very few stars, completely riddled with noise, or just overexposed making the landscape look too surreal. Honestly, it was demoralizing and it’s bad to admit, but I kind of stopped bothering to even try.
Experiment #2: I bought my new Nikon D610 with a full frame sensor and did absolutely NO additional research at all on night/star photography. While out in Zion National Park a few months ago, I decided to just set up the tripod at camp, while I was
maybe drunk, and see what happened . I got the cleanest night image I’ve ever shot – it was cloudy, so I didn’t get stars, but it’s a fairly clean image, even at 100%.
Experiment #3: Fast forward two weeks and we happened to be at the Grand Canyon for the Camelopardalids Meteor Shower. After a hearty dinner, we wandered
maybe drunk (there seems to be a theme when I camp…) down to the rim to photograph the show. The meteor shower ended up not having any actual meteors that characterize a “meteor shower,” so that was disappointing, but in the end I walked away with a Milky Way shot.
My Scientific Conclusion: Equipment can absolutely help make better images.
(“Can” being an important word in that sentence.)
New Camera Gear Can Make You a Better Photographer
Despite the hopefully apparent sarcasm riddling this post, I don’t think better gear solely makes the photographer, but I absolutely do think it makes a very big difference. For the Milky Way shot, had I not known the techniques to achieve the result, I would have failed. At the same time, if I didn’t have the right gear to apply those techniques with, I would have failed as well. (On my old cameras, a 40 second exposure at ISO5000 would have been a useless exposure.)
So for all the photographers putting up posts declaring that gear won’t make someone better, I do agree. Learning good habits and techniques as well as a lot of practice will make someone a better photographer. But having the right tool is also essential. This is all much more of a balance than all the “pros” are leading us to believe.
And yes, I still get annoyed when someone says, “That’s a really nice camera, it must take good pictures.”