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  • John Greenwood

Do you have equipment envy?

Updated: May 29, 2020

I am often told "size doesn't matter" or "It's not about your equipment, it's about how you use it" and this is also true with photography. While this is meant to save you a bruised ego, it really is a hard one to swallow. #LandscapePhotography #ArtistsMakeArt

A track going through a frosty field with a horse looking on
Frosty the Horse, man.

I loved my first proper camera, a second or third hand Canon A1. It was one of the top of the range cameras of it's day. Unfortunately it was no longer it's day. It was about 13-14 years old. As with all old things, they start to show signs of wear and tear. Unfortunately for me, this was in the form of an intermittent fault with the shutter. As I was new to photography, I had no idea that the camera was having teenage tantrums. I put my lack of improvement down to my inexperience so kept on taking two steps forward and one step back.

Many years later, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. My sister was living in California at the time and I was invited to stay for a while. I splashed out on a new camera for this trip. This time it wasn't second or third hand, it was brand new. It was not quite top of the range but it had the best reviews for it's class and was the best I could afford.

So there I was in America, a beautiful country where everything was different and anything different needed to be photographed. I had photographs of fire hydrants, telephone cables and fences. You name it, I had a photo of it. Not only was I photographing everything but every photo actually came out as I had planned. This camera had improved my photography no end.

Cameras don't make the photographer

Had I learned that to get great photos you don't need a great camera? Unfortunately not. All I saw was how much improvement I had made by getting a better camera. What I should have seen was how much improvement I had made by getting a camera that worked. I had paid for a first class ticket to the slippery slope of camera envy. I was now fixated on getting the best cameras I could afford. Even if I couldn't really afford it.

A Honey Bee licking the nectar from a Nepata flower
A Honey Bee licking the nectar from a Nepeta flower

However, this is where it got strange. No matter how many focusing points, shots per second, or any other pointless features for a landscape photographer for that matter, my photos were not improving as fast as my bank balance was declining.

Several cameras later, my photographic inspirations had now moved on to Charlie Waite and Joe Cornish. Now they really did have nice cameras! Which obviously meant that I had to as well. So off I went and I bought a second hand Hasselblad camera that was as old as me.

Size does matter

Finally I started seeing an improvement in my photos again. Was it a better camera that was giving me better photos? No, I had also learned that the larger the film, the more money it costs, the more thought I have to put into taking a photograph. Charlie Waite had helped me improve my photography and he didn't even know he had. So this is where Joe Cornish came in. Joe used a large format camera which meant even larger film. Yes I bought one. And yes it was even more expensive.

It really is amazing how quickly you learn when you have to hand over an hour's wage for each photo you take. Finally I had stopped bracketing my exposures. My photos were now perfectly exposed and perfectly sharp. I was now competent enough with the technical aspects that I could direct my full attention to the compositions. I started to impress myself with my photographs. I had finally realised that if each photo cost me serious money, I really thought about everything that went into taking that image.

By this time the digital revolution was raging and I had no intention to hop on board. That was until the more people left film for digital, the more expensive film became. Eventually I couldn't justify the costs of film so I took the plunge into the digital world. Over night, the quality of my photographs plummeted. I would take as many images as I liked with the thought that one or two were bound to be ok. But they weren't. They were all bad. Now that each photograph I took was essentially free, I stopped thinking about my process.

Each time I upgraded by camera, my photos didn't improve because of the camera. They improved because I kept trying harder and harder. It was me that was improving as a photographer. As soon as I stopped trying, my photos suffered. Like a hammer, a camera is just a tool *. It will only do what you make it do.

We don't print photographs as much as we used to. Most of our photos are stored on a hard drive and never seen again. The remaining masterpieces will probably be shared on the web where the resolution required to display an image is tiny in reality. A one megapixel camera will produce photos bigger than you need on Facebook or Instagram. In fact, all of the photos on this page were taken with a phone camera and the largest image is less than 0.5 megapixels. I don't think they are too shabby. Would the photos have been better on a £43,000 Hasselblad H6D-400c? No, because I didn't have one with me when I took them.

Don't get me wrong, if you want to sell your images or have enough wall space in your toilet to print lots of your photos, then a camera will lots of pixels will be suitable for you. However, worrying over which camera is best, Nikon or Canon, is like saying which car is faster; a BMW or a Mercedes? If you are really interested in speed, get a formula 1. That is, if you are Lewis Hamilton and have the money and know how to use it. Likewise, if you want the highest quality image go for a large format camera with a digital scanner. That is, if you are Joe Cornish and have the money and know how to use it. As for the rest of us, just get something you can afford that suits your needs.

Do as I say, not as I do

Time and time again, I see people with better cameras than mine and I become envious. When I see that their photos are nowhere near as good as mine, I just want to cry. I guess that is what you call jealousy. But that is my problem. Instead of being upset that their camera is better, I should be happy that my photos are better.

Photo of a log that looks like a angry face
Green-eyed monster

I often get people emailing me or commenting on my online images saying "That is such a wonderful photograph, you must have a good camera." To which I always reply with "That is really nice of you to say so, you must have a good computer." The problem is that people who haven't put in the hours of effort and sacrifice will never understand what it takes. Athletes don't win the Olympics because they sit on the couch watching TV and eating takeaways for 4 years then buy some fancy running shoes at the airport Duty Free the day before the race.

Whatever you become good at, people will always try to deny you of your achievements and say it's down to your tools. Trust me, it's not. Gaining a skill is hard work, but it is also rewarding and invaluable. I've learned the long, hard and expensive way. If you are a good photograph, you will take good photographs. Learn to use whatever camera you have to the best of it's ability and put all your energy into enjoying why you took up photography in the first place.



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