Do you really NEED better gear?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by kallisti, Jan 27, 2011.

  1. kallisti macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #1
    This forum has a diverse audience. Some members are professional photographers. Some members are just starting out.

    Many threads get posted that can be summed up as: "I want to create better images, what gear should I buy?"

    Sometimes this is framed as which point-and-shoot is the best?

    Sometimes this is framed as which DSLR is the best?

    Sometimes this is framed as which brand is the best (Canon/Nikon/others)?

    Sometimes this is framed as which lens should I buy?

    The answers can vary greatly but general responses tend to be:

    DSLRs are better than point-and-shoots--more options and better image quality.

    Bodies don't matter, buy better glass

    Bodies DO matter, considering the sensor changes (or other changes) body "x" will result in better images than body "y"

    Professional (i.e. "fast") zooms will be better than consumer zooms

    Primes are better than zooms

    Fast lenses are better than "slow" lenses

    For god's sake, buy a tripod (and a good tripod at that)

    The more thought-out replies generally preface their recommendations by asking "What are you shooting and how is your current gear holding you back?" This often gets lost though in the flutter of "buy this" or "buy that."

    Photography can be an expensive hobby/job. It's easy when starting out to blame mediocre results on the gear you have while ignoring the skill/technique/experience that is required to create pleasing images.

    I wanted to create a thread with examples of why gear matters (or doesn't matter). There are obviously niches in photography that require top-end gear (wildlife photography, sports photography, low-light photography, etc.). But there are also many common shooting scenarios that DON'T require professional/expensive gear. Depending on what you plan to shoot and what your output requirements are (i.e. web/email, ink-jet printer output, framing on the wall, sending to a professional printing service, selling to clients) you might be able to get by with less than internet forums, test charts, and manufacturer propaganda would lead you to believe.

    Please post example images and explain why the specific shot you wanted could only have been obtained with a certain level of gear. The obvious example shots will be in low-light, scenes that require a shallow depth-of-field, fast action, or subjects that require extreme telephoto. That's fine.

    Many people who aren't professional photographers (most people?) don't routinely shoot in any of those scenarios. Yet they may still feel the need to "upgrade" because they want "better" pictures. Gear isn't always the answer though.

    So please post your shots with explanations of why you NEED the current gear you use to create your images.
     
  2. kallisti, Jan 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011

    kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2003
    #2
    Here are my first examples. Two similar images shot with a Leica M9 and a Canon s90. The Leica is an 18mp rangefinder while the Canon is a 10mp point-and-shoot.

    [​IMG]
    Leica M9 with 90mm f/2.5 lens.
    Total cost for the shot: $7k + $1.7k = $8.7k

    [​IMG]
    Canon s90
    Total cost for the shot: $379


    [​IMG]
    Leica M9 with 50mm f/2 lens (cron). Widely regarded as the best 50mm lens for any 35mm camera, with the possible exception of the (newish) Leica f/1.4.
    Total cost for the shot: $7k + $1.3k (average for a used lens) = $8.3k

    [​IMG]
    Canon s90
    Total cost for the shot: $379

    While these are smallish JPEGs, I'm not sure how much real difference you would see if printing in reasonable sizes. There are shooting scenarios where the Leica would be dramatically better (need for f/2 or if your output is going to be high enough quality to allow the better lens/body/megapixels to actually shine). But for routine consumer uses for these particular images I would have been fine just using a point-and-shoot. Yes I can outline specific scenarios where the point-and-shoot would suck. But if most of your shooting doesn't require a fast lens or if your output isn't high enough quality, then the better gear doesn't matter. Did I mention the M9 is only manual focus?

    I didn't throw my D700 into the mix. I may for subsequent posts. I want to show a D700 using a consumer lens vs a pro zoom vs a prime.
     
  3. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    Jan 15, 2003
    Location:
    51st State of America
    #3
    Great idea for a thread.

    I shoot on dark streets, this means I need 3200 ISO with a f1.4 prime lens to get the kind of shots I need. This allows me to shoot in available light without flash.

    In addition (with the free running image) I want good separation of foreground and background that a fast prime lens offers.
     

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  4. AxisOfBeagles macrumors 6502

    AxisOfBeagles

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    #4
    of COURSE I need better gear.

    must ... have ... more ... toys ...

    ;)
     
  5. Doylem macrumors 68040

    Doylem

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    #5
    Gear matters... of course. But fretting about gear can take up a disproportionate amount of time and energy, that might be better used taking pix and learning the art and craft of photography. I take the 'less is more' approach: for 95% of my pix it's one camera, Nikon D200, and one lens, 18-70mm.

    A lot of people look more like camera collectors than photographers. They may know all about the gear (and what's coming next), but they don't seem to take many pix. It's an easy hole to fall into (and the manufacturers would be happy for them to stay there... as long as they're buying).
     
  6. jdavtz macrumors 6502a

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    Kenya
    #6
    If you like, I'll buy you a brand new s90 and swap it for your M9 ;)

    Most people buying an M9 aren't primarily using it for the sort of shots you give as examples, although for those who are, and can afford it, I'm sure it's nicer-handling than any P&S on the market that I know of.
     
  7. Designer Dale, Jan 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011

    Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

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    #7
    I think it really depends on the audience. My wife is happy with the photos she gets with her P&S, and has a hard time seeing why I need even as much as my XSi and kit lens, let alone my 100mm 2.8 macro L or 120-400 Sigma zoom. My camera eye is sharp and I have a high level of quality that I impose on myself. Gear won't totally solve that (there is always a better better), but it helps me to produce what I see before I press the shutter. I learned with B&W film processed and printed in my own darkroom. When I sold that and went to color film developed by drugstores, I stopped taking photos for several years. New gear (dslr and PhotoShop) got me back into the hobby.

    In regards to your photos, I can see distinct differences between the two cameras. there is much more detail and a better color balance in the Leica examples, even though the subject matter is identical except for the gear.

    BTW: I would love to have a rangefinder as a second camera.

    Edit: I have been working on this thing called "extracted landscapes" since I got my 120-400 Sigma. I don't have another shot of this at a shorter focal length, but it's impossible to get close enough to this to shoot with a 50 or something else. Mud and water in the way.

    [​IMG]

    Dale
     
  8. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #8
    I think in your first post you answered all of your own questions, kallisti. Certain types of photos require more sophisticated gear, whereas just about any camera can handle well lit scenes where nothing is moving.

    There are people who shoot in low light, who shoot sports, who shoot wildlife, or who just like to see their images come alive with subtlety and detail on a large print. These people have a "reason" to purchase more expensive gear, and they fall into two types: those who will make back their investment in gear through professional activity and those who won't. The latter type of photographer just has to decide how much he is willing to invest in the pursuit of his own happiness.
     
  9. kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

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    Apr 22, 2003
    #9
    I agree with everything you said.

    This thread was intended to encourage people to provide real-world examples of why specific photography gear is needed or not needed. There is a common theme that "my images suck, it must be because my gear sucks." Sometimes this is true, more often it isn't. Specific subjects can require expensive gear. Many common subjects don't. I have noticed a tendency for people in this forum to request gear advice where the real problem isn't with gear but with poor technique. I hoped to create a thread where people would post examples of where gear matters and where it doesn't. This could help people considering spending large sums of money to reconsider their purchases if their expectations of improved images from the new gear aren't realistic.
     
  10. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

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    #10
    Maybe a "Post your Low End Photos" thread? The title of the current one sounds like a gear discussion.

    Dale
     
  11. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    #11
    No offense Dale but I understood what he meant, hence my contribution of images and reasoning for needing the gear that i use.
     
  12. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #12
    OK, where it matters:

    (all photos clickable)

    One I took in August:

    [​IMG]

    That's a single exposure at 17mm on a 5D Mark II. Not possible without an ultrawide-angle lens and a sensor with a good dynamic range (the dynamic range of this scene is massive). Also not possible without a graduated neutral density filter large enough to accommodate an UWA lens on a FF camera body (not a cheap filter). Also not possible without a sturdy tripod that is light enough to be hiked into a canyon and then carried down a precipitous rock face to the floor of a cavern.

    The alternative with inexpensive gear? Probably something like this (taken by someone else):

    [​IMG]


    Here's another example, some seagulls I photographed back in June:


    [​IMG]


    Made possible by a camera that shoots 8 frames per second, enabling me to fire off a burst and later pick out exactly the right moment. Also made possible by the phenomenal ability of that camera (my 7D) to track moving subjects and adjust its focus automatically as those subjects change position--all while cracking off shots at 8fps. In addition, this camera was outfitted with a USM lens that can keep up with those demands, and that lens had a CPL filter on it that could keep the sky dark and the feathers from reflecting too much light.

    The alternative with less capable gear? Maybe something like this, on average:

    [​IMG]

    That's what inexpensive equipment is likely to produce with birds in flight.

    A really capable photographer might be able to do better than these "cheap gear" examples while still using cheap gear, but would not be able to replicate the shots taken with specialized (and therefore expensive) gear.

    Of course, it helps that I know how to use my gear, and a lot of people who might be similarly equipped would still have trouble replicating those kinds of pictures--and might very well end up with something that resembles the output of cheap gear. It's true that the gear alone doesn't make the shot, but it does at least make the shot possible.

    Is this the sort of thing you were looking for, kallisti?
     
  13. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #13
    Part 2: where it does NOT matter.

    Kallisti has already shown us shots of stationary subjects in good light. Most cameras can handle that sort of thing. You don't need an expensive one until you intend to print large output and want lots of luscious subtlety and detail in there.

    Here are some photos of moving subjects that could be replicated with an inexpensive camera.


    [​IMG]


    I shot this one handheld with my 7D. The hay bailer is moving, but very slowly. The light is soft and easy; the dynamic range is well within the capabilities of most digital cameras available on the market today. You could probably get a similar shot just using an iPhone.


    [​IMG]


    Again the subject is moving. Yes, it's a moving bird, even. But this one is a swimming duck, and I just panned along with it. I shot it with an XSi, but again, even an iPhone could handle a panning shot of a duck in this kind of light.

    The DSLRs I used with these two photos produced images that have really nice color and sharpness, but much of it gets lost at this small internet size. So it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference what camera I used if this was all I ever wanted to do with the output.
     
  14. jackerin macrumors 6502a

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    Finland
    #14
    This is just a personal theory, but I think that what many people expect, or what they really want, when buying a better, more expensive camera, is better light.

    This shot for example, was taken with the current low-end Canon DSLR, the 1000D/Rebel XS. The lens is the old 18-55 II (non-IS).
    [​IMG]

    And you don't need much in terms of gear to get a shot like that, two flashes on either side, triggered with radio triggers, or alternatively, the way I did it before: PC sync extended with 3.5mm audio cord with home-soldered adaptors.
     
  15. Keleko macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2008
    #15
    Sometimes you can get lucky with cheap gear, too. This was taken with my iPhone 4 at a Japanese steakhouse. I was able to take one picture of the blazing fire and this was the result.

    [​IMG]

    Of course, better gear helps, too. This is the same place, different day, with my 60D. This clearly has a lot more detail of the fire in it.

    [​IMG]
     
  16. fcortese, Jan 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011

    fcortese macrumors demi-god

    fcortese

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    #16
    And you don't need much in terms of gear to get a shot like that, two flashes on either side, triggered with radio triggers, or alternatively, the way I did it before: PC sync extended with 3.5mm audio cord with home-soldered adaptors.

    Whoa. Radio adaptors, two flashes...I think that is more than "inexpensive."
    Phrasikleia gave a nice and I feel fairly complete pro v con review. It comes down to the skill of the photographer and what you are looking to accomplish. Toss in movement, light conditions, etc you can get by with some inexpensive equipment for some pictures (see below taken with a 50mm f1.8 II-got it for less that $100), but in some instances-see Phrasikleia's samples, you need higher end camera's a lenses, or at least a mid-range camera and good lens.

    [​IMG]
    macro usage

    [​IMG]
    Replica of mining shaft frame

    [​IMG]
    Close-up of part of wood frame
     
  17. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #17
    I suppose it all depends on what you consider to be inexpensive. Kallisti's example of a $379 point-and-shoot is a lot cheaper than everything you've listed, even without the radio triggers. DSLR + lens + multiple speedlites + whatever else. It does add up.
     
  18. jackerin, Jan 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011

    jackerin macrumors 6502a

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    #18
    Doesn't need to be. Cheap flashes can be found for about 50e, I've bought three used, good ones (Nikon SB-24) ranging from 60e to 80e. Radio triggers is one option and can be had for about 50e from ebay, PC sync cord is the cheap but more awkward system.

    In my opinion, if you paid ~500e for a camera, then compared to that it doesn't seem like that much to me...

    Edit:
    True, but you're going to bust a nut trying to get the same effect with a point-and-shoot. (Yes, it's possible if you use optical triggers...) The shot couldn't have been taken without a certain level of gear, but that gear is, in this case, far more obtainable than people expect.
     
  19. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    #19
    I think the first shot is the better one btw, the abstract shape on black works so much better. It doesn't look like a picture from a phone.
     
  20. Designer Dale macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

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    #20
    And then gear will do you no good if you don'y have it with you...:eek:

    With my iPod Touch from the gym parking lot.
    [​IMG]

    Dale
     
  21. kallisti, Jan 27, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011

    kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816

    kallisti

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    #21
    Yes. PERFECT. Absolutely perfect. Thank you :)
     
  22. Keleko macrumors 68000

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    #22
    That's very true, Dale. Here's mine from a Publix parking lot using my iPhone 4 from earlier this week.

    [​IMG]
     
  23. AxisOfBeagles macrumors 6502

    AxisOfBeagles

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    #23
    Very good points, but there are some circumstances that require multiple lenses, other than compulsive buying behaviors. For instance, I take a lot of wildlife photos which tends to favor two long lenses. But I also dabble in landscape and city scape, which favor a lens like yours. Which means I am likely to carry three lenses in my backpack when hiking out to chase some critters.
     
  24. Phrasikleia macrumors 601

    Phrasikleia

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    #24
    Yeah, Doylem says that for him "less is more," but really, less is simply enough for what interests him: landscapes in good light.

    He is nonetheless using a fine DSLR, a well regarded lens, a sturdy tripod, a remote release, and a GND filter in a holder much of the time. Still quite a bit more than a $379 point-and-shoot.
     
  25. Ish macrumors 68000

    Ish

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    #25
    I find this comparison particularly telling. Without the filter, the brightly lit rock on the right is overexposed and the beautiful, subtle colours are swamped.

    Although I have a dSLR (Canon 450D) which is a nice camera for the price, one problem is that the end of the kit lens rotates makes using a graduated ND filter very difficult and is limiting in that way. Neither does it have the dynamic range of the 5D.

    When Virtual Rain got his Canon 7D he posted some useful comparisons between the 7D and the 450D he was upgrading from. The 7D coped much better in low light and with a higher dynamic range than the 450D even though they are both crop sensors.

    Having said that, I could never have taken Phrasikleia’s photo anyway, even with the choicest gear and years of experience. That precipitous rock face would have done me in!
     

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