One of the questions that I get asked most often is “what kind of camera should I buy?” It’s a question that makes me a bit uneasy because I believe that equipment purchases are highly personal decisions. I would hate to be responsible for someone else’s buyer’s remorse. I also know that people tend to think that they need the latest and greatest camera, when I would often urge them to go with something less expensive. It’s not that I don’t think that you deserve the best camera that money can buy (or that you can afford) – it’s just that I don’t think you *need* it.
My first introduction to photography was in high school and my camera at the time was a Canon A-1 (a film camera from the 80’s and close relative of the AE-1 which, by the way, had hilarious TV commercials which you can still see on youtube). It was by no means the latest and greatest camera but it did everything that I needed it to do. Fast forward to 2006 when I decided to learn digital photography. The camera I started out with was a Canon EOS 300D – aka the digital rebel – a camera made in 2003 which was the very first consumer DSLR on the market for under $1000 – this sucker was made almost entirely of plastic and rung in at $999 with a kit lens. I got mine as a hand-me-down from my dad who is always up on the latest in technology and had upgraded to a newer model. The original rebel now is practically a dinosaur. Compared to the newer versions of the digital rebel – even the very base level that Canon still lists on their site (the T3) the one that I was using had half the megapixels (6.5 vs. 12.2) and several stops less of ISO capability (1600 vs. 6400) not to mention all of the advancements in autofocus and sensor cleaning and all that jazz.
The thing is, none of that really mattered at all. It still had all of the basic functions that you need to learn photography – the ability to control aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and the ability to select your focus points. I ran my poor little rebel into the ground before finally upgrading to a 30D (also now a bit of a dinosaur) when I started shooting weddings. Eventually I upgraded again to a full frame 5D and most recently to the 5D Mark II. It’s easy to see a new camera come out and start to feel the itch – maybe I need it… maybe it would make me better… maybe it would make my pictures better. But the truth is that great imagery relies so much more on the photographer than the equipment. It’s not what you’ve got but how you use it.
Don’t believe me? I thought you might not so I did a little experiment and pulled out my old gear to shoot around the house this morning.
All of the images below were taken with available light using only my Canon EOS 300D and a 50mm 1.4 lens. I really wanted to take them with a 50mm 1.8 because that was my original prime, but sadly I have no idea where that lens is. I have a vague recollection of maybe lending it to a friend years ago, but I’m not sure where it ended up. Since I want to stay true to the message (it’s not the equipment, it’s the photographer) I took all of these images at f1.8 or higher. That means that you too – with even the most rudimentary of equipment – can learn to take photos like this WITHOUT spending a fortune on equipment. A used rebel just like the one I was using is currently going for around $80 on Amazon.
So instead of focusing on what our cameras can’t do, let’s start focusing on what they can – and what they can do is give us the means to take beautiful photos of our lives and the ones we love. From the most basic entry level camera to the top of the line pro model, they all have one important feature in common. They are all operated by living, breathing human beings who bring their own visions of the world to the images they capture. What beautiful image will you capture today?
This post is the newest in a series of online photography lessons that I have written – most of them are several years old but I’m hoping to revive the series and start writing them more regularly again. To learn more about your camera and how it works check out more of the lessons right here.