Let me see, my first DSLR was a Canon 40D, I’m working on my second one after testing the Canon 1 Series Pro body, waters. The smokin’ fast auto focus system was phenomenal, and the sound of 8.5 frames-per-second in high-speed burst made me giddy, with excellent image quality too. But too big and heavy on a long back country hike. My first lens to go with the 40D was the 100-400 f4.5-5.6L. Then there was a 24-70 f2.8L, affectionately know as “The Brick,” concrete block is more like it. Boy did you know you were carrying that beast around. Then there was the 70-200 f4L, I’m on my second one of these beauties, don’t ask. Add a 300 f4L IS ,that was one sweet piece of glass, and the 17-40 f4L to round it all off. Want to know what all this pro level gear had in common? None of it made me a better photographer, not one bit. And I also came to realize early on, that no matter how good I got, I will never reach the full potential of the gear.
I know photographers who shoot with gear, that at least on paper, is inferior to anything I now own, or have owned in the past. They are so good with this “inferior” gear that I bet they delete images from their hard drive that are better than some of what I consider my best work. Then there is the friend who “only” has a Canon G11. Every time she posts a new image I’m awed by her skill. On our last photo meet-up, as we headed up to the Flume Gorge, I was more than second guessing my choice of gear. Me wearing my loaded camera backpack, with full-sized tripod and ball head set-up, her with her camera IN HER POCKET! No big back-pack. No off with the pack, set up on tripod, take photo, pack up, back on with the pack, move on. Just pull camera out-of-pocket, click, put camera back into pocket. So jealous! But I bet none of them has reached the full potential of their gear, nor are they likely to. This is not a reflection on them as photographers either, but a reflection on the advanced state of the photography gear that is currently available.
One comment I hear often when people see and like one of my images, “you must have a really nice camera,” or “wow, nice camera, I bet it takes great pictures.” I want to reply, “that is a really nice pen, you must be one hell of an author,”(Not mine, but I like it). Non-artists don’t seem to realize it’s the artistic vision first. And then the technical knowledge of the gear, and how to use it to get the results you are after, and in a very distant third place is the gear itself, to make a great photograph.
I consider myself a good photographer, even a very good one. I won’t be knocking Ansel Adams off his throne any time soon, but I think I’m pretty good none the less. But I will never reach the full potential of the gear I own, or will own in the future. I don’t think anyone can. Another quote I’ve heard tossed around, “99% of all lenses are better than 98% of all photographers.”I don’t know who originally said it, but I would apply it to the camera bodies as well. Anyone who says they can’t make another good photograph because of their gear is lying to themselves. Sure the newest, latest and greatest, gazillion mega-pixel camera or lens may have features that will make your life easier, but it won’t make your creativity shine any more than the camera in your bag now.
So in the end, buy that fancy new body or lens you have lusted after. Just make sure it is for the right reasons. Remember, it won’t make you a better photographer, and there is a lot more left in the gear you’ve got.