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So you want a new camera - why?

So you want a new camera, (lens, computer, software), - why?

Is it the chase, the exploration, the fact finding that we enjoy? Do we think that our skill will increase with a new piece of kit? Often we can fool ourselves that a new piece of equipment is needed to produce a bigger or perceivably better print which begs the questions, when did you last make a print and how big did you print it? I ask this knowing that the majority of photographers nowadays don’t print and if they do, then A3 size is on average the largest they print! Now, a well taken photograph on an 8mp camera can easily produce an A3 print. In my sitting room I have a five foot panoramic taken on 12mp and in Lymington library there is a six foot by four foot print shot on the same12mp camera, so that argument doesn’t really wash when the image is viewed from a normal viewing distance.
There may be other justifiable reasons for new equipment of course – a sharper lens; a faster lens; more dynamic range; whatever the reason we can justify it to ourselves – our partners may be a more difficult proposition however!

Sometimes I accede it is just a case of ‘because I want to’ or ‘because I can’. However, we do spend a lot of time chasing and researching these items, no doubt fooling ourselves that it will ultimately make things better. We do love this pursuit of nirvana without a doubt. As with most things in life, knowledge is key and the attainment of that knowledge helps us to make the decisions necessary to part with our money. But…

As photographers, I am sure our time would be far better employed actually taking the photographs rather than spending valuable time trolling the declining number of photographic emporiums or the internet. Actually increasing our knowledge and practising our craft will, without a doubt, help us to take better photographs. Working out through practise where to focus at what aperture with each focal length of lens will stand us all in much better stead as a photographer than any new camera. Working out how to compose an image with impact, what to put in and what to leave out, will equally be able to be carried on into the future without any in-built redundancy. Understanding light in its many forms and strengths will provide invaluable knowledge to further our craft far more than a new F2 lens would I suggest?

If we give our photography a chance and increase our photographic skills and knowledge, we will improve. Set yourself an exercise. Go and do a morning’s photography with just one prime lens, a fixed 35mm for example. Now, don’t moan that you can’t do this because you don’t have a prime lens, just set your zoom lens to a fixed focal length and use that without alteration. This will make you understand perspective; it will increase your knowledge of the fact that a slight change in position can dramatically alter an image which no amount of zoom can do.

Now we all know that there are a number of stages to producing a good print and after the taking stage there is the processing stage. If you are shooting in JPEG then your camera takes on this task for you. Yes, you can adjust your own settings in camera and alter some of the parameters like saturation and white balance, but these should be altered in the menu on your camera and not in the computer afterwards as the JPEG information has been compressed by the camera and reduced significantly in detailed information. Your JPEG is like a print file – finished all but the printing. A RAW file however is likened to a negative, it contains the information but it needs to be processed. So, increase your knowledge of processing by practise. Why not try dodging and burning to lift and separate the tones or see how a vignette can hone attention to the main image subject. This practice may well be the key to producing stunning prints with impact and can be carried onward with you – as long as your memory holds of course.

These acts will increase our knowledge and take us forward. This may not stop you wanting that new camera etc, but it should make us all think about what will produce the best results at the end of the day. If our skill set it not up to par or our technique is lacking in some areas, then a new piece of supposedly better equipment is not going to alter that fact. Cameras and lenses are only the tools of our trade. A carpenter does not become a better carpenter just because he has a new chisel does he?

Like that carpenter, technique and experience in using the tools through practise makes us become a better at our chosen craft. We may have the best, sharpest lens there is with MTF figures that are top of the class, but if it is not focused on the subject, or more importantly, there is movement when the shutter is fired, the image will not be sharp where it needs to be. That technique is a primary one and needs to be mastered. No new lens or camera will help with your technique. Lens stabilisation does not improve our technique, it just masks it.

Once techniques have been mastered, and who is to say when that does occur, we can then think about doing justice to better tools. Until that time, I would argue that we are better employed practising the craft.

Keep practising,

I am.