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Bigger, better, faster, out with the old, in with the old...

posted Mar 12, 2012, 7:28 PM by Jose Velasquez   [ updated Mar 27, 2012, 4:24 PM ]
Both Canon and Nikon have anounced their newest full-frame DSLR's. On paper they look amazing. Great high ISO performance, decent FPS, big viewfinders, able to focus on a gazillion spots, capable of taking 35mm sized HD video, and with all the bells and whistles anyone could ever want. The question on most photographer's minds is "Should I upgrade?". 

That question is one I wish to untangle a bit. If you need to upgrade because you believe the newer gear will get you better pictures or make you a better photographer, well have I got news for you. Don't expect the gear to make you a better photographer or get you better pictures. The gear can only do so much if you don't have the eye, the skills, or the presence of body to capture whatever flow of time you're after. 

Back in the days of film pretty much every single SLR was the same--the difference was the film. The more expensive the film was the better the resolution/colors/tones etc. However, a beginner with no knowledge could easily botch up an image, even if they had the most expensive SLR and exclusively used Fuji Velvia 50. In these days of disposable digital cameras it's no different. You can buy a camera with all the bells and whistles and still botch up an image if you have no clue what you're doing and no artistic vision. 

Photography for most, I've always believed, is 90% timing, 6-8% skill, and 2-4% gear. 

The timing is fairly obvious--if you're not there, you won't get the image. If you're eye isn't tuned to the rule of thirds or balance or movement, you can really botch up an image even if you're in the right place at the right time--again this is related to timing. You need to know when to click that shutter ere the moment is gone forever from your sight (I believe this is probably where timing and skill overlap some, but I'll discuss that in another posting).

The skill a photographer needs is a little more complicated. Every photographer has to have the basics down--even those who just put everything in "A" and shoot away. The basics are common knowledge and include shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and how the three are interrelated and affect each other. The more complicated stuff like panning, macro, flash, and stuff like underwater photography still rely on the basics, but there are a few more things each photographer has to know (hence there's a range for the skill level) in order to get the shot.  

Gear--this is the one stickling point of this day and age. Many believe it is the end all be all of photography. To my way of thinking the gear only makes up for 2-4% of an image. Yes a newer sensor will give you better high ISO performance, but if you're using flash or working in bright daylight, it won't make a difference whether you use a FF sensor from today or one from 5 years ago. Light, thankfully, doesn't change as quickly as does technology. 

Gear is technology. There's no doubt about that, and like all technology it will get supplanted by something bigger, better, faster, and probably more expensive, which will in turn get supplanted in a little while, and the cycle goes on and on and on and on. There's no end to creating disposable DSLRs, and the camera makers are happy to keep the bigger, better, and faster carrot dangling before us.

So what's my point? Gear (i.e. technology) isn't the end all be all of photography. My other point is don't expect an upgrade to make you a better photographer. 

Have you ever stopped to wonder why pictures from the past five decades are never called obsolete but the gear is? I find that a bit ironic. It's like saying if you have shoes that are six months old you can't play basketball. They may have been excellent shoes back in the day, but today they won't help you keep up with other athletes. Bullocks!

That's the biggest crock that people fall for in photography. There are still great pictures being taken with film by some impressive photographers--David Burnett is one who readily comes to mind, and he's won awards for his work. Steve McCurry has readily admitted a preference to film, and no one dares to call his Afghan Girl an obsolete image!

Am I against upgrading? No. But only if you can honestly agree with the following statement: 

If your gear can no longer keep up with your artistic vision, then by all means upgrade. 

As a final point--now is probably a great time to head into full-frame territory--what with so many upgrading and dumping their gear at insanely cheap prices. Recently I saw a 5D classic go for $680 and a D700 for $1700...DX is probably going to lose many of its adherents who couldn't afford the benefits of a full frame sensor, but whose artistic vision has been craving those benefits...

Till my next rambling, review, or post, this is, hey, hey
~jsv
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