So what camera gear do I really need? All of it, of course 🙂
Seriously though, what do you really need? As camera manufacturers and developers scramble to cram the most megapixels possible on to a sensor, or offer a ridiculous amount of multiple exposures in-camera, or tell us that we need to go mirrorless after many years of SLR type cameras, we have to agree to draw a line somewhere or it all becomes ridiculous – and very costly – and very disappointing when the new pice of gear doesn’t make you miraculously able to take devastatingly perfect shots.
So, that said, what do I have? Well, too much, thats for sure. If I loaded it all into a bag for a jolly day out, I wouldn’t be able to lift it, let alone carry it for a day. So, I trim down. I think about where I am going and what I may shoot. A typical bag for me would have a D750, a 105 macro lens, a Lensbaby Velvet 56, a 70-200 f2.8 for those further away shots and a vintage lens of some sort – usually a Helios. Along with that, I take some reflectors and diffusers, some extension tubes and a few close up filters. And that usually covers most of what I will shoot when I am visiting a garden – and as I am primarily a flower photographer, that would be my bag for most outings.
More recently and due to my growing bag of old SLR lenses, I bought a used Olympus OMD EM5. Now, spec-wise, it isn’t a patch on my D750. The Nikon is a full-frame where the Oly is a micro four thirds, Nikon is 24mp and Oly is 16mp – but it was worth the purchase because vintage lenses won’t focus to infinity on a Nikon DSLR. However, thrown onto the Olympus body, not only will they focus to infinity but the effective focal length is doubled so the 50mm vintage lenses become 100mm lenses which I find very useful for flower photography. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the camera compared to the Nikon, but I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised.
The first thing of note is that the Oly fails miserably against the D750 in low light in terms of noise – but I am a daytime, outdoor photographer so that doesn’t really matter too much. The second thing I noted that was far more positive is that the much smaller sensor gives a greater depth of field – not something I usually crave but it is a boon for macro shots. I can retain far more detail with the Oly than with the Nikon. If I am using manual focus – which is usually the case when I am shooting very close, the depth of field can become so shallow that fixing the focus can be quite a challenge. The Oly is far more forgiving.
So, I have sometimes been venturing out of the house with a very small, over-the-shoulder type of camera bag containing one Oly body, a set of tubes, one 25mm Olympus f1.7 (which is fairly tiny) and a vintage Helios 58mm 44-2 and getting some very credible shots. And what’s more, it enriches the experience because I have to think about both the benefits and the limitations of whichever kit I am using before I even begin to set up to make the photograph. I short, the kit I am carrying will influence the way I see things and I will act accordingly.
All of the above makes me think very seriously about the kit I have gathered and to what degree it may have actually limited my progress rather than being helpful. The more basic the gear, the more you have to think about the shot and how to make it with what you have and that is quite valuable in terms of artistic development.
So – would I like to go back to basics and perhaps only ever use the older Olympus and vintage lenses? Erm – no thanks, not really. I do like to have the choice – but I am glad to have found the value of limiting what you take with you and working for the shot. And has it made me think twice about shunning equipment that is perhaps not the latest and supposedly the best? Absolutely!! It so happens that one of my best performing shots on social media recently was taken with the Olympus and a vintage lens. For heaven’s sake, don’t tell my partner or he’s going to insist that we sell all of this and get a box brownie 😉
So – the moral of the story is just take what you have and make photographs. If you can’t afford the latest and greatest, check out some of the older gear, bag yourself a bargain and go forth and create. There are adapters available to fit almost any lens to any body so they don’t even need to match. Enjoy the process!
Nikon D750 with a Helios 44-2 lens (old SLR lens)
Nikon D750 with Lensbaby Velvet 56 (modern ‘creative’ lens, manual focus)
Olympus OMD EM5 with Helios 44-2 (old SLR lens)
Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm F1.7 (modern auto focus lens)
Olympus OMD EM5 with Lensbaby Velvet 56 via an adapter