10% Equipment

I’d like to share two recent, related experiences:

  1. I was walking home from work today through Vienna’s Stadtpark and passed some tourists who took pictures of each other. They pointed their DSLRs at each other, almost directly facing the setting sun in the west, and I doubt their photos turned out as more than an underexposed mess.
  2. A friend recently asked me what camera they should buy to “shoot beautiful photos”.
Yellow Flowers

Yellow Flowers in Stadtpark, where I pass through on my way to work. (Shot with my digital compact.)

Apparently, many people think that you need a great camera to take great photos. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The answer to my friend’s question is “it doesn’t matter” and the rising number of tourists I see carrying a DSLR are really just lugging around excess weight.

Photographers make good photos, not cameras. While it is good to have an at least somewhat-decent camera, hardly anybody actually needs a DSLR with interchangeable lenses today. Compact cameras such as Canon’s PowerShot G line or the Sony CyberShot DSC-H series offer relatively better optics than what typical DLSR kit lenses offer and are much cheaper. While the typical DSLR sensor is larger (and therefore better) than that of a compact, I find that it hardly matters in day-to-day applications; anybody who does more than just hobbyist “prosumer” work will get a high-end system anyway (which costs at least eight times as much as a high-end compact).

How much of a good photo is created by the camera? I would say not more than 10%, maybe 20%. The other 80-90% are all the work of the photographer, and some small corrections in the set-up will go a long way in the finished photograph. (Hint: Don’t take a photo with the sun directly in front of the lens!) I have owned a DSLR for several years now, but stopped using it a while ago and replaced it with two other things: Analog cameras and a digital compact.

I was lucky to inherit some high-quality analog equipment from my grandfather, who was a professional photographer. This equipment is what I use almost exclusively when I want to do “serious”, more-or-less thought-out photography (as you can see on my Flickr profile). For everything else – such as snapshots of everywhere I go – I have a compact digital camera which cost me about EUR 250. This is a relatively high price for a compact, but still little when compared to even the most basic DSLR sets. I am absolutely content with the quality of the photos and have, so far, never missed my DSLR when it came to shooting digital photos. I carry around the compact wherever I go, which would be impossible with the DSLR.

So why do “regular” folk still use a DSLR? Certainly there is a lot of prestige associated with them and they have a reputation for better image quality. That, however, is wrong for all intents and purposes of an average user. Don’t be afraid to pay a little less – you will appreciate the flexibility and comfort of a digital compact over a DSLR’s weight and unwieldiness!

3 thoughts on “10% Equipment

  1. Chances are that you’re going to take a lot of pictures in the evening, at night or indoors. The easiest way to get a bad picture is to use the camera’s built-in flash, regardless of whether you’re using a compact or a DSLR. You might see a bit of motion blur on that image you took free-handed at 1/8th of a second, but it will still look nice. So get a camera that handles low light really well.

    • Dan, I totally agree. The highest-quality piece of equipment on my DSLR setup is the flash (actually, two of them). It has been the single most valuable accessory for me, and I wouldn’t switch it for a good lens (for example).

      • I prefer not to use flash where possible, tho’ fill-in can give a great effect, so I always looked for cameras with fast lenses, better able to ‘see’ in the dark, but as I’ve got older my hands have got far less able to hold steady a camera – drives me mad, & I’ve no chance with long lenses – so more & more I have to use flash! Or rest the camera on something; often the shoulder of an obliging friend :’D

What do you think?