You might have noticed a common theme in my articles: "the gear doesn’t matter". A lot of people have called me out on this, especially as in my profile picture I’m shooting on a Phase One with Broncolor lights. And yes, you are right, the kit does matter in my line of work, just not always. Sitting on the fence? Maybe. Here’s my explanation:
Whether your photography is a hobby, job, or somewhere in-between, you are going to want your kit to last. Entry level cameras simply do not take the beating that the high-end cameras do. I am a Canon and Phase shooter, so in my case the Canon 5Ds I own are the perfect balance between price, build quality and usability that I require for my day to day work. I also own a few of them. Two are for me to shoot with and the third is for Canon repair centre, assistants BTS camera or for running a time-lapse. The same goes for lenses and lights. I tried cheap knock-off style kit and non L lenses, and indeed they work brilliantly and produce great images. But only for so long. I kill them pretty quickly compared to Broncolor and L lenses.
I think it’s important to have some context here though, I shoot on average 4 times a week and these are 8+ hour days either in the studio or on location. Including the time-lapse work I do, I am shooting around 1.5million frames per year, sometimes in the rain, sometimes in blistering heat and often in my dusty studio. My kit takes a real beating and having more expensive cameras actually works out cheaper. I have been running my Canon 5D and 5Dmk2 cameras for about 7 years, and I purchased them used, so they’ve probably had about a decades use altogether, and they still run fine today. I had some cheaper cameras, 450D and 50D style and they wore out a lot faster and with some simple calculations, you can quickly see that on a cost per use basis, they are actually more expensive to run.
Cameras and lenses don’t seem to suffer so much in this area, but lights really do. When I have worked with cheaper lights, I find the white balance and exposures to be all over the place. Again, this doesn’t matter for 90% of people, 90% of the time (I love me some fake stats). However, if you are shooting 500 of something and you need it to all work as a set, the consistency of the light colour and power is really important. This saves me hours in post-production too.
Quality of Light
Not all light is created equally, the difference between a high-end light and budget eBay special in my opinion has more of an affect on image quality than the camera body will. I have everything from 8ft indirect octaboxes through to cheap eBay shoot through umbrellas and knock off lights to Broncolors; the difference is massive. Comparing this to the Canon 85mm 1.8 V 85mm 1.2, it is far better in my mind to spend the money on lighting if you work with off-camera flash.
Kit does fail, even the highest end pro gear. Buying from a company that offers great repair services around the world, as well as an easily accessible rental service, is vital in my line of work. I probably send 2-3 cameras a year back to Canon, one lens and maybe 4-5 lights for various fixes. Being able to get this done with ease and with the knowledge that I can rent something in the meantime is one of the biggest deciding factors on what I buy.
The last point is image quality. This rarely comes down to resolution in todays camera market. Nevertheless, there are certain markers that are important for certain types of jobs. If I am doing product work where colour reproduction is key, or if I am shooting an item that has a very gradual tonal change, I will reach for a medium format camera, if I need to shoot some really low light work then I will jump back to my Canon system and fast prime lenses. There are times when you simply do need a very expensive camera, lens, or light. However, it rarely comes down to image quality for my line of work as even an average priced camera in 2017 is really impressive compared to a top end one in 2000.
What do you think matters the most with photography equipment?