Very often I find photographers hankering after the latest and greatest camera equipment; frequently trading in their gear every 12 months or so as each new model is announced, even when there are only very small real differences.
At one time during the early days of digital, the image quality was only borderline acceptable in most cases and there was genuine progress between each new model, but for the last five years the real world differences have become far more subtle. The megapixel war is fairly pointless now, especially for shooting nudes or glamour that don’t require the kind of definition that might be desirable in a landscape for example.
A quick look at many web forums will quickly reveal that most of their members are far more interested in camera equipment than in taking pictures. In fact, discussions about light quality and composition etc. rarely get a mention. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call them “camera owners” rather than photographers. Next year they will probably own a new camera but their photography is unlikely to have improved much.
I have a simple rule of thumb with camera equipment. When I stop thinking about it, I know it’s right. When I use the Hasselblad for example it just feels right. That is partly down to years of use but also the knowledge that it is a well thought out piece of equipment, which has been tested in the field and proven to be right for the job. When a new Hasselblad is introduced I don’t automatically want to abandon the camera I already have.
Going back several years ago I remember struggling along with a Canon Eos 100 SLR and there were times when I was exasperated by the functional limitations of the camera. For example there was a dial on the back, which was far too easy to move in manual mode and had to be taped down to avoid accidentally moving to the wrong setting. The need for a PC adaptor to work with studio flash was also awkward and unreliable.
At the time I wasn’t earning much money as a photographer, so I persisted with that camera for longer than I would have liked, but one day I finished a shoot in utter frustration and walked down the road to a camera dealer where I immediately bought a used Eos 1. This wasn’t the latest model that Canon were making at the time but it was a solid well made camera and it was a complete revelation compared to what I had been using before.
Many photographers are convinced that more options is always better when it comes to cameras and yet as I started to look closely at that Eos 1 I was struck by the shear lack of features and modes compared to some of the less professional cameras. It was clearly a much better designed camera for picture taking because they had eliminated distractions so that I could concentrate on the actual photography rather than the flashing lights. Probably the best example of this approach is found with the Leica rangefinder cameras. With camera equipment less is more sometimes when taking pictures.
At the time of writing I am working with a 1DsII, which I have had since 2005 and it’s a very good camera. There are a few points in the design ergonomics which could be improved, however it’s a thoroughly professional camera that inspires confidence and does exactly what I need. The real point about a professional camera like this is that they are built for hard daily use in all kinds of conditions and you are less likely to make errors in a moment of distraction because of the way they operate.
Looking at the various 35mm digital cameras, I feel we are reaching a point where differences in print will be largely impossible to see and left only to the pixel peepers. In practice this means that if you buy a professional DSLR it will still be a perfectly valid tool for your photography in several years time from a quality perspective but you will have also gained in the meanwhile from the general handling compared to lower end alternatives. You will also suffer less financial loss in the long run as you stop trading in your cameras every 12 months, so choosing professional equipment makes sense on a financial level as well.
For anybody shooting nudes or glamour photography there is a happy medium in terms of resolution because excessive detail is not terribly flattering to the model and will generally just result in many more hours spent in retouching. In real terms it may also lead to deterioration in overall image quality, since most modern lenses are already at their limit with the higher end 35mm DSLRs available today. Significantly higher resolution may also come at the price of compromises in other areas, so try to remember that the total megapixel count is not the only way to measure the usefulness of a camera.
In practical terms any recently made professional camera will do it all for commercial work from internet right through to billboards. It’s better to buy one good professional camera (even used) with just a couple of excellent lenses than to spend all your time and money constantly upgrading consumer level cameras and lenses.
One last piece of advice. Something I recommend in my book is that you “stress test” all your equipment to see where problems can occur during a shoot and take steps to avoid it in advance. This doesn’t just mean your cameras but also your lenses, lighting, cables, camera bags and the rest. Everything. That way you really learn how your equipment works and avoid costly errors. Look for dials that can accidentally be moved or batteries that run down too quickly.