How many times do people ask what kind of camera you’re using? When out on a photo shoot, there are always clients, bystanders and other photographers that come up and ask about my choice of gear.
They even tell me the brand and model of camera they use and present the conversation in such a way that it’s obvious the gear we use has an affect on the result or outcome of our work. When did that become the mainstream mentality?
The tech industry wants us to believe that as professionals (or enthusiasts) we need to keep up with the latest trends, new releases, and the slew of new or updated accessories. Going beyond “being the coolest kid in the room” it’s almost as if you can’t produce your best quality work unless you’re also using the best and latest equipment.
Yes, to an extent rapidly evolving technology does make breakthroughs which clearly delineate the quality and performance of equipment compared to older models — but does that truly shape your creativity?
Let’s demolish this myth.
When it comes to new gear, you need to evaluate when and why you choose to upgrade or add to your collection.
Who Can Tell the Difference?
Thinking of the audience and viewers first, the most important element of the entire creative process is the finished shot that your viewer sees — or in the case of digital media, the finished design.
If you are choosing to upgrade a camera or looking at what photographers say they’re using themselves, the performance differences between models are typically negligible at best. While certain cameras may be far superior, they’re all doing the same thing. As long as the minimum requirements for formatting and resolution are met, and you have lenses that also meet your needs for the type of work you do, the specific camera you choose is mostly up to personal preference.
Just because your camera is a few years old, and a handful of newer successors have been manufactured, that doesn’t reduce your camera’s capability.
That said — particularly with digital SLRs moving parts can wear out and sensors can develop dead pixels, stuck pixels, and similar signs of wear. As your chassis approaches its maximum designed shutter actuation you might start to see some noise in your images or mechanical actions can malfunction.
Most people can’t tell what camera you use, especially after finishing up any post-production editing. Those that can tell, care more about your creative style and why you shoot rather than how.
When Equipment Meets Taste
As you evaluate when you need to make new purchases and upgrade your gear, develop a list of aspects that matter to you or might affect your work. Everybody will have their own opinion, but you should remember to keep each of those in context.
Think of your specific workflow, the type of images you take, what sort of environment you shoot in, and the features or performance requirements that may be a make or break decision in your industry.
Certain projects in the past have required specifics; for instance, all of our Airbnb Plus shoots are done using full-frame cameras and tripods, with a large portion of shots requiring bracketing. Naturally, years of wear and tear along with technological advancement in the industry, lighting is upgraded, new softboxes are needed, and general upgrades to old or absent equipment can increase my versatility during a shoot.
Occasionally specific equipment will need to be purchased to achieve an effect that’s impossible without it, which we did for one video project that needed a jib. From a photographer’s perspective, that choice of purchasing versus renting is an internal one on how valuable that option might be in the future. For clients, or anyone that’s looking to purchase a professional photography session I would advise them to remember that the tools and gear of the trade are never as important as honed and practiced skill.
If the project requires a specific result in the finished image, or space/subject needs to be captured in a particular way, a professional photographer can be left to acquire the gear necessary or figure out a method to achieving the desired result on their own. Choosing a certain photographer or firm based on their equipment alone will seldom yield the quality of images you need.
“Most people can’t tell what camera you use. Those that can care more about your creativity than gear.”
Earlier this year I added a new chassis to my arsenal, with features that would help me get shots I wouldn’t easily be able to produce otherwise. These include human and animal eye-tracking built-in, high FPS for action shooting, and 4K video capabilities all within a compact mirrorless frame.
While it certainly does each of those well, I still use my old cameras to execute high profile commercial shoots. They have a better color science, and I’m familiar with the controls, so the new mirrorless is reserved mostly for event coverage or action.
Both clients and photographers want the same thing, for the subject, brand, product, or person to appear the most authentic, engaging, and aesthetically as positive as possible.
Once you have that frame of mind, look at potential options by considering reviews, prices, performance, and the general response from users. One newer model might have failings a previous model did not, or waiting for the latest iteration to hit the market might lower the cost of the camera or tool you are looking at.
Focus on Why you shoot, instead of How
How much does your skill and creativity factor into your shooting and processing? Do you have high-performance demands that certain models provide at a premium? Or do you tend to be more imaginative and inspiring when you need to work around constraints — in this way your style and the artistic process might prefer either a simplified shooting experience, or a fully detailed one with lots of adjustable controls and parameters that involve additional gear and accessories.
The point is to think of the goal of your work, and how to achieve it. Your new gear should be able to address that first.
Also consider the time it might take you to learn a new system, or integrate any new tools into your workflow. For this reason, many photographers might simply not make an upgrade, choose new cameras that are only a couple iterations above their current model, or just procrastinate a new purchase entirely.
Switching formats, body styles, and manufacturers will have some of the hardest learning curves for you… so if you are planning on using a new camera before an important project make sure you give yourself time to learn.
Price is an issue that is often dismissed in trade reviews, or technology reporting on new products. Because as journalists and reviewers, those professionals have a primary job of critiquing each and every new camera and accessory. Even the most unbiased of sources will be used to new gear on a regular basis so that mentality becomes normal.
The cost of new cameras is always paired up against their market competitors or direct predecessors. This gives us the false impression that a premium price tag is needed for the specifications you’re looking for. That is not true. New products do lower the market value of your existing used or old gear, which reinforces the perception that we need new equipment on a regular basis to prevent our work from becoming inferior.
The Best Lens for Hospitality Photography
The best lens for certain situations is through your creative eye. Focus on the space, and let your intuition be your guide. It was during the shoot of a hotel where I was last stopped by someone asking about my gear, which inspired this post.
There will always be newer models of cameras, brands that reinvent a tripod or develop an accessory that (they hope) revolutionizes the industry. That is the job of manufacturers, they must continue to innovate just as its the role of marketers and journalists to discuss and promote them.
“Choosing the right lens is the reflection of the perspective you have for that particular shot.”
While I believe it’s pragmatic to stay up to date on new advancements when I’m shooting I focus 100% on my work. When it comes down to it, the tools themselves are always secondary to the skill and artistry involved.
Particularly when shooting in public spaces where the subject is a business location, a hotel lobby, or a similar area… there are always those curious people that stop to ask about lenses or lighting.
Buying new gear is not equal to honing your skills. When your reputation is being captured I feel a photographer that cares more about why he chooses to work will outperform anyone hung up on what they do it with.