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It's Not The Gear

Robert Moses Beach iPhone

Lately, I’ve been hit with the pho­tog­ra­phy bug. It usu­ally hap­pens to me once a year. It goes some­thing like this: I get the bug, I research cam­eras for a week, I buy an expen­sive cam­era, I use it non-stop for a few months, the bug goes away, I sell the camera.

I’m a gear head, so when I become obsessed with some­thing I imme­di­ately try to find all the best gear that I can get my hands on. It’s good because I get to learn and expe­ri­ence new things, but it’s also bad on my wal­let. And when it comes to photo gear, there’s no stop­ping me.

Until recently.

After count­less cam­eras, and years of search­ing for the per­fect cam­era that would push my pho­tos to the next level, I’m now a firm believer that the best cam­era is the cam­era that you have with you. Yes, a Has­sel­blad H4D-60 will blow any other cam­era away, but you don’t see many peo­ple in street with a $42,000 cam­era hang­ing from their necks.

I hated lug­ging around a big ass body, with a big ass lens and a hood attached to it. That was the pri­mary rea­son why I would stop shoot­ing: I didn’t want to carry around all that stuff. I used to carry around a Has­sel­blad 503, with a prism and metal hood. The damn thing weighted a ton — and it sure cap­tured some amaz­ing pho­tos — but after a few hours of car­ry­ing it, I wanted to throw it in the garbage. I hated that feel­ing because it ruined the moment and even­tu­ally led me to feel unmo­ti­vated. The tool was get­ting in the way of my creativity.

Now I just shoot with my iPhone 4. I already carry it around, and the built-in cam­era is pretty damn good. When I see an inter­est­ing shot, I just pull it out and snap a photo. The joy and spon­tane­ity of shoot­ing is instantly back. I would love it if Apple added some advanced fea­tures to the cam­era app — like shut­ter and aper­ture con­trol — and I do miss me some depth of field, but over­all the phone pro­duces some fine images.

I think I’ve achieved some good results with this lit­tle cam­era. I took the photo to the left with my iPhone. This guy did a fash­ion shoot with an iPhone 3GS. Granted, he used a great light­ing sys­tem, but the images are still impres­sive. Check out these folks who took a great look­ing shot with a Canon Pow­er­shot SD630 and some basic light­ing. Pro­fes­sional fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher Terry Richard­son does entire shoots with a Yashica T4 point and shoot and the pho­tos look great.

Don’t get me wrong, it is much eas­ier to pro­duce a great photo with high-end cam­era. That’s why it’s even more impres­sive when a great photo is taken with a lower-end one. The tal­ent truly shines in that case.

My point is, in any cre­ative field, the tool isn’t impor­tant. It’s what’s behind the tool that counts. So, don’t stress about get­ting a Canon 1Ds Mark III or the lat­est ver­sion of Pho­to­shop. Just create.      

18 Comments on "It's Not The Gear"

  • How­ever…
    You gotta agree, it is much eas­ier to shoot some­thing beau­ti­ful on a DSLR than snap quick on a iPhone, lose some depth of field, the detail, the quality…

    True, it is the pho­tog­ra­pher who makes the pic­ture com­plete. At the same time, qual­ity hard­ware pro­duces sim­ple yet bril­liant results that often requires fid­dling with lower class hardware.

    With that said, I’ll suf­fer with my G1’s hor­ren­dous cam­era :)

  • Sean says

    Excuse the music.

    http://​vimeo​.com/​1​3​4​0​2​704 (and it’s totally doable)

  • Danivx says

    100% agree

  • Ashraf, I totally agree. Higher-end cam­eras pro­duce bet­ter images much easier.

    Sean, inter­est­ing video and exper­i­ment. Not sure I’m totally sold on the qual­ity. The DOF is nice but you can see how the iPhone has trou­ble focusing.

  • Before own­ing an iPhone for the first time last August I shot a lot with my Nikon D80 and was con­stantly research­ing gear/making plans to upgrade. Since own­ing an iPhone my Nikon has pretty much sat on a shelf in a closet for exactly the same rea­sons you men­tioned. Ease of use, porta­bil­ity, quick pub­lish­ing, etc. I now find it labo­ri­ous to take shots with my Nikon, import and edit them in Pho­to­shop, export small sizes and upload to Flickr. It’s true that I get MUCH bet­ter results with my DSLR, but with my iPhone I’m tak­ing pic­tures far more often and scratch­ing that itch to cap­ture life around me. I also rarely ever make prints of my shots. For the most part they live on Flickr and in small sizes and there­fore the iPhone 4 cam­era is per­fectly adequate.

  • Richard says

    Well said.

  • Phil, I’m in the same boat. I want to be able to take a photo any­time, any­where. The iPhone allows me to do that. When I owned a high-end DSLR, I would always see an image that I wanted to cap­ture, but couldn’t because I’d leave the cam­era at home.

  • Right there with you, Anto­nio. I had a high-end dSLR that I ended up sell­ing three years ago because it just stayed at home, bought another last year because of “gear-envy” and it’s been used once since. I actu­ally use our pocket-sized Lumux almost exclu­sively when trav­el­ling because the image qual­ity is com­pa­ra­ble for what we need and it’s much more portable.

    And my iPhone has sur­prised me with its image qual­ity. From being able to cap­ture an impromptu shot while out and about, to sav­ing time after brain­storm­ing meet­ings by snap­ping shots of white­boards and post-it clus­ters, it has become an invalu­able tool in my cre­ative arsenal.

    Oh, and my new favorite photo-app is HIPSTAMATIC. Highly rec­om­mended if you’re look­ing for an old-school expe­ri­ence and some fun vintage-inspired results for your iPhone shots. And you can swap out “lenses” and “film”!

  • colin says

    i’m sorry, but this is a ridicu­lous debate.

    tech­nol­ogy is nice, but to say you pre­fer an iphone to a real cam­era is to say you pre­fer stenog­ra­phy to screen­plays. dig­i­tal medi­ums allow more peo­ple to have access to art which is a good thing, but tal­ent is only some of it. the true merit of any art­form is the com­plete and total ded­i­ca­tion one makes to it.

    i don’t mind peo­ple tak­ing pic­tures with their iphones but just because you have a cam­era it doesn’t mean you’re a pho­tog­ra­pher of any sort or merit. effort, addic­tion and con­stant tedious atten­tion to every detail defines a hobby. a mon­key at a key­board might get lucky one day and write some­thing as good as bukowski. but that doesn’t make the mon­key a writer, it just makes the means to the end more convenient.

  • Colin, you’re enti­tled to you opin­ion, but I think it’s your argu­ment that’s pretty ridicu­lous. For my type of shoot­ing, I def­i­nitely pre­fer an iPhone over any other cam­era. For the sim­ple rea­son that it’s always with me and I can take a photo any­time I want. Tal­ent is not only some of it, tal­ent is 95% of it. If you enjoy tak­ing pho­tos, then you’re a pho­tog­ra­phy. I doesn’t mat­ter what you use to cap­ture those pho­tos. You’re not more of a pho­tog­ra­pher than I am just because you use a fancy DSLR.

  • Anto­nio,

    I cur­rently have a Nikon DSLR, but I have the same issue: the cam­era is too big and bulky to carry around con­stantly, so unless I con­sciously go out to shoot pho­tos, it’s never there when I need it.

    I stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy at col­lege and have owned maybe thirty or forty cam­eras dur­ing my life­time, from cheap Soviet-era SLR’s to hugely expen­sive medium for­mat kit. I took And yet many of my best pho­tos — the ones I really trea­sure — were taken on Kodak dis­pos­able cameras.

    Tech­nol­ogy is so advanced now that almost any cam­era will give you excel­lent results, as long as you have an eye for a good image. The “best” cam­era is the one you have with you when that great shot presents itself.

    P.S: This guy has some great iPhone shots: http://​www​.atime​to​get​.com/​2​0​0​9​/​0​8​/​t​a​k​e​-​m​e​-​o​u​t​.​h​tml

  • I think the per­fect set-up now con­sists of:

    iPhone 4 — always with you, always ready. HD video.

    High-end com­pact such as a DP2 or LX5 — for days out / hol­i­days where size is still and issue but qual­ity has height­ened importance.

    DSLR — for events you’ll want to remem­ber / shoots / por­traits with shal­low DOF.

    Quite fan­tas­tic that you can have the above set up for circa $2500 now — more than ade­quate for the enthusiast.

  • solle says

    I’ve been think­ing about this since the orig­i­nal iPhone landed in my palm. I used to spend hours clean­ing up dig­i­tal pho­tographs in Pho­to­shop  – pixel by pixel for stock pho­tos and major banal­ity around per­fec­tion. I was con­cerned with megapix­els and sen­sor sizes and pined after a Canon 5D. I would treat photo oppor­tu­ni­ties with great grav­i­tas and seri­ous­ness, look­ing for the per­fect com­po­si­tion, light, series of events. My cam­era bag was my con­stant com­pan­ion and Cartier-Bresson quotes would fly around my head – I often would wield around var­i­ous cam­eras even on the most mun­dane shop­ping expe­di­tion (includ­ing my heavy Canon F1).

    That began to change with the iPhone.

    It became all about infor­ma­tion. Record­ing infor­ma­tion. Shar­ing infor­ma­tion. With speed – imme­di­acy. Qual­ity and com­po­si­tion are of sec­ondary impor­tance. The iPhone, either with just the stan­dard cam­era and the direct to Flickr by email, or AirMe, or Brightkite is the tool of choice. I don’t care about the 2 or 3 or 5 megapixel cam­era – it doesn’t mat­ter – or the no flash (though that is obvi­ously lim­it­ing) it’s the fact that I always have it on me. It loads fairly quickly and I can share the infor­ma­tion, research, ideas quickly.

    I orig­i­nally blogged about this when I had the 1stG iPhone but it hasn’t really changed with sub­se­quent generations.

    My GF1 sits on a shelf more than it should regard­less of how often I ref­er­ence @craigmod

  • I’m in the same boat as you Anto­nio, I con­stantly feel that a new ’ this and that’ will infi­nitely improve my qual­ity of life and when it comes down to it, once the nov­elty has worn off, it sits in a box in my cup­board until I get round to giv­ing it away or sell­ing it.

    Right now I own a Canon G10 and a lit­tle Canon Ixus, and I’ve got some great shots with both of them (good enough that I’m often get­ting requests from peo­ple to use the images from my Flickr photostream).

    I don’t have an iPhone, but if (when!) I do get one, I’ll prob­a­bly stop tak­ing the lit­tle point and shoots out with me.

    The secret is to learn the basics of pho­tog­ra­phy (light­ing, expo­sure, com­po­si­tion) then thor­oughly learn the abil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions of your equip­ment, ie read the man­ual or go on a train­ing course.

    I’m not a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher and I have no ambi­tions or desires to become one. Great pho­tog­ra­phy, for me at least, is all about a cap­tured moment that you’ll never expe­ri­ence again, whether you do it for profit, in the name of art or just for fun. You’re much more likely to cap­ture that moment if you have an iPhone (or a lit­tle canon ixus) in your pocket than if you left your bulky DSLR at home because you couldn’t be both­ered to carry it.

  • Rob says

    Me and a group of friends were dis­cussing this the other the other day and came to the con­clu­sion that although cam­era phones are great for get­ting those pic­tures where you wouldn’t nor­mally have a cam­era, you still can’t beat a top qual­ity photo taken by a good SLR.

    The argu­ment then switched to com­pact mp3 play­ers, again, great for music on the move but still nowhere near the qual­ity of a good hi-fi.

  • oliver says

    coool :)

  • luis garcia says

    Do not bother with size.
    The imme­di­ate. Polaroid twenty-first cen­tury, and all the above said…

  • I am the same as you. Some­thing inspires me and I go crazy… then even­tu­ally I get dis­ap­pointed with my lack of process and get over it. This years bug, though, has led me to get the Pana­sonic GF1. I con­vinced myself to buy it for doc­u­men­ta­tion rather than cre­ativ­ity, but that didn’t last long. I used to have a 500D but, like you the size killed me. The GF1 is just small enough to carry around, looks pretty sexy and does take truly amaz­ing shots. I’m so glad I got it and if you ever grow out of your iPhone I couldn’t rec­om­mend it more :)