Often at weddings guests will either ask me (for the photography enthusiasts) what camera I’m using or simply state “it must be easy to get great photos with that thing!”, a statement that I generally do my best to politely ignore. Even amongst fellow professional photographers equipment is a hot topic, particularly at this time of year when the trade-shows are in full force and this year’s latest ‘game changing’ innovations are coming to the fore, with everyone in the profession keen to ensure that they are never left behind. But in reality just how important is having the best equipment to the professional photographer?
The answer, rather unhelpfully is that it makes both not the slightest difference at all and yet simultaneously a great deal of difference. Allow me to explain…
Having a great, expensive camera has no more to do with producing an amazing photograph than having a gourmet set of pans has to do with creating a Michelin star quality meal. A professional chef will of course choose to have the best quality kitchenware to help to enable them to cook your meal to perfection, but anyone can buy those pans and still end up producing a meal with all the imagination of beans on toast. It’s not the basic facilities that create an outstanding meal, it’s the chef’s creativity, their eye for detail and the way they put their ingredients together that keep even the staunchest critics raving about their food. The photographer’s ingredients are not cameras and lenses but subject and light, the camera is merely the necessary tool to make those ingredients into something truly delicious.
“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
So if it really is the photographer, not the camera that makes a great image then why do photographers often put so much stock in the quality of their equipment? Well, whilst a great photographer can take just as perfectly composed and creative a shot on an iPhone as on a camera costing several thousand pounds, there is a certain point where the equipment begins to restrict whether or not the photographer is able to achieve their vision for the shot. In their mind a photographer might imagine a shot with a beautiful depth of field, a shot that makes use of that subtle dabbled shadow and brings out the texture of the light. They might take that exact same shot on their expensive camera and on their camera phone and the results might be worlds apart simply because the technically inferior camera doesn’t have the capability of capturing the light the way the photographer sees the world. However, put that same improved technology in the hands of an amateur and, whilst it may help to spark some creative juices, overall the quality of the image is unlikely to improve.
There are other factors too, for example most modern professional level cameras have in-built backup facilities to ensure that if something goes wrong your shots are always protected. There’s also the question of the resolution of the images, the low-light capability which more basic cameras will struggle with and of course the overall feel of the images which the equipment used can affect. Developments in technology do also sometimes create options that were never possible before and in this way having the latest, top notch cameras can allow the photographer to let their imaginations run wild. It’s also fair to say that it is the quality of the lenses that has the bigger impact on the quality of the end image than the camera itself.
So does having a better camera make for a better photograph? No. Does it make for a better overall image quality? Perhaps. There are all kinds of reasons why a photographer will choose a particular tool, and indeed many photographers are now actively reverting to old film cameras because they like a particular look that camera produces. But one thing never changes: the artistry of the image is created 12 inches behind the camera, not in that clever little processor inside it.