Why You Don’t Have to Spend to Get High Quality Photography Equipment by Patrick Del Rosario

Why You Don’t Have to Spend to Get High Quality Photography Equipment

High quality photography equipment alone will not make you a good photographer. That is what professionals will tell you. There is so much more to taking a good picture than the equipment it was taken with. Even today we look in amazement at the photographs of Ansel Adams taken 60-70 years ago, before all the new advances in equipment made it a popular medium and pastime. Are his photographs considered art? Of course. Was they taken with modern and expensive equipment? Not at all.

What makes the biggest difference is your knowledge of the elements that make a good photograph; understanding light, focus, depth of field, meter reading and good composition.

If you can shoot well, you can do it with a cell phone and the result could be better than someone using Nikon D3X or Leica. Compelling photographs come from inspiration, not equipment. Just like a good pianist can play any piano from Baldwin Grand to the cheapest upright, so can an artist get great pictures with simple equipment. As long as he/she is an artist, with today technology and ability for corrections and improvements, anyone can take good pictures with a simple camera.

Cameras don’t take pictures, to paraphrase a famous line, photographers do. High quality photography equipment can make it easier to take the picture but not compensate for lack of talent. A camera catches your imagination, without it there is no tool to enable you to do that. Look, for example, at the work of David LaChapelle. The most difficult thing, he says, is to stage the image. Once it is set up, any camera could catch it.

Not only the camera itself. The quality of the lens has almost nothing to do with the quality of the image it produces. As the esteemed photographer Ernst Haas said “Leica shmieca. The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, can you see?”
When asked about which lenses he is using, he said: “Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward and look for the ah-ha.”

The advantage of expensive equipment is convenience and speed, not image quality. The more time you spend worrying about the equipment the less time you have to learn about what is really important. Just as the typewriter or computer keyboard are not important to the novel being written, so is the photography equipment.

Spend your time and money on learning art and photography instead.  As Ansel Adams Said: “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

About the Author:

Patrick Del Rosario is part of the team behind Open Colleges. It is one of Australia’s pioneer and leading providers of TAFE courses. When not working, Patrick enjoys blogging, travelling, and photography. Patrick together with his father runs a Photo Studio in the Philippines. You can find him on Google+.

84 Comments

  1. You have to spend to get high quality equipment. Perhaps spend lesser if they are used or in less than perfect conditions.

    You don’t have to spend to get high quality pictures. But quality in pictures is a different thing altogether.

    If equipment is not important, everyone can shoot with their phones today. But don’t forget, phone cameras are very high quality these days.

    Have you tried shooting with a 2MP or VGA camera?

  2. “Even today we look in amazement at the photographs of Ansel Adams taken 60-70 years ago, before all the new advances in equipment made it a popular medium and pastime. Are his photographs considered art? Of course. Was they taken with modern and expensive equipment? Not at all.”

    That statement is a load of BS. Most of Adams’ iconic images were taken with an 8X10 field camera with the best lens he could find, often a Schneider. It was top-of-the line in his day, and not at all cheap. If you were to buy the closest equivalent today, say a Toyo field camera and a 120mm Schneider view camera lens, it would set you back almost $6,000. And that’s not including the tripod, dark cloth, film holders, film, light meter, etc. Not to mention the darkroom equipped to handle 8X10 film that you’d need as well. All that could easily set you back twenty grand or more.

    Sure, Adams could have shot with a Brownie camera instead. That would have been cheap. But anyone who thinks it would have looked anywhere near as good must be blind as a bat.

  3. You can buy a full Hasselblad V series set for less money then the a D700 body, so that is inline with not having to spend much to get high quality gear ;).

    But yeah the gear is not really important if we look at one of the most expensive photographs ever sold was Pond Moonlight by Edward Steichen taken in 1904! The lens quality has really changed since then!
    Or look at the pictures taken by Robert Capa during D-Day blurred and ruined by the lab tech and still one of the most powerful images to feel how war is like!

    For me gear is what helps me make the photo and some images i can’t make with cheap cameras, as last weekend i shot a wind turbine and wanted all rotors to be seen in a multiple exposure! My old D80 could shoot only 3 double exposures and i needed 10 for that shot which was one of the reasons to buy a D700 3 years back, the other reason was shooting with a 50mm on film had a better feeling then the shots on a crop camera gave me!

  4. First of all I have to say that Photography is something verry Simple.
    You press the Button and get a Picturethat maybe is the same Thing
    you have seen befor you press the Button – or not.
    The big Difference is that everyone see trough his subjektive own Eyes
    and the Way he realizes this is sometimes not he gets in his Pictures.
    This will not change if he changes the Camera.
    This is the only Problem – the Technic dosn´t matter as much.
    If Equipment is not the Matter we all have to change maybe our Way
    of Imagination and this don´t need anything than us self.
    A good Picture is a Mixture between the right Moment and a perfect Light.
    Someting that transport the Feelings that impress us – not more and not less.

  5. I agree with much of the sentiment expressed in the article…but like others here I am of the opinion that maybe the 1 and only photo chosen to accompany it maybe wasn’t the best choice.

    Anyway, for me the gear is important….new gear keeps me inspired and helps to keep things fun. To each their own.

  6. It’s a little bit of a flawed argument to discuss Ansel Adams’ work. He did large-format photography with low-ISO film. So yes, if you are still doing that kind of work, the camera doesn’t matter. But today with digital, to get respectable image quality, for the same photo, a more expensive camera will absolutely take a better photograph. Plus, we are working with relatively small sensors compared to Ansel Adams’ 4×5″ negatives; we are having to blow up much more to get an identically-sized photograph, we’re expecting color (which introduces a whole host of problems compared to black and white, from saturation to color accuracy to higher impact of noise). We also require good shots from subpar lighting and handheld shutter speeds, neither of which applied to Adams (try to use his camera setup, down to the film speed, to take a photo of my 4-year-old nephew running around indoors lit by today’s CFL lighting, and show me what you come up with). Try and tell me that a Leica M9 is bought for “convenience and speed” and not image quality, lol. Which, by the way, is Steve Huff’s go-to camera, so any potential readers out there should take this article with a boulder of salt.

    However, don’t take this to mean that I blindly think better equipment will make your photos better. In fact, I often tell people to get the lowest-end camera, since the image quality is better than what professionals had 5-8 years ago. I often say this: In photography, there is a very interesting phenomenon, wherein people decide that they really need to step up their equipment, and then they are automatically taking amazing photos. I don’t see this with my other hobbies: No one wants to learn to drive, and they go and buy themselves Mario Andretti’s car. No one ever comes up to me and tells me, “Hey, I want to learn how to ride a bike, so I think I’m going to pick up Lance Armstrong’s Trek.” However, I’ll have people who never used anything more than a $100 point and shoot ask me if they think a better first SLR for them would be the Canon 5D, or just to step up to the 1DX. The same way that Lance Armstrong’s bike is tailored towards a professional, and you would be faster on a $600 road bike than his aggressively-set equipment, for a beginner the basic camera will be much better for taking photos and learning the basics. If you’ve never owned an SLR before, by all means, start with a low-to-mid grade Nikon, Canon, Pentax, or Sony.

    Also, taking two steps backwards is not the same thing as taking a photo with a wider angle lens. This is the same flawed thinking that leads people to say “zoom with your feet.” If you change the position between yourself and the scene you’re recording, then you’re changing the photograph, you’re changing the perspective. I could give someone a 50mm lens and let them take as many steps backwards as their heart desires, and they won’t be able to capture the same photo that someone with a 24mm lens will be able to.

    • Agjios…could not agree with you more when you said: ‘Also, taking two steps backwards is not the same thing as taking a photo with a wider angle lens.’ Can’t believe how often I hear that ‘zoom with your feet’ crap.

      Bottom line is anyone who is good and knows how to shoot wide angle knows that ‘stepping back’ with a 50mm is not the same as using a wide lens to begin with.

  7. The same Ken Rockwell that preorders EVERY professional Nikon the day it’s announced? His face is in the dictionary next to the definition of “hypocrite.”

    • i do agree that ken is a man of contradictions and his photos are just BORING… but he does make some good points and if i want some technical sense, he does deliver the goods.. his review is often spot on, although his photos aren’t… he knows camera and lenses…

      in fairness to him though, he pre-orders them to review them… he did mention that he returns or sells what he doesn’t like; like the D800… he won’t be the most read internet review guy if he didn’t know beans…

      i don’t agree with a lot of his tenets… he would be great for DPReview.. but for real world shooting review, i come here… Steve does a good down to earth and fair review… well, unless it’s a leica.. jk…

  8. All fair enough and true, but people enjoy spending money on things, and that in itself can be a hobby and part of the ‘joy’.
    Some like electronic gadgets (digital) others like wonderful pieces of art (Film)

    • Agreed Ibraar – wise words, I think that is the major problem with far too many though these days – people enjoying spending on the latest all the time instead of actually using & learning what they already have.

      Materialism & photography will always be two very separate entities. Sure it’s nice buying a new camera but in reality only one thing matters as the author of the article rightly indicates, get out and shoot.

  9. I completely disagree.

    While expensive or sophisticated equipment is unnecessary with regards to creating compelling images in photography. That’s just a very superficial statement. Expensive equipment can sometimes give the photographer(non-professional) some confidence and even pride in his/her work. Of course you then get people who produce very poorly composed images and still believe it’s art because of their equipment. But then again, isn’t art subjective?

    As for the comparison with keyboards. Utter rubbish. People who spend a lot of time typing(programmers, engineers even novelists) do use different keyboards then the rest of us. They’re called mechanical keyboards. I myself use a blue switch keyboard, I know two journalists and an engineer that use $400 Topre switch keyboards. In the keyboard world, that would qualify as a Leica.

    But those are professionals, and of course amateur novelists don’t need expensive keyboards. But wouldn’t they get a morale boost or even feel more professional if they wielded better instruments? My guess is yes. Granted, not everyone needs these psychological triumphs. But to discount them entirely and take the high ground because you or someone can produce better images with an iPhone than the Leica touting hack is absurd!

    If people have the money, don’t get jealous! If people save the money over months or years, then why belittle them? There has to be an emotional pull then, and that is in itself validation. I’m sick of reading about these stupid statements, and yes I can not read them if I don’t like them. And you are entitled to your opinion. But there’s another saying where I come from, and that’s: If you have nothing better to say, then shut the hell up!

  10. Hi Sterno – it took me just over a year to “grow out” of a Canon S95. Current model is an S100. They have all the same controls as most DSLRs and two “rings” to allow easy change of settings. Once you start to feel limited by the lack of interchangeable lenses or an proper viewfinder you’ll be ready to work out what kind of DSLR or mirrorless compact system camera you really want…. And probably want to keep the small “point and shoot” as a spare to carry around.

  11. As for your comment;
    “This became detrimental to my progress, performance and ultimately the personal satisfaction my photos gave me. If a simpler camera setup works for you, go for it. But understanding why you’ve made that choice and being able to work within those limitations will make you a better photographer faster than having equipment you don’t enjoy. Exploit it, enjoy it and share it.”
    This is also off-base. Do the locations where you hold your classes have electric lights? Do you use monitors, enlarged prints or projection equipment to display your work to your class? By the same logic, don’t do those things because the lack of adversity will damage their learning process.

    • Steve, I think you’re confusing me with the guy who wrote the original blog.

      As I stated, everyone here seems to be on a different level and shooting for a different purpose.
      Earlier, jarj was comparing photographers to a classical pianist. He was being too specific. It should have been compared to all piano/organ/synthesiser players. There are different styles of instruments and different styles of playing. You can’t say a classical pianist is better than a jazz pianist. Totally different disciplines yet they share the same instrument. Would you say (The Beatles’) Paul McCartney’s work was better than (Nirvana’s) Kurt Cobain’s? I know a lot of the older guys would say yes, but Nirvana’s music defined a new generation, a new genre and “The Seattle Sound”.
      All I’m saying is that we all see and enjoy photos differently, just as we listen to and enjoy music differently.
      Commercial photography is a totally different kettle of fish. That type of photography usually entails creating a whole scene around a product, not just capturing a moment. Musicwise, it’s akin to creating a John Williams soundtrack to a Star Wars film.
      Now excuse me while I kiss the sky… *cranks up Jimi Hendrix*

  12. Nice, but too simplistic.
    The argument is mainly valid for snapshots, street photography, etc.
    However, there are situations where you really need the fine details and the extra resolution, even more so with digital photography than you would need with film.

    Whenever you need to Exhibit landscape or detailed architectural photography or need a large format print, the minimalist equipment will usually not be up to the task.

    Too often you see people with first-rate and usually expensive DSLR cameras, but with crappy zoom-lenses, or, many times, due to the awful anti-aliasing filters found in most digital cameras, the fine details (such as tree leaves, foliage, etc.) will be smeared and the dense details will get clogged and congested and will look like vegetable soup instead of leaves

    This is when the “shmeica” lenses or other high quality lenses and high resolution / large sensors will come in handy . . .

  13. I shot a lovely image today. Two clouds, one dark grey was in fromt of a fluffy white one on a blue sky, passing behind a giant pine-tree that I have on my property. Shot a few pics with my Lumix FZ-28 at about 400mm and they came out great and very dramatic. I doubt that a shot with my m4/3 would have come out much better with a proper lens. And I would probably have missed the opportunity if I had to changed lenses on that one. (I only own a 17mm anyway) I think the sharpness and quality will be ok if I print it A4. Sometimes its good to have cheap wide range camera close by. In this case it was for sure the light and nature and not so much the photographer that made the satisfying picture! 🙂

  14. What a load of sh**! This crap photo you took in no way supports your argument. Did you take it with your iphone/HDR feature?

    “Hi, here is my oversaturated cell phone photo. Look at it please. Tell me I’m a good photographer and don’t need good equipment so I can run my studio in the Phillipines. You too could make photos like this and don’t need your Leica to do it!”

    Here’s a real quote: “Just as the typewriter or computer keyboard are not important to the novel being written, so is the photography equipment.”

    Is that supposed to be a valid analogy? Any computer can output text data. Different cameras and different lenses/equipment will turn out very different products. Do you think a wide angle perspective on a 14mm lens looks the same as your cell-phone and you backing up a few feet? Please close your studio…

  15. I am really surprised to see the comparison between Leica and cell phones.
    I am not a professional photographer but I can tell the difference between a camera and a toy…
    And let not add the editing job in the photography…by the way the meaning of this word came from the greek words “photo” and “graphics” which means “writing by (using) light”
    Basically the information that we need is all over and is transmitted by light…
    Useless to say that a good brain is nothing without a good eye,good lens that can capture all information even the smallest detail.

  16. Quote: “Not only the camera itself. The quality of the lens has almost nothing to do with the quality of the image it produces. As the esteemed photographer Ernst Haas said “Leica shmieca. The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, can you see?”

    What a load of old garbage Patrick. Earnst Haas started off with a Rolleiflex and then went to a Leica M and he also shot with Leica R. As you know he was deeply involved with all aspects of ‘colour’ in his work. He know the quality of leica lens: how they draw and present color.

  17. If Mr. Del Rosario is correct then why do concert pianists spend hours before each performance testing various grand pianos to select the one that best suits their style? Why didn’t Horowitz just go out there and play whatever piano the stage hands rolled out? The pianist’s skill is obviously paramount in a great performance, but it is equally obvious that the best piano is needed to fully reveal those skills.

    Mr. Del Rosario is correct that what a photo captures and how well it is presented is what ultimately makes (or doesn’t make) a good photo. I think his point is best directed to big format shooters who too often tend to photograph things that show off the quality of the camera but are very boring otherwise. My nominee for one of the greatest photos in history would be Capra’s blurry grainy shot of a soldier in the Spanish Civil War just as he is hit with a fatal bullet. The drama is shockingly real. Capra was lying on the ground or running in a crouch in the midst of a battle and had no time to set up the shot. He had to just point and shoot (no pun intended). He then sent the film to Paris for standard processing in a commercial lab and that was enough to establish him as one of the best photographers ever. I rank Capra’s photo over Ansel Adams’ best.

    That said, the premise of this blog is absurd. It does matter what equipment you use. Defects in a photo diminish its impact. High detail, etc. enhance a photo, make it more interesting and striking. Lack of detail makes many photos real nothingburgers. I like to shoot southern Utah landscapes and you cannot do it with a phone camera (although they are getting better). The best shots are very detailed and often very wide to take in the big open landscape. Many of my favorite photos were shot with a fisheye lens (center the horizon and the barrel distortion is not noticeable).

    One of my favorite photos recently is of a rock wall in southern Utah. Most of southern Utah is covered with layers of different colored sandstone that have been distorted and twisted by tectonic forces then eroded into millions of canyons, fins and pillars. This wall resembled flowing water with layers merging and separating. Some of the layers became compressed to a vanishing point as they hit another layer of harder stone. The best way to present it was with high detail and contrast in black and white. I used a Leica M9 with a Zeiss 21mm lens. The Zeiss was stunning. The detail held up corner to corner and made it possible to turn what would be an interesting snapshot into an image I find mesmerizing. Taking the shot with a phone camera would have been a waste of time. Even my Canon DSLR would have been less useful because Canon’s wide angle lenses are too soft in the corners. A large format camera could have gotten the detail but would be a real hassle to hike into the site and I am not aware of any larger format cameras with lenses that wide.

    In my opinion, and it is just that, the best photography begins by first seeing something interesting and then thinking about the best way to take the shot including the best equipment to take it in order to highlight what is interesting. Mr. Del Roasario is wrong to eliminate the second part of that process.

    • that statement might be true for landscapes where people will pay attention to detail..but for stuff like street photography and documentary work —- I don’t give a hoot about what camera they used…does the picture speak to me? It could be the most amazing photograph I’ve ever seen and it’s taken with a Holga.

  18. Buying and using camera gear is as much as wanting a certain experience using the equipment as the need for functionality and IQ. I can smuggle my J1 into a concert with ok results, when size is of no concern and zoom not needed, I really enjoy my X100. And last but not least – if I need speed and reach for wildlife I can bring out my DSLR.

    Now, the only problem is that I’m still looking for a descrete camera than can cover all those areas, and I love to try out new gear. I have had several M43 cameras, but currently don’t own any. The shutter noise was too annoying and I always changed settings by accident. Haven’t tried any NEX cameras yet, and I’m awful curious about the OM-D. Actually also both the X2 and X-Pro1. Luckily I haven’t broken down and bought any yet as I don’t really need it:-) I will try to enjoy what I have for a while!

  19. Unfortunately the image looks over processed and terrible. Kinda of like crayons.

    Gear is definitely a factor as far as I’m concerned. You can take great photo with average gear but the photo would have only been better with high quality equipment.

  20. My way around this dilema is to acknowledge that i have two seperate but related hobbies
    (1) cameras and (2) Photography.

    Being interested in camera gear is a legitimate, seperate hobby to photography. The problem comes when you confuse the two.

    • Totally agree there. There are a lot of gear collectors out there who confuse the two.

      I was on a forum a few months ago going back and forth with a guy when he did say something pretty profound, with a lot of areement from others. It went something like …the end result is not the most important priority, it’s how you get there and what you are using that is his biggest concern. …suffice it to say I have seen about 500 photos from him and they all back his thinking. A few brick walls, a few building corners, a couple hundred shots of photo gear…

  21. I agree with you… But your sample image really fails to drive your point… it’s too sooft, too smeared, too saturated, clouds have no structure… c’mon man, you can right it but you can’t shoot it at least with what you posted…

    it looks like you shot it with your iPAD and PP on snapseed… by the way snapseed can do wonders with good high res photos…

    well written though…

  22. When they mention Ansel Adams, one thing everyone forgets is that what is critical for a camera. The image is produced by the lens and the film/sensor. Everything else is a convenience. Ansel had access to some of the best lenses available at his time and they are great lenses even by today’s standards. He also had film that had matured to a great deal.

    No question he was a photographic genius. His understanding of the chemistry, physics, and the art of photography is equaled only by a few. But to say that he was hamstrung by technology is far from the truth. He knew what was critical and focused on them.

    Today these critical elements are available at a throwaway price (old film equipment). We are just focusing more on the convenience factor hoping that it would improve our photography. No, it won’t.

  23. I bought a Canon 5D Mark III as my very first SLR and it has improved my photography and now I am shooting weddings for $30 per hour and giving the RAW to the clients.

    • Charging $30 bucks an hour is the best way to kill a profession that so many like to enter. And I am surprised you are giving the raw to the client. You may end up with unprocessed or badly processed images that carry your name. Charge a good price and edit your presentation if you want to establish a name. D!RK

    • Now your clients have to buy expensive software just to look at your pictures. You are a funny guy.

  24. I don’t agree with del Rosario. He is running around with blinders and don’t has an understanding for the whole thing. Of course you can do a perfect pic with less good equipment. But it’s like a sum of a multiplikation: If one factor is low you can only beat a better result by having at least one other factor higher.
    If you have perfect Equipment but not a clue, what to do, of course a pro with a kids cam can beat you. But if the kids cam doesnt meets the basic requirements, i.e. a flash for a nightshot, every noob gets a better picture than the pro, because the noobs pic isnt totally black…

    You always have to see the sum. The whole package. Another example: Give a Sigma SD14 to a pro. Thats a very good cam for studio shoots, but it can save only around 5-8 pics a minute and has a longer shutterlag. Give a Casio EX-FH20 to an amateur. It can make 40pics a seond, and has a ringbuffer. So if the button is pressed, you can get 20pics before and 20 after the press. Send both to an football event. And now try to image, who will bring the better pics… I guess, the amateur.

    Therefor I think del Rosarios is very dubios, and not to believe. It’s not all about experience and knowledge. And if you reduce your sight to only one factor you will fail. No meassure, which factor you extract. it won’t work.

  25. I saw an archive documentary featuring Ansel Adams and while the statement “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” has great merit, I noticed that he was using some of the most expensive equipment I’ve ever seen! For example, a full plate enlarger! We are talking big bucks here, so I generally agree with the more balanced comments here. Equipment is a necessary part of the specific ‘art’ that the photographer wants to achieve. Surely education requires an open mind, not a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ philosophy?

  26. There is an obsession with camera equipment and I’ve been occasionally guilty to a certain extent over the years. The same obsession is common with other things like guitars- will I play better or more easily if I have a more expensive guitar or Mr XYZ’s guitar. There is an attached glamour to ‘prestige’ quality items which I find wears off, of doesn’t actually exist when you procure the coveted object.
    I think you need equipment that’s fit for purpose and that’s it. Maybe photography is so commonplace these days that equipment and the process of buying is more fascinating….

    • Everyone here shoots on a different level and for a different purpose. We all aspire to create the best photos with the best equipment available at the given moment. I have been lucky enough to acquire some expensive and high-end cameras AND guitars and must say that there is the burden of fear of expensive damage or theft that also comes with it. Also the expectation from others that your photos should looks a certain way. This became detrimental to my progress, performance and ultimately the personal satisfaction my photos gave me. If a simpler camera setup works for you, go for it. But understanding why you’ve made that choice and being able to work within those limitations will make you a better photographer faster than having equipment you don’t enjoy. Exploit it, enjoy it and share it.

  27. I think reaction to this article depends on ones current skills.
    Experienced pros know what they are able to archive with what equipment and in case their skills are good they know that specific equipment will give them desirable result and give their skills additional edge.

    I suppose that article is meant mostly to photo amateurs – like me for example 🙂 I agree with it 96% in this case. Give my camera to pro and he will make better pictures with it. Thats a fact.
    I’m ill with photography just recently and use fuji x10 – I WANT better equipment at the moment (GAS :)), but I’m in position that I UNDERSTANT that I still have place have to grow up to limits of my camera.
    It means better camera now could make some of my pictures better, but in most cases it will make harm to my learning, because I will have to concentrate on issue HOW TO LEAR TO USE NEW EQUIPMENT, but not on more important thing TO LEARN TAKE BETTER PICTURES, to LEARN TO SEE and to learn to MAKE MOST OF IT. I think that archivable limits of equipment force one to come out of comfort zone and forces to make progress.
    But on the other hand even for amateur enthusiasts it is welcome to have at least normal equipment. I wouldt become interested in photography in case I use 50$ pint and shoot – I had it – its crap, it makes me nervous, it doesn’t deliver at all, it uninspiring and it is not “hooking” me it forces me to throw it away and don’t take pictures at all.
    What I want to say that these days in terms of cameras there are solutions for everybody. Amateur can have camera that have big reserves for learning and delivers results and inspiration at reasonable costs (my example), enthusiasts have wide range of selections from (mirror less solutions), pros have their expensive toys 🙂

  28. I disagree, artistic composition and genius has nothing to do with camera quality, but producing museum-quality prints has always been about money. That’s why you don’t find exhibition-quality prints made by a Brownie Hawkeye and precious few made by even an Ansco C-3.

    If you factor in the cost of print making, producing Ansel Adams’ prints required high-quallity large format cameras, good lenses and and a darkroom capable of turning out at least 11×14″” prints. Figure at least $2000 for the camera and a few lenses, and at least $3000 for the enlarger, the drum drier and a 6′ stainless steel sink, running water and temperature control. That $5000 50 years ago probably translates into $$20,000 today.

    In today’s dollars, museum-quality prints can be made with an Olympus O-MD or mid-range Nikon or Canon SLR, a few lenses and a Canon PIXMA Pro9000 printer. Figure $3,000 for everything. Compared to the 1950’s $20,000 investment in today’s dollars, that’s a terrific bargain; but $3000 is by no means cheap.

    My point is you’re fooling yourself or your students by claiming you can produce museum-quality prints for a few hundred dollars; much less trying to do them on an iPhone and $100 printer. I’d rather you tell them that the price of admission for high-quality prints is about $3000, and unless they work or study somewhere that loans equipment, they need to invest that amount of money unless they’re content to share their work on-line all the time.

    • Most students have access to collage equipment, including cameras and labs. Buy a few rolls of 120 and some 16×20 paper and you have your first exhibition. 🙂 But I agree that photography in general,especially with today’s tools has become expensive. Cameras, computers, prints, etc add up. I think what the author wants to say is that buying an expensive bike doesn’t make you win the Tour de France. Not even a local race. But photography often gives us this false hope that if we spent a bit more on equipment we will all be highly rated photographers. ( I know a guy who passed bikers on their carbon racing machines while he had a standard city bike with backpack holder. He borrowed it to participate in a local Triathlon) In the end it comes down to talent, ideas, and practise. D!RK

  29. I have used a lot of different cameras over the years and I have taken good images with all of them. While my latest cameras have better technology and more resolution, I still like what I created back then. Some of my most emotional images are not even technically great and a cleaner, more detailed output would not have made them better. I agree that you don’t need expensive equipment to get to good results. But the type of equipment that you chose may influence your style. And some styles often lead to expensive options. D!RK

  30. You do need certain gear to achieve certain looks, however those looks tend to be confined to glossy magazines and in the wider world of photography can be quite bland, even if the light is superb, the composition and eye of the photographer is great. Sometimes a bit of “grunge” can bring a picture to life.

  31. You gotta have the eye man. All the equipment in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t “see” it!

  32. I have images that would be a little better with a pro camera. Agree with the premise of the article but let’s be realistic.

  33. It all sounds really nice, but if look into the people usually making the “camera doesn’t matter” argument you will find that they buy nothing but the best of the best. Very few put their money where their mouths are.

  34. Yes, you ‘can’ take amazing pics is some situations with camera phones. But try using an iPhone to shoot a wild two year old in a normally lit living room at night.

    You’ll appreciate a high ISO, fast autofocus tracking, fully stabilized camera with awesome shutter speed equipped with a nice prime lens.

  35. …hmm…. so I am wondering – and am totally baffled – as to why Ansel Adams chose an 8×10 setup for his work, lugging massive amounts of gear in his truck, when he could have easily achieved the same “quality” with a perfectly capable, much-cheaper and much-easier-to-carry-around Contaflex (a very capable camera for its times, btw!)?? Heck, he should have just used a cheapo home-made pinhole camera (why use lenses at all… yay)!!

    • He was using the equipment that was most appropriate to the types of images he wished to create. That said, I would imagine that using the alternatives you have mentioned he would have still made fantastic photographs albeit different.

  36. There is no need to go to either of the extremes. There are shades of gray between the black and the white. A well composed image, in unfavouring conditions can end up being a failure when the technical specifications of equipment do not allow to get the most out of this scene.
    Today I once again faced the limitations of my equipment. I had to make a shot inside a building with insufficient and mixed light. To get a sharp image on my zoom lense (Pentax DA 16-50 f 2.8) I had to keep the aperture around 5.6, this means I had to increase the sensitivity on my camera (Pentax K-20 D). The maximum usable ISO on it is 400. 400 in that case was insufficient. Ended up using 800 and still the exposure was too long (1/13). Thankfully it was enough for the tremor not to affect the shot, but the noise was almost overpowering. Had I been using K-5 or K-01 and some higher grade wide angle fix lens, I would just have used much higher ISO.

    • Roman, I could not agree with you more. I have a K10D myself, and I find its ISO performance very limiting. I recently started getting into street photography, and I need to have relatively fast shutter speed and small aperture for the depth of field and to freeze motion. Because I remove noise in post-processing, noise isn’t much of an issue at high ISO, but an option of higher ISO would be certainly nice to have.

  37. Nice article, but I dont know why this discussion keeps raising its head. You can argue till time ends but it takes technical ability and adequate equipment to produce quality work. its simply theoretical to debate romantic ends of each spectrum ie award winning artist with pin hole camera vs Newby amateur with Leica S2. Get on with it already 🙂

  38. I am thankful for many lessons from my mother, but this article reminded me of one in particular. I grew up with a father and several uncles who were all “shutterbugs.” My mother had little patience for money spent on expensive equipment with little results, so her constant refrain was “show me the pictures, that’s why you have that camera.” So I grew up with a appreciation for the camera as a means to an end, not an end in itself. And I produced pictures. Nevertheless, I’m something of a gear head, and have at various times spent too much on audio gear, bicycles, computers, and cameras. So I appreciate the appeal, and I think a lot of folks get caught up in the euipment trap. I shot mostly Leicas, and did my own printing. However, my most sold image is one I made at a rock concert with a bargain Russian lens that I returned the next day because it vignetted. My most popular image was made with my worst lens. A good photographer can make a good photo with a bad camera, a bad photographer can’t make a good photo with the best camera, but we’re all trying to take that great photo with a great camera, to have the best of all worlds.

  39. Hi Patrick, thank you for the great article. I completely understand the concept of it’s the photographer not the camera, but there us a part of me that disagrees to the fact when many say it,s not the camera. Please consider this as a personal opinion, and I would not like to start an argument over the topic, but the camera makes a he’ll of a difference. I can understand this theory is more a composition related subject, but the camera One uses makes a great difference in the results. can one take same pictures with a gf1 and a m9, I mean the same subject one after the other, composed the same way, and compare the output… Camera makes a big difference, and its got nothing to do with convenience or speed, xpro1 is no speed demon, but compare the output to let’s say Nikon d5100…. Big difference. I’ve been through so many bodies over the last 2 years and decided to stick with a gf1 since I want to practice and master composition, once I’ve passed that stage, the camera AMD lens I decide to take pictures with will make a he’ll of a difference in quality.
    Just my 2 cents, many may not agree, and thank for the great article.

  40. I agree in principle with what you’re saying, but the photo atop this submission doesn’t really support your argument – and would have benefitted from better equipment.

    Only my opinion, but the image looks over-saturated, has blown out highlights, and is out of focus. It’s well framed though.

      • Calm down, I can see where he’s coming from. I agree with the points of the article, but that photos is kind of saying “Don’t spend money on high gear, just HDR everything you take” *shrug*

        • Let’s suppose he is right. Would a “better” camera have improved the focus, prevented the blown-out highlights or decreased the color content (saturation)? Or are those things the choice of the photographer.

          Again, please stop the b.s.

          Personally, I think the image is excellent. But even if I didn’t, I’m not egotistical enough to think that I can say whether an image is good or bad. Of course I can say whether I like it or not but good or bad? Again stop the b.s.

          • Oops, someone ate too many Hater-Tots.

            Read my post again SeanG, I prefaced everything by saying “Only My Opinion” – and apparently my opinion is shared by many others contributing to this debate.

            I have to much respect for Mr. Del Rosario to say whether his photo was good or bad, I just don’t think the image he chose was the best representation for the point he was trying to make.

            This is one of the few forums where photo and gear enthusiasts get to share their opinions on a subject, and its okay to differ in opinion.

            The fact that my take on this subject doesn’t align with yours, does not make my opinion B.S.

            To think that would make you egotistical.

    • Agree with you, Glen. In fact, that shot has very little to recommend it. Even squinting your eyes does not help. Horrible.
      However, the tenet of the article is sound; anyone wanting to make fantastic photos without spending much on gear could not go past a used D40.

    • I actually think your statement supports the article more than the photo. It’s all opinion of course, but I don’t see blown highlights, out of focus areas or over saturation when I look at the photo. I see a pretty gorgeous mountain with a cabin in front of it. A lush green countryside with a cloud filled yet still blue sky.

      Your talking technical aspects that are connected to the photography gear your using. The article is talking about seeing …composition, color, focal point, subject matter. All depends how you look at it. The guys with a lot of equipment will kill this article. The guys with little equipment will praise it. I fall pretty much right in the middle, but totally agree with the article. If your looking at that photo and seeing highlights, shadows and sharpness, your not seeing the photo.

      • Happypoppeye,

        I am also able to look beyond the shortcomings of the camera and/or photographer and enjoy the beautiful scenery captured – in fact I wish I was there to capture that image.

        However, when an article is titled “Why You Don’t Have to Spend to Get High Quality Photography Equipment”, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume we would then be treated to ‘high quality photos’ that support that premise.

        If the nature of the article was “I’m from the Philippines and new to photography, money is tight and this was the best camera gear I can afford” … we’d all be raving about the incredible photo that was taken.

        But when you draw a line in the sand and suggest your cheap camera’s photos are as good as high quality equipment – you better be able back up that statement. The bad HDR and/or a smart phone photo – for me – does not support that argument.

  41. Patrick & all Steve Huff experienced camera people: Excellent point & timing for I have been in the market for my first digital (Only have Nikon N70 film experience & used in Auto most of time). So without taking out a loan for a new or used Leica. Which digital camera to buy to really learn digital photography without having to deal with layers of menu’s. Would prefer Aperture on a lens that can be auto-focus or manual focused, /Shutter Dial/easy ISO adjustment/ AND will give you good IQ AND you will not out grow (meaning adding lenses etc as you go). Appreciate your sincere advice in advance versus a camera store sales person……….sterno

    • Hi Sterno,
      I would recommend first you scan a few of your favorite photographs (if you already don’t already have digital scans) and get familiar with the software – most scanners and cameras come with Photoshop Elements (at a minimum), but you can also try picasa, and full-blown Aperture is only 80 dollars for Mac. Coming from film the biggest difference will be sliders in software versus adjustments in a darkroom. As for a camera, I would start simple, a lower end DSLR or mirrorless camera with kit lens can be found for less than 500 dollars – or you can get a fixed lens P&S camera with some manual controls (albeit lesser quality) for far less. Save up for a better lens rather than an expensive camera. Since you have a Nikon film camera, look into the base Nikon DSLRs, the controls will feel similar to what you’re used to. The instant gratifaction of seeing your image on the screen can be either gratifying or a hinderance to creativity depending on your shooting style. Enough of my rant, just find something in your price range (check out dpreview for complicated technojargon), go play around with it at a camera store, follow your heart, and get out and shoot!
      Best,
      Hans

    • Get a camera with separate, dedicated controls (wheels) for shutter speed and aperture, and a way of changing the ISO without going into a menu. This is probably the best way to prepare for mastering the exposure triangle, and easy to check yourself in a camera store.

      This exposure triangle assumes a sensor/lens combination that visibly changes depth of field when changing the aperture value. In general, the smaller the sensor, the lower the chance that this is indeed the case. So your best bet is to go for a relatively big sensor, say micro four-thirds or bigger. Don’t get me wrong it is not the best thing to do period, only a more future-proof strategy in case of incomplete knowledge/experience. Another advantage of going for a bigger sensor is that they tend to have higher technical IQ too. For whatever that’s worth.

      The rest is mostly personal preference, or matters less than marketing people want you to believe.

      HTH.

      • Alexander- On the mark council and put much more eloquently than I was able to do. Trying to find this has been difficult without going to a bigger DSLR (reason DSLR do not work is less wheels as we mentioned/more menus & I am in a manual wheel chair- tricky to push a chair and manipulate a camera-street shooting is interesting!)- I keep coming to the Fuji X100 for everything we are discussing. ONLY disadvantage is for the occasional need for a more powerful lens but I can deal with it and in a perfect world there is not a perfect world… sorry to hi-jack Patricks topic of conversation… Thank you

    • The best thing is probably to just buy a new-model digital camera with matching lens. For example, a Nikon D3200 and 35/1.8, or an Olympus OM-D with 25/1.4. These do not have separate aperture rings or dedicated shutter dials, and do not manual focus easily. Things have moved on since then. The Fuji X100 and XPro-1 have a more “classic” layout with separate aperture rings and dedicated shutter dials, but manual focus is still rather kludgey. They are designed to be AF-based systems.

      However, if you have experience with classic film cameras, you might try putting a manual-focus lens on a Nikon body. For example, a 28/2.8 Ai-S manual focus Nikon lens on a Nikon digital body would work well. You will probably lose all auto-metering functions, which means that you’ll be in full manual with no meter. You would adjust the aperture on the lens and shutter on the body. However, this is not as bad as it sounds, because you can easily take a test shot and look at the exposure on the back screen. If you want to be able to choose between manual and autofocus, you could try a Nikon AF-D lens like a 24/2.8 AF-D. Also, the modern Nikon AF-S lenses like the 35/1.8 DX have a fly-by-wire manual focus ring.

      So, with that in mind, you might be happy with something like a 28/2.8 Ai-S lens on a Nikon D90 body, which is a very good body that you can buy for about $450 used these days, and which can autofocus with AF-D lenses. If you want something more “compact and Steve Huff-like,” you might try a Voigtlander 35/2.5 on a Sony Nex-5 or Nex-7. Reminder: these are weird, tweaky solutions for people who like classic manual-focus lenses. If you are “normal,” just go with a new-production body and matching lens.

      • There are a couple of Nikon cameras that do meter with Ai-S glass. The D90 isn’t one of them indeed. If you know what to look for you can tell from the mount.

        Re. the D3200, the first thing I outgrew my first DSLR (D40) on was its lack of a secondary control wheel. For the secondary function of the available wheel to kick in, one had to push another button at the same time. That button was very small and did not indicate with a click if it was properly pushed. I’ve missed many shots because of this, unintentionally dialing in the aperture instead of the shutter speed or vice versa. Can’t remember but you get the point. As you say, things might have moved on since then, and the D3200 could have improved on this. Perhaps worth checking in the store.

      • NL-

        As you can see from my response to Alexander, the Fuji x100 would be perfect and actually to your point the X-Pro 1 which I have to look into more closely-your suggestions of the manual lens are good ones but the separate dials/wheel for shutter speed with aperture on lens is a higher priority. Thank you for your time and input

        • One thing I wondered from your response, since you’re in a wheelchair, wouldn’t you miss the lack of a proper grip? Also, why the preference for an aperture ring around the lens?

          I mean I doubt if I could control an X100 single-handedly, whereas I’m sure I can with say, a D90 and a G lens such as the 35mm f/1.8.

          • Alexander- regarding grip and your comment of one handed usage: it would be almost impossible/very unlikely to push a chair and shoot one handed thus not would not be something I would hope to do (sorry to say) so street shooting is more stop, shoot-move-on unless someone was pushing my chair which is never the case. so the 4 contenders real contenders on my list is Fuji x100, xpro 1 (more $$), olympus omd-em5 & leica x2 (used x1?).
            after research i plan to get to a camera store and hold them etc. and may even rent the top choice for a week…. realize the the wheelchair adds an interesting piece to the puzzle & most users can not speak from experience for a chair view-… thank you.

          • With a Nikon D700 you can switch to use the aperture ring on all lenses, but not when in Liveview mode!
            I find it also more easy to use my camera this way and have set some modes for different type of use!
            I think the D200, D300, D3 etc can be used the same way!
            When setting the camera for use with non CPU lenses you can use all metering modes for the light meter. I don’t think you can use shutter priority as you manually set the aperture and don’t let the camera set this!

    • nice, a bit of fresh air . . . . look at it this way: think of a truly remarkable photographer, i would assert that if you gave them a piece of crap camera (compared to what gets everybody all fired up around here) that they would still shoot rings around anything you will ever come up with . . . . capice? frankly it comes down to having good taste, a refined aesthetic sensibility , vision or whatever you wanna call it – it’s mostly god given (too bad for you but that’s true) – you can work hard to elevate how you see but for sure it’s not something you can address by plunking down your credit card ………. adequate cameras in the hands of great photographers? you get great photographs …………… great cameras in the hands of competent photographer? that’s right, you get competent photos (typically known as boring) … great cameras in the hands of lousy photographers (think bad taste) …. well you can fill in the blank . . . . . and that’s pretty much the way it is.

    • I do not want to promote Ken Rockwell’s site here, but if you can’t understand this post you should read his article Your camera doesnt matter, because it gives us more answers on such questions as you guys asked.

      • The same Ken Rockwell that preorders EVERY professional Nikon the day it’s announced? His face is in the dictionary next to the definition of “hypocrite.”

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