A Better Camera by Randall Kelley

A Better Camera, by Randall Kelley

I just want to take a little time here to respectfully disagree with what a lot of professional photographers like to say about this camera (or any high end camera for that matter). “A better camera won’t make you a better photographer.” Or some version of that statement. Here’s my take, and I decided that I do disagree.

If you are a “photographer” there are two parts to everything you do Art and Craft. There is a reason people have been referring to “Arts and Crafts” forEVER. They are inextricably linked. People get into huge debates over what medium is Art and what is Craft. Easy end of that debate, all expressive medium is BOTH. The MARKET for PRODUCT may make distinction, but the person doing any expressive work is practicing both.

This is why I disagree with those who say a better camera, or a better tool of any sort in any medium, won’t make you better. Talent can be expressed on the cheap, craft as well, but you can radically improve your craft by working with better tools.

If you don’t think so, find the professional photographer making his living shooting a Holga. You might find some, but show me one and I’ll show you someone NOT shooting ad campaigns and weddings. Shoot someone’s wedding with a Holga and tell them it’s OK cause the “Style” is more important than the quality. I don’t care if you MAY get an award winning picture of the Vice President with one, you can’t count on consistent quality images from something that can’t replicate the same shot twice.

And go shoot Ansel Adams’ same landscape with a point and shoot and enlarge it to 20 inches or so and do a quick side by side. I’m betting you and any non expert in the room will be able to distinguish the two. Can you get a good landscape? Depends on your talent. But just HOW good it can be depends not only on your talent but on your skill, and your materials, and your tools. Or do you want a Balsa wood house built with a sledge hammer?

If you take the most talented carpenter doing finishing work and ask him if he can do as well with a sledge hammer, he’ll think you’re crazy. Could he get it done? Probably. Would it be as good? Doubt it. A GOOD tool allows finer more precise work. That’s an element of craft.

So the question becomes, will a better tool make you a better craftsman? Most jump on the art angle and answer no. And I would rather have talent and a poor tool rather than no talent and a good one. But what if you have the opportunity to have both? Do you eschew the better tool because it won’t improve your talent? I hope you don’t buy that, because it can, and here’s how.

If I am cutting framing boards with a chain saw, chances are I’m not really hairline accurate. If I only have a chainsaw, will I get better? Yes, but only to a point. After that point I need a more accurate tool to keep getting better. Should I skip the upgrade because it won’t help. I hope not, or at least I hope I don’t live in that house.

If I get a blurry shot from my point and shoot, or even my nice zoom lens DSLR, how blurry is it? Is it movement? The focus? A limit of the lens? When you get a camera and lens that produces radically improved images, you WILL see your errors much more distinctly. Can you learn from mistakes that are obvious faster than you can from ones that are obfuscated by lower quality equipment and materials? I say yes. I hope you are able to see my point.

On to point two. Does learning about all the elements that go into creating an image make you better? I think so. You can grab a really good DSLR, set it on auto and crank out really good photos. But I’ll bet you that if you fully understand every element of the process, you could do even better.

Switch off auto everything and you WILL learn. If you learn, you WILL get better. Will you get more talented? No. But if you have talent you will get better at your craft. Why practice a craft if you have no desire to get better?

So I put it to you that when the statement is made, “A better camera won’t make you a better photographer.”, it is either meant to talk ONLY about your talent… and perhaps to make you feel a bit better about not being able to swing “high end” equipment, but it is inaccurate, or incomplete at best. Good equipment, and especially equipment that pushes you to make more of your own decisions, will improve your results if you are willing to learn and if you persist.

When you see the sharpness of some lenses, you will suddenly know what part of the blur was YOURS and what was the equipment. If you use that to find a solution you will get better. If your equipment is low end enough to never be that sharp, then you just learn how to make blur work. That skill will still come in handy when your camera and lens stops doing it for you and you want to induce it yourself. So pay attention to when you like it and when you don’t. But don’t be misled into thinking that not having the ability to produce a sharp image is not limiting, and that you can do just as well with any piece of equipment. That is just not the case.

The other way this type of equipment will improve your photography is (and this crosses the line into talent and I’m saying it) it WILL make you see differently. And that can improve your talent. When you look at images and the detail is not highly resolved, it is easy to see composition, shading, light, etc. A lot of critical artistic elements are NOT limited by the resolving power of your equipment. But DETAIL is. And when you start to suddenly see a lot of detail in you images that you didn’t even notice when taking the picture, you then start to look before you shoot for those same kinds of detail.

It’s like getting a new prescription for eyeglasses after years with a bad one. You can really notice things you missed. And IF you choose to take that to heart and start looking, you will observe better. Photography is a lot like acting, in that a good observer picks up detail to add to their work that is missing in someone who is not as observant.

This is really a big deal, and was the last straw in motivating me to write this down. I always suspected the statement, “A better camera won’t make you a better photographer.” was off on craft, but walking around the other day, seeing things I wouldn’t have even noticed before, I thought, “This really is making me better at seeing.” Now if I can get that into my work, I’ll be thrilled.

Don’t spend money on better equipment thinking it is going to make you some other photographer. But DO get it if you want the chance to push yourself beyond where you are. Equipment this good, and this demanding, will make a difference.

I’ve never said “WOW!” so much looking at my own images as since I made this purchase. And I’ve never said, “Crap!” so much either. This stuff is so different. I have not thought, “This is nice. Should I print this one?” very often in the past, but it is constantly on my mind now. Until everyone has thirty inch or larger monitors and endless bandwidth, there is a level of quality you can’t share digitally.

If you can’t afford something great, don’t feel bad, do whatever you can with what you have. But, I feel about the M9, and Leica in general, like Ferris Buhler did about driving a Ferrari, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

Randall Kelley

———-Addendum and some photos——

Steve mentioned photos to go with this article. My original post of this had none, and that was basically because I don’t think there is any dispute of the fact that some high end gear makes technically better images. This addendum is really an after thought and a response to thinking about what images might represent the article. I have loads of shots from the new camera that I love, but I don’t think any few can really represent what I am talking about. The kind of changes it has fostered in my shooting can only be seen by looking back at lots of before and after shots. And I can honestly find “before the M9” shots I love as just much as “after the M9”. But I don’t think any handful convey the profound way my point of view has changed nor would they convey the much higher percentage I now get of what I call “keepers”. And when I do enlarge those older ones now, I am always thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I could have shot this same shot on my M9.”

While the point of my post was how technically better gear can help you refine and improve you craft and even your “vision”. I have thought about it for a long while and decided I could add these three images and an additional word of encouragement.

The first image is from the very first digital camera I got for myself, after tiring of only seeing pictures of me from the one I got my wife. Taken in 2001, this is of my wife, Rita (who is a way better photographer than she knows), along with her Nikon Coolpix 990. The Canon Elph with 2 megapixels resolution used to take it, and me using it, are in the shot. If this were taken with my new camera, I could do a crop of her glasses and show you me and the camera, but as it is you will have to take my word for it that I’m there.

The second is a less than one pixel resolution shot I recently did of our niece’s daughter. It’s a less than one pixel shot but it was, however, cropped from an 18 megapixel shot taken from some distance with a 50mm lens. I liked the whole shot but wanted a close up portrait for the girls grandmother, my wife’s sister.

The third is the original 18 megapixel shot reduced to just under 2 megapixels (to keep framing intact) illustrating what would have been the approximate starting point had the Elph had a super sharp lens, fantastic sensor, and excellent color rendition (it did have one of the three).

The point I want to make with these photos is this:

A) For those that can’t yet afford their dream camera (whatever that may be)… use what you have, you can get good images from anything.

B) For those thinking about better gear, but mulling the argument that better gear won’t improve your work… I would have had an adequate distance shot had I shot our niece’s daughter with the canon point and shoot, but probably only the relatives would have been sure what she looked like. Having 9 times the pixels and a way sharper lens on the M9 made it possible to get that close up portrait shot out of that shot. While in this case I liked the full frame shot, and just made the crop for her family, in many cases a shot ruined by something that moved into the frame at the last moment can be saved with a crop. A multitude of sharper pixels is a luxury that actually affords you a lot of liberty in the EDITING stage that are denied you if you don’t have them. Being able to get a useable crop from about 1/10th of a frame gives a LOT more lee way. If you want more opportunities, there are few other areas where you can buy them. Better photography equipment is one such area. Don’t scrimp if you don’t have to.

Thanks for listening to my ranting. I love all the stuff I’m seeing on Steve’s site and hope to meet some of you at one of his meet ups soon.

Randall Kelley

Bonus shots. A typical “Rita” shot of my wife’s from 2001 on her Nikon Coolpix 990 (3 megapixel):

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  1. I recently majorly upgraded cameras for our 2 weakest concert photographers with no additional training. They are now competing with our best for the occasional outstanding photo!

  2. I think everybody or most of us agree with you, but all we really mean that if we are all good photographers, we just want to have a better outcome ( pictures ). I own M9 and D3X and other SLR. The result of the M9 is way better than other digital cameras, and it is like HD with 3D effect. It is irresistible….

  3. Great articles but your photography skill is horrible based on the 3 photos you posted. You need much better camera than m9

  4. I’m late to the party, but don’t they say “horses for courses?”

    It all depends what you’re doing, right? Besides snapshots my little Canon P&S is great for macros because of the large DOF. I can also run the CHDK on it and make HD time lapse videos. I can walk-in anywhere with it because it doesn’t look “professional.” Also, the flash sync is really fast so I can take properly exposed interior shots and still capture the landscape outside the window.

    I use an old Penatx dslr with fast manual lenses for most pictures of people because of the shallow DOF and that fact that it does a great job auto metering old glass.

    I use an old Nikon dslr with telephoto glass for photos of moving things like birds, sports, parades, etc. Stick on the old flack jacket with its dozens of pockets, carry the big tan canvas backpack, wear the cargo shorts and baseball cap, and you kinda look like a press photog. 🙂

    If I did landscapes as a professional I would shoot large format film or medium format digital.

    Leica makes fantastic lenses and I can see why those with deep pockets are drawn to Leica.

  5. wonderful points everyone. my two cents, i believe that there is a time for a manual camera, an M3, a digital M9, or even an S2. You need to know your equipment! I’m not sure a “better camera” necessarily exposes a novice’s mistakes just as much as a manual A-1, for example, would do the same. Look up David Burnett, truly a wonderful photographer, and he uses an mamiya 6, canon digital, a crown graphic, and yes a Holga. He makes wonderful photographs, based on the situation, and his style! All the more, if I had a choice between a yashica T4 and a Leica M9…..M9 all the way! So a plug for steve….less than two weeks for the M9 giveaway! You will be receiving my entry shortly Steve. Keep up the great work!!!!

  6. I am amazed that so many people missed the basic point of this essay. It is making a simple and certainly true point: better tools will give you more control, more accurate feedback, and more robust results. As a bonus, most people will learn faster with the benefit of those advantages.

    This is true, and it is more than enough to lay to rest the “its the photographer not the camera” nonsense. (It is always *both* the camera and the photogrqpher.)

    Now, did he make some analogies and give some examples that were too extreme? Probably, but that doesn’t invalidate the entire argument.

    The part that may be missing from the essay above is the point of sufficiency. Yes, you can shoot a wedding with a rebel/xt, but chances are it will slow you down and let you down just a little bit more often than a 7d, which might in turn cost you a few liminal shots over a 1dv. Now, i would sqy that for most people, a 7d simply wont limit their photography (and their learning about it) in any meaningful ways, but for some of you out there, it will. Likewise, i just printed a bunch of photos today from my 20d, 5d2, and m9. There’s no question which ones are the highest quality at 40″ across; the m9 prints win hands down. Even the 20d shots, though, look fantastic out to 20″. (thank goodness i ignored all the horrible advice and opinions on the web back in 2004 and shot the 20d only in raw; processed in current software, it looks like it came from an entirely new camera.) so, ould i hqve continued to make good photos if i’d never upgraded? Of course. Am i a much better photogrqpher now, shooting with the m9 than i ever was before, or would have been otherwise? Unquestionably.

  7. When I started photography a bit more serious I got the NikonF body without a lens due to the small salary I had at those times. But there was a very strong relationship between the two of us and when I got the smallest Nikkor 50mm one or two months later, I really exploded. This was not done by the better F compare to the Minolta S-RT101 and it’s wobbly 1.4 50mm, it was done through the strong emotions which I felt by the pictures of HCB or Robert Capa or others showing pics of the Great Depression f.e. or Vietnam in the seventies. THIS push and charging me concentrated to just one stupid metal box named camera……
    Technically spoken, the Minolta would have done a better job in dim light but the Nikon was the antenna of my desire, frustration after bad days and the sky rocketing after I GOT that pic.
    It had absolutely nothing to do with the value or prestige of this brand – a Leica M3 at this time had more social impact in terms of image and famous users.

    When I started to learn guitar I wnt the route over the years up to a Paul Reed Smith “McCarty” but never leaved the level of a very lousy blueser………

    Fact: It’s the talent, dude, not the guitar, the cam, the car, the pen…….
    Nice weekend

    PS: first shot with my ‘baby’ F around 1970, 23 years old


  8. Interesting essay but I simply don’t agree.

    A bad picture can be taken at 18mp or with a cell phone. It’s still a bad picture.

    A great picture can be taken with a cellphone.

    It is all about the content and what it means to the viewer.

    What is ” image quality” anyway. A measure of sharpness or good exposure? What does that mean?

    And if a picture is ” sharp” and “correctly exposed” does that mean it is therefore a good picture?

    Of course not.

    My most treasured photo of 2010 is of my wife. It was taken with a 3mp iPhone in poor light with a cross process effect. It’s grainy and bleached out. It’s also irreplaceable and priceless.

  9. my thoughts…

    a difficult set of thoughts. to prevent boredom i would simply amend the original concept to this; “better” gear WILL have measurable results. will it make you a “better” photographer? not likely.

    i shoot documentary work. people.

    what i have learnt is better relationships make “better” photographs. a more open heart makes “better” photographs. sometimes not even bringing a camera will make “better” photographs. trust, courage and an open mind make better photographs. cameras? cameras record light. some do a “better” job than others.

  10. Under the first pic your write: “this is a one pixel shot…”
    Great! A sharp one pixel shot! My camera cant do this…:-)

  11. If the question at hand is truly whether a better camera can make someone a better photographer, it’s actually almost a silly question. Of course not. No inanimate object can convey additional skills. An M9 or any other high end camera is not a magic talisman. You get improved skills, both mechanical (craft) and creative (artistic), from practice and only from practice. And generally from dedicated practice not just from blazing away. The golf driving range is the perfect example here. Virtually no one at the typical driving range is doing anything that will make them better since almost no attention is being expended on learning or perfecting a specific skill. Whether innate talent comes into play in the discussion somewhere is actually debatable (see Geoffery Colvin’s interesting book “Talent is Over Rated”).

    So the question really is whether or not better equipment, better tools (whatever that means in the context of cameras), allows a more complete expression of whatever skills a person has at any given moment? or perhaps will a type of equipment that particularly appeals to the individual result in a similarly more complete expression of existing skills? or perhaps whether really really liking certain equipment may encourage additional practice and thus result in improved skills over time? or…well, you get my drift. There are as many variations of that question as you want to take time to enumerate and as many opinions concerning the answers.

    In the end, DJ (# 24 above) has the only answer and he said it better than me.


  12. .

    The things – for me, anyway – which affect taking a photo are (1) the photographer’s eye, (2) the photographer’s experience.

    If you’ve a photographer’s eye, you see the relationship(s) between things in front of you ..and you “see” that what’s in front of you would make a great ‘frozen moment’

    It doesn’t have to be a frozen “representation” of anything ..for example a picture of a shoe, or a girlfriend, or a stretch of landscape ..it can be a frozen moment of “peace”, or “yearning”, or “solitude”, or “bright red” ..if a photographer has an ‘eye’ for seeing a wonderful moment, then that can be caught with any camera you have with you: phone, pocket digital, 10″x8″ on a tripod.

    For instance, Ansel Adams must have see Yosemite national park over and over again, but some moment(s) he saw as a “perfect moment” ..the light, the moon, the shadows, the weather on that particular day, a gap in the clouds, or whatever, and so took a photograph of that particular *feeling*, that particular *experience* ..not a photograph of, say, some distant mountains, but of a particular moment when the composition of mountains, moon, sky, shadows, etc just looked ‘right’ to him. (I can’t find the video online right now in which he describes driving along the road and suddenly seeing “the moment”, screeching to a halt, hauling out his 10″x8″ camera, guessing – from experience, of course! – the correct exposure, and then taking the famous shot of ‘Moonrise Over Hernandez’. ( http://leclownlyrique.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/ansel-adams-moonrise-over-hernandez-new-mexico1941.jpg )

    And that brings us to (2) ..the photographer’s experience:

    When you’ve used just one camera in as many different ways as possible, or many different lenses and different cameras to shoot many different things, then – just like having learned to ride a bicycle – it becomes ‘second nature’ to immediately know what ISO to use (on a digital camera) or what combination of shutter speed and aperture to use, or how to *position* a camera to get the best shot of what you want to shoot. The actual camera you’re using is of very little importance ..just as when you can ride a bike, you can ride ANY bike. When you can write the alphabet with one pen, you can write it with any pen. When you can play a tune one one piano, you can play it on ANY piano ..though it may sound “better” on some pianos than on others, of course!

    I was walking along the beach last week and saw this motor cruiser approaching, and I thought “it looks just like that outcrop of rock there at the end of the beach!” so I took out my camera, waited for the right touch of wave-breaking surf to add a splash of white along the water’s edge, and waited till the boat was close enough to be more than a distant speck, and gently tapped the front of my phone. And this is the picture.. ( http://tinyurl.com/657wjsv )

    The picture would have been *sharper* if I’d used a multi-megapixel camera with a sharp lens of the right focal length to get a wide enough view, and if the focus was spot on – but what I wanted was the PICTURE ..the frozen moment. I didn’t have an M9 in my hand just then – nor a GF1, or anything else – but I don’t care! Just the PICTURE was what I wanted ..not an exhibition print.

    The other pictures in that album ( http://gallery.me.com/davidbabsky#100325 ) look OK (to me, anyway) because [a] I chose – using *experience* – what lens to use (in most cases a 14mm or 28mm or equivalent), [b] I chose – using experience, and an eye – just the moment when a person was there to add scale and interest, [c] although I usually try to get uprights upright, I chose a more ‘dynamic’ perspective, with lines leaning inwards a bit ..but these are mainly ‘compositions’ ..pictures of lines and angles and different textures and shapes and activities or places. Using my *experience* I chose where to point the camera (before squeezing the button all the way) to get the right [auto] exposure and the right focus, then waited for the person – or people – to fit into the shot, and then squeezed the rest of the way.

    The make or brand of CAMERA was immaterial, except that using one – or several – gives familiarity with how much or little lag there may be between squeezing the button and the camera taking the shot, and experience also gives you familiarity with different lenses and how they’ll modify the picture (with, say, sharply converging lines, or the curved contours of a fisheye, or the ‘piled-on perspective’ of a super-telephoto, etc).

    Who cares what typewriter John Steinbeck or Salinger used when writing stories? A cheque (check) isn’t worth more because it’s signed with a MontBlanc instead of a Bic. The time isn’t more accurate or “better” because you’ve read it off an Omega Seamaster instead of a Swatch! (One may feel better *about oneself* through having some kind of pride of ownership of a Seamaster, but that’s nothing to do with telling the time ..that’s just to do with wearing jewellery, and perceiving one’s own ‘self-worth’.)

    I don’t take “better” pictures because I’m using a Leica instead of a Spotmatic, or a Contax or a Rollei or a 5DMkII or a Casio. Pictures taken with an M9 may be *sharper*, or bear more enlargement, than shooting with a 2 megapixel Casio (if I get the Leica’s manual focus correct!) but pictures aren’t intrinsically “better” because they’ve been taken with camera A instead of camera B (..or even camera L).

    Photographers may feel better about themselves in some way because they’re using a ‘high-spec’ camera, but that’s nothing to do with shooting pictures ..that’s just feeling good about yourself. (I generally feel better about myself when I wear a tie than when I don’t ..but that’s nothing to do with how expensive the tie is, or what it’s made of, or who made it or where it was made. It’s something to with my upbringing and being “properly dressed”. But wearing a tie doesn’t make me a “better” person, or more interesting, or more humane, or more helpful. It’s just “self image”.)

    In summary; Randall says “you can get good images from anything” but also “Better photography equipment..” may give more opportunities to take good, or “better”, pictures.

    Before buying “Better photography equipment”, though, I’d use *MORE* photography equipment, a greater *VARIETY* of photography equipment, and develop a better “eye” for a good picture, and more experience of what different equipment can do.

    Tomorrow I go to The Canaries to shoot some stills and some video. I’ve packed a 5DMkII with a couple of Canon lenses, an old Sunagor (gasp!) wide-angle, an Olympus shift lens, an M9 (as a ‘backup’ camera) with a ‘Tri-Elmar’ 16-18-21mm, a 40mm f2 and a 75mm lens. I’m choosing these cameras because these shoot ‘full-frame’ digital, and because the 5DMkII shoots wonderful video. These are pictures I’m shooting for someone else. If they were just for me, I’d take a GF1 for convenience, an M9 (or more likely a Sony F828) for dusk shots, and a teeny Rollei A110 for ‘dinkiness’. The quality of the PICTURES would not depend on the quality of the camera, but on the photographer’s eye and experience.

    • i have a hard time telling whether you’re being serious or just polemical.

      of course it helps for the photographer to develop an eye for pictures. and of course some great photos can be taken with rudimentary equipment. but if you have never encountered frustrations because the picture you can see before you cannot be captured by the camera you are using (whether because of shutter lag, exposure latitude, ability to control focus and depth of field, or many other factors), well, i guess you must be very lucky.

      your example photo of the boat doesn’t really support your case, since if you hadn’t explained that your intent was to show the similarity of the shape of it with the rock, there is no way i’d have been able to see that. a sharper photo, cropped closer, perhaps taken when the boat was in closer proximity to the outcrop, might have made your picture visible to people outside of your own minds’s eye… but for that you would have needed a different camera.

      and it is completely specious of you to try to insinuate that photographers interested in better tools are just on some kind of ego trip. some probably are. just as many trip out on using a holga. neither sort is germane to the issue in the original essay, which is whether a tool that allows more precise control and exact expression can make a difference to the art you make. clearly it can. it’s up to the photographer to make the most of that, or not, as she pleases.

      • Sorry not to have been able to reply sooner – I was out of internet range for a few days, and having a break from the web.

        Just a brief response: you say “..if you hadn’t explained that your intent was to show the similarity of the shape of it with the rock, there is no way i’d have been able to see that..”

        ..Which goes back to my first point: “..If you’ve a photographer’s eye, you see the relationship(s) between things in front of you..” and that photographer’s eye often needs ‘developing’ (sorry about the pun) as I mentioned in my next-to-last paragraph above.

        I’m sorry that the relationship – in this case – just wasn’t visible to you. But I wouldn’t have wanted to shoot “..a sharper photo, cropped closer, perhaps taken when the boat was in closer proximity to the outcrop..” because that way I wouldn’t have had the nice chunk of white boat, white surf, white chess pieces to bring the viewer’s eye to the left, away from the rock (..and, presumably, the boat near to it) to give the viewer’s eye a chance to move back and forth, from left to right (or right to left if the viewer’s from an eastern culture) till that relationship between boat and rock materialises.

        Take a look at Mike Abrahams’ photos.. ( http://www.mikeabrahams.com/photographs.asp ) and see how his photos are full of echoes, different regions of his pics echoing and reflecting other regions within the same picture. Try his ‘Reportage’ photographs, for example.

        MY sense of balance and relationship says that the boat pic is just fine as it is. But YOURS says that “..a sharper photo, cropped closer, perhaps taken when the boat was in closer proximity to the outcrop, might have made your picture visible to people outside of your own minds’s eye… but for that you would have needed a different camera”.

        But I didn’t have a “different camera”, and this was the picture I wanted to take; I knew the capabilities – or ‘restrictions’ if you prefer – of the camera which I DID have with me (an iPhone) ..so I used its strengths: vivid colour, no shutter lag, deep depth-of-field, softish results at infinity focus giving a “dreamy” result, etc. I wasn’t bothered about, or interested in, getting “..a sharper photo..” because I wanted an *impression*; the ‘composition’ was important to me, not having a sharp, detailed ‘representation’.

        The picture’s about the colours, and the comparison of organic, natural shapes with human-made shapes: waves, surf, rock, tree: human-trimmed grass, human-manufactured benches, chess pieces, boat(s) ..with the paradox that the straightest line ..the horizon.. is natural, not man-made!

        The picture is a picture of *relationships*: blue, white, black, green; a few straight lines contrasted with other organic shapes. The picture – for me, anyway – is paradoxically both calm and soothing, but also enigmatic and questioning relationships, so it’s both stimulating and also calming.

        It’s not a photo of a boat and a rock – though they’re important parts of the composition – it’s a picture of *relationships*.

        That’s what I saw, and therefore took the picture so that I could look at that moment forever. I could see the relationships only because I’d (1) developed (I think) a photographer’s eye, and (2) I’d practised and practised (with lots and lots of different equipment) so that I could take the photo which I saw in my mind’s eye.

        I hope that clarifies things a little. Thanks for giving your comments!

        • well, i think we may be kinda passing like two ships in the night. just as i don’t think the original article was saying anything at all about what *brand* of camera one uses, i was not in my observations regarding your motorboat example saying anything about what picture *I* would have seen or taken. i, personally, wouldn’t have been interested in taking the photo you took with a cell phone or an s2, nor would i have actually been much interested in taking a photo cropped closer, with more detail, and closer conjunction between the rock and the boat. my comments were meant to help you to understand how another person saw *your* photo, in light of what you explained about it. (absent explanation, you could probably ask a hundred people what they thought of that photo, and not one would have divined your intention. which is FINE… if you are photographing for yourself, and not to share your vision with others. it’s a perfectly legitimate exercise of photography, in all seriousness.)

          for the sake of clarity, and not in the least bit acrimony, let me express it starkly: you seem to be telling me that my underdeveloped ‘photographers eye’ failed in regard to your photograph. i reply that no, it was not a failure of my eye, it was a failure of your photograph (to communicate), and it illustrated a case where (if communicating was what you wanted) a different camera, and probably a different technique too, would have potentially served much better to convey something about *your* vision. (maybe not exactly the /same/ something, but sometimes that is the price of communicating.) it still wouldn’t have been my photo, or one i’d have personally wanted to take. but it might have been a photo which would have helped me to share and appreciate your vision. and i would have liked that. (i did enjoy hearing to describe the experience of seeing the similarity between the rock and the boat; in language, you’ve been successful communicating your vision.)

          a while back, when you posted an essay here which was shall we say not universally persuasive
          (this one: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2010/11/03/12092/
          ), i actually posted in defense of the photos you used as examples. i disagreed with your general argument, but i didn’t think that the reactions slamming your photos were entirely fair (or even relevant). my point is that i am just about as sympathetic an audience as you are likely to randomly encounter outside your own mother; if you aren’t getting your vision across to me, then there’s a very good chance you aren’t getting it across to a lot of people.

          i love mike abrahams work, btw. excellent use of composition, camera, technique, and his eyes, no doubt about it. it isn’t that i have difficulty appreciating the juxtapositions of complementary elements in a photo, i assure you.

          so, by all means, if you got exactly the picture you wanted to take, then you’re all good. you don’t need my approval, naturally. but if being an effective or better photographer in your mind has anything to do with the way you communicate your vision in photographs /to other people/, then the camera needs to produce something more than a mnemonic talisman sufficient to evoke your own memory in your own mind. there are absolutely ways of doing that with cell phone cameras; for some kinds of goals, sometimes that is even the most effective tool to deploy. and then you’re back to agreeing with the original essay: the camera /does/ make a difference; the best tool for some jobs /is/ a cell phone camera; but in other cases–a /lot/ of other cases–a camera which permits more precise control over the results will not only allow the photographer to express herself with more precision, it will allow her to see clearly the missteps and deviations from the strongest, clearest path to achieving that vision in a picture which stands outside of the artist’s mind, available to be seen and experienced by others.

          casting aspersions about other people’s alleged brand fetishism or listing obviously misleading analogies (as if the goal of making a good photograph were in any way parallel to reading the correct time… and that fallacy has been pointed out to you before) doesn’t get any truer by dint of repetition, and doesn’t help here.

          ironically, i suspect a lot of all of us posting here would actually broadly agree that sometimes you need a camera which will perform a certain way in order to attain and communicate your vision to others in a photograph. but somehow, every time this topic arises, people seem to resume old arguments long past with interlocutors mostly absent. we can have more productive discussions if we respond to what people are actually saying.

          • David Babsky says:
            >Phew! Pardon me.

            >I’ll keep out of your way, xtoph.

            well, i am sorry for that. i guess it is another illustration of the fact that the intent to communicate does not guarantee that communication will happen.

      • Oh, thanks, Deirdre!

        We were just passing by on a water taxi (..it’s two UPS barges, side by side, actually). The only camera I took to Venice was a 1954 M3 (..used to be my father-in-law’s..) and I shot about 5 rolls with that, then had them scanned ..not very well, though.

        I cropped the barges photo a bit – as you can see – to get rid of whatever was distracting at the edges. (I think I used a 24mm f1.4 for all the pics, so you’ll understand that this was quite a wide shot before it was cropped!)

  13. This article with its comments and all the sidetrack articles linked in them kept me entertained longer than I was meant to spend here. So thumbs up for that ;).

    As for the issue at hand. I agree and disagree with this article. Sometimes it’s precisely those limitations in tools, that make you think more and solve the issue with your talent and not with technogadget. So in a way an inferior camera can be “better”. I myself can’t imagine a better starting format than full manual film camera like I did. I’m quite sure it changed the way I take pictures a lot. And because of that I’ve always believed that it’s actually the simpler camera that can make you a better and more innovative photographer. Then again I agree a 1990’s digicam will limit you a lot and will probably drag down your creative side.
    But today I think we have finally reached the point in digital world as well where we can truly start saying: “A better (read newer) camera won’t make your photographs better.” Even the most hi-tec areas of photography (bird n sports) have little if anything to gain anymore from technology.

  14. Interesting article, raising food for thought.
    I’m sure I read on Luminous Landscape something along these lines:

    A better camera helps you take pictures better, but doesn’t help you take better pictures.

    (It wasn’t worded quite like this – but hopefully you get what I mean!)
    I think that was kind of your point in this article?
    I use an “old” Canon 40D.
    Would my pictures be better if I had, say, the Canon 7D?
    Would they be even better if I had a Leica M9?
    If I was interested in ISO performance, MP count and all that tech stuff, then sure my pictures would be better.
    Photography is a hobby for me, not something I make money from. It gives me enjoyment. My Canon 40D is a few years old now and technically obsolete, but I still think it’s more camera than I could ever need. It’s myself who needs to improve not my camera.
    It’s been said in previous comments, but it’s worth saying again – give a talented photographer my Canon 40D; I’m sure he or she would be able to get great images from it.
    Give me a Leica M9 – I’m pretty sure the essence of my photos would be no different. Technically better, maybe, but where it really matters – no.
    Modern technology such as my Canon has helped me to enjoy and improve my photography. No question.
    Personally, at the present moment, I can’t see that having a better camera would make me a better photographer.
    When I take a photo I’m happy with I don’t think, “Well that’s great, but it would have been even better if I had say a Leica”. If you think along those lines then you will never be satisfied and will use technology as a creative crutch and excuse to buy the latest, newest shiny thing.
    I’m sorry, but we are at a tech level now (and have been for a few years) where better cameras do not make for better pictures where it really matters (emotional impact, story telling etc. etc.)

    • I don’t think getting a M9 will make your pictures technically better considering you have a Canon 40D and can put great glass on it. You may enjoy the size of the camera better and therefore take it with you a lot more.

  15. Not sure if youre giving the M9 this magical ,mystical quality(in which case I have to disagree)or to any camera that one has an affinity for,regardless of price or fame,…in which case I have to agree whole heartedly.

  16. Hi Randall, thanks for the article.

    I feel that the the ‘better camera’ does make a big difference to the quality of an image. I have a close friend of the family’s who regularly frames our events and one of the cameras she uses is a Holga. For her that is the better camera for that time. my point is that it all depends on what one feels is the ‘better camera’.
    I also feel that there’s just no way lets say an S95, G10 or any small sensor camera can compete with and M9 or a 5D2 and if you put two examples of any subject matter in front of me I would be able to tell the difference as they would be glaringly obvious. I would like to say that a ‘Better Camera’ doesn’t make a difference but ‘IMO’ it just does. Everything from confidence, ergonomics, speed, portability, AF speed, size and lastly (intentionally) IQ. All of these factor into my picture taking experience which is why my boxes of choice are pretty much restricted to a Leica RF and a Pentax K5 with ‘Limited’ lenses.



    • The more I hear about the K5, I more I like it. Agree with you on the factors that affect the image, confidence, ergonomics… these can’t be discounted and all add to the experience.

  17. Randall:

    Great article. Thank you for putting yourself and your craft out there. The responses (to me) are equally educational, with roughly a 50-50 split over whether or not they buy your arguments. This is surely to be expected when you’re challenging one of the principal maxims of photography (i.e. “The camera doesn’t make the photographer.”)

    I buy your argument… (and I can summarize this by: “There’s nothing like having the right tool for the job”). Whether you’re a carpenter, or plumber, or auto mechanic or photographer, I believe the rule still applies.

    From your own personal experience I think you’ve find that, now with the M9 and Leica glass, the gestalt is more challenging – your highs are higher and your lows are lower – and it’s making you become a better photographer. If others achieve the same goals using different gear – rock on.

    To me, that is what I ultimately seek, and it’s what motivates me to get out there and keep at it.

    Well done!

    • I think we’ve reached that point now with digital cameras. I’ve had my 40D since 2007 and am getting wonderful shots with it and will continue to do so for many more years. While I would love to have better high ISO performance, I don’t feel I need to upgrade. There is plenty of five-year-old equipment I would love to get my hands on.

      And I would like to comment on Randall’s post. I do agree that better equipment can allow a photographer to make better photographs. But until I have pushed the limits of my 40D and significantly improved my skills, I don’t see a reason to upgrade. In fact, based on where I am now as a photographer, aesthetics are a better argument for getting an M9 than improved photography.

  18. Thanks for the article, thanks for the posts and thanks for Steve for the place where we can dialogue.

    Imho, there is no better camera. There is a camera which is suitable for :

    – the photographer
    – the subject
    – the situation
    – etc.

    There are shots I don’t even try with my M9, and it doesn’t bother me, Some people who try my M9 or M6 say they hate that.
    To me, since I use M6 (17 years ago), I’ve never buy any other camera nor use any of my 5 other cameras ! Untill M9 of course which is my only digital camera as was my M6 for film.

    Eg : a camera which doesn’t shoot when there are children moving is a good one for landskape … and so on.

    Hope someone read my bad english. Sorry for that.


  19. At a certain level (far above Holga quality) I don’t think technical image quality makes a difference so much anymore. But for me, a more important aspect of having a better camera is inspiration. I hated shooting my Nikon D60. I found it to be the least inspirational thing I had ever owned. My Leica CL (better in my view) is much better in that respect, and a Leica M9 would be better still.

  20. What makes a great photo? Probably:

    1) Emotion
    2) Use of light
    3) A different composition

    The way how you use these has nothing to do with your equipment. The most expensive camera will not bring you a wonderful landscape shot if the light is awful. That said, I recently switched a DSLR with a zoom lens for an Olympus EP1 with a fixed lens that I always shoot manually. My photos have improved as I am obliged to think more every shot I do. I think equipment should be as simple as possible.

  21. I don’t have an M9, but I do have an M8.

    Last summer, I bought a Panasonic GF1. This led to legacy glass escalation, and eventually to buying an M8.

    Here’s a photo taken with a point and shoot in 2002.

    Here’s a photo I took with my M8 about two months ago. Difficult situation that eluded many other cameras, but the manual focus was a benefit (moving boat, not at infinity, wide open due to lighting, etc.).

    It’s not that I didn’t get some good shots before. It’s that, on average, I’m able to better get the shot I want because I have better equipment now.

    At some point, I may actually go through and pick best photos from “the time before” I had better equipment. What I do know is that now that I have better equipment, I’m also making the point of going out and using it more. Not all these shots are great, but I froze my tail off to get them, and there’s several good ones there.

    Even when I go out with only a cell phone camera, I’m still getting good shots, and better ones than I used to with a more capable camera.

    • If you had used a superior programme with built in grammer check it would have been fine… 😉

      Sorry, could not resist!

  22. First, thanks to all those who posted appreciative remarks. Second, thanks to all those who posted opposing remarks for a civil tone. Third, Huge thanks to Steve for keeping this blog going, for posting my article, and for having such a great fan base.

    • Keep up the great conversations! These kind of philosophical exercises of us reacting to the ideas posed in your article, of some folk agreeing while others disagreeing are amazing for us. At the end of the day, what they do is reaffirm our own internal understanding of photography. Where we lie is less important because at the end of the day what we believe is a needed intellectual exercise for use to dig deep into our own beliefs of photography then seize upon those beliefs to motivate us to shoot better regardless if we take the path of A vs B or path 42.34 – great job bringing this up – it takes a lot of courage to take a stand and for that I am grateful you have challenged my understanding of photography and allowed me to reaffirm what I believe is important.

  23. Great article Randall,

    I agree on much of what you say, I myself love the aesthetic and practicality of Leica cameras. However I do think many people can and do make amazing images with what we might consider inferior tools. Many photographers just have that ‘SOMETHIMG’ when we look at their images we are struck by ‘their’ power. They posses an ability to capture and reveal something perhaps many of us see for the first time.

    Many photographers such as Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller are individual photographers who made a comfortable living shooting Fashion and portrait campaign using nothing more than a ‘Vivitar T3’ and ‘Contax T3’ point and shoots respectively. I am in know way suggesting that if we all used point and shoots we would shoot better images. What creates a special image ? The ability to visualize and respond with whatever camera of choice you have is a great start.

    I am sure that if ‘Richard Avedon’ grabbed a Nikon D40 (set to A or P or whatever) he would have no problem pumping out whatever campaign he wished, it would be magical and he would be payed a hefty sum to do so

    So yes I love Leica Cameras and yes I would love an M9 to use everyday. But as images on Flickr ans similar sites have shown me, there is allot of crap taken on $10000 worth of equipment, and wonderfully captured magic taken on cameras costing little more than a dinner out.

  24. When talking about Leicas many seem to confuse better with more expensive. They are nice and all (solid, made with metal, pretty), but one should not try to prove the point that they are better by showing images made with them.

  25. Interesting article, you could easliy discuss some of the opinions expressed here (and especially in the comments) all day long! So many intelligent, experienced and wise people obviously visit this site.

    If you give a pro camera to a novice, the results may not be great, and like Ed poointed out, you can give a pro photographer a point and shoot and they can deliver magnificent results. There is no right or wrong here, no black and white.

    As long as you actually use the gear you have, you’re onto something… If you love the gear you have and use the heck out of it, you’re onto something even better!!!

  26. Hmmm why do you need a M9 to crop the picture of the girl in the tree? A Canon T2i has 18 megapixels so you can crop just as much at about $700 as opposed to $7,000….

  27. I’m very torn on this subject. My best pictures are not technically the best, but show a strong relationship between subject and me as photographer. I was young and hitch-hiking through the world with an Olympus-AX viewfinder film camera in my pocket. I met people on Indian trains that sang songs for me since it was only New Year’s Eve for me, not for them. I took one picture only since film was expensive and I didn’t bring many rolls really. And that one image is somehow stronger and had more telling impact than any high-res digital image I took later.

    We often seem to forget to discuss content when we talk about photography these days. Blogs talk ISO, but hardly ever what gives images their impact or visual appeal. Or to say it more bluntly: I find most pictures I see posted on Flickr utterly boring, despite their technical quality. A lack of relationship and empathy between subject and photographer mostly, a camera looks two ways. I still really love looking at the pictures I took back then travelling the world. The hindu temple guy who became my friend, etc. Baked bread with him on the holy fire. One more shot. Now my equipment is better in every sense that you meant. But the images seem to relate less to the people I shoot than they did back then when I was young and open to new experiences, people, ideas. My pictures are razor sharp now, but their impact is much less.

    I hope this makes sense… ha.

  28. “Our trade of photo-reporting has been in existence only about thirty years. It came to its maturity due to the development of easily handled cameras, faster lenses, and fast fine grain films produced for the movie industry. The camera is for us a tool, not a pretty mechanical toy. In the precise functioning of the mechanical object perhaps there is an unconscious compensation for the anxieties and uncertainties of daily endeavor.

    In any case, people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing.”

    -Henri Cartier-Bresson

  29. From my point of view the issue goes far beyond stating that “the better camera makes the better photographer” or the opposite. It rather seems to have multiple layers that interact with each other.

    First of all I find it hard to come to a general conclusive definition of a “good/better photographer”. Is it one that enjoys what he does, one that gives customers the pictures they want, one that inspires people, one that knows how to create an image he has in his mind with his camera, one who knows the craftsmanship – and improving this aspect by getting “better”?

    This point might seem minor, but in fact the lack of definiton (not just in general but for your article) gives room for all kind of “easy” counterarguments that can’t be turned down since they got some piece of it right.

    Leaving this aside, I think its important to understand that the benefit one gets as a photographer by increasingly good gear doesnt grow linear as the specs of the gear does. A doubling in megapixel usually wont lead to a doubling of your performance as a photographer-craftsman. There should be a dynamic plateu one reaches with benefitting from increasingly good gear – growing with the skill one aquires over time & practice.

    So there is a difference between gear thats “as good as needed”, “better than needed but giving benefit in relation to its superiority” and gear thats “better than needed without being able to make use of its superiority”.

    In my opinion (given the money) a huge percentage of people position themselves in the last category – which is what I would do immediately if I could afford to do so – but thats because I’m a techguy and not because I feel that my 99$ samsung snapcam would be the single limiting factor to become the next Ansel Adams.

    Imho the benefit of the right “what I use” is minimal compared to the benefit of knowing the right “how to use” – at least until we speak of differences between top-notch photographers.

    For me personally I would therefore state that (whilst getting most of your arguments) I disagree with your statement more than I can agree. One of the most obvious arguments for me are Steve’s reviews in which he shows “good craft & art”-pics whilst changing through all kind of gear.

    Best wishes from germany and thank you for the inspiration!

  30. Great article. There is a lot of truth to what you say, many see my family photos hung up at work and they ask how can I do that? I simply say 1) you have to want to shoot like that – ie learn manual mode, 2) what kind of camera do you have? If it is a pocket point and click – you might need to asess how much #1 above means to you because there is only so much you can do with camera A vs B. If they can control the camera more (ie basic SLR) they might need schooling (formal, books, online, etc.) before even considering a new camera. I think motivation is the key component to being a better photog. You can have a great camera, shoot it in auto and not see any improvement unless you are motivated, have a sense of how to control the camera.

    If they have #1 & #2 and not getting the results they want, maybe it is time for a new camera – should you have the money

  31. If more time was spent learning the gear we already have, better pictures would result. I would hate to have to work with a disposable point and shoot, and appreciate my DSLR and the 4×5 I use at school, but if I couldn’t produce the same picture with a Holga then im not much of a photographer.

  32. Whether a camera will give adequate results depends on the conditions in which you are shooting, and the artistic use you want to make of the image. Want a tack-sharp 40 x 60 print of Bridal Veil Falls in contrasty light? You WILL notice the difference between the G10 and the Hasselblad, and in that case your choice of gear does make a difference. If, on the other hand, you’re like most of us and don’t make monolithic prints of oddly lit scenes, you really don’t need a bajillion megapixels and the sharpest optics in the world.

    Also, if you are buying expensive Leica glass and M9 bodies and you’re not using them on a tripod, well then I hate to tell you but you’re throwing most of the “Leica Advantage” you may have had straight out the window (at least as far as the optics are concerned).

    And yes, I do own a Leica, and yes, I love it. Just sayin’ that the benefits of using higher end gear will be visible in certain contexts, and completely absent in others.

  33. A better camera back in the old days, when I shot with a Nikon F5, was going low on ISO (okay, Kodachrome 25 it is) and thus having to reduce once’s speed due to tripods having to be luged to every photo taken. Not nice when you shoot landscape and city and have to drag a 12 pound Gilux Reporter around (plus camera, plus lenses, plus etc. etc.). Nowadays I shoot with a digital EVIL (GF1 as some know) and an LX3. Now both to me have their purpose. The LX3 has incredible depth of focus, a killing lens and a nice sensor up to ISO 80. Now depth of focus sometimes is an asset, you just have to use it. Great texture in the foreground, great detail in de background and the composition of the picture can be used to seperate both. The GF1 can be loaded with a 1.4 Nikon and at full opening (please take care of the highlights) that means great shallow depth of field and a 100 mm 1.4. Great for taking candid portrets in low light (the GF1 can go to 400). Now if I wanted to take shots requiring great depth of field and low light, I would be up shit creek without a paddle, without a boat (not a nice swim indeed I have tried, juck). But if i bought a D3 I still would be stuck with a 12 Mpixel machine weiging in a 2 kg with a decent lens. A 2.8 80-200 perhaps and a 2.8 28-70. Now I take my pictures on a bike. Carrying that kind of kit on a bike is asking for trouble. A small GF1 no one takes serious, so far no trouble there (knock on wood). It is also light enough and small enough not to be a hindrens when cycling. So for me it is the right tool for the job (no analogy there). I guess that with a Nikon my life would be a bit more easy when I proces the files (GF1 files need a bit of processing) but with the Nikon I’d probably take no pictures at all due to chronic back ache. A camera is a tool nothing more nothing less, when Oskar Barnac designed the M class Leica and handed it over to Erich Salomon, Erich new he could never get the picture quality his colleges using Graflex camera’s could achieve. Not due to the optics, but due to the film size. But Erich was no dopey. He also knew that he could take shots his colleges could never achieve, and by god he did, thus proving the validity of the 35mm concept in the first place. I must admit that I would like a rangefinder on my GF1 (please, prety please on the GF3), because my diplay in bright sunlight displays me instead of the picture taken (reflexcamera?), but I have learned to cope with these shortcommings. Its a hassle sometimes, but a good hassle, something wich has to fought is more rewarding if it is won, don’t you think.

    Greetings, Ed

  34. A different camera can make photography easier (e.g. Faster, more accurate focus), or possible in some conditions (e.g weather sealing in the rain), or enjoyable (e.g. a big viewfinder), or even technically better (more megapixels) — i.e. Improve the craft.
    But it won’t improve the art.
    (BTW proof by analogy is a logical fallacy)

  35. A better camera won’t make you a better artist, but it will make it easier to get elusive shots. Poor low-light focusing, crappy shutter response, futzy external controls that don’t let you quickly change settings; these are all camera features that can make or break certain photos.

  36. Total load of horsemenure……as long as Terry Richardson shoots Vogue covers with a point and shoot, this argument will never stick. A good picture is a lot more then an IQ fetish for pixelpeepers. I agree that a 8 by 10 inch (nice to work with by the way) can produce a far better shot then on film then any Leica M9 ever will be able to. But that is only texture and texture only is visible if enlarged on a state of the art printer (Océ Lightjet 500XL) or that kind of stuf and then preferably 1.8 x 2.4 (meters not feet). If you don’t have the 260.000 dollars in cash lying around and if you shoot art not wedding (were speed is of the essence baby) or landscape, any camera build these days produces great results up to 19 inch, IF you have optimum light and know your camera inside out. For those who do not agree surf to this article:


    So stop wanting and start shooting the tools you have to bits. Then buy new.

    Greetings, Ed Kuipers

    • Its true, Terry Richardson shoots a tremendous amount of work with a point and shoot film Yashika. And he pulls of three things that most photographers would love to achieve:

      1. Makes buckets of money.
      2. Shoots mostly naked women (be honest most would kill for this), while making buckets of money.
      3. And still manages to shoot serious work like politicians who are normally not naked.

      Camera of choice: Point and Shoot.

  37. Thank you Randall for your essay. Having recently purchased an M9, I very much agree with your conclusions. The M9 can’t handle all of my photography such as birds & macros, but what it can handle, it does better than my DSLRs — in my opinion.

  38. One thing is being ignored here. Basically, people like to use tools that are the best. We all strive to be the best at whatever it is that we want to be (even if that is just to be true to ourselves). If we strive to be the best and produce the best results and expect others to accept the fruit of this labour then in turn (and quite rightly), we expect the best from others. Is a Leica/D3X/Hassie etc a better camera in terms of craftsmanship than a $50 point and shoot? Of course it is. Is it then unreasonable to want to have the better tool? Answer, it isn’t – actually it is normal to want the best tool – even if you don’t know how to maximise it.

    It is the same reason people buy the best cars if they can. Do they use these 4X4s or sports cars to the maximum of their capability? In most cases -no. Does it give them enjoyment that they have these cars and do they enjoy driving them to the mall within the speed limit? You bet.

    The choice of camera is not all about the image you finally make, it is also about how it feels making it and if you feel better shooting a tree with a $30,000 camera and this makes you happy (and you can afford it) then go for it. Life is short, enjoy what you do. Whether the final picture is better or not is another debate (and in a lot of cases the $50 camera will be just as good). Let’s face it. It is not all about the final image. Just like driving a car is not all about getting from A – B.

  39. It sounds almost like Randall is saying to get the best shots, get the highest megapixel camera you can afford, so you can crop and still get great results. This is sometimes true, but I don’t buy into the idea that more megapixels are always better because of noise issues, etc. I agree that with advanced digicams you have more flexibility and control, and lenses may be sharper too. But you also have to take into account the image the sensor makes, my older Olympuses with Kodak sensors yield very beautiful color rendition.

  40. A better camera MAY improve the results of a good photographer but frankly, it is most often used as a crutch and not an asset. The way I see it is: there are few talented individuals who can shoot great stuff with a cardboard pinhole box and plenty of hacks who can afford an M9 but have no clue about basic photography and/or lack the talent to put it to good use. Sounds harsh but that’s reality.

    Mark pointed out a good example above, as far as quality. Telling the difference between a mega-expensive tool and a cheap one, in print, is all but impossible for the most part. But, discerning a difference between a great print from, let’s say, an Holga and a silly snapshot taken with an M9 and a 50mm Summilux wide open is VERY easy.

    Bottom line, the M9 is not going to make anyone better. Take a look at the recently discovered work of Vivian Maier and her street-shots with a Rolleiflex (talk about talent). Could she have done better with a D3x, a $40K Phase One, or M9? Doubt it. http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

    My advice, as aways, forget about megapixels, cropping, lens sharpness and all that non-sense. Pick up a cheap film camera and learn to see.

    Just my 2c of course 🙂


  41. This entire argument can be simplified into this:

    1. Take the most stunning camera, medium format S2 or whatever.
    2. Take the theoretical “simplest” camera: Some device that takes a 1 pixel 1 bit image. Your “picture” is either 1 black pixel/box or 1 white pixel/box depending on some light threshold.

    Are these cameras different? Yes. Will the picture of the S2 be better than the picture of the 1 pixel camera? Yes.

    Same difference between a point and shoot and an S2. The rest is just where on this spectrum you are.

    • I should add: would the S2 make you a “better” photographer? Well would you “care more” about the S2’s pictures? I bet you would. It would stoke your creativity more than the pixel camera. Presumably.

      • Bad argument…… your theoritical “worst” camera is not realistic in any way. Question should be, will using a S2 make you a better photographer compared to using some disposable, or more relevant and cheaper these days, a entry level point and shoot.
        Further more to what degree.

        • It’s all one big spectrum. At what minimal point would you define a camera anyways? The very first “cameras” in history weren’t that much different than what I described.

          Look up Anthemius of Tralles

  42. Very interesting article and I’ve had many discussions about this with my friends. It reminds me of when I started shooting seriously about 5-6 years ago. I had a really crappy Chinon with a 50mm 1.7 but back then I thought it was a cadillac! And I shot the hell out of that camera… pretty much brought it to its limit of performance. The thing is that because the camera was not as accurate as it should have been, the results were starting to take a toll on my motivation.

    Then one day I was lucky enough to get a Nikon F3 body for like $50 (a steal), I bought a 50mm Nikkor 1.7 and fell in love with photography all over again!!! So in the sense that if you’re limited by your equipment, I believe you should go for that better camera with more capabilities and control that would push you forward and probably take you to the next level. Today I own 5d with a 50mm and 28mm, a Contax 645, a Yashica Electro 35 and some toy cameras. Believe me they don’t make me a better photographer but they sure make a huge difference when I want to shoot a particular scene or subject. Every tool has its purpose, its the relationship you have with it that makes all the difference. Every single one of my cameras has brought me to a new level and made me discover something and so I think its a big part of what motivates me as a photographer and as a creative individual. When I expect a certain result and I get it or even better… that’s a great feeling!!!
    I can just imagine the feeling of shooting the M9 😉

  43. I’m a fan of Leica cameras. That is all I use. I am not a fan of fallacies though. Please take this as unemotional criticism. I must offer it because I don’t want people to think that Leica users will take any praise heaped upon their cameras, especially if it isn’t deserved.

    This article is filled with straw man arguments, weak analogies, and bad logic.

    Correct, you can’t shoot a wedding acceptably with a Holga (straw man). But nobody is claiming that. Could you shoot a wedding with a $500 DSLR, yes.

    No, a carpenter isn’t going to use a sledgehammer (weak analogy) but he may buy the appropriate tool but forego the one with the diamond coated blade. Is there a difference? Yes. Big difference in the end result? Not really.

    I would argue that having a worse camera will make you see better, and be more in tune in order to capture things. Nothing taught me more than my Minolta AL-s film rangefinder. It cost $40 and makes wonderful images.

    • This I agree with, so many people come to my store to buy the newest cameras, yet they dont even know what “an aperture is”, then they drop a couple thousand dollars and come back in confused as all hell. I would love to hand them my little reliable FE for a few months and see how they fare, cost me about 40 bucks and thats including the shipping and taxes, but it just works, always, period.

    • wow great reply, exactly my thoughts but i lacked the ability to express it (sigh, english is not my first language)
      well articulated and thought out. hats off to you sir

    • +1

      This article is ridiculous. Tyson (above) makes VERY good points re: straw man arguments, bad logic & weak analogies. I’ll add to that – Randall doesn’t seem to know the scientific mantra that correlation does not imply causation.

    • Glad I decided to read the comments before posting. I was about to say the exact same thing. While I agree a person should use the best tool at their disposal, the analogies presented in the article are extremely weak.

  44. I agree. Basically the question is what’s limiting you, your craft or the quality of your tools/supplies. If you’re just starting carpentry your results may look like you’re using a sledgehammer anyway 😉 – but you won’t be able to tell if you could do better if you’re actually using a sledgehammer. Ask a musician about “beginners instruments” or a painter about “practice paintbrushes” (Yes, painters actually do discuss the quality of brushes!)

  45. What photographers will never understand is that great high end art directors will never care what camera you use. They hire you for STYLE. Can your style sell there product. As for camera, look up Terry Richardson. Look at his camera and then look at his clients.

  46. Wow, seriously? THOSE are the shots that “prove” your point? Every one of them could have been made with a Canon S95 with even better results.

    Check this comparison by well known industry expert and fine art photographer Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape. It was a shootout between a $40,000 45MP Hasselblad H2 and a Canon G10.

    An excerpt:

    “Over a two day period I invited photographers and local industry professionals to come to my print studio and look at a series of 13X19″ prints from an Epson 3800 printer made on Ilford Gold Fiber Silk paper which were then hung side by side on my floor-standing print viewing box. This collection of seven people included experienced photographers, people from the commercial print industry, and other trade professionals. Between them there was at least 200 years of photographic industry shooting and printing experience.

    In most cases I did not tell them what they were looking at, simply saying that I had been shooting with two cameras, and that they should divide the prints (about a dozen) into two piles – Camera A and Camera B. They were asked to judge resolution, accutance, colour reproduction, highlight detail, dMax, and any other factors that they wished to consider.

    In every case no one could reliably tell the difference between 13X19″ prints shot with the $40,000 Hasselblad and Phase One 39 Megapixel back, and the new $500 Canon G10. In the end no one got more than 60% right, and overall the split was about 50 / 50, with no clear differentiator. In other words, no better than chance. ”

    Full test with pics here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/kidding.shtml

    I’m not saying that the camera doesn’t matter at all, it certainly does, but up to 20″ and in a print, if industry pros, artists and gallery owners couldn’t tell the difference, I doubt anyone else would either.


    • I have to say with those images at LL, no wonder no one could tell the difference. Take a G10 with it’s small sensor and huge DOF and shoot a part of a tree with it and an MF camera. Print them and yea, you can’t tell a difference. BUT, take a real image of a sweeping landscape, or a portrait with more shallow DOF and you could EASILY tell a difference between the two in a large print.

      It’s easy to make images look the same between a $300 camera and a $30,000 camera, if you shoot images like we see in that test at LL.

      I agree with Randall in this article. No way will a Canon S95 give you results of something like an M9 or even a Pentax K5. It also will not give you the control and yes, even the confidence. Things like ISO noise, dynamic range, depth of field…all play a huge part. For these reasons alone cameras DO indeed make a difference to your final output quality no matter what anyone says.

      • Just to be clear, I also feel great photos can be shot with ANY camera. Some of my favorite shots of recent months have been with my Iphone and E-PL1. 🙂

    • As an owner of the S90 and also a decent DSLR, I will say that the DSLR quality is significantly better. Not always, but usually. I think the LL experiment was one that particularly favored the G10’s strengths. The G-series or S-series are still amazing cameras for what they are (point and shoots with dinky sensors), but when you use them in a wider range of situations, they aren’t comparable to a larger-sensor camera.

      One thing about P&S cameras, that is not mentioned much, is that it appears to me that they have issues with diffraction around f/4 or so. By f/8, according to my calculations, they are down to about one effective megapixel. Certainly, my landscapes in bright light at f/8 are rather fuzzy. Also, the S90 has rather dubious colors, if you ask me, which might be an artifact of pushing the little sensor too hard and an overlay of noise processing. (The S90 sensor is still 2x the size of most P&S cameras though.)

    • Might want to read this last line here

      “One final comment. Landscape and nature shots are one thing – models in a studio with fabrics, delicate skin tones and other challenging subjects are likely to be quite another. Also, I have no idea how well these files might hold up to CMYK conversion. We therefore need to keep expectations within reasons.”

      Also, the scene chosen had such limited range of tones, something with a 5 or 6 stop difference between highlights and shadows would have annihilated the G10 and even the S95 today.

    • Mark, I assume then that you’re experienced with Leica cameras and glass? Because if not this would be a pretty silly thing to tell people who actually have lots of experience shooting not only with the Leica equipment, but also with all sorts of DSLR’s, film cameras and point-and-shoots.

  47. Incredible article! I have been thinking something along the same lines! After buying and shooting with my M9 for over a year, I agree with your statements.

    “When you get a camera and lens that produces radically improved images, you WILL see your errors much more distinctly.”

    I found this to be true when I switched from the D200 to Leica.

    “The other way this type of equipment will improve your photography is (and this crosses the line into talent and I’m saying it) it WILL make you see differently. And that can improve your talent.”

    Also true!!

    Loved, loved, loved this article – you distilled the thoughts and points very well. ++1

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