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Don’t Trip #1 – Gear Does Matter

This is the first post in a series called “Don’t Trip”.  One of the dangers photographers face is “tripping and falling on their face” (in the words of my daughter), while chasing that allusive image.  While this has happened to me in real life, I have also experienced it metaphorically on my journey to mastering photography.  I have learned from stumbles and missteps along this journey, as much as I have from success.

This series is a platform to share some of those lessons.  Some are lessons learned from trial and error.  Others are learned from the example and instruction (good and bad) of others.  Still others are lessons learned sifting through the assault of so-called and often cliché “wisdom” available from the online photographic community.  Without further adieu, here is the fist lesson.  DON’T TRIP!

Gear Does Matter

Choosing photography “gear” can be an obnoxious and exhausting journey.  It was, and sometimes still is, for me.  I began this journey in 2015 with a Nikon d3100, complete with the 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit lens.  This was by no means my first camera (analog or digital), but it was my first foray into the DSLR market and “more serious” photography.  Imagine my naivety when I thought $300 USD was a lot to pay for a quality camera and two lenses.

I used this camera and lens combo for 12 months, furiously learning everything I could, before reaching a technical ceiling.  In simple terms, I felt I had “exhausted the potential” of my gear.  This is not to say I was not satisfied with the images captured on the equipment.  Below is an example:

This technical ceiling led to significant research about camera bodies and lenses and the hasty upgrade to a Nikon d5500 (same sensor size, greater resolution, same lenses). I used this camera for 6 months to moderate success. Then, after considerably more research, I took the big plunge, upgrading again to a Nikon d750 and AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR lens. $300 to $3,000 was a big leap! It is a leap that I have never regretted.

Now, it as this point where the prevailing wisdom of the internet photography community would protest. “Gear doesn’t matter!,” they say. “You have been bit by the gear bug!,” they would also quickly retort. This, of course is true. Buying expensive gear will not make you a better photographer, if your technical knowledge and artistic ability are not advanced enough to exploit the technology of expensive gear. Many are the disappointed budding photographer who thought an image captured in “full-auto” mode on expensive gear would be automatically superior to images on entry-level gear.

The latest, most expensive gear cannot make up for a lack of creative vision, poor composition, or technical ignorance.  (This is the lesson I learned hastily upgrading from the d3100 to the d5500 and not the lenses, where the only substantial upgrade was resolution).  But, and I write this carefully, investing in expensive gear can help you realize your creative vision, if you understand or are willing to learn how to use the gear to your advantage.  Do you want a simple example? Lenses!

Lenses

While it can be (and has exhaustively been) debated that camera bodies don’t make or break a quality image, the quality of lenses do. When upgrading my kit, I sought the advice of a photographer that I respect, named Moose Winans. He cautioned me against buying an expensive camera body and toward investing in quality lenses. I took the middle road, buying a decent camera body, while laying down major cash on one quality lens. The difference between a bargain, kit lens and a professional, quality lens was immediate. My images were sharper, clearer, and deliver a significant improvement in image quality. The new d750 body did not hurt either, with more technical capabilities and settings, not available on entry-level DSLRs.  Below is an example:

Conclusion

Does gear matter? It depends on your needs. For me, my entry-level gear limited the high level of image quality I expected.  High quality lenses improved sharpness, focus, and overall image quality.  A camera body with a higher quality sensor and greater resolution reduced noise and increased image information.  Entry-level gear also limited the efficiency of my workflow.  A full-featured camera body helped improve my workflow and reduce technical limitations by simply having more in-camera options for use in the field. Again, limits to creativity, inspiration, or composition were not the issue, quality and efficiency were.

So, as you progress on your journey of mastering photography, don’t trip over the decision of whether to upgrade your gear. Sure, more expensive gear won’t magically and instantly make you a better photographer, but it can improve the quality of your images, if you feel you are ready for the financial commitment and learning curve. Does gear matter? For me, yes.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.

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