“Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing).”  
~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Art Model, Viki Vegas, © 2011 Terrell Neasley

How many times have I heard that statement? Countless. And you’ll usually hear it from someone who doesn’t have good gear, or its someone who HAS great gear, but who also gets tired of listening to those that don’t have the gear complain that their shots would be better if they DID have good gear. What’s my take? I honestly hate getting into it, but if you ask me…I’m a gear-head.

To be fair, there is truth to the statement depending on how you look at it as well as falsehoods for the same reason. So for me, it depends on the context in which the statement is made as well as who’s saying it.

I’ll make my point. YES…IT IS THE CAMERA.

Any true craftsman in his trade is likely to credit his advanced skill to training and great gear. I don’t care what profession you are in, in more cases than not, if you are good at what you do, proud of it, and successful at it, chances are you’ve invested in the good stuff and leave the cheap stuff to the amateurs. You’re getting high quality and durable supplies and equipment to meet the standards of excellence you have set for yourself. You may even plan to hand those tools down to the next generation in the family. Or, YOU may now possess the same tools handed down to you from a parent. High quality older gear is still good gear.

Art Model, Viki Vegas,
© 2011 Terrell Neasley

In photography, this is no different. Especially in the more durable components like lenses. No one will argue that glass isn’t important. You may be of the school of thought that fast glass isn’t all that necessary, but you’ll still find yourself agreeing with me that quality glass is. And despite some that have stated the client doesn’t care what you shoot, but rather the image is all that matters, I still disagree here. A journalist may be able to get away with a cell phone shot. However, I will not let a client see me rocking a Rebel. I learned that early on when I watched a guy walk up to his photographer and make a very simple statement, “My son has this same camera.” He didn’t say a word after that but just looked at the photog inquisitively. I knew the unspoken words that yet teetered on his lips…”So why am I paying you so much to do this?”

If you’re doing DSLR video, you’re going to appreciate that headphone jack to monitor audio in your Pro-level camera. When you need that bad-ass HDR, you’re going appreciate being able to automatically bracket your exposures up to 5 or more stops. Ever want to do timed-intervals for some ever popular time-elapse images. Dang…can’t hook up an intervalometer to that Rebel. Whoops, no Autofocus drive motor on the D3200…hope you don’t have any D-series lenses. Aww… can’t get that nice bokeh with your 18-55 kit lens…now you see the difference in having a 50 or 85mm f/1.2. So yes…the camera does matter. I get paid to produce those results.

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
– George Eastman
Art Model, Viki Vegas, © 2011 Terrell Neasley

On the other hand, there is one saying amongst light-shapers I do agree with. “The most important camera is the one in your hand.” If all you have on you is a point and shoot compact camera, then that’s it. I’d much rather get the shot with SOMETHING, than miss the shot because I had nothing. I read just the other day that 21% of all images taken last year have been with a cell phone, up from 11% just a few years ago. I’ve actually done pro work with my Canon S100 compact camera. It shoots RAW and when I can’t pull out the big guns, I’m still ready.

But also know that I’ve seen images taken with a Canon Rebel that far outpaced some of the flagship cameras. That’s because when it comes down to it, its all about manipulating the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. All cameras depend on this same relationship to create an exposure. All of them. And in most cases you can still get a good shot with a disposable camera. This argument falls apart when there are specific circumstances that require pro-level features. A sports photog needing 9 frames a second isn’t gonna get that in a entry level Nikon. And a non-weather sealed Rebel isn’t going to stand up to the harsh environments when extreme temperatures and humidity are present. But all things being equal, in 80% of the situations encountered, I’m going to be able to get that shot in the dark with your very own Canon 40D when you are complaining its impossible without a better camera with high ISO capabilities. Why? Probably because I’ve put in the time to better understand the aforementioned camera interactive relationships and the nature of light. I’ve done it. I’m not bragging. I’m making a point.

Art Model, Viki Vegas,
© 2011 Terrell Neasley

All that to say this. Gear is important too. It’s the CAMERA…AND…it’s the PHOTOGRAPHER. The better solution, however is to be skilled and successful enough to acquire the better gear, while being creative and knowledgeable enough to find alternative when you don’t have it.

For further reading on the matter, you can check out postings by Steve Huff and Luminous Landscape.