Which Camera Do You Use? Does Photo Gear Matter?

A wedding at Princeton's Prospect House Garden.

We photographers like to say that a fine meal is made by the chef and not by the cookware. The analogy to photography is that a fine photo is made by the photographer, not by the camera. We sometimes say this as if the camera doesn’t matter. But photographers who say such things almost always have very expensive and careful chosen cameras and lenses. Why?

What that says is that our photo gear matters very much, and is probably more important than we like to admit. We should probably give more credit to photo gear manufacturers (hardware & software) and their engineers for making some amazing tools that help us make pictures. In many ways, they are the invisible partners in a photographer’s work. Photography is a kind of automated drawing and, as such, the gear is integral to the process: it makes the physical drawing as directed by the photographer. And that by itself is a great ability.

Different cameras and lenses draw in different ways. To master them, we have to learn those differences. However, despite their mechanical nature, photographs are still the photographer’s expression. They reveal the photographer’s way of seeing the world. And here is where the “gear doesn’t matter” theory is partly true. I’ve found that no matter what gear I use, I still see the world in the same way. This affects what I photograph, where I stand, how I compose, which moments I choose, and so on.

Each item of photo gear is just a different “pencil” or “brush” for “drawing” the picture. Even if I were literally drawing or painting, I would still be expressing the same way of seeing. In a sense, the most important part of the camera is in the photographer’s head. That is where the photograph is mentally created before it is physically created. The camera and related photo gear stand between the photographer and the photograph; they are the tools for bringing the concept to its expression.

Given this intimate relationship, it is not surprising that many photographers are very particular about their photo gear. In a way, we are no different than musicians who are very particular about their musical instruments (just ask Peter Frampton or Joe Bonamassa).