Bumped into a photographer friend this morning in town on the way to work, and after we parted (about 15 minutes later), I realised that all we had talked about was 'gear'. 5DMk3 this, 70-200mm that, Nikon blah blah, Canon hoo haa.
What is it with photographers and their gear? Do dentists who bump into each other talk about the latest drill? Do mechanics talk about the latest spanner? Maybe they do? (Any dentists or mechanics out there who can verify this?).
I'm obviously as guilty as the next bloke - although I do fluctuate between two complete polar opposites in the gear vs talent debate. It's been very fashionable for a while now to put the 'gearhead' aspect of photography down. You have to have been living under a rock for the last few years not to have heard the 'best camera is the one you have with you' mantra bought up time and time again by the insanely gifted. To which I say - CRAP! Oh, and by the way, what do these 'what you have with you' exponents have with them most of the time? Canon 1DX's or the latest iPhone 4G of course. Quite frankly I'm thoroughly sick of the whole 'I just take my iphone with me on holiday and get beatiful 8x10" prints' brigade. I've got an old iPhone 3 and the camera on that thing is just crap (oh no, I said 'crap' again!)
Go up to a sport photographer at the Olympics and tell him his gear doesn't matter. Go on, I dare you. Would he swap that new 12fps Canon 1Dx for my iPhone 3? I think not. And I wouldn't expect him to either. I find the whole 'gear doesn't matter' thing so condescending it makes me want to spit (in case you hadn't already noticed).
BUT - (and yes, there's always a 'but'), nor do I hold to the whole 'got to have the latest and the greatest' gear mentality either. Do you use a Canon? Do you use a Nikon? Or, heaven forfend - do you use a Sony? To which I say - who gives a flying...... what brand of camera you own? Use a Pentax for all I care - although really, why would you! :-) (joking people, joking).
Has it got 6MP, 8MP, 12MP or 36MP!? Who cares? I've owned three of the four megapixel ratings mentioned (guess which is the odd one out), and no client has EVER asked me how many megapixels my camera has. Granted, I'm not shooting for billboards - or cropping heavily - but if you are, or do, then it becomes a real question of need - not merely of keeping up with everybody else. And who really cares whether those 12MP came from a Canon or Nikon? I mean, really....
Most of us are shooting for the web, or computer screen viewing now anyway, aren't we?
Here's a test for you...
Can anyone tell me, just by looking at the image above, whether it was shot on a Canon or a Nikon? Is it from a 6MP, 8MP, 12MP or 24MP camera? Was I wearing sneakers or bare feet when I took the shot? Are any of these questions relevant?
Of course not. All that really matters is whether I've taken a 'good' photo or not. And this is where the 'technical' capabilities of the gear come into play. Am I happy with lens choice, depth of field, is it sharp where I want it to be?
How about another image...
What about this shot? Is it digital? Is it film? Was it cropped to a square image, or shot on medium format? Was it converted to black and white from colour? Again - is it Canon, Nikon or Sony?
More important, for my growth as a photographer, I'd much rather ask - is it a good composition? Does the image have something to say? Is it graphically pleasing? Have I taken it at the right angle so that it expresses what I wanted to say? Was the camera working with me, or against me (the 'gear matters' part of the picture equation).
All the same questions as the previous image apply - even though the two photos couldn't have been captured more differently.
When we stop, and concentrate on the image, then 'no', the gear doesn't matter. BUT - of course it does matter, by allowing you to take the kind of image that you have in your mind's eye in the first place. With technology moving at such an alarming rate - and no sign of this slowing up any time soon - the line between want, and need, can easily become blurred.
In the end, though, all I really 'want' to be is a better photographer. Do I really 'need' the latest Nikon D4? Of course not. Will simply owning it make me a 'better' photographer? Ah - no.
And for the record - the first image was taken on an Olympus Pen EP3 - as was the second image. The last image is... film. Taken on a Bronica S2 medium format 6x6 camera. And it also happens to be my favourite image of the bunch.