Amateur Photographer With Pro Gear Vs. Pro Photographers With Amateur Gear

We have certainly talked about this before, but it seems Gear Acquisition Syndrome is forever waiting in the wings to try to convince us that that new camera will help us make better images. This is a great reminder that skilled photographers with basic gear will do a better job than someone with a nice camera.

Coming to you from Mango Street, this video shows the team in their studio, during which they give a friend a Canon 5D Mark IV paired with the 35mm f/1.4L II lens, while they themselves go with the six-year-old entry level T3i paired with a kit lens. Granted, this is a controlled studio environment that is not taxing on either the sensors or the autofocus systems, but even so, it's easy to see that while the images from the amateur with expensive gear are certainly not bad, those from the pros with cheap gear are plenty sharp, show stronger posing and composition, and generally have better model engagement with the camera. And while gear certainly makes a photographer's job easier or enables more technically difficult shots in more taxing environments, storytelling and skills typically take precedence over the equipment. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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As long as those hoods are up, gtg =)

It's (sort of?) a shame that the "non-photographer" was actually pretty good because it feels like it weakened the point. He clearly knew what he was doing just by looking at his framing and composition. But a nice video anyway.

Alex: I've always said a pro will produce better images than an amateur no matter what gear they use. And I've always be proved right.

While I agree with you that a pro will produce a better image no matter the gear, I don't think you were proven right in this particular scenario. The amateur actually took some images that were better than the pro's.

Agree with Justin. The amateur nailed every time... I say let him keep that 5D, he deserves it

This really wasn't a solid comparison. A better test would've been to go out on the street and get the amateur to pick his own locations and deal with real world challenges. Setting someone up in a studio with the backdrop already sitting in great lighting didn't help their point.

My thoughts exactly, the pro photographers already picked the studio (which was beautiful), and the right time of day for the light. It would be hard to take a bad shot in that situation. And chose the model.
I would have done just what you said. Give them the gear and tell them to go off on their own, and see what they come back with.

I think they cheated their "test". You see the pro with a kit lens on, shooting first at F/4.0, then has the model turn and somehow the next picture has him shooting same lens at f/2.8 something that it can't do. I call BS

Also the whole test is biased being in a bright room where the faster lens isn't needed or wanted. The amatur shot at the same 2.8 they did with their pancake. Give the man a ND or strobes with HSS, and then lets see the comparison...

Now have them both shoot MMA in the middle of nowhere Ohio, and compare shots

This video should be called Your gear doesn't matter that much if you are shooting static things in studio environment.


I didn't see even one picture with the 18-55 lens... All of them were with the 40 mm.
Now, let's do the same test outside on the streets, in low light conditions and so on... I don't want to nag at the video, I like the idea, but I think more tests are needed.

Just look at the Pro photog cheap camera challenges on DRTV (youtube). Than point can't get any clearer than that!

Ya that is definitely proof that gear doesn't matter. I'm sad we will probably never see another one. I wish DRTV would let Kai do that on his channel.

I guess I'm the odd man out...again.
When I saw the title, I thought, 'exactly what I need to see...again.' If there's anyone on the planet who doesn't think a pro will do better with amateur gear, than an amateur with pro gear, I don't really care about their thoughts on the subject.
I didn't watch the video but was interested to see what people had to say about it. I can't believe anyone cares. When I first saw it, I thought it wouldn't get any comments. Since it did, of course I had to add another one. :-)

Give us a gallery! I try to hit pause to look at the image (which is annoying in itself) and this is what YouTube give me.

Why is it that the people always telling you 'it's not the gear', are the ones who have all the gear? Yes, I agree that learning and mastering the photography fundamentals is the key, but to say it's not the gear is only really applicable in a controlled studio environment like in the video.

What if a beginner wants to be a sports photographer? No way they will get a good shot sitting in the stands in low light with a kit lens. But at the same time, they also won't get a good shot with all the top of the line gear and no understanding of photography fundamentals, either. So, yes, that may be the key, but the gear is also important depending on the situation.

That is so true. Also, the people telling you it is not the gear are usually being paid or sponsored to promote gear and often that's all a lot of people ever talk about.

I would put myself between an amateur and semi-pro, and after using my T3i for 3 years, I just upgraded to a 6D. I finally decided to upgrade specifically for low light conditions. I like to shoot at night and can now jack the ISO way up and still get a shot with little to no grain. I agree that you have to have the skills with the basic equipment for the next step up to make much of a difference, but sometime the extra juice can help an amateur improve the quality of images that they are getting.

To claim that the gear doesn't matter they should have swapped cameras and did a second round, and then compared if the better gear made a discernible difference with either the pro or the amateur.

I thought some of the amateur's shots were pretty good actually! My question is who set the exposure on the amateur's camera? I honestly don't think this shows the point they were trying to make. I think a real test would be to send him outside, figure out his lighting, exposure and composition all on his own with pro gear then do the same with a pro on entry level gear. This is just "hey here's some beautiful lighting, model and setting, exposure is set, go nuts"

I was at an event where they had two event photographers. There was another professional photographer that was photographing, perhaps, her clients and perhaps, also soliciting new clients. The event manager told her that she had to stop. She, with a friend, were behind me in a food truck line discussing what happened. I had my Canon 5D III and the guy asked "What about this guy with the professional camera?" I should've jumped in to state that I am not a business photographer, that I am shooting for myself. I overheard her blast one of the event photographers about her technique, and also appearance; she was probably right. I don't know the circumstances; she may have been poaching, but she was not hired by the event.

A professional photographer is someone who makes their sole living from photography. An amateur is a hobbyist. Pro's aren't necessarily any better or worse than an amateur.
I know a few pros that are brilliant at say architecture, but utter shit at anything else. It's horses for courses.

Natural light versus strobes; thin and pretty model; Rebels are very high end cameras; they just lack the sealed housing, large sensor, dynamic range, speed that a pro camera has. This whole comparison was weak from the start. All the images were very contrasty (which shouldn't be the case with soft natural light), "pros" and amateur — which makes me question just how "pro" they actually are. But all that said, pros know lighting — that was done for them here by the sun. Anyone with a cell phone could have produced good images with that set up.

Interesting that they would choose a Grammy Award winning mix engineer. While that may not resonate with most people here, I can explain why some readers here may not have seen much difference. Being a mix engineer myself (I haven't won any Grammys..) with real credits, I can tell you that a similar sense of aesthetic can be found in both photographers and audio engineers. While one works in the visual medium, the other in the aural, there is a level of focus and attention to detail that both share.

Also I think we might be forgetting one very important thing; knowing how to use your gear! Regardless of whether you have the cheapest or the most expensive equipment, knowing it's limitations and using that to the best result will always beat using only a small part of something better.

Her is what I get out of it PRO = they talk to the models ..... AMATEUR = they have cool puppies

puppies? I missed the puppies.... :(

I really don't "get it" with these Pro v. Not pro comparos...The friend's stuff was ok and the pro stuff was ok too, not much more insightful or "story telling" than the friend's photos. Other than the head in the bucket, all the shots were pretty much middle of the road, seen that a million times. The pro is supposed to bring more to the table than they did.

If it is to prove that gear doesn't play into the final results then why not get 2 equivalent pros or amateurs with one using top of the line gear and one with crap gear.

I like to use the NASCAR analogy because it takes you outside of the photography "box." If you gave Richard Petty your street Chevy with no modifications and asked him to use it in the Daytona 500, would he win? Of course not. On the other hand, if you gave me Richard Petty's state of art race car and let me drive it in the Daytona 500, would I win? Of course not. The point being neither situation is ideal, and the same holds true for an amateur photographer with pro equipment or the pro with amateur equipment. Neither will win. You need a pro with pro equipment!

nice video, but it brings me back to something I saw decades ago. I was a playboy subscriber [when the magazine was good] from the early 70’s. The magazine gave their staff photographers [wait for this] point and shoot disposable film cameras –ones you could buy from the drug store for under $10 bucks- sent them out on a shoot. The results were beyond dammed good. Flash forward to digital (sometimes) its not what you buy… you need to have the eye.

Why is it annoying to be asked what camera you used? Some cameras are better in low light than others. Some cameras have a faster burst rate. Some cameras are weather sealed. Some cameras allow an image to be blown up bigger than others. What is wrong with asking what type of camera you use? Of course, technique and knowledge of posing are important, but to say your gear doesn't matter is like saying there's no difference between a Nissan Versa and a Tesla. Yes, both are cars and both will get you to Los Angeles, but the experience of getting there will be very different. I get the point that consumer gear in a pros hands can yield good results, but likewise, an amateur with pro gear can also get good pictures too. In your comparison, the amateur got at least one good shot, and that good shot can probably be blown up a lot bigger than the picture the "pros" shot. A more telling stat to me is how many great pictures did you get out of the total pictures taken. The girl is taking picture after picture when the subject isn't even really changing positions. That doesn't necessarily show any sophistication or skill. Gear matters to the extent that you need the right tool for the job, and I'd say that's pretty often.