Updated: Jan 1, 2019
In my search for a new lens to replace an older wide-angle I stumbled upon forums with page after page of people arguing to the point of yelling at each other about how this lens is great and that lens is terrible. Etc. I then asked myself if these folks actually ever go outside and shoot. How many brick walls can one photograph before realizing that most people that view your art don't want to look at a stale image of a brick wall. If they did then prison cells would be far more exciting to visit for 5-10 years at a time. Instead, people like images of beaches, water, birds, people, families, brides, and so on.
“You don't take a photograph, you make it." -Ansel Adams
I then thought about a few photos that I recently sold and/or won an award for. Take for example the image of the mill above. I call it One Main. It was shot almost 10 years ago with a Nikon D200 (dinosaur) DX camera with consumer-grade lens. I was there and made the photo. I did not take it, I made it. The gear was low-tech and served to only let light in so I can properly expose the art that I envisioned. This image has been in a few papers, the cover of a Massachusetts calendar, and used by the MA RMV for marketing of their license plates. DxO scores were irrelevant and nobody has ever asked me what I used to make this image.
It is sunset, are you on a forum?
Just get out there and shoot. Use your iPhone. Use something. Get off of forums where people talk about photography and instead go make photography. Most days when the sun starts to go down I stop what I am doing and jump in the car. I leave for 30 min (remember to bring home milk) and find a spot drenched in the golden soft orange color of the sun. A place where the aperture and camera brand does not matter. These are the times you will make an award-winning image. Certainly not from your laptop.
The photo below was featured worldwide and was compared to another image shot in the style of Cosette from Les Miserables. Just a simple Nikon with 85mm lens. But, properly exposed and it is the subject that caught the attention of the magazine, not my gear. Could it be sharper? Maybe. But, you don't need a $3,000 ZEISS Otus to make an image.
Henri Cartier Bresson shot his life's work with an old Leica and 50mm lens. We celebrate his works based on his vision, not his Leica.
When does your gear matter?
When it is raining or snowing. When you're underwater or shooting in space. When you are tilt-shifting an image. When you are 500 yards away from a Grizzly Bear and don't want to get eaten. Your gear might matter in these situations.
Am I a hypocrite?
I love good glass and quality gear. I love my Leica. I love my ZEISS 85mm. The Summilux lens of the Leica is simply amazing. But, I love this gear for what it does for "me." It excites me and makes me want to shoot more and more. I don't need it. But, like most good artists, you reach a point where the difference between great and greater is 1mm, 1 pixel, or 1 contrast variation. Eric Clapton is still Eric Clapton on a Fender Squire guitar for $179. But, he plays $2,000-50,000 guitars because they inspire him and unlock creativity with fewer boundaries. A Stradivarius violin is not $10,000,000 times better than a Greg Alf instrument, but commands that price because it has serious mojo. Leica has serious mojo.
...and you can't really put a price on mojo