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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

About The Author

CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

Focal Point

A big camera won't make you a better photographer

(Credit: Nikon)

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.

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psherriff posted a comment   

True, having a great camera doesn't make you a great photographer. Things like lighting and composition have such an impact on the final result and the camera can't do this for you, nor can it do any of the post-processing that is so prevalent today.

But, surely there is some improvement to be had from a great camera if you're not a great photographer. Think about the improvements in the sensor technology, the improvements in the auto-focus, the metering and exposure that the best cameras offer.

For the hobbyist or happy snapper the improved technology can improve their images whereas for those talented enough and skilled enough to do a lot of these things manually can still achieve great images with cheaper equipment because they can compensate for the deficiencies of the technology in their hands.



Lexy Savvides posted a reply   

You raise a good point about improvements in areas such as metering and exposure. I think they can really only be considered improvements, however, if you are aware of how the camera has given you a better image, rather than the overarching thought that "wow, this camera takes way better pictures than my point-and-shoot". That sentiment is really at the heart of what I was trying to discuss in this piece.

If a great digital SLR can help a photographer build upon their skills, then more power to them. But it can't (and shouldn't) do all the hard work for them!


psherriff posted a reply   

Totally agree with you and I guess that's the distinction between becoming a better photographer and taking better photographs. As someone that is definitely not in the great photographer category but is always trying to improve my skills I'm a strong advocate of pushing the message that the picture is only as good as the weakest link - in my case that's usually me (I'm an interested amateur with a Sony A850 DSLR having come from the Minolta Dynax 5 and 7 film cameras).

Articles like this one are great in that they help people understand that it's not all down to the camera and that good shots don't need tens of thousands of dollars of gear to get a good picture but to my mind they often miss that last step of explaining where the improvement is coming from when using a Pro DSLR in fully automatic mode compared to an entry level DSLR or a point and click.

Maybe a great follow up piece would be to explore how the better camera helps takes better photographs and how people could learn from that to become a better photographer? I know I could use the help...


Lexy Savvides posted a reply   

Great idea, will definitely look at writing a follow up to this one given the response! Thank you :)


TimS2 posted a comment   

"The best camera is the one that's with you" - Chase Jarvis


Dragonmeister posted a reply   

........ And the batteries are charged :)

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