An Interesting Perspective on Why Gear Matters

As photographers, we talk incessantly about gear. And you know what? That's ok. Gear does matter. But it's important to carefully compartmentalize where and how gear matters versus where and how it doesn't to avoid falling into common traps.

I'll be honest: I often say "gear doesn't matter," but I don't fully mean it. What I'm really doing is vastly oversimplifying a philosophy of orientation toward content and the ends over the means while simultaneously trying to avoid prattling on, as is often my wont. The truth is that there are certain images that simply couldn't be made without certain gear, and there are certain aesthetics that, at the very least, are extremely difficult to obtain without the canonical equipment. That doesn't change the philosophy that I often overly distill into that aforementioned three-word quote: compelling imagery is possible with all gear and a competent photographer and artist can make such imagery with whatever they have, but to extend that to an equalization of all tools in all circumstances is folly. Rather, as Marc Falzon aptly puts it in this great video: "better gear doesn't mean better images." But it also doesn't mean better gear is itself meaningless. 

[via PetaPixel]

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.

Log in or register to post comments

So here is my two cents worth on this subject....gear matters, in that it can give you greater opportunities to produce better work. With "good" gear, there are fewer limitations in any given situation whereas you can overcome environmental or situational obstacles to produce good or even great images. Is good gear a necessity, probably not.

Thank you so much for posting this. In my opinion this video is THE definitive word on the subject. There's nothing left to add, but someone will find a way. :-)

Thanks for sharing this. :)

I like this point of view a lot, but it seems like both Forbes and Falzon have ignored the role of gear in the process of making the image. How does the physical gear change the relationship to the subject? I would say that's as important, ie. you can get the same image from a Leica and DSLR when shooting street, but one may disturb the subject and the other probably won't.

I can see your point for street photography but I'm not sure where else. I guess when doing portraiture, a "professional" looking camera might instill more confidence in your abilities to the subject.
When I'm shooting landscape, mother nature doesn't seem to give a damn, one way or the other. ;-)

I know when shooting portraits using a large format camera, the gear makes a big difference in how you relate to your subject. There's much more talking, you're not looking in the viewfinder while taking the photo, and the subject's relationship to the camera is completely different. As such, a large format shot is likely to be more stoic and controlled because of the necessity to be so for the medium. Going the other way, if I'm shooting with a polaroid camera and cheap flash, it inspires a feeling of light heartedness in the subject, heightening the energy in the shoot.

I read one of your articles about using a large format camera. I couldn't imagine trying to do that! I shoot portraits with a Nikon D810. Between that and my lighting, people start out very serious. Usually, I joke around a lot (I don't really care if they laugh with me or at me) and have them hold my camera to review the first couple shots. That helps them to lighten up and alleviate any fear. By the end of the session, they're fighting to keep a straight face. :-)

Yes gear matters. But does it matter to the observer? As photographers we all know that to capture certain things requires specific gear, but in the end does the observer really appreciate the image more if they know what gear was used? Or is it the composition that attracts the observer and draws them in? Will that composition be even more attractive if the observer knows it was created using x and y with a bit of z thrown in?

I know most of the equipment debate has to do with the capture and the finished product, but for me, it is more about speed and ease of focus and durability of the equipment. I have an 810 that almost has 380,000 images on it and I have only had it in for repairs twice, the first time was minor the second time was my fault. The longer it holds up the more money I make. With most any profession it is more about knowing your tools, what each one will give you and what you are going to use to get the image you want. A lot of creative and quality photos on this site.

All too true my friend. We all are so focused on making our point that we don't realize that all the other points can be equally of value But in the end its all about the quality of the resulting outcome and to some small degree the Benjamins.

Your gear does matter but the most important gear you have to consider is the 12 inches that are behind the camera when you are taking your photo. I've been a photographer for 20 plus years and when I shot film I did use a medium format Hasselblad but most of my 'professional' photos were shot on my 35mm Minoltas vs the 'Nikon' and 'Canon' that 'all professionals only use'.

The fact that my photos were constantly comparably better than the ones taken by the Nikon and Canon 'Professionals' was 'accidental' even though it happened regularly when compared with the same professional individuals. I have even been told by a few famous and one internationally famous photographer that yes gear does matters but not as much as the finished product which is the result of the intrinsic talent contained in the photographer taking the photos. I met this internationally famous photographer for the second time back in July 2016, funny thing is he gave me the label 'that Minolta Guy' back in 1987. It is funny that someone who met me once back in 1987 who even then was internationally famous would remember me, a relative nobody in the Professional Photography arena both back then and again even now.

I just like photography, I have been shooting professionally on-and-off for well over 20 years and just recently (in the last year) decided to got full digital professional. Yes I shot with some cheap fixed lens cameras on vacation but refused to become one of those 'digital' people. Well I finally did it and can't figure out why I waited so long to do it. Yes I was a purist but that's just me saying I'm a traditionalist when everyone else has gone digital, just another way of separating myself from everyone else, just like everyone else keeps trying to do with the Nikon v. Canon argument and the 'Crop-Sensor' v. 'Full-Frame' argument and the Nikon and Canon Professional Photographers v. everyone else argument..

So if someone buys themselves a Nikon or Canon 'Full-Frame' Camera then they are automatically a 'Professional Photographer' even if they have never even held a camera before? I Think not! What determines if you are a Professional or not is your intrinsic talent, skill level, your ability to learn that which you do not know yet and your ability to behave and carry yourself as a professional.

People, especially those wishing to disseminate that you are not a professional or as high a Professional as the are because you are not shooting with either a Nikon or a Canon and if you are then you are shooting with a 'Crop-Sensor' not a Professional 'Full-Frame' camera and thus they are the professional not you. To them, 'Gear Matters' not the quality of the comparing photographic results.

I will leave you with this little witticism. What is the difference between a Wise-man and a Fool? The Fool believes he knows everything; The Wise-man knows there is much he still has to learn. Be the Wise-man, not the Fool.

I was at an event where there was an official photographer. There was another photographer that was taking photos for clients and she was asked to stop. She was discussing this with an exhibitor in the food truck line and the exhibitor asked "What about this guy? He's got a pro camera." and he was referring to me. Yes, I own a Canon 5D III, but I wanted a full frame camera since that's what my film cameras are. I wasn't asked to stop, but if I were, I would have said these are for my personal use.

In the same situation I would be willing to sign a release if asked that any and all photos I would take at such an event 'are for my own personal use' and 'for my own personal portfolio' and that I will not sell them. It would help if you had a few copies of an already 'printed up contract' to reassure the 'official' event photographer however even if there is an official event photographer that doesn't preclude anyone who is attending or present in a public forum from not being 'allowed' to take photos also. I would not be adverse to also providing 'free' copies to any event staff or the event coordinator for allowing me to take photos at their event; who knows you might even get the gig out of it next time if your photos are better than the 'official event photographer'.