The Best Camera
If you’re a photographer, it’s a truism that the best camera is the one you have with you. But I often wonder if we really believe that, especially us photographers that are still-reforming gearheads. Or if instead we suffer guilt, regret, resentment, or some other kind of angst when an image must be made without using the “right” gear.
Just about any artist in any medium ends up selecting a range of tools and materials that best support their style, and in photography it’s no exception. But there’s a difference between choosing to do all or a certain portion of one’s own work with a specific tool set, vs. having a sense of snobbery that good image-making can only be done with a certain “pro” class of equipment.
I definitely believe we should jettison the elitism and the angst, and focus on the positive aspects of just simply creating. I carry a small point & shoot camera with me more or less everywhere I go, since good image-making opportunities can pop up anywhere or any time. Now, my workhorse camera when I go out to do some “serious” photography is my Pentax 645D medium format digital camera. But it’s big, heavy, and drags along a selection of support items with it. As such, there are plenty of times I don’t have it with me, and rely instead on my point & shoot. I’ve used various pocket cameras; currently I’m having a lot of fun with the Panasonic LX7 and Sony RX100.
But sometimes even using a pocket camera may be too much mental effort, or not possible at all because I don’t even have it along with me. What I may still have at that point is my phone’s camera. Now, I admit I scorned the idea of a phone with a camera built into it when they first started coming out and gaining popularity. Not necessary out of any sense of elitism, I just didn’t think it made sense to reach for a phone when I wanted to make a picture.
I’ve gotten over that idea. The combination of having the camera phone with me so much of the time, plus the variety of photography apps that do as little or as much as one may want, and the integration with social networking and image sharing services, makes for a fun package. These days whenever I’m on a photo tour, workshop, or other organized shoot, even though I have my “big rig” camera equipment along I still try to take a selection of camera phone shots because there’s something I like about the non-overwrought immediacy of making an interesting composition in the moment.
Below is a small gallery of images I made over the few weeks I’ve been in Iceland, part of which included 10 days of small group touring for the Icelandic Summer Light tour I co-lead with Markéta Kalvachová. All of these photos were developed on my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone using the Snapseed application, for the initial purpose of being shared on my Facebook page. In addition to being processed on my phone, all of the photos were captured by the phone camera — except one which was captured on my Pentax 645D and then transferred to the phone to be worked on there. Without cheating by looking at metadata, just by looking at the images, can you tell which one is from the big camera? If so, congrats — you have an eagle eye. 🙂 But I’m betting that most folks won’t be able to tell which is which.
Don’t get me wrong, tools do matter and for certain things I definitely reach for certain equipment to do the job. But at the base, great photography is about making the most of subjects, light and composition, and less about the gear used in the process. Great photographs can be made with any camera, and in some cases the best camera for the job is the one you have with you that you can most fluidly use to do the work in that moment. To my way of thinking, gear affects image-making style and final usage characteristics more so than the fundamentals of what makes a great image.
A side note is that the more we practice and improve at making images, using any kind of camera at all, the more great images we will make. The best camera to practice with is the one that’s available, not the one that comes with a lot of excuses as to why photography just wasn’t possible at that time. Think of the camera you have with you all the time as an artist’s sketchbook, something you can practice using constantly to hone your ability to see and respond. David duChemin wrote about this idea of sketching in his recent blog post, Why Sketch?
P.S. If you want to practice great image-making with your best camera — whatever it is! — and do it in some breath-taking scenery this coming fall, consider joining me for the Fall 2013 Photo Tour in the Canadian Rockies. It’s not primarily an instruction-oriented event, since we’re going to concentrate on being in the field photographing as much as possible. But as the group works together there’s going to be a lot of discussion of how to effectively use our tools, techniques and mindset to make the best of subject, light and composition.
Do you use a camera phone? If not, what’s your “best camera” when your “real camera” isn’t at hand?