Does Your Camera Really Matter?

15 03 2008

There’s a pretty harsh debate going on these days between Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape and Ken Rockwell. This started with a rebuttal, titled Your Camera Does Matter, written by Reichman in response to Rockwell’s Your Camera Doesn’t Matter article.

This is an old and tired debate and, when it starts up again with words like “clowns of cliche”, it doesn’t look like it is going very far this time either. Still I cannot resist throwing in my two cents of an opinion, which is that Ken is basically right and Michael, while not being totally wrong, is at least misrepresenting Ken’s position.

Michael is not wrong because, obviously, it would be foolish to say that the quality of the equipment you are using is not going to influence the quality of the product. But that’s not what Ken is saying. What Ken is saying, and what I agree with is that you will not get better pictures simply by using better equipment, unless you define “better” as sharper, cleaner, bigger, with more dynamic range or all these things together. Photography is art (well, at least we like to think that it is) and those qualities do not make a picture artistically worthier than a small, noisy, fuzzy, distorted Holga picture.

Spanish Steps

When Michael writes:

Discussing the merits of one tool over another is relevant. Some lenses, cameras and other photographic tools are better than others. In some cases they are objectively better, while in others their degree of betterness will be subjetive and will depend on the specific needs of a particular photographer.

It appears as he hasn’t ever read Ken’s website, because if he had he would have seen tens of articles discussing the merits of cameras and lenses.

So isn’t Ken a bit hypocritical by saying that cameras don’t matter and, on the same website, extolling the virtues of the latest Nikon offerings, like the D300 which he nominates “the world’s best amateur camera”?

And what to make of this?

4×5″ Cameras Still Rule the Roost: For serious photographers who need quality, versatility and convenience, 4×5″ has been the king for decades. I often point out that while Outdoor Photographer magazine does almost nothing but push the new digital products of its advertisers, their showcase and cover shots are usually made on 4×5″ cameras.

Well, what I think Ken is getting at (and I hope he is reading this and feels like commenting, in case I missed the point) is that a particular kind of camera, with particular qualities, will let you make a particular kind of picture, which you will not be able to do with an inferior camera. It’s true that you cannot shoot a great landscape picture with a pinhole camera, but it might as well be that the low-quality street scene shot with the pinhole camera is better (according to some subjective but shared by a sufficiently large number of people) than the perfectly sharp landscape. And it is not only possible, but highly probable, that millions of people will buy an expensive camera and hope to replicate an Ansel Adams masterpiece. They will usually fail and blame the camera for their failure. What they don’t realize is that their camera truly does not matter.




7 responses

16 03 2008
Joe Perrin

Well written.

I recently bought a Nikon D40, and though I’d love (and I’m still debating) to purchase a D300 I think buying some decent lenses would be a better investment.

The debate can be summed up very easily. It all boils down to what you are trying to accomplish.

So, really there is no right or wrong. Rather, what you are doing determines the outcome. Use the tools (or lack thereof) as appropriate for that situation.

Just my two cents.

18 07 2008

I agree that if you are a great artist you can make outstanding pictures with just about any equipment. Sure, your range of expression will be limited by your choice, but you will surely be able to accomplish something of interest.

Ansel Adams, to take a favorite example, had the goal of capturing large landscapes in minute detail. To achive this goal back in the 1920s, he needed a large format camera. Later as technology advanced, he switched to a Hasselblad camera.

A photographer with a different field of interest will perhaps use a pinhole camera instead, to get the special effects this provides.

17 05 2009


Ken is right. The other guy just sounds kind of hyped-up and angry…as if maybe no one ever raves over his photographs. The sample pics on his site are pretty mediocre (artistically).

A decent camera is nice, but it won’t make you a good photographer. It’s the same in all of the arts… like the guy who buys an 1800 dollar American Stratocaster and then wonders why he still doesn’t play like Jimi Hendrix…. whereas Jimi could have written a killer tune on a garage sale ukelele.

Equipment is nice, but it really doesn’t matter.

8 10 2009

Try taking a picture of a lion on safari with a pinhole camera. Or try taking a picture of LeBron James going for a dunk with the shutter lag of a compact digital camera. Good luck on that one.

A good artist can get something recognizable from any camera. But it is unrealistic to deny the value of the proper tools to get a job done.

31 10 2009

This is a very long going debate not just with photography, but really anything we do, the debate of a person skills vs a persons tools. I think Ken makes some good points in encouraging people to put more emphasis on actually going out and taking pictures instead of worrying about just equipment. Some points are very stupid however, such as “Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image”, well actually it does. Some cameras take very poor quality, grainy photographs, such as early digital cameras. He also states that cell phone cameras work just as good for taking quality pictures, which is simply absurd. I agree with Mr. Rockwell with what I think is his main point, and that is to place more emphasis on going out and taking pictures and not just buying expensive equipment, but on his point of saying all tools are equal, and irrelevant, utter nonsense. He makes the analogy very well himself, although analyzes it all wrong, a skilled driver in a Geo Metro will be faster than an unskilled driver in the same car, but a skilled driver in a geo metro is no match for a skilled driver in a Ferrari. Tools do matter, and skills do matter.

2 04 2010
Colin Hall

Camera’s always matter, but not beyond the speed of your film, the sharpness of your lens and the quickness of your eye. Oh yeah, then you’ve still got to point the camera in the right direction and recognise potential in your images.

All the best

Col 🙂

2 02 2013
Tim Bower

Tim Bower

As it has been said…the most important part of the camera…is the 10 inches behind the lens. Photography is…an art form…and thus is subjective to the artist. It is my belief that Ken is….in a basic sense….saying just that. The camera does not matter……you do.

All the Best

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