Why your camera gear doesn’t matter

Jul 13, 2022
Creative Photo Folk
Why your camera gear doesn’t matter

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I’ve always been baffled by the obsession with camera gear. Here’s what you really need and what you don’t.

I’ve got to be honest with you, when I first started a podcast I had no idea what I was doing. Still don’t truth be told. Listening to podcasts tends to send me into sensory overload unless I can give them my full attention and so I’ve listened to very few, none of which had anything to do with photography. And so I was just thinking, what do other photographers talk about? Is it gear?

It’s probably not gear but when I first started out in photography there seemed to be a lot more magazines devoted to gear than technique, and I thought they were the most boring thing on earth. But everyone seemed so obsessed with gear, gear, gear. Back then I tried to attend as many photography meets as possible and the first question I was always asked is, ‘what type of camera have you got’ and I absolutely hated it because what did it matter? It felt like an immediate judgement. Like I couldn’t be a very good or serious photographer if my camera wasn’t worth a certain amount, despite that being more about your bank account than your level of skill.

Back then my camera and lenses were hand-me-downs from someone who, funnily enough at the time, always loved to have the newest cameras and yet only knew how to shoot with them in auto, which told me everything I needed to know about how the price of your camera equates to the quality of your photos. And my camera seemed to take perfectly fine photos so I could never understand why photographers made such a fuss about equipment (and still don’t).

And so I stopped going to meets because I realised these weren’t my people and for a long time I avoided other photographers entirely and just did my own thing. And I’m so glad I did because I learnt photography in my own unconventional way free of anyone else’s judgement, which is why I teach photography a little differently from everyone else, by prioritising creativity over boring technical terms.

For over a year now I’ve had a top of the range mirrorless camera sitting in a drawer because I just don’t really like it. Yet anytime I mention this within photography circles I get savagely shot down for even daring to besmirch its name. Why do photographers get so fiercely defensive of brands and models to the point of hurting other people’s feelings if they don’t measure up?

It took me a long time to realise that your gear doesn't matter AT ALL as long as you make the effort to use it properly. So many photographers are obsessed with the accurate focusing abilities of the latest camera models but I learnt a long time ago how to focus accurately with any camera, so I don’t need any fancy tech overcomplicating the process. Although, granted there are some photography niches that will benefit more from fast focusing than others.

I get asked fairly regularly by new photographers what camera they should buy and I haven’t a clue. Does it have detachable lenses and take photos? Then cool, buy that. Don't fall into the trap of thinking your gear is the reason you're not advancing.

Case in point – last night a girl on Facebook asked if anyone could tell the difference in quality between a photo she took on her Canon R6 and one her boyfriend had taken on a phone. And until she pointed out which was which the first few photographers who commented got it wrong. Sure, when it came down to editing and printing those photos the technical differences would become apparent but for displaying on socials both were perfectly acceptable. It was just such a great example of how so few people can even tell the difference. Not that I’d ever advocate for a phone instead of a professional camera because phones can only digitally emulate what a camera can do for real, which means they are extremely limited in capability, not to mention quality.


So when does gear actually matter?

If you’re in the beginner stage of learning photographer as long as your camera is capable of varying aperture, shutter speed and ISO then it is perfectly suitable. The photos you take during this stage are probably unlikely to be good for much anyway because they’re the result of practice, not skill. And yet the trap some photographers fall into is to become impatient with the difficulty of learning, blame it on the camera, upgrade to newer gear and then find themselves stuck in the trap of learning over practicing.

I do advocate for buying the best camera and lenses you can afford from the outset because you will eventually feel the urge to upgrade, but only if you’re already 100% invested in photography. I’ve seen too many new photographers take a flurry of photos in the first few months and then give up entirely when the shine wore off. So if there’s a chance your camera will become a dust collector, there’s no point making it an expensive one.

The best time to upgrade from a beginner model is when you find the need for a camera that performs better in low light or has more advanced features that will make your workflow easier.

When it comes to lenses, buy what you can afford but aim for those with the widest aperture. Generally you want to start with a mid range zoom lens such as a 24-70 and later branch out to a telephoto lens such as a 70-200. A super affordable 50mm 1.8 is also a great starting lens to have, particularly if you like to shoot portraits or in low light. Any lens you purchase after that will entirely depend on what it is you love to shoot most. If you love to shoot landscapes you might like something wider such as a 16-24 or if you shoot wildlife you’ll want something longer such as a 150-600.

Now onto other gear. Personally I could not live without a tripod. It makes a lot of creative techniques possible and is just so handy to have in many situations. I’d suggest buying the lightest to carry, yet sturdiest one you can afford because it’ll have the weight of your expensive camera gear on top and you don’t want it failing.

I also advocate highly for having a basic remote because they’re super affordable and necessary for many creative techniques, particularly those that require you to be away from the camera.

Next, we have filters. Filters are a handy thing to have around and can be used creatively in a few situations but aren’t necessary by any means. I’d only suggest buying them if you’ve butted up against a problem where owning one becomes important, which will most likely be if you’re into landscape photography. But a lot of what filters do can be replicated in editing.

Onto lighting. Lighting is a gateway drug, in that once you start, there’s a lot more gear you’ll need such as triggers and stands and modifiers and backdrops, all of which are wonderful for studio photography, but if that’s not your area of interest, then there’s no point rushing in yet. I do think everyone can benefit from a Speedlite and honestly, I thought my Speedlite was a bit useless for several years because all my favourite photographers were using expensive studio lights but once I really came to understand lighting I realised just how effective a Speedlite can be, particularly with high speed photography where it has an advantage. Speedlites are so affordable these days and I’ve found cheaper brands like Godox much easier to use than the name brands. When starting out I’d suggest finding one that attaches to your camera which most do, just because it gives you more versatility, but in the long run it’s better to avoid shooting with an on-camera light unless it can’t be helped such as with event photography or journalism. It’s better to see where your photography interests will lead you first. As for a reflector, these are good to have particularly for outdoor portraits and they’re certainly affordable. But I’ve never owned one, although I do occasionally borrow one.

Naturally there are key pieces of gear that are necessary such as memory cards and extra batteries or those that just make your life easier such as a backpack, a more comfortable camera strap and some cleaning gear.

Once you’re confident with the basics you can splash out into more creative tools such as a lens ball or light painting tools or the dozens of other bits and pieces that are fun to play with and sometimes necessary for certain techniques. Creative photography is my jam so this is the stuff I love, but if you’re not invested in being creative with your camera then this gear might just take up space.

It’s important to note that creativity can come from using extra gear but it also comes from constraint. If you find you don’t have a piece of gear you need, that’s when things get interesting because you’ll need to think outside the box and perhaps rig some other solution together. There’s much beauty in this process and a lot to be learned.

Then obviously there’s editing. In my opinion editing is a vital part of being a photographer and I personally recommend using the Adobe products simply to make your life easier because they’re the industry standard which means there’s plenty of resources to learn with. But many photographers seem to have an issue with their subscription model. I like having access to the latest upgrades and I certainly think having an Adobe subscription is worthwhile and extremely affordable. But I also appreciate that some photographers only like to edit occasionally and can’t see the value in paying continually. The way I see it, either commit to learning editing and make the investment or don’t and opt for something cheaper so you won’t feel guilty for not using it all that often.

Photography is an expensive hobby, granted, but until you’re more experienced and know exactly where your interests lie, your initial outlay need only be a camera and lens. For a long, long time I didn’t own a backdrop but instead used sheets on a clothes hanger. I’ve used household lamps for lighting. Made modifiers out of cardboard boxes. Taped down a camera button when I’ve forgotten a remote. This is why I so dearly love photography because it’s full of interesting challenges.

Ask me what the best camera for you to buy is and I have no idea. That’s what camera sales people are for. Want to learn how to get more creative with the gear you have? Then I'm your gal. Let’s cobble some stuff together and make art!

With all of that said, if you are in the market for new gear, I do have a gear guide for creative photographers freely available at the Creative Photo Folk website. This list primarily contains the affordable gear I use and love, so it’s more a starting point for your research rather than a comprehensive guide. And right now is such a great time to buy as Amazon is currently running their annual Prime sale on the 12-13 July 2022.

Anyway, this is the most I’ll ever talk about gear so regardless of whether I'm doing my podcast right or wrong, I hope you are enjoying it.


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