Stop Talking About Gear

And start thinking about how to use it better. Ken Rockwell, who has a ton of information on his site about cameras and lenses, wrote a diatribe a while back about why the camera you use doesn’t matter. Some of his analogies are weak, but this one always rings true:

We all know how to play the piano: you just press the keys and step on the pedals now and then. The ability to play it, much less the ability to stir emotion in those who hear your playing, is an entirely different matter. Don’t presume the most expensive gear is the best. Having too much camera equipment is the best way to get the worst photos.

Nothing has prompted this, but I had bookmarked the page and reread it this morning. Well, maybe that’s not true … I stumbled across a photo of a Makina 67 – a camera I’d never heard of – and have been somewhat fascinated by them for the last few days. If only I had that camera I could do … what?

I can’t answer that. I mean, I have an answer in my head, and maybe I could make a different kind of photo that the average reader would be able to identify. But probably not. (And since they’re selling for $1500+ on ebay, I’m not buying one.)

Likewise, when I started shooting football this year I hauled out my 300 mm f/2.8 manual focus lens and 1.4x teleconverter. I bought both of those – used – in 1993. Before every game, my wife listens to me fret about how I really should spend the money and get a newer 300, an AF-S Type II and a new converter. And as I edit, I see where I missed on the focus.

Now, there is a legitimate reason to replace the lens – the helicoids are worn and the focus is a little sloppy at some points. But, you know, my clients aren’t complaining. I am, but they aren’t.

Would the pictures be better? Hmmm … maybe there would be a higher percentage of sharper images, but the moments are the same.

Yes, sports is different – shooting Moonrise, Ansel Adams probably had a little more time then I did to catch a flying Ole Miss defender, so that newer lens maybe – maybe – would have made a difference.

Well, now I’m rambling. The idea is the camera doesn’t matter as much as any of us think it does. I crave a Leica M8. The Makina 67 looks really sweet. And that new 300 probably would help me make better images. But it’s not the lens or camera, it’s the eye and brain – exercise those more and your photos will get better.

Mark E. Johnson

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