Better Gear, Better Photos? Not Always the Case.

posted in Inspiration

Better Gear, Better Photos? Not Always the Case.

Photography has so many unique little groups & niches, styles, do-it-yourself(ers), vintage camera gurus, film & expired film addicts, big-lensed wildlife photogs, sports…..the list is ultimately endless. But there IS one category that even you will find yourself getting caught in. The Gear. And I mean, why not? Every photography magazine you pick up these days has ample reason to give you lens-envy, along with the mentality that if you had all this fancy gear, your photography is going to instantly improve and before you know it you will be on the sidelines shooting the next cover of Sports Illustrated, if not making some pocket change on the side at your kid’s soccer games.

Making great pictures isn’t about the gear at all. It’s more about knowing the gear that you already have, and putting it to work to produce the results that you envision. I too find myself caught in the gear battle. Saying things like, “If I only had that 200mm f2 that Nikon just released,” and “I wish that I had this lens because then I could shoot this.” I often am embarrassed to show my camera bag off because of the age of my lenses……..and that I don’t have a dreamy Nikon D3s or D3x glowing when I open it. But I am OK with that. It was not easy, and yes it is much like  a running race….it’s a 90% mental battle. Again, it’s NOT about the gear that you have.

Not to down-talk professional level gear…….there are many reasons that it is pro-level gear and I will get into that on another post in the future. But pro gear is the best because as professionals, we demand the most out of our gear, and have to count on it.

My trusty MF Nikkor 5omm f:1.4 – Not only is it old, it’s also one of my most used lenses,  it’s also manual focus. Some of you might even refer to it as “Old School.”

Photographs of Dean, a Luthier

The portrait of Dean above was shot at 1/125th sec @ f1.4 with the 50mm. What I have discovered as my most efficient way of shooting with my MF lenses is that I will often set the lens to the closest focal length and actually physically move my body  either closer to or further away to my subject to achieve what focus I want. Instead of turning the focus ring on the lens barrel, this is my way of focusing, it also allows me more time to interact and talk with my subject. It transforms the process of auto-focus, which requires nothing more than picking a AF-spot and hitting a button – into a compositional melody and dance that connects me with making the image that I see. I have entire control and am in complete harmony with my images being captured with the camera. I would not have it any other way.

The above image was shot with a MF 14mm f3.5 fish-eye. (Captured on a DX sensor camera, so the fish-eye effect is not as magnified as usual.)

This hood-ornament on the Chevy was taken with a MF 105mm f2.5 @ 1/8000 sec f2.5. An old lens that anyone can pick up on eBay around $100. Again setting the focus-ring at the closest focal distance and moving closer to or further away as my way of focusing.

This city bokeh shot above was taken with the 50mm lens described above at 1/160s @ f2.8. Again, it’s not about what gear you have, it’s about capturing what you see and doing it with your personal style, touch, and eye. I cannot stress that enough.

I will add that Nikon users will find that most of the older lenses are able to mount on the new digital bodies. Obviously the AF won’t work and you will have to shoot in “M” mode, but to a pleasant surprise the exposure meter still works with most lenses. How wonderful is that?! Canon folks cannot say the same, Canon has changed their lens mount more than a few times so the compatibility with lens and body isn’t as happy as Nikon. So go dig up Grandpa’s and Dad’s old lenses and have some fun with your photography!


1 comment

  1. Mike- Very informative article. I was out yesterday with my SLR and, as an amateur really find your observations and insights inspiring.

    Thanks for that!

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