(When) Does Gear Really Matter? Let’s Explore Different Perspectives

(When) Does Gear Really Matter? Let’s Explore Different Perspectives

Do we really need to spend thousands of dollars just to get good photographs? Can you become a good photographer with an old and cheap camera?

Any photographer who’s starting out probably asks this question, especially when they start seeing how expensive cameras and lenses can get. It’s safe to say that most of us begin our photography journey with just the fascination of taking photos and making nice images that we can show other people, not knowing all the technicalities that making them might involve. However, as you explore photography further, you begin to see that most of the amazing photographs we see around are, in reality, not as simple as they seem. That does not mean that beautiful photos rely on high-end gear, but there are instances when they make it way more possible.

The reason why the debate on whether gear matters never ends is that it is just too vague to have a definite answer. The question itself tries to generalize something for such a large group of people that have different requirements, experiences, and skill levels. That’s why for there to be anything fairly conclusive, we have to consider the circumstances that apply to different people. Here are some of them.

When You’re Just Starting Out and Learning

Most photographers start out with the simple desire to take photos. One way or another, there would be a specific subject, activity, or event that would inspire us to pick up a camera and start taking pictures. This curiosity is often the best advantage that we have as photographers starting out, and more often than not, the curiosity and eagerness to learn will outweigh the importance of gear.

Any kind of camera can be used to learn photography. To learn and familiarize yourself with exposure settings, any camera with manual controls can be enough. But in a more general sense, to learn composition and framing, and to develop artistic vision, any camera will do. It might be more advantageous to use a digital camera or even a smartphone to start learning photography because the results are instantaneous and one could easily make adjustments as they identify how their photograph can be improved. Having advanced gear may or may not be an advantage for someone who is just starting to learn photography depending on whether they actually know what certain functions are for. But for anyone who wants to learn the basics, any camera will do. When they’ve narrowed down on a few specific genres and have identified capabilities that their basic camera is lacking, then that is probably the time to get something more advanced which is then perfect because choosing the next upgrade would be easier.

When You’re in a Well-Controlled Situation

The reason why cameras and lenses can get extremely expensive is that they are made to solve problems that arise from circumstances that we can’t control. These can be physical factors such as subjects in motion or transient moments, or factors related to lighting. But in the hands of someone who knows how to use a particular camera, no matter how basic it can be, a well-controlled shooting scenario can be shot just as well as how a higher-end camera can.

Technical specifications aside, if you’re shooting a subject that you can direct or control in an environment where you can also control the lighting, you can create the image that you intend to create. They may not have the same resolution or definition when you nitpick the details, but the general idea of the image can be achieved nonetheless. The gear will matter when there are specifics beyond the visual design of the image that are crucial and when efficiency plays a bigger role in getting the shot.

When There Are Extremes in the Physical Factors and Lighting Environment

As previously said, the reasons why cameras and lenses can get expensive is because of how they adapt to certain factors. Some cameras are made to take better images in the scarcity of light. Some cameras are made to take photos faster to capture fast-moving subjects and some gear are given a combination of these capabilities to suit the needs of a more specialized workflow.

Sports photographers favor faster frame rates so they won’t miss a crucial split-second moment. Wildlife photographers use really long telephoto lenses to be able to get detailed close-up images of animals from a safe and non-intrusive distance. Many different kinds of photographers require cameras that can take good quality images at night. All of these can, in some ways, still be done by simpler gear, but there will be differences in quality, efficiency, or the level of assurance that come into play.

When There Are Specific Technical Requirements and Client Preferences

Doing photography professionally is often where the line is drawn. While there are certainly photographers who can do professional work with even the simplest of gear, there are also clients and projects that would have very specific requirements. Commercial photography would often be very specific when it comes to the resolution and sizes of the images needed for the projects. When shooting events, the speed of the camera can be much more crucial and all the more is this true when professionally shooting sports.

Some projects would have specific requirements on image formats, color depth, etc. Some clients would even specify the exact make and model of the gear that they want to be used in the production of what they need. Even though one can argue that some of them aren’t necessary, there are instances where the preference of the client will take precedence over all the factors especially if it can actually be done and they have the capacity to pay for it.

There are probably hundreds more scenarios that can be added to these, but all of them will prove just one thing. There are instances when gear won’t matter and there are instances when more advanced gear becomes crucial. What’s important is to identify which of these scenarios will be applicable to you and that if you do need to use more specialized gear, be able to identify what it is exactly that you need to get the job done. More importantly, remember that while more advanced and more expensive gear does matter in many situations, the person behind them will still be the biggest determinant in creating beautiful images. Photography is not all about the gear; it is about how we use the camera to turn our creative ideas into actual photographs.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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The whole gear doesn't matter phrase typically has a lot of contention because 90% of the time, the phrase gear doesn't matter, is either delivered like in this video https://youtu.be/x1HIkBEi9uY

Or it will be stated as a vlog style video as they are busy preparing 50K worth of camera and lighting equipment for their next shoot.

Often, the exception is someone showing a cool shot, and then showing that it was done with basic equipment, and then goes on with various tutorials focusing on getting the most out of the gear, as more of a consistent thing. The only thing is that those scenarios are few and far between.

That three year old video contains a link to a channel where he and another guy have a podcast where they don't talk about gear, except there are plenty of videos talking about gear. To be fair though, the gear videos have only appeared over the last year.

Has anyone ever gone back to say the 2010 to 2013 days of say the Canon T2i and all of the cameras of the time. What few know is you had to use Canon software for Ps and Lr used to cost $800+ each and at full updates. The T2i and two kit lenses cost $800. I just went back to some old T2i images and the first thing I noticed was the lack of noise to no noise. A T2i today goes for about $150. This info would be good for the beginner.