Why You Don't Always Need the Latest Photography Gear

Why You Don't Always Need the Latest Photography Gear

If you’re anything like me, you spend half your time fighting for new business and the other half fighting your urge to spend the money you make from new business on gear. So, for a bit of fun, today I thought I’d share my own personal, self-directed pep talk whenever I feel the urge to splurge.

I see you sitting there. One window open to Fstoppers. Learning about the latest and greatest gear. A second window permanently parked on B&H. Maybe a third open to Amazon.

You must have spent half the morning so far pouring over options. You’ve looked at all the mirrorless cameras. You’ve read every review and memorized the specs. You’ve even spent more time than you’d care to admit reading the gearheads duke it out in the comment sections over everything from the importance of sensor size to whether or not having two card slots magically designates you a professional photographer.

You’ve imagined yourself walking onto set with all these new toys. Naturally, everything from the $2,500 lens to the round, metal dongle whose name you can’t recall but were told was an absolute necessity by your favorite vlogger is in your bag. And of course, you imagine you’ll use every single item in your new artillery, forgetting for a moment that you’ve been getting along just fine without any of it to this point.

As a matter of fact, if you were to take a moment to really think about it, you’d realize that anything deemed cutting edge technology can’t, by definition, be a necessity. Since photography has been around for well over a century, with amazing imagery being created long before you were born, it stands to reason that as much as you want that new LED panel, it would be hard to argue that you objectively need it.

Was Richard Avedon any less of a photographer because he didn’t shoot mirrorless? Did Alfred Hitchcock suck as a director simply because he didn’t have dual-pixel autofocus at his disposal? Of course not.

You don’t become a professional photographer by being able to buy the best equipment. You’re not being hired for your ability to use your credit card. You’re being hired for your ability to create art that no one else can create. You’re being hired for your unique voice. You’re being hired for your experience and because you’ve put in the hard work over the years to now make it all look so easy.

So, maybe all those hours you spent on Google this morning trying to get the definitive answer to whether full frame or APS-C is a superior format wasn’t the best use of your time. Maybe it would have been more useful to have spent the morning cold-calling clients for whom you can put your old equipment to use. Maybe instead of surfing the web, you should have been updating your own website. Maybe instead of having a Twitter duel over the merits of someone else’s work, you should be out creating work of your own.

Being a professional photographer is not about the tools you bring to set inside your designer case. It’s about the creativity and work ethic you have no matter what tool you hold in your hand.

So, next time you find yourself strolling down the digital shopping aisles in search of value, turn your attention instead to building the value of your own product. Instead of looking for a new camera, ask yourself if there’s a way to get more out of the one you already have. Instead of trying to convince yourself that you really need that upgraded lens, ask yourself if there’s a new way you can look at a familiar subject. And next time you subconsciously, maybe not so subconsciously, begin to think that you could really go to “the next level” if only you had better equipment, remind yourself that you can’t buy creativity. You can’t buy experience. You can only work for it.

Now put away your credit card and get to work.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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I agree totally with you!

In most cases new gear is not a real need. I only buy new lenses if my equipment has been limiting my possibilities and creativity repeatedly. Currently I ask myself if I really "need" a super wide angle of 12mm to complement my Sony FE 16-35mm f/4.0 Zoom ...?!?

Best regards from Switzerland,


nice article, im always tempted to buy a full frame camera but my fuji cameras still do a good job

I got into Fujifilm at the start of the year, ended up needing a 2nd body for the girlfriend to use. I got an X-E2s for £399 brand new on Wex, truth is I absolutely love shooting with it, the images are sharp and great colours.

"You don’t become a professional photographer by being able to buy the best equipment."
"you can’t buy creativity. You can’t buy experience. You can only work for it."

Pretty much says it all in my opinion.

That's all well and good, but when the word 'professional' is in the mix, there is a reason why the better gear is the better choice. I wouldn't want to shoot a professional football game with a Canon T2i. Yes, you could do it, but....

I wouldn't want to be a concert photographer and shoot with a Canon 40D. Yes you could do it, but....

I doubt that a pro wildlife shooter would be in Siberia looking for that elusive tiger with a point and shoot camera. Fact is, a wildlife shooter might be using a 600mm f4, but decides that he/she is cropping a bit too much because he/she can't get close enough to the subject. So the 600 goes on Ebay and he/she buys an 800 f5.6 because it makes the job easier and he gets better results.

I know, some rather silly notions, but the article says professional.

Besides, if you are truly a pro as defined by the fact that you have satisfied clients that pay you for your work, it stands to reason that you're already pretty good at what you do. Sure, you can get better, but you aren't getting paid because your handsome, pretty or use a 1DxII, you've already proven that you know how to make art with a camera.

The point is, a pro buys the gear that will make his/her job easier, more efficient, and a better opportunity to produce what the client expects not to mention the tough conditions many pros shoot under. And usually this is the high end stuff.

Hum hum.

Why are you arguing using old entry level amateur cameras for professionnal job ?

Didn't you know that Canikon had professionnal digital gear for more than 15 years ? Seriously ?
As you said, a pro buy gear that suits its needs, period. But why should a pro switch Canon to nikon, then back to Canon, then another time to fuji, then again but SONY... It is tons of time and money wasted for hype and marketing. Don't you agree with that simple fact ?

It's not a fact, it's an opinion. What a photographer does with his money is his business, not ours. The article states that a pro doesn't need the latest and greatest gear which is true to a point.

I also stated that my examples were silly. You apparently glossed over that statement.

A pro is going to use the gear that makes his/her job easier and if that means getting the latest and greatest, then that's what is done. If you read into the article as I did, it sounds as if a pro that is getting paid should learn to get better before looking at new gear. I disagree with that thought process because a true pro is already being paid for the work, so it must be pretty good.

Can he get better? Of course, we all can, but in a case that a pro is already being paid, logic tells me that he knows which end of a camera is which.

It's poring, not pouring. Big difference.

yeah, good one

correct said

It's just one of things you learn over time as a photographer. Although some people just like gadgets. They will buy the best just because. I look back now and know if I grabbed an old Canon T2 I could take decent photos with it. I understanding the limitations and it's about the same reasons you mentioned in the article. When you start wanting new gear it should be for a purpose though. If you already have a 70-300 lens but it's cheap and want your photos to be sharper on the long end, then you can invest the money on something better.

This is basically how it goes, New Photographer-, Buys a bunch of overlapping cheap lenses. Gets some experience-, Sells most lenses. Years of experience-, Finds a niche and buys overlapping lenses again but for a very specific reasons like sharpness at a certain aperture, bokeh quality or low light performance.

"... some people just like gadgets. They will buy the best just because." this bunch is rarely a true professional photographer really ... they are prosumers: professional consumers! nothing wrong with that though, as long as they know what they're doing and don't claim to be pro photogs ... :-)

Poring, not pouring over the options. There is no liquid involved.

to the best of my knowledge and based on my own 1st-hand personal as well as social observation as a semi-pro photographer (active in other fields of imagery as well) i have NEVER met any true professional photographer (or graphic artist or image editor etc) using the latest / best equipment for most of what they do unless the equipment is given to them in a workplace or on assignment for some firm ... in fact, most pro photogs i do know personally follow the latest gear news only when necessary and they're not shy about it ...

Photographers make photographs -- cameras don't!

Absolutely correct sir. Nice to read an article from someone with sense for once. Still am using the Nikon F2a, Mamiya C330, Hassy 500 CM, etc..etc..etc. Thanks for the article

Buy books not gear.
I've got no plan selling the Mamiya 7.
A lot of the latest gizmo out there are taking over your freedom to create, limitation is good, make you think harder.
Just my2cents