Buy bad equipment!

In this week’s episode, I talk to fellow photographer and Sacramento State alum J.P. Ryan about our individual and shared experiences and how they’ve shaped our respective approaches to the medium. It’s a very fun conversation between two, old friends that I’m excited to have as our final interview of the year (don’t worry though, we’ll have another episode or two before we break for Christmas and New Years).

One thing we talk about is how the cameras and equipment we used as we were coming into our own ultimately shaped us as photographers. This is subject I’ve thought a lot about over the past couple of years, especially as I was teaching budding photographers myself: in a world were professional-grade equipment is easily and readily accessible to anyone with the money to buy it, what hope is there for those of us without that capital?

I was very lucky in that when I graduated high school and got into college my parents were able to buy me a Canon Rebel XS to celebrate. It the perfect DSLR for a beginner—it looked professional and allowed me to use a camera in a serious way without breaking the bank—but it was by no means powerful, even for the year 2009. By 2015 I had an iPhone with a sensor that rivaled that Rebel’s, but that first camera was still important because it showed me what “real” cameras were capable of. Plus, I loved it dearly.

If your goal is to be a commercial photographer, there is a level of presentation that cannot be ignored; if you show up with an amateur-looking kit, people are not going to take you seriously, no matter how talented you actually are. But when you’re in the business of actually learning photography as a craft, a powerhouse, professional-grade camera can actually do you a great disservice. This is because equipment at that level is designed in a way that assumes you already know what you’re doing—if you don’t, or if you try to use it like you would, say, an iPhone, they will punish you for your ignorance. And while you or the people around you might not be able to tell, the people who are trained to use that equipment will be able to tell the moment they see your images or how you operate the camera.

This isn’t to say that if you don’t know what you’re doing you should never touch a camera—no one can stop you from spending too much money on a kit you’re wholly unqualified to use. However, the way we learn best is most often by starting small, and there’s no better way to do that than by starting on cheap equipment. You won’t be able to resell it later, and you’ll often run into situations where you can’t quite accomplish what you want (or where your equipment simply doesn’t work at all), but I strongly believe that when you come out on the other side, that first pro-grade camera you buy will serve you much better.

But then again, I’d take a leaky Holga over the latest Hasselblad any day. I don’t need that many pixels, and you probably don’t either.

Thanks for listening,
Mason

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