Will a better camera take better pictures?

baby-truck.jpg I was discussing with someone about the difference of Taking Photos and Creating Photos, and I ran across this photo (not mine) and I immediately wanted to structure a post around it, as this is one of the key reasons people upgrade their cameras; thinking they will get better photos.

In general, not the exceptions, but those who are still new and have a lot to learn, usually believe that if they get a better camera their photos will get better.

The truth is usually the opposite. I have seen others, as well as myself, get worse as the camera gets better. That is, toward the more professional end of the spectrum. Even when I left Pro DSLR (D800 + D810) to go to Medium Format (Phase and Pentax) my photos dropped a bit.

Why is this? Lets talk about the camera for a moment:

The camera captures the scene. Thats it, nothing more. Basic user friendly starter cameras try to automate a lot of the process, and give you a decent looking photo. This is why most mobile phone photographers claim their photos are better than their DSLR (or mirrorless)

I wont go into a lot of camera detail here, but in short, the higher end cameras, as you go up the scale, try to give you more control. Lets take a quick look:

  • Mobile Phone: Great simple camera, no controls, decent focus, technical quality not there.
  • Point and Shoot: A nice step up, has some controls to all the user to change aspects of the photos, higher tech quality.
  • Entry Level DSLR/Mirrorless: A jump up in control, exposure, lenses, higher tech quality, megapixels.
  • Pro Level Camera: These cameras allow you to control every aspect of the shot, highest tech quality, megapixels etc..

If you notice, the difference is in how much control the camera hands over to you vs letting the camera just take a decent photo.

This is why your photos start to look worse than your iPhone photo. Most people do not know how to set many of the controls on the camera. So they are just guessing and trial and error, but without any real understanding of why.

So based on this, hopefully it is clear that with the above photo, a $45,000 PhaseOne camera is not going to make the shot look any better, but it will capture the absolute best tech quality of the scene.

Please understand the camera captures the scene in front of it, and you can adjust the camera to best capture the scene the way you artistically intend, but it can not change the elements of the scene.

Without going into a camera deconstruction, I want to list out some items that a camera/lens has in them and/or can allow you to adjust and it is important that you understand these items, as then you can shop for a camera/lens that allows you to achieve the look you want.

In very simple terms:

  • Depth of Field (DOF): How much is in focus (front to back)
  • Focal Length (wide to telephoto): How much of the scene can be seen
  • Perspective (distant to subject): This can change the look of the scene
  • Aperture (f/ and t/): Can you get the light and/or DOF you need?
  • Sensor Size: Crop, Full Frame, Medium Format - all are best, no one is best
  • Megapixels (mp): Great for retouching, options for cropping and quality prints
  • Shutter Speed: Determines how well you can freeze motion

If you find your camera/lens limits your control of these items, then its time to upgrade your camera, but upgrading your camera does nothing to solve your photo quality outside these items.

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Mike Bradley

Author: Mike Bradley

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