It’s an ongoing debate in photography circles, and a topic that often get’s off track, lost on some tangent of anger.
These are my thoughts:
First of all, I’d like to point out that I regard photography as an art form. It’s not just some physical action of pressing a shutter button and what you end up with is entirely what the camera got for you. If that was the case, the camera is everything. Photography involves vision, creativity and timing. Anyone with half a brain knows that. It also involves having an understanding of technical stuff. But the essence of being a photographer isn’t just understanding the technical stuff. It’s about knowing the technical stuff so well that you can forget about it and concentrate on creating images that stir the imagination or conjure up feelings in the viewer, or recording a beautiful moment. A camera can’t do that. The camera doesn’t see the photograph. The person behind the camera does that before the camera is even lifted to the eye.
So what then exactly is so important about having a good camera? Does it really matter?
The camera is a tool that allows someone with vision to express their creativity, their knack for seeing and recording events from a different perspective, or at the exact second the thing happens.
The camera is important in that its particular features may or may not allow the photographer to be creative with manual exposures, fast shutter speeds, rapid frame rates, grabbing difficult subjects etc.
The camera isn’t important in that if the photographer has no vision, and shoots entirely on “auto”, then a small, inexpensive pocket camera could probably do the job just as well as a professional dslr.
If you sell fine art and large prints, then perhaps having clean, sharp images is very important. You’d want a camera that is capable of giving you low noise levels with high resolution.
If you are a wildlife photographer, then the camera’s ability to achieve rapid and accurate focus on moving subjects is paramount. You’ll also really appreciate having a camera with fast frame rates. But can you take nice wildlife shots with an entry level camera? The answer is yes you can. However, your ratio of good shots to poor ones will be much better with a professional camera – one that is more suited to the task at hand. So the question then becomes, how patient are you? How much of a perfectionist are you?
As someone who regularly teaches photography to beginners, I get to see some of the struggles first hand with students. Some have cameras that are so bad that shooting any kind of manual exposure is an exercise in frustration. Those kind of cameras are meant purely for what they are – to be used in “auto” mode.
Other cameras have a menu system that makes it difficult to find even the simplest things that a photographer needs to access all the time such as ISO or exposure compensation.
Again, does the camera matter? Yes. But you need to ask yourself what kind of shooting you like to do. Do you have an interest in star photography? If so, a camera with low noise levels at higher ISO’s is important. Are you a serious landscape photographer? Maybe a camera with a full frame sensor is better for you than a cropped sensor. Are you a jpg shooter who shoots exclusively on “auto”? If yes, then perhaps spending all that money on a 5dmiii was a little excessive.
Does the quality or cost of the camera have a bearing on how you see as a photographer? No. The camera doesn’t see for you. Just like in music, if you have a tin ear, then playing a more expensive guitar isn’t going to improve the quality of your playing.
So figure out what kind of photographer you are and where you want to go with your photography. Then you can make an informed decision about which camera will suit your needs now and in the future. Some of the best images I’ve ever taken have been with an entry level dslr. The camera had no bearing on the outcome. Yet, other images I’ve taken could only be achieved using a more accurate and faster autofocus system on a camera with fast frame rates.
So does the camera matter? Yes, you bet it does. Is the outcome of your images dependent on the quality of the camera in all cases? Nope. Not at all.