It is an indisputable fact that photographers are all obsessed with equipment to some degree. Though online forums are perhaps a poor barometer of public opinion because one only visits if you are looking for equipment reviews or spoiling for a fight with a troll, I’ve noticed the same thing here – after running this site for more than three years, the most popular posts are consistently the ones that are equipment reviews, to do with system choices, or hardware. Philosophy comes a very distant second – by a factor of three or more – and then only images, which are dead last. Surely I can’t be the only one thinking this ratio is a little odd, given that the whole purpose of the exercise is to produce images?
I have the answer for you right here, only partially tongue in cheek… :)
On a more serious note, there’s a special offer going on with the Nikon D750 and excellent all-round AFS 24-120/4 VR lens (I have both) at B&H – $600 off to a total just below $3,000; you can get that here. The Pentax 645Z is also back in stock.
Choices, choices, choices. From the ultimate image quality shootout.
We have a rather strange hardware problem: on casual observation, simultaneously too much choice, but at the same time, when all things are taken into account, a lack of it. It isn’t the problem of the perfect camera not existing, but rather that we have to jump through a lot of hoops for a complete solution. There are digital systems with sensor sizes ranging from 2/3” (Pentax Q) to 645 (Phase One, Hasselblad) – and to make things more confusing, surprising amounts of interchangeability*. So what is a serious photographer to do?
*Practically, this is nothing more than an illusion and a bunch of empty promises: even if you can do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.
We’re now into ten years into the mainstream DSLR revolution started by the Nikon D70 and Canon 300D; that’s a decent amount of time by any measure, and by consumer technology standards, an eternity. I suspect many readers of this site will remember those cameras well – they probably marked the point of switching from film, a revival in interest in photography, or the beginning of a new passion. For me, it was the latter: I go into the digital game in late 2002, with a Sony compact that I carried pretty much everywhere (and made zero memorable images with). A bridge camera followed in 2003, and was swiftly replaced with a D70 on release day in 2004. I would say that was personally the opening of the floodgates: I had good enough, and I didn’t have the inconvienience or cost of film. The rest was up to me.
Image from Pentax UK.
A couple of days ago, Pentax threw down the gauntlet to the other medium format digital camera makers in the form of the 645Z. It uses the same ~50MP 44x33mm CMOS as the Hasselblad H5D-50C and Phase One IQ250, but with one critical difference: unlike the Hasselblad and Phase One, it’s feasibly within the reach of a whole load more people. And it isn’t just the shocking price – $8,500 plays $29,000 (Hasselblad) or $37,000 (Phase) – it’s the UI and operating gestalt, too. I think what we’ve just seen is an early game changer.
I’m reposting this article from 2012 for the simple reason that I’m still getting far too many emails from people obsessing over equipment with bigger numbers or higher specs solving compositional and creative deficiencies. I think I’ll continue to do this on a regular basis so long as those communiques keep coming in…
The never-ending photographic arms race got me thinking recently about sufficiency: how many pixels, fps, AF points, ISO settings, etc. are enough? The troubling thing is that I thought I used to know the answer: I’m no longer sure it’s quite as clear cut. See, the thing is that if you’re viewing images online, in theory, anything close to your screen resolution (leaving space for UI elements, text, menus etc.) should be sufficient – 1000px wide is more than enough for most purposes. The images on this site are mostly 800px wide, for reference. In theory, that should mean an iPhone is overkill. Yes and no; just because resolution sufficient, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to have enough dynamic range, or color depth (or accuracy).
The guilt (and equipment) stacks up like tetris: this is only one of my equipment cabinets; if I don’t put everything in just so, then it won’t fit. And lighting gear, accessories, tripods, bags etc. are stored elsewhere.
Any photographer who tells you that they are a hundred percent, completely indifferent to equipment is lying. It is almost (I say almost to cover myself in the unlikely event there really is somebody out there) impossible to be immune to the lull of new cameras, lenses or accessories; we’ve all felt the pull at one time or another, no matter how weak or irrational. Actually, it’s the irrational that I’m going to talk about today – purchases that are necessary from a professional standpoint (e.g. you have to buy lights if you’re going to be a studio product photographer) don’t really require justification; at least insofar as there are degrees.
As much as I dislike the ‘what should I buy’ type emails – just buy whatever feels good for you – I realize there’s one other question I’ve never really answered anywhere else on the site; that’s the question of what do I use for what. I did get featured on Japan Camera Hunter’s ‘what’s in your bag’ spot a little while ago; some of that is still current, some of it isn’t. In any case, I’m going to rectify that omission forthwith. These lists/ load manifests are current for the purpose as of the posting date, but I may of course vary them from time to time depending on the objectives of the shoot; they cover core equipment only. Yes, it’s a lot of stuff; do I wish I could get away with less? Absolutely. The problem though is once you’ve used the right tool for the job, and you can tell the difference in the output, it’s almost impossible to go back afterwards. Contrary to popular opinion, we pros don’t actually like to change our gear too often: it introduces uncertainties in the technical and creative processes, and when you’re on assignment, this is a risk that might make the difference between fulfilling the brief or losing a client. Before we take a new bit of gear out, it’s thoroughly tested in a non-critical environment first so we can at least get the measure of it.