Friday, December 20, 2013

How to always pick the perfect gear

Spoiler alert: the thing that you buy (or get as a gift) and use all the time is the perfect gear for you to use.

If you need more reassurance than that, read on.

I’m wryly amused by the link-bait twitters and headlines about the “death of the DSLR” or the “rise of the phone camera” and how this or that product in which you likely have invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time using and learning is now, magically, defunct. Amazingly, these articles aren’t written by the likely culprit—a producer of such goods which wants you to buy something new—but by gear heads who keep thinking the answer to better images lies in the tool instead of in the mind. They’re wrong today, and their forebears were wrong before.
Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects which for me are not a major concern.” —Henri Cartier-Bresson
Fuji cameras
I love new gear and I love tools. And sometimes a new tool can change everything. Cordless drills are amazing. So are my Fuji cameras. So was my Canon F-1. And my Nikon F3. And before that my Canon AE-1. And before that my dad’s hand-me-down Voightlander. They were, and are, all great tools for different purposes.

But that’s the trick. Understanding which tool is right for the job. Probably 90% of my photography is now shot with the Fujis. But when I need to do lighting, or I need to do a fast paced shoot with a model, I’m back to the DSLR. A single lens reflex with a high-speed motor has definite advantages over the slower acting mirrorless Fujis. Likewise, nothing beats the XE-1  and it’s electronic display when trying to capture a silhouette. 

There is no single-purpose tool. There is no single answer to improving the images you make. The only correct path is to learn more, become comfortable with what you’re using, and be willing to apply the right tool for the job because you understand the task at hand. 

A young girl uses a power tool

Maximizing what you know how to use is far more important than replacing your gear. Film has been around for a hundred years. Its technical features are known. Digital sensors reached a point of broad utility long enough ago that the technological changes aren’t very important to your image production. What is important is familiarity with a system that allows your mind to work on seeing. If you’re fiddling with buttons and constantly concerned about settings, then you can’t be in the moment of the experience. If you’re not in the moment, you won’t see any images to make. 
“I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever the technological innovations may develop.” —Ansel Adams
An artist uses pen and canvas
A visit to any library or museum provides deep comfort that a creator’s tools don’t “die” and artistic skills don’t outlive their usefulness. Creativity is forever a product of the mind and not the tool, and given enough time even the old tools make a comeback. Even when the tools change, they’re built on the backs of what came before, and the evolution is easier for having the prior understanding.

So worry not about the tools or how long they’ll last in the fast-paced world of technological innovation. Invest of yourself to gain speed and relaxation in their use, knowing that whatever technology gives or takes away,  your skills will remain.