By no means do I call myself a professional photographer. I have sold very little of the photos that I have taken. Part of this is due to the fact that flickr has done an absolutely lovely job in cheapening photography as an art because everyone now believes that they are a photographer. Living in either San Francisco or Barcelona most of the year, I see this all the time. People walk around with a honkin’ Digital SLR slung over one shoulder that has the lens on it that came with it, which is probably a piece of junk. These people get back home from their trips, look at their photos and are not terribly impressed. They then look at mine (see them if you like) and immediately ask me (if I know them of course), “Wow, you must have a really expensive camera!” Well, to some degree, yes. I have a Canon 30D body with about 30,000 photos on it and, five lenses I can attach to it. It all cost a bit to put together over time, but long before I started down the road to destitution in owning a “proper” camera, I had a number of point and shoot cameras. And in truth, the only thing I get out of having the DSLR is more color depth and greater options.
I bring this up as often people use trips to Kenya or Tanzania where they go on a Bush Safari as an excuse to go nuts with the camera purchasing, buying the best DSLR with massive 400mm telephoto lenses. Oh and let’s not even talk about what a climb up Kilimanjaro needs in the way of new camera gear… Sure, all of that can definitely help out with taking good photos, but only if you know how to use it.
Last year, a friend of mine was mulling a new camera purchase and really, really wanted to get a low end DSLR like the Rebel XTi. Unlike most people, she actually asked me what I thought about that before she bought it and I told her that as a first camera, it’s ridiculous. Get a really good point and shoot with a decent set of manual controls. This aspect is much more important than having the big camera hanging off your shoulder because you can be totally automatic, but then fiddle a bit to learn more about the art of photography. To prove this point, a recent article came out from a guy who went to Japan and shot most of the trip with a Canon PowerShot G9 instead of his Leica M8. The difference between the two is literally thousands of dollars and in the end, he found that the much cheaper Canon did nearly the same job as the much more expensive M8:
But seriously, who takes their M8 to Japan and ends up leaving it in the bag (or the hotel room) most of the time? The answer, it turns out, is me.
With only eleven days in which to savour a first-taste of Japan, I chose to travel as light as possible. In my old universe, this meant the Leica M8 with a 28/35/50 Tri-Elmar. At the last minute, Michael suggested that I also take the new Canon G9 and put it through its paces as a travel camera. No harm, I thought, as it’ll be nice to have a point-and-shoot for ‘happy snaps’ along the way.
As the story unfolded, however, this solid, dependable little blob of consumer electronics became my constant companion, and the Leica a lonely bag-warmer. This is the tale of how my paradigm on ‘serious’ travel cameras changed.
And sometimes, the big giant DSLR is actually much more of a hindrance than anything else. It’s nearly useless for me to take portraits with as people (and dogs) feel like they have a cannon pointed at them and don’t act naturally. Also, when traveling to places like the Democractic Republic of Congo, a big camera is bad news as you can read there. Of course, a camera in general is a big problem as a stupid friend of mine once took a picture while driving of a guy in the street who he thought had died. This ultimately led him to being detained by the police for 12 hours because he had slowed down to take the picture and people thought he had hit the guy. It’s in these situations where, the smaller your camera, the better, and good point and shoots are a godsend.
Whatever the case, I can’t emphasize enough that the type of equipment you have is so incredibly secondary to the type of ability you wield in taking your photos. People who know what they’re doing can get away with using a Box camera if that’s all they have available. It’s something to think about the next time Canon, Nikon, or Sony release their next DSLR bodies and your think that you absolutely need to have it to be taking good shots.