A good friend of mine recently asked if I was getting a new camera anytime soon.
"Maybe next year, if I have the money, why?" I replied. (Yes, I'm typing with crossed fingers right now in hopes that I can add D800 to my quiver.)
Her response was the familiar refrain we see all over photography forums: "Well, my camera just doesn't take very good pictures, so I want to get a better camera and I thought if you were going to get a new one maybe you'd be willing to sell me one of yours."
Ummmm, okay. There's clearly a lot going on in that statement that we can pick apart. We all know that telling a photographer that their camera takes really good pictures is like telling a great baker that their oven makes amazing cakes. That's just silly, and doesn't even warrant more than a sentence here. But as I thought about this interaction more, I realized that there's something deeper going on in the mindset of new photographers and hobbyists alike.
Backtracking to my friend's question, and in her defense, I did allow her to use my D7000 for a couple of hours, and compared to her three-year-old Canon point-and-shoot, it does produce nicer photographs. Her point was that my camera was more responsive, it focused quicker, it was easier to hold, and when she pressed the shutter release, bam, the picture was taken. But the real problem I see is not that her camera is flawed, it's that she hasn't been willing to learn the equipment to find its strengths and weaknesses, and instead is buying into the belief that a new and better camera will make her a better photographer.
Certainly if given that same point-and-shoot, a competent photographer after having spent some time learning what it can and can't do would make good photographs with it. If they shot with only that camera for a week, and then a month, they would produce great photographs. Why? Because a good eye and a good camera are only parts of the full equation. Really knowing your equipment is also a part of the equation, and one that often gets overlooked when we get preoccupied with acquiring the next greatest camera body, or that other lens that we have to have, or that second flash.
Simply put: Want to be a better photographer? Learn to use your existing gear, regardless of whether it's a D3200 with a kit lens, a D4 with 50mm prime, or a Coolpix. Learn every setting, every menu, and every peculiarity of your gear and you'll make better photographs than if you just purchase another item that purports to make your photographs better.
This is not a new concept, and it is one that many great photographers throughout history have followed and recommended. Take for example, this passage from Ansel Adams' The Camera:
"The camera imparts its own level of abstraction ("departure from reality" as we see it with our eyes) to the photograph, lending qualities of shape and scale, for example, that frequently differ from our visual perception. I use the term image management to refer to the considerations and controls that affect the optical image, as seen on the ground glass or viewfinder and projected on the film. By fully understanding the characteristics of the camera and lens, we can learn to visualize the optical image."
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