by Harry Flashman
There is a trend in photographers to become technocrats and want the very
latest DSLR, with all the bits and pieces that goes with it. Whilst all the
paraphernalia might make the budding photographer feel good, it does not
necessarily mean the photographs will be any better.
A couple of years ago I met two professional photographers here in Thailand.
One was a travel photographer and the other a photo-journalist. Both well
experienced and successful in their own very different fields. They did have
one thing in common, however. They were using battered old cameras and
minimal extra equipment.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that pro shooters get
used to a particular camera. They understand it, know any foibles it may
have, know how close to accurate the light metering system is and any other
“funny” bits associated with it. Dr. Marcus Brookes, the travel
photographer, even said, “The camera is an extension of myself, that’s
because I know it so thoroughly.” He used to use medium format cameras, but
discarded them many years ago in favor of the lighter and very versatile 35
mm cameras. Marcus uses flash fill when necessary, supplied by a venerable
Metz 45 CT1 flash gun. I warmed to Marcus immediately as I also used a
venerable 45 CT1 as well!
The photo-journalist, Gerhard Joren from Sweden, does not even use a flash
at all. I had the opportunity to review some of his work - beautiful black
and white prints all taken with a Nikon FM2 camera, another ancient piece of
equipment. Gerard also only uses one lens, a 28 mm f1.4 - a lovely piece of
In response to the question “what was the exposure?” the photo-journalists’
reply used to be “f8 and be there!” Gerard is one of those, and the fully
manual Nikon gives him excellent reliable service.
With all the fancy cameras around, you come to the second reason these two
pros use the older and minimal equipment. The fewer the moving parts, the
longer it lasts and the more reliable it is. When you are photographing
camels in the Gobi desert after tracking them for six days, there is no
handy photo shop to sell you new unobtainium batteries for your
Yashicanonblad when the power is too low to drive the diodes necessary to
select the correct program for a “Wide angle, camels against the setting
All the whizzbang electronic trickery in the new and expensive space age
cameras is just that - trickery! It will not select the correct aperture and
shutter speed any better than you can - and what’s more, You don’t need
batteries! All that it does take is practice and understanding of your
camera and associated equipment. And that gets us back to why these
professional photographers who earn their living from taking pictures have
their tried and true, trusty old friendly camera, with minimal equipment in
So what do you - an enthusiastic photographer, really need? The equipment
required is a manual DSLR camera with a series of good quality
interchangeable lenses. This will be the start of a camera “system” that can
be built on and enlarged over many years. This will be good quality
equipment. There will be no money left over for wine, women or song.
If you want wild life and action sports, then the camera equipment needed
here is almost the same. These pictures are destined for magazines and other
editorial work. Whether you want to take photos of charging rhinos or
Valentino Rossi on his F1 motoGP bike, the needs are the same. You will need
a 35 mm DSLR with very fast shutter speed and capable of carrying a 600 mm
telephoto lens. For this type of photography it is a case of bringing the
action close to you - not taking yourself close to the action! The lens will
be more expensive than the camera. You will need to meet a rich widow if you
want any wine, woman or song. You have just blown a year’s wages on the
Remember equipment does not make you a photographer. Practice, practice,
practice does. Remember that memory cards are the cheapest thing in
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