6

A while ago I came across this post: https://kenrockwell.com/tech/notcamera.htm

And also found this one: https://kenrockwell.com/tech/not-about-your-camera.htm

My first reaction was "what a load of nonsense, I can think of a hundred situations where a professional DSLR will blow away an entry level one". But after a few days I realized that he actually has some reasonable arguments, and that most pictures I enjoy looking at are not taken under one of the 'hundred' situations.

So, now my question is; how much does it matter if you use a cheap or an expensive DSLR? And when does it really matter?

Update on possible duplicate: The linked question is certainly related, but very different. The related question gives specific advice for this user, and his equipment. I am looking for a more general answer, applicable to all users.

Possible duplicate 2: I feel this possible duplicate is very much the same as the first one. The linked questions gives lists of things that could be bothering someone that could be a reason to buy a new camera. The most mentioned reason for buying a new camera is image quality(including focus), but hardly any pictures I see really use this quality. So my question is, when is this quality really needed, not only when is a better camera more convenient.

I am hoping to come to a general checklist that can tell if any picture could also have been taken with any entry level DSLR or not.

Here are some links for things I've come across trying to find an answer:
https://www.slrlounge.com/its-not-the-camera-its-the-photographer/
https://digital-photography-school.com/its-not-the-camera-you-have-its-what-you-do-with-it/
https://luminous-landscape.com/your-camera-does-matter/
https://www.citiesatdawn.com/19-photos-to-show-you-why-your-camera-doesnt-matter/
https://digital-photography-school.com/saying-a-camera-takes-nice-pictures-is-like-saying-a-guitar-plays-nice-melodies/

12

While it is true that better gear won't make you a better photographer, it is equally true that any photographer is limited by the capabilities of the gear being used.

There's an old saying that has been around photography for a very long time:

Gear doesn't matter.

It's certainly true, but it is only half the truth. The rest of the truth is this:

Gear doesn't matter - until it does.

When the technical capabilities of your gear are not up to the task for the shots you want to capture, then and only then will the gear matter.

When your gear does matter, you'll know. It will matter because the gear you are using will limit you from doing work that you wish to do and that you have the skill and knowledge to pull off. Until you reach that point, the gear you are currently using is perfectly fine for you.

For more, please see: When should I upgrade my camera body? The answer there is just as equally applicable to lenses or entire systems.

Additional reading:
What features would cause a portrait photographer to choose a DSLR over Mirrorless?
Should I buy a new DSLR or spend the money on a photography course with my point & shoot?
Will I see enough improvement moving from EF-S to "L" lenses to warrant the cost?
How does focal length relate to macro magnification?
the best way to improve image sharpness on Canon 700D


Addendum based on the ever changing stated purpose of the question:

I am hoping to come to a general checklist that can tell if any picture could also have been taken with any entry level DSLR or not.

One can have the best camera/lens/lighting gear in the world and not be able to do anything with it if one doesn't understand things like the shape and size of light sources, composition and framing, exposure, etc.

One can be the best photographer on the planet and not be able to take certain shots if the gear available is not up to the task of the intended photograph.

True master photographers are able to understand what the photograph they wish to take requires from a technical standpoint, what the tools they have available are capable of, the ability to select which tools among those available are the most appropriate for a specific photographic task, and to be able to work within the technological limitations of those tools to create photographs of value.

  • All cameras, lenses, and other photographic devices have limitations. Even the latest, greatest, most expensive model that is often marketed in a way that tries to convince you every physical imaging problem has been completely solved (but only by this specific model) has limitations. If you'll wait until the next latest, greatest, most expensive model is introduced, the marketers of that newer camera (or lens, or flash, etc.) will then tell you what the issues were with the older model they previously tried to pass of as the ultimate camera (or lens, or flash, etc.) of all time because they will then be claiming to have solved that issue with the newest model!
  • All photographers have limitations in the sense that there is no single photographer that has ever lived that is more knowledgeable and skillful than everyone else in every aspect of photography.
  • What a photographer can accomplish will ultimately always be based on the combination of both their own ability and the capability of the gear they use.
  • For most beginning photographers, even the most basic entry level camera is capable of doing far more that the one using it is. For many, their knowledge, skill, and experience never progress past the capability of an entry level ILC or advanced compact camera.
  • For many photographic tasks, any modern camera is up to the challenge when in the right hands.
  • Likewise, there are certain photographic tasks that can be done by just about anyone with a basic understanding of the principles of photography.
  • For many other photographic tasks, though, the demands are greater on either the skill of the photographer, the technical capability of the gear, or both.
  • Sometimes a more capable tool requires greater skill and knowledge to use effectively than a more basic tool does because such a tool requires the photographer to make specific decisions and be able to handle the camera/lens with greater skill.¹ Increasingly, the more general tools do more of the "thinking" for the photographer in terms of exposure, contrast, color balance, etc. The computational photography done by the latest smartphones is astounding. It wouldn't surprise me if phones start offering AI tools to aid in composing images in the not too distant future!
  • As a photographer increases their knowledge, skill, and experience they might reach a point where they realize a piece of the gear they are using is holding them back from doing a specific thing that they desire to do and understand how to do if only they had the proper tools. On the other hand, sometimes the assumption can be incorrect that a specific better tool will enable a specific photograph to be created.
  • Being able to look at a photograph and understand what it took to create that photo requires much of the same knowledge, skill, and experience that taking that photograph did.

¹ Anyone who has picked up a 600mm+ lens for the first time after never having used anything longer than, say, 300mm can relate. The increase in handling technique needed, even when using a tripod, to get clear images from a 600mm+ lens is a steep hill to climb compared to a 300mm or less lens on the same camera.

  • As a bit of emphasis: I have a fancy old SLR film camera that I've used for a long time, and of course my phone has a gazillion-MP digital camera (which these days is really extremely good). I have taken phone photos that were fine for their purposes. I have also occasionally wanted to put the phone into Tv mode so as to get a good stop-action photo without using flash, and it just doesn't have this mode, and that's when I wish I had brought the fancy film camera with me (well, these days it's the fancy DSLR). – torek Sep 24 '18 at 0:00
  • If you're not a professional, and you don't need to catch every shot, is then really needed to never be limited by your equipment? For arguments sake I would like to turn it completely around: If there is still room to improve your results with the equipment you have, your energy is much better spent on improving your skills and creativity than on worrying about how your equipment is limiting you. – Orbit Sep 24 '18 at 18:08
  • @Orbit Neither the question nor this answer really addresses whether someone should upgrade. The OP asks, "When does the gear matter." The reply in this answer, "When it prevents you from making a photograph you could otherwise make." It doesn't really take a position either way on whether that justifies improving one's gear or not. Some of the other linked question go more in one direction or the other on that. It's more of a personal choice that this answer leaves up to each person to decide for themself. Beyond that, perhaps your comment here would be more appropriate as an answer? – Michael C Sep 24 '18 at 20:06
  • ... or even as another question? – Michael C Sep 24 '18 at 20:15
  • @MichaelClark You are right, I am just putting a lot of focus on this point because It think it is a very important one. I have personally wasted a lot of time worrying about (possibly) being limited by the equipment I have (with me). I thought I knew enough because I could get a proper exposure in M mode, and spend most of my time thinking about my equipment. Only when I completely let go of those worries, my pictures started to improve. – Orbit Sep 25 '18 at 15:16
5

My personal ordering of importance of the various parts of the camera system are 1) photographer 2) lens and 3) camera.

A good or great photographer can take the limitations of the other components of the system into account and generate wonderful images within those restrictions. Interesting examples can be found here.

Add a selection of lenses, and our photographer can start playing with perspective, DOF, distortion, and other effects that might not be easily done (or done at all) otherwise.

A camera is the least important component of the system. There are particular categories of photography that might emphasize particular camera characteristics such as sports (frame rate, focus speed) or low light (ISO) landscape (resolution) or event (shutter noise) or combat (all of the above plus durability) but for general photography the cheaper camera bodies in a manufacturer's lineup will perform satisfactorily most of the time.

  • I like your answer, especially the link in it. You are basically saying, first one should focus on becoming a decent photographer, then think about getting some more lenses, and then maybe a new camera. I suppose that makes sense unless you are in to something special that requires a special camera function that basic camera's don't have. – Orbit Sep 23 '18 at 17:09
3

Note: Here, I will rephrase my answer to How to know you've outgrown your equipment?, as it covers this topic quite well.


If we only account for exposure-relevant environmental factors, then there is not much of a gap between entry-level cameras and pro-grade cameras - and most of the difference would be due to ergonomics.

Even the most basic DSLR / MILC of today offers better low light- and AF-performance than any professional SLR did.Exaggerated, not empirically proven statement!.

Of course, there are situations that require professional equipment: The easiest way is to become a professional whose financial situation is entirely dependent on getting every shot right. If you are a sports photographer, then 6 fps probably will not be good enough (well, it is, but double the fps and you double the chance for a perfectly timed photo in your burst) and you will want the best AF system you can afford. If you are into landscapes, then perhaps you want the highest resolution you can afford (though a good tele lens and a good tripod can do the same with any camera - if you have time for stitching). If you are a travel photographer, then a light, universal setup might be the best choice. If you are a war reporter, then you will want the sturdiest camera there is. Etc.p.p..

A good photographer could do any shot at any time with any camera of today - 5-6 fps are not a serious limit if you know what you are doing, and sensor- and AF-performances are getting closer and closer.

But maybe you have to shoot no matter the weather: Would you rather use an entry-level, unsealed camera in rain - or a pro-grade, sealed camera? Maybe you want a bit of a safety margin: With 10fps+, you may get shots that you would have lost at 6fps even with the best technique. Maybe you need file redundancy: If our camera supports writing to two cards at the same time, then one card can fail without you losing anything.

  • Some folks think the only thing they need to take better action photos and catch the decisive moment is a camera that can shoot at a higher frame rate. Never mind that some of the greatest action photos ever taken happened in times when 2-3 fps was considered blazingly fast if not outright impossible! To catch action at an exact instant one needs timing that can correctly anticipate such a moment while having a familiarity with the equipment one is using so that the camera can be triggered just far enough in advance of that moment that the shutter is open when that instant in time occurs. – Michael C Sep 23 '18 at 22:44
  • @MichaelClark No argument here - Your answer that had the same nessage inspired me to directly address the fps. – flolilo Sep 23 '18 at 22:48
  • Or to put it another way, a camera's fps specification is not a limitation with regard to capturing a perfectly timed single frame. Consistency in how long it takes the camera between the time the shutter button is fully pressed and the picture is taken could be an issue for timing a single frame. High fps is useful when one desires to catch a series of frames showing action as it progresses in smaller time increments. – Michael C Sep 23 '18 at 23:00
3

So, now my question is; how much does it matter if you use a cheap or an expensive DSLR? And when does it really matter?

Questions like this seem to presuppose a direct relationship between image quality and camera price, but many of the differences between cheap and expensive cameras have more to do with features that make it possible to get the shot you want in the first place than the quality of the shots that you do get. Here are some examples:

  • build quality: If you depend on a camera for your livelihood, and if you need to use that camera daily in adverse conditions, then you're going to want one that's built to be rugged and reliable. If you're not working in those conditions, you may not want to pay the premium price that comes with solid weatherproofing, a magnesium alloy body, redundant storage, longer average shutter lifetime, etc.

  • AF system: All anybody really needs to take a nice photo is a single autofocus point, right? You can always focus and then reframe if you want. But that takes time, and when you're shooting action you may not be able to constantly recompose your shot. If you take enough shots, you might be able to guess at the focus and get lucky on some of them; but if you've got an advanced AF system with dozens of points and good accuracy, you'll get many more well focused shots, which means that you have a higher likelihood of getting some that are both in focus and good in other respects.

  • burst rate: If you're shooting action, being able to shoot more consecutive shots with less time between each one translates directly to a higher probability of getting some winners. For professional photographers, that difference alone can more than pay for the price differential between a consumer camera and a high-end pro model.

So to get back to your question, having a camera that's highly reliable and packed with features for extreme shooting makes a difference when the cost of not getting the shot is high. If you're trekking across a mountain range in order to take photos, you're going to be pissed if your camera breaks because it got a little wet. If you're shooting someone's wedding or a football game and can't reshoot the event because your memory card failed, you're going to want some protection. If you're shooting some news event in bad weather and low light, you'll want a camera that can handle that situation.

Cheap cameras aren't cheap because they take lousy photos. They're cheap because they might not take the photo you want at all.

  • 2
    I strongly disagree that higher burst rate means more winners. It just means more near misses. A seasoned pro familiar with a particular sport can nail the instant with a single shot. A novice can machine gun it at 20 fps and still miss the instant in the 49 milliseconds between each 1 millisecond exposure (at 1/1000, which is typical for sports/action). – Michael C Sep 25 '18 at 17:46
  • @MichaelClark That may be true when the action in question is predictable, like a batter hitting a ball, but not everything is. A receiver catching a ball or a QB getting sacked is somewhat less predictable, and a race car going sideways on a track is even less so. And who's to say which 1ms is the right instant in a sack, which might take 400ms? Human reaction time is typically around 250ms, so even if you're very fast, you're lost if you can't anticipate the moment. I can't imagine we really disagree that continuous mode is a useful tool. – Caleb Sep 25 '18 at 18:37
  • I'm not saying it isn't a useful tool, but I am saying a photographer with impeccable timing will trump it almost every time, even when using a much lower frame rate camera. – Michael C Sep 25 '18 at 18:40
  • I certainly don't mean to discount the value of experience, but I don't imagine there are a lot of 1Dx users who'd happily give up that model's high fps. In any case, I just tried to pick a few example of features that pros are happy to pay for. I'm sure we could think of a dozen more. – Caleb Sep 25 '18 at 18:55
  • To those on the outside looking in, most seem to think fps is the be-all, end-all for shooting sports. It isn't. If given the choice between better AF speed/accuracy and higher fps, I'm pretty sure which one every single pro sports shooter I know would take. It's not the higher fps. What good is 8 fps if 6 of them are slightly to moderately out of focus (cough, cough... original 7D.. cough)? – Michael C Sep 25 '18 at 19:09
3

I like a lot of these answers. I have a slightly different take. For me the answer is equipment matters some.

In fact what I learned over the years and expanding my equipment cache is that very expensive pro cameras take a lot of effort in learning exactly how to use them right in order to actually get better results than a simple one. I'm not talking about things like how to do a manual exposure, but more complex things.

For example a Canon 1DX out of the box isn't particularly good at flying birds. But then I read some articles about back button focusing [https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-use-back-button-focus-on-your-dslr/] and how to fine tune the autofocus settings [https://www.grantatkinson.com/blog/making-the-most-of-canons-new-autofocus-5dmk3-and-1dx] and how to set AF points so that they work better with AI servo. Sorry if this is too camera specific but my point is not the specifics it is just the fact that this camera is very technical if you want to get the best out of it and if you're not up to spending 100s of hours learning its persnickets then maybe you need a 5D or a Rebel.

So the cheaper equipment has less demand on you (in some cases) because there is less to think about. It's not always true, but how many different settings you have to remember/check/set up special programs for plays into your workload.

For me this is one way in which the camera does definitely matter, in its interface to you and your brain.

  • 1
    I've never used a 1DX, but I can't see how it's AF system wouldn't be good out of the box. Having shot sports with a 20D and up, I can completely agree that technical use features like BBF and Servo help dramatically (once you go BBF, you don't go back!) - but I also can't imagine the AF on a 1DX is that bad, especially comparing it to a Rebel. – Hueco Sep 26 '18 at 17:49
  • I sort-of disagree. Learning to use the 1D X's AF-selector does not make you a better photographer - you simply learned to use the 1D X's AF selector. Can you shoot better on a 550D/D3200/a7 with that information? I highly doubt that. What would make you a better photographer (perhaps): If it would stop working if you do not expose properly. Or if you would have no AWB. Or no AF. Having those skills would help with any camera, as AWB/AE/AF can fail you on any of these. But things specific to the camera just make you a better user of that particular camera. – flolilo Sep 27 '18 at 12:57
  • I'm not saying it will make you a "better photographer". The original question is "does the camera matter?" Maybe I just argued that the camera doesn't matter but understanding it does. You will take better photos with_the_1DX if you learn the autofocus system, specifically the AF case selection fine-tuning. The AF on 1DX isn't "bad", it's tuneable; out of the box it's a compromise tune. Articles have been written about this; that's how I found out how to do it. Learning this one thing did not make me better, but constantly learning new things about my tools does. – Patrick Taylor Oct 1 '18 at 15:46
2

Photography has technical and artistic aspects. Cameras can do much of the technical work, like focus and calculate exposure. Even monkeys can push a shutter button.Those who are not technically proficient do benefit from better gear.

However, gear doesn't do art, yet. Gear won't tell you which shots to take and how to compose them. Once the camera does all the technical stuff for you, or you reach a "good enough" level of technical proficiency, the only way to become a "better" photographer is to improve the artistic aspect. To do this, you need only pencil and paper to sketch out the composition of scenes you want to capture while mentally walking through an event. You might even want some crayons to block in some colors.


Gear does matter for photography. Without a camera, it's no longer photography.

Gear affects what photos can be taken. Worse gear won't stop anyone from taking any good photos at all, but some photos are impossible to capture without the right gear.

  • Sports photography with a pinhole camera?
  • Stereo photography of moving subjects with a single camera and lens? (Exceptions: Samsung NX 45mm f/1.8 2D/3D and Canon dual pixel raw capture. But these exceptions prove the point, gear matters.)
  • Infrared photography without infrared film or modified sensors? (Some cameras work without modification, but again, the exceptions prove the point, the camera matters.)

Gear affects the frequency and consistency with which photos can be taken. Given unlimited time, it's possible to use a camera with a three-picture buffer that takes a minute to clear to capture excellent images that are indistinguishable from those taken with "better" cameras in terms of image quality, but at an event, many key moments will be missed regardless of how "good" the photographer is.

Gear better than "good enough" matters less. Many people start with crappy gear and see improvement with better gear. By the time they finally have "good enough" gear, it's hard to stop thinking that better gear will continue to be helpful.

Differences between "entry level" and "advanced" become less significant as technology advances, especially when they use the same sensor and processor, where the main differences don't affect image quality, like metal components, weather sealing, burst speed, and buffer size.

Experts compensate for gear deficiencies with knowledge. While a novice might "require" 100 fps with unlimited buffer to catch the "money shot", someone familiar with the sport has knowledge of the timing of events and needs only a few fps. It's not about being a "better" photographer, but having the knowledge to solve problems by means other than brute force.

0

I really like this kind of questions and all answers that appears already here.

So I answer is "it depends" :-).

Are ready to travel over the spiral of learning or you just want to shoot pics?

If you just want to shoot pics, then camera does not matters. Just have a smartphone, with whatever lens and shoot selfies or other all whatsoever images.

But if you want to learn and continuously improve your skills, then camera really matters, but also in specific way.

As the others already stayed you shall know the camera you want to buy and use it in sense, that you would like to use the features, which it will give you.

There are couple of things I had been experiencing.

Long time ago I was using analogue film point & shot camera. What was the problem with it? I cannot really control depth of field. It was great for landscapes, but almost useless for portraits, as always background was strongly involved in composition. The solution was always to have good background - sometimes very complicated.

Currently I am using mid range DSLR for photography, cell phone for whatever shots and ... the most important ... small wooden frame to train my eyes and brain in composition.

Why or in what way camera matters?

My wooden frame is great tool. I have it with me almost always, even if I am sitting in park, sometimes I am getting this frame and observing surroundings through the frame. I am doing "photos" and storing them in brain memory. Frame helps to see like one see through the camera. This frame teaches me what is a composition, what I like to have in scope of vision. But ... frame has sensor what I have in my eyes - very good sensor in sense of e.g. great number of EV stops, but very different to one I have in DSLR or phone.

When I am finding something interesting, I can take my phone and shoot. Hmm ... why the image is different than when I was using my wooden frame "camera"?

This question brings us to the second stage.

When composition is nice, interesting and has some topic or might express some idea, the phone limitations might destroy everything.

Too much light without possibility to use manual mode, will end up mostly in overexposed images. Often wide angle lenses in cell phones will end up in high distortions. For example there is autumn and colours are pastel, at the phone screen I see all oversaturated - especially red colour is very intensive. So pastel relaxing atmosphere in my phone becomes aggressive mixture of background and topic without possibility to focus longer on anything on the picture.

So the situation I saw through the wooden frame is not the one, which is stored on SD Card on the phone. Or formulating it other way round, there is a big gap between the memory footprint in brain and file on the SD card.

So camera matters.

The same scenery. The same park, the same autumn, the same bank I am having my DSLR. Switched to RAW manual mode, or e.g. aperture priority. I am decreasing the EV -1.0, I am setting neutral mode for colours. Taking the lens with low aperture like 2,8 and proper focal length. Click. Got a photo ... hmm ... bokeh is giving or enabling possibility to separate topic from background, neutral colours are ending up in pastel colours, focal length makes my picture composed well in sense that topic is well visible. So the photo is similar to what I saw over my wooden frame. Wooden frame and DSLR are giving more less the same.

So camera does not matters ;-).

Extending question - does tripod matters?

But then I am taking my tripod. The same scene. I am shooting long exposure. No ... OMG ... my wooden frame has no ability to do it. I could only imagine, what will be there, but I do not see it. For example running children are changed into nice coloured bands of lights. Even shape is interesting.

Does filters matters?

I am taking ND 3.0 filter. The time goes so fast. How much movement I can capture. The clouds seemed to stay, but I see they are moving, even on the picture I see where and how they move. To make the same with my phone, I need to do funny things, and at the end the result is awful.

Does lens matters?

I found small bug resting nearby on the bank. I can use macro/micro lens or extension tubes or magnifying glasses ...

Then we can goes beyond already mentioned. Does lighting matters?

There is a concert and behind the band there are strong lights. Even DSLR might have problems, but fill-in flash or whatever good frontal light will help to get faces or instruments bright enough.

Even further ... does makeup or studio for portrait photography matters?

Finally I want to say. It matters if one might and can use offered features or abilities. But it does not matter if you will not improve, in between, also your artistic skills like: understanding composition, psychology of the colour, creativity to prepare scene, ability to observe in patience and so on.

  • Of course the camera or gear matters sometimes, but I think you are overestimating it a bit. Lens sellers like you to believe that you need a large aperture to separate your subject from the background, but there are many more ways, such as choosing a neutral background or contrasting color or light intensity. The issues you mention with your phone can also pretty much all be solved by learning to use the advanced features of your photo app, or downloading an app with more control. – Orbit Sep 27 '18 at 18:15

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