Do You See Camera As A Photographer's Tool Or A Gadget?

I rarely talk about gear when I meet my photography friends, we usually hang out and catch up on the happenings of our lives or just go out have fun shooting together on the street. Therefore, when people start conversations about which camera is better or what lens is sharper I tend to shy away from the topic. You see, I need to know first how do the person I am speaking to view the camera? Is it: a) a photographer's tool that is used to create images and work of art or b) a modern gadget that pleases the craving for something newer and better.

Image by Raja Indra Putra

I have no issue with people wanting to upgrade cameras and lenses or if they are absolutely dominated by Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). I also have GAS to a certain degree, I am sure everyone who is a photographer has GAS, at different levels. 

There is a difference between discussing about gear productively versus endless obsession on the best of the best. 

I like to listen to photographers talk about their work, what motivates them to shoot, what are the challenges that they face during their shooting process and how they overcome them. Their choice of gear and the practical implementation of certain techniques help in getting the results needed, I learn from such stories and sharing. Or even stories of failures or things that the photographers wished they had done differently to obtain different outcomes. These are productive discussions about gear which I can add on to my own learning database. 

However, there are also the hollow talk about justifying an extremely expensive purchase of that spanking new lens to achieve that 3D look which other lenses could not. These newly acquired "gadgets" only shine for a period of time, and you rarely see these gadget owners shoot much and use their gear to the fullest potential. I sometimes find myself trapped in such discussions that internally I am screaming for help and find whatever ways I can for an escape. Who cares if your Canon lens is bigger and better? Who cares if Nikon has more dynamic range? Who cares if Sony is the ultimate camera for 4K video? Who cares how amazing the bokeh of your Leica lens is? I don't care about your "gadgets", show me your photographs, then we have a more interesting and exciting conversation. I don't get turned on by how new or how advanced your photography equipment is. I will get crazy thrilled if you are willing to share your thought process on how you go about your photo project and show me your curation process. 

Talking about gear is meaningless if you do not have good images to accompany them. That is the sole reason why I always emphasize on shooting sufficiently decent image samples first, before I start to sit down and write my reviews about cameras or lenses. Paper specifications alone isn't enough, they are good previews of what the camera or lens is capable of, but the proof is in the images. 

People may know me from my association with Olympus, but if you have met me in person and have spent time speaking with me, you will also realize that I rarely speak about Olympus. I consciously choose not to. I am not a walking advertisement of any brand. Me not broadcasting my love and passion for the brand does not mean I have no confidence or faith in using my products of choice. I am just comfortable that way and my focus has always been on shooting itself. The process of making photographs. Is that not what photography is? Instead of obsessing over gadgets. 

It is troubling how these people judge the camera by the merits of being a gadget - oh it does not have enough resolution, come on it is 2018, we need at least 50 Megapixels! Oh no, it does not have built in body image stabilization, that is the end of the world! The camera does 4K video but it is significantly cropped? That makes it a bad, bad camera and we can conclude that although we have not seen and tried the camera in real life, the paper specification alone is enough to condemn a camera. The gadget hungry crowd wants their latest gadget to have "EVERYTHING" in it. Dual card slot, a battery that last forever. And maybe some more, like making coffee and offer leg massages. 

A perfect camera does not have to have everything. 

The right camera for the right photographer just needs to have the right features and capabilities. Every photographer is different. Just because the camera lacks certain features does not necessarily make it a poor choice. Some can live with the shortcomings, some may look elsewhere for alternatives. 

A gadget is very different from a photographer's tool. 

A gadget may have everything on paper, but what is the point of fulfilling all specification needs if the camera itself was not built for professional photographers in mind? There are a lot of qualities that cannot be penned down on paper. How does the camera handle? How responsive is the camera? How does the shutter button feel when you press it? How quiet is the shutter? Do you like the color rendering? Does the camera feel right in your hands? Do you enjoy using the camera? Does the camera inspire you to shoot?

Having the highest megapixels, best dynamic range and high ISO performance and fastest AF and triple card slots cannot possibly satisfy all of the above questions. 

With all the hype of the latest launches leading to Photokina 2018, I think I shall pick up the pre-historic Olympus DSLR E-1 and have some shutter therapy sessions. 

What say you?


  1. It's a tool for me, but i like to love it like a Gadget :)

  2. I agree: obsessing over features, or lack of, of a camera is often rather fruitless.
    You also say: "Paper specifications alone isn't enough, they are good previews of what the camera or lens is capable of, but the proof is in the images. "
    And yet, I honestly can not find a current camera that will not be able to deliver world class images.
    There are very few, incredibly specific situations, where only select cameras will be able to shine above the others but it seems that so many forumtographers fall into that category of very demanding environment.
    So, any camera is a great camera, some are just slightly "more great" than others :-)

    1. I am glad you also find that cameras these days are sufficient for what most people need and rarely there is a case where the camera underperforms. Indeed, any camera is a great camera, who cares if it is a little bit "more great" than others?

  3. Hi Robin,
    What great timing for this article. I am caught up in this "Gadgit" appeal. I have major GAS right now since the hype of Canon, Nikon and Panasonic going FF mirrorless. Call me "old fashion" but I still want FF, but the point is, you made me realize that I don't need better, I just want it! Thank you for bringing me back to reality.

    1. Thanks and I am glad you feel the same way, and it is always prudent to stay tethered to reality!

  4. What’s the best camera in the world? The one you have with you to capture the shot.

    I’m a fan of small M4/3 cameras; not only do they cost less than APS-C mirrorless cameras, they have great video and I can keep mine in my glovebox and it’s ready to get the shot anytime.

    I think the important thing is to choose a good prime focal length and learn to work with it. I worked with nifty 50 for decades, back in the days of film; going from that to a 28mm lens was quite an adjustment which took a while to get used to. Being used to 28mm was handy when cell phone cameras came out, since that’s the standard (equivalent) cell phone focal length.

    Now that I have an interchangeable lens digital camera again, I am using the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 prime as my main lens; I find this is wide enough to get scenic shots while being able to get good candid shots of people without the distortions I get with 28mm. Its fast focus is great for capturing hyperactive children. It is also good for portraits if the shot includes the setting the subject is in.

    Point being, instead of having a bunch of zoom and prime lenses, I stick with a single prime lens and learn to work and compose with that one focal length. I observe that you, after posting a bunch of stunning pictures made with the very same 17mm f/1.8 which is my main lens, commented at it was an uncomfortable focal length for you to work with (back in November of 2012); now that I have adjusted to working at 35mm (which has most of the goodness of 28mm, but with much less of the annoying distortions when taking pictures of people), I find 50mm somewhat uncomfortable, even though I used it exclusively for a number of years.

    1. I am still not happy with what the 35mm can do, but am very happy with 50mm for my own shooting needs. Of course choice of focal length is very personal and you may choose whichever that works for your own shooting approach. 35mm is such a popular lens that maybe it is so common I find myself not liking the kind of shots that everyone is getting.

      I am also happy to hear that the Micro Four Thirds system works just fine for you. The good news is, every camera company will need to strive to improve and get better to play this game. Even Olympus and Panasonic cannot sit by idly, they need to play their strategies right and compete. Interesting times indeed and I cannot wait to see what everyone will do.

  5. I view camera gears as tools. With the right tools, tasks are easier. But a tool is useless unless one know how to use it. I always say, there is no perfect camera in this world. We simply just have to find the one best suited for our needs. And what u have in your hands is better than none at all.