Expensive Equipment--is it necessary?

posted on 1st of june, 2010

A couple months ago, I read a blog on DT focusing on the use of compact point-and-shoot cameras for microstock photography. Many people who become interested in photography hold back from seriously pursuing it because they think they need expensive equipment to be a photographer. Let's delve into this deeper.

First of all, this article is not discussing talent. Many people may have the expensive equipment, but not the talent, or vice-versa. Either way, chances are you will have a difficult time producing quality stock. Talent is extremely important, but talent must be paired with a comparable level of equipment to achieve great photos.

I began my hobby with a simple <$200 P&S camera. After my talent advanced beyond the capabilities that camera offered, I upgraded to a Digital SLR. I am currently adding to my "lens arsenal".

People have told me, "You don't need a professional camera to get pro quality photos." I agree. Somewhat. I reply, "You need a professional camera to get professional-caliber photos on a regular basis."

Take this real life example. You are an aspiring sports photographer. Your goal is to have photography good enough to put on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. You begin with a P&S camera with a moderate zoom range. You soon find the following things out:

1. The optical quality is inferior to what you see from pros work. (CA is present, the photos aren't very sharp, etc., etc...)

2. You notice noise when shooting in indoor, low-light situations.

3. Your photos are missing the "pop" that professional's have. In other words, you aren't getting shallow DOF.

4. Your camera can't keep up and focus on the action.

5. The exposure meter is not exposing the image correctly due to sudden changes of lighting.

The list could go on...

All of the problems above can be mostly or entirely solved with an "expensive camera and lens". But remember that you have to do your part. The camera can't do it all.

Since I upgraded from my P&S, and have acquired several high quality lenses, I've noticed a significant increase in the number of "keepers" I get. It is often the combination of several things my DSLR can do. The robin in this photo was in this particular pose for only a split second. The high speed focusing and long telephoto lens on my camera enabled me to capture something that would've been impossible with my previous P&S.

This photo has a similar story.

Also, I routinely use ISO 400, and even 800 if needed, which was totally unusable on my P&S. That in itself has given me many excellent shots which otherwise would have been trashy.

I have found that having high quality (therefore, expensive) equipment has reduced frustrations (if you know how to use it) and altogether has made photography much more enjoyable, yielding satisfactory (or amazing!) results regularly.

Comments (28)

Posted by Elimitchell on June 23, 2010
Posted by Rangpl on June 23, 2010
Like F1 car for F1 driver
Posted by Elimitchell on June 02, 2010
You didn't mentioned, also, that the [b]Canon[/b] FD>EOS adapter is discontinued, hard to find, and extremely expensive when you do find one. And no third part FD adapter has very good optics (if any).

Brad, could you fill me in on this stuff about FD and 4/3? I am not really into the the 4/3 stuff, but this sounds interesting.
Posted by Bradcalkins on June 02, 2010
I have no experience with Canon, probably they do a similar good job to keep the camera bodies compatible with older but excellent lenses.

Not really, Canon changed the mount from FD to EF back in 1987 and no compatibility has been possible without optical couplers due to the smaller flange back distance (or you can't focus to infinity). People do mount Nikon wide angles on Canon bodies, though :) I have a really cheap Pentax K mount adapter that adapts nicely to Canon as well.

That said, any EF lens back to 1987 does work on modern cameras with AF and full aperture control. Interestingly, Canon FD lenses suddenly have gained a second chance with Micro 4/3 cameras!
Posted by Elimitchell on June 02, 2010
That's the other thing. Just because it is old (or uses old technologies) doesn't mean it is bad. I have a Rokinon 85mm f/1.4. It has manual aperture control, manual focus, and absolutely no electronic connection or communication with the camera. It was only $250 from Amazon, and the quality of it is excellent. Of course you must manual focus the lens and manually control the aperture, but with some practice, it can yield incredible results. It's great having f/1.4, too!
Posted by Jdanne on June 02, 2010
Elimitchchell: Your are right with the lenses. My current favorite lens (Nikkor 50mm 1.4D) is from my analogous time (Nikon F100) and it motivated me to stay with Nikon.

Similar with my brother: His old and very expensive 2.8 70-200mm Zoom (without VR) is also from the analogous time (used with a Nikon F90) and is still his most favorite lens with his D200.
Since I experienced his zoom at my D700 I want to have such a zoom - still need to save money for it.

So lenses can be used even after the analogue-digital change, at least with Nikon. I have no experience with Canon, probably they do a similar good job to keep the camera bodies compatible with older but excellent lenses.
Posted by Elimitchell on June 01, 2010
Thanks for the clarification. Getting a DSLR has not shown me how much I know, but how much I don't know.
Posted by Rudyumans on June 01, 2010
I was replying to your last post, not your first. Although I know people that can do amazing things with P & S, I do agree with you that expensive (read more capable) equipment can yield better results. It gives the photographer more confidence and adds to the pressure to come home with good results. After all, you can't blame the equipment anymore. :)
Posted by Elimitchell on June 01, 2010
I fully agree that the glass will impact the image quality more than the camera. I have a lens that is worth about 50% more than my camera, and it is capable yielding fabulous results. Note that the title of my blog is not: "Expensive Cameras..." but "Expensive equipment..." :)
Posted by Rudyumans on June 01, 2010
Yes, good lenses are often more expensive than the camera. Photography doesn't have to, and shouldn't make you bankrupt. Just maybe consider saving up longer to get a better body. You'll be glad you did.

I have my doubts about that. Often a better camera body reveals all the little shortcomings of a cheap, or even a half way decent, lens. Better glass is far more important and gives better results. Specially if you are on a budget (and who isn't nowadays). Cameras come and go.

To get better result such as better focus and less noise, it would be much better to learn exposure and manual focus. in 90% of all the cases I have seen it is not the camera, but user error.
Posted by Elimitchell on June 01, 2010
I have noticed that recent P&S cameras have an improved AF system (on static subjects), some not having much shutter lag at all. But I still see lots of noise and CA, and other things. Also, no LCD or EVF can beat my 40Ds optical VF.
Posted by Unteroffizier on June 01, 2010
Picture this. If technically point and shoot cameras are better than SLRs then probably the manufacturer's product related departments and seections would have long closed down : ) Bigger sensor, responsiveness, speed and image quality makes it favorable for professionals. Everybody will not want to miss any moment due a camera with shutter lag, noise at challenging light conditions so on. Though composition is also important with better camera and equipment keeper rate of photos should be higher.
Posted by Elimitchell on June 01, 2010
Yes, good lenses are often more expensive than the camera. Photography doesn't have to, and shouldn't make you bankrupt. Just maybe consider saving up longer to get a better body. You'll be glad you did.
Posted by Jdanne on June 01, 2010
Good equipment doesn't generate good photos automatically but it helps a lot.
Comparing my D700 Nikon with the D200 from my twin brother (he made excellent photos
with this camera):

- ISO 200 instead of ISO 100 as optimum
(even with higher ISO values the D700 makes a good job, my maximum is one photo
at DT with ISO 1000 without using noise reduction software - impossible with a D200)
- full format instead of DX format
- sensor cleaning function
- etc.

Of course there are better and much more expansive cameras. Nevertheless photographing shouldn't make you bankrupt.

Don't forget the lenses: Good lenses are often more expansive than a good body.
Posted by Louoates on June 01, 2010
With my $8,000 (Without lens) Canon Mark III there are a few things I don't have to worry about:
1. Noise and artifacts
2. Short battery life
3. Dirt on the sensor
4. Too small an image after cropping
5. Carrying a backup camera

I do, however, worry about carrying it into a bad neighborhood or checking it in luggage at the airport. All in all, I'd buy it again because most of my work that sells in the gallery are very large prints that would suffer with a smaller mp camera.
Posted by Cncphotographylee on June 01, 2010
I agree! Just saving for some really good glass now!
Posted by Patl on June 01, 2010
I agree, if you want to....
 Rise above the rest 
Posted by Bradcalkins on June 01, 2010
I have one a micro four thirds compact camea and love a lot about it, especially the portability and fact that I have it with me. But despite that I still much prefer my Canon 40D for just about any situation where I can carry it with me. The larger optical viewfinder is great, the camera responds quickly, AF points are reliable and easy to select, high sync speed with Canon flashes, etc. You have to be careful how you spend the dollars, though. I looked at the 50D, for example, and didn't see how the extra money spent would increase my enjoyment of the camera. I'd be just paying for more pixels. Likewise, I've spent money on expensive lenses that didn't suit my focal length needs and found they sat on the shelf or produced underwhelming results. Once I finally found a range that suited my style, I spent the extra money and have been very happy with the purchase (24-105mm). I don't think anyone can argue that you can't produce stunning results with a compact camera, or even a pinhole...(More)
Posted by Dmccale on June 01, 2010
I agree totally.I started out with a P&S about 5 yrs ago,when my monolta 35mm film camera broke..Than about 3 years ago.I moved up to a Canon 400D.I have several lens with it,And a few months ago it broke,Now I own a 50D and have 5 lens.I still want an L glass.SOMEDAY!!And yes it is knowing your camera also.The change can get frustrating.I Just keep learning.Great blog and good luck to all..
Posted by Elimitchell on June 01, 2010
@Mariaam: I agree with your comment, but at times, Photoshop won't even fix the consequences of using an inexpensive camera. I try to get a quality photo out of the camera, then I won't need to embellish it as much in PS.

@Dan1: I recommend you read lots of reviews to find the camera to best suit your needs. Wish you luck!

@Thanatonautii: I wasn't satisfied with my Canon 40D and kit lens either. To tell you the truth, the lens was so bad that I almost preferred my P&S (except for the usable high ISOs on my 40D). I recently purchased an L lens, which is short for "Luxury". All L lenses are pretty expensive (because they use superior optics, and have exceptional build quality), and this one was no exception. I waited a long time for it. But I have been extremely pleased with the results. The 70-200 is a great lens. There are some very high quality versions made by both Canon and Nikon. Yes, the stabilized f/2.8 versions are up there (>$2000), but it is a lens many pros have in their...(More)
Posted by Julia161 on June 01, 2010
I totally agree. Life is much quieter with pro equipment and work is more quaranteed. With cheaper cameras sometimes you even refuse to shoot in difficult conditions, because you know that camera will not manage.
Posted by Mariaam on June 01, 2010
It saves a lot of time (and nerves), if photos are taken with a professional camera. You donĀ“t have to spend hours with photoshop to clear all mistakes.
Posted by Dan1 on June 01, 2010
I'm upgrading to a better camera by next weekend if everything goes as planned. If not it'll be July before i can get one. My little old camera hasn't got a lot of what it takes. Your points are well taken.
Posted by Thanatonautii on June 01, 2010
I have an canon 40d and still i`m not satisfied. But I think the problem is my lens , which is an canon 18-135. I want to buy a new one, a canon 70-200 but I need the money first :)
I liked your blog! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by Colette6 on June 01, 2010
Both have pros and cons. I've seen brilliant photos made with p&s.
Heavy equipment is not what you will always have with you and of course is on the other hand sports in low light not an option with a compact camera.
But when you only have the money for a p&s and nothing more: spend a bit more and go for the best. When choosing your subjects carefully and avoid the weaknesses of p&s, you will be able build up a portfolio when you have the talent.
This is also a useful article:
Posted by Mythja on June 01, 2010
well, i think point and shoot is really not an option with sports photography if you want some serious photos. otherwise, control is really much better with DSLR and of course lens arsenal. stock photography is especially sensitive to quality, which is very limited with p&s.
Posted by Frantab01 on June 01, 2010
although there are some great p&s cameras on the market i have to agree with you that if you invest in great equipment, then you do get better results - great blog :)
Posted by Joezachs on June 01, 2010
Agree to what you said. To have takers for your product, you need good quality results, which can be only achieved by a good camera.
Thats the reason why I am stuck at 6 uploads (which are incidentally taken by a compact camera)

Comments (28)

This article has been read 2084 times. 2 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Elimitchell.

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Whether the subject is a soaring eagle, snowy Mount McKinley or a blooming Dahlia, ever since I began photography a few years ago I have discovered details through the viewfinder that I would not have seen otherwise. Through my photography, I hope share these incredible facets of Creation with others.

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