Do You really need a $$$$ equipment to make good photos?
Puoi cambiare lingua dal menù in alto.
I know, it has already been said a thousand times, probably more. Apparently though, for way too many photographers the camera gear is still one of their main concerns when it comes to taking good photos. From my experience, most of the times I get reached out for a workshop or even for some random informations, the questions are about the gear: “is my equipment good enough?”, “should I buy this in order to improve my photos?”, “that camera is amazing. Is it worth to spend $$$$? Will it help my photography?” and so on. I could go on for a long while.
I won't get more into this argument as it rapidly slides from photography to sociology and behaviours of modern society, but let's just assume that for some reasons we are all driven to think that without the latest, newest lens, camera or filter you won't be able to take good pictures anymore. Or, well, if you can still take decent pics with your now “old” equipment, that new tool will guarantee you better photos then.
Now, to be completely fair I should say that to a certain degree, my statement is not true; let's say that you have a 20 years old compact camera, in that case buying a new camera will help you at least to decently see the photos you are taking. There are a few examples where equipment does matter, but they are a tiny part compared to most of the possible scenarios.
My aim with this article is to make your rationally understand why there's not always the need for a new piece of equipment, why it won't help you at all (actually, sometimes it could even make your life worse!) and specially to make you realize that you can capture great photos with your “normal” camera gear, whatever that means for you.
The Times Where Equipment Doesn't Matter
Let's start by stating a fact: 95% of the pictures you see on my website are taken with an eight years old camera, a Nikon D800. The remaining ones are taken with a slightly newer D750, which I use as a spare body. In the times we live in, eight years are an eternity in terms of technological development; since the release of the D800, there have already come out, without even considering the D800E and the various mirrorless like the Z7. The question I want to ask you is, regardless of whether you like the photos or not: do you think those same photos would have been better if I had use a newer Sony A7r IV, or a Nikon D850, or again a Canon R5? My answer is no, those photos would look exactly the same, and I think we can all agree on that. You know why? Because it was the same person who was taking the shots. I could have used an entry-level camera as well as a medium format 50k Hasselblad, and you wouldn't have noticed the difference, specially considering that you are seeing a resized version of the photo, adapted for web. For the picky ones, at max you could have noticed a small variation in terms of sharpness, but not really relevant on whether a photo is good or bad.
Truth is that, in a world where taking photos is becoming easier and more affordable, YOU are the most valuable assets you have, not your camera or your lenses. Your creativity is the what will make you stand out from the crowd and what will help you take great photos. Focus your time and money on learning about different techniques, study how to compose a photo, read about color theory. Having a camera that at ISO3200 is slightly better than its competitors will help you having a slightly less noisy photo, that's all. It won't be better, it will be just a bit sharper; if the photo was dull, it still is. Nothing changed.
I know many people who spend hours studying graphs on DxO or Dpreview, zooming 400% to understand which lens is 0.01% sharper than the others, learning at what aperture that lens is 0.5% sharper. I would have already quit photography if I had to read those stuff. I mean, I'm sure they are useful, but isn't better to just go out and shoot? What's the point of knowing so many things about your equipment (or the equipment you desire) if you still need to develop your compositional – technical – practical skills? It would be fine if you would like to become a photography technician, not a photographer.
I also see many photographers – both amateurs and professionals – praising their tools like they were sponsored by them (and most of them aren't) and it feels almost absurd to me; have you ever heard a chef praising the quality of his cooking pots? Have you ever heard a painter praising the quality of his brushes, or his canvas? Or maybe a weaver praising his frame? Let me tell you the answer: unless they were in some kind of sponsored content, NO. You can give me the same pots that Gordon Ramsay uses, I can assure you I won't make the same prelibacies. You can give me the same brushes that Leonardo da Vinci used to paint La Gioconda, I wouldn't be able to paint a simple tree.
This whole “captured with my fantastic Canikonsony” attitude is also damaging the entire photographers community; not even considering the free publicity that the brands are taking from it, that's the start of many common sayings such as “ehi, I bet you are taking nice pictures with that camera” or “everybody could take great shots with that huge lens!” and so on. I'm not saying that you shouldn't give some credit to your equipment, but not even praise it just because it's doing its job.
If you are selling me a 250€ filter or a 1000€ tripod, the minimum I can ask for is for them to work properly. Nothing more, nothing less.
Now that I broke down why the equipment is not as important as you'd think, let me tell that sometimes buying a new piece of gear could even make your life worse! I saw firsthand some of my customers upgrading their cameras, lenses, filters etc, just to discover that they weren't nearly as good as they thought; manufacturers are always adding new features, creating new lines of products, and this is all good till you can't find the thing you are looking for on the camera menu because it's full of useless gimmicks you can't get rid of.
In my really humble and pretty much useless opinion, newer tools should simplify the user experience, not complicate it. I saw some filters sets that should be sold with an engineer that comes to mount them on your lens every time you need them.
My advice here is to avoid following the trend or the last piece of tech, but rather understand what are your real needs and discern what you should consider useful or helpful from what it's a waste of money or time.
The Times Where Equipment Matters
As I mentioned in the introduction, there's a small number of cases where the equipment you have can make a big difference in the photos you take. Since I want to be completely honest and crystal clear with you, I'm going to dedicate a few lines to these particular situations too!
Let's say that you want to do macro photography: without a dedicated lens or at least some extention tubes, you can't expect great results. A “normal” lens doesn't have the same magnification ratio of a macro one, so you just can't get really close to your subject and still keep it in focus. Let's say now you want to do astrophotography: without a polar mount or at least an astrotracker, you won't be able to expose long enough without having startrails in your pictures. Again, if you just bought your camera and you only have the standard 18-55mm lens, you probably can't immerse yourself into wildlife photography, unless there are some really friendly wild animals in your area.
I can't list all the specific scenarios, but I think you got the idea. In these cases, the equipment has a big impact on your pictures (given that you have the knowledge to make them work, obviously). It is not a matter of better or worse equipment though, it's more of a right or wrong equipment; a “simple” camera is just not enough to do astrophotography, it doesn't matter what camera model it is. You need a star-tracker, polar mount and the will to spend hours both outside taking pictures in the dark and then inside at the pc editing them (but that's another story).
After all my ranting on the low importance of the equipment when it comes to taking great pictures, let me state that everyone is free (and welcome, actually) to have his own opinion; in the end it's your time and your money, and you are the only one that can choose where it's worth to spend them. I really hope though that I managed to make my point on the argument and maybe make you re-think about your list of priorities when it comes to improve your photography level.
Remember that your camera is nothing more than a tool, a mean to an end, not the end itself.
Don't believe that you can't take great photos unless you have $$$$$ worth of photo equipment; the only thing that stands between you and your personal photography growth is your creativity. Develop your style, master the technique, experiment different genres. You'll probably be surprised by your expressiveness when you'll stop caring about the gear and start exploring your talent!