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 thoughts on “It’s Not The Gear

  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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”!

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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:

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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 🙂

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