I don’t talk about equipment much, simply because I’m not that interested in equipment. I have little to say about it. This post was first published about three years ago as one of my Saturday morning musings. I revised it a little bit, and will post it again here and let it stand as my thoughts on equipment.
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Photography has changed drastically over the years I’ve been involved in it, at least as far as equipment is concerned. I remember when match-needle metering was a great convenience over carrying a hand-held meter. Then along came aperture and/or shutter priority exposure, auto exposure, programmed exposure, autofocus, and probably a few other features I’ve likely forgotten. One was only left to wonder what was next.
Now we’re in the age of digital cameras, and they’re coming at us in a never ending parade of new models with new and improved bells and whistles. Every model of camera made, from the simplest point-and-shoot to the top of the line pro instrument comes loaded with a dizzying array of features. Some will do just about everything but make your breakfast and drive you to work. But do they make us better photographers? No. I don’t think so.
If you are photographing commercially, if you are competing for high end accounts and clients, or are making huge prints, then yes. You need high end equipment that will give the needed results. On the other hand, much stunning work has been done, and is being done, with pinhole cameras, simple film cameras like the Holga, older film cameras, simple point-and-shoot cameras, and everything right on up the line. My own feeling is that if a camera give results that satisfy me, then it’s a good camera. I have no desire to pay a small fortune for something I don’t need.
I’ve read and reread The Daybooks of Edward Weston several times over the years, and what he did with the cameras he had could put many a modern photographer to shame. He never had much money, and worked with simple, battered cameras all his life. He was constantly taping up light leaks, or occasionally a lens would fall off during a long exposure, or some such disaster. He never owned an enlarger. Now and then he’d long for better equipment, but mostly he made do with what he had at hand, and his work speaks for itself. He was a master, his work is timeless, and he did it with what could be considered primitive equipment, even for his time. The books are a fascinating glimpse into his world and his way of working. Would having top notch cameras have made him even greater? Probably not. His work came from within.
I’m not saying we all need to rush out and find the oldest, most battered camera we can, but we needn’t feel like we must have the latest and greatest to do good work either. Good photography still boils down to the photographer. A camera, be it film or digital, merely records an image. Whether that image is good or bad, strong or weak, depends on the photographer. My constant goal is to make sure what I see in the viewfinder is the best I can make it before I trip the shutter. Sometimes I live up to that, too often I still fail. I need to work on that. All of us who call ourselves photographers, whether we shoot with a pinhole camera, a so-called ‘toy’, a vintage film camera, the latest digital SLR, our phone, or whatever instrument we choose, need to strive for that. A good photograph comes from a photographer’s vision, not from his or her camera. That’s the heart and guts of photography, and that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
pj johnson — photographer
how you can help
An important part of this journey will be raising funds through this blog. Whether we like it or not, the fact is we need money to do things. I have three ways below in this sidebar that you can help if you're willing and able.
First, I have a selection of notecards and a calendar available through Redbubble, and the selection will be growing as I add new work.
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