12 Mar Gear: When and How
It’s always the biggest and most favorite topic on a typical photographer’s discussion: gear. What’s the newest? What are they using? What they want to get.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to quite a few amateurs of various experience levels. Mostly novices talking to me about their inadequate cameras. Canon Rebels usually. I tell you, Canon does a fantastic marketing job. I’ve never had a novice talk to me about Nikon or Olympus.
My first camera I used for professional purposes was a used, 3 years-old Canon 50D. I still have it! I liked the 50D because it was considered Pro-Am. It has a magnesium body which is what you only find in pro bodies. So I knew it would be durable. Plus the person selling it to me would throw in a Canon 18-135mm f/3.5 – 5.6 for an extra $100. Actually, quite the bargain back in 2011. And I loved loved and loved using that lens! Using the camera felt quite natural to me. The lens was without a doubt, crappy. But it was fun to use and that’s a huge part of photography: having fun!
I joined photography groups and spoke with others who were far more experienced than I was. I was lucky enough to meet photographers who were either once or currently full-time photographers with real, practical experience. One of these photographers turned me onto Zeiss lenses. I also found that you could rent equipment from places like Borrowlenses.com and Zeiss lens were available. Borrowlenses.com got a good amount of business from me for a few months!
I was incredibly happy with my 50D and Zeiss lens combination. Eventually, I bought a Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 which would be my standard lens for the next 6 years. Basically, it’s all I had. No autofocus with the Zeiss lenses. But I managed without it. I photographed everything from fashion, portrait and events. It took some extra work and planning, but it worked. I thought the image rendering and sharpness was incredible with my 50D. Professional level absolutely. I even have some of the fashion images in my current portfolio from this combination. 8 years later!
Two years after I bought my Canon 50D, I bought a Canon 5D MKII. I think largely because I wanted a Full Frame camera and a second camera for event work and a backup. On paper, Full Frame offered better specifications. Right?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, the skin tones were a little better. More colors were visible. But it’s not as big a difference as what some professionals would lead you to believe. Really, 99% of the general public wouldn’t notice. A handful of professionals would notice. Like me. I just have that eye. But for publication in a magazine, the 50D is more than enough for quality. BTW, recently, I saw an ad in a major fashion magazine from a major, upscale fashion designer. There was so much background noise in the image, I couldn’t believe it. Even when I was starting out, using my 50D under the worst lighting conditions, I don’t think I’ve shown an image that bad.
So yes, you can now get this camera for $99 on eBay! $180 in mint condition and it will be completely acceptable for quality images. The 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss lens average price on eBay was $475. Mint: $500. So, it’s held up its price well. I had to sell that lens to finance the purchase of a new camera. But, I MUST get that lens again! Would love to shoot with my 50D again!
The takeaway you should get is: You can get a totally capable, magazine publishable image from a camera & lens costing $600.
One of my favorite photographers was the late Peter Lindbergh, possibly the most accomplished photographer ever. His camera? A Nikon you can walk into almost any big-box electronics store and purchase. Expensive? Well, for professionals, not really. It was a top Nikon. I believe a D8XX which is a fantastic camera. But many fashion professionals work with cameras costing 10x as much and more. Easily. Of course, he worked with top models, makeup artist and hair stylists and other staff. People. As they say, you are only as good as the people you work with. Amen to that.
The cameras is just part of the equation and as I just demonstrated, quite a small one. The great thing, and really, it’s been true for at least the last 5 – 7 years, you can get really great camera for relatively cheap. I consider my current camera, the awesome Panasonic G9, to be a fantastic, totally professional camera. It cost me $1200 and you can find it on sale sometimes for $999! I absolutely love it! I mean, the next step for me is a refurbished Medium Format camera that is going to cost at least 15x as much!
There will be those who say the larger Full Frame sensors are superior to my Micro Four Third (m43) G9 sensors are. Um, no, they aren’t. Oh yes, did I mention they are at least 2x and normally 3x the cost of mine?
I know an incredibly successful professional photographer with over 20 years in the business who has the exact mindset I do. He uses his m43 cameras for his bread and butter commercial work and a Medium Format camera for mostly for his own personal work. We both agreed: m43 is more than enough for 99% of the work out there. I wish I can post some pictures from my most recent fashion shoot which I’m prepping for publication. The colors, sharpness and image rendering from my G9 and Leica Nocticron are just wickedly awesome.
However, you have to think about lenses. In fact, before I started buying the Panasonic, I looked at what lenses Olympus offered as well. At the time, Olympus didn’t offer prime lenses that I needed. Plenty of zoom lenses which makes sense since they largely cater to sports/action photographers. Panasonic had plenty of primes. And I preferred their look more to Olympus. Not better. It’s just a preference. Now, they each offer plenty of primes and zoom lenses. But I still prefer the Leica lenses and other features Panasonic has.
As I’ve told the recent number of beginning photographers, spend your money on lenses. Sensors are so damn good these days. You see the biggest difference in the quality of lenses you use. Remember what I said earlier about the 18-135mm lens I first had. When I compared it to the Zeiss 50mm, it was instantly no comparison. Same camera sensor.
For years, I’ve been using a pretty inexpensive lighting system from Photoflex. I’ve actually been very happy with the light I’ve gotten from it. But, it’s delicate and finicky to setup. I hate setting it up. I have to regular keep checking on it to make sure everything is still in place. The nylon is relatively delicate. I’m super-careful when packing and transporting it. But again, the lighting quality was great. Used it for about 7 years!
Fairly recently, finally, I upgraded to a Profoto version. I’ve always loved Profoto lighting gear and when I had the money, would rent them for a shoot. There is definitely a difference in the light output quality. But just as importantly, the products are built with a tank like-quality! The fabric on my Profoto system feels like it will last 20 years. The mount that attaches to the light stand and modifier feels like it’s built from cast iron! You can use as a weapon it’s so sturdy! It feels like it was designed by a German company. That is to say, over-engineered. I absolutely love it!
BE PRACTICAL. DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE
There are things that you should and need to spend money on and some things, not really. My camera is relatively cheap. My lenses are relatively expensive. My lighting modifiers are pricey. But the actual lights are somewhere in the middle. My camera bags are on the expensive side. But I use heavy duty and cheap sandwich bags to carry some gear in! I mean, why spend $20 when a $0.25 sandwich bag will do just fine? Remember what I said about profitability and how you have to decide what’s really important?
A dear and successful photography colleague of mine once said to me “I have a problem spending money on something that is not going to directly improve the quality of my photography. But if something is going to help me do it faster and easier, that will work too”.
Amen to that.