You quite often hear people say a better camera, lens or any other piece of kit will not make you a better photographer and whilst I understand the sentiment it is simply not true that it will not give you a better photograph. I don’t even think this is a controversial statement to make either. If a better camera or better lens did not improve on an older one, manufacturers would have stopped making new models at the box brownie stage or even earlier!
I can demonstrate a couple of examples where my latest camera is better than my previous one and how the quality of a lens or its functionality is better than a cheaper one. As with most things in life, the more you spend the more you get.
I do a lot of photography for bands. I’m not a professional photographer getting my three songs, no flash and front row step ladder at the O2, I am talking about shooting for local bands in pubs and clubs mainly for promotional material. Invariably the lighting is shocking and if there is one thing a photograph needs it is light – even a little bit. Secondly these musicians do tend to bounce around the stage a bit not to mention fast moving limbs hitting and strumming things. I should also point out that the no flash mantra still stands – flash kills the atmosphere and annoys the listeners.
Let’s start with the camera. I have been quite happily chugging along with my Canon 5D Mk II. It is without doubt a fantastic camera, well built, reliable and good low light image quality. I get better pictures with my newer 6D though. Firstly, it can run at ridiculously high ISO settings – I have shot at 12800 and still produced usable quality images. Whereas before I would run at a maximum of 3200 at a push on the 5D and would be struggling for light even with the camera at 30th second and f2.8, the 6D allows me much more choice of aperture and shutter speed to vary the style of shot. Remember it is making decisions about how aperture and shutter speed affects your photograph that makes you a photographer and not a snapper. Secondly, the 6D also focuses in low light much better than the 5D (in fact better than any other Canon SLR including the top end ones). With the 5D I frequently had to resort to manual focus, which is not easy when your subject is dark and bouncing about the stage like a mad-man (or woman). The net result is I end up with more images in focus than before.
Even more importantly to me is the quality of my lenses. I have chosen over the years to forgo upgrading cameras and divert my hard-earned on glass. I cannot recommend this approach highly enough. Camera bodies change with regular monotony with new and wonderful features but the lenses don’t really change that much. True, the quality of the optics improves through different revisions and they might get better stabilization technology but generally a sharp lens to start with will remain sharp and last you well. So, relating lenses to my photography, does a better lens make for a better photograph? Yes it does! I could use a perfectly good 70-200 f4 L lens to shoot band photos with but I would be lucky to have a 30th of second shutter speed to play with. I’m not that old (he lies) and not too shaky yet but I am sure there is no way I could not avoid camera shake without wedging my kit up against a wall (tripods are not much use in the live gig scenarios). I am lucky enough to be using a 70-200 f2.8 IS L lens. I’m not saying this always delivers nice sharp images but it will better the cheaper lens. The wider aperture means I can use higher shutter speeds and, combating the dreaded camera shake still further, the image stabilization effectively gives me a few extra stops. It is still difficult to get crystal sharp images of bands but usually these people are collecting pictures from smart phones and compacts. In comparison the quality is undeniable and, given the comments from clients and my local camera club about sharpness from professional lenses, they may not actually make you a better photographer but there is a massive perception that they do and perception can be everything!
True, it does not matter how much you spend on a camera, if you are not applying the basics of composition and some common sense about exposure and focus, it will not make you a good photographer. If you are though better kit will sure as hell help!