Commentary # 32: June 2009
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Your Equipment Matters, and it Matters A LOT

June 2009

- by Craig Wassel

The internet is awash with "Your Camera Does Not Matter" debate, so don't let the title of this commentary make your eyeballs roll back in your head. When you read those debates, they almost always concentrate on the importance of composition and mastering fundamentals versus the image quality various camera bodies and/or lenses deliver. Both are important when discussed in the proper context, but that's not what my little soapbox here is about. It is about telling you that overall your equipment (not necessarily just your camera) does matter, and in all the banter I have ever read on this debate I have never found an approach like what I suggest below.

Before I go further, I want to clarify that my opinion (or advice, rather) is targeted toward a very specific but very large group of photographers. This group consists of passionate shooters who are interested in developing a second income via photography or even in becoming a full time professional. They usually spend a lot of time dreaming of new gear and toiling over what to buy, and rightfully so. They want to make sure they buy the best they can afford. If you are in this group, I have a perspective that you may not hear often or at all, and I hope you will find it valuable. Here it goes.

Not only does your equipment matter, but it matters A LOT. Here is how it matters.

If you are in this group of photographers wanting to make a splash into professional work, I am going to assume there are a few things that are true:

1.) You want to get the best equipment you can afford, but you don't have much positive cash flow yet from paid shoots

3.) You don't currently have a much gear to work with, which sometimes limits what paid work you can do

3.) You don't have much experience choosing new gear

Number three from above is the real key to my point. When you don't have much experience buying new gear, it is easy to buy good gear in the wrong order and/or for the wrong reason. Buying new gear is fun and exciting, but it has to be the right gear at the right time for the right reasons. What is the "right" gear? Well, the answer depends on where your interests are and what type of photography you believe is going to generate revenue for you.

As an example, I will do something that I normally avoid like the plague: mention a specific brand of equipment. If you look around this site enough, you could figure out that I am primarily a Nikon shooter. My preference for Nikon has nothing to do with believing their gear produces better image quality than Canon or Pentax or any other brand (which I do not, by the way). It is because I made an educated decision that - overall - their system has some features that are very nice for the photography that produces the most income for me.

I do a lot of location portrait photography, and lighting is crucial. The fact that Nikon speedlights can be fired in many different ways is enormously beneficial for a traveling portrait photographer. First, they can be fired from an on-camera hot shoe. They can also be wirelessly fired from a signal from a pop-up speedlight on a Nikon body, from another independent speedlight, or from a signal from a special commander unit. They can be triggered more simply by just using their built-in slaves. They can be fired via sync cord. Last, they also have their own built-in PC sync terminal; that means they can be quickly and easily connected to and fired synchronously using third party wireless triggers. All these options (eight of them if you are not counting) mean Nikon speedlights can even be used inside umbrellas or softboxes, and even in combination with studio strobes.

It may sound like I am plugging Nikon gear, so I want to make it clear that I am not. I am advocating carefully choosing - and buying first - good gear that has a very, very valuable feature:


The lighting and strobe scenarios I mentioned above are not hypothetical for me; I use all of them depending on what works for a shoot. Carefully choosing and buying first the most versatile gear quickly builds a system that can be used in several ways, which removes barriers and expands possibilities. For lighting, I am also not saying other brands of speedlights cannot do some or all of the same things I mentioned above. With the purchase and expense of accessories, they can. I am talking about out-of-the-box versatility as a priority.

To further illustrate my point, let me talk about one of the most expensive pieces of gear I own - a 70-200mm F/2.8 zoom lens with vibration reduction. It is big, heavy, macho, sexy looking, fun to use, and looks impressive when you carry it around. Not only is it expensive, but it is also costly. What is the difference between expensive and costly? It is one of the LEAST used pieces of equipment I have, and I have probably made less money with it than any lens in my bag. It's not that I regret acquiring it, and there are plenty of situations where I am very glad I did. It was just not one of the first lenses I bought, and it took a quite a while before I took the plunge to invest in it.

On the other hand, I have a $120.00 50mm F/1.8 prime lens that is a tack-sharp, crystal clear, and has zero distortion, but is not impressive looking at all. It's not sexy, but for where and how I make my money it is a far more useful and flexible lens than the telephoto. I use it far more often, and it has paid for itself many times over. For some, the opposite might be true.

So if you are looking to earn money with your photography, by all means purchase good gear. Do it in the best possible order, though. That is how your gears matters, and what matters most in the beginning. And it does matter A LOT. Do your homework, know what kind of photography will be generating income, and choose gear accordingly. Choose the pieces that expand your versatility the most, and buy those first. Don't spend a lot on a piece of equipment if there is something else on your wish list that is more veratile. Likewise, if spending a little more now means getting much more versatility, make that investment now.

It's interesting to read and debate about whether your camera does or does not matter, and it's fun to read about expensive, sexy gear with impressive specs and reviews. With a startup photography business though, the goal should be to first purchase what expands your versatility the fastest, which in turn helps you tackle new work.

" . . . Advances in equipment and in technology have always made the impossible merely difficult and the difficult little more than routine. The area that we can all concentrate on now is being creative. I for one welcome everything that helps me to make my work better, and technical gizmos that free my thoughts from the boring mechanics of photography allowing me to be more of an image creator than a picture taker are welcome additions to my kit . . . "

~ Neil Turner ~

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" . . . I am advocating carefully choosing - and buying first - good gear that has a very, very valuable feature: Versatility. . . . buy the pieces that expand your versatility the most, and buy those first . . ."

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