equipment as inspiration

A constant debate that I see online is whether a specific piece of equipment is justifiable.  And whether it is justifiable in terms of a business decision.  The discussion typically centers around something like the eternal, “What will the 85mm f1.2 give me that the 85mm f1.8 won’t? And is it worth $1000 more?”

But I feel that in phrasing the question like that, the real effects that equipment choice have on our style are disregarded. I firmly believe that:

Style should always be evolving, borne from our choices and not from our limitations.

And those limitations are quite often our equipment choice.  Indeed, f1.2 vs f1.8

So does it bring more business?  That I can’t say – but I do know that using the very very best equipment does affect how I shoot, and does affect my results.  It also directly affects my confidence during a shoot – and therefore during client meetings. I know I can pull it off,  no matter what is thrown at me during a shoot. I have the skills and the equipment.

So let me back that up with an image from a wedding this past Saturday:

… taken with the Canon 1D mk3 and the Canon 35mm f1.4

Yes, I could’ve gotten that moment with the mk2N and the 24-105mm f4 .. but it would’ve looked vastly different.

Using the fast optic and a camera that has a very usable high iso, I was able to change the way I use flash from before. I am now able to snoot my flashgun with black material and very carefully choose where I bounce my flash from. (I also gelled my flash for a Tungsten WB.)  With the mk3 I’m now able to integrate the way I use flash more subtly with the available light than ever before.

And in these choices, I was able to bring out an image that looks different than it would’ve with other equipment. I like this result much more than what I would’ve been able to get with equipment of lesser spec.

So the choice between the 50mm f1.4 and the 50mm f1.2  appears incremental when seen on paper.   (It’s a huge $1000 jump though.)  Similarly, the difference between the mk2N image quality, and the 5D image quality is incremental. And again, the difference in image quality between the 5D and the mk3 image quality is incremental.

Now add all those small increments up … and you will find the equipment now allows you to achieve results you weren’t able to before.

I know for a fact, and I can see it in the past three weekends that I have been using the Canon 1D mk3, that this camera is changing the way I shoot, and changing the way I use light. Incremental changes, but they are proving to have a profound impact.

The question remains however – does it bring more business? I don’t know if there is a direct correlation. In a sense the question becomes a trivial one for me … because right now, I am doing work I absolutely love, at a level I would never have dreamed of a few years ago. And if using the very best equipment adds to that enjoyment – well, I only have this one life to live.  It would be a sad waste in a way to have frittered it away in worries about f1.2 vs f1.8 and omygawd, it’s so much money!  Just give me the f1.2 already and let me see how much I can push myself in this endeavour.

This leads me to another point.  Right now, with an arsenal of f1.2 and f1.4 optics (and all the f2.8 zooms) at my side, the only limitations in my photography are my own.  I certainly can not blame my equipment … (ok ok .. aside from the error 99’s and back-focusing and the usual litany of Canon hiccups) … seriously, I can not blame my equipment and say that, “If only I had *that* lens, I could’ve pulled the shots out of the hat.”

Right now, my limitations are my own. And that is a challenging boundary to be at.

How is that for a business decision?


8 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1robin says

    i, too, see these debates. i agree with you.
    i ALSO believe that the most useful thing a photographer can do is practice. the best equipment in the world will not take a beautifully exposed image if you don’t know how to use it.

  2. 2Neil Cowley says

    >>>Now add all those small increments up … and you will find the equipment now allows you to achieve results you weren’t able to before.

  3. 3 says

    “Right now, my limitations are my own.”

    Brilliant stuff Neil! I honestly hold this same belief. I find it really pushes me to always try to impove my ability regardless of my equipment.

  4. 4 says

    I often find the limits of my equipment an inspiration. Before I could afford a flash I illuminate still-lifes and scenes with cheap 500W halogen lamps like they are used on construction sites. Until today I still like the warm but hard light from these lamps.

  5. 5Agustin Sellhorn says

    First of all I have to thank Neil for share with us his experience
    I believe in having the best equipment for the job will
    allow me the best result.
    Unfortunately I do have my limitations
    and I have to work with them and do the best with what I have at the moment.
    I found that having faith, positive attitude and not
    complaining because I can’t afford this lense or this flash etc.
    make me not only a better photographer but a better person.
    I always try to concentrate and be thank full for what I have.
    Pulling out jobs and doing my best is how I can save money and how day by day I can afford better and more expensive equipments.

  6. 6Cheng says

    I totally agree with Neil that we live only once in this life, so if you can get a f1.2, treat yourself a f1.2 even though it cost so much more than the f1.8.

    But I don’t blame other who would still prefer the f1.8, because not everyone so crazy about photography as I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *