THE CAMERA DOESN’T MATTER? Reality Check!

I love people, I love photography and I love great imagery. In fact, I am obsessed with this craft of feeling, connecting and crafting stunning visuals. I have spent the last decade breathing everything light and perspective. Going from photography blogger to photo writer, educator, workshop leader, editor, publisher and everything in between, I engaged in thousands of conversations through my imagery, my interactions and projects. 

On this journey I have used numerous cameras from Nikon, Canon (my early days), settling on Fujifilm (especially the X100 and X-Pro series) for most of my career (I still think that the X100/S/T/F is the best overall camera out there). I was always open and honest about why I used certain gear, but I never particularly cared what gear others worked with. 

For most of my productive years I have worked with the X-series line and so have many of my friends. Over time, I’ve met many people who use Sony, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Leica, Hasselblad and other brands but we focused on the craft instead of arguing about the gear.

Recently, I started to shoot more with medium format. There are several reasons for that, which I explained in the article you can read here. In short, my Renatus Project, a long-dreamt-of fixation, and my curiosity, prompted me to explore the world of medium format. 

I never preached the supremacy of medium format over other formats. Quite the opposite. I always said that this is DIFFERENT – you may like this “different” or not. There is no question that every format has its advantages and disadvantages. It is you who decide what you need for your photography. Based on multiple conversations and general consensus shouted from the rooftops by YouTube channels and blogs, I think most agree that the camera we work with is our personal choice and it should not affect the way our work is perceived. A great image is a great image. Period. 

This is when the monster came out of hiding. Once I started to shoot more with medium format, I quickly found out that this loud chorus of “gear doesn’t matter” is just big noise made by photographic warriors to gain followers, to climb the barricade of photographic justice and succumb to a popularity contest rather than live by your own convictions. The whole thing turned out to be a massive scam. 

How did I find out? Well, when I started shooting with medium format and publishing my work, I could safely say that the quality of my work didn’t deteriorate. Based on feedback from my severest critics, I kept producing great imagery but…there was one problem. This imagery was being crafted with the wrong gear! 

Yes, you read that right. First, the chorus didn’t mince its words: “You don’t shoot street photography with medium format (I don’t do street photography, but that is a subject for another article). You just don’t.” Stupid me! If I had only known there were cameras I couldn’t use for certain genres, I would be a much better photographer. I have to admit that this gear correctness has surprised me. I somehow thought that the camera is just a tool. 

Second, the internet mob didn’t finish there. How could I dare to shoot with medium format if just a year ago I was running around the streets of New York or London with the X100F? The litany of comments followed: “This is ridiculous,” “good luck with this brick,” “your images are still great, but they lose something because of your gear choice.” I’ve omitted some of the most entertaining examples, like: “It is so inappropriate to walk with such an expensive camera.” Apparently, the images no longer matter because they are being taken with the wrong camera! Who knew? 

Third, the chorus didn’t stop there. When I thought I’d heard it all, another assertion was made. We don’t like your work anymore because you have become “elitist.” That’s right. You read it right! (If I wanted to be honest, I would say – I wish – but this is unfortunately not the case). 

All the comments told me one thing: Those preachers of the “gear doesn’t matter” gospel who hop from forum to forum to reinforce their dedication to photography will gladly approve your imagery as long as…you shoot it with mob-approved gear. God forbid you show up with a Leica – you are clearly a snob. Medium format – you are quickly becoming an enemy of the people. Phase One – this must be a conspiracy – the equivalent of the political 1%. The proletarian mob has spoken! 

Do I sound angry? You’re absolutely right. I am not going to share my financial situation with the world but let me say this: I would never blame anybody for the fact that I have been rebuilding my life, also financially, after years of a serious health crisis. Nor would I apologize for working 24/7 for the love of this craft. I received the GFX50S as a very generous gift from incredible people, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford it. So yes, it hurts when people some I call friends try to paint me as an elitist who walks with his nose in the air and jets for the weekend to Europe (unfortunately in economy class) to shoot with his fancy medium format camera. 

I have never succumbed to bullies on the internet and I never will. What bullies fear the most is intelligent and civil conversation, free of expletives and shouting. What photographic bullies fear even more is great imagery! Eventually they always leave, delete their comments and go into hiding. Sorry, you picked on the wrong guy. 

The camera doesn’t matter? Think again!

P.S. Some of you ask me politely and intelligently about reasoning behind my recent gear choices and this is absolutely fine. This article is not directed at you. I am always open for a great conversation.  

Here is some imagery taken during my recent trip to New York. Of course, all taken with my “elitist” gear.

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

31 thoughts on “THE CAMERA DOESN’T MATTER? Reality Check!

  1. Hi Olaf! I found you first on YouTube and it led me to this website. You are truly an inspiration & I appreciate everything you’ve done for the photography community. I’ve recently changed my views on camera gear; at first I was fawning over all the latest and greatest but now truly gravitating towards the camera best suited for my needs. I’ve chosen the MF format and will buy the Fuji GFX 50R as it suits my slower more contemplative style of photography. Your article inspires me to move on with confidence! Thanks

  2. I rarely see Gear Acquisition Syndrome without its ugly alter-ego: Gear Envy.
    Most bitterness in photography forums seems based in envy and resentment of the skill, gear, or personality of the person they are attacking.

  3. I think your work whatever camera you use is amazing, inspirational…. you have such an eye for details I love looking at your work and reading what you have to say . Kind regards Liz Combes

  4. I find it sad that some will focus their efforts on criticism rather than support. Our goal should be to encourage all to create from their authentic selves. Constructive criticism, positively provided to encourage and improve, is a good thing. Destructive criticism is only meant to mollify and make the critic feel better at the expense of others. But you know all of this. Keep doing what you do and keep sharing. There are more benefitting than not. Now…let’s go make our art. Thanks, Olaf.

    1. HA HA HA Thank you Denis so much. I have to say that I have been enjoying my “elitist” gear. Cheers and thank you for dropping by.

      Olaf

  5. Good thinking and writing here, Olaf. I use my XT2 because of the image quality. I make prints so it counts to have good lenses. And, honestly I love my toys. However it really is the 30cm behind the camera that counts the most. I have more struggle with my eyes and brain than the gear.

  6. People often misunderstand the “gear doesn’t matter” axiom. What it should say is “all things being equal, gear doesn’t matter”. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a full frame Canon SLR and your buddy is shooting with a full frame Nikon. The better photographer will trake the better picture. But a truly gifted photographer with a smart phone will take better pictures than an average photographer with the most expensive gear in the world. However, there are some things the smart phone just cannot do, or do as well as a “proper” camera.

  7. You are absolutely correct. No one asks a painter what type of paint he/she uses. No one asks a musician what brand of instrument he used to create the music. No one asks a writer what type of pen/computer he used to write his novel. Photography is the only “art form” where gear is even discussed. The internet is full of “gear heads” not photographers. The only thing that matters is the art work, not the tools that produce it.

    1. I don’t know if I’m just unlucky with the people I meet, but from my experience I’d say there are just as many gear heads among musicians as there are among photographers, and they are possibly even more annoying. And while I don’t know many painters, I have witnessed amazingly absurd (at least from an outside perspective) discussions about someone’s choice of pencil brand.

  8. As usual, a very thought-provoking article, Olaf. Really, it all boils down to compromises in photography as in anything else. If you are “shooting for print” as you wrote about earlier, especially large print, then gear really does matter and medium format is the ideal choice. If you are like me (retired) and simply cannot afford medium format gear, then I make my own compromises to get the images I want. If they happen to be landscapes, then I know for certain that I can only crop to a certain point before the image is useless. I know I have to live with that. In this I do still see a need for creativity to overcome the limitations of my gear so to a certain extent – but not completely – the gear does not matter. BUT – a good image is a good image no matter what gear it comes from and as observers and hopefully, knowledgeable photographers, we should appreciate that and not be critical of the photographer because their gear is more expensive.

    1. Hello Doug,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful note. I agree with you completely.

      Warm Regards,

      Olaf

      P.S. I think our coffee together is well overdue 🙂

  9. OK, then if gear doesn’t matter, what medium format gear are you using? I’m a dedicated Fuji user (X-E3 and X-T2), two years ago I got a Bronica SQ-A in mint condition. This camera has been on the shelf sins I got it. Haven’t understood what I shall use it for. Maybe it’s time to wake this beauty up.

    1. Thank you Hans for your note. I usually shoot what I enjoy and what I think is the best tool for the current project. Cheers,

      Olaf

  10. Ha! Love the article (and the captivating images). There is only one comment in your article to which I would add an addendum. I think what bullies really dislike, in addition to really good photographs, is to be ignored. Social media’s strengths is certainly its weakness. Commercially it is important to utilize the strengths of social media to build and maintain your business, but then one has to contend with its weakness which is being on the receiving end of so much BS. I encourage you to continue letting the BS pass through, around, above or below you. You are a fantastic photographer, wonderful educator, and I personally have learned so much from your articles, philosophy, adept manner of communication and most of all your images. Coincidentally, I was listening to your interview of The Candid Frame yesterday and was once again struck by the passion and integrity to bring to the world of photography. Thank you, Olaf.

    1. Patricia,

      It is always wonderful and uplifting to read your notes. Your note made my day! Your support means a lot to me.

      Warm Regards,

      Olaf

      1. You are most welcome. I was at my local camera store today, Jeremiah’s Photo Corner, in Santa Rosa, CA, who is very supportive of analog and creates the coolest Tintypes. In a discussion with a few photographers who were there, I mentioned you and Ibarionex as being the photographers to whose work, articles and workshops they should follow. “Word of mouth” works every time.

  11. Oh man! People can be such idiots. Don’t let the negative get you down. I don’t know anything about “street”/city shooting. But love your take on it. The strong geometric shapes and use of shadows in your comp choices. I found it interesting to read about your experiences with digital medium format. Giving me hope that perhaps I could give it a go backpacking with it for landscape work.

Leave a Reply