Is Expensive Camera Gear Really Not That Important?

Fashion photographer Peter Coulson is back with another video showing us his process of seeing light. This time he takes an even more minimal approach than his previous videos to prove that expensive gear isn't always needed to produce quality photography.

In this insightful video, Australian photographer Peter Coulson tackles the comments on his previous videos, arguing that he was still shooting with equipment that gave him an edge and that he still had the advantage of the use of his studio.

This time, he takes a rather simple approach, with kit that can be purchased for around $600 in total, a Sony a6000 body and a 7Artisans 50mm f/0.95 lens. Instead of using his studio, he's shooting outdoors in what many photographers may not consider ideal circumstances. The sun is high in the sky, and he's out and about in the suburbs. He shoots by the roadside, in front of shuttered shops, and in what looks like a sports ground.

Peter focuses on showing us how he uses his surroundings. He shares how he sees light coming off everyday objects, such as a car that's passing by, concrete flooring, and fences. Watching him position the model and himself as he frames his shots is quite educational. He also shares his camera's setup so that you can follow what he's doing.

The result is a set of images in Peter's signature black and white, which can be used in a number of contexts including portraits, model folios, and fashion.

I think Peter has settled this discussion. What do you think?

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45 Comments
David Pavlich's picture

Of course you can shoot anything you want with any gear you have. We are all aware of that, ad nauseum. It's another 'gear vs photographer' video. Probably about 7 or 8 thousand have come before this one.

It all depends on what you're trying to do. Take his kit to Churchill wear the polar bears don't pose for you ten feet away. Or you're getting paid to shoot a football game. Good luck on receiving a check if you went with the gear in the video. Spend a small fortune to go the Belgian Gran Prix, park yourself at Eau Rouge to get shots of the boys coming through the greatest curve in F1. Probably going to want some pretty good gear for that.

Ray Sheffer's picture

yes. If you are worth your salt in photography. You can shoot with any gear. But, there is a reason why professional nascar drivers don't drive soccer mom vans while they are racing. Cheap gear can hold a professional back at times.

Susheel Chandradhas's picture

Yes, context is important when we talk about gear. Peter talks about how the 'gear' is more for him, and for his love of photography, than for his client. He shoots with gear and a studio filled with equipment that may easily cost half a million $.

The point he's trying to make is that for those who are starting off, and trying to make great pictures, gear isn't a limiting factor. In fact, even not having expensive light or a fancy studio aren't limiting factors when the goal is to create engaging and expressive photographs.

Does good gear help to make photography easier? For sure!

Does giving a novice a $10,000 camera make him a great photographer? Certainly not.

Can an aspiring photographer learn to get great images with $600 worth of gear? For sure.

And that's all this video is about.

Deleted Account's picture

Why is it always people who aren't very good who insist that gear really does matter?

Ray Sheffer's picture

gear does matter. that is why you dont Kyle Busch drive a soccer mom van when he's racing at a nascar race.

Deleted Account's picture

Given the vehicles in racing are standardised and subject to technical limitation, Kyle Busch (whoever the hell that is) would be driving the same sort of "soccer mom van" as every other driver in the same race, or series.

Also, the fact that Coulson is a top level pro really sinks your analogy.

Maybe you'd be better served working on your actual photography, as opposed to arguing on the Internet about how important gear is.

Ray Sheffer's picture

or maybe its better serves you doing whatever you are doing in your life than arguing that gear doesn't matter. My point is that at sometime in a person's career. Even the best of the best. Subpar gear does more harm than good. Gear accounts about 25%-
35% of how good person is I believe

Deleted Account's picture

Apparently I need to be direct.

You really aren't that good. A rating of 2.4 is generous. You might want to start by not over cooking your files in post.

Ray Sheffer's picture

coming from someone who has 0 rating on 0 photos. If you are as good as you think you are. You would have photos on your account. Note. I only have 4 followers that voted on only a few photos out 28 I uploaded. Where are yours so people like me could vote. Put up or shut up.

Deleted Account's picture

Silly me. I could have done what people around here do; specifically, give every image in your profile a 1, without saying a word (I'll just get onto that now).

Also, your images are overcooked. Take it or leave it.

David Pavlich's picture

Funny thing about photography....it's subjective. That means that your opinion is worth no more or no less than anyone else's opinion.

Deleted Account's picture

I was referring to you too.

Ray Sheffer's picture

I didn't know this was a cooking lesson. Either speak photographer or English because I have no clue what you mean by over cooked when it comes to my photos.

Deleted Account's picture

I'll explain "photographer" to you. "Overcooked" is commonly used "photographer" for when you go far too hard on your post processing.

You can also do something like open Google, and search "overcooked definition".

I think the portrait of that guy with the hard core halo is epic.

Ray Sheffer's picture

And it is kind of pathetic and hypocritical of you pointing flaws of other photographer photographs on a website like this. When we can't do the same with you. You know, since you don't have any. I mean, if you are truly knowledgeable about photography and your photos are 1,000 times better than mine and better than most on this site. Then show us how good you are. Tell then, I won't believe a word you say.

Deleted Account's picture

Pro tip: if you want to get under someone's skin, you need to be at least close. In this case, your attempt is based upon the idea I can't shoot, or my work is poor.

LOL

Ray Sheffer's picture

because in this case you don't have any photos on your profile. So all in all. Yes, I assume you can't shoot based on your photo less profile. Sometimes the best teachers are the one's who lead by example. Maybe if you had even 5 photos on your profile. I would take you all lot more seriously. At least it shows to me that you know what you are doing.

Deleted Account's picture

My last comment went right over your head, didn't it. By all means, you keep trying to get under my skin.

This is an alt, you idiot.

Ray Sheffer's picture

then it would have served you better saying you are commenting under an alt account much earlier and you could have messaged me your real account on this website where I could follow you. Where I could see how great you are. You know, if your photos actually backup your words.

Deleted Account's picture

As I said previously, take it or leave it. It is of no concern to me.

Also, I don't need your respect or esteem. The comments section here is full of trolls; no worries, I'm happy to play that game, but I don't want my brand associated with it.

Ray Sheffer's picture

like you said. This comment section is filled with trolls. Which I suspect you as one. So, goodbye.

Deleted Account's picture

My only regret about this place is you can't block people. But you and David are both people I would ordinarily block.

Btw, 4.2

Susheel Chandradhas's picture

I like to think that it's these people who have seen both worlds, and want to help others understand that it's not the gear that has made the difference in their photography. I certainly see that in my own personal experience.

Of course, that's not the same as saying "gear is not important". They're certainly not saying that... as you point out, they have the gear. And certainly, in some niches you can not get the shot without the right gear.

However, gear is not the pinnacle of photography as an artform. Just as a brush is not the pinnacle of painting as an artform. Nice brushes are good to have, and make life easier... Sure. But a great artist will still make their art without an expensive premium paintbrush.

J H's picture

Yes...gear does not matter

Khuất Nguyên Vũ's picture

All the photos are B&W and I guess we all know the reason why. Honestly, this video is just for fun and we don't need to take it seriously.

Deleted Account's picture

Because most of his work is black and white?

Khuất Nguyên Vũ's picture

I know that, bro. I have checked his website and he also shoot color photos. Most of his photos were shot in studio but in this video he shoot outdoor and we all know what the biggest problem is. The reason here is to save his time for post-processing the photos.

Deleted Account's picture

Look, I know English is your second language, but the word "most" has meaning.

Khuất Nguyên Vũ's picture

So what is your point, bro? I'm talking about the video and the reason why I think he shot and edited all the photos in B&W and you are focusing on my English???

Catherine Bowlene's picture

I believe that gear does matter but to an extent. I mean the quality of your images would be better if you use a professional camera and not your old smartphone and the editing would be more solid if you use a professional software like Photoshop or Photoworks instead of the default editor on your PC. This, however, doesn't influence your skills or lack of such. It's just that the gear won't make you a better photographer overnight but it certainly can help you.

Jacques Cornell's picture

The debates are hilarious. Gear doesn't matter until it does. I've shot weddings with a Micro Four Thirds body, a kit zoom and a borrowed flash off-camera. I've also shot corporate events with a 4MP DSLR that topped out at ISO 800. I now shoot corporate events with three 42MP bodies and f1.4-1.8 primes. This despite the fact that most of my work goes directly online as 3MP files. I could still do this work with my old Canon EOS 1D. But, I don't want to. The new gear lets me get the job done with much less use of flash.
That said, having shot MFT exclusively for six years, and 35mm and 67 film before that, I'm convinced that MFT suffices for, oh, 95% of the work that even pros do. Pick your audience, pick your genre, pick your style, pick your working methods, then find the gear that matches. The whole "better is always better" thing makes me laugh.
Additionally, despite the backlash, I think videos like this are very helpful in encouraging even photographers of modest means to aspire to produce fantastic work. It can be done, and historically it HAS been done. Look at the astounding work done over the past century and then tell me it's rubbish because it's technically sub-par by modern standards. The images for which I'd be willing to pay real money for a print are almost all technically inferior to what even I could produce today with my current kit. I would give my right arm to have an original print of almost any of Joseph Koudelka's amazing 35mm film work.

David Pavlich's picture

What I have seen a lot of is that top shelf gear makes one's photography easier. What I haven't seen is "better is always better". Shooting a football game with a camera that can do 5 fps won't get as many keepers as a camera that shoots 15 fps, not to mention the advances in focusing ability. It's like shooting a wedding with a camera that has one memory card. Cards rarely fail until suddenly, they do. Imagine telling the bride that you've missed her and her father walking up the aisle because of a card failure when you know that had you had a camera with two slots, you'd have been fine. I had an SD card fail, BUT, it was in a 5DIII and the CF card was fine.

In the end, you shoot with what you can afford and what makes you happy. Gear matters. It just matters more to some than others.

Charles Mercier's picture

The shots I take with my Sony FF and lens are awesome on my 40" HD screen. So much better than the much smaller sensors that I used to use, especially even my great shots taken with my old point and shoot. The color and detail are a joy to look at.

Jacques Cornell's picture

A 40" 4K screen resolves only 8MP of detail. That's a Canon 20D.

Charles Mercier's picture

What can I say? I sure notice and enjoy the difference between my Sony 24-105 G and my previous Sony 28-70 kit and inexpensive Rokinon prime wide angle lenses on the 40", especially if I enlarge or crop.

Jacques Cornell's picture

My 28-70 is quite soft beyond the center on my a7RIII, resolving only as much detail as my 20MP GX8, and my Samyang AF primes are nice and sharp. I'd expect either to produce sharp-looking images at 8MP with proper downscaling and sharpening. I downscale my 42MP RAWs to 3MP JPEGs for event clients to use online, and I've learned a few tricks about downscaling for display on screens. I've also sold prints of 10MP, 11MP, 16MP, 20MP, 24MP and 42MP images from cameras of 1/1.7", Micro Four Thirds, and 35mm formats. Once they go through my workflow, the 10MP and 11MP images make crisp prints up to 24", and the 20MP, 24MP and 42MP images are indistinguishable at 24". I say this with confidence because I've done extensive controlled testing, shooting a city skyline from an elevated position, on a tripod, with almost every camera and lens I own, including my iPhone, LX100, FZ1000, GX8, GX9, a7III and a7RIII. I've confirmed all of this on my 4K 32" NEC PA322. Maybe your 40" TV is introducing scaling artifacts.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Back in the late 1970's I was doing photo work in KC Mo and also taking some courses with a local professional. He told us the same thing, that the equipment doesn't matter. I had heard this many times before. So I decided to try something. The next class date I talked with him and told him my cousin was getting married in about 6 months and asked about pricing a shoot. Later I asked what camera he will use. He said his Mamiya RB67. Then I said if equipment doesn't matter would he consider using something else. He asked...what? I pulled out a Minolta 110 with cube flashes. He looked me with...that look. I said...if you believe you can get similar results with any camera then this should be easy. He stumbled for a bit and then said, would your cousin sign a waiver in case some photos might not turn out to his liking. I asked him...do you do that when using your Mamiya?
There are definitely times when the right and appropriate equipment is a must. The most important piece(s) of equipment are the lenses. One could still have an 'average' camera body and still get great results with very good lenses. The times have changed now and there are plenty of very good lenses now....and cameras. Keep shooting.

Ray Sheffer's picture

to the people who say that camera equipment does not matter. Then, they should be using those big ass clunky cameras in the late 19th century if equipment truly doesn't matter.

P K's picture

I think the reality is that gear simultaneously matters, and doesn't.

However, a lot of the most iconic photographs in history were taken with - by today's standards - primitive equipment without any of those deluxe features photographers have come to expect. Fully manual cameras with vintage glass, no metering, no autofocus, no tracking etc etc. And yet those images have endured despite maybe not being completely in focus, or noisy with high ISO to compensate for poor lighting, or some pesky scratches on the negative.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we can see (even here) virtually an endless stream of images taken on modern, high end, equipment with hundreds of megapixels, perfect focus, perfect colour gradiation, superb lighting - and yet they are boring as fuck. Technically perfect but dull and forgettable.

So yeah, of course better gear will produce better quality images technically, but it won't turn those images into good photographs.

David Pavlich's picture

That's what they had available at the time. My first camera was a Minolta SRT101. Archaic by today's standards.

The cameras today make it difficult to take a bad shot if the operator does his/her part. As far as boring, that's not the fault of the camera, it's the lack of vision by the shooter. I see boring shots, but I also see shots that should be in a gallery.

Fact is, it's much, much easier to produce good work today. Use the right camera for the intended outcome and there's a really good chance that the finished product is going to be good.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I think the appropriate message is more encouraging: "If you can't afford gold-plated gear, don't worry, you can still go out and make amazing work that will put the Platinum Card crowd to shame."

Jacques Cornell's picture

Another helpful message from the Department of Redundancy Department.

D R's picture

As a photographer for 15 years, I cringe at the fact that Youtubers and "influencers" have so much power over the masses. They make it seem like you have to get the most expensive gear to take the best photos (which drives hits on their channels). Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, in my experience, the best photos I see generally come from the cheapest and well established gear. The best photos I still see today are from the D750, 5D (1-4), and EOS R. Meanwhile the dudes with the latest and most expensive gear (many who jump ship from one brand to the other) take mostly garbage photos because they are too gear focused. The really artistic people I know - the "right brainers" -only care about the final shot and gear doesn't interest them unless they have to upgrade for some reason.

David Pavlich's picture

If it's in someone's budget to buy the latest and greatest, why should anyone care? It doesn't affect me one bit if someone takes lousy pictures with the latest gear. Further, I wish more photographers would buy expensive gear. It's good for the camera companies.

Just think what would happen to the camera companies if all of we photographers decided that our older stuff is good and we don't need new stuff. We should be cheering for people to buy new gear, not scare them away. And I repeat, as long as it's in their budget, who cares?