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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 :)