It’s Not About the Camera, It’s About Who’s Pressing the Shutter

It’s Not About the Camera, It’s About Who’s Pressing the Shutter

I can think of so many times throughout my career where I have drooled over that latest camera release or that most recent lens that my brain convinces me that I simply have to have. Realistically, though, what photographer out there hasn't done that at least once in their career?

We all inadvertently seem to have that point where we feel like we are simply dying because we don't have that piece of gear that's just outside our budget. I have been wondering, though, does it matter that much? If the gear in hand gets the job done, then who cares if there's a camera out there with 10 times the megapixels? Sure, the extra quality would be fantastic, the improved dynamic range would be handy, but if the camera that you own earns you the paycheck, then why spend the money?

I was thinking about how many images I captured last year alone for work and how many different cameras I used for various types of jobs. My preferred choice of camera is the Sony a7R IV, which I use for the majority of my work. However, I realized that I have used quite a large range of cameras for a large range of shoot styles, image styles, and compositional differences all for the same job. Sometimes, my preferred camera just isn't right for the job. What got me thinking about this whole topic was the shot you see below, which was captured using an old DJI Phantom.

DJI Phantom 4 | ISO 400 | 8.8mm | f/2.8 | 1/6,400 s

The image here was not even a planned one on that particular shoot. It was quite by accident we ended up creating what you see. I had the drone in the air, mapping out my next shot with the RZR on the left, when the one on the right tore through the sand on the top part of the dune. When I saw it in the frame, I flagged down my drivers and had them run it several more times to mimic that same timing that they had ended up creating by accident on the first go. This photograph was created with the DJI Phantom 4, which means my image quality was a whopping 12 megapixels instead of the typical 60 megapixels I'm typically utilizing. We weren't even out there for photos; our priority was video, but that one shot turned out so well that it became the most successful part of that entire shoot.

I'll be the first to admit that I have many times been guilty of being a camera snob. Bigger is always better, right? Well, no, not right. Not even a little bit. Now, I wouldn't say the camera choice itself is so irrelevant that we should sell all our gear and stick to just using our cell phones for client work, but cell phone cameras these days are kind of insanely good when you think about the fact that they live in our pockets. I carry an iPhone around with me, but I've seen some incredible work come from all sorts of cell phones out there. I wouldn't recommend showing up to a client job with nothing but your phone, but that doesn't mean you can't still use your phone for professional work. The photo you see here below was taken with an iPhone 12 Pro.

iPhone 12 Pro | ISO 32 | 4.2mm | f/16 | 1/4,500 s

The cell phone camera, combined with a real photographer doing some edits in Adobe Lightroom or even in Lightroom Mobile can produce some solid results. That is precisely what you see in the image above: an iPhone photo that was shot, edited, and exported all from Adobe Lightroom Mobile. It all comes down to how the actual image is intended to be used and what your client may or may not want with it moving forward. If, for instance, the only reason you have been hired is that a company needs a bunch of new images for Instagram posts, then you may be able to get away with nothing but your phone. 

If your client needs more than a simple social campaign, or if there's the potential need for those images to be put to billboard use or any large-scale print medium, then your cell phone probably won't be enough to measure up for that particular job. With the rise in popularity of cameras found in DJI and GoPro equipment, it seems that megapixel count and total resolution aren't the deciding factors anymore. I firmly believe that if you're a great photographer, then you'll capture a great image, regardless of which camera you have in your hands. I see all the new tech advents as a huge perk in the world of commercial photography. It means I don't have to lug my heavy camera bag around everywhere I go unless I have a job that specifically requires that gear. Having more camera options and more ways to capture what I get hired to do and being able to fit some of those options in my pocket is a huge advantage in my mind.

Sony A7r IV | ISO 50 | 50mm | f/18 | 1/60

For me, this past year was a solid lesson in humility when I had my a7R IV shipped to my house after having some work done on it, and it was stolen from my porch. Long story: UPS faked my signature when I wasn't home, but thank the heavens for shipping insurance. It meant that I had to spend about two months shooting with several other cameras that weren't my preferred camera body, and I had to simply make do with what I had in hand. I was able to complete several client jobs with what would easily be considered lesser cameras, and my clients were perfectly happy with the results. Yes, I absolutely would have preferred to have the flexibility of larger compositions and wider cropping options, but I just didn't. It simply wasn't an option, so I got the opportunity to retrain my brain and go back to the basics of photography. 

It may sound silly to some, but it's quite easy to get wrapped up in the daily work life with the typical stack of gear and expect things to just run. Digital cameras make it easy to cut corners, and I was guilty of doing some of that, such as shooting in burst modes, bracketing, and using other camera tricks to get it close enough in camera because I had a limited amount of shoot time and I already knew what I could accomplish in post. I'm weirdly grateful for the lessons I learned this past year from the loss of that camera. When the replacement camera showed up, I had already been operating differently for several months, so my images with the new camera were that much better than they might have been having I not been practicing better photography techniques with lesser cameras prior.

I think the thing that hit home the most was that I was still a good photographer, even if I wasn't using a very good camera. I'm still immensely proud of my work, and the actual camera choice ended up having nothing to do with that. I would be surprised if most of you didn't relate to that. I'd say be proud of your quality of work. Who actually cares what camera you use to create that work? If you nailed that job, you nailed it, whether it was with a Hasselblad or an iPhone.

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Ric Szczepkowski's picture

The most important part of the camera is the 12" behind it.

Tony Clark's picture

As with most everything, it's the tool in your hand it's the one between your ears.

Joey M.'s picture

Please someone out there hire a professional $K photographer using iPhone only for their wedding to justify this point.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

The main reason, imbedded in your story, to have the A7Riv is the ability to crop! Maybe get back to basics and move your feet or use a telephoto lens. Also when was the last time you used one of the auto modes, you also paid for it. Did you know there is a panorama mode, takes some skill also. And now PS/Lr has enlargement and have you tried Topaz Gigapixel AI. Have you ever really played with a A7s or A7iii and compared to your precious A7Riv. Sometimes the hype on more pixels can blind your eyes. Lastly every print has a distance view and have you ever really looked at human clarity view - just look forward but see where you peripheral starts things are not clear side to side like a photo is side to side the reason for distance viewing. Just have fun with whatever you use! A7s

David Pavlich's picture

"Maybe get back to basics and move your feet or use a telephoto lens." Tell that to a chicadee that's 50 feet away, or a polar bear that's 50 yards away. I have a 5DIV and a Sigma 150-600 lens that I used in Churchill. I still had to crop most of my shots because those darned bears didn't want to walk up to our buggy and pose for us.

Moving your feet or using a super telephoto lens works, right up to the point that it doesn't. That's why lotsa' pixels really come in handy.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Oh… Good old 2003 style HDR tone mapping…

David Pavlich's picture

Another 'it's the shooter, not the gear' article. Context: You're a sports photographer that is being paid for great work. Do you choose a Nikon D3300 or a Nikon D5? It's not a trick question. Two equally talented shooters, one with the 3300, the other with the 5, guess who's going to get the best shots? THE GUY WITH THE BEST GEAR!

You have to put this stuff into context. Taking pictures of your cat on the couch is one thing. Taking pictures of a dirt bike crossed up over the whoop de doos is another. You gonna' shoot a wedding with a phone camera? I doubt it.

A great photographer's job is made easier with great gear. The good ole' 5DIII is arguably one of the most sold workhorse cameras. But the R5 makes it look archaic. The same guy that had the III moves to the R5 and holy cow! More keepers because a, the focus is miles ahead, and b, the sensor handles low light WAY better.

Gear matters.

Deleted Account's picture

I think you need to step back and look at the argument from the other angle, the angle where people claim XYZ brand or camera ‘isn’t suitable for professional work’….. nobody ever argued that a D5 isn’t much better than a D3300, but they do make claims like ‘you can’t use APS-C for pro work’ or ‘Fuji isn’t good enough for those who earn money’ to name a couple of examples. That’s the issue.

David Pavlich's picture

I don't need to step back because I don't make that claim. Caveat: A paid photographer should use a camera that has two card slots for the extra insurance it provides. Explaining critical shots being missed because a card failed is a sure way to find a really bad review on one's webpage and have a difficult time getting paid.

Deleted Account's picture

I think you misread my comment, I never once stated you made any claim.. I’m just offering you an alternative reason for the above quote and where it may be relevant.

J H's picture

Gear is not important. You just got caught in marketing propaganda. But don't worry it happens sometimes

David Pavlich's picture

Gear is really important, especially if you actually want to take a picture. Try doing it without gear. It's really difficult. Silly statement, I know....almost as silly as your statement. Gear matters.

J H's picture

But does it .......

David Pavlich's picture

It does if you wish to take a nice photograph....or a lousy photograph.

J H's picture

But.....does it.....

KDB .'s picture

Do you really think, at a magazine or wen size, that using a H6D or a smartphone can make a difference?

I remember a couple of years ago tricking the so-called Leica officionados with winter white and black landscape photos taken with the amazing Nokia 808.
No one could tell which photo was been taken with a phone or a Leica Monochrom.

Do you really think Helmut Newton did care about the latest gear when he was shooting Cindy Crawford in Monaco with a 100€ Canon consumer camera for Vogue?

David Pavlich's picture

If that's what blow's up one's skirt, then that's terrific! Do you think a pro shooter paid to shoot a football game or a tennis match is going to take a ton of great shots with his/her phone camera? I would venture a guess and say that he/she would never be hired again. Gear matters.

KDB .'s picture

I absolutely agree.
That's the difference between a real photographer who can make a good photo whatever is the camera and the so-called "photographers" who update their cameras every year.

One can buy a camera but one can't buy talent/skills.

David Pavlich's picture

Two equally talented shooters, Churchill, Manitoba. Polar bears 50 yards away. One has an R5 with a 600mm f4L, the other, an Iphone 13. Gear matters.

KDB .'s picture

Guess what: fire burns and water makes you wet!

You know these cameras won't make the same photos.
One should be stupid to make a models shooting with a phone, although, a Swedish magazine used a Nokia N8 for an editorial shooting with proper lighting, so not that stupid after all.

You can buy a H6D if it makes you happy, it won't make you a better photographer than James Nachtwey with a 400$ Xiaomi or Oppo phone (yes, there are other much more competent photophones than Iphones out there).

Maybe you should explain to David Burnett he's using the wrong camera (a 1940s Speed Graphic camera large format) when he shoots the Olympics... You've just made my day.

Once again, gear doesn't matter as much as you think it does.
Maybe you should study the history of photography...

David Pavlich's picture

All I said was gear matters. Nowhere did I say it is the be all, end all. I made my position known to you. You don't accept it. Fine. We agree to disagree, but my examples CLEARLY show that gear does matter.

I don't give a hoot what gear anybody uses. Doesn't matter to me. All you have to have is gear that makes the best results for you. If that's a Phase One, great! If it's an Iphone 10, that's great. The FACT remains that without gear, your chances of photographing a great tennis shot or a kingfisher with a mouth full of fish is going to be very, very difficult. Gear matters.

J H's picture

Very true. I think some "photographers" use gear as a way to flex and to place themselves at a higher station over others when their photos might just be mediocre. They think because they use this years latest model they are better than the people who use last years model even though there is zero difference. Its funny to read how entitled people can get about electronic specs.

KDB .'s picture

The best photos of the 20th century have been taken with slow, cumbersome and heavy cameras (Daniel Brandt, Vivian Maier, Gregory Crewdson...)

Most people haven't studied history of Photography and only swear by sponsored Youtubers' reviews praising brand X/Y with clickbait titles like "The best camera of 2021" or "The best low light camera". So much ignorance is pathetic.

Tech is an excuse to mediocrity...

KDB .'s picture

The best photos of the 20th century have been taken with slow, cumbersome and heavy cameras (Daniel Brandt, Vivian Maier, Gregory Crewdson...)

Most people haven't studied history of Photography and only swear by sponsored Youtubers' reviews praising brand X/Y with clickbait titles like "The best camera of 2021" or "The best low light camera". So much ignorance is pathetic.

Tech is an excuse to mediocrity...

Christian Fiore's picture

"The best photos of the 20th century have been taken with slow, cumbersome and heavy cameras"

Because that's all that was available for nearly the entire 20th century. There was no other choice. Now there's much more chance to get a shot, because cameras perform much better. So there will be many, many more "best shots" from the 21st century than there were from the 20th, for the sheer fact that the scenes were actually able to be captured in the second they happened.

And for reference, my regularly used cameras are from 2005 (slow), 2008 (quick), 2014 (quicker than slow), 2016 (fast), and 2018 (fast). For my pro work, I use the most competent cameras I own (2016, 2018), so the cameras are able to move out of my way when I need to get the shot the moment it's happening.

KDB .'s picture

I understand Christian.
But do you feel your 2015 camera gave you worst photos than your 2016 one?
Did the ISO bump from 6400 to 12800 make a crucial difference?

We aren't talking luxury gadgets here but gear we use to get paid by the client.
As long as you can get the shot your client pays for, who cares if this has been shot with a Sony A7I or IV???

Regarding the "to move out of my way" bit, I 100% agree: the tool shouldn't stand in the way but Cartier-Bresson was using a slow Leica III (I have one getting service as we speak) which is so slow to use (a viewfinder to frame and another one to focus), yet he took the most famous streetphotos of all time...

The "decisive moment" happened and has been frozen even without top of the line, fast autofocus, hi ISO, long lasting battery gear. It's the skills, not the gear.

KDB .'s picture

I have to kindly disagree with you. The guy who is going to take the best shot is the one who KNOWS to take a picture (story/framing/timing).
You can buy a Hermes saddle and silk reins to your donkey, he won't win any race though...

David Pavlich's picture

Here's what I posted: "Two equally talented shooters, Churchill, Manitoba. Polar bears 50 yards away. One has an R5 with a 600mm f4L, the other, an Iphone 13. Gear matters."

Note: TWO EQUALLY TALENTED PHOTOGRAPHERS. They will do the best they can with the gear they have. Which shooter will leave Churchill with the best shots? It'll be the shooter with the best gear. If you believe otherwise, there is no hope.

KDB .'s picture

You should have a look at David Burnett's work (if you know him) and add "different" to you vocabulary.

If you think only a top of the line can make a good photo, then you have been trapped by Leica/Apple marketing: subpar and most expensive products than the competition (very well crafted though).
Good for them, they need customers like you.

I have owned 10 Leica cameras in total (from the Q2 to the S007) and some fine lenses.
Did they gave me better photos than my Ricoh GR2 or my phone? HELL NO!!!

I have paid premium price for unreliable gear and horrible customer service.

Things don't always have to be the best, they can be different...

You still haven't replied to Crewdson and Newton slow, heavy and outdated cameras that have created among the most iconic fashion and moody/cinematic photos of the 20th century.
Tell me they were wrong to use large format and 100$ cameras...

David Pavlich's picture

I mentioned several times that you shoot what works for you. Leica is a fine camera for sure. I have no desire to own one because it doesn't fit with what I do or what I like in my hand. I have an Apple phone for one reason; Facetime....that's it. I have family scattered around and it's nice to talk face to face especially now with this frickin' disease running rampant. See that? I use gear that works for me. Otherwise, any phone would be just dandy.

I did respond, but you just don't get the message. Let me repeat it again; you shoot with what works for you. Crewdson et al like big, slow, outdated stuff. It's what works for them. My 5DIV, which is about four years old now, is just fine for me.

If I were a paid action shooter, the 5DIV would be history and I'd be using a couple of 1DxIIIs because it is a top level performer for the task at hand. In this case, really good gear does a better job.

KDB .'s picture

David, I agree on this part: we shoot with whatever suits our taste/needs/budget.

Regarding action, I have worked with a talented Swiss photographer, David Carlier.
He's in white sports/documentary and shoots with an old Leica M9.
Sport and old tech match well together when you KNOW your style and camera.

Another example of paid and successful photographer who DOES NOT need the latest/fastest/best camera to shoot action or editorial stuff. Gear doesn't matter to him.

To me a photographer who shoots 145 frames to get one can be replaced by an electrician, a waiter or anyone, he has no style, no added value.

That's what I call the Ratatouille phenomenon: anyone can shoot these days.
Instagram is flooded with these "new photographers".
Just press the shutter (button) and you WILL get a sellable photo.

David Brandt has taken among the most beautiful wild animals portraits ever with a Pentax 67. He also KNOWS his gear and is a master when it comes to framing/timing.

A good photographer (who makes a living from shooting) is good because he masters his art/skills, not thanks the "best" camera. Facts. You can't deny that.

David Pavlich's picture

Yep! You use the gear that works best for you. It took a while, but you have just proved my point.

KDB .'s picture

Please read again... "A good photographer (who makes a living from shooting) is good because he masters his art/skills, not thanks the "best" camera. Facts. You can't deny that.

David Pavlich's picture

And again, you proved my point. I'll try this once more; you use the gear that works best for you. How you interpret that to mean that I say it's the best gear that one should use is beyond me. I surrender. This is getting monotonous. You win. Now I'm going to remove that dead horse. It's starting to give off a peculiar odor.

Charles Mercier's picture

I live out west. So many of those irritatingly noisy UTV's everywhere. Horrible. (Many people, not just me, feel this way.)

Nac MacFeegle's picture

I agree 100%, I despise these vehicles. There's a motorized recreation several miles from my home, and even with plenty of obstructions between me and it, its still horribly loud - a source of constant noise pollution.

Deleted Account's picture

You cannot press the shutter:) You can press a button:)

Rex Jones's picture

Lol, you're not wrong! ;)

Deleted Account's picture

:) Thank you for your reply.

Christian Fiore's picture

You CAN press a shutter. But only once.

KDB .'s picture

Of course it's not about the gear.

Changing camera (unless it's not working anymore) is an excuse to lack of talent/skills.

I remember when I started my photography journey: I have bought a Leica M9, then M9-P, followed by a MM1...
I jumped into the medium format wagon buying a used S2 and I have upgraded it with a S007.

Did I take better photos than nowadays ? Hell no!
What a WASTE of money and time looking for always better...

The more you shoot, the more you learn.
The more you learn, the more you improve your skills and the more gear becomes irrelevant.

I have spent 5 weeks in New York this summer shooting with my Samsung A52 (really impressive photophone) and I have printed my photos.
Did I miss my 5DIV or my Xpro-3? Of course not.
Did I get the same pictures? Sort of.
Unobtrusive and discreet, a smartphone is a perfect documentary/street camera.
The sensors are so good that you can easily print up to A4 size if you KNOW how to take a picture (timing/framing/subject).

The megapixel/dynamic range is just a western rich man's excuse to GAS syndrome.

Chase Charvis said "the best camera is the one you have with you", that phrase should be taught in photography schools.

Mike Ditz's picture


Nac MacFeegle's picture

First of all, I find the photos used as examples here to be quite offensive, as they depict a highly polluting and destructive form of recreation. These machines, and motorized recreation in general is a blight upon any region where they are unfortunately inflicted.

Secondly, this kind of "gear doesn't matter" article is a dime a dozen, and while every one of these articles acts like its making some kind of revelatory and bold statement, I don't think anyone would disagree a skilled photographer can capture a good image with limited gear. Thing is, a great photographer can capture even better images with better equipment. We'd like to believe that gear doesn't matter, but it actually does.

KDB .'s picture

I second that Nac.
We like to believe that a bump in the ISO will radically change the nature of the camera...

Every time people/friends ask me what is the best camera, my answer is the same: NONE!

There are different cameras/lenses for different occasions.

To me, the best one is the one that's with me because I have to get the shot whatever it takes. My gear can't be an excuse to a badly framed or timed photo.

My clients will never accept a "sorry, but the photo would have been better if I had funds to get a X/Y brand"...

As a photographer, you have to know and master your gear and your skills, whatever is this gear.

For many years, THE most used commercial camera has been the venerable Nikon D3.
"Only" 12 Mpix, yet, most of the adds and commercials have been shot with this anvil.

Jonathan Casey's picture

Just a quick question regarding the ‘best camera is the one that’s with you.’ Wouldn’t most people doing pretty well anything decide what to bring before they left and then use that?

KDB .'s picture

You are right Jonathan but you can't always plan to take a camera with you...
For that matter, you never go out without your phone.

Jonathan Casey's picture

Speaking just for myself, I quite often go out without my phone. I’m really happy not taking photographs if I don’t plan to.
Anyway, so the quote means ‘the best camera is your phone?’

KDB .'s picture

As I have mentioned earlier, the best camera doesn't exist.
And if it does, it is until the next model is released, 6 months later.
An endless chase and a tremendous waste of time (if not money).

The "best" camera is just the one that can take the shot when it happens.
To me, it is my phone, 80% of the time or my Ricoh GRII if I wear a jacket with large enough pockets. I have sold GRII photos even if this camera is 4 or 5 years old already.

When I shoot video, I use my 5DIV and my Blackmagic 6K (gen 1).
No need for an Alexa or a Panavision...

Jonathan Casey's picture

Sorry, I genuinely have trouble understanding this. You don’t when you will be taking photographs, so you mostly just carry your phone around and hope something interesting might happen? What sort of thing?

KDB .'s picture

When I am on an assignment, I bring My 5DIV for stills/videos or my Blackmagic 6K for video only.
Then, they are my "best" gear.

For an everyday use, I never carry a big and heavy camera.
No way I can go out with my 5DIV and my 16/35/4L lugging around my neck hopping to take some shots.

My phone or my Ricoh GR2 are more than enough for prints up to A4 (phone) or A3 (Ricoh).
That's my everyday's "best" gear. Who needs more than that?

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