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Stop Asking What Gear You Should Buy | Here’s What You Should Ask Instead

By Brittany Smith on November 14th 2017

“What camera should I buy?” This is a question that gets tossed around a lot by newer photographers with money to burn and tech obsessed hobby photographers that upgrade their gear as frequently as people upgrade their smartphones.

Karl Taylor is a professional photographer and educator with an extensive twenty year career under his belt. Take one look at his portfolio and it becomes obvious why he is a Hasselblad ambassador who creates educational content for Broncolor regularly. Karl’s direct approach without sugarcoating makes him a favorite among many and he has some tough love to give for anyone obsessed over the latest gear.

[REWIND: 4 TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY LOVE & HOW TO START WITHOUT A LARGE INVESTMENT]

It. Doesn’t. Matter. There are manual 35mm film cameras selling on eBay for a few hundred dollars that are more than capable of producing great images – in fact these ancient workhorses were used to produce and satisfy all photographic needs prior to digital and they managed.  Extrapolation software was used for properly enlarging images for anything larger than an 8×10 back in the day. Sure it took hours and sometimes days, but it got the job done. Seeing as how most of the images being reproduced will never exceed the size of a large wall display, the megapixel count is a non-issue and any modern camera will suffice.

The latest and greatest gear that money can buy will not automatically make someone a great photographer. The advent of digital has only simplified things and made it more difficult to fail which is a pity because failure is one of the best ways to challenge oneself and improve one’s craft. At the end of the day no one is as good as they think they are and any one camera will not fix any shortcomings. Rent several cameras and pick the one that feels and works best for you.

Money is much better spent on glass. That doesn’t mean that you must acquire every prime focal length and zoom lens that money can buy. Determine what lenses are required to bring the money in and then rent or borrow anything else. I’ve owned only two lenses, a 50mm 1.2L and an 85mm 1.2L, for the entirety of my career. I rent a 35mm anytime I need a wider focal length because I use it so infrequently and therefore it will not pay for itself.

Most lighting equipment can achieve desirable results once it has been learned. While modifiers are a ton of fun to play with, it is amazing what a simple white Shoot Through Umbrella can accomplish. Again, buy only what is needed and rent anything else that is additionally needed.

[REWIND: HOW I SHOT IT – SIMPLE ONE LIGHT PORTRAIT STUDIO SETUP IN A GARAGE]

All in all, the question needs to be shifted from “What gear should I buy?” to “What can I do to become a better photographer?” The time asking that question is better spent studying composition, exposure, technique and putting it into practice while learning how to evoke emotion in an image. The latest and most expensive gear isn’t a prerequisite to good photography and should only be purchased if the shortcomings of what you already own begin to limit you and your income can substantiate it – or if you have extra cash floating around that you can’t fathom spending elsewhere.

The following video rant from Karl Taylor is entertaining with tough love and really drives home the notion that most amateur photographers have been missing the point. Also make sure to subscribe to Karl’s YouTube channel for an entire library of educational videos.

Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

9 Comments

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    My wife had been wanting me to move from film to digital. I have been shooting film since 1980 with my Canon A-1. 

    I talked her out of buying me a DSLR in 2012 when she said her budget was for a Canon T3i; as a consolation, she bought me a used Canon FD 28mm f2.8 lens.

    July 2013, I mentioned that a used camera company had a Canon New F-1, with the AE Finder FN and the AE Motor Drive FN, for sale at a reasonable price. She asked “That’s their flagship?” I answered “Yes, for the 80’s”. She said “Buy it.”

    She had been persuading me to look at DSLR cameras, so I created a spreadsheet of the features that my Canon S:R cameras had with the specs of Canon’s EOS DSLR portfolio. What matched comparably was a Canon 5D III. I said that the 5D is comparable to what I own.

    Call me a full frame bigot, but I want a wide angle lens to be a wide angle lens and not a normal lens. Sure, I get to cheat on getting extra reach on the telephoto side, but I would be getting cheated on the APS-C side of wide angle.

    Flash forward to Decemter 2013. She asked me “What do you think about this deal?” I said “You buying me a 5D III?” She answered “Yes”. I said let me check B&H  and I found a package deal that was $500 less than Amazon.

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  2. Brittany Smith

    Jonathan Brady No worries!  I could see how that would be a trigger had it been the other way around. I’m a person that loves gear and I love to play around with new tech. I also believe in renting and only owning what is needed to help pay the bills. 

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  3. Michael Kim

    I use a point&shoot superzoom that cost under $300 with the only manual controls being white balance and ISO & it is still way more camera than I really need. ..

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  4. Mircea Blanaru

    The article is very good and the idea is clear!!!! Even if you are buying the whole arsenal of brushes, canvas and oils Rembrandt has used it is not guaranteed at all you will paint an artwork as this painter did… It is like that you are not a true driver if you don’t own a Porsche, etc…

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  5. Casey Nyambe

    I think this whole talk about gear is common place among most who are yet to master their current equipment. I can only justify gear purchase when my photography needs change…otherwise, best policy is knowing what I have well, and using it. I won’t allow for my creative process to be hindered by gear, or  lack thereof. Great article. Thanks. 

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  6. Steve O’ Leary

    15 Oct 2015 by Admin User

    Q:
    What camera and lenses does Karl use?

    A:
    Karl uses the following cameras and lenses

    Hasselblad H5-50D Camera
    Hasselblad H1-22D Camera

    Hasselblad 50-110mm f3.5
    Hasselblad 150mm f3.2 lens
    Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
    Hasselblad 35mm f3.5 lens
    Hasselblad macro 120mm f4 lens

    Canon EOS 5D mkIII
    Canon EOS 5D mkIII
    Canon EOS 5D mkII
    Canon EF 15mm f2.8 fish eye lens
    Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 lens
    Canon EF 24mm f1.4 lens
    Canon EF 50mm f1.2 lens
    Canon EF MPE 65mm macro lens
    Canon EF 85mm f1.2 lens
    Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 lens
    Canon EF 300mm f2.8 lens
    Canon EF extender 1.4x
    Canon EF extender 2.0x

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    • Brittany Smith

      The idea of how hypocritical his gear may look to photographers was not lost on him. :) For that reason Karl did tap into the work efficiency of gear and his client list absolutely made it possible to substantiate the gear and cut production time when immediacy is of importance. 

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    • Jonathan Brady

      Brittany, I think the bigger issue, with me at least, is that he claimed: “I’ve owned only two lenses, a 50mm 1.2L and an 85mm 1.2L, for the entirety of my career. I rent a 35mm anytime I need a wider focal length because I use it so infrequently and therefore it will not pay for itself.” Yet his gear list is quite extensive. So which is it? He’s only owned 2 lenses for his entire career, or he has an extensive gear list/history? I can’t imagine that’s the list of gear he rents because a 35 isn’t on it.
      *full disclosure, I just read the article – I was going to watch the video but saw it was 18 minutes long and I just don’t have the time at the moment.
      So, maybe at this point in his career, those are the only two lenses he owns, but clearly, he’s played with (likely owned) numerous lenses (and cameras) over time and thus, he’s figured out what works for him. Which incidentally, is exactly what many hobbyists do. I’ve purchased a LOT of gear, much of it used and at a price I can break even or make money should I decide to sell it – and I usually do, with the intent of figuring out if it works for me.
      Again, I didn’t watch the video, and I probably should before posting comments, but if he had acknowledged that there can be a benefit to trying a variety of gear, and even admitted he had done so, and THEN brought the focus back to “what can I do to become a better photographer”, I think the tone would be easier to accept. As it is, it comes off as condescending and in light of his gear list, hypocritical (and not in an ironic/funny way).

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    • Jonathan Brady

      For some reason, I can’t edit my prior comment. As it turns out, I should have watched the video!  LOL
      I didn’t realize that the part about only owning two lenses weren’t words out of his mouth, but that it was your commentary.
      Lesson learned :-)  lol

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