Five Professional Photographers Talk About If Gear Matters

It does. It doesn't. Sometimes it does. There might be no question more polarizing in the photography community than "does gear matter?" Here's what five successful pros have to say on the subject.

Erik Wahlstrom asked Thomas Heaton, Christine Bartolucci, Alan Brock, Dan Bullman, and Ben Horne the infamous question, and their answers were both varied and nuanced. I think one of the most salient points for me was that regardless of which camp you're in, when you pick up a certain camera or lens, you're making an aesthetic decision. I think the degree to which one can divorce skill from the device on which that skill is applied is an argument in which there is plenty of room to maneuver, but I think it's less debatable that each piece of equipment invests in the final image its unique properties, whether the operator chooses to take advantage of them or not. On the other hand, the question of if said operator should embrace such inherent stylistic and technical characteristics or work to neutralize them and retain the utmost level of conscious control, well, that's where the question gets interesting, I think. What are your thoughts on the matter?

[via Shutterbug]

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17 Comments

The answer is yes and no. If you put a crappy in the hands of an excellent photographer you will still get great pictures. Then again if you put the best equipment in the hands of a crappy photographer you will get a crappy picture that looks like better. I was taking macro type pictures of sunflowers with a Sony A6000 and the 55-210 kit lens and an old nikon 105 f4 manual lens. Would the pictures look better if I had a a d810 and a modern lens, of course they would. Would the be better pictures, not really.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Ok what happens if you put average equipment in the hands of an average photographer?

You get average photos, I guess. I took a picture of a sunflower and the picture turned out average, sharpness & bokeh. If I used an A7R2 and the 70-200 2.8 lens the picture would turn out better.

I'm not a better photographer, it's just better equipment.

michael andrew's picture

You could use an old film camera and a 75$ nikon macro lens and get a much much more interesting image than your a7r2 70-200 example.

The question is not about gear, but the cost people keep getting too focused on.

Excellent gear has been around forever. Don't get hung up on pricey new shiny toys.

Depending on the degree of averageness, a steady stream of average punctuated by moments of brilliance.

Those moments may be enough to propel an average photographer into the realm of good, perhaps very good, if they are willing to work for it.

Ugh-- this subject has been discussed ad nauseum. I guess the subject needs to be brought up periodically?

This is very important topic for guru-type videos.

Kaare Lytsen's picture

Your vision/idea/story for the shoot matters. Afterwards you can figure out, what gear you want to use, too meet your vision/idea/story.

Amen! Couldn't agree more. Too often I've come across discussions like this that have ended with everyone agreeing that technique (lighting, camera craft, post-processing, etc) is more important than gear. But the best gear and the best technique isn't ever going to compensate for a lack of vision and creativity.

David Bengtsson's picture

Most of the time gear doesn't matter too much imo. However say you are shooting an assignment and will have to print very large images from the shoot. Then you may need a little bit higher MP count than say 5mp to print really large and still have it quite sharp. Or if you are into wildlife photography a long tele lens would give you more opportunities to get more shots as you can keep your distance and not as easily scare away your subject (animal). With sports photography a good AF system will probably get you more keepers as you won't have to worry as much about getting focus right but can instead spend all your time framing it up nicley. Isn't impossible to get good shots with older equipment but I think better gear will give you an advantage.

Ryan Cooper's picture

My position has always been that gear isn't needed to create great work. However, gear plays a tremendous role in allowing a photographer to create specific work. Most clients aren't looking for "any" great image in a given situation, they are looking for a specific style and type of image taken in a specific setting to meet their wants or needs. To do this, often specific gear is needed.

For example, a sports photographer could show up with a cheap nifty fifty. That sports photographer might also be able to create a tremendously compelling image with that nifty fifty. The only problem is the sports wire isn't looking for "any" compelling image, they are looking for the hero shot from across the stadium as the receiver jumps to make the winning touchdown. A task simply impossible for a nifty fifty unless the photographer is quite literally standing in the end zone. To make the great image that is desired, the photographer needs to show up with a fast telephoto lens.

The same can be said for almost all genres. Entry level or limited gear is a limiting factor on the range of what can be created. Strong photographers can still create compelling images under restriction but they often will not be able to deliver on the specific photo they are looking to create without the aid of specific, sometimes expensive, sometimes not, gear.

Furthermore, quality of gear operates as a limiting factor on the potential of images created by a photographer. Great gear won't make a bad photographer good. Bad gear won't make a great photographer bad. But generally speaking, a photographer will see improvement in the quality of their images via upgrading their gear. Though that improvement is often a lot more subtle than manufacturers would lead us to believe.

The bigger gain to be had from upgrading gear, however, comes in the form of reliability. It isn't just about being able to create great images, It's also about being able to reliably take great images. Higher quality gear is able to deliver on that promise more frequently.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

Agree. Especially to the last part.

I do a lot of TFP portrait shoots (our main business is aerials and weddings).

For those I have a couple of budget Yognuo flashes and remote triggers. Every once in a while a flash won't fire and other minor issues. It is perfectly fine for a TFP shoot.

But I would not bring this to a Vogue Cover shoot. It is not that a more expensive strobe/flash would make that picture significantly better (as my lightning skills are still the same). But the more expensive gear should give you more reliability.

You got it right dude!

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks" - Shakespeare

The more a photographer claims that gear doesn't matter = The less I believe him

Anonymous's picture

Expectations have changed..in terms of sharpness, how much is post vs making the image..such that gear has and continues to influence what is accepted as good work ...but for sure a good photographer can get good results with iffy gear, a lesser one won't get the best out of top kit, and may in fact be held back by too much quality and associated heightened expectations

Craig Tedeton's picture

My short opinion.....good glass matters. Everything else is gravy.

In my mind there are four parts to this equation: Vision + Photographer + Equipment = Result

With a crappy Vision and crappy Photographer, you will get a crappy Result, no matter how amazing the equipment. An amazing Vision and incredible Equipment if your Photographer is crap you will probably get a crappy Result. And an amazing Photographer with amazing Equipment but no vision will give you a technically perfect but not compelling Result. Equipment can only improve Result when Vision and Photographer are better than average or above. Or from a chemical perspective, Equipment is a catalyst that kicks in when the reaction takes place which is only triggered in the presence of amazing Vision + Photographer. Yea... I'm stretching now, but I think I've made my point, at least to myself.