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Tips & Tricks

It’s Not About the Camera. It’s About the Light.

By Hanssie on July 19th 2014

As a photographer, how many times have you heard someone tell you, “your camera takes great pictures!” (Cue irate rant in your brain). Of course, we as photographers know that there is more to taking a great photo than the gear you use. It’s not about the camera. It’s about the LIGHT.

Now, having good gear doesn’t hurt. I remember shooting a wedding with my Canon Rebel xti and a few days later shooting another wedding with my new Canon 5D Mark II. There’s definitely a difference in image quality, but in the following video, photographer (and new SLR Lounge writer!) Miguel Quiles answers the question, “Is it possible that spending [the] same money [that you would to get a full frame camera or expensive lens] elsewhere might give you a better end product at a much lower cost?”


Miguel compares the Canon 7D with a Canon 50mm F/1.8 lens, a solid, but entry level setup that costs roughly $800 and a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 85mm f/1.2L lens, an approximate $5,000 value. Using the same premium lighting equipment (one diffused light – a FlexFlash 200W with an OctoDome: medium attached and a foam core reflector) and post processing techniques, he set out to compare both images to see if there was a clear distinction between the two setups.

Light-set-up-Quiles-1 Quiles-1

So, which photo was taken with which setup?


He also used a simpler one light set up and got the following results:



The quality is almost indistinguishable in the above images. So, before looking to upgrade your camera or get that top of the line lens, you’d be wise to invest in a high quality lighting kit first.

Watch the 4 minute video, “It’s Not About the Camera: A Lighting Lesson” here:

To see more of Miguel Quiles work, check out his website.

[Via PhotoFlex]

CREDITS: All photographs shared by Miguel Quiles are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for showing us photographers that lighting and posing skills is going to make a difference in your photography. After I bought my first full frame camera, I noticed that during normal lighting conditions I almost could not notice such a big difference. For me the thing I want to explore more is to learn how to use off camera flash more creatively to achieve better looking pictures.

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  2. Michael Stagg

    I think the point Miguel was stressing here isn’t about the 7D being “entry level” but more so that you can achieve the same or similar results with a less expensive kit. Further, it’s a statement that we as photographers should stop making excuses about the gear allowing us to make better images. The photographer and the light are the two most important factors in any image equation; the knowledgeable use of gear and technique to manipulate that light is second.

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  3. Jean-Francois Michaud

    I agree with this for portrait setup.

    But in low light situation you will probably end up with a much higher ISO with the 7d.
    So I think that for someone shooting in low light upgrading to a full frame will make sens, but if you have control on the amount of light then the 7d will do the job very well.

    Like the video said; it’s all about the light.

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  4. Eric Sharpe

    Unless you tell people what camera you used, often time nobody knows or cares. I would definitely take the advice, and upgrade lighting and modifiers before moving to another body. You gain much more growth as a photographer from upgrading your lighting gear, than you do from upgrading your camera body.

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  5. David Justice

    I’m sorry but I wouldn’t call this an “Entry Level” camera. The body itself on Amazon is $999 right now. The 7D falls more in the Prosumer range. Something for someone who wants to take it to the next level, but isn’t ready for the budget commitment of full-frame. I also wouldn’t call his strobe and octobox setup cheap as well. He’s using a photoflex strobe, the cheapest of which is $275. Plus a Photoflex Octodome, probably the small one. I couldn’t get a price for that on their site for the small, but the medium is $400. So let’s say its $250. The backdrop is a $65 ($45 on amazon plus $20 shipping) and then there’s the background stand, I don’t know how much his was, but mine was a little over $100. Oh, I forgot the canon 50 1.8 lens, which is $125 on amazon. Not to mention his PocketWizards. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s using two PW Plus X’s which would be $200 ($100 each)

    So for $1125 you can have the camera setup. For another $890 you can have his lighting setup. That’s over $2000 for his basic, entry level setup…

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    • Herm Tjioe

      I don’t think using the 7D was somehow a statement the author is making what is considered entry level.

      One can use the refurbished T3i , right now from for under $ 350 and still have similar test outcome. Because the importance is in lighting, this setup pricing is also much more in line with the stated conclusion of this article, that more time and effort be used for light manipulation.

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  6. Asad Qayyum

    Useful article to drive home the age old principle – it is the lighting that is key.

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    wow as an entry level photographer i feel encouraged

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  8. Herm Tjioe

    Is that a moire pattern with the left image of the second cell image from above ? It’s on his left suit lapel, zoomed a bit more than the right picture.

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    • Stan Rogers

      Yes, it is, but it’s just as likely that the moiré is an artifact of downsizing the image as anything else. Moiré happens when the size of the regular details gets too close to the size of the grid you’re using to create/display the details; you can’t assume that because the pattern is there in a small version of the image that it’s also there in the full-sized image.

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    • Herm Tjioe

      I just felt for comparison sake, why not present it without moire. It’s like rigging a comparison.

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  9. Ian Moss

    Does it matter which is which? I thought it was all about the photographer!

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  10. Rieshawn Williams

    The audio is off, so which one is which?

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    • Stan Rogers

      The fact that you can’t really tell at a quick glance is sort of the point. If you really want to figure it out, the 85mm on a full frame is just every so slightly longer/tighter than a 50mm on Canon’s APS-C format (1.6x crop factor, 80mm full frame equivalent), so the subject will be just a touch larger at the same distance on the 5D. If the subject is the same size in the frame, then the perspective on the 7D+50mm combination will be slightly exaggerated compared to the 5DIII+85mm — but then you have to assume there’s no cropping going on, which would even up the score easily on a downscaled image.

      *Can* there be significant, noticeable differences between the two? Certainly. The 5D+85mm/1.2 combination will give you two and a half stops shallower depth of field, nicer bokeh and a different sort of sharpness/softness profile shooting wide open than the 7D+50mm/1.8 will. Is that relevant in typical studio photography? Not very, although that would depend on your personal style; you’ll typically spend most of your time somewhere around f/5.6 to f/8, balancing getting your whole subject sharp with just enough blur to take the texture out of the background. (At the same time, the smaller sensor/shorter lens combination makes it easier to shoot small things up close; you can wait a little longer before having to use a macro lens, a tilt/shift will give you a greater apparent range of movements, and getting adequate DoF is a little less of a struggle.) The 5DIII will be better at higher ISO settings and at higher contrast ranges, but the $2,500 or so difference between bodies will buy an awful lot of light to take those completely out of the picture in studio. Location work is another matter, since shutter speed is your main control over the ambient and an extra couple of stops of ISO can mean the difference between getting and not getting the shot.

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