Does equipment make you a better photographer?

Christo Redentor - A photo made possible by having a lens as wide as 18mm

Anyone who has subjected themselves to the alternately useful and abusive site that is KenRockwell.com has probably noticed a fairly consistent theme from him:  Equipment won’t make you a better photographer.

He makes this point again in one of his more recent and less useful posts comparing the Nikon D7000 to the Canon 5D Mk II, noting “If you’re still wasting your time worrying about such trivia, I doubt you’ll ever expend the hard thought required in actually making great pictures, as opposed to merely armchair shopping for cameras.  Time spent worrying about equipment is time not spent on concentrating about your image, so if you waste time comparing cameras for too long, you’ll probably never make much in the way of exciting images.  Worse, when making this choice between today’s two top DSLRs, you’re also committing yourself to a bank of one brand of lenses or another.”

First of all, I think it is a very strange to compare these two cameras.  At the end of the day, a Nikon D700 is the most direct competitor to the Canon 5DMkII, and it is an inane observation to say that by choosing between a Nikon and a Canon you are committing yourself to the lenses compatible with those manufacturers (duh).  I also take exception to the condescending tone being used – vintage Ken.  But at least the thought being expressed here is important, and it is consistent with my thoughts in one of my early posts that said the best upgrade for a race car is to upgrade the driver.

So I am, shockingly, agreeing with Ken:  Photography is no different – a great photographer is good with a shoebox camera.  A terrible one would take poor shots with a D3s.

But let me add a caveat:  Good gear can be more forgiving for the Enthusiast Photographer and allow you to get better results.  It can enable you to get a shot you can’t without it.  For example, my shot of Christo Redentor would have been a lot more difficult to frame with my 35mm f/1.8, the only other lens available at the time.  But the equipment only gets you so far.

These days, almost any DSLR is going to be pretty darn good – choice there comes down to budget (for what level of camera) and handling preference (Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony and others) in my opinion.  Having a good tripod, a well-designed bag or the right lens can absolutely improve your photography by giving you a better platform and by putting less in the way of you getting the image.  However, If you’re struggling to make use of your tools, it won’t matter much.

The net is one should balance gear procurement with the continued focus on the acquisition of knowledge and building your skill.  Plus, just get out there and shoot!

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4 thoughts on “Does equipment make you a better photographer?

  1. Nice post. I like that you are taking a balanced approach to Mr. Rockwell, but kudos for having the courage to challenge him. I feel I’ve been living with a mistake ever since I bought a Nikon d3000 a few years ago. I did all the armchair shopping and somehow managed to never see the reviews calling it one of the worst dslr cameras Nikon has made. I spent too much time sulking about the inferiority of my camera. However, after a few years, I’m really starting to take shots that I’m more than happy with. It’s a slow process, but now I see my camera in a whole new way. I’m surprised what it’s capable of. Of course, when it’s time to upgrade, I’ll go back to my armchair.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I think there are few mistakes to be made these days with DSLRs. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but my biggest jumps have come from Scott Kelby’s “Digital Photography” books and Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure.” They are easy to read and really gave me a better understanding of what I was doing.

  2. “a great photographer is good with a shoebox camera. A terrible one would take poor shots with a D3s.”

    This has nothing to do with Ken’s favorite slogan. He’s not talking about two different photographers here. Ken says “your camera doesn’t matter”. This is a blatant falsehood. Your camera does matter. Any photographer on earth can take a better photograph with a D3S than they can with a shoebox. Try stopping fast action with a shoebox. Everybody makes excuses for Rockwell.

    • LoL – if you have read other “Ken posts” on my blog (I’d especially point you to the JPEG vs. RAW post), you’d certainly know I’m not much a fan or apologist for Ken Rockwell. That said, he’s making the right point the wrong way: Lots of people focus so much on what is in their bag that they forget to focus on the photography and becoming a better photographer.

      Said a different way: the camera and lens don’t make the image – the photographer does. Focus on the most important part of the equation.

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