It's not the camera...

Talk to any photographer, and number one on irritating comments goes something like "wow, your camera takes amazing photos!". It's the nature of what we do that we can't make photographs without the technology, and as the technology advances, a lot of people assume it does most of the work. It's funny that if someone writes a book, they don't receive comments on how amazing their word processing software is! After seeing this cartoon on "What the Duck", my usual retort is something like this...

We all like to say it's not the camera, but the person behind the camera that makes the photo. Well out of principle, before Christmas I decided to do a little experiment. I was shooting at Toni & Guy Swindon with Vicki Blatchley and thought it would be interesting to compare shots from cameras from opposite ends of the spectrum. All the lighting would be the same, as would the clothes, make-up, hair, settings. The only difference would be the cameras themselves. I was doing the shoot on My Hasselblad H3DII, but also did a few shots on my really quite crappy Canon Powershot A590IS...

I bought this camera a few years back for taking out to parties etc where I didn't want to lug around a big camera and look like a "photographer". I seem to remember it costing me somewhere in the region of £120. The beauty of using it for this experiment is that it has manual controls, which meant I was able to set it up to work with the studio lighting. The first hurdle was that with no hotshoe to attach a Pocket Wizard, I had to trigger the lights with the camera's own flash. Thankfully it has an adjustable one so I set it to minimum and we were all good to go.

Due to the massive differences in sensor size between the two cameras and native ISO's I did have to adjust the settings slightly to get the correct exposures. Anywho, I did a few shots on each camera, and then once back at my studio I edited them both in the same way. Only real difference was that the Powershot only shoots JPEG, which means there's only so much you can do with the file when compared to shooting RAW.

So I spose you want to see the images? Below are the two images. The one on the left is from the Canon, and on the right is the shot from the Hasselblad...

The Canon has done a pretty good job considering the type of camera it is, it's cost etc etc, and at web size it produces a perfectly usable image, because as we've said before... it's not the camera that makes the photo! However, the skin tones are a little on the yellow side, and when viewed side by side with the Hasselblad image, there isn't anywhere near the amount of tonal range.

Where you can see a massive difference is in the fine detail once you zoom in. To give an example I've zoomed in to 100% on the Canon and then compared it to an approximation from the Hasselblad. Again, left is Canon, right is Hasselblad (You'll need to click on them to view them properly).

You can clearly see the difference in detail level between them. The Canon hasn't had the ability to produce anywhere near the same amount of texture and fine detail in things like the hair and eyelashes. Of course the benefit of 31 over 8 Megapixels means you can zoom in much further on the Hasselblad and still have a lot finer detail per pixel than on the Canon...

So clearly the camera being used makes a big difference to the technical quality of an image. If it didn't, there'd be no market for expensive cameras, and I'd have a lot more money in my wallet! But going back to the web sized image from the Canon, there is nothing wrong with this image, and it's more than adequate for the purpose it was designed for.

Cameras to me are just tools. I've got different tools for different jobs, and they all do those jobs as well as I need them to. I get so many people asking me about my iPhone photos, which shows that for everyday snapping, the iPhone is great! Yes, I have a Hasselblad, which I love. The image quality is amazing! But there's no way I could use if for some of the dance photography I do... especially in low light/high ISO situations! It's totally the wrong tool for that job.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that yes, having a great camera will make your images as good as they can be. But it won't make them any better than they are. A good photo is a good photo, whether it was shot on a phone, a pocket camera, a polaroid, or 20million terapixel über camera from Mars! What's important is creating great images, using the best tool you have available at the time.