Friday, November 6, 2009

You Must Have a Good Camera

St Augustine Cathedral, Tucson, 2005

"You must have a good camera." How many times have you heard that one?

You’ve shown a photograph you’re really proud of to someone, perhaps an older relative, who really doesn’t understand the picture, but who still wants to say something nice. Lacking the right vocabulary, the person usually settles on, “You must have a very nice camera.”

Do elder relatives tell their young artist kin, “You must have nice brushes” or “That’s pretty as a picture”?

In my book, telling a photographer they must have a nice camera is about as cagey as telling the new parent of an unattractive infant, “That sure is a baby alright!”

Back when she was a big time PR maven in Chicago, my friend Jody took with her on a trip to her grandmother’s a famous national magazine in which she’d placed a feature article about one of her clients. Jody sat with her grandmother and explained how hard it had been to cultivate a relationship with the journalist who wrote the article, with the magazine editor, how she’d worked with the client to create an angle worthy of the national magazine’s attention, and how carefully she had guided the story through to publication.

When she finished describing all this to her grandmother, the sweet old woman looked up and asked Jody, “They must have given you a very nice typewriter. Did you let you type all of this?”

Cameras manufacturers are getting to be more like the makers of stereos. (Am I dating myself again? Are there even stores where you can buy stereo components anymore?) No longer do they wait years between new models. Instead, to avoid competitors upstaging them they rush expensive new models to market with a frequency that will only upset you if you’re prone to thinking about how quickly they’re depreciating in value.

I like the cameras I use. My Nikon D200 has been a very good friend. I’ll admit, though, that it’s easy to become seduced by the cascade of new camera technology. Looking through the latest B&H catalog that came in the mail yesterday I was momentarily mesmerized by the $44,000 Hasselblad digital medium format camera.

That camera really does cost more than my first house. And although it would be nice to have the finely detailed images such a camera produces, it didn’t take long for me to remind myself in that way we do when we know we can’t act upon an impulse that such a camera would not make me a better photographer. It might impress a few people, but they’re unlikely to be people I want to impress.

There have always been amateur photographers who were far more into accumulating photography equipment than they were into thinking about the photographs they created. My total expenditure on photographic equipment over the last few years, on the other hand, probably doesn’t total $15.00. I haven’t bought a new lens in at least three years. I have seven altogether, but I really only use two of them on a regular basis. I have two good digital cameras, both of little street value by now. But they work for me and I’m happy with them.

On the other hand, if someone from Hasselblad wants to lend me a H-series digital camera to play with, I’d become the most shameless kind of blogger-for-hire without a moment's thought and feel completely without guilt telling you all about it.


  1. That's a great post--very true. I love the typewriter comment. People do have a difficult time articulating why they like something, I think. I do love your architectural photos--this one's excellent.

  2. Nice post. You must have really good blog software.

  3. I just saw an ad for the new Olympus Pen camera, which is selling in at least one store in Toronto for $1,200 (Cdn). The ad showed a guy slipping the cool little camera into a side pocket of his cargo pants. What?! A $1,200 camera in your pocket? And a side pocket of cargo pants at that? I don't think even Cartier-Bresson would have done that (if he'd even considered using anything but a Leica... or wearing cargo pants).