Lately, I have been graced by YouTube algorithms that have brought me videos on photography that have actually stimulated my creativity, rather than promoted a desire to buy the latest and greatest gear.
A few years back I did a YouTube video where I stated that any intermediate or above camera made in the last 10 years was capable of doing professional work. I would like to amend that stance to say that some cameras made almost 15 years ago are still capable of doing professional work as of December of 2021.
Please note that I’m a photographer, not a videographer. Clearly, newer cameras have become hybrid devices over this time span. If you do video work your needs are best suited by cameras that are 5 years old or newer.
Camera manufacturers have improved their devices over time and a camera introduced in 2021 will have a host of features and improvements from those that were created even a few years prior. Some of those improvements, like a tilting screen, may make your photography efforts a bit easier. Some, like double card slots, appear to be a clever way to get photographers to upgrade to a more expensive camera body. Other features, like high-megapixel sensors, not only urge the photographer to spend more money, they also increase the photogs emotional stress.
I live in a city with a very picturesque downtown that is a magnet for photoshoots. In the spring and summer, its beautiful river walk is flooded with professional photographers shooting everything from bridal parties to graduation headshots. YouTube influencers would have you believe that professionals always have to have the latest and greatest camera, but the vast majority of these working professionals are using gear (often Canon and Nikon) that is generations old.
Before COVID hit I attended two weddings. One photographer was sporting a Canon 5D Mark III along with an original 5D. At the other wedding, the photographer was using a Nikon D600. Both photographers produced beautiful prints. I specifically asked the Canon photographer if he was planning on updating his cameras, as there were new Canon offerings. He replied that he was thinking about it, but his current gear was doing the job. Why spend thousands of dollars when it is unlikely that you will have a significantly improved result? Professional photographers think of their gear as tools. They know that a good image is based on composition and their ability to manipulate both the camera and the light. They only change their gear when absolutely necessary.
I have seen stunning professional wildlife pictures from a photographer using a 12 MP Nikon D300, and legendary photographs have been taken using cameras like the Nikon D3, and Canon’s 7D and 5D Mark II. How is this possible? It is possible because these are extremely capable cameras being used by extremely capable photographers.
If these older cameras take great pictures, why is it that their images always look terrible when they are compared to newer cameras on YouTube? Influencers create unusual circumstances that illustrate the need to buy. There is a reason that they have to magnify comparison images to illustrate their point. They promote the idea that a newer and more expensive camera will make you a better photographer. I disagree with that point.
Influencers make their living by creating videos for YouTube; it is a full-time job. They need access to the latest gear to stay relevant and to do so they need to have good relationships with camera manufacturers. That is a fact. It is unclear if they have additional fiduciary connections with these companies.
Another phenomenon is what I call “Herd Think.” If a powerful influencer says you have to shoot in RAW, you need two card slots, or you must have an EVF instead of an OVF, other YouTubers start to parrot those statements. To the viewer, these opinions become absolute truths. However, none of the above examples are absolute. For instance, if SD cards were unreliable, all cameras would have a backup slot, but most don’t. So I researched the reliability of brand-name SD cards, which are highly reliable. Can a card fail? Sure, but it is most likely that a failure will be caused by the photographer’s mishandling, overusing, or abusing the card. Good practices make it perfectly reasonable to use a camera with a single card slot.
We are manipulated by unlikely what-if scenarios that urge us to buy expensive gear. What if you have to shoot an event at the Olympics? What if you need to print a wall-sized landscape image that will be viewed from 6 inches? What if you have to photograph a royal wedding in a very dark church? These are situations that most professional photographers will never face. Additionally, those who did have to face similar challenges a decade ago were able to successfully do their job with the technology of the day; they used skill and planning.
Let’s look at the megapixel myth. We are told that we need more and more megapixels, and we are often shown highly magnified images that demonstrate that need. However, how many megapixels do you need? A National Geographic level magazine cover needs around 6-8 MP; you can take a 12 MP image and crop 50% of it and still have a suitable file to print a magazine cover. A colossal billboard image needs around 2-6 MP (as you view it from afar). Many blog and webpage images are around 1-2 MP; big images take too long to load. Facebook compresses your uploaded images to around 2 MP. Images used for newspapers are also very low in their pixel count. They are often 75-150 dpi, so a typical photo would be less than 1 MP. Before COVID I went to the movies and saw Apple ads that showed beautiful images taken from a 12 MP iPhone camera blown up on a giant movie screen. Around 15 years ago, I was part of a group photo of my wife’s extended family. Each individual family received an 8” x 10” photo of the shoot, and her parents got an even larger print. The photograph was beautiful, clear, and detailed. At that time, the average professional camera had about 12 MP. However, our photographer used a Nikon D40, a 6 MP camera.
Just about any job can be done with a camera with 12-16 MP, as this is the typical resolution of 35 mm film. In addition, the maximum resolution of most lenses is around 16 MP, often less. People say that you need a high MP camera for landscape work. Really? Who views a wall-sized print at six inches?
Yes, there are rare times when you need a greater pixel count, and those situations are best suited by a high MP camera and uber-expensive high-resolution lenses. However, those situations are the exception for most rather than the rule. Of course, you can always rent a camera for once in a blue moon events.
How about dynamic range? Newer sensors have a greater dynamic range than older ones. However, those older sensors had a better dynamic range than 35 mm film. Think about that.
Burst rate? Some new cameras can take images at a rate similar to what you would use when filming a movie. They have also increased their focus accuracy. However, older cameras like the Canon 7D Mark II were phenomenal nature and action cameras. The Mark II was introduced in 2014 and could shoot at ten fps. That hardly sounds impressive in 2021, but it did and still can get the job done.
I love photography, but most of my professional work has happened because people have seen my photos and have asked me to do a job for them. Therefore, I do professional photography similar to most professional photographers: portraits, corporate shots, events, photos for the web, and the like. I also do a lot of work for a construction/remodeling company. So what types of cameras do I use?
For portraits, headshots, completed home remodels, and events I use a DSLR. I mostly use a Canon 5D Mark IV. I certainly could use a lesser camera, but I like the Canon’s tank-like build. Also, I have all the accessories needed for just about any job. The 5D Mark IV has impressive battery life, and add-ons like speedlights shoot forever before I need to recharge them. An additional benefit is that the camera looks professional. This gives me a shooting edge as people are more likely to respect me and my requests when using it. A big camera gives me the authority to control my subjects, allowing me to produce better results for my clients.
I also love the Canon for its easy-to-use control surfaces and some of its software features. I rely on the 5D Mark IV’s excellent internal HDR capabilities when doing real estate type shots. The camera has several HDR modes and also saves the original bracketed images. In many cases, I can use the camera’s generated HDR image, but if I don’t like it, I can process the bracketed images in software to get the photo I want. This one feature alone is a massive time saver as some jobs require dozens of HDR images.
I should note that I also have a 5D Mark III. If I didn’t have the Mark IV, I could do everything I needed with the Mark III, which has a similar feature set.
I also shoot images for a weekly construction blog. A blog topic could be something like, “How to install a toilet.” In these situations, I have to be invisible to the crew working in a very tight space. Here I tend to use small cameras that I can easily pocket and maneuver. For over a year I used a tiny Panasonic GM series camera. That is until its consumer-level lens fell apart. Consumer-level cameras are simply not built for that amount of use. However, the camera’s size and image quality were perfect for my needs.
I love to take street, nature, and landscape photography, and I often combine this interest with my love of walking and hiking. In such situations, I must have a lightweight camera, and the one that I have been most recently using is the Canon M6 Mark II, which is easy to control, small, and lightweight. I am fond of one of its more modern features, the tilt/touch screen. With that said, I could undoubtedly take photos without it.
You may think that I’m an old curmudgeon who resists all new technology. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that new cameras are excellent; in fact, I own several of them, including a Canon R6. I’m just saying that in most instances, an older camera will serve you quite well, and you will save a ton of money. Influences tell us that we need gear that exceeds $10,000 to be a pro. However, you can buy a used camera body and a couple of excellent used lenses for under $1500 and produce professional work.
To make a point, I would like to tell you an illustrative story. Two neighbors both need new cars. The first one buys a top-of-the-line, brand new Mercedes S-class for $110,000.00. The other neighbor opts for a 5-year-old, low mileage Toyota Corolla for $17,000.00.
Both neighbors use their cars for the same tasks, traveling a short distance to work, driving the kids around, and doing household jobs, like grocery shopping. The Mercedes looks nicer, has better gadgetry, and has a cushier ride. The Toyota Corolla wins when it comes to a monthly car payment, operating costs, and insurance premiums. In the above scenarios, both cars perform equally well. They both get the job done, but the Mercedes costs over six times as much. This same analogy applies to having the best camera vs. one that does the job. In the end, the results will be similar as long as the photographer has taken care.
Enter the Fuji X100s
I have been viewing videos of people praising earlier versions of the Fuji X100 series. I have an X100s in my camera collection, and I decided to rediscover it. The X100 series has some clear limitations. It has a fixed lens, and many early models were slow to focus (especially in low light). However, the series is loved for its classic styling and hands-on controls. Additionally, street photographers like it because it looks non-threatening. I took the camera on several of my walks to see if I loved it or hated it.
My initial impression was that I didn’t like it. I disliked the fact that I couldn’t zoom in. In addition, I had to make a lot of manual adjustments to get the image that I wanted. I had to think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It felt different from the cameras that I had become used to.
It was clear that I wasn’t getting the most out of the camera, so I decided to watch some training videos on the camera and its controls. I especially like one by “Billy, The Fuji Guy” I recall mumbling to myself, “Oh, that’s cool” and “So, that’s how you do that,” while watching the video. I went on another walk with camera in hand with my new knowledge. Something interesting happened; I started to engage with both my camera and the environment differently and in a much more enjoyable manner.
I had to move in close to get the shot that I wanted. Indeed, at times I needed to crouch down. I felt like I was more connected to my subject. “Oh, I can get it to focus better when I do this!” “Hmm, it’s fun to use the split-screen to focus.” “Wow, the built-in ND filter does come in handy.”… and so it went. In short order, I went from disappointment in the camera to enjoying the camera. I had to think about what I was doing, and I had to be deliberate in my actions. I wasn’t just a robot taking “spraying and praying” shots. I took fewer images because I had to think more about my actions, but I liked the photos. The experience was fun.
Now, I’m not saying I would use this camera for sports photography. However, this little camera can easily accomplish shooting street photography, vacation photos, nature images, and even landscapes. In fact, its supposed weaknesses are really its strengths.
So is the opposite true? Can a camera’s strengths really be its weaknesses? Let’s do a little thought experiment. Take a modern camera with a high megapixel count, phenomenal auto-focus, and a blazing burst rate. Add to this what influencers tell us what we need to be successful, things like many multi-thousand dollar lenses, a high-end camera bag, and the very best accessories. Naturally, you are going to shoot in RAW because you have been told that real photographers always do this.
You decide to devote the following weekend to photography and drive to a nearby national park. Unfortunately, your camera plus all of those expensive lenses make a pretty heavy package. You want to hike on some difficult trails, but you are afraid that you will damage your equipment if you drop it. Further, your pack is so heavy that you can’t bring along necessary things like extra water or a first aid kit.
Luckily, there are photo opportunities on the easy paths. You take advantage of your camera’s burst rate when photographing animals and birds. You return home exhausted but smug because you were sporting the most expensive camera in the park. Your back hurts.
Now the real fun begins. On past trips with your older, slower, 18 MP camera, you would have a couple of hundred shots, but you have taken thousands with your new super-fast 50 MP camera. The RAW files are enormous, and your computer slowly struggles to process them. You need to sort and rate the photos, but with a 30 fps burst rate, many look nearly identical, and there are so many shots to assess. Oh, the images are in RAW, so you need to spend time adjusting all of them to make them look right. Many hours later, you finish processing the photos, and you need to take a couple of ibuprofen tablets to stop your pounding headache from all of the screen time.
Yes, you have a lot of lovely photos, but what to do with them? Post them on Facebook, of course. However, this time you are not going to post ten photos, as you did with your old camera; you will post over 100 photos. You wonder why no one comments about them until someone tells you that they felt overwhelmed just looking at all of them.
The above example may be exaggerated, but not by much. Spending money that you don’t have, carrying around expensive equipment that you don’t need, taking so many shots that editing them becomes a nightmare; all of these things are not only stressful, but they also remove some of the creative joy of photography.
I’m not telling you that you should avoid buying new and excellent equipment. Instead, I’m telling you to think about what you are buying and to examine what you will be using the camera for. Do you really need a three thousand dollar lens when you are mostly doing portraits? It is likely that a lower resolution lens will be more flattering in those cases. For me having a smaller, lighter camera is more beneficial when I’m taking landscape shots than having a full-frame camera with a ton of megapixels. In fact, I’m not sure why you need massive megapixels for landscape work, to begin with. Why is pinpoint detail so important? I think landscape photography is all about composition and lighting. Outside of a YouTube video, who will examine a wall-sized landscape at two inches? About a year ago, I read an article from a professional photographer who traveled to a city to take some architectural shots for a magazine. He chose to use a Sony RX100 camera as he needed a tiny camera. That camera has only a 1” sensor, but the resulting images printed in a glossy magazine were beautiful. Stop listening to influencers; they are there to sell you stuff.
In conclusion, it is more important to know your equipment and practice your craft than having the latest and greatest kit on the block. RAW files, thousands of images, super expensive equipment, and other things that we believe will make us better photographers can have the opposite impact. They can limit our vision, dull our skills, and strain our time and pocketbooks. Even more importantly, dealing with thousands of huge images can lead to unnecessary stress. Be realistic in your expectations and deliberate in your actions, and you will be a joyful photographer. Happy shooting!
The following shots were taken with the Fuji X100S, a camera that was introduced at the beginning of 2013. This is a 16 MP camera. The photos were shot as JPEGS and were processed in DxO PhotoLab. Some of the images were cropped, in others, I applied filters. The shots are from three locations, the town that I live in, and two local forest preserves. These images were further reduced to around 2 MP so I could upload them to my WordPress website. No stress was involved in taking these photos, instead, they were a lot of fun to shoot.