Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Best Camera

Atlantic Street Reflection, 2011

Maybe you’ve heard this one before. An amateur asks a professional photographer, “What’s the best camera?”

The amateur probably expects to hear something about Hasseblads, Canons or Nikons, cameras that are sophisticated, expensive and just complicated enough to lend an air of knowledge and authority to whoever owns one.

But instead the photographer answers, “The best camera is whatever camera you have with you.”

Well, how useful is that? Just when you thought you were going to find an excuse for not making good pictures because you don’t have some fancy schmancy camera, the damned photographer says it’s not about the camera.

Or course, there are situations and assignments that require sophisticated camera lenses and technology. But more often than not, the most important variable is not the kind of camera you’re using, but that you actually have a camera with you.

I’ve written here often about the value of always carrying a camera with you all the time. You can’t take what might be your most satisfying picture of all time if all the right conditions assemble before your eye, but you don’t have a camera with you. The best camera is whatever camera you have with you. Simple and obvious, and true.

I try to carry a camera with me, especially when I travel out of town. But I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t always think to carry one with me when I’m running around town at home. I miss a lot of good pictures because of this, and as a result have come to appreciate the value of a good cell phone camera.

I’m not sure who it was who first conceived of combining cell phones and cameras. Perhaps there was a plan. I like to think it was more a case of a telephone designer walking through the lab one day and, noticing a teensy cheap photo sensor lying on a counter top, said, “What the hell. Let’s put them together and see what happens.”

The first cell phone cameras were pretty lousy. Over time, though, the quality of cell phone cameras has improved remarkably. I’ve even heard urban myths about famous magazine publishers who used cell phone camera photos because nothing else was available.

I had to go to a meeting the other day in downtown Norfolk. I’d meant to carry my DSLR because I’d hoped to have a few minutes on either end of the meeting to take a short photo walk. But I forgot to bring the camera. When I found myself on the seventh floor of a parking deck looking out on the warped reflections shown above, I had no option but to depend on the iPhone camera. I’ve actually taken a lot of interesting pictures with the iPhone camera. I wouldn’t think of publishing them. But when all else fails, the iPhone camera is the “best camera,” thank you.


  1. Here's a great quote I found on another photographer's profile the other day:

    "Amateurs worry about equipment,
    professionals worry about money,
    masters worry about light,
    I just make pictures... "

  2. It's true--a friend of mine has a boring little camera and always seems to get the most interesting photos out of it.

    I admit I do like to use the excuse that my poor photos are because I don't have a fancy-schmancy camera,... but that doesn't stop me from taking a gajillion photos!

  3. Me, too, Sue. This post makes me feel a whole lot better about my amateurish photos. What unsettles me at times is when I view a scene as it unfolds and when the peak moment has passed I realize that I've allowed myself to be too mesmerized to use my camera. Darn!

  4. I've developed the habit of toting my camera bag and DLSR everywhere I go but I'm retired and pretty much go where I please and when I please. Oddly, I never think about the camera on my phone, which also goes everywhere I go. Maybe I'll remember it once in a while when whipping out the big guy isn't practical. Thanks, Chris!