There is perhaps no other area of artistic endeavor that seems so infused with an obsession over the technical aspects of equipment as is photography. There are countless websites continually testing the latest and greatest cameras, lenses and software tools. Not to mention YouTube channels and discussion forums where endless circular debates can get heated and personal.
Yet little of this has much to do with photography as an art form.
The Camera may take a picture but it’s the photographer that makes a photograph. In reality pretty much all cameras produced in the past few years are capable of producing technically excellent images. Even a cheap ‘obsolete’ camera is perfectly capable of generating exciting photographs in the hands of someone with imagination and creativity who can work within or around the technical limitations of the equipment.
One only has to look at the extraordinary photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson to understand this. Cartier-Bresson took some of the most iconic images in the history of the medium with a camera that today’s gear-heads would dismiss as utterly obsolete. A simple 35 mm Leica with a 50 mm lens. There are few photographers today even with state-of-the-art digital cameras who can produce images with such marvelous attention to detail and innate sense of composition as those of the master. Cartier-Bresson didn’t have autofocus and couldn't even be sure what he had until after the film was developed yet his images remain virtually unequaled well into the digital era.
I was reminded of this when looking over a few images of mine that were published back in 2007 in a travel magazine. At the time I was just dipping my toes into the waters of digital photography. I was on holiday and this humble little Canon Powershot A520 was the only camera I had with me. While visiting an archeological site at Ferryland in Newfoundland I took a few images of the site and surrounding area. While the little camera may have been technically limiting it was absolutely capable of producing images of a quality sufficient for publication in a print magazine. They key for me was knowing my camera, taking the time to compose carefully, think about what images to take that would provide a comprehensive record of the experience and checking to ensure my exposures were correct.
A few years later when I decided to get more serious about digital photography I purchased an ‘obsolete’ Nikon dSLR on eBay which even when I bought it represented five year old technology. Did that matter? Did the fact that that this camera wasn’t so great above ISO 800 matter?
This camera not only proved to be a fantastic learning tool it has been utterly reliable and capable of making images with fantastic sharpness and colour. This old camera that I bought for about one-third of its original list price has remained my go-to, workhorse photographic tool for these past five years. It’s a camera I know inside out and of which I can fully exploit its many strengths and work within its few limitations. It’s the camera I’ve taken on many adventures and used to produce the majority of prints for my last exhibition. It’s not my only camera but this old dinosaur is a favorite and I use in continually.
My point being that photography is not about having the latest toys. It’s about your own imagination, creativity and ability to express the ideas you have within you. Buying the latest and greatest won’t be of much value unless you exercise your creative skills first. That requires practice, imagination and time.
The camera doesn’t really matter that much.