I ran into a friend of mine the other night, and he walked up to me with an expectant look on his face and asked, “so how is it?” I looked at him with a puzzled look that I hoped read as “so how is what?” And he said, “the camera, the Mark III. How do you like it?” Ohboy.
This friend, we’ll call him ‘Bob,’ has frequently sought my advice on cameras and lenses in the past. I like ‘Bob’ and he’s a nice guy and good friend, and the fact that he asks my advice means he is also smart. But ‘Bob’ has asked my opinion on cameras before, in fact, he has been the subject of my blog posts before (sorry, ‘Bob’). But I’m afraid that he may just not like my advice.
‘Bob’ shoots with a Canon 40D, which is a very good camera. I own one, still use it and some of my photos from it have made me money. It’s still in my bag, although it has been relegated to third position behind my 5Ds. Right now I am using it to hold my Holga lens, but at any time I could throw another lens on it and it would work fine. Either way it will make good photographs, at least as good as I am able to make.
When we spoke 8 or 9 months ago, ‘Bob’ was thinking about buying a new camera and was vacillating between a 5D Mark II and a 7D. He had seen photos taken by friends with newer cameras and was convinced that their photos were “better” than his. I told him at the time that if he wanted a new camera he should just pick one, then take it out and use it. Either camera would have been, and still would be, a great choice.
What ‘Bob’ told me the other was that he never bought a camera in November. But now he was getting ready for a trip to Europe and felt like he needed to make a decision. He had recently rented a 5D Mark III and really liked it, but he decided he didn’t want to spend that much money. Which is quite understandable, it’s an expensive beast. So ‘Bob’ decided to buy an “interim” camera and picked up a refurbished 7D. That’s a very good camera, and one he might have purchased back in November. But he’s thinking of sending it back. The problem, he said, is that when he compared the photos from the 7D with those from the 40D, he didn’t feel like he was seeing the improvement that he thought he should be seeing. But he felt like the files from the 5D Mark III were a lot better than those from the 7D. Uh, huh.
He then started talking about Nikons and something about 36 megapixels and whether Canon was going to match Nikon and maybe he should just buy another lens and what kind of lenses he should consider. I kind of zoned out. Yes, there are cameras with lots of megapixels and big sensors, and huge dynamic range, and there will be more tomorrow. And there will be more the next day and next month and next year. But what are we going to do today? What can I shoot now?
I bought a 5D Mark III in April, which it turns out was a little ironic since the June issue of a newsletter I write for contained an article I wrote about how gear didn’t matter. I even stated that I didn’t think I was going to buy a new camera. And then I bought a new camera (I wrote the article in January – things change). But I didn’t buy it because I thought it would improve my photography (honest!). I bought it because it was time to upgrade my tools and I wanted to have the latest technology, so that the photos I took with it would give me the best results possible. The best raw materials, if you will. But it is still up to me to take the photographs, and I only hope I can do it justice.
But that makes it hard for me to tell ‘Bob’ not to buy one.
One of the things I’ve found about the 5D Mark III is that the camera is so good that it amplifies my mistakes. That’s good in that it forces me to work harder, but bad because it’s easy to screw up. One thing I’ve learned with this camera is to stop looking at the files at 100%, since that magnification is way too high. My new default is 50% for that camera, going to 100% when I really need to get fussy. Otherwise, at 100% you are imagining flaws that aren’t really there. Yeah, it makes nice files, but if the photo is crap it’s just a nice file of crap.
Long afterward – too late for me to say anything to ‘Bob’ (I always get my best thoughts hours later!) – I thought that what he did was a lot like test driving the Mustang and buying the Focus. If what you really want is the Mustang, you’ll never be happy with the Focus. But if you know you’ll never cough up the money for the Mustang, don’t drive the Mustang. I think ‘Bob’ wants the 5D Mark III, and until he buys it he won’t be happy.
In many ways, ‘Bob’ represents a lot of us. We are our own worst critic. Often I look at my own photos, whether on my computer screen or on a print I have made, and I feel disappointed because I don’t think they measure up to what I see others show. Other people’s photos often look better than mine. It’s an example of “the grass is always greener” principal. Our photos always look worse to us than they really are. But then I see one of mine hanging on a wall or online next to others’ photos and I think, “hey, that looks pretty darned good.”
We all have the desire for that Magic Button, whether it’s a camera, a lens, a tripod or a computer, we often feel that there’s that “one more thing” that will make us the photographer we know we can be. But you know what? That’s just not the case. The problem is that, except to the extent that a new camera motivates us to get out and use it, it doesn’t really improve our photography. Sure, a new camera might produce nicer files, but nicer files don’t necessarily mean better photographs.
My advice to ‘Bob’ was to pick a camera and get out and use it.