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Day 7: Equipment – Walking Contradiction

Day 7: Equipment

I’m deliberately taking a step back from my more political posts of the last few days in order to mentally process the events of the past weekend to get some perspective. Don’t worry, though, I’m sure I’ll be back to political commentary soon!

When people learn I’m a photographer, one of the first questions is invariably “So what kind of camera do you use?”. This is a perfectly understandable question, and also a completely irrelevant one.

When I first started out in photography, I had a friend who was a staff photographer for the city newspaper. He used a Canon F-1, a black-bodied professional camera. I noticed, though, that he used black electrical tape to cover the words ‘Canon’ and ‘F-1’ that were prominently written in white letters. I asked him about the tape, and he said that he got so sick of people seeing it and saying things like “Canon? Why don’t you use Nikon instead?” that he covered up the identifying marks.

A camera is a tool, nothing more. If you want to improve your photographs, buying an expensive new camera, or switching from Brand A to Brand B is not going to help.

I used to golf a lot, not that I was very good at it – I enjoyed being outside with a task to focus on, the company of other men, and, in retrospect, I enjoyed time away from my (now ex-) wife. Golf equipment companies are notorious for marketing expensive new clubs with the promise to hit the ball farther and straighter. But for everyone but the top professionals, it isn’t the club that’s holding you back; it’s your skill. You would be infinitely better off spending that money on lessons with a golf pro than on new clubs. Yet every year golfers spend their money on things that won’t help them improve.

This holds true in so many areas. New tools won’t make your woodworking better, and buying a vintage Stratocaster won’t help you play guitar better. So what will?

In almost all cases, the two things that will help is a good teacher, and lots of practice. The teacher can get you on the right path, and correct you when you stray off of it. You still have to put in the time, though, if you ever want to improve.

So when should you upgrade? When you’ve mastered that equipment, and its limitations are becoming an obvious hindrance to you. Or when different equipment offers functionality that your current equipment doesn’t (and you truly need those functions).

For photography, where you get the most bang for your buck is from better lenses, not camera bodies. Last year I dropped my camera and broke the mount for the zoom lens that was my main workhorse. When I looked for a replacement, I saw that there was a professional version of the lens that had better optics, a wider aperture, and tougher construction. I really considered it, but couldn’t justify spending an extra $1300 on it. So I ended up getting the same model as the one I broke, because as nice as the pro model lens was, I couldn’t see it improving my images enough to justify the cost. Maybe someday when money isn’t a concern…

The best camera in the world is the one you have with you.

Chase Jarvis

The quote above is from a book about iPhone photography. I found out about this book after I had made a similar statement about my realization that I could create some wonderful images with my iPhone, and one of the people I was speaking with mentioned the book. I don’t own the book, but I certainly agree with the sentiment. You can have all the fancy equipment in the world, but if it’s home in your closet when an opportunity presents itself, it doesn’t do you much good.

Which brings me to the answer to my choice of camera: the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II. I was in the market for a DSLR, and looked around at the different options. I read about a new style of mirrorless camera called the Micro 4/3 system, which was significantly smaller and lighter than the full-sized DSLRs. Since my primary mode of work is walking around looking for images, smaller and lighter were big selling points. I read the reviews, and chose Olympus because of its stabilization system, and the M5 as it was the middle choice that balanced features and price. I’ve been very happy with it, and the images I create with it.

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