We’ve all heard the adage “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.”
While true to an extent, having a capable camera that allows the photographer more control does make a difference in creating a compelling photo. Sure a good photographer can take a good photo with a 35mm disposable camera, but the chances of getting a good photo of the aurora borealis or capturing the fraction of a second it takes for a frog to extend its tongue to capture an insect with one is highly unlikely, if not impossible. On the same note, you can throw the latest camera and sharpest, fastest lens available into the hands of an unskilled snap shooter and the likelihood of them producing a compelling image is not much better.
It’s not just the camera, but it’s not just the photographer either. The truth is, it’s a little bit of both.
I have four different “cameras” I use regularly. Each camera fills a unique niche. There are photographs I’ve taken with my DSLRs that I could never replicate with my smartphone, but there are some pretty unique photos I have with my smaller cameras that I would have missed entirely if I had tried to shoot them with a full frame professional bodied Canon. Photographers should learn how to use every camera tool available to them, as well as recognize the limitations of different systems.
My two current DSLR cameras are a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 1D Mark IV. The 5D2 is a bit more compact than the 1D4 and has slightly higher resolution, making it a better option for carrying while hiking to get landscape photos. However, the 1D Mark 4 has a much better autofocus system (shooting moving subjects with the 5D2 is frustrating to say the least) as well as a cropped sensor, so it is my preferred camera for shooting sports and wildlife. In general, when I am shooting photos with the intent to sell them, print them, and get the highest quality image, I prefer shooting with DSLRs. However there are times when my other cameras are better options.
Photo with my 5D Mark II. For waterfalls, you can’t beat a DSLR. Shooting with a DSLR allowed me to shoot with a slow shutter speed, use a polarizing filter, and mount to a sturdy tripod, all of which are less easy to do with smaller cameras. This photo would make a gorgeous statement art piece hung on a wall, and thanks to shooting with a high resolution camera, it will hold up to being printed big.
One of the biggest advantages of shooting with my iPhone 6 is that I usually have it on me. Sure it’s a phone and an older model; the newest iPhone and smartphone models have higher resolution front and rear cameras, as well as the option to shoot RAW (DNG) using the Adobe Lightroom app. Yet even shooting 8MP jpegs, I have gotten some great images; I have had folks request to buy quick shots taken with my phone and posted to Instagram more than once. My first DSLR (a Nikon D70) was only 6 megapixels, and when I started shooting with it I only shot JPEG because I was too poor to afford higher capacity memory cards and RAW processing software – the photos on my website from 2005 and sports photos from 2006 were all shot this way. My iPhone is great because it fits in my pocket, captures high dynamic range sunrises and sunsets quite beautifully thanks to its built in HDR, records video with the swipe of a finger, and allows me to share and post images instantly. When I am shooting everyday life, convenience goes a long way, and even if the iPhone lacks a lot in terms of professional features, its portability and ease of use makes it the camera I probably use more than any other.
Photo with my iPhone. I didn’t bring my DSLR to Montreal with me to celebrate my birthday with a friend a few years ago, and even if I had I would have needed a tripod to capture a still image of this beautiful old building in the fading light. My iPhone enabled me to capture a shot of this beautiful sunset, even when it wasn’t a part of the plan.
The other camera I have that I really like is my GoPro Hero 5 Black. Like the iPhone, the GoPro is small and portable, but it has the advantage of being waterproof and weatherproof. Whenever I am doing water sports or headed out in the cold, I bring my GoPro with me. It’s super easy to operate with gloves on and doesn’t suffer from non-existent battery life in cold weather (my phone pretty much dies whenever temps drop below freezing, which is pretty much all of winter here in New Hampshire). It is small enough to wear while doing activities, such as mountain biking or snowboarding, where carrying a larger camera is not only impractical, but also dangerous. The wide angle of view makes it the perfect point-of-view camera, as it was intended, and its small stature makes it one of the best “selfie” cameras, especially if you are a fan of capturing more of your surroundings. Like my iPhone, the GoPro is pretty easy to use when it comes to taking snap-shots – no focusing is required – so it’s a much easier camera to hand to friends so they can take your picture if needed. The Hero 5 is the first GoPro to capture RAW stills, which makes editing and polishing your photos even easier.
Photo with my GoPro. The GoPro is an ideal wearable camera for when you want to capture an image but need your hands free. The GoPro Hero 5 also allows you to control the camera with your voice, an added benefit when you need your hands for something other than pressing the shutter. Bonus: It’s waterproof, and while I trust myself to keep my DSLR dry while kayaking on flat water, all bets are off when you add a dog to the mix. Kayaking with Winston is like having a bowling ball in the boat. My GoPro enables me to capture images like this without taking huge risks.
I’ve resisted posting photos taken with the latter two, smaller, “inferior” cameras to my website, but those images regularly end up on my Instagram feed and personal social media pages. Maybe I’ll get bolder about sharing them more widely. When presented in the right way and printed appropriately sized, photographs taken with these cameras are just as beautiful as those taken with my professional cameras, and sometimes, because of the unique opportunities shooting with these cameras present, I even cherish the images more.