Over the past week I've had the pleasure of shooting with the Nikon D4, a professional-grade SLR. Normally when out and about on my photo shoots, I may get a few double takes from people recognising a brand new camera. However, the D4 took this to an entirely different level.
Each time I was in a vaguely picturesque spot (and even once in an alleyway in the middle of Sydney's less-than-salubrious side streets) I was asked if I was able to take someone's photo, because, I quote: "you look like you know what you're doing". What was even more surprising was that I was asked to take a photo of the person in question on their iPhone or compact camera.
Perhaps they were more trusting of the photographer with 3 kilograms of magnesium alloy and glass around her neck than any other random passer-by, because there's less chance of me making a quick getaway with their expensive phone. Or, more likely, they assumed that I was able to capture the moment better than anyone else, just because I'm using a big camera.
After I got over the initial flattery afforded by their assumption that I was the next Henri Cartier-Bresson, I realised that it's a common misconception from non-photographers that the bigger or more expensive your camera is, the better photos you can take. There's even a great video called "Shtuff People Say to Photographers", which sums up this sentiment quite nicely.
It would be such a luxury for a camera to be able to make the same decisions that a photographer needs to in order to create a winning shot. Imagine if a camera was a sentient being, able to determine the best light, composition and focus for a particular scene?
We'd all be out of a job, most likely.
Joking aside, each iteration of camera released onto the market is able to do more, see more (in the case of low-light capabilities on cameras such as the D4) and capture more quickly than the generation before. It doesn't make the person using the camera any more talented, as ideal as this might be in some situations.
More concerning is when someone buys a new camera and expects it to take amazing photos. Imagine how disheartening it must be to bring home your new SLR, taking plenty of images and then review them, wondering why they look nothing like Trent Parke's photos.
There's a great series over at DigitalRev, which is based on the premise of giving a pro-photographer a cheap camera. The results in most cases are pretty amazing, proving that it's the person behind the lens that matters much more than the equipment used to create a photo. How did they get to be that good? There's plenty of talent involved, for sure. There's also sheer persistence, constantly wanting to challenge yourself and taking thousands upon thousands of photos until you can find your personal style.
More expensive gear can help you realise your creative vision. But in itself, it won't make you a better photographer.