Cheap Versus Expensive Cameras / by Larry Saavedra

My dusty old Nikon, still used today. No batteries required!

Some people tend to think that skilled photographers made it to the top of their field by purchasing only first-rate equipment. From my perspective that is a false narrative. The truth is quite the opposite.

Accomplished photographers actually could shoot with a cardboard box and still achieve success because they understand the importance of composition and exposure. The quality of the gear does not guarantee success in the field. Rather it is the quality of a person’s understanding of the medium. 

Edward Weston, Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz had in common the ability to compose a photograph. Compose. Not just snap a picture. A camera, no matter how expensive, is not going to compose the shot for you. An established photographer must have a great eye, and either you are born with it, or you must learn to develop it. 

Edward Weston, the greatest photographer ever.

Edward Weston, the greatest photographer ever.

Too many photographers rush out and buy the most expensive gear they can with the thinking that they now will be able to shoot unbelievable images. Actually it doesn’t work that way.

More expensive cameras only detract from the art of photography. A cheap camera on the other hand makes a person think before they shoot, knowing that they have limited features to correct for their mistakes. In fact, what I do not like about digital photography is that today’s cameras make it too easy to clean-up bad work.

When I began working for newspapers in the late 1970s I saved my money and purchased a Nikon F2A with a 7 shot per second motor drive. It was all manual, no electronic features and could shoot in all types of weather because even if the batteries failed to drive the motor, the camera still took images. However, I had to learn to use a light meter, or make educated guesses at the F-stop and Shutter Speed. It was cumbersome for sure, and compared to today's cameras, the process was agonizingly slow. But that slowness got me to watch the light, it got me to take time to compose. Sometimes I only had one crack at the shot, and I had to do the homework in order to sell the images. There was no such thing as latitude.  

I spent the next 25 years making a decent living with my photography, shooting images for newspapers and magazines across the country. I took several trips to Japan and captured images that I would never have thought possible, and I used my trusty Nikon F2 most of the time. Then digital cameras became useful and I made the switch. 

If you really want to learn the profession my advice is to put your digital camera down on the table, and simply study how the light falls on your subject, learn the color temperature changes during the day, and then start to compose. Now start shooting and slowly you will teach yourself to "feel" the images, rather than letting the technology do the work for you. Don't rely on technology and gadgets, learn the craft and go out and have fun.

As Adams once said, “Photographs are made, not taken.” I believe he was right.