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What camera do you have? | Day 18

Yesterday, we talked about foodies – I adore Rachel Ray so I like to use her as an example. I feel like she would fit in perfectly at my loud, wild family gatherings. My southern friends may identify with Paula Deen. Whoever your kitchen ideal is, you can imagine this scenario.

While it’s true that Rachel Ray and Paula Deen have amazing kitchens, let’s be for real. If you turned me loose in Rachel Ray’s kitchen, I would still be a hot mess. I could have all the equipment in the world at my disposal – the Wolf range, the Wusthoff knives and the Le Creuset sauce pans – but at the end of the day, whatever I make in Paula Deen’s kitchen with all her gear – is still not going to be Paula Deen. And I’m not even promising it’d be edible.

Now let’s imagine the opposite. Let’s drop Rachel Ray in my kitchen. Lord knows she’d be inconvenienced. She’d have the wrong pans, dull knives, a haphazard choice of spices. My kitchen gear would probably slow her down – but at the end of the day, I bet she’d pull together something amazing. Because that’s what real cooks do… they make magic in the kitchen.

Yesterday, I talked about having the right equipment for the job. But all of those comparisons removed a very, very important part of the equation.


I could hand a $5000 camera body loaded with a $2800 lens with $500 tripod and and extra $1000 worth of accessories to someone who knows nothing about photography, and the photos would be bewilderingly awful. Likewise, I could hand an entry-level dSLR and a kit lens to the photographer equivalent of a Rachel Ray or a Paula Deen and they will make magic.

grand canyon

One of my favorite photos I shot on our trip of the diffused light over the Grand Canyon, captured with a “crappy” 70-300 f/4-5.6 kit lens.

“But Darcy, aren’t you contradicting everything you said yesterday?”


Chase Jarvis published a photo book with photos from his iPhone and coined the phrase, “The best camera is the one you’ve got with you.” Upon accidentally leaving his photo gear in a hotel on his way to Italy, Scott Kelby borrowed his brother-in-law’s Nikon d60, his kit lens and the 70-300 f/4-5.6 (a lens often called “crappy” on too many lists to count). Those photos taken with the d60 – an entry level dSLR and the kit lens – are published in his books.

But all things equal – in the hands of a talented photographer – the right equipment allows you to capture things other equipment could not. If that wasn’t true, then how come all the pros don’t save their money shoot with d60s and kit lenses? They say it doesn’t matter – that you can make great photographs with anything – and yet “they” all own $5000 camera bodies and thousands in lenses.

It does matter. Not to make art – because art can be made with anything. There is beauty and inspiration and wonder in the eyes of truly talented photographers – what they hold in front of their eyes matters not to make something beautiful. But the same shots are not possible across all equipment. Making art is not the same as making a living, and if you need to pay the bills, having good equipment will make that easier.

MacGyver can diffuse a bomb with a paperclip and some chewing gum, but the bomb squad stills shows up in HazMat suits with extinguishers and flame retardant gear. An iPhone can make something stunning, but it won’t show the bead of sweat dripping off the drummer’s brow after a long solo in the dim lights at a rock concert.

The right equipment makes more things possible in the right hands.

No amount of equipment will make a photographer out of one who is not.

All other things equal, it pushes the envelope of what’s possible. By removing technical hang ups and limits, the right tool allows the artist to spend her energy on the composition, originality and expressiveness of her photo rather than combating the restrictions her tool may impose upon her.

Rachel Ray will be better in her own awesomely stocked kitchen but still make magic in mine. A great photographer will have greater capabilities with powerful equipment, but could still make us feel awe and wonder with a Rebel.

The wide-open aperture, fast lenses allow shots not otherwise possible in less than ideal lighting. High quality sensors perform better at high ISO, creating image quality that clients prefer, which in turn allows the photographer a greater earning potential. But that only matters if you’re meeting the expectations of a third party – the client. If you’re simply shooting for the beauty of it… shooting to fulfill the desire to create or capture something stunning, then you already own everything you’ll ever need.

If your client is a bride, and her expectations are bright, clear, tack sharp photos in the dim church, the fast-paced reception and outdoors in full sun – then you may be ill-equipped to meet her expectations when you show up with your iPhone.

The right tool will not make the photographer, it will simply make the right photographer more effective.

So, next time someone asks you, “What camera do you have?” tell them, “The perfect one for this shot.”


  1. When someone says “Your camera takes awesome photos”, I usually respond with, “You should see what I can do with a Polaroid”.

    This is one of my newest and favorite quotes:
    “DSLRs are seriously like magic wands… incredible in capacity but the real power come from the wizards who wield them.” – Dane Sanders

  2. “bewilderingly awful” love that.
    love the Rachel Ray analogies.

  3. AMEN! Great post Darcy! I have the Scott Kelby books and he seriously could take an awesome photo with a point and shoot that others couldn’t capture no matter how hard they tried with the best lens and DSLR. Everyone is not meant to be or will be the best photographers – yes, DSLR have made it easier for the average person to get great shots – but that doesn’t change the fact that their are others who just “get it” and have a God given gift to see things through their lens in a special and creative way. Loving this series! 🙂
    Blessings, Jill
    family blog http://www.forevernevernalways1.blogspot.com

  4. I love, love, love this post! Thanks, Darcy!

  5. So, yesterday while reading the comments you were probably like, “Uh. Yuh! Hold yer horses! I’ll get to that TOMORROW! Patience, people, patience.” ; ) You can delete my comment. lol

    • Never! I won’t delete it because it was *exactly* what I hoped would happen. If no one’s feathers got ruffled, then the message was lost. But you were just two steps ahead of the game. 😉

  6. Bravo, bravo!! I love your voice in this stuff.

  7. Darcy, well said. This is always a touchy subject. I think there is a ton of camera envy out there. The trick is getting really good with what you have and then, if needed, move towards gear that fits your needs better.

    It’s like everything else in life. If you want to keep up with the Jones, you will be sad and miserable. Just be happy, creative, and productive with what you have first, and life is much more rewarding!

  8. Bravo!!! See, I knew you and I sang the same song … 🙂

  9. The iPhone at the wedding made me laugh out loud 🙂 I believe you! Although, I actually identify with the Rachael Ray analogy more than the photographer one because I could probably cook well in anyone’s kitchen. Maybe I should just stick with that, but I am learning verrrrry slowly thanks to your posts. And now I feel better about my point and shoot 😉

    Also, I think you should know I was at the pumpkin patch last week and thinking of you. I knew I had to adjust something and I knew sunscreen had something to do with it. But I couldn’t remember what. I’m printing your posts and putting them in my camera bag. Seriously. Have you considered putting these all in an ebook at the end? I’d buy it!

  10. Good post! I, too, have one of those 70-300 kit lenses. I never use the thing and it is decidedly mediocre. I should probably sell it and buy a bounce flash. Speaking of which, will we be discussing bounce flash or off camera flash during this series? I’d love to know more about that.

  11. All that being said…. I’m looking at purchasing a dSLR. Any recomendations of a good camera body that i can grow with, and what are good, versitile lenses?

  12. I am perplexed by the “crappy” comment about the Nikon 70-.300 mm lens. I think it is pretty amazing for football games, basketball and even portrait photography. I don’t know where the term “crappy lens” came from. It is certainly not my most expensive lens but it is a gem!

  13. I love your posts and very much agree with this one. I think I came accross Scott Kelby’s article or something and he said you need to make the best out of what you have before you desire more equipment. At that time I started learning on my point and shoot before we were able to afford a good camera. I have D90 now and LOVE it. Even though the camera came with many lenses I only use 50mm. Now I am looking after other lenses but I am telling myself to hold my horses. I need to learn everything possible with this equipment before moving on. I don’t want to jump into too much and lose desire because I would feel overwhelmed.
    How do I repay you for the knowledge you are sharing? Can I send you a box of homemade cookies?

  14. Great post! I think it’s a matter of perspective when it comes to equipment. I think everyone can say they wish they had better stuff, but it’s not in everyone’s grasp so learn to be content with what you have and take the best pictures you can with it.

    I just posted some of my favorite pictures that I took with my older Nikon on “crappy” lenses…LOL I know they’re not the best, but they were what we could afford, and I’ve made them work and have fun preserving our families memories.

  15. I’ve also really enjoyed going to the various commenters sites and looking at pictures they’ve taken. So inspiring.

  16. Thank you for all the great tips this month! I’m confused about why the 70-300 is considered crappy? In the article by Scott Kelby he refers to that lens as ‘wonderful’.

  17. I love this post. Sure, I could take better pics with better equipment but my entry level nikon with my 35mm 1.8 is about as fancy as it’s going to get around here while I document my family and post to my blog. I am really happy with what I have now, though admittedly would be happy with a better camera and lenses if I had the money for them too 😉

    I like that by not having the greatest stuff, I push myself to make the most of what I do have and I think I take a decent photo from time to time, which really was my only goal when I bought the thing in the first place.

  18. I love this post.

    Been thinking about you and that lovely little construction going on in your basement. Hope the progress is coming along swimmingly!

    Thanks for all these photog posts. You know I love ’em.

    Oh and I haven’t made the purchase for an additional lens yet. Still got my eye on a couple thanks to your input!

    Ta-ta me lady.

  19. Darcy, catching up here. Your writing is so good. It’s more than photography that you’ve got going on here! 🙂

  20. Loved this post. I am enjoying your 31 days Darcy. Thank you for all the work this must have taken to put together. I for one am learning, learning, learning.

  21. leigh ann says:

    love this one too, b/c I too…find myself getting camera envy, lens envy and I’m still learning how to take shots with my 50 mm. who knew the 70-300 mm was a “crappy” lens!! not I!!!!!

  22. Darcy –

    I’m with many of the other commenters above me; *finally* understanding my camera thanks to your series and I’ll purchase the e-book/book the minute it’s available.

    Thank you!

  23. love what you have boxed!

  24. This is so awesome!!! Can I link you up on my blog? I’m participating in a 28 day class via the web and I would like to put your link so that others may also enjoy the tips that you are imparting. Thanks so much!

  25. Interesting choice of the Nikon 70-300 f/4-5.6 as an example of a “crappy” lens. I had the “G” version of this lens and ditched it in favor of the older 70-210 fixed f/4 to get something *a little* faster (at 200mm, the G 70-300 was f/5), without making the f/2.8 investment. Neither the 70-300 G, nor the 70-210 f/4 has VR, AF is slow on both, and even the f/4 lens isn’t super fast, but I captured some sweet shots with it. E.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/erichmusick/5604553119/in/photostream. Before purchasing the 70-300 G, I reviewed Ken Rockwell’s summary of the lens. While not absolutely glowing, it left me with confidence that it was a good bet. I’ve found his reviews of Nikon equipment extremely helpful when making purchasing decisions and would highly recommend his site to other Nikon users.

    Anyway … your point is well taken and you seem to have struck a good balance between the importance of equipment and the skill of the photog using the equipment. I’ve read similar comments from Rockwell … “I can get a shot just as good with my point and shoot.”

    Thanks for sharing these tutorials on photography. While most is review for me, your explanations are stellar and would have been helpful when I was first getting started. I’ve shared with a coworker who is just getting into photography.

  26. Really great post & right on. I remember when I upgraded to my Nikon D90 from a cheap point & shoot, I thought, “great, now I’ll take awesome pictures!”. And the next though after comparing new & old pix was, “hey, what’s wrong with my new camera…”. Yea, right. The real question was, “What’s wrong with me.”. Not until taking time to combine my basic photography knowledge with what the camera itself can do did I start to capture the picture I though I was taking. Sure, I wish I had a $5k camera and the awesome low light fast lenses to go with it, but it doesn’t take much searching to find excellent photographers taking dream pix with the exact same setup I have. After years of amateur photography, I’ve become a believer that while the right equipment is always a plus, the right knowledge & experience are the greater asset.

  27. you ARE the MacGyver of photography… no wait, I just can’t picture you with a mullet (i love you too much). I had an old minolta DiMage 7 it was a cross between a good camera and a point and shoot, I had it dialed to get great shots, it would do exactly what I wanted then it died. I got a nikon d7000 and while it is an awesome camera i am not figuring out a few important details, so it is like using a point and shoot 🙁 I know, embarrassing right? My issue is the focal point goes where ever it chooses, so frustrating. I am trying to figure out how to change that setting. Also I could use a basic-intermediate class (in person) on shooting in manual. So glad you posted this important point Darcy

  28. LOVE this post for a thousand reasons — and as a photographer I scream the same sentiment. “Hand me a throw away camera & I’ll make SOMETHING out of it.” All of my first 2.5 years in business were shot with a Rebel and (mostly) kit lenses. I was hired into a studio from point & shoot images. People don’t see that though – they see what I have NOW and think THAT makes me the photographer that I am. It HELPS, but what REALLY makes me the photographer that I am? Just what you said — The heart beating BEHIND the camera. 🙂

  29. I love this post. Two years ago I bought my first dSLR (D60) and was happy with the shots it took in automatic. As I grew in my photography knowledge and began shooting in different modes (aperture/shutter priority, then manual), it was a little frustrating to have my excitement on nailing a shot (which was rare, lol) squashed when someone made the infamous quip, “wow, what an awesome camera.” It doesn’t bother me much anymore, but it did then.

  30. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! Just what I needed to hear right now. Thank you 🙂

    Bree x

  31. Thanks Darcy for the reminder 🙂 A good lesson in contentment and learning to master what I already have.

  32. I should have just read this blog post instead of commenting on the previous one 🙂 Great posts!

  33. I have an Canon Rebel XS. I bought it a few years ago to make the jump from point-and-shoot to dSLR. I have loved it. I have learned an incredible amount using it…and thanks to you, I have broken through my fear of “manual”!


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