Despite What Most Say, I Feel Gear Does, In Fact, Matter…

Insights & Thoughts August 10th 2014 1:25 PM 30 Comments

At some point, as a photographer, someone has come up to us and said “Wow, that is a really nice camera, you must take really good pictures!” We then think to ourselves, it has nothing to do with the gear we use, but how we manipulate and use that gear, that creates the image. I agree with this sentiment. I know photographers who could out shoot majority of people, with only a point & shoot, even while up against the biggest, most well armed Uncle Bob’s of the world. However, gear plays a key and pivotal role in the outcome of the overall image. Do you really believe that very highly paid and accomplished photographers use very expensive gear, because they have nothing better to spend their money on? No, top end gear allows them to produce images at the very best level possible.

I have always made a couple of comparisons to relate this to photography. In race car driving, they always say the race has a direct correlation between the skill of the driver and his outcome at the end of the race. While this is in a general sense is true, that statement relies on the fact that all the cars are equal (which in racing they are for the most part. They usually have maximums on power, suspension, weight and overall design of the vehicle). However, if you put the best driver in a Toyota Corolla (nothing against Corollas…this is merely a placeholder, you could replace it with any car that is sold to the public) and pit him against his fellow drivers in their purpose built race cars, he/she doesn’t stand a chance.

In the vice-versa scenario, you could take the purpose built race car and put an everyday driver in it and they would not stand a chance either. A pro driver, needs a professional purpose built race car to be competitive…they are complementary. I also relate it to a top end hair stylist, using professional tools and not the common variety house scissors and store bought hair color. While common scissors and store bought hair color, can “kind of” do the job, they don’t do it well. Could the stylist do a decent job with those tools? Sure, but they could do a much, much better job with true $300.00 hair shears and professional grade color. Again, vice-versa, if you give someone that does not know how to cut hair, with the best tools money can buy, they still won’t be able to cut hair well.

Why do I even bring this up? I bring it up, because I think so many photographers hear the statement of gear doesn’t matter and thusly, can’t distinguish and make the correlation that professional gear is the perfect complement to the process of creating top quality images. They just assume, that using an entry level body and kit lens is sufficient on their road to producing top quality images. Having expensive photography gear has the potential to elevate an image to the next level.

Nice glass allows numerous benefits: faster shooting, better low light ability, less distortion, etc. A professional body offers so many benefits: better picture quality, dual card slots, RAW, low light performance, etc. This can go on for every piece of gear a photographer can buy. If we as photographers want to be producing the best images we can, we should be using professional tools to do so.

[REWIND: OUR FAVORITE PORTRAIT LENSES | GEAR TALK EPISODE 4]

There is another facet of having professional gear that I think almost everyone overlooks (this is more for the photographers who accept money in return for their services), is the impression and confidence it instills in our clients. I have yet to meet a photographer who doesn’t want to earn thousands of dollars per job. Like it or not, we as a society equate price to quality (and let’s be honest, most of the time it is true). Our clients do the same thing.

If we showed up to a very well funded job, with a kit set up from Costco or Best Buy (which probably our clients have themselves, at home), it leaves something to be desired, which may cause doubt of why you are charging so much. Now, if you show up to that same job, with a big or gripped up pro body, a half dozen lenses, (some that as big a grown man’s arm), it gives the client reassurance that you take your job very seriously and employ the best tools to produce the best possible images. Our goal as paid photographers is to not only produce great images, but give our clients the confidence that we are doing everything we can to make sure the images are the best we can deliver. I feel having professional grade gear is a very important component to giving our clients that confidence.

I am not suggesting that buying thousands and thousands dollars in gear, merely to have it be a false sense of reality, allowing the facilitation of mediocre photography is the proper mindset.  I am also not saying that stellar images cannot be made from middle of the road gear.

What I am saying that as professionals, we should employ the best possible tools in order to be producing the best possible results. Skill and professional gear are complimentary, sure one can do without the other,  but when you have both….it is what sets you apart from others and allows your work to be at the pinnacle of its level. If you want to be a professional, then you have responsibility, for both your work and your clients, to employ professional tools. So, I hope you don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of adhering to the philosophy of gear having no effect on your images…because in reality, it does.

So I ask you, why wouldn’t you employ the best possible tools (with in your means) to make sure your images are the very best they can be?

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Brandon Perron

About

Brandon Perron is a wedding photographer, making a transition into a freelance automotive digital contributor/photographer, as well as setting up his own private gallery. In his words, he is an uber sarcastic gasoline loving gear head, lost amongst the hipster hyper Eco-friendly crowd of PDX and has a mouth that makes sailors blush. He likes to think of himself as a daily life commentator, where nothing is off limits to poke fun at.

30 Comments

  1. Trey Mortensen

    I had an experience that mirrors your sentiments. I was shooting a wedding last year and was borrowing my friends’ 70-200 2.8. When I waved around that lens, I was amazed how I could get people to part like Moses parting the Red Sea. Even when I walked to the venue, people saw my lens strapped around me and they would ask if I was the wedding photographer.
    On another thought, I like to tell people that their entry level rebel or whatever can do 90-95% of what my Canon 6D can do, but it’s that 5-10% that makes my camera retail at $2000. Quality comes with an exponential price tag.

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  2. Kim Farrelly

    Reading this just after prepping my gear for tomorrows work, what’s the bet if I packed & taped over the badge on my old 350D and put a grip on it I’d be asked if it was a full frame by Uncle Bob?

    Having better gear only makes the job easier and by better I mean the right gear. A photographer friend of mine shot his last book, New York City, on his Fuji X10. He uses his Mamiya (or sometimes his X-T1) for portraits though.

    I really get the fact that better gear offers you the opportunity to get better results when you can’t control what it is you are shooting, how good the light is for example. I’m with this sentiment alright, if you have access to the ‘best’ gear use it to make you shooting day better, not to make your photography.

    10
    • Jim Johnson

      I think you hit the nail on the head. It isn’t expensive gear or “professional” gear or “better” gear, it’s having the right gear. And I think a lot of people simply don’t know how to figure that out.

      The best skill to have in photography is to be able to analyze your work and decide where you failed, where your gear failed, and how to correct both.

      Most of the “It isn’t about the gear” articles could simply be retitled “What you are doing doesn’t require more gear”.

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  3. john harney

    I agree to a point. For professionals yes

    I teach a lot of novices. Even when I’m out shooting a sunset or something, someone will come up to me and ask what camera I’m using and why (it’s only one of my D800′s) and then they say they want to upgrade their gear because they can’t seem to get good photos. I look at their camera and 9 out 10 times, they are shooting Auto and using the standard settings straight out of the box. Unfortunately these people believe that to take good shots you must have the very best gear.

    Its like fashion models. Young girls believe they must be very slim (skinny) to be any good and noticed by society because thats whats in the magazines and on TV.

    So my advice to these people is learn to do the job with the tools you have in hand and then upgrade. But learn how to use the tools properly first.

    Glass is my utmost first item to buy. If the camera is one of the modern cameras even if its crop, they are capable of doing what my top end Full frame was doing not that many years ago, so buy good glass.

    If you are a pro, this comment is irrelevant because if you don’t know how to reprogram your camera’s picture profile, if you don;t know how to compensate for changing light, if you don’t see what you are looking at then are you really a pro or a mall baby photographer where all the settings and lighting distances are predefined by a photog years ago and you use it because you don’t know any better.

    What is written in the media (any type of media) is read by novices and like young girls, they feel their photos are lacking because they have a crop sensor or a mirror less Fuji or something. But first you need to know what you are doing and I think that is something us pros should be writing about.

    Whats the point in giving a bad driver a good car if he doesnt know how to use it properly.

    Nice article though :)

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    • Brandon Perron

      I agree what’s the point of giving someone a good car if they don’t know how to drive it, properly? However, like I stated in the article the car is complimentary to the driver…NO matter how good the driver is, they can’t compete without a car that is of professional level. :-) Thanks for taking the time to read the article.

      5
    • Matthew Saville

      John, this is exactly why I LIKE to be seen in public places using my shiny red D5300, instead of my D800e. People never give me that BS about how they wish they had my camera so they could take better photos, and it usually strikes up a much healthier conversation about how it’s all about understanding camera control and functionality.

      On the other hand, I think you’re dumb if you go around touting a rebel-style body and a 14-24 or similar specialty full-frame lens, just because “oh I don’t want to have the wrong lens when I upgrade someday”. That, plus a handful of other investment decisions make people look dumb, IMO. I’d rather have my 50 1.8 G than a 50 1.4 or 1.2, on a killer camera body that is right for the job, than the better lenses on an inferior body. Why? Because the lens gets the job done, and the body is what truly delivers “the goods” in certain clutch situations.

      =Matt=

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    • Matthew Saville

      The world of camera bodies and lenses is so vast nowadays, that a lot of different directions can be taken based on this philosophy. For example, there are now “exotic” lenses with amazing sharpness and fast apertures, for half the price of a name-brand lens. The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 beats the pants off either of the Canon / Nikon competition, as does the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4.

      The drawback is, of course, those Roki-Bow-Yang lenses are mostly plastic, and aren’t nearly as rugged as the Canon / Nikon versions. This matters to plenty of people, but there are also innumerable others who, 1.) take very good care of their gear, and, 2. ) need the absolute best image quality, regardless of any other factor including price even! Thus, some people find that they need to stick with name brand lenses, while others find that the absolute best lens for them by far is a “cheap knock off”…

      The same thing goes for camera bodies. For example at ISO 100-1600, pretty much every beginner Nikon DSLR out there (thanks to Sony sensors across the board) beat the pants off even the flagship Canon sensors, especially for dynamic range. If I were a landscape photographer, I’d rather have my $600 Nikon D5300 instead of a $6,000 Canon 1DX.

      At the end of the day, it all depends on what you shoot. When I shoot weddings, autofocus performance matters far more than anything else, almost, and I’d rather have a 12-16 megapixel camera that can focus like no other, than a 24-36 megapixel camera that “drops the ball” a little too frequently. But when I shoot landscapes, it becomes 100% about image quality of course and AF, FPS, etc. etc. mean almost nothing to me. Then, of course, there’s everything else in between. You have to make your decisions based on all of the factors involved in what you shoot.

      5
    • Rafael Steffen

      Thanks for sharing the real thrught about photography. There is so much you can do with simple DSLR that does not justify to buy a Full Frame just to have one. In my case , I was able to improve a lot by investing in the good glass.

      2
    • Jim Johnson

      For years, I left my large format bellows cameras out in the studio, just on tripods near the sitting/meeting area. I seldom used them any longer, but when I client walked in, they were immediately drawn to them. Their presence allowed clients to make assumptions about my skill level/seriousness as a photographer. I knew that owning those cameras didn’t mean anything, but it did to clients.

      It’s the same reason I nearly always have a grip on my camera. I know it doesn’t mean anything, but clients (and amateurs) focus on the gear. And with a grip, it looks like a different/better camera to the one uncle Bob owns.

      1
    • Jim Johnson

      I completely agree. A novice with a cheap camera and a kit lens is better than a novice saying they can’t get a good shot because they don’t have the gear. That’s the reason I try to teach my students composition using the most basic camera— a pinhole camera.

      4
  4. Scott Hill

    The way I have sways felt if someone can take awesome pictures with crap gear they should be able to take amazing pictures with pro gear…. But I could not agree more with this article, gear makes a huge difference with a 70-200 2.8 with my 5D3 I can get amazingly clean shots during a wedding without flash any other lower gear just can’t do that….

    3
  5. Steven Pellegrino

    Gear matters to the extent that it can get the job done. What I mean is based on the type of photography you do, is your gear going to get the job done for you? I shoot a lot of street and documentary style photography. My Fuji X cameras are perfect for this. A Nikon D4s wouldn’t do a better job than these cameras and in fact would hinder my work. But they are not the end all and be all of cameras.

    I live in St. Louis and yesterday there was an unarmed black teen shot to death by a white cop not too far from where I live. It’s making national news. I’ve been covering this since this morning. I went to the crime scene at 7:00am. It was quite and I was able to take my time and get the shots I needed. I’ve been to three protest rallies today and to be honest, my Fuji cameras aren’t cutting it. They’re not focusing fast enough and I’m thinking and trying to get shots faster than they can shoot. I missed a lot of shots because of that. I’m in the middle of several hundred angry people with dozens of police all around and things are moving incredibly fast. A Nikon D7100 would be a welcome relief!

    But that being said, the design of the Fuji X100s catches people’s attention in many situations that opens the door to an impromptu portrait and conversation that I wouldn’t have had if I had a DSLR like everyone else had. I just think it comes down to the right gear for the right situation.

    7
    • Rafael Steffen

      The Nikon D7100 has an amazing auto focus system that works very fast. I used it to take some great images of soccer games during the World Cup! Combine that with a fast Glass and you have a perfect camera for the job.

      0
    • Rafael Steffen

      Don´t forget about the lighting techniques you need to develop to make your photography stand out from the crowd.

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  6. Evan Wilson

    Everyone is making completely valid points. I just want to add, and maybe it’s just me, but if you really want to talk about what to put in your camera bag to have the most impact for your photography, I have one word for you:

    Snacks!

    I’m kind of joking but not really. Do whatever it takes to achieve your vision: improvise, buy or rent the right gear, learn stuff, challenge yourself. Just don’t forget to fuel yourself as a creative. If you go hungry, thirsty, or tired, you’re going to get lazy and start shooting like Uncle Bob. Then it won’t matter what gear you have.

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  7. martin gillman

    Agree of course, to a point.. But, your writing seems to suggest ‘bigger’ and “gripped up” is more professional appearing. Professional and expensive kit has to be big and impressive? if those are the markers I would respectfully disagree as kit does not have to be physically large or impressive looking to have quality. And the turning up for a big shoot with poor kit scenario? Thats an argument used a lot, but really? does it ever really happen? does a national magazine hire an unknown for an important shoot without any background check? so they arrive with the Walmart kit? C’mon, maybe the odd cheap wedding but then in that case they hired exactly what they got. Doesn’t happen in the real world, at least not enough to make it stick. As said above, appropriate gear for the photographs you make, not what others think you should have. Isn’t that the mark of a true professional?

    1
    • Matthew Saville

      I think the argument against showing up to a wedding with a rebel and a kit zoom is indeed pretty narrow. Few people are going to do this, if they know what they’re doing. And any pro worth their salt is going to understand exactly what piece of gear they need to get the job done, “big and impressive” be damned if it hurts your shoulders / back.

      I do believe strongly in “commanding presence” if you are the lead photographer at a high-end wedding or something, however I don’t think that it REQUIRES you have a 70-200 mounted all day long, or shoot every event with “gripped” cameras, just to impress people. I’ve shot all kinds of weddings for 10 years now, and I’ve had a keen aversion to battery grips and the 70-200 in particular. In fact I spent at least half my career completely avoiding that big heavy monster, and even now I only get it out if I absolutely must, and I’m frequently considering getting a 70-200 f/4 instead because of how much lighter and smaller it is.

      Mainly, the important thing is to understand gear, period, and know what you need to get the job done. If your camera feels more comfortable and workable in your hands with a battery grip and a 70-200, then bring it on! If that’s not your style, you can still shoot something else while also commanding a high-end price or whatever your goal is…

      5
    • Jim Johnson

      For years, I left my large format bellows cameras out in the studio, just on tripods near the sitting/meeting area. I seldom used them any longer, but when I client walked in, they were immediately drawn to them. Their presence allowed clients to make assumptions about my skill level/seriousness as a photographer. I knew that owning those cameras didn’t mean anything, but it did to clients.

      It’s the same reason I nearly always have a grip on my camera. I know it doesn’t mean anything, but clients (and amateurs) focus on the gear. And with a grip, it looks like a different/better camera to the one uncle Bob owns.

      1
    • Matthew Saville

      Jim, sometimes the exact opposite is the photographer’s goal, though. My point was, I have far less use for that “impressiveness factor” than I usually do for the ability to be incognito, or at least un-intimidating. This is far more productive with regards to getting great candid photos of wedding guests, kids on the dance floor, etc. etc. By comparison, if I’m shooting family formals or something else where I need to “command attention”, well, a big, deep voice does the job just fine.

      0
    • Jim Johnson

      I agree, Matthew. It is all situational, and each way has it’s downside. Personally, I’m not a “gear” person. I can’t think of anything more boring than the “What kind of camera do you have?” discussion. I despise it and dread that moment when I see Uncle Bob eyeing my camera with THAT look on his face. With a smaller, lower impact camera, I might not have as many of those moments.

      1
    • Matthew Saville

      Agreed, and sometimes I like to take it even one step further, by showing up here or there with an “overly un-assuming” camera, (if that’s even possible?) …only to show them up with the results afterwards. This is something I’ve done a lot when GTG-ing at local photo shoot events, when the criticalness of the whole day doesn’t really matter and I can just go with the flow. It’s nice to practice shooting with whatever gear you’ve got, and making the best of this or that lens. It helps you think creatively, and it helps others actually BELIEVE the whole “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” type of thing.

      Having said that, of course, I wouldn’t show up to a wedding or other paid gig with a lesser camera that I didn’t think could get the job done with ease. That’s just a professional responsibility though, not an issue with self-confidence or whatever.

      =Matt=

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  8. Matthew Saville

    The world of camera bodies and lenses is so vast nowadays, that a lot of different directions can be taken based on this philosophy. For example, there are now “exotic” lenses with amazing sharpness and fast apertures, for half the price of a name-brand lens. The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 beats the pants off either of the Canon / Nikon competition, as does the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4.

    The drawback is, of course, those Roki-Bow-Yang lenses are mostly plastic, and aren’t nearly as rugged as the Canon / Nikon versions. This matters to plenty of people, but there are also innumerable others who, 1.) take very good care of their gear, and, 2. ) need the absolute best image quality, regardless of any other factor including price even! Thus, some people find that they need to stick with name brand lenses, while others find that the absolute best lens for them by far is a “cheap knock off”…

    The same thing goes for camera bodies. For example at ISO 100-1600, pretty much every beginner Nikon DSLR out there (thanks to Sony sensors across the board) beat the pants off even the flagship Canon sensors, especially for dynamic range. If I were a landscape photographer, I’d rather have my $600 Nikon D5300 instead of a $6,000 Canon 1DX.

    At the end of the day, it all depends on what you shoot. When I shoot weddings, autofocus performance matters far more than anything else, almost, and I’d rather have a 12-16 megapixel camera that can focus like no other, than a 24-36 megapixel camera that “drops the ball” a little too frequently. But when I shoot landscapes, it becomes 100% about image quality of course and AF, FPS, etc. etc. mean almost nothing to me. Then, of course, there’s everything else in between. You have to make your decisions based on all of the factors involved in what you shoot.

    4
    • Jeff Ladrillono

      To be honest Matthew, I have a 8mm Rokinon fisheye and it’s rock solid and I don’t baby my gear. I’d say its easily as durable as any of the Canon lenses I own. I’ve had it for about a year and its doing fine after a lot use. Maybe it’s the simple manual nature of it that keeps it pretty low maintenance.

      I can’t speak for any other Rokinon lenses but the 8mm fisheye has been great.

      0
    • Matthew Saville

      Yep, having tested / owned the Roki-Bow-Yang 10mm, 14mm, 16mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 85mm, (well, I guess that’s all of them?) …I will indeed say that the faster, larger lenses are constructed quite cheaply and have a high propensity to simply falling apart.

      Check the LensRentals blog and other opinions regarding how (certain) Roki-Bow-Yang lenses are literally considered “disposable”, because once you abuse them just a little too much and they become soft and repairs are basically non-existent, or more costly than the price of replacing the lens entirely. (They don’t just have service centers here in the US with quarter-million-dollar optical calibration machines at their disposal, like Canon and Nikon do…)

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  9. Ryan Sands

    Gear absolutely 100% matters when you’re a working professional photographer striving for the absolute highest quality image for your client. Anyone who tells you otherwise should be ignored. This doesn’t mean run out and buy the most expensive gear if you want to be “the best”. One must first complete a journey. It’s start with buying your first camera & kit lens and upgrading slowly as your skills and experience increase. This road needs to be traveled for a photographer to figure out what kind of gear fits them best. Only by experiencing the different levels of tech that each manufacturer has to offer can one appreciate the pros and cons that every piece of kit contains. Replacing your old lens with a better one, retiring a body after you know every in and out of it’s feature set. These are things that must happen in order for a photographer to grow and appreciate the higher level gear. But for every other article on the internet (not this one) to say that “gear doesn’t matter” or “the photographer makes the picture, not the gear” is just utter bullshit. All they are doing is pimping some good deal on some cheap lens that B&H has on sale this week or it’s simply an article to drum up clicks.

    1
  10. Jim Johnson

    Gear does matter, but we need to change the way we talk about gear. Gear is not “better” or “worse”, “consumer” or “pro”, nor “high end” or “low end”. These are value terms that have no meaning on their own. Better or worse is situational. A pro carrying a “consumer” camera makes that a professional’s tool. “High end” can mean anything from being a luxury (aka overpriced) item to something that will last forever.

    Unless you shoot in low light a camera that is “better” because of the way it handles high iso shooting is not necessarily better. A lighter camera doesn’t make a difference if you shoot on a stand in the studio. Sharper lenses don’t matter to someone who has a “dreamy” aesthetic. Higher frame rate doesn’t matter to a still life or product photographer. No one needs a D800′s resolution to post images on the web. And students are better off with a cheaper camera and a kit lens than waiting for a chance to use a Phase one.

    What we need to talk about is what our gear is capable of and whether or not that is something that will benefit us and our images. It all needs context.

    2
  11. Jeff Ladrillono

    I don’t think you even touched on the durability factor, Brandon. I’d have some anxiety bringing a couple of Rebel bodies on a month long van trip to shoot action sports and hoping that they hold up without being babied. I’d be using a lot of gaff tape and hope on that trip.

    0
    • Jim Johnson

      I do a lot of work remodeling work on people’s houses in my spare time. There are some tools I try to buy the best, then there are others that I buy the low end (harbor freight) versions of. My thinking is that I can buy a second one if the first wears out or breaks. What has always surprised me is that most of the time, the cheapies last much longer than I ever expected. Then there are the unexpected breaks, like the all metal housed saw that loses the trigger button one day (with shipping costs to have it repaired, I could have bought another cheaper one).

      Sure a Rebel has a plastic body, but it might not be the delicate little flower that people expect it be. And even the pro gear has weak points. It pays to get “pro” gear that will last over time, but the cost of maintenance and repair of “pro” gear may exceed the cost of simply replacing a cheapie.

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  12. Austin Swenson

    Austin’s redundant echo of the day:

    gear like good lenses with constant apertures are what can really make the difference in a shoot. If I had some 70-200 for example that had a variable aperture, I would be at like f5.6 or something a little tighter all the way zoomed out and I would have to post process the crap out of that image until I got what I wanted, and it wouldn’t look that great, but the f2.8 constant really makes the difference on how much light I could get and ultimately what the sharpness comes with shooting in lower light. I think the same can be said of just about any focal length zoom.

    And then there is the body. Image quality gets better every year, and dragging around some 7 year old DSLR won’t give you the same image quality in something similarly priced in today’s market when you have to hike into those higher ISO’s. You might tell me that you can definitely still use that camera and you can, it’s just that the versatility and usability is just better as the models keep coming out.

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