If You Want to Make Great Pictures, Get a Junky Camera

28 04 2011

One of the main topics on photography message boards, letters to photo magazines, and photo podcasts revolves around what equipment is the best. Of course the latest equipment splashed around the pages of the photo mags is super sexy, but it may not be what you need. If you are just starting out as a photographer, you may be better served by using inferior/older gear. You may not want to hear that if you are hoping to get the new Superultimax 5000 to improve the quality of your photography and are looking for someone to tell you that is what you should get.
My experience in most things, including photography, is that it is beneficial to start with something simple and learn to overcome its limitations. When you focus on the process of the art rather than the equipment, you will find that you gain a more solid grasp of the fundamentals of photography instead of learning to be a D3x operator. Learning to use more complex professional equipment is light years easier if you already understand what it is that you need the camera to do. My first SLR (film) was a Nikon N5005 with a 50mm lens — no photographic powerhouse, but I was able to learn how to control every aspect of it and sell a lot of pictures using it while the other photographers I worked with were using N8008s or N90s. I was selling just as many images as they were even though my equipment was technically inferior. I purchased an inexpensive Nikon 35—105mm lens and was able to get an understanding of a range of focal lengths and still create lots of saleable images.

When I moved to digital, I got the modest Nikon D50. My knowledge gained from my film camera transferred neatly and my learning curve was a very low angle. I was able to focus on the difference between film and digital instead of learning how to operate a complex camera. I still occasionally shoot the D50 and get great results from it. After a few years with the D50, my understanding of digital photography filled out nicely and I decided it was time to move to a full-frame camera.

Over the years of using equipment that was less than the latest and greatest, I learned how to improvise and make shots work without the benefit of vibration reduction, a high frame rate, fast zoom lenses or 51 focus points. Now, when I pick up my D700, I know that all of the advanced features are icing on the cake and not necessary for me to make a great image. My foundation of photographic knowledge is solid, so that I can get the most from my equipment rather than missing shots because I am trying to program a supercomputer with a lens.

Don’t get me wrong, I made purchasing decisions for my first cameras based on my limited funds at the time and if I had been rich, I might have gotten more advanced gear from the start. My point is that the fact that I started with lower-end gear and learned how to make it work in all situations has probably made me a better photographer in the long run. Likewise, if you feel like your gear is holding you back, challenge yourself to make great images despite its limitations.

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