In previous posts I’ve addressed the struggle of buying a new camera (because we have to start somewhere) but once you’ve got one, should you still be looking at gear online? What should you look at, and where?
It’s a painful fact for camera makers and sellers that most of the images taken around the world are created with a smartphone. It’s a painful fact for many of us that anything more than a smartphone might be more than we know how to use right, and we’re not getting the benefit of owning a ‘real’ (and that word is ironic) camera.
Sony makes the sensor for the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy – it’s the same quality design and manufacturing process that goes into the sensors on their larger (a.k.a) 'real' cameras. I’m suggesting that for all their limitations, phones have great cameras in them. But they are limited, and you’ll either learn to work around or live with those limits or go looking for (again, ahem) a ‘real camera.’
So you start looking for advice on what to buy (hint: no camera is perfect, buy the one you like). Where you really should be investing your time is learning to use your camera properly. Obviously, we have some great hands-on training for photography. Our workshops get you out and about with other enthusiastic photographers, and you get to fill in the blanks on your knowledge. We do software too, so you can master Lightroom and Photoshop.
But we are (obviously) not the only source of information. It’s a whole brave world of bloggers, salespersons and bedroom vlogging teens all trying to convince you what’s best.
When you’re trying to find photography advice you would be well advised to check the source and verify everything you’re told. On several occasions, I’ve seen salesmen in the store milk a customer for all they’re worth when in fact all they needed was a compact camera with a good zoom lens – not the 3 lens DLSR kit they walked out with.
Worse, I’ve known managers of pro gear stores who didn’t own a camera, were never pro and somehow wound up running a store catering to professionals. I guess the logic is that a pro knows what they want – but I was ‘sold’ a large number of things that just didn’t cut it long term. I don’t shop there anymore.
I retaliated by watching every review video I could find on my next camera body. It didn’t really help.
I’ve bought cameras that were great at first blush, and I was keen to tell anyone who asked what was so great about my decision to purchase them. Insert the latest model here. There are lots of blog posts and videos that are just as keen – and often in their enthusiasm, they overlook a thing or two. Things you really need to know if you’re trying to make the most of what you have.
Worse is when a person makes rational sounding arguments about a technical issue, and they’re just wrong. I recently had to disabuse myself of some bad technical information put out by a very well-known YouTube presenter. Interestingly, the photography ‘expert’ who spent over an hour in multiple videos abusing and criticising this misinformation was himself wrong in a subsequent discussion.
It’s astounding how many people think that opening the box on YouTube is informative and could be called a ‘review.’
It’s more astounding when people demonstrate very poor technique (on camera) when ‘demonstrating’ a camera. Casual handheld shots fired off at random should not be your guide for image quality on any camera. Manufacturers have to apply some basic scientific methodology when they quote numbers and make claims. Reviewers don’t have to and seldom attempt to. It's a shame.
If you ignore ‘what camera to buy’ or ‘why this model is better (hint: new is not a correct answer, but seems to keep a lot of folks busy) you can focus on what will improve your photography. Learning to use what you have.
Quite often improvements between camera models are incremental, and often those changes have little to do with picture quality. The older model is always cheaper and may do what you want or have indistinguishable results. Forget new.
While you're at it - have you considered buying a used camera?
When we don’t get the image quality we see on 500px.com or 1x.com, it’s the easy way out to assume they have more or 'better' gear than us. Don’t fall for it. Learn to make the most of what you already own, and when you finally do need to graduate (a.k.a. upgrade) you’ll have a much better understanding of what you need.
Want better pictures? Search for technique videos by pros you respect – not opinion pieces about what to spend money on, or why you need [insert latest camera name here].
Check the bio on the latest photographer making it big in the mags or online – most of them got noticed and went pro using (very) average equipment. The well-known Joey L (look him up) won competitions with an old point and shoot camera with 10% of the specs of his competitors. Talent beats tech.
The joy of photography is taking pictures. As in most areas where hobbyists and pros intermingle, collecting gear and being able to brag about the size of your…er…lenses…seems to be the easy way to get attention.
If you saw actual photographs taken by many well-known bloggers or YouTubers, you might be as underwhelmed as I was. And I don’t claim anything more than ‘I can get paid for this’ lol. But before you buy into their rhetoric, have a look at their photos. If you like them, carry on listening.
Back to the iPhone. There are whole books and galleries full of absolutely stunning images from iPhone users around the world. And we’re not just talking about a 1 in 1,000 lucky shot either. Your artistic aesthetic and good camera technique will trump technology every time.
I once judged a photography contest that involved reading the contestant’s description of how they made the image. In most cases, all I could compliment was the composition, because most had used every automatic feature their camera offered.
Should they give out awards for being able to select the right ‘scene mode?’
No post production, no manual control. If I had access to the EXIF data (the camera records all the technical info like shutter speed and aperture with the image) I would not have been surprised if not a single one of them had figured out how to override the auto-focus.
They had taken a ‘point and click’ mentality and then printed the end result. The real shock was that so many of these budding ‘artists’ were traumatised by my creative (if not constructive) criticism. They simply didn’t know what they didn’t know, but I’m terrified that technology will cover their ignorance so well for so long that they will never make the effort to learn how to ‘do it yourself.’
Why? Because a camera doesn’t think. It takes the average of everything we throw at it and there is some attempt to make a pleasant image. Average is never what anyone should aspire to.
Kodak used to tell you ‘push the button and we’ll do the rest!’ When Kodak helped invent digital cameras, and ironically put themselves out of business, it just dumbed down who or what ‘did the rest!’
And cameras are getting better at doing the thinking for us and covering over our bad decisions when we do make an attempt. Yes, you can fix it in Lightroom, or it’s few alternatives. But, the better you get it in camera, the more you have to work with in post-production.
So stop worrying about what camera to buy. I struggle with it just as you do – but it’s analysis paralysis. Too many choices making us fear that there’s something we might miss out on if we choose camera X over camera Y. Buy the one you like. Tell yourself that you’re going to live with that camera for the next 3 years (exactly double what the manufacturer is banking on).
Spend the money travelling to places where you can see things worth taking a picture of. Invest in a good lens that will actually improve your camera. Get some lighting. Can’t find a decent face willing to pose for you? Hire a model and a makeup artist – your portfolio will leap ahead.
But most of all – don’t stop learning.
Scour YouTube for those old photo documentaries that someone had tucked away on VHS and suddenly uploaded. Ignore the technology. Just watch a master at work and learn the technique.
Richard Avedon (look him up) had a very simple workflow. One light. A single camera. A plain background. And yet his images are still in vogue (pun intended). He died on a shoot – going out with his boots on because he was still in hot demand decades after he ‘made it.’
And when you’re cruising the internet (you really should be out there shooting, lol) stop looking at new gear. Start searching for how you do it (again, new gear is not a valid answer) and start practicing. It’s better than going to the gym (potentially cheaper if you do it right) for pushing through and becoming who and what you want to be: a really good photographer.*
* Show them your prints. It’s better than a long lens or a big DSLR for impressing people.
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