Show Me Photographs, Not Gear: How to Improve Photography Without Upgrading Gear

A friend and fellow Olympus hobbyist shooter used to be one of the most dedicated and faithful Olympus supporter I have met, using fully Olympus DSLR system, with some of the top Super High Grade lenses. He was (at that time) using everything the best, offered by Olympus, and he thought he had done it all, and believed he was on top of his game. The question that he asked next was: "Now, what else can I do if I want to push further and improve my photography to the next level?" He thought he was already reaching the limitations of his Olympus gear, and the only way to get even better, was to get even more capable gear. So he went Full Frame. Then he got obsessed with high ISO shooting, dynamic range, the bokeh-liciousness of the F1.4 lenses, and all technicalities that makes full frame superior. I did not deny the fact that the upgrade that my friend did was quite a jump, and his equipment proved to be very capable, and outperformed his previous Olympus gear by a significant margin. He was very happy. However, when he showed me his photographs, all I heard from him was "look at how clean this shot was taken at ISO6400", or "look at the bokeh, I don't even have to shoot wide open, even at F2.8, the bokeh is already so good". It is saddening to see that from a passionate photographer who shoots photographs, that friend has become obsessed with technical perfection of the camera that wows at and shows off his high ISO photographs. 

The truth is, the majority of the photography crowd, which is made of photo-hobbyists, and mainly beginners or amateurs tend to think ahead a little too soon. Lets face it. Photography is an expensive hobby that not everyone can afford. Or else everyone would be shooting with a Leica M9-P by now. It is a big deal for many who would even want to step up from a compact point and shoot to DSLR. Similarly goes to those who are already using an entry level DSLR but wanting to upgrade to something more capable. We all constantly find reasons to justify our spending, and it surely was not an easy decision to purchase a new gear, or change the system entirely. For some, photography is not even their main hobby and they do not spend that much time shooting, so why do you need something so expensive?

If you have too much money and you have no other ways to spend it, and can afford the lens and camera upgrade, no one is stopping you. Go buy that gear that you lust after and lose so much sleep for. End of story. 

If your purpose of getting that expensive camera and lens is to show off your gear, then, I shall not comment any more. However, if you claim that you have no other ways to improve photography but to upgrade your gear, please bear with me for a while longer, and I shall share my thoughts on how you can improve your photography, even without upgrading your gear. It all comes down to who you are sharing your photographs with. If your audience will only wow at the bokeh-ness of your image, awe at the clean, noiseless image at ISO6400 and look at how accurate the camera renders the white balance, you might want to consider shying away and stop all that measurebating, it wont help you much. If you come to me, I don't care what gear you use. Show me your photographs, not gear !! 

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 and 25mm F2.8 pancake

Sultan Abdul Samad Building


Composition is probably one of the most important factors in determining good photography output, but often overlooked by many. Good photographers will never, never neglect composition when they shoot. You can get your exposure settings right, your horizons perfectly leveled, your white balance accurately set, and everything else perfect, but if your composition is not good enough, your photograph is just not good enough. Therefore, it is only natural that one of the easiest way, and most obvious way to improve your photographs, is to work on your composition. 

The crucial consideration in composition, no matter how you approach it, is to draw the viewer's attention to your main subject. You can take a step further and draw your viewers eyes to something else in the frame that complements, and support your main subject. Playing with multiple subjects, interacting the subjects with each other to tell a larger story can prove to be more interesting. A good photograph is like a good movie, it has main actors and actresses, and it also has supporting casts, and the supporting casts play very important roles to highlight the characteristics and story-telling of the main casts. 

Like everyone else, I started shooting by adhering to the Rules of Third. This composition rule still strongly applies to most photography situations, and works very well indeed. Nonetheless, while the Rules of Thirds proved to be the most "workable" and "safe" guideline to use, it has also been used countless times by almost everyone out there. In order to stand out from the crowd, you have got to explore something else, or incorporate something more than just the plain Rule of Thirds. You can either break the rule, or add something extra to it. Examples include placing your subjects at the far end of the frame to create tension, working with repetitive patterns and lines, framing your subjects between shadows or different foreground elements, looking for interesting backgrounds to place your subject against, etc. You can go even more extreme by exploring different angles, instead of just staying at eye level. Go low, very, very low, and I often shoot from the ground level, placing the camera literally on the ground. Or go high, shooting above the head level. Incorporate more negative space, by stepping backwards, leaving more room for your subjects to breathe. Or go extremely close to your subjects and fill the entire frame. 

The key here is to introduce variety of shots. A good movie has the cinematic effect, where a same scene has been shot at multiple angles, with different cameras, recording all at the same time. Being dynamic, having different angles on your photography subjects can create a more dramatic outcome. How you arrange your subjects, where you shoot your subject from, all will come together to compose that photograph you are shooting. No gear, no matter how expensive and powerful, can help you improve in your composition skills. Yet, being good in composition separates you from mere average photographers. 

The Coliseum, KL

Hair Care


Another simple way to improve your shooting skills, is to explore a different focal length of choice. If you are already very comfortable with wide angle shooting all the time, it is time to explore long tele-photo lenses. If you are constantly shooting with zoom lenses, it would be very advisable to try out single focal length primes, eg 50mm to refresh your perspective and challenge yourself with just one focal length. If you shoot with long lenses all the time, the most logical challenge you can present yourself next is to dare yourself to move closer to the lioness' mouth and at the same time, not having your head chewed off. Ok, just kidding on the last part, please don't do anything life-threatening, unless you earn a fortune from your photography, I suggest that safety should be prioritized at all times. 

I have met so many different photographers who have completely different preferences when it comes to focal lengths. Some will swear by their 50mm "normal prime" lens, and proclaimed that they can do everything with the 50mm. Many modern street photographers would go very wide, going 35mm or even as wide as 24mm on the street, getting close to their subject. Whichever your preference of focal length is, I also believe that it is very important as a photographer to be able to employ different focal lengths, and use them very effectively to produce good photographs. It would be prudent to be able to shoot wide angle, medium range (50mm) and subsequently tele-photo range (100mm or longer). Am I suggesting the photographers to buy more lenses, which would contradict my recommendation of not upgrading your gear? Not exactly. Most new photographers who bought into their first camera system would at least have two lenses, usually the standard kit lens and possibly another cheap prime (50mm) or a long tele-photo zoom lens. Even if you ONLY have the kit standard zoom lens, you still have varying focal length to play around with. A typical kit lens, say Canon or Nikon 18-55mm is roughly equivalent to 28mm to 85mm, and you already have a set of wide angle to medium tele-photo range at your disposal. Kit lenses are cheap !!

I acknowledge that it is up to the photographer's own shooting style and preference when he chose certain focal length for his shooting. As a learning photographer like myself, why not explore ALL the possibilities that your lenses have? Even just the mere, cheap, often neglected kit lens, you have 28mm, 50mm and 85mm to play with. You do not have the F1.4 bokeh and sharpness, but there are so much more to photography than bokeh and sharpness. Most kit lenses can already produce very decent (acceptably good) image quality to match the bundled camera body. Looking at different possibilities that one tiny lens can open up for your photography can be quite refreshing. I also often get complains from friends who bought an 50mm F1.4 lens as an upgrade, and finding that they do not quite know how to use the lens, and immediately dismissed the lens. Before you buy that 50mm lens, why not zoom in your kit lens all the way to the longest tele-photo range, and see if shooting at that focal length suits your shooting? If you find difficulties shooting at that focal length, then it is time to take that up as your next challenge: shoot with that focal length and find ways to improve it !!


Flower vendor who has sold out his flowers

High Seat


There is only so much you can do in your camera for creative purposes, when playing around with in camera settings. The basic primary three variables to play with, the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, all contribute in their own ways in creating how your final image looks like. As a photographer, no matter how new and inexperienced you are, you have got to master these three settings. If you cannot fully control all these parameters, please, do yourself a favor, do not consider upgrading your camera until you can fully control your camera's exposure settings. 

Shutter Speed, if controlled well, can produce amazing results. Slowing down the shutter speed can induce intended movements in photographs that suggest dynamic subjects, as opposed to traditionally believed photographs which is stereotyped to be static. Creative motion blur can add a lot of drama, and the visual effect, if used carefully, can create sense of motion as your viewer looks at your photos. Varying motion blur on subjects and background, alternating between clear subject and motion blurred background and blur subject but clear background can give you interesting images. The typical clear subject with blurred background is called panning shots. 

Prolonging the shutter speed can also open up a whole world of possibilities. Shooting with long exposure on tripod at night, capturing the city lights, car light trails, or the night sky can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. Or producing that silky smooth waterfall or ocean waves that are creamed to mists. I guess, what I am trying to say here is that, even with whatever camera you use, knowing how to set the exposures, control them efficiently, playing with them creatively, can get you very good photographs. You do not need very expensive gear to master your exposure controls, and you do not need powerful cameras to try out creative shutter speed shots. There were a few incidence of some so called self-claimed photography masters here locally, that when you asked them about "slow-synchro" or "second curtain" flash, they do not even have a clue on what that is. If you do not even know how to work second curtain flash, it clearly shows that you have not explored many capable and powerful tools in your camera to maximize your photographs. In many photography genres, photographers will tell you how important controlling the shutter speed is. 

If you have not mastered your exposure understandings and control of the camera, it is time to look into that, do more reading, and do even more experimentation on your camera until you get it right. NO EXCUSES, you just have to do this exercise, you cannot afford to skip this step, and you will thank me later. If you are fairly confident in your controls of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, it is time to take that further, and play with varying shutter speed, either slowing it down or speeding it up, depending on your shooting needs. 

The one that got away



As a learning photographer, its is very important to keep the desire burning, and motivated at all times. The worst thing that could happen to any hobbyist, is to lose interest in that hobby. Keeping the passion to shoot alive is not easy. Getting new gear to keep your passion alive is not a very effective way to do so. 

I find it useful to explore different categories of photography. You do not have to be super ambitious and do everything and anything at the same time, but opening up your options and preferences, diversifying your photography subjects can give you a broader perspective, and gain you interesting ways of seeing things. If you shoot street photography, and only street photography, you surely wont understand what the landscape photographers are going through, or gain the benefits or what you can learn by shooting landscape. Sometimes, you might even apply what you learn from another genre of photography into what you usually shoot. Photography covers such a wide scope, and since you already have a camera, why not use it to try something else? 

Photography opportunities are EVERYWHERE around us. I particularly frown on people who come to me and say "I do not know what to shoot". Seriously, just grab that camera, go out, have a stroll, and if you open up your eyes (and heart of course) you will come back with tonnes of images even with just a short one hour walk. If you love nature, bring your camera when you climb that hill, or hike in the forest, shoot that rare blue mushroom you saw, or that beautiful pink beetle having sex with a dragonfly. If you love fashion, go to the nearest free fashion show at the shopping mall, and attack the models as they strut their stuff down the catwalk runway. If you love planes, go to the airport, find a nice location, and aim your bazooka (pun intended) at the planes. Shoot what you love, and your passion will show in your photographs. Shoot more than just one category of photography, because, as human beings, we love multiple things. Just don't tell me there is nothing to shoot, and you leave your camera collecting dust at home. Seriously, if you have the heart to shoot, there will always be something to shoot. 

Picking up a new photography genre will have you learning all over again. The camera will not get old, because you always have something new to shoot. Two years ago, I did not know I would love shooting street, and if I did not pick up street photography, I would not have discovered how much I enjoy shooting on the streets. 

At the corner


I am sure most (if not all) of you reading this blog already have a camera system, and many of you are like myself, a hobbyist, and a learning photograph. You all know that, I love my camera, and I love shooting with my camera. It is important to be comfortable with your camera system, thus try not to wish you have better equipment all the time. I still use my E-520 often, and I also love the newer PEN E-L1. They are considered obsolete cameras now, but I still love them. What is there not to like?

I find it fascinating on how online forumers can chat on and on about how this camera is better than that camera, or how this lens can outperform the other lens. At the end of the day, you do not even see that many photographs coming from them. I choose to shoot. I choose to share my photographs, and I shall continue doing so in this blog. You can argue about how the "equivalence" (my goodness, this argument trumps the chicken and egg debate) or superiority of any gear, but that has nothing much to do on how a photographer can improve in their game. 

Lets shoot more photographs !!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Robin, your photo & blog really excellent nice. Really one day have to go shoot together in Kuching area because here really hard to get a group to shoot with. All busy for working.

    From Kay Hong :D

    1. Kay Hong,
      Thanks for the kind words !! I am returning to Kuching soon, so maybe we can plan something up. Will update you on FB.

    2. Yea, sure. waiting for you anytime. :D

  3. Good advice, Robin.

    I would add one more -- instead of buying new gear, buy more photography books. Magnum Contact Sheets, books on HCB, or examples of work by Ansel Adams, etc. Much cheaper, and will take you much further.

    Then once you've bought and read as many books as you can stomach, still don't buy any new gear. Spend the money instead on photosafaris -- trips to Vietnam, Cambodia, Australian outback, Europe, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc.

    That's how you get better as a photographer. By learning from others and shooting more. There is no substitute, imho. Better gear may make you feel better, but shooting more will actually make you better.

  4. Good article ;)

    Gears will not help improving my photography skills but maybe help me to do certain shoot easier.
    I have to admit that i'm a gear head (was or maybe even now) but will definitely shoot more now ;)


    1. Hey Scott,
      It is perfectly fine being a gear head !! As long as you shoot and have the heart to create great images, and you are one of the few people that shoot even more often than me !!

  5. Hello Robin,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and those great images.
    Based on your info here, I am going on the right track. Read alot, shoot always and critic always (that's why I always tell my wife, my photos look terrible and I should have done better.) The other reason I shoot everyday is to get the 'worth that I pay' for the camera and grow my photography in the process.
    I started with videography years back, then moved to point and shoot camera (Olympus UTough 8010 - need repair overused)as I can not bring my videocam going underwater. But when my PS camera went kaput, I hunt for a new camera which is within my limited budget.
    Amongst my choices were Olympus, Canon and Nikon (everyone in my office ask me to buy Canon as all of them are Canon user.)
    On the day to pick the camera from the shop, I changed to Nikon D7000 which was my last choice.
    Robin, actually you teach me alot through your blog. I thank you for that. I used to push myself too hard as my wife always remind me, "You are not even a year in photography, how can you always say your photo is not good."
    Tae Kwon Do teaches me to be perfect in executing the techniques at the right time not only knowing the technique which need to practice daily.
    In photography, I think it works the same way. Everyone may know all they need to know about their cameras' function and photography as an art but it's the excutor/the person who presses the shutter that capture the great image.
    Five years is my target to be a good photographer meaning by Year 2016. I believe with you and all the wonderful people that share their input, will definitely help me to reach my target.
    On a personal matter, my friend from New Zealand ask me how much she should pay for her wedding dinner photo which will be on next weekend? Actually I want to take her wedding photos as a special gift for her. But now she keep on asking how much. This is one of the reason, I have to push myself. What should I tell her? Appreciate your advice.
    Thank you, Robin and all the other great input by the readers here.
    John Ari Ragai

    1. Hello John,
      Thanks again for the kind compliments.
      Don't say that your shots look horrible !!! We all wish we can do better, but surely we will improve, and yes the only key is to keep shooting and striving to be better.
      Glad to hear that you come from Tae Kwan Do, I am sure it has taught you much in patience and discipline, both very important factors for photography, as well as anything else in life in that regard.
      About the wedding dinner, don't worry too much. I am sure your friend will be fine with whatever amount you put down, but the amount should at least cover your effort and time spent, not only on the actual shooting day but for your post processing works (we are talking about hundreds, and potentially more than a thousand photos, depending on the scale of the wedding). Having a paid fee also will give you more sense of "must do better" mentality, because you want your friend's money to be worth spending, hence that itself can push you to perform better shooting. Also, keep the amount you charge to yourself, if you reveal it, some working photographers who earn from wedding jobs might not take it the right way, as they see people like us who always do favours for friends' wedding, stealing their potential clients !!

    2. Hello Robin,
      Thank you for the 'the only key is to keep shooting and strive to be better - RW'. I will stick that quote on my computer screen. Being a Tae Kwan Doist artist is the only good thing I have done in my life so far and I hope photography will be another good thing which I can do with love and passion.
      Thank you for your encouraging words on the wedding dinner and I also thank you for your good input on how to handle friend's request especially how to workout the figures which I really appreciate. Though I am from accounting background, I am very weak with figures when amongst friends.
      May you have a great evening and happy shooting.
      John Ari Ragai

  6. Going to art galleries and studying painting, maybe read a few books on art composition. Works well for me.

    1. Hello Ron,
      Exposing oneself to good art, in whatever form, and immersing in the elements that create good art can be powerful inspiration for shooting !!

  7. This is an inspiring article, thank you Robin!
    There are times however when buying a new lens or gear is justified even if you're not mastered your skills with the old one. For instance, I often have to shoot indoors in café, at home, whatever. And since I don't like to use a flash, and my camera is not really high-ISO capable (it's Panasonic GF2), it's almost impossible to my kid to stand still for long exposured. So I end up with either very noisy or very blurry images :) I partly solved this issue by buying fast prime lenses, but incapability of my camera to shoot with ISO higher than 800 (or better 400) sometimes disturbes me.
    Anyway, thank you for the advices in the article, my hands are already itching to take the camera and go out and shoot!

    1. Hello Dmitry,
      It is absolutely not wrong to buy that lens, or new body, if your needs are justified. the most important thing is make full use of the gear, and not just show off without any photos. You were right, having a fast lens in dimly lit situation is crucial, when shooting kids.
      Wait no longer, go out and shoot !!

  8. Thank you so much for this, Robin. It opened my mind to a much higher understanding on what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and what I should be doing! Haha! Everything you said was true. It relates a lot to my situation right now. : ) So, thanks. :)

    1. Hello Regs,
      Thanks for letting me know !! Its great to be able to connect to my readers !! Glad I helped in whatever small ways I could.

  9. Hei..hei...I did not upgrade to full frame, but downgrade the sensor size to micro43. EM5 rock!

    1. Hey Kelvin,
      Good for you !! By the way you are shooting film, that itself is a respectable trait, not going for more megapixels !!

  10. I never get bored reading your meaningful thoughts. I'll mark this as a reminder to me to keep learning photography.

    1. Thanks Amiruddin,
      Actually, to be honest this also serves as a reminder to myself as well, in case I lose my way, I might read this to tell myself to look back at the moment why I love photography in the first place.

  11. As a beginning photographer who has been hitting the streets every day, this post was incredibly inspiring. Thanks, Robin!

  12. Learning technique through practice is always the best way to improve no doubt especially when you enjoy doing it and try new things.
    Another way to put off buying an expensive prime lens if your budget doesn't allow for now, is the use of bounced flash for natural light for indoor room use (bounced off ceilings). I just picked up the Olympus FL300R, a very small and compact flash and best of all it is very low priced, (much stronger flash than the cameras popup flash) and this one angles for bounce flash. Flash recycling too, with TTL and so compact I can take it everywhere with the Pen for indoors use (less than half the size of the FL36R flash) and can now shoot bounced off ceilings at ISO400/640 instead of ISO800/1600 with decent results (or around 2 ISO better than shooting without flash, and also better white balance with bounced flash assist). And this allows use of variable zoom lens instead of prime (I do think primes are also great by the way).
    Like you say Robin, it is what you know in using the equipment you have. Sometimes you do need a new piece to solve some problems or limitations of the camera in low light like my EPL1.
    Some of the new EM5 owners (I read online at B&H Photo user reviews) also say this FL300R is a very versatile flash for indoor and "a pleasant surprise" for usefulness. Many got it free with the latest camera promotion from Olympus website.

    1. Hello Adrian,
      That is a very good tip, I fully agree with you, adding flash into the camera can surely open up a whole world of possibilities, and bypass some of the kit lenses limitations. I fully agree that with the flash one can lower the ISO setting, producing much cleaner and usable images.

  13. Donald W Leitzel5/28/2012 09:48:00 PM


    Very compelling blog. My advice as one who has been shooting for 50 years. Is look, look at photographs in magazines and look at paintings and photographs in museums and galleries. Do not get hung up on the gear. Sure better gear may make it easier but it is still the vision of the photographer. Top notch equipment can still produce a lousy photo. Just shoot that will do more to improve your photography than the latest gear.

    Don an Olympus Old-timer from America

    1. Thanks Donald for the compelling remarks !!
      Wow, you have been shooting for 50 years, you must have a lot of advise to dispense !!!
      I agree that it is very important to look at other photographers photographs, not just look, but study them and analyze what made their photographs work. Only through the keen observation and the desire to improve after being inspired looking at those photographs, can the photographer truly push himself further.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You were right, top notch equipment can still produce a lousy photo, something we must remind ourselves.

  14. Some of those photos above are really stunning. The others not so much, they are just very good. I think I like the Coliseum the best.
    Gear lust generally indicates something missing in your life, I believe.

    1. Hey Vladimir,
      Thanks for the kind comments. I think what you mentioned not only applies to gear, but anything else. Obsessing and lusting for something is to compensate for certain emptiness. Oh dear we are talking psychology !!

  15. Hi Robin,
    I really appreciate your blog and sharing your thoughts on photography. I really like the human approach that you take towards it (photography). Furthermore, this article has been confirming my thoughts that its not the gear that make better pictures but its the photographer... so from now on I'll try take better photos. I would also like to know whether you do a lot of post processing on your photos and what kind of software you use? I'm currently using picasa since it is free and easy to use and upload photos on the web.

    Please can you give me some insight on this matter.
    Johan (from Mauritius)

    1. Hello Johan,
      Thanks for your kind words, and your comment on me having "human approach" is quite interesting, because I always believe that photography is human in many ways !!
      I use Picasa for most of my post processing work, mainly because it consumes very minimal resources and its efficient.
      However, for more complicated processing or image editing, I do use Photoshop.

  16. It is excellent advice. I've had both a dSLR system and dabbled in Micro four thirds. Recently I sold the Canon dSLR system to focus on the smaller camera. Part of the reason was to force myself to improve my photography, rather than relying on the technical merits to lift up the image. I did a recent trip to Korea and for the first time just brought a small body and two prime lenses - and really enjoyed putting the primes to work. They really force you to think about the composition by moving your body, which is quite different than just zooming.

    Off topic: I was looking at some Olympus images on Flickr yesterday, and came across one of your shots that looks to be uploaded in someone else's account: Great shot, by the way, from your review of the OM-D.

    1. Hello Brad,
      It was interesting to see a Canon user coming to the micro 4/3 world !! If travel is what you do and you need something smaller and lighter, surely you will find micro 4/3 to be a great system.

      About the shot you found on Flickr, the poster has contacted me before hand and asked my permission to reproduce the photographs there. I agreed, as long as proper credit and link back to my blog are provided.

    2. I got started with MFT when I was trying to get into video with my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f/4 zoom. I realized that pretty much the only use I got out of that lens was my kids' sports - I figured I could sell that one lens and get a GH2 + 14-140mm for a similar price and have the ability to do video at eye level, plus have a more compact travel camera. With the release of the 25mm Panasonic and 45mm Olympus primes I felt that while MFT was no match for Canon's established lens lineup, it had the focal lengths I actually use covered.

      I travel for work (engineer), and do stock photography when time permits. I was finding I used the MFT camera more and more, to the point I no longer took the Canon out of the house. The size is just that much more convenient. I took stock of my gear and realized I was playing with a dSLR kit, MFT kit as well as a premium compact. I figured I'd settle in the middle and lose the compact and the dSLR, freeing up some dollars and allowing me to focus on my photography, rather than switching gear all the time. Sometimes too much choice makes you focus on the wrong things.

      Thanks for the blog - it is refreshing to read a blog full of interesting images and thoughts that isn't riddled with advertising :)

    3. hello again Brad,
      Glad to hear that the MFT is serving you well, and it is true what you have mentioned, it is more important to have a camera that we can bring around at all times, with ease and convenience. That itself makes the shooting experience much better.
      I also like how you mentioned that too much choice makes you focus on the wrong things. Simplicity works for many occasions in photography !!
      You have noticed that my blog is FREE from any advertising !! I just want my opinion here to be completely on my own, and say anything that I want to say truthfully, without being affected by other factors. Only by doing so I can truly be myself, and photography itself is about being yourself. "Shoot who you are" - Bruce Gilden

  17. I saw this last week and I totally intended to comment but things got busy at that time and I was not able to leave my input.

    Anyway, I felt I needed to share my thoughts because I'm the opposite of what your friend did. I downgraded from 24x36mm Full Frame to MFT. I was a 5D Mark II user and sold all my Canon gear. Maybe you don't remember but this is not my first time here. Yes, you get more smooth and creamy bokeh, dynamic range is better and high ISO performance is better. But to me, at the end of the day I think it's not all about image quality (IQ). You pretty much outlined the basics of which composition is very important. Another of my favorites is focus, your subject doesn't have to be in perfect focus all the time. That's why I think focus is overrated. High ISO and quality of bokeh are nice to have but not critical. A lot of people nowadays look at photos 100% from within 1 ft from their monitor, pixelpeeping. If one is looking at a billboard will that person look at it from 1 feet away? I think many people nowadays spend lots of time post processing too. I admit, when I first started I did a lot of post processing to try improve the photo in post. I shied away from this because what's more important to me now is getting what you want when making the shot. One can only master this by shooting more and not spending many hours in front of a computer to improve the photo doing PP. Less time in front of the computer means more time shooting, right? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying don't learn PP techniques. Learning post processing is important too but it is more important to nail the shot to begin with. A poorly shot photograph cannot be recovered in post.

    In my own opinion the camera is just a tool. It is the person using that tool that creates the photograph, not the camera. Yes, there are limitations to what your gear can do but I think it takes a great level of skill to push a camera beyond its limits, specially with cameras nowadays.

    I upgraded to the 5D and then 5D Mark II before because of the advantages of having a bigger sensor. To be honest, it didn't really make me a better photographer. Yeah, my photographs have creamier bokeh, it has incredible dof, and have great high ISO performance but I was shooting less with it. With a bigger sensor comes a bigger camera and bigger lenses. I was shooting less because I cannot bring my camera with me all the time. I mean, I can but it's an inconvenience. I downgraded to MFT because I wanted a smaller/lighter system and with MFT the compromise is not much. In fact it's almost nothing in terms of what I do to make photographs. I'm happier because I can easily carry my camera with me and even 2 lenses at a time. I'm just another enthusiast, I'm no pro. I don't need a bigger sensor for what I do. Cheers and keep up the good work!

    1. Hello Eugene,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience on moving from Canon full frame to MFT. I believe there is always compromise, and every system has their own weaknesses and strengths. It is all about looking for the best system that suits your shooting needs.
      I also find myself agreeing with you on the topic of post-processing. I, like yourself have spent much time in front of computer touching up my photographs in my early days, but as I got further in photography, these days I rarely did much but simple crop, contrast and very basic white balance tweak that would take less than a minute to fully process a photograph. I do believe photography is about making photographs happen, and we should be concentrating on going out and shoot instead of just spending time post-processing in front of the computer !

  18. Hi Robin,

    Its been a while i haven't visited your site but this article really caught my attention.

    as for me I started with MFT and kitlens 14-42mm and gradually upgraded to fixed focal lense ie pana 14mm 2.5 and 45mm 1.8. For me i guess this fixed focal lenses really demands creativity compared to more flexible kitlens.Any lenses is the tool, but the eyes of the Photographer that makes the picture, provided that we need to continually brush up our basics.Im still learning here and keep up posting inspiring article.

    1. Hello Hafeez,
      Glad to have you here again. Thanks for the kind compliments !!
      Yeap, keep shooting is the key !

  19. I agree with you in the most part, but I think if the gear gets in your way to pursuit your art, you have to change to another one. I have a Canon S5, a superzoom from 2007 and it many times let me down. So I just bought a Oly XZ1, another compact, I know, but I hope it bring me to the track again. In the future I plan to buy a EM5 to widen my horizon.

    I am a fetichist for photographic tools, but I also like to experiment using cheap stuff to overcome my gear limitation. I am aware that YOU have to take photos, not the camera (I saw a guy using a Canon white lens and only producing garbage with it), but if gear isn't so important, everybody would throw away their Hasselblads and begin shooting with cellphones.

    Thank you for the article and sorry for my bad English.

    1. Hello emerson,
      Your English is not bad at all !!
      I did not in any way imply that camera is not important, because without camera, the photography will never exist. However, photography is about photographs, hence taking photograhs would require a lot more than the photographer to know how to use the camera, before he can say he has hit his limitations.
      I am with you on the experimenting with cheap stuff to overcome the gear limitation, that was actually the fun part !!

  20. "If you cannot fully control all these parameters, please, do yourself a favor, do not consider upgrading your camera until you can fully control your camera's exposure settings. "

    Why not? A Leica which teach you the basics like no other.

    Your central argument is valid and worthwhile making, ie it's about the pictures, not the gear.

    But would it not not be better to say that you don't need good gear, rather than suggest that you would be better off without it, as a beginner?

    Friendly feedback.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. my response is simple, you do not need Leica to teach you the basics. I learned all my basics from a budget point and shoot compact Kodak.

  21. Good reading Robin. As a sometime mentor to some new shooters, the problem is that they don't want to DO THE WORK. They think the new gear will solve it all. Bigger camera, more and better flashes. It's just all so funny to me from where I sit now. I could go on and on about the subject, but I'll go and do some photo work instead ;-)

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts libby !! I think you should scream at your students "JUST GO AND DO YOUR WORK" to get them moving !!

  22. You've hit it on the head.

    There always have been and are going to always be those who are impressed with gear and even appear to be authorities (on forums) without really having a clue how to enjoy their photography - - - or as you mention, are constantly changing systems or dreaming and fussing over what gear is in the future - in the quest of being able to take better photographs or relieving their lack of inspiration. On the other hand there are those much like a friend of mine - who was a painter, videographer and photographer. He took incredibly creative photographs even though he had quite a lack of knowledge when it came to camera brands, fstops, exposure, etc.

    One day I got to see his camera bag and he pulls out his main setup - - - which was a battered up basic body and a no-name zoom-lens with dust and smudges all over the glass. He felt no limitations, because he shot with what he had and could afford and became a good photographer because he just "did it". Sadly he died at a young age - but lived his years with satisfaction when it came to his art.

    Your sugestions on how to be inspired by taking a different approach instead of by having to have different gear - - - is very pratical.

    Sorry to get a bit off topic, but your E-520 shots made me think of a situation a few days. I decided to part with my Olympus 50mm f2 Macro lens. I met up with the buyer who was there with his E-5 to try out the lens before purchase. I pulled my camera and lens out of my shoulder bag and he goes "Woah look at that camera". He knew I was a pro and so must have something really impressive to shoot with. It was my blacked out (with black tape covering all decals and labels as I do all of my cameras) E-510 and ebay hand grip with my 12-60SWD on it. How disappointing when I told him it was the lowly E-510 and not some new body he had never heard of. I have an E-3, but still heavily use my E-510 without hesitation.

    Take care

    1. Hello again Rob !!
      Thanks so much for sharing that great story about your friend. He would be a great testament that great photography does not have to come from using great gear. The world could use more people like him, indeed it is sad he has passed.
      It is refreshing to hear that you too (another reader still uses E-510 too in the earlier comments) are still actively using your E-510 !! That shows a lot about your outlook in photography, I believe you are like your friend: your photography/artistic vision is your strongest weapon, and the camera is a tool to turn your vision into reality.

  23. From your mouth to god's ears. I've stuck to Olympus from my first E510 purchase MANY years ago. When I started shooting I was a poor photographer. I mean...REALLY poor. I blamed the camera, I blamed my surroundings ("nothing to photograph"), but in the end I had to admit it was me.

    Now, I'm still shooting Olympus (I tried Canon for a while...a very short while) and I have improved. I worked at it and I got better. I read, I experimented and I persevered. And the equipment was patient. It waited for me. Now I have an E5 and an E-M5 and, essentially, the skills to do them justice.


    1. Hello Ceri,
      Thanks for sharing your experience, and by going through the process of being challenged by gear limitation, you have improved, and become well prepared to take on better and more capable cameras !! That should be the way to do it, not immediately jump into greater systems like many people these days.

  24. Like always,good photos robin :)

  25. G'day Robin,

    Brilliant blog! A couple of weeks ago I decided to simply enjoy lusting after an FM-5 for a year or so - i.e not to rush out and buy one right now - recognising my emotion for what it was: lust! I am quite comfortable with that decision, and am still enjoying my EPL2 and my photography. Your blog has reinforced the rightness of that decision.

    Where are my growing points? (1) Flash photography: I've never liked its harsh light! But I have discovered I can tip my Pen's flash unit upwards, and am learning to better balance fill in flash. A long way to go as it's still a hit and miss process. (2) Digital B&W photography: I loved B&W photography when using a film camera, and not just because it was so much fun to take over the bathroom as a makeshift dark room. With digital I struggle to get a decent tonal range, so B&W is definitely a work in progress. (I'm surprised you didn't recommend switching from colour to B&W in your blog, given that you use it so effectively!)


    1. Hello Peter,
      Thanks so much for your kind compliments !!
      Also thanks so much for adding a few additional, but I must say very useful points. Using flash can really make a world of difference, but knowing how to properly use it is another challenge, and that challenge can push a photographer to be more creative and versatile.
      About black and white, perhaps I should talk about that in a separate full blog entry? I am still sort of at an experimental stage on my B&W, and I will surely discuss more on this in the future blogs. Thanks again mate !!

  26. As the old song says "it's not the meat, it's the motion."

  27. Well, this is so full of .... truth !! Really just found my way back to fun with creating nice pictures, without the obsession on G E A R. After beeing obsessed with gear for the last 8 years. Gone all of it and now with a "lowly" EPL-2 and a small set of lenses (the 45 1.8 is my favourite next to the 9-18 mft).

    You make so much sense, please keep on beeing yourself and sharing your thoughts.

    Kind regards Perry

    1. Thanks Perry !! That is what photography should be, being ourselves !!

  28. Thank you so much for this article.
    I still do prefer my E-500 with its Kodak CCD. The colors this camera produces suits my needs perfect. I also have a E-620 and the EPL-2 in use, but I am most comfortable with the "old one".

    I was wondering if the pictures shown here are out of camera or RAW developed with what?

    Kind regards from Germany, Ingo

    1. Hello Ingo,
      I understand your attachment to Kodak colors, I too have used Kodak cameras before and really love their colors too.
      Most of the time I would shoot RAW and convert to JPEG. However for this session the photos were shot in JPEG, and I did apply some post-processing.

  29. Robin,

    I really enjoyed this post from you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciated the photos you shared as well. Would it be possible for you to update this post with EXIF data for each photo so we can see how you approached each photo?


  30. Hello Kiel,
    Thanks for the kind compliments. I left all the EXIF intact with the photos, so you may save them in your computer and view the EXIF through the embedded properties.

  31. Why don't you mention anything about post processing? All, or maybe most. of your sample pictures are post-processed. PP makes pictures actually sing. I have seen so many good photographs with good compositions, rightly exposed, taken with pro.gears, but poorly Processed. The result is a 'meh'.

    On the other hand, some photographs may have been only taken with cheap cameras, but processed extremely well (note: not "extremely processed"!) produced some wonderful images.

    Not all photos are meant to be seen by professional photographers.As a matter of fact, most of the time, they are tend to be seen by amateurs who do not understand anything about photography. So, the way we p.processing the images in order to capture the audience are one of the most important factors than just upgrading the gears.

    Just like a movie. Think about movie like Harry Potter with its unique color saturation. Or that greenish tint in the movie The Matrix. Should those movies were presented in plain color like those regular TV shows, they may not be as awesome as they are. And they might have lost the actual feeling that the audience had when watching those movies.

  32. I work with someone who is very much like this. He has money, and loves to spend it. He goes on and on about this piece of gear, and that piece of gear. Whether it's a camera, car, or stereo system. He linked me to an article about "essential movie makers gear", that had a ton of insanely expensive gear. We got into a debate about how the gear doesn't make the photographer. Experience does. He just doesn't get it, because he has the money to throw away. But the gear won't make him a better photographer. Shooting will.

  33. Robin, i have changed from e-410 to a e-620, because i thought it will improve my photographing, gues what... it did not ;)
    Last few weeks i was thinking aboutr getting myself a e-3 or e-30 but reading your blog now really helps to say "NO" ;)
    Instead of wasting money for a new cam, i will use that and maybe get some books from photographers to improve my skills... and i will go out there and take a picture of every thing is see ;)

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    Greetings from a cold and rainy Bavaria/Germany ;)

  34. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  35. Stumbled upon your blog and you have some excellent photographs and some great words. "Show me the photographs and not the gear" should be the mantra for all photographers. Too many people try to buy the lens with the red stripe instead of concentrating on what really matters.

    Excellent post.

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