When I was young, new cars were a big deal. They only came out in the Fall, and for months before that, dealerships would hint at the great new models from Chrysler, GM, or Ford. There were no sneak previews, no leaked information (other than what was necessary to whet everyone’s appetite), no hint at the new technology available in this year’s models. By the time September rolled around, people were salivating to see the new cars, and many rushed into the dealerships to plunk down hard–earned dollars to purchase the newest and the greatest. Think an iPhone release, if the iPhone were Candy Apple Red and had a 351 Cleveland.
Cameras, too, used to be like that. Sometimes, it was years between releases of new model cameras. When you bought one, it was meant to last a lifetime. My second “good camera” was a Pentax ME-Super (it actually had aperture priority!) that I bought at a pawn shop for $90 and used for years, then sold it to someone, who also used it for years. At that time, like most photographers, I was a gearhead. I was willing to try any new equipment that I saw advertised, and the camera was the thing.
It hit me the other day, quite suddenly, everything has changed. The photography industry has certainly changed in the last 20 years, but so has the camera industry. Once digital cameras became the norm, it became a free–for–all, with bigger sensors, more megapixels, faster autofocus, and a list of myriad other features that camera manufacturers use to try and outdistance their competitors. Of course, all of this results in better cameras and, supposedly, better pictures. Most photographers think so. They buy cameras in droves, spending sometimes thousands of dollars for the newest body or lens.
What hit me the other day was that the bells and whistles, for the most part, don’t excite me anymore. I had traded a camera for a slightly “less professional” one, because it has a moveable touchscreen LCD. This is really useful for macro work, which is a large part of my photography now. As I unpacked the new body, I had the same feeling that I would have unpacking a hammer. Don’t get me wrong, the camera is beautifully designed, and it works flawlessly. But, as I looked at it, I realized that, for all its capabilities, it’s still just a tool.
Whether I or someone else is looking through its viewfinder, this camera can’t tell whether a photograph is worth taking, or what the end result will be. It can only focus light onto a sensor and hold there. The choice of light, the choice of what image is captured, belongs to me.
My new camera is the equivalent of walking into a hardware store and buying a nail gun instead of a claw hammer. Both tools need a guiding eye and a steady hand. One just makes the job a lot easier. But, in the end, is anyone going to look at your deck and ask what kind of hammer you used to drive the nails? It should be that way when someone looks at your photographs. Rather than focusing on the camera you used to capture the images, make sure the image makes them concentrate on the photographer using the camera.