As a photographer who has spent the last couple of years around plenty of other sponsored photographers and one who has a couple of sponsors of his own, I’m going to share the one thing that no one is actually saying aloud, the one decision you should consider before you ever press the buy button on any photography equipment.
Buy Whatever You Need and Whatever Gets the Job Done
Everything else is unimportant. We as photographers are constantly bombarded with new cameras, new lenses, new lighting equipment, etc. and we buy all of it. Why? Seriously, think about it. Why do you need that third generation lens that has a marginal difference from the last one? Who cares about what Billy Bob down the street has or what your client thinks?
If Gordon Ramsey was in your kitchen, and he had the same stove and ingredients you had, you better be damn sure that he would out-cook you. The stove doesn't make the food. The chef does. And while there are different stoves that do different things, saying that you can't cook on a stove because it's electric and not gas is absolutely ridiculous. If you're hungry, you'll find a way to cook your food, even if it tastes like utter trash. When you're hungry, you make things happen. Photography isn't any different. You use the resources that you have at your disposal to get the job done.
Need vs. Want
Growing up, my parents always harped on need vs. want. One of those is survival and the other is emotion, while you may want something, you most likely don't actually need it. As a professional photographer, you'll obviously need some sort of camera that gets the job done. What camera you want can be subjective.
Let me be clear: I have a bunch of companies I work with on a consistent basis. For example, right now, I'm on tour for Phase One speaking at their Photo Forum. The average photographer simply can't afford a Phase One IQ3 100MP Digital Back (MSRP $43,990.00). If you were a portrait photographer charging $50 for a 2-hour portrait session and were looking to buy one, I'd tell you to reevaluate your priorities. Hell, I don't own a IQ3, but when I need one, I rent one. It's that simple.
You see, photographers have gotten lost in this A vs. B debate and they're extremely passionate about their specific position. Here's the truth: just like we all come from different circumstances in life, we all have different needs as photographers. What matters to me as a photographer may not matter to you, and that's absolutely okay. I respect your position.
Before you invest in any photography gear, you should always assess your specific needs. Do you need low-light capability? Do you need something small? Do you need something durable? If you're in the market for new lighting equipment, do you need something with lots of power? Do you need high-speed sync capability? What are your specific needs to get the images that you want to photograph?
Whether they'll admit it or not, I've filmed productions for some of the largest companies in our industry (they're the ones with the huge booths at trade shows). I've shot videos for one camera company using their competitor's camera because it was more efficient for what I needed. For example, I used two (now defunct) Samsung NX1s to film tutorial videos that one of the big three camera companies has promoted. Why? Because it had 4K capability, and the DSLRs on the market did not have that capability yet. The 4K capability allowed me more flexibility when editing in a 1080 workspace. The Samsung NX1 was light, portable, and basically a throwaway camera. It got used as the main camera and for a bird's-eye view, and no one knew any different.
I've filmed productions for lighting companies lit with their competitor's lights and/or modifiers. For example, for years I used the 59" Westcott Zeppelin on a Profoto D1 to film interview sessions. Some of those interview sessions were used by Profoto. Guess what? I'm not the only photographer/videographer who has done that. When you're working on those kinds of sets, you try to be as diplomatic about it as possible, but the reality is that you still need to get the job done.
These days, I've been using the Sony a7 II and Sony a6300 as my main video cameras on location to film behind the scenes and tutorial videos. Why? Because they're light, portable, and basically (like the Samsung NX1) throwaway cameras, meaning that I wouldn't die if one got destroyed on set. They can be replaced relatively easily and get the job done. My main photo camera will strictly depend on what I have in my hand, whether that's Sony, Canon, or Phase One; my single goal is to get the job done for whatever I'm shooting.
What You Should Consider Before Buying Anything
You should always ask yourself these three questions before you buy anything:
- Does it get the job done?
- Can you afford it?
- Do you need or want it?
Be truthful with yourself: if you answer "no" to either of the first two questions or you simply want it, then you'll inevitably end up with buyer's remorse. You want to shoot mirrorless? Have at it. You want to shoot with a DSLR? Have fun. You want to shoot with your iPhone? Enjoy. My point is: don't let other people influence what you buy. The only person who knows what you need is you.