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Tuesday, 20 July 2021 23:37

Photography debate rages: Cheap versus expensive camera gear.

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Three types of cameras
Camera gear is an often-debated topic in photography. Brand-loyalists will often espouse and extol their reasoning about why their choices and preferences are "right" or perhaps even more arrogantly, "the best".

It doesn't matter if you use your phone, a compact, an SLR, or the latest top-of-the-range Hasselblad. I believe in "Use what you have and learn to use it creatively" approach.

However, occasionally, I hear or read an opinion so absurd, that I have to comment on it... especially when it comes from someone of "authority".

Imagine you're reading your daily photography news, and you read this headline: "Photography Instructor Bans Kit Lenses"...

My initial reaction was first "Is this some sort of a joke?" Surely someone must have misunderstood, or overreacted... Let's face it, that happens a lot online. So I checked for verification.

Now I understand that my limited web searching is a far cry from being an authoritative source. Most search results involve lot of people unwilling to "name and shame" the institution or instructor who allegedly banned these lenses. To my knowledge, none of the articles and You Tube videos have had any response from the people/organisation involved. So make your own judgement.

One of the most in-depth articles I've found can be found here:

That said, the same exerpt seems copied and pasted verbatim across all of my search results. In fact, it seems most sites have even copied the same 18-55mm lens image with a big banned logo slapped over it. In short, the rationale behind the ban is that:

"Students won't be able to take great photos with kit lenses, and this puts them at a disadvantage".

What do I make of all this? Is this a "storm in a teacup?"

The article itself is not the most interesting part to this story. What's interesting is the reaction by various people in the photography world. Students, pro photographers, other photography teachers, and hobbyists alike are going "Banned kit lenses? In a photography course? Are you mad?!"

Is a statement about "disadvantage" merely stating the facts that the kit lenses are inferior to much more expensive lenses?

Is this equipment based elitism and/or snobbery?

Is this a case of a teacher's personal preferences and opinion and them forcing it on others?

Isn't it appropriate to use lower-grade gear for teaching purposes? Or conversely, is it inappropriate to ban a specific range of lenses, when there are other lenses still allowed that may actually be worse for general purposes... for instance, a fisheye lens?

Aren't there better ways of handling this?

What of the teacher's responsibility to teach students to:
  • Use whatever gear is at hand?
  • Overcome limitations of cheaper gear?
  • Adapt creatively to any situation, and survive in a competitive photography world?
  • Understand when, how and why to upgrade their gear, given ever-present financial constraits?
  • Manage their gear responsibly, without buying into all the hype about more expensive lenses, and the resulting increases of ongoing costs like insurance premiums?
These are all questions that are being raised in various formats and locations on the Internet.

Obviously, cheap gear used intelligently and creatively will always out perform "better" gear used poorly. It's true in photography, it's true in wood working, it's true in I.T. and I'm pretty sure it applies in a lot of other fields.

I've taken some pictures with an 18-55mm lens, and I honestly doubt that this teacher could tell whether it was taken with a kit lens or a pro-grade lens that covers a similar focal range, like my "go to lens" the Canon EF 24-105mm F4L. Maybe if the kit lens was from the early 1990s or even early 2000s, but these days, the differences aren't as big. Even the 18-55mm that came with the basic Canon 1200D (now a few years old) showed a very serviceable image quality.

If the kit lens is not sharp enough? Up the aperture f value, or reposition and recompose. Not fast enough? Use a brighter environment, or flash to overcome that, and/or increase the ISO. Want blurred backgrounds, zoom in, put greater distance between the subject and the background objects, or simply lower the aperture.

No problem is insurmountable.

I think I can see where the instructor was coming from. It's hard to compete in a world as competitive as the photography industry if you're using the same gear as any newbie who just bought a camera. That said, I do think it downplays the roles of skill and creativity, vision and execution... which is what the teacher should be trying to impart.

With just a little bit of practice, skill, and knowledge. You can take great photos with a phone, a compact, an SLR, mirrorless, medium or even large format premium cameras. However, don't forget that many of the great photographers used cameras that are positively prehistoric by todays standards.

I hope this gets you thinking about how the gear impacts your photography journey. There's no right or wrong answer, unless you force that on others.

Good luck and keep on shooting!
Ansell Adams taking masterful photos on antiquated gear

Ansell using the gear he had.

This picture is probably from around the 1930s. Ansell Adams is a famous landscape photographer that used cameras far inferior to entry level ones available today. Yet his pictures are still being praised by modern professional photographers.

Here, he was using film. It took weeks, if not months to see his images once he'd come back from the wilds of Western U.S.A. There were no computers for immediate batch processed image editing. He didn't even have a light metering system... and you can forget autofocus.

Admittedly he used some seriously "old school" analogue methods (by our standards) to "post process" his films in order to get his images to look as he "remembered" or "felt" about the scenes when he took them.

A kit lens... was probably all that was available at that time. Just a thought.
Read 184 times Last modified on Tuesday, 03 August 2021 13:06

Wayward Ham

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