As photographers, we often run the risk of making our tools into ends in themselves. We covet new gear — lenses, bodies, flashes — thinking these will transform our craft. In this, we behave as if our creativity were limited mostly by the technology available to us, and not by our failure as technicians to see and photograph creatively. Yet this is the chief reason that, so much more than unpleasing bokeh or insufficient lens ‘sharpness’, we produce weak images.
With that as a preamble, I’ll go into the following:
I recently (well, nine months ago) bought a Fuji X-T1, a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with an APS-C-sized sensor similar to the Nikon D90 of mine it replaced, but in a body that is significantly smaller, lighter, and more portable. The sensor, being of a generation more than five years newer than that of the D90, produces undeniably beautiful photos — punchy and creamy smooth even at high ISO, with lovely colour rendition and a dynamic range from shadow to highlight noticeably greater than the D90 ever did. Yet the main difference I’ve found in shooting with the X-T1 is not a technical benefit, but a practical one: the body and lenses are much smaller and lighter than the brick-like D90, and because of this, I’m not so loath as I once was to tote the camera with me, rather than leaving it at home. This is especially important with my fondness for landscape work; hiking with a DSLR seldom felt like anything but a chore.
As the adage goes, the best camera is the one that you have with you. Or, as they say in the sporting world, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I’ve been quite pleased with the results from my new camera, no doubt, but more pleased still with its ability to do exactly what a tool is supposed to do: facilitating the process of creation without ever itself becoming a thing that the process of creation is ‘about’. It’s a tool that does its job, beautifully; and a big part of that job is just that I don’t have to think about it while I’m creating.
I always notice, when photographers gather at spots meant to be picturesque, the avalanche of equipment that attends it all: the ball-head tripods, the bags of lenses, the people toting 50-500 zooms up the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu. And it always seems to me the opposite of the ideal, the opposite of being where you are and noticing what’s around you, thinking about taking pictures rather than thinking about the pictures themselves. Don’t get me wrong: tripods have a place; a 50-500 lens has its place; almost any piece of gear can be the perfect tool in the right moment. Yet we so often make the moment about our gear, and miss the moment for it.
Slow down, carry less, see more. It’s not about the gear.