It’s the photographer not the camera! Or is it?

It’s the photographer not the camera! Or is it?

You know I have been thinking and the more I think the more I realize that the old saying of “It’s the photographer, not the camera” is sort of BS. Well, kind of… Sure, someone who knows nothing about photography will not be able to create a work of art, but with the right camera and right lens that person could get much closer to producing a photo that will WOW those who look at it. Why do you think so many of us keep lusting after certain cameras and lenses?

Let me explain…

For years and years I have seen photographers say that it is not the gear that makes a good photo, its the person who is taking the photo that matters. I also always hear about famous photos from back in the day, and how cheap old film cameras were used to create those photos. Well, just think if those photographers back then had access to some the tools we have today?

Lets face it, Ansel Adams was a GREAT landscape photographer but he did so much darkroom work to his prints that the final outcome was nothing like what was on the negative. He had to do hours and hours of work in the darkroom AFTER he took the shot, basically using the technology he had back then to improve his photo. HIs compositions were spot on, sure…but if he were shooting today I would bet anything that he would be using some killer medium format digital back, others will disagree though.


Let’s say you are an experienced photographer and you own a decent camera… say, a Sony NEX-5. You want to go out and shoot a portrait photo. You go out and come back with something like this (click image for larger):

Now, the above photo is super cute thanks to the subject and it is also a nice quality image. But does it have any special qualities that would wow the normal Joe looking at your work? Not really, just a cute baby. Now let’s say we have the same guy shooting with something like a Leica M9, and they also go out to get a portrait of the same baby (click image for larger)…

Now, the same photographer used both the NEX and the M9 but the M9 is giving the more “wow” shot. Why is this? Well, it is the lens of course. The 50 Summilux ASPH to be exact. The Sony used the 18-55 kit zoom. But the Leica has the more WOW factor due to the shallow depth of field and great B&W rendering. It also has more emotion due to it’s lack of digital-itis (sony looks more digital to my eyes). Somehow this M9 combo seems to always create beautiful photographs. Slap that same lens on an M6 or M7 or MP and the same feel will shine through, even more so.

This 2nd shot shows right here that the equipment does indeed make a difference when shooting a photo and certain equipment can give you more WOW to your shots, though it does depend on the type of photo you are shooting and the look you are going after.

A photographer who has a point and shoot and wants to shoot an image like the ones above (portraits) would get much better results with the M9 and Lux or even a DSLR or Olympus E-P3. End of story. So, the gear does make a difference and it is not ALL the photographer though having a good eye will help you get great shots with whatever you are shooting with. Different gear does indeed bring on different looks, which is probably why so many of us keep chasing the latest and greatest.

So, the moral of the story is that owning a nice camera with a nice lens can help to take better photos not only because you will get better quality but also because something like an M9 or Fuji X100 can inspire you to do more with it. Sure, if you have experience and “the eye” then you know what to look for but these days almost anyone with enough cash to buy a decent camera can pump out decent photos, even EXCELLENT photos.

Now I am not saying that everyone needs to run out an buy an M9 as that would be ridiculous. You can get amazing photos with almost any of the cameras out today, even an iPhone but I just wanted to jot down my thoughts while I sit here at the Chicago Airport waiting for my delayed plane 🙂

I’m sure this article will get loads of conflicting comments but fact is fact! It is not always the photographer because depending on the type of shot you want, certain cameras and lenses do indeed make a difference. Then again, I took both photos and the argument has always been that a great camera will not make a bad photographer better. THAT is a fact as well 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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  1. I think it’s true.

    I think what people are not understanding is what I would call “skill cap.” Except kind of the opposite. Like a great pianist can play on whatever and make great music, but if you take the best of the best then the difference could become more apparent on the most high-level equipment.

    Plus, some cameras are necessary (or ability to succeed under certain settings) for certain shots. I have a pretty mediocre Canon and an OK utility lens. I can take good pictures, but I know how my lens might be warping a picture, how something might be out of my zoom range, or how something might be out of my optimal settings range. Not to mention autofocus, which matters in, say, nature shooting.

  2. I was looking a new product on the market and when I read the first sentence of the text I thought on this tread.
    “Nowadays, anyone with a smart phone can be a photographer, but aerial photography is one realm that still feels out of reach. That’s all about to change with Kepler, a kite-mounted kit that gets your camera off the ground to capture a brand new perspective. The kit can support either an iPhone 5 or a Go Pro Camera: simply clip in your gadget of choice and you’ll be ready for lift-off, whether the mission is recording a company picnic, or just exploring the world from a bird’s-eye view. The fun doesn’t stop there either, as Kepler was designed to support add-ons for other forms of exploration: high-flying photography is only the beginning.”
    The marketing is there reinforcing the idea that the camera can make you a photographer, sadly to say, everybody is buying it!

  3. Hello Steve, not sure you keep on reading comments on a post more than 1 year old.
    I’d like to thank you for your website/blog. Thanks to you I bought a M9 for Xmas.
    And yes I’m taking better pictures, may be also because I don’t want to bring blur, out of focus, overexposed picture and my wife poking at me because I bought a M9 to take that kind of pictures.
    Keep on the good job you’re doing.
    Thanks and good 2013 pictures

  4. Hi Steve,
    I follow lots of your posts and really enjoyed running into this year old one! I love following the camera vs photographer threads as much as I enjoy the Canon vs Nikon.

    We own 2 large photography companies, 1 that does weddings and 1 that does concerts. We personally capture well over 200,000 images a year and edit well over half a million images. 99% of our photographers are professionals that have over 10 years experience and shoot with all makes of cameras and lens combinations. I’m at the point where I can look at the 1st image and tell you what brand of camera it was captured with.

    Anyway on to your post… As a volume shooter/editor I agree that the gear makes a difference to a certain extent, especially the glass. We have thoroughly tested over 100 lenses for our cameras and done head to head tests between many to keep the best lenses for our applications.

    We personally capture mostly concert stills and video in natural light from on stage, back stage, and front row. The lighting varies tremendously from one show to the next so all of our 6 keeper lenses are between 1.8 and 2.8 and we are covered from 11MM to 400MM. When we compare what we captured with lesser quality lenses to what we capture today they are not even close. Same photographer, same eye, same camera, better glass= better images. Most of our lenses are 2011-2012 models but my favorite, 80-200 2.8G is over 20 years old.

    When we made the jump from 16MP to 24MP we were not expecting very much improvement but couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only are the images better but the technology of in camera processing changed so much in 1 year that images that we used to think were stunning now look like garbage compared to what we capture today. We strive to capture natural photos and enhance the photos very little… so the better they are straight out of the camera the better our product is.

    So is it the camera or the photographer? It’s the great photographer using the best gear they can possibly get!
    To see samples of our work visit and

  5. This would have been a more compelling argument in favor of equipment had the photos been taken from exactly the same angle/perspective. The 2nd photo is a more artistic angle which a lay person may not think to try. Just this morning another student in my photo class was bragging about his bazillion mp camera but I shoot with my 8mp rebel xt, and always have more photos with that “wow” factor.

  6. A photographer was invited to a dinner at a friends house. Before the dinner starts, he show his work in his Ipad, and the woman who was doing the dinner comment:

    ” How beautiful pictures, you must have a good camera?!”

    After finish, the photographer look at that woman and said:

    ” Your dinner was very good you must have a good oven…!”

  7. Steve said : “… the moral of the story is that owning a nice camera … inspire ( and incite) you to do more with it…”
    For me , good photographer have many chances to get excellent pictures with a good camera, which he …loves to feel in his hand !!

  8. It’s always the photographer before any camera. Even the Nex-5 can do far better than the baby snap you show at first if you really want to create a photograph with it. A different camera buys convenience or a different light canvas. Many styles call for different ones, but the photographer is the one that makes the photo- even if the canvas isn’t as good- can create a compelling one.

    I am surprised a photographer is saying this.

  9. Well, its true to say that most people, if not all, would say photo #2 looks better than #1. And, most people could also tell that the reason #2 looks better than #1 is due to the differences in their respective compositions, level of creativity involved etc., and not necessarily because of the more expensive and exotic equipments that were used to take #2.

    It’s also true to say that Steve should have taken the two photos using the same composition, light, DoF etc. if he REALLY meant to compare the QUALITY of the different equipments that he used to take the two pics. But I think Steve’s point in this post may really be this: By using equipments which you like better or prefer most (M9 and Lux in his case) MAY get you more involved in the process, and thus you become more careful in composing, and be more creative. This in turn makes the pictures you take with those equipments you like better look better. Is it not what you were also trying to say here Steve? I own certain equipments which some people find them insanely expensive, but, to be brutally honest, I take better pictures (or pics I like better) with gears which I prefer most, and, it so happens that those gears are usually the relatively more expensive ones, file or digital.

  10. Why does everyone (well; quite a lot of posters) keep insisting on Steve doing all sorts of comparo’s? What on earth will that teach us?

  11. Absolutely agree with Steve! Good gear is inspiring; since I went Leica, I’ve upped my game.

    Same with musical instruments…spend more and–as a rule–play better. I did and I do!


  12. Shallow depth of field has become a crutch for sub-par photographers who can’t compose properly. Shallow depth of field hides distracting elements that an experienced photographer would exclude using good composition and lighting.
    The first photo is underexposed by at least one stop.

  13. Steve, what if you slap on the Leica lens on the NEX instead of using the KIT Zoom?

    Sure I agree that up to a certain extent, technical and material things does help to support you to take technically better pictures. But, the moment, nor does the emotion, being captured, can be delivered even if you use an M9 if you don’t use it properly.

    For example, the first shot with Sony Nex, doesn’t seem like you’re trying too hard to take the picture. The angle is also a frontal snapshot which (sorry), my 7 year old nephew could do. The second shot however, you took it at a different angle, which provided you may be squatting down (trying harder), to get that shot.

    Sure you won’t get the depth of field that thin with the kit lens, but lets say, the same shot, with the sony nex (second picture), and you blur the surrounding (vignette blur), I think it’ll look MUCH better than the first shot you provided. If you slap on the leica lens, I think it’ll be on Par.

    No offence, just my two cents Steve.

  14. The reason why photographers like Bresson are legendary is because while gear heads sit around talking about gear, he was out taking photos.

    • Jaret has a point. Nothing better than the photo you saw when you didn’t have a camera! For sure. But also note, Cartier-Bresson could not have used just any camera when he walked out the door. He knew his equipment intimately. He knew what the exposure should be before he put the camera to his eye. He also knew what shutter speed he was going to use, so he knew the aperture for the given light. In addition, he’s trained himself on the timing of the shutter in relation to when he pushed the release. Or visa versa.

      I once had a conversation with the editor of Epoca magazine (Italy’s answer to LIFE) and he told me he hired Cartier-Bresson to shoot a photo essay for the magazine in Portugal. It was a color assignment. So he took two rolls of Ektacrhome for the job ( and no doubt a boat load of black and white for himself). And he came back with 70 out of 72 photos that could have been used by the magazine for the story.

      It most certainly is the photographer, but it’s also him knowing his equipment like his or her right hand. And then it took opportunity. The list goes on and on. Everything about the situation the photographer is in adds up to the photo being successfu or not, and to what degree.

      As for the people who ask if it’s the photographer or the paint – well, that’s kind of off-base. More appropriately the question should be is it the painter or the brush? And I know enough about painting to know that a good brush can make a difference in the way the painter can lay down just the right amount of paint that he or she intends to land on the perfect spot of the canvas intended. The quality of the hair in the brush, how stiff it is, etc. Same with cameras. If you can use a great camera to its full capability, you will get better pictures than with a camera that fights you.

      Bottom line: It is NOT an either/or question. Period.

        • Ya I see what you’re saying Eric. Bresson believed his success was due do to two factors, a sensitivity or receptiveness to his subjects and the decisive moment, which he knew by instinct. He said that he didn’t take the picture, the picture took him. I think he could have used any camera and had great results, just that the Leica felt better in his hands… he probably could have used an iPhone (if they existed back then) but thank god he didn’t!

  15. Steeve, I think your biggest point in this article in backing up your points that having a better tools are better than the inferior tools is the DOF factor. Street shooting doesn’t need so much DOF and hence an experience street photographer can produce the WOW factor just by using any P&S surpassing the inexperience one with M9 and a nocti. Just my 2 cents

  16. Hi Steve,

    Perhaps to summarize all the 187 comments above, you might want to create another posting to be fair to all the equipment.

    Take 3 different cameras. High End, Mid End and a P & Shoot.
    For the High End, you can have the M9 with your summilux lens. For Mid End, you can use a Nex 5N and a Portrait Lens. And then a P&S, you can use a Canon S90 or Panasonic LX 5.

    Then take the same picture of a person or even your mom with the three cameras.
    When doing comparison, it is fair to take the same picture with same environment.
    Then upload all the three pictures for comments. All your readers will differentiate based on the pictures taken. After in which it is up to the individual to judge what is good enough for them based on the respective budgets. Those who can afford an M9, they will go ahead and purchase it. Those who are satisfy with the Sony 5N picture quality will be contented to get it.

    The buyers have to eventually decide which one is good enough for him or her. After in which the photographer will focus how to capture beautiful moments with nice composition without even talking about the equipment.

    This is my suggestion. But I would love to welcome other ideas for a fair comparison 🙂

    Cheers ” )

  17. “The camera you have at the moment is the best camera” . That holds true for this series of photos as well as many others. That being said, I really hate to hear about very expensive Leica digital cameras not working. Now before anyone gets upset, let me say I do recognize the majority of the M8 and M9 cameras made are issue free (I have 2 M8’s that have been working flawlessly since the day I got them, knock on wood!) and that only small numbers of them have these horrible reports of problems. Still, thinking that in the middle of a shoot, an M digital could crap out is not comforting. The case in this story was bad enough. Last night, I went on the Adorama web site to read customer reviews of the M9P to find a single horrible review. In this review, the photographer had a studio/location shoot and was using the M9. The M9 corrupted his SD card (the card he was using was recomended by Leica) and ruined the shoot. Everything had to be shot over. This gentlemen then exchanged his M9 for another one with brand new SD cards and the same thing happened. Either he does not know how to properly format the cards or there is something seriously wrong with some of the M9”s coming out of Solms (Portugal, 80% in reality).

    I hate to read these things, especially after people blow 7K plus on a camera body. I am not bashing Leica, but thank God we are beginning to see real alternatives in camera bodies (NEX-7, etc) in the coming future. Full frame is not far off, and at a much cheaper price than Leica. This will put my mind at rest for once!

    • Ed,

      Gil Lavi has been spreading his “story” about his M9 issue with SD cards. For sure there is an issue with some SD cards an M9s, I have had one myself. Since switching to one of the SD cards recommended by Leica I have not had a problem. Google Gil Lavi and M9 and you will see that he has told his story on almost every forum and soapbox imaginable. Sounds like he is resorting to reviews on camera sites now. Seems to have a vendetta against Leica now.

      Note that the SanDisk Extreme Pro 8GB that he used isn’t on the approved list. the 4GB cards are, which is what I have.

      “More details on my blog” says it all…

      • Jonny,

        Could it be that Lavi is taking it out on Leica because of his mistakes?

        I do find it of interest that he tried two cameras and the same thing happened. Maybe he was repeating his mistakes! I have bought good old fashoned Sandisc cards 4GIG form Costco for my M8’s and I never had any problems. I once bought a PNY 4gig card from BJ’s and one of them gave me problems. I am sticking to Sandisc and Costco! Too bad Costco doesn’t sell many of the higher end cameras we like. I wonder if they will sell the NEX 7?

        Leica makes great stuff and I have no complaints about any lens I have from them.

        My only beef with them is lousy high ISO and stratospheric prices. I did read on Leica Users Forum that to them, the M9 is high enough for megapixels. They want to concentrate more on much better high ISO and dynamic range. I cannot complain too much about dynamic range though. My M8’s record a hell of alot of information to work with in many different lighting situations!

        • Shame on Sandisc?

          A little further reading here an it seems newer versions of Sandisc cards are to blame for many problems. Maybe Leica should sell cards directly that they can certify WILL work with the M9. If the cards were a little more, thats ok. The photos are more important anyway!

          In the back of my head, I am always suspicious of cards larger than 4gig. It may be irrational, but when you squeeze more and more information in small spaces, eventually you reach some limits.

        • Yes I would love it if Costco carried the NEX series. Costco return policy=the best!

          Higher ISO performance would be nice I agree and the prices….wow. I don’t care much about more dynamic range like you. Seems like the RAW files are very forgiving with manipulation. Gone are the days like with film where you had to nail exposure dead on. I certainly don’t want all of my pictures to start looking like HDR out of the camera!

          The more I think about the NEX though the more I would like to add it to my M9! I would be getting all that extra reach with the long tele lenses. It would be like getting a whole new set of focal length lenses! Now SONY, just work on that full-frame NEX and you will print money!

      • The only time I ever had a problem with a CF-card was back in 2002 shooting my Coolpix 950 on a holiday. And I blame the camera, not the card.

        I never ever had any problems with my SD/CF cards with any Nikon (Coolpix 4500, D80, D90, D1, D2H, D700), Panasonic (LX3), Canon (S95), Fuji (Finepix P&P, X100) camera after that. And that goes for any card – even the cheapest card with no name.

      • I did exactly you said, Googled Gil Laci and M9 and found his blog. He doesn’t sound like someone negative out to have a go at Leica. He updated his post with a official response from Leica acknowledging they are working on the problem not to mention the disturbing amount of comments by others with the exact same problem.

  18. “Interesting” flaming war going on here…it seems, as always, everybody “needs” to defend his gear he spent a lot (or a bit less) of money, and of course brand flaming as usual.

    Too many not seeing they just have a tool in their hands, turning off the last bit of logic.
    Can’t believe that all those posts are written by grown ups (over 25 years of age).

    Just my 2(euro)cents,

    better go out and use the gear you have (and could afford).

  19. Steve,

    While I think this article was written too quickly to do the topic justice, I agree that equipment can make a difference in many ways. Being able to shoot a full frame M9 with a 50 summilux obviously provides a better platform for creating great images. The same photographer with the same skill will be able to get technically better shots (sharper, more/better bokeh) with the M9.

    What I am missing in your article is the effect the equipment has on the photographers state of mind. The two pictures differ not just in their technical quality, but for some reason the Leica shot was made from a different angle, with a different composition. Maybe subconsciously you took the M9 picture differently because you love the equipment, knew its potential, and it got you into a different state of mind?

    At least, that is what I think equipment can do. The right equipment will stimulate the photographer. Having the ability to create a shallow depth of field, pushes the photographer to do it. Having the ability to make an image pop, will push the photographer to get that effect. Having a camera with more potential is like a sculptor having better clay. It allows for more detailed work, it affects the mindset, and even provides more joy because of how it feels physically and emotionally.

  20. Sorry Steve. I disagree.
    Certainly any person with any camera can get lucky now and again. Certainly also a better camera will produce a better image. However, consistently great photographers produce consistently great images because they can ‘see’ the image they are trying to capture. Whichever camera / system allows the photographer to execute that image best will produce the best result.

  21. Steve….Steve…Steve….way to entice the gear heads out there who think that if they ‘only bought that $4000 Summilux’ their photography would be SO much better:) Let’s face it, we all have a bit of ‘gear lust’ in us but at the end of the day, it’s the photographer that matters. You could have replaced the second image with one shot with a fast, cheap Voigtlander and at normal print sizes it would have looked quite similar.

    I can’t tell you how many of my friends have said, ‘Wow I love your photography, you must have a great camera!’. Funny thing is, I hand my M8 to a relative the other day and they couldn’t even focus the thing to take a pic of me and my family lol…, it IS about the photographer:)

    • Again, I NEVER said you have to buy a Summilux to take good pictures. NEVER! Ive also stated in comments here that you can buy a $100 old film camera and fast 50 and get the same results. Never said you have to spend cash to get good results. What I did say is that something like an M9 and fast lens will give you much better results than a camera with a slow zoom lens or a P&S. A nice camera with a good lens will give better results than any P&S. Period!

      • Just giving you a hard time:) I get the point of your article, obviously a P&S will never give you the subject separation of a fast prime….IF that is what you are looking for…shallow DOF. If you are shooting something where shallow DOF isn’t needed….well all of a sudden the differences would be minimal. I only referenced the Summilux because it was such an obviously expensive and exclusive lens. I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate…I like shooting fast lenses wide open as much as you do, but if your thing is say landscapes at f8 instead of portraits….I would say the photographer would be the biggest factor at that point.

        Either way, great article you definitely stirred the hornet’s nest!

  22. Steve,

    I couldn’t disagree more with you this time. I think the second photo is better, but that is because of the baby’s expression, the angle, the eyes, etc. You could have generated the same impact with the (insert camera) … regardless of sharpness or clarity. Just my 2c.

  23. Steve, you’re right and you’re wrong. Photography is both an art and a science. The balance between the two can vary greatly. To some, the art far outweighs the science. To others, it’s the science they most respond to.

    Take a musician, say Eric Clapton. If you put a Les Paul in his hands he can be other-worldly. Put a $20 thrift-store cast-off accoustic in his hands and well, he’s still Eric Clapton. He’ll still make great music, much better than a novice with a Les Paul. But if you give the transcendant artist the “best” tools, in this case the Les Paul, he/she will “often” make their best art.

    I had to put the words “best” and “often” in the last sentence in quotes for a reason. Art is subjective, for both the maker and the viewer. The “best” tool for one artist may often not be the “best” tool for another. And throughout one’s career, one will use a variety of tools…and their best work may or may not be the work they make when they have the best tools. “Often” the work they make with their best tools may be their best work, but it’s different for every artist. I don’t desire for a Leica M9. Some of my best images (to my eye) to date have been made with a beaten-up old foldable 6×9 camera from 1919 without a usable viewfinder or accurate metering.

    The “best” tool for an artist is the tool that allows them to “best” express themselves. As Ben Shahn said, “Art is experience turned to form.” For some photographers it’s a Leica that best captures how they see and experience the world. For others it’s a view camera. For others yet it’s a point-and-shoot.

    One more point: a tool is just a tool. Intent, creativity, vision, passion, compassion, touch, grace, power and love…all reside within the artist. A tool doesn’t feel…the artist puts the feeling in the art, and this is typically what separates the good from the bad…and the transcendant from the very good.

  24. The problem with what people are saying is we don’t live in a binary world. I know a black and white view of most things is very appealing to people these days. Especially in a time around elections. 🙂

    But photography is not binary, though that’s the language of our sensors and computers. In the end the issue we’re talking about is it’s not either/or. And when peole try to force it into it’s the photographer or the camera, then the train has run off the rails.

    You don’t accept that premise? Then why are you not using the cheapest camera possible and sinking your money into more travel? Like most things in life, and photographers ought to understand this if anyone does, life is made up of shades of gray. Subtlety makes life richer.

  25. So true.I feel like I achieve better results when using prime lenses on a wedding. The shallow depth of field really makes the photo often.

  26. Some really good comments here and also good article. I’d say, at least from my own experience that better gear will help you achieve better results. I’m still a n00b and couldn’t be compared to any of you but I recently upgraded from Nikon D40 to Fujifilm X100 and I’m getting much better results. Mostly because finally I can afford to take photos under different lightning conditions due to better IQ in high ISO and also I’m not missing moments.

    BUT, and it’s big but, it’s mainly about the photographer. That’s why my upgrade helped me. I started to feel limits of my old camera and that’s why I upgraded, to open new opportunities. Also having small camera always with me helps a lot, I just snap whatever I like at any time under (almost) any light conditions and because of the fixed lens, I learned to ‘see’ frames before I take them – helped with composition.

    So I’d say that gear does help you if you know what you’re doing or feel limited by your current gear.

  27. Mark,
    I want to congratulate you for the excellent job and to thank you for sharing it.

    I see no reason why you should pay tribute to the new “god of bokeh”. Your images show the grainy nature of the used film and the lightning conditions you had to face. Ansel Adams also produce his crispy set of work without looking for blurred backgrounds or the “quality” of bokeh.

    But your post just seems to prove the opposite of your intended conclusions, beginning with the influence of the film you used and made these images possible. If you had just a “regular” ISO 100, do you think you could achieve the results you did without artificial lightning, no matter how skilled you’re as a photographer and/or artist?

    Yes, because when we talk about equipment we shall consider all the used resources, not just camera “x” or “z” lens.

    However, considering only these two pieces of equipment, you should not call the example of the “great photographer” versus the “poor photographer” but focus only on one of them at a time, using different cameras or lenses.

    Take the example of car racing, do you think it would be fair to say that a Formula 1 World Champion could show his skills even with a small car and a “poor driver” would do “just crap” if he was given the chance to enter a Formula 1 race? Or do you think the Champion, as good as he is, would pretend to win a Formula 1 race with the small car I referred at first?

    But you wrote about another important point when you said you doubt that most hobbyists could see the difference between 2 lenses ( it is not important to name them as you could choose any other pair for the example), as this brings us to the problem of “perceived quality”, both related to equipment and photographic know-how, and to the importance of equipment to the production of results that (even being just snaps and what you can call “crap in art terms”) are made possible to anyone by the technology inside nowadays cameras but would required a photographer with a certain experience some years ago.

    So, it seems equipment really matters but it doesn’t mean that it is always a function of price or even the privilege of a brand name. It does matter as part of the resources to achieve a goal and you can find works of Art produced with a cheap home made card box that had no lens its top model from Leica, Canon or Nikon would not offer you, no matter the lens you would choose.


  28. I think Steve is right to a degree, the gear you use can improve a photo. Either with the rendering of the lens, the quality of the film/sensor, or indeed the processing either in-camera, PhotoShop, or darkroom.

    I do wonder though, that if a photograph needs all that to look good, then you’ve got to question the photograph’s merits in the first place.

    I think Steve built up a straw-man argument, compared two photographs taken with different cameras and although they were very different shots, compared the technical aspects, not the compositional/”artistic” ones.

    Much as I like Steve’s site, and although never met him, like Steve himself, I do think it’s becoming far too Leica-fanboy for me. I say that as a Leica shooter.

  29. This type of post is created just to generate massive varied reactions. Steve is a very clever guy and a good photographer and knows in his heart that ultimately its the photographer.
    Give a great photographer an average camera and he will give you great thought provoking images. Give an average or poor photographer a good camera and the results will be on average dissapointing.
    In fact Leica M9 is probably the worst camera to use unless you are competent . Manual, exposure, Manual fucus. Every decision to be made by the photographer and then you’ve got to be great at composition. This is why 90% of images taken on M9 / Noctilux / Summilux are crap !
    Generally Leica sells to guys who have a large wallet and its their hobby and therefore its a want rather than a need. Nothing wrong with this but not many professionals using a camera day in day out to make a living rely on M9 !
    Both Canon and Nikon have supurb fast glass and I doubt any client / 99.9% of hobbyists could see the difference between a 24 1.4 Nikon and a 24 1.4 Summilux !

    Take a look at these images as a casing point…. All taken on a Canon manual focus T90 and a 28mm f2.8 FD lens and 2 rolls of Tmax 3200
    No great bokeh but I bet they bring a tear to some peoples eyes !
    My sons birth

    Mark Seymour

  30. I totally agree with Steve!
    When i switched to my GF1+20mm-1.7 lens i start taking shots that i never did with my old Canon G7: the 20mm lens is simply a great creative tool that excites the photographer to kick the best out of her/his equipment.
    More: when i put a different lens on the same camera i was not able to take the same great shots… Sure, some shots depends on the composition, skills, right moments, technique (etc, etc, etc), but with a great camera+lens that fit your tastes i bet you’ll end being a better photographer!

  31. Just like “Hush” said above.. “It´s the painter, not the paint!” Exactly.. You do realise its the painter and how he uses the paint that makes that stunning painting, right?

  32. Hm.. Have you looked in the Leica M9 group on Flickr.. Over 37.000 thousands of images,and about 3 thats worth looking at..
    Its not the camera! OMG, how this can still be up for debate is beyond me..

    And, you are mixing to things togeather.. There are good images, and there are images that are technically good.. When you see a good image, or great image, you just forget all about equipment, because its soo freakin good! It does not matter if it was taken with a digital compact or a $10.000 lens..

  33. Steve’s argument is specious.

    The second photo is simply more creative and original. Had you switched cameras but kept everything else the same, the second photo would still be better.

    Interestingly, they recently had a “quiz” on rangefinderforum. They took the same shot with Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses. No one could tell which image was shot with which lens.

    • Hi
      I did the same a few years ago.
      I had expensive Leica Glass and then purchased a 50 1.5 zeiss
      Shot the same image , shot different images and honestly couldn’t see the difference.
      Result… Sold all my Leica glass and invested in Zeiss !

      Leica “pop” is bull sh*t….. Leica sell expensive glass and well made lenses and market them to a specific part of the market.

      • Completely agree. The only Leica glass I own is second hand and I only purchase it where it is cheaper than the Zeiss ZM equivalent. There doesn’t seem to be the same amount of second hand Zeiss equipment for sale unfortunately, maybe because folks are too smart to part with it. I compare to Zeiss rather than Voigtlander because I find the Zeiss glass to be generally be smaller and lighter than Voigtlander and I prefer the tones in the Zeiss.

  34. Bruce Barnbaum relays someone’s comment in his book that goes something like: “If you play good tones people will listen even if the music is boring”. Forgot the exact words. Leica equipment will create good tones and make all images have some impact. But true art is created by the person behind the camera.

    Bokeh is not all. It kinda gets boring after some time.

    My 2 cents. Cheers.

  35. I think to sum up, cameras/lens do matter, give a good photographer a crap camera and he can still take good photos but it won’t have the extra wow such as nice bokeh, color. Also consider higher end cameras will also let you take photos in more conditions (low light).

    If you judge a great photo for what the subject is or the moment, then the camera becomes less important. If you are judging it on a pure visual impact, then a higher end camera/lens will make a world of difference.

  36. “Now, the same photographer used both the NEX and the M9 but the M9 is giving the more “wow” shot. Why is this? Well, it is the lens of course. ”

    Uhm, slap a Leica lens on the Sony NEX camera then. Problem of quality and bokeh solved.

    • Agree Elaine. Two things:
      1. Zeiss is very underrated, don’t know why.Maybe they need to raise the price to Leica levels.

      2. Leica understands color better than many other lens and camera makers. That’s one of the reason for the pop.

  37. Show me the same picture with 3 diferent good cameras and you will not recognize the diference !! and after 3 month of use, all cameras are more or less the same !! if you think the great thing about hcb was the camera, there is nothing to talk with you , please came back in 20 years.

    The camera is just an instrument. and in a 20x30cm print they all look the same. asa you can imagine if you put a good film like back to the future in an old TV it;s still a good fillm but if you put Avatar in an old TV there is no movie any more, is just HD and efects for the wow customers


    I’m sorry is dificult for me to make a point in english i hope you understan the point

  38. Excellent post, I prefer the first image just because it offers more as a photograph, the M9 + 50 lux could have taken either photograph but the NEX could only have taken one of them.

    So to some degree the kit you use is important

  39. Maybe we should change the subject to Leica’s, rangefinders, pseudo-rangefinders and (d)slrs…

    So while we have, let me just mention there was a reason the slr was invented. This simple but logical invention allowed punters to actually peer through the lens when (allright, just before and just after) taking a picture, instead of having a parallax view.

    Definitive proof it’s the equipment that makes capturing good images possible.

  40. Hi Steve,

    after the first three sentences I knew it was no good idea to post this article.
    On this topic there will ever be infinite point of views.
    No one wins on this debate. It only separates in enemy opinions.
    To judge about art is not possible per se.
    Photography should be there to integrate and come together.

    Old and new, analogue and digital, low budget and high end gear you might still let live side by side.
    I guess it’s the best you could do.


  41. you can learn technique, you can buy better gear, but you can’t learn and you can’t buy talent.

    you can purchase gear to enable your visions to come to fruition, but you can’t buy gear to enable vision.


  42. Just looked at Steve’s post and I think he’s right. The lens makes a huge difference.

    (spoken by someone who is quite experienced in the use of kit lenses)

  43. Unfortunately, this subject sucks.
    All are right.
    A better camera does not make me a better photographer.
    But I did not win a race car with a truck.
    Nor carry a closet with a Ferrari.
    Forgive me for bad English.

  44. Thanks you for being straight! I agree!

    Couple notes however.. I would have emphasized it’s the lens that makes the difference more than the camera. Put on a CV 35mm f/1.2 on the NEX and then let’s see the photo! The lens plays a larger role than the camera! I guess I was sensitive to this because the NEX is my favorite system 🙂

    The other thing I’d like to point out is that limits force us to be creative. You have to more creative with a lesser camera because you might not have shallow depth of field – and those limits can lead to really unique photographs. In that sense, while equipment does matter, it’s what the photographer can do within the limits of their equipment that is really interesting to me.

    • I was just thinking… Let’s also not forget what a good photograph is. A good photograph tells a story and that has much more to do with the person behind the camera than the camera itself.

  45. I have to just chime in with saying how this is a whole can of worms. However on the examples given, I agree with the people who mentioned the composition of the second photo. The first even taken with the M9 would have been a little lackluster(notice I said a little, I personally use an M9 with a 50/1.4 so I know what comes out of that combo).

    The thing is though, I think it’s a little of both. Being the son of a former pro-photographer, people often comment on how I’ve got the “eye” for shots. Regardless of whether it’s all boloney, I attribute a large part of that conception to my M9 or M6 and most importantly the lens that accompanies it, in this case the 50/1.4 asph. It gives me confidence and pride(be serious here, which one of you has never scoffed at least once seeing a tourist tout a D3 or 1D around with a tripod because you believe your M to be infinitely superior to his whatjamaslr).

    I do have good photos that I mount on my wall, that people who walk in ask where I got them from or who took them(I dislike putting photos on the internet, I don’t need anyone’s “critique”). And they were taken with different cameras, a Nikon F2, a Spotmatic. And then some with a Zeiss Ikon and the M series. The M9 and 50/1.4 asph has given me the most confidence to date and overall just makes the shooting experience all the more satisfying.

    Now seriously, could I have taken the same photos with my “lesser” cameras? Sure I could. But the M9 gives me the most joy. In everything photography. My verdict? The camera is as important as the photographer.

  46. You can print an iPhone photo and hang it in a gallery and call it art; art is subjective.You can create a work of art with a toy camera or an M9. Everyone can agree that a better camera and lens takes a better quality photo irrelevant of composition or cost.

  47. Thanks EVERYONE for the comments and debate. This article was a quickly written piece while I was waiting for my delayed plane yesterday. It was actually started 9 months ago and has been in my drafts folder. The only point I was making was that cameras and lenses DO INDEED make a difference, even with a “master” – that is fact. I never once said you have to spend $10,000 to get a good photo! You can go down and buy a used Nikon film body and 50 1.4 and get super results. It is when you step up from a limited P&S or something with a slow zoom lens that you start to notice the difference IN SOME situations.

    Im back home now so ready to rock with some new stuff this week! Thanks again!

    • This I can agree with. Going out with my FM2n or FA and 2.0/35 Ai-s and a roll of Tri-X is fun. It also activates a more laborious process than taking out my D700 with one of the AF-s primes. The 35mm Ai-s might not be the greatest or sharpest lens in the world, but with Tri-X it can give me the sixties look I sometimes go looking for.

      I can really recommend anyone (especially those that haven’t grown up with film) to splash out on a used slr body of good quality, manual or semi-automatic, FM2, OM-1 or -2, A1, whatever, with a 35 or 50mm, 2.0 is fast enough, get some rolls of Tri-x and off you go. Then find a lab to process and scan it for you, than process it in LR or whatever takes your fancy.

      You’ll be amazed at what you’ll see. I have not been able to achieve that look digitally, however great my D700 is.

      Now if Steve would only let me post some of those images up here… 🙂

    • Never mind Steve. Sometimes your hasty thoughts stir a lot of meaningfull discussion and that should be the point of your webside.

    • “The only point I was making was that cameras and lenses DO INDEED make a difference, even with a “master” – that is fact.”

      Steve, when you say this you’re absolutely right. as a photo is the result of the used resources and these include the equipment, the technical know-how as well as the creative capabilities and communication skills of the photographer. For each situation you make choices and options to optimize your work, including the most appropriate equipment, no matter if it will be a large format, MF, reflex or rangefinder camera, or you’re going to use film or digital.

      The problem is that the discussion tends to focus on the “importance of equipment used by two different photographers” not how the equipment can impact the work of one and just one photographer. Looking at the problem this way the arguments about the “master” producing “art” with the P&S versus the “average person” with the “great camera” doing just garbage will have no reason at all because what we have to see is what the “master” OR the “average person” can do with different cameras.

      And the same goes when we talk about film versus digital, a big discussion from the past, because these are just different media and by now it makes no sense to revive such a debate.

  48. I think this is a very subjective argument – very similar to studies where professional and amateur photographs were posted online and the community was invited to critique; they found a large number of people tore apart images shots by Bresson and Stieglitz. I think too many people confuse capturing good “images” with good “photography”.

    Also, it depends on the “type” of photography, street or reportage vs studio photography. Certainly if you look at Araki or Moriyama’s street work, it’s all about the moment, composition and spontaneity; in which case point and shoots serve quite well in capturing the story, while delivering a quality photograph without too much technical intervention. Conversely, if you look at classical studio photography like Avedon or Penn where a high degree of skill is involved achieving more creative photos that point and shoots would be limited in capturing.

    Then you have the current school of “faux” reportage photography like Terry Richardson where point and shoots, as well as high end cameras are used to achieve the same disposable camera look and feel.

    A good photographer will be able to achieve good “photography” with any camera, a bad photographer will be able capture a good “images” with a point and shoot.

  49. Argument aside, the second photo is clearly more interesting because of compositional elements. Give yourself some credit and admit that perhaps if the camera did anything, it got you more excited and thinking creatively which resulted in these characteristics:

    1) The perspective is the level of the baby instead of looking down
    2) There is depth of field at play- the image has elements in front and behind the area in focus.
    3) The glance of the baby is engaging, even adult-like, and the eye is drawn right to it because of the DOF.

    Good shot!

  50. Of course you need certain equipment for certain applications. A photographer trying to shoot a closeup of the game winning touchdown reception will not be able to do his job adequately with an X100 and 35mm-e lens. Same for the photographer using a slowish zoom lens to shoot a baby’s portrait with shallow DOF. You need different gear for different jobs, I don’t think anybody would debate that point.

    However, as has been mentioned above, your second photograph of the baby is superior to the first because of (a) the composition, (b) the baby’s position/expression, (c) the lighting, and (d) the introduction of shallow depth of field. Of those elements, only (d) depends upon the chosen equipment, unless you used off-camera flash, which I doubt. That means that (a), (b) and (c) depend upon the skill of the photographer and the (considerable) cuteness of the kid. And for the record, the shallow DOF required for (d) could have been accomplished with any fast prime.

    So to summarize my opinion, equipment matters to some extent because it defines your range of capabilities and limitations. It’s up to the photographer to decide what happens within that range, and that’s what makes most of the difference between your first and second images. Equipment is not irrelevant, but it is far less important than skill and enthusiasm.

  51. In my opinion it is the camera distracting and limiting the photographer. The more automation, the more distraction and less control for the photographer. I hate shooting my sisters Casio compact camera as it has no manual mode and not even priority modes. It is just frustrating and distracting when the camera does thinks I don’t wont it to do. I for my self mostly use a Sony A200 DSLR but even there some automation sometimes just sucks. My favorite camera (from the ones I own) is a 1982 Minolta XG-1. The manual focusing is somewhat relaxing and inspiring to set it to unusual points in order to create interesting effects, the manual exposure mode does just what I want.
    But the best camera in that perspective is, of course, the Leica M9: I once had the pleasure to shoot one for 20 minutes and it was simply stunning. It really felt like an extension of the eye. The Rangefinder works incredibly well, the meter is always spot on and the camera just fells great. It also had the Summilux and manual focus was just a pleasure and felt even better then on my Minolta’s 50mm F2.

    • I remember coming into photography, a long time ago. A Werra, a Zenit, a Yashica TL Electro, a Nikon FM2n… Learning darkroom techniques, films, developers, paper.

      A rangefinder was old school then in my eyes, redundant “technology”, and I was certainly not after the most expensive equipment money could buy. I just couldn’t.

      Now that I possibly can, I still see no reason to invest into old schoool technology, as much as I would like full frame dslrs to be smaller and lighter. The digital full frame FM3A is what I want…

  52. I pretty much agree with your article’s premise. As a violinist, I can tell you that a great violinist will be able to make a poor violin sound good. But there’s no way that violinist is going to settle for second-rate fiddles. They are going to be the absolutely finest violin that they can get their hands on. Why? Because a great violin will extend their skill. It lets them bear down and really play and there’s no distortion and squawking. My violin teacher let me play his Scarampella once (with it’s $15,000 bow). It was unbelievable. No wonder the Soviet government tried to buy it from him for decades.

    So it is with great cameras. They will give you the tools to do your very best. There’s a beauty in the image laid down by a Leica 35 Summilux ASPH. It’s still my favorite combination when I was a newspaper shooter. Probably shot 80 percent of my stuff with that and an M6. (Sports not so much, though I did get a few shots on the sidelines at the Kansas City Chiefs games with it that really sing.)

    Re: your comments about Ansel Adams. He was very clear about his wish he had lived to see the digital age. I know a press foreman who worked for one of the Bay Area papers. He complained about how picky Adams was with the quality of his images on press. But he also respected him. Adams even used to state that the laser scanners that they used for his late books (Yosemite and the Range of Light, etc.) actually gave him more control and could produce images in his books that rivaled his chemical prints. Does that sound like someone who would shun digital cameras? No. Adams was always testing new hardware and processes for manufacturers. From paper, chemistry to cameras, lenses, Polaroid, Hasselblad. His last camera was a Leica R4. Does that sound like a stick in the mud?

    Adams was a superb technician. He was not sloppy in technique as your comments might make people think. It’s simply a fact that the camera is not capable of giving him the image he wants with a straight exposure. As he used to say, the negative is the score and the print is the performance. As a musician, I understand that completely. Adams wrote in his autobiography that he hoped that students at the Center for Creative Photography, where his negatives are stored, will use his negatives with new digital technologies to see what can be done with his work.

  53. I have read a couple of articles saying the same thing now, the same message like you Steve. And they’re all right: in a complex art form like photography there is more than just one variable. There is photographer, camera, subject, light, luck, post processing, consensus about what makes a good photograph etc. End of discussion. It’s not really that complicated, is it?

    One objection, though: the second baby picture doesn’t have more wow because of the camera, but because of the angle. There are a million pictures like the first one, adult looking down on baby in cradle, but there are a couple less like the second one, on eye level with the child while it is being cleeaned.

    But thanks for showing that the “it’s ALL about the photographer” philosophy is BS. The photographer might be more important than the camera, but that doesn’t make the camera unimportant. I think every serious photographer takes the best pictures with HIS camera (there is a reason he chose it and he hopefully mastered it).

  54. I agree with you, Steve. The equipment DOES make the difference, especially if you already have some experience. Coming from experience with an ok camera will work to a certain point and you will probably feel the limits of the camera and the lens. When I switched from Canon 40D and the kit lens to 5Dmkii and some fantastic lenses I saw how much better my photos started to come out.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  55. Of course equipment is important and play an important part in the result. Otherwise Pros would use crappy gear. But the photographer is the “artist”.

  56. Most of the posts I’ve read have it a little …lopsided.

    Question: if there were no photographer then how good would the photos be from the camera? Conversely, if there were no camera, how good would the photos be?

    Neither the camera nor the skill of the photographer can be divorced from the final product. Without the skill of the photographer, the photo is likely to be lame, or boring. It takes a skilled photographer, someone with talent, to be able to produce high quality images again and again. That being said, the camera is a tool that allows the photographer to do this, and different tools allow the photographer to do different things well. That leads to an obvious point: a good photographer can take exceptional photos with a bad camera but not in every situation, and not producing all the desired outcomes he may wish. The camera allows the photographer to produce the desired output and some cameras allow the photographer a wider range of desired outcomes.

    With a bad camera, the range of outcomes are much more limited, but without skill, the photos are likely to be crap. With a bad camera, the photos can still be exceptional…. but you wont be able to get as many exceptional photos as you would with an M9, for instance.

    • You are loopsided too telling us the bag of truisms. Everybody knows that even the best photographer cannot take pictures of craters on the moon with normal lens whatever be it 10k Noctilux or else and that goes for E-coli bacteria too. That the degree of exceptional picts is higher with M9 goes only for two equally good photographers, the other one using a simple P&S.

      • Read my post again – the conclusion gets straight at the heart of the matter. This is exactly what the argument is about. Camera vs. photographer. And your comment about the M9 vs. P&S misses the point completely.

  57. I think what Steve was pointing out was that an excellent photographer can pretty much create excellent photographs with any camera, but given a great equipment, they can do much more. It’s not that he’s disagreeing with the maxim “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer”, he’s simply not taking it as an absolute, i.e. that cameras don’t exactly contribute to the greatness of a photo. It does to a certain extent, and like what he said, a fact is a fact.

  58. Paintbrushes, typewriters, pianos, cameras & lenses: whatever is our tool of the trade, if we know it so well that it’s an extension of our hand and eye, we have the chance to get the most out of its capabilities. But we have to use those capabilities with imagination, competence, enthusiasm, experience & artistic flair to get something special.

    I think it’s a question of the right tool for the job at the time — or the composition you have in your head — that matters. There are wonderful pinhole camera shots and wonderful M9 shots. Drip painters like Pollock and conventional painters like Van Dyke found and used the best properties of their medium to express themselves. Some tools inspire us and some not, some are more useful to others than ourselves. We have to find the best tool for us at any given time. It’s a fluid symbiotic relationship. The tool needs us and we need the tool.

    • Excellent way of putting it, Sheena! You hit on the main reason I have kept my D2H bodies even though they are no where near the capbilities of the latest stuff out there. When I grab my D2H, I know exactly how it will react in a situation because I have shot with it for almost 8 years! I hope I will start to feel the same way about my dad’s Yashica Electro35 GS in a few years since I have started shooting film again for personal use.

  59. An old photographer once told me that a successful photo is based on a trifecta:
    The subject, the camera, and the one behind the the camera. All three needs to complement each other,

    • very concise and very true! i would add one or the other thing to bring out the best of the picture (especially post processing), but those three things are king!

    • but seriously, the pictures in the videos are ok at best. the actual portfolio of the pro photographers is a lot more impressive. what’s the difference? equipment.

      • You got a point that the pictures are ok, but I would say still better than a snapshot (like the first baby here).

        To me is more the time and energy spend on the pictures which make the difference.

        And on the main question, as the photographer more often chose a camera than the opposite,I would say it’s up to the photographer to choose the appropriate tool for the picture he wants.
        In a case of a snapshot usually the photographer has only the interest to do a snapshot (the subject in the middle not too blurred, and here it is) and not a picture that’s what he will eventually get.
        I agree there is a part of luck but the rest, the subject, the light, the composition, the framing, pp, are things the photographer can work and improved.

        • Can’t totally agree with ya, E! Equipment can help but my “vintage” D2H cameras & Tokina lenses produce images that many people love even as they carry around the latest D3/D3s and Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 AF-S zooms. The equipment can help no doubt but it is not the be all end all to getting a good image.

  60. If a viewer has to start or does think about the technical quality of the shot – then the shot has failed as a photograph. Even if that focus is on how good the technics look. The rest of the story should be so overwhelming, on topic and clear as to make anything else a complete after thought.

    Eddy Adams, Nick Ut. Their iconic Vietnam shots have you thinking about anything BUT the technical crap internet hobbyists like to go on about these days.

  61. Steve you used Adams as an example – but didn’t mention his famous line about the print and the negative. You are misrepresenting what he did and why. I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader to go google as I don’t want to also mis represent someone else.

    There is no justification for 99.9% of the people that read this or any other blog to spend more than a few hundred dollars – a grand at most on a camera and single lens and be able to take amazing photos.

    The camera makes zero difference. Nor does the lens. Every single one of my shots on my site were taken with less than 2K worth of kit over the years. Most of them with a 150 dollar Nikon F80 and a 300 dollar 35/2 lens.


    • Couldn’t agree more. It is ridiculus to believe that the equipment means anything other than being nice gadgets. An old Olympus OM-1 with a 50mm or similar and some rolls of film and you are ready for taking great photos for less than $100-150.

      • Not true! So you are telling me a $150 P&S will allow you to take photos that stand out from the crowd? Unlikely! You need a certain level of camera and lens and yes, a $150 OM-1 and a 50 would do the trick as well. It is not about money and i never said it was.

        • Glad you agree on the OM-1 – well I already new you would..ha..ha. And you are right about the cheap P&S, that the technical quality would probably not be very pleasing.

          But I’m still very sure that a skilled photographer is able to capture some nice photos even with a cheap P&S, while it is quite certain that some people even with an M9, D700 or other great camera mounted with the best lens would still take boring pictures that are not worth looking at, even if the technical image quality is superb.

          What I mean to say is that even the best equipment can’t buy you great images.

        • First let me say that I have an M8 and I love it… one day god willing I’ll invest in an M9 or whatever comes after it.

          However, I think all of the imprecise language in this post and comments is just adding to the confusion. Steve, what exactly do you mean when you say “stand out from the crowd”? Do you mean resolution, 3D look, clarity, mood, emotional response ? Can an image from a point and shoot stand out from an artistic perspective? Absolutely ! Just have a look at David Burnetts award winning photos made with a $30 Holga! Art is what matters and artistic value isn’t measured in line pairs per millimetre.

      • om=bad

        if you are an OM user, please promptly put up all your gear on ebay. perhaps, with the money you make, you can pay for shipping-and-handling on your new german dream machine!

        oh, and support steve, by buying your leica through his website, make sure he gets that commission.

        • It would be fair to say that the OM 1 was a very expensive camera in the 70’s !
          I was an art student and could not afford it… Took me years to buy a Nikon FM and a 55 micro Nikkor instead to replace my Cosina Hi-Lite.

          • alain! the world has turned, my friend. it is almost the year 2012, and while we are yet to have flying cars and commercial teleportation… anything made in the far east has become synonymous with overproduction and mediocrity… so turn off that foghat, brother- put down the peace pipe and seize the day!!! go get you that OM, it’s the same camera you always wanted and you can probably find it at a garage sale or goodwill. i got mine on craigslist with two lenses, 2x extender, protective case/strap and bag all for $50.

            peace, love, and blessings

  62. I have a tough time agreeing with any aspect of this post… especially with the comment by the author that “someone who knows nothing about photography will not be able to create a work of art”. How about the work of painter, David Hockney with his Polaroid instant photo collages. The list of non-photographers working with photographic media to create visually powerful pieces is huge.

    Photo equipment and knowledge of photography actually matters very little when it comes to “creating a work of art”. You could have a technically perfect shot with the best camera in the world and NOT end up with “work of art”. In comparison, you could have what’s considered a very poor shot (by a non-photographer) and end up with a wonderful “work of art”.

  63. I have not read all the other comments but to me the difference between the two images has more to do with composition and imagination than equipment. The NEX image is a standard snapshot. Technically ok. The M9 image, however, shows more creativity in taking a shot that is not from the “standard” veiwpoint. In these two images, IMO, it is more about the creativity applied for the second image that makes it stand out from the first. NOT THE EQUIPMENT!!!! Quite often, the difference lies in THE PHOTOGRAPHER knowing his equipment and its capabilities so that he pushes the equipment to its limits to get an “special” image.

    I would agree that Ansel Adams would probably have embraced digital but maybe not. Clyde Butcher, the renowned Everglades photographer, still shoots film, has a wet darkroom, and even gives darkroom workshops to teach his techniques. BUT there is not a single digital back, medium format or otherwise, that could produce the images straight OOC that Adams did in his artistry in the darkroom. Adams, if he was using Photoshop/Lightroom/whatever, would still have his vision of how he wanted the image to look & would try to create that vision. But I have found in most cases (few things are absolute) that my Tri-X far exceeds digital in tonal range and the gradations that can be captured. That is why I still, on occasion, shoot my beloved Tri-X and will until the day they pry my camera from my hand.
    Oh, well, just my $0.02 worth….

  64. an amateur cares about equipement
    a professional cares about money
    the master cares about the light

    but I agree, it’s a much better feeling to walk with a M9 on the high street instead with a NEX or ugghhh Panasonic…….

  65. Anyone else find Pic #1 to be the better image?

    What’s this foolish obsession with shallow depth of field? I find that to be the number one amateur mistake/beginner’s fad. “Oh look! I took a photo of a mundane everday object, but it has shallow depth of field, so I’m a photographer!”

  66. The shot on the header article indicates the photographer is technically superb. Regardless of the composition, lighting etc. It’s damn hard to get such accurate focusiing on the eye whilst using such a narrow depth of field. High end time trial bikes, golf clubs, sports cars, canoes etc. are pretty useless in the hand of inexperienced users. It requires practice, patience and talent to utilise many of these things.

    The suitability of good equipment develops as a users skill improves. It’s fairly unlikely an inexperienced user is going to get better results from a medium format film camera compared to a P&S aimed at the general user.

  67. You could have the exact same debate with “It’s not the car, it’s the driver”; “It’s not the dress, it’s the model”; “It’s not the special effects, it’s the story”. One can work well without the other but at the end, if both are very good, you have a killer combination.

    What is definitely unfair, is keeping one side of the equation constant, changing the other side and expecting the same results. 5 + 5 = 10, 1 + 5 = … (Not 10)

    • Qui, monsieur. Otherwise it would be enough to blow up color film til the grain`s big as chickpea to make Seurat style pointilism, but there`s much more to that. The composition, the eye for color distribution and to be first to see it. Voila

  68. Nice discussion happing here. Yeah, the composition is better in the first image. Still Steve is right that a camera/lens combo has a huge impact on the image quality, the rendered light, the depth of field, the crispness. That’s why we like to buy nice cameras. Is there really a huge difference between what you would do with a NEX versus a M9? Probably not. You will see great and terrible outcomes from both systems. Do some photographers just try to rely on the lens created wow factor? Just have a look on flickr and search for Noctilux images. You will be surprised how many think that suddenly every uninteresting scene turns into a masterpiece just because of the shallow depth of field.
    I like that Steve gets excited about his stuff. Yes, the conclusion of this post may not be scientific but who cares. Fun images to look at.

  69. If you wanted to make a point by proving a better(or different) camera might inspire you more and lead you into taking better pictures, you should’ve just repost your SEAL tour album, where you compared 1d mark IV with a Leica M9.

  70. Folks, you’re all missing the point of the spirit in which Steve makes the argument. Nobody can argue that the 50mm Summilux gives you the ability to take photographic effect to a level unachievable with other general cameras/lenses. There are photographs I would visualize and go for with a Summilux 50mm that I just couldn’t achieve with anything lesser.

    Clearly in the minority, but I’m with Steve on this one.


    • “Nobody can argue that the 50mm Summilux gives you the ability to take photographic effect to a level unachievable with other general cameras/lenses.”

      Nonsense. You have the argumentative style of the true convert.

      • A convert ………. you do talk cobblers. Yes, I appreciate Leica kit for all it’s uniqueness, but I happen to also shoot on other ‘formats’, which themselves have great strenghts. It often puzzles me why these Leica zealots frequent such sites.

  71. looking for the wow factor in photography is like wanting to be in flickr explore

    you are on time to reread this photographically immature post and delete it, 🙂

    no offense steve, everyone makes mistakes, your site is still being a really good one

      • Have you ever taken a look at the Leica S2 users’ group on Flickr? Check it out. Most of those photos were clearly taken by wealthy amateurs, and may as well have been made with a Cybershot.

  72. Voigtlander 35mm F1.4+M adapter, give the next a very decent 50mm F1.4 thats fast at MF and well behaved wide open. I prefer to keep mine on my M9 and the 16mm pancake on my NEX. Nothing beats pocketable AF with APS-C quality.

    I do believe in the M9 having a wow factor, just as any other ultra highend camera. Theres a reason why people pay even a good chunk more than what we pay for the M9 to go medium format after all. Theres no replacement for sensor size for upping the wow; one only needs look at the recent Sony A75 reviews comparing it to the ancient but still admirable A900.

    • ugh sleep posting, but you get my point. Which is also why I will not have anything to do with m43 again until those cameras finally accept their position as distinctly below that of APS-C. E-PL3 has no business at the same price as the Nex 5n

  73. Hi Steve,

    I must say that I agree and I disagree with you.

    First, your photo comparison looks almost unfair. YES, the gears are not the same because you wanted to point out the differences between a good gear (NEX 5) and a better one (LEICA M9). OK. But NO, the composition is not exactly the same. So this looks pretty unfair to me. It doesn’t show the real differences on the gears. That’s the first point.

    Second, I think both the camera and the photographer make the difference. I mean that if you give a bad camera to a beginner, he will do very basic photos. And if you give him a high end gear (like a Canon 5DMkII or LEICA M9 or Fuji X100…), the beginner will make better photos without any effort. Technically speaking (sharper, brighter, …). Without a doubt. BUT, the compositions will probably still be very poor.

    On the opposite, if you bring a crap camera to a pro photographer, he will use his skills and his talent to get the best from the camera, to make good compositions, to find good subjects to frame, and he will do lots of post production to take the best of each picture taken. And he will (or at least he can…) do very nice photos, even with a poor camera. Of course, if you bring him a super pro (high end full frame or medium format for example with superb lenses), he will make incredible shoots.

    Just take a look at the videos on YouTube channel « DigitalRev TV.Com » named « Pro photographer / Cheap camera challenge ». Very interesting and very funny !
    Take also a look at the videos “Internet’s most talented photographer”. They show that “amateur” photographers can do very good shots, and also that… doing good pictures on a specific theme is not that easy.

    By the way Steve, I have no complains about your web site which I find very interesting, with nice contributions, nice posts and nice pictures. And I imagine it’s been very “courageous” to write this article as you were expecting many comments and many different points of vue.

    Keep it going !

    (PS : no rewarding by Kay W. or his boss for doing advertise… I’m totally independent. 😉

  74. This is a ridiculous argument that one hears way too often to make sense, its like saying Michael Schumacher can win the F1 with any car, or Pete Sampras will win with a wooden racket. The fact is at that level everything makes a difference.

    This argument of photographer vs camera is more nuanced than just the photographer’s talents, sure a good photographer can get a great picture from any camera and he could probably get a greater picture from a better camera, with better lens, faster shutters etc. A bad photographer will probably get bag pics from any gear but that should not stop folks from wanting to improve their learning curve with better gear.

  75. I could not disagree more with the statement that “someone who knows nothing about photography will not be able to create a work of art” which is:

    a) absolutely ludicrous and

    b) just seems incredibly arrogant.

    Only those of us who are part of a (not so exclusive) club who know about shutter speeds and apertures can create “a work of art” with a camera ??!! What about an amazing painter who has a greater level of “vision” than most photographers will EVER have and yet uses Auto everything on a camera .. It is impossible that his results be anything able to be considered “art” ?!

    Art is judged primarily by results and effect, not technical prowess (unless that technical prowess serves to advance the results).

  76. Steve I agree with you. I allways found that sentence “its the photographer not the camera” as an answer for equipment questions stupid.
    Why, because its obvious that a bad photographer doesnt take a good image even with a great camera. But this doesnt mean that some sort of equipment in the hands of a good phtographer can lead to better images than worse equipment in the same hands.
    Shallow DOF (like in your example) is one thing, another important issue IMO ist the user interface which should be intuitive and let the photographer concentrate on the subject (and not on the camera), and then there are still things like color, detail, tonality.
    I sometimes show “comparison” images my wife (she is not much into photography). I can honestly say she will tell you that the same image from a Medium Format camera will look better than the same taken with a smaller camera, and those from a M9 will look clearly better than m4/3 in most cases, a.s.o. – not so much pixel peeping at 100% but just how good overall the image looks, how natural it looks, if it shows what we remember in our head (could be different from neutral), if it looks not “digital”.

  77. Your comparison of two shots is a bit overtretched and biased.. First taken with Sony is fixed posture, badly lit (heavy contrast) while Leica shot is modern style dynamic snap. I bet, if I took a picture of a bluehaired retired and sour lady with Phase ONE 80 and then sided it with a cocky teen cheerleader snapped with Instamatic, Instamatic wins every time. Shoot the same person with two different cameras and they do nothing for creativity, only quality of print will be difference. Of course you can better explore DOF with 1,4 then with 5,6 but then it gets academic. Example, M9 with Noctilux comes nowhere near Canikon with their 200/2. As to Ansel Adams, while it`s thrue that the final print was a result of long labor, saying that it was nothing like it was on negative would make him laugh. You heard probably about Zone system. Adams Started with composition then the negative. The print couldn`t have anything the negative didn`t have, but surely he squizzed everybit of it to suit the original vision he had of the scene.

      • C`mon. Many of his pictures photoquality like wouldn`t be accepted by todays stock agencies. He used Leica not because rich bought it or it permited him to make meterwide enlargaments. Simple SpeedGraphic outshone Leica at that. He used it because it was small and reliable and one could control opening, distance and speed. Beside it all, in fact he did had his customised Instamatic with Cookie lens, Mercury shutter and IR viewfinder but it`s alltogether little known story. To round it off, Cartier is well known jewelry and watch maker and Bresson a director, je crois.
        Stanis de Click-Clack

  78. The photographer and the “camera” should not be separated—it is not one or the other that makes great photos—it is the “togetherness” that creates the “wow.” You knew M9/50 Summilux would be the right combo to take the child’s portrait, but you also know NEX-5n would be more appropriate for a photo of a panoramic city skyline., for example.

  79. I have never found a camera which can “take” a photograph – these comparison shots are meaningless- any image is born in the mind of the creator – whether a painting or photo, sculpture or plate of food –

    Photographers no longer learn a craft. Learn about depth of field, hyperfocal distance, circles of confusion and the subject of an image can be made to separate or blend. I ma not debating digital vs chemistry, it does seem that analogue has aesthetic advantages though.

    Perhaps the discipline of knowing each exposure needs a lot of darkroom work to achieve the initial visualisation helped chemistry photographers to “see” their subject more clearly – much of the work I see from digital is the “monkeys on typewriters” sort of composition now.

    The lens is irrelevant – the brain corrects all that anyway, the hype of magic equipment is just to make people but kit, sure pay for reliability and good quality, but after a point it is money down the drain.

    If you like cameras then collect cameras – if you like photographic images – learn from a master photographer, the best you can find and listen to them.

  80. I just want to come with my mantra in photonic devices.

    “Good equipment does not make better pictures, but it helps.”

  81. i both aggree and disagree, as a good photographer you can take good photos with every equipment, but in some cases the choice of the right film and/or the right lens could make the difference.
    A good musician can play Mozart on every piano, but it sound defintely better on a Steinway….


    • “A good musician can play Mozart on every piano, but it sound defintely better on a Steinway….”
      This seems to be the perfect analogy, thanks !
      As a musician, and photographer, I can enjoying playing with a lot of different instruments. But a good guitar or a good camera makes a strong difference.
      As far as camera go, the lens and sensor can really change the signature of the picture. Of course, everybody would like to think that it is not worth buying a Canon 5D or a Leica M9 (“I’m smarter than that, I’m not intoxicated by the marketing, I buy a cheap camera and the results are even better than with those insanely expensive stuff”… :-). )… But it is not true.

  82. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. When we talk about a good photographer I hope I can assume that he or she has great eye for making great photographs. I think that such person knows the limits of various gear and will photograph to the limits of it. Lets say you want to create a stunning photograph with a 2mp cell phone. You can do many creative things which will blow someone’s mind with it but for instance not a portrait with shallow depth of field, or architectural images with great detail and no distortion etc..

    You photograph a different style with a Nex5 + kitlens than wiht M9 + Summilux. So top gear does the job for the needs but with every system you can create stunning photos. Like you say about Ansel Adams, I think someone like him would like to have the best of what is available at that moment. It is all about what the photographer has visualized as final product. And maybe he will still use the same gear because digital will have a different look than what he has in mind.

  83. I think that the first photo hasn’t got the “wow” factor because of the composition. Playing a bit with cropping, angle, light could have made it much better. From the basic composition I actually preferr it.

    Shape of the baby’s head and shape of the baby cart – that is what I would have played with.

    I like bertram’s comment about HCB and Gertrude Stein! My sax teacher plays maginificant on my cheap cheap sax, I would play terribel on his Selmer (something like a M 9 but you can blow air in it)

    Problem is that many people get crazy only because it is Leica and looks old.

    For example Daily Inspiration #262 by Chris Adrian Simonsen, Sept 11.
    Good for a photos around 1900 but would inspire photographers and technicians to develop something better- what they did.
    Guys like HCB or Adam Ansel would have been happy to use today’s gear incl. photoshop

    To look backwards leads to nothing. Look at guys like David LaChappelle.

    There maybe more crappy M 9 photos on the web than excellent ones shot by iphones.

    Best regrds

  84. Sorry – Steve, have to disagree here, it is the photographer. Now, I had a very similar problem recently, I was in a foreign country with only my NEX-5 and 18-200. A friend wanted a nice family portrait. Did I have my 5D and my 50 1.4? no, Did I want subject isolation? Yes, so what did I do. I moved my subject 50 feet in front of the background. I moved about 30 feet back from my subject and shot at 160mm to decrease my DOF and compress the impressive background.


    Would this have looked better with my good equipment? Yes, but it still looks great and my friend is so happy.

    A photographer needs a quality instrument. Your second picture could have just as easily been captured with a Canon AE-1 and 50 1.8. Or maybe with a voigtlander 35 1.4 on the NEX.

    So to be perfectly clear
    Good equipment + good photographer = great pics
    Mediocre equipment + good photographer = great pics
    bad equipment + good photographer = very good pics

    Good equipment + novice/bad photographer = bad pics
    Mediocre equipment + novice/badphotographer = bad pics
    bad equipment + novice/badphotographer = average facebook photo.

    Good equipment (which can be acquired on ebay for about $125) is necessary but not sufficient for a great photo

  85. Maybe Steve has gotton to the point where he’s realized that having an M9 doesn’t make you a better photographer.
    TIME TO SELL MY LEICA GEAR! – he must be asking himself.

    If the intent of this post was to pool users opinion to reassure/ validate your reasons to own expensive leica, then I regret to tell you that everyone think’s it’s about the photographer and not the gear.

  86. Guys, do you have or ever used leica M9? If you dont please dont flame Steve’s article since you have no clue about it.
    I’m sorry if my words offend anyone but you guy should really try it before you made such a comment.

    • Sorry, Andy, but you are out to lunch. The M9 is a nice camera and Leica glass is excellent, no doubt. BUT in the two examples presented, it is obvious that Steve took a more creative approach when he used the M9. So it IS the photographer that makes the biggest difference not the tools.
      Sorry if I offended you…..and, no, I do not have an M9.

      • Well, your comment is typical coming from the person who dont have an leica m.
        But you are right it is the photographer that makes the difference and let me add: the right tool makes it even better.

        Regards m8

  87. steve

    the second picture is better not because the m9 and the summilux, the composition and the look of the baby and how the baby is sat all makes the picture different and more talkative. You need to use the exact composition to defend your argument. Sorry, better gear may help, but at the end the photographer is the key

  88. Interestingly, I was really bad with a point and shoot camera, but my photography actually kicked off when I had a DSLR to play with. With the NEX, I am able to do things I couldn’t. For one thing, I now have nice and bright lenses at f/1.8 and f/2.8. That matters to me bigtime. Zoom has proven itself to be useless for me, it’s the maximum aperture that really counts. The articulated live-view LCD on the NEX allows me to really shoot the kind of photos I want, no longer being restricted to the viewfinder which had to be held to the eye at all times.

    So yes, I do agree. Gear does matter.

  89. Hi Steve

    No matter the opinion on the topic’s main subject I think the example is not that fair.
    If you want to show the importance of the gear you should have taken exactly the same pictures (I mean the same framing, vantage point and lightning conditions) with both cameras to see if the wow factor already comes out the image taken with the one you consider as being the best camera/lens set.
    As a matter of fact you could even take 3 pictures instead of 2, one being produced by the NEX with the Leica lens, to check if we can isolate the lens contribution to the final result.

  90. photo is a matter of creation, to the same photographer better equipment can always take better photos. compare a professional with an ordinary person, i must say that the professional can take a more ATTRACTIVE photo with an iphone than an ordinary person with a M9 + leica lenses.

  91. Sorry Steve,

    I am a little disappointed with this post! There is nothing wrong with a big fan of M9, X100 or Olympus or Sony or Nikon … every brand has their strengths and weaknesses. You are a photographer and you should know better than anyone about photographer/camera. I know people has the most expensive equipment but just knowing the “auto” button. This is a digital world, the WOW! fact can be achieved with any software and editing.

    Taking a good photo is using our heart and I always think that a good photo should just be straight out from the camera (digital or analog).


  92. Had that second photograph,a far better photograph than the first been taken from exactly
    the same angle in the exact same light and taken on a Canon 50 1.4,Nikon 50 1.4 or Pentax
    50 1.4 99% of every person who looked at it couldnt tell the difference in normal print sizes.Of
    course if you pay several thousands for a normal lens you have to convince yourself otherwise.

  93. In his early period, photographer Henri Cartier Bresson once worked in Spain, and after returning to Paris he showed the result to his friend Gertrude Stein. The writer admired the photos, made many compliments and finally asked, which camera he had used for. So Henri replied: “By the way, my dear, I recently read your latest book which I liked exceptionally well. Now could you tell me please what kind of typewriter did you use?”

    • I have always thought that to be an odd analogy. The camera captures light from a pre-existing subject matter. The photographer adjusts and refines, but the writer creates.

      Try taking a picture of a typewriter. Then write a thousand words about a camera. Which required more creativity? Which produced a different result based on the tool?

      Comparing a camera to a typewriter is like comparing a tape recorder to a live band. The tape recorder captures the music, while the live band creates it.

  94. I agree with you, was just rereading leica M9 and Canon 85mm 1.2 reviews on the Steve’s old site just to remind myself why I started coming here as latelly, as you say, it is starting to read more and more like not even discuised Leica comercials.

    Also guest posts were much more diverse and interesting and not only I had this and this camera and then, while one day I was going home, a suden lightning storke and I heard divine voice with kiss from a rouse song in the background saying “buy a leica and you will become the chosen one”

    • It’s OK mika, one day you may joint the chosen ones and get a Leica. Until then, don’t be too envious. It’s becoming obvious you are struggling with camera envy.

      • If you think that people are envious of someone who is ready to pay amount of money for the overpriced status simbol that is enough to buy camera with the same IQ and for the rest travel around the world or give them to charity then good for you, whatever makes you happy.

        • Hey mika, it seems like you are having a hard time with the fact that some are willing to pay more for luxury items that are made nicely and with craftmanship. Hey, according to your theory we should all drive economy cars, eat generic food and never go out to eat at a restaurant, wear generic clothing. I think it’s crazy that people go out and spend $150 on a meal at a restaurant myself as that doesn’t make me happy. The difference is that I don’t go tell everyone that does that they are wasting their money like you seem to like doing. Whatever makes *you* happy! Here in the USA, we call that pissing on people’s cornflakes!

          • personally I really couldn’t care less how you or anyone else is spending money, in today’s world it seems that the only freedom is freedom to spend, I guess better that than nothing at all.

            I simply responded to your comment:

            “”It’s becoming obvious you are struggling with camera envy.”

            so you suppose that someone is envious just because he don’t see anything special in the photo taken with precious Leica. I personally use 5dmkII and am perfectly happy with it, if someone says that he doesn’t see the reason why it is 3 times more expensive than entry level canon or nikon or whatever it is a legitimate comment that I wouldn’t take personally as in the end, camera is just a tool. On the other hand many people who buy Leica buy it not as a tool but as a fashion item and take comments about iq personally as it is, after all just part of their image, the same as shoes, jacket or whatever so it is not a comment against a device but against personal image…I don’t see any of the magnum photographer or someone like Chris Weeks caring about that as they are using leica as a tool.

            Anyway, all this is part of introductory course to the marketing psychology so have a look or don’t, as I mentioned, whatever makes you happy

          • Jonny, just enjoy being lectured from people with beginner level marketing psychology knowledge. Too funny what kind of animals join the zoo these days.

  95. People always say that the camera is just a tool. True, but the Canon 5D Mk II is a better tool for taking most pictures than my Olympus waterproof.

    I am sure *YOU* could take better pictures with an iphone and a flashlight than I could with a 5D, but that is not the point. The point is that if I could plop down an extra $2 thousand, it would make many of my pictures look slightly better. (Or much better, depending on how long I spend planning the shot while my wife rolls her eyes.)

    As it happens, money is in limited supply, and I would rather take a nice vacation with poor pictures than a poor vacation with really nice pictures.

    But make no mistake about it, the 5D takes nicer pictures.

    • This part of your post contradicts yourself and shows it is actually the photographer:

      “he point is that if I could plop down an extra $2 thousand, it would make many of my pictures look slightly better. (Or much better, depending on how long I spend planning the shot while my wife rolls her eyes.)”

      $2k makes it just a bit better. But you, the photographer, planing it, makes it much better. So you are saying just the contrary to what this Editorialization says. The camera only will make it just a bit better, but a good photographer a lot more.

      Dr. Strangelove.

    • “the Canon 5D Mk II is a better tool for taking most pictures than my Olympus waterproof.”

      Most, perhaps… but I’d rather have your Olympus waterproof while shooting my kids at the waterpark ! And for the average non-enthusiast that Olympus is likely a better overall tool for their purposes.

      This is the part of this argument that drives me crazy. Of course gear matters but comparing a Nex5 with a kit zoom lens to an full frame M9 and a multi thousand dollar, hand assembled, top of the line prime lens is just plain stupid. Different tools for different types of photography and different artistic vision. I love golf but I’ve never read an article in Golf Digest comparing a Callaway RAZR driver to a Boccieri putter there is simply no basis for comparison. You could never even draw a golfer into that conversation because it’s ridiculous!

      Pros and artists know their tools intimately, they know the capabilities and boundaries of them. Many may derive some pleasure or inspiration out of the quality and craftsmanship of their tools ( in addition to their functionality ) but any tool is ultimately just a means to and end.

      • I like your golf club analogy much better than the typewriter analogy. A single great club might help me hit a few better shots, but it would not make me a better golfer. Nor would a great driver help my putting game. Good job.

    • .
      A 5DII is just about the most versatile small camera you can get – at half the price of a Leica M9.

      It doesn’t necessarily take better pictures than an M9 – or than any other camera – but it provides a huge range of possibilities: an enormous range of lenses (..not just Canon, but all sorts: I use my old OM 35mm shift lens on the 5DII..); full-frame sensor (like the M9) for shallow depth-of-field ..if and when you want that; pro-level video if you shoot video; excellent quality high ISO, if you want to shoot in low light; etc, etc.

      It’s not a discreet camera – you may want something smaller and quieter if you don’t want to be seen – but it offers many more different options and possibilities, in most cases, than any other ‘tool’. It doesn’t slip into your jacket pocket, though (nor does an M9); it doesn’t have the silence of a leaf shutter (nor does an M9); it’s not waterproof (nor is an M9).

      So it’s horses for courses. The tool you use does make a difference, but you need a good ‘eye’ or great imagination first and foremost. You can write a good story with any pen, you can cook a good meal with any knife or pot, you can drive from here to there with any vehicle. But some make it easier, more comfortable, or give a more enjoyable result.

      I find the M9 primitive, slow and over-priced. Leitz/Leica lenses, though, are excellent: great at wide apertures, but often slow to focus. For ‘rapid response’ or low light I use a 5DII; for ‘pocketability’, a Fuji 500 or 550; for wide angle an M9 or GF2 ..different tools for different jobs or occasions. A painter uses different brushes..

  96. The photographer does 60-70% of the Job and the camera equipments do the rest 30-40%. So with the right and decent equipments your photos can improve by that much.

  97. I agree with Steve, the equipment can make a difference. I also agree with another statement he made in this article that there are a lot of good cameras. He did not say that Leica was the only good camera. I shoot a Leica and I have loved my Olympus equipment. has the Leica made me a better photographer? I don’t think so, but it has made me a more thoughtful photographer due to my personal interface with the camera itself. Do I like the images from the Leica over the Oly? The majority of the time, yes, I do. Same photographer, different equipment. You might say that I have to say that due to the investment, I disagree, if I were disappointed, I would be straight up with that and simply sell the Leica equipment. I do think that the quality of the glass AND the more personal interface with the camera make a difference for me.

  98. Well, at least you got to have enough experience in photography to know that point&shoot is not good compared to dslr 🙂

  99. Sorry Steve,

    I have to disagree with you; the first image is just a mediocre baby photo. The fact that the second image has more ‘wow’ factor has more to do with the composition of the photo, than the camera and lens used.

    I love your site Steve, but your heavy bias towards Leica has reached a tipping point. When I first began reading your blog I shared your enthusiasm and unabashed passion for the M9. At times now your blogs read like a Leica infomercial.

    If your site ever loses objectivity, to the point where people think your articles are submitted for approval to SEAL before publishing – your credibility could become an issue.

    Just my opinion but this article felt like a “kiss & make up” with Leica after your comparisons with the Sony NEX were unfavorable.

    • I agree with you, was just rereading leica M9 and Canon 85mm 1.2 reviews on the Steve’s old site just to remind myself why I started coming here as latelly, as you say, it is starting to read more and more like not even discuised Leica comercials.

      Also guest posts were much more diverse and interesting and not only I had this and this camera and then, while one day I was going home, a suden lightning storke and I heard divine voice with kiss from a rouse song in the background saying “buy a leica and you will become the chosen one”

    • Glen, I see what you’re saying but, in a way, I take issue with it too. Steve loves Leica, for sure. Who doesn’t on this website? I agree with Steve’s basic premise here; a better camera takes better photos and since Steve’s go-to camera for better photos is his M9, than why not post a photo from the M9 here and sing its praises? No harm in this as far as I’m concerned. In addition, Steve also mentioned the Fuji X100 as a superior photography tool. I own the X100 and I categorically believe it is qualitatively better than the X1 (both cameras are equal in image quality but the X100 superior in every other quality). In fact, the low light capabilities of the X100 is far superior to the X1 and is probably better than the almightly M9. So yes, Steve once again praises his M9 but why not? Leica is Steve’s passion and it is a passion I find persuasive. If I wasn’t intrigued by the way Steve thinks and feels the world around him, including his passion for Leica, I would be perusing the Canon and Nikon forums.

  100. Disagree! Nice bodies and lenses help, for sure. But c’mon dude, there are tons of differences in those 2 photos. #1 has bad light, poor composition, poor choice of focal length and boring point of view. It can’t compare to #2 which has all of the above. Yeah, you have a shallow DOF, and much more pleasant tonal gradations, but there are MANY factors that you must take into account. And that is why there are some of us that make a living at this, and some that have a shit load of money to blow on an M9… and brother, a bad image is a bad image no matter what badge is on the camera.


    • Actually #1 had much better and more light than #2 but it was the way the Lux rendered the light in #2 that made it appear to have better light. This is a “feature” of nice Leica glass it seems.

      • Steve: I realize the point of your post probably was to create controversy, causing a rigorous, impassioned discussion in the comment section that follows and drive more traffic to your site, but if that’s not the case, and you were trying to make a genuine point, why not take the same photo with each camera? If you had photographed the same subject under the same conditions with each camera, and we did indeed see quite a difference between the two shots, it would have better made your point.

  101. This reminds me of the story of how Leonardo Da Vicini made Verrocchio retire (The Baptism of Christ (1472–1475)) using oil based paint…

    • sorry i hope i wasn’t being too cryptic what I meant to say is that technique matters and equipment matters. Just because oil paint was used doesn’t make Leonardo a master.
      Shallow dof is not always useful anyway…perhaps the background adds to the subject? (i.e. a mother’s touch and care and devotion to her child by changing diapers)

    • You mean sfumato, that can be achieved with any medium. Take a lesson from there quality boys. Making a comparison in the photographic terms, Leonardo used Sonnar 1.5/50 rather then Lux50 and won!

  102. I definitely agree. I recently aqquired a Sony a850 full frame camera and paired it with the Sigma 50mm 1.4. It’s opened up a whole new look for me.

    Unfortunately the combo is a heavy beast and I would prefer an M9, but I have to work within my budget. It is absolutely one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

  103. i am always thinking of a camera as a personality , so it is the photographer and the camera , there is no doubt that each camera has it’s soul, which has a great influence on what we see or what we get from this persona (camera) , i have been used a different types of p&s and a single dslr , and by accident i put my hand on a 2006 p&s camera which changed my photography completely , almost all my photos know are taken by this little camera , so i am agree with Steve about the camera factor , but i disagree about the approach of m9 vs nex5 or the costly vs cheaply , i think it is more complicated than that .

  104. Thinking in that way, here in New Zealand the latest ad for Panasonic DMW-GH2H is…”You don’t need to be a good photographer to do a great shoot just DMW-GH2H.
    Show a guy showing his pics in a slide -show, and people asking questions about the speed he used in such a pic, and his answer was “really fast”, because he doesn’t have a clue about it, but the picture is a great one.
    I love technology, but some times all the facilities that it brings, make us think less.


  105. Steve, for the most part, I think you’re spot on.

    Good gear can enhance a good photographer’s images but it ain’t the silver bullet. Case in point —

    Generally, we associate good images with good gear — full frame sensors and large aperture exotic glass, to give you the shallow DOF and creamy bokeh.

    However, I’ve seen very good “Strobist” style images too. My understanding is that such images can be achieved with crop sensors, kit lenses, inexpensive manual flashes and modifiers, all for less than a FF body + f/1.2 L lens.

    So the question I’d like to add is: Assuming good fundamentals (composition, subject, quality of light), is the type of photography the 3rd variable to the Photog + Gear + Type equation?

    My take: I can take Strobist shots with FF and fast glass, but I can’t take shallow DOF and creamy bokeh with a crop frame and kit lens.

  106. I partially agree with you. In my opinion gear quality (or lack of it) only influences IF the photographer wants to give the picture an specific look out of the camera (ie great subject isolation and creamy bokeh requires fast glass & full frame sensor or 35mmm film). HOWEVER, great photography IS NOT synonym with creamy bokeh and subject isolation.

    In my view, great photography has A LOT more to do with composition, concept and actually seeing the subject rather than gear quality.
    As another person commented here, the majority of the iconic photographs from masters like HCB, Robert Capa, Steve McCurry, Sebastiao Salgado have huge depth of field, their goal was to not only to capture the moment but also to present it following an aesthetics concept. And to achieve huge DoF, small sensor cameras are very suitable.

    But one thing I do agree with you: to impress the average Joe, nothing better than an wide-open picture taken with expensive fast glass on a full frame sensor. Nonetheless, no one who is serious about photography is in the business of impressing average joes…

  107. Steve,

    This may be true to some extent, if analyzed under a certain light, BUT then, how would you explain the opposite, which is: why a good photographer can turn out some amazing images with a crappy camera but while so many others can only pump out loads of junk with $20K worth of gear? 🙂

    I think that the examples above are not truly telling because the first one could be categorized as a typical amateur snapshot, poorly composed, with crappy lighting and too much contrast in the wrong places (not the camera’s fault), while the other, while it showcases a nice Leica lens, it’s also very nicely composed, with much better light to work with , softer in contrast and more pleasing to view. While it does have some characteristics that are attributable to the lens, it’s the photographer that did a better job at using the tools at hand (camera and post processing). Bottom line, with great light and some thought into composition (and some luck with the subject as well, such as expressions, color of eyes, etc), a crappy camera can do just fine, while if those conditions are not met, by the power of mother nature and/or the photographer’s talents, all the cash in the world ain’t gonna save his/her ass 🙂

    Hope all is well!


  108. nice write up but…

    “If you want to write a romantic love letter, we need some tool to write it with. But anything, a pencil or ballpoint pen, is fine. It is like this, too, in photography.”

    thats what i’m sticking with anyways lol.

  109. Steve, I think you’re on to something but I would phrase it differently.
    I think that good equipment and a good eye gets better out of the camera results than with mediocre equipment. I also think that folks who endeavor to own good equipment are more likely to know what they are doing and therefore to take more emotionally impactful and interesting photos.
    There are though quite a few examples of photographers who take astounding photographs with cheap or even disposable equipment.
    Good article thanks

  110. agreed….
    even somebody with no talent can do better portrait pictures with nex5 or x100 then a profi which not with 100bucks cypershot from bestbuy.
    you need a minium level of gear to get” nicer” basic-quality of images for same type of images ….

    but you can still do interressing looking images with a iphone or boring images with an m9…

  111. Unfortunatelly i will never agree with you ! a good picture is not done but the wow factor ! There is more in an image than a surprise , there is no wow factor at HCB pictures, the copyes are just regular is the moment it clicks that make the diference.

    Unless you are trying to sell soemething here, that is another story.


    • It’s been proven that there are some rich folks who can afford the M9 + 0.95 Noctilux and have only taken nothing but high quality, yet boring, dull, point and shoot styled-uninspiring photos.
      Then there are some who’ve taken stunning photos with this same setup.
      Thus, owning an M9 + Nocti doesn’t necessarily make you a better photographer. Sure you can achieve images with lovely bokeh, but it’s not hard to produce a boring and uninteresting photo with bokeh- even I’ve done it at some point.
      My father in law bought a D7000 a few months ago. His output of from usage, to be blunt, sucks compare to when I use his same set-up. Another example of “it’s the photographer, and not the gear.”
      I have to disagree, to a certain extent, that yes, it’s part glass, but most of “it’s about the photographer and not the camera”
      I’ve also seen works of students who were bound to $5 pinhole photography boxes. After seeing their photos, I was amazed that to learn that great imagination cannot be bound by gear.

      • It is definitely the photographer and not the gear… Sure you need the right tools to do the job and gear does have its role at times… but just because someone has the right tools doesn’t mean he knows how to use them! Sure give some random person the right tools and they have a better “chance” of succeeding but thats all it is… a better chance… Art is mostly subjective… not myself nor Steve Huff can say what is good or bad… although there is a general idea of what is.

      • i agree with you…. it’s the eye for the shots that speaks and not the gear….a photographer must know why he’s clicking away that camera for, and we are not talking about the amount of bokeh, quality of pictures or number of megapixels here…. it’s the ability to compose a shot that matters the most, no matter how grainy a shot result is when it is telling a lot of story it will surely turn heads…. i have this friend who joined us with this hobby and he bought a nikon d800e + a nikkor 24-70, thinking that he’s skills will improve by owning a top of the range gear, but guess what happened, we went to a lot of events to take some shots and i did not see any improvements in his style…. out of 200 photos he have taken in one day, only 10 have came out with some sense in them…. mostly no subjects, out of focus, burnt, too dark, and accidental firings…. but in fairness to his d800e & 24-70 lens, all those photos have nice bokeh on them lol…. he’s so stubborn to listen to anyone’s advice on how to setup and plan his shots because he believes that buying top gears will give him what he wants anyway which i believe is wrong…. give me an old nokia with a 5mp camera in it and i’ll give you a good photo…. just dont talk about bokeh, grains and all those shts….


      Possible reasons:
      – He does want to start a flame war.
      – The response is what he expected, that’s why he purposely created this post. To drive up the traffic to his site.
      – The response was too overwhelming he hasn’t had time to read everything.
      – There is no / little internet connection where he is traveling.
      – He is busy with the upcoming workshop.
      – OR (most likely IMO), it is true that he is a Leica fanboy, that he consults with Leica / Seal before posting anything here.

      • Here’s what I think Steve is saying:

        If you purchase a toy camera like the Sony NEX (5n or 7, or whatever NEX), you are going to be inspired to produce toy-like snapshot photos. They have lots of whiz-bang features but are small little toy cameras nonetheless. I think of the NEX cameras like I do lensbaby lenses. Fun, but still just a toy.

        If you purchase a serious camera like the M9, you will be inspired to take great photos. You will take more care in your composition and think more carefully about taking a nice picture.

        • Toy camera? It’s a mirror-less A55…. It’s got plenty of point-n-shoot features, sure, but it’s got the same sensor and the ability to use the same lenses as an A55.

          And the NEX-7 that just landed at my front door today? Certainly far from a toy camera. A mirror-less A77 that finally has a hotshoe (unlike the 3/5/5N) as well as a few other enhancements.

          Just because a camera has functions in its software that allow you to take simple / goofy shots doesn’t mean it’s without your PASM modes. I quickly sold the 18-55 that came with the NEX 5 and have been using a few of my favorite manual lenses with it and producing some pretty stunning shots.

          The NEX-5 was never marketed towards the same people who would be interested in the A55. It wasn’t meant to compete with Nikon D90s and the such. But the fact is it has the fuctions, sensor size and the glass options to give the user the ability to be competitive in that market. It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly not just for people looking to take “toy photos”.

      • Hey, I replied and made myself clear. So many of you have misread this as me saying you need to buy a Leica to take good photos and that is 100% untrue! You can buy cheap used film camera and a 50 1.8 lens and get similar results. What I said in a nutshell was better cameras and lenses do help to take better looking images! Thats it guys! 🙂 Consult with Leica and Seal before posting? Are you serious? It did make me chuckle though.

        • It’s the photographer and the subject. The camera is merely the tool.

          A serious photographer will purchase good equipment, so he can output seriously good pictures.

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