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very now and somebody says to me, “That’s a great picture!”  What kind of camera do you use?”  My response is usually the same: “The absolute best camera on the market!  The one I happened to have with me at the time!”

Every time this happens it brings to mind the old photographer’s joke where the photographer says to the cook, “That was a great meal!  You must have a really good stove!”

The point that is made by that joke can’t bear repeating often enough. Many of the most iconic photos ever made were made a half-century or more ago using devices that wouldn’t even compare to the camera you probably have in your phone today.

What Role Does the Camera Play?

Although I do have a great camera, the camera is just an instrument.  A tool. But the standards for these tools keep changing.  So what constitutes a “great camera” today?

Years ago, the state of the art in landscape photo technology was led by Canon.  Then about four years ago Nikon took the lead with the D800.  A little over a year ago Sony may have caught up or even pulled slightly ahead of Nikon with their newer full-frame and mini “medium format” cameras. And of course there has always been the Hasselblad, Fuji, and Phase One medium formats for those who want to carry the value of a small Mercedes on their backs.

Nikon… for the Moment

My current instrument of choice is the Nikon D810 for landscape and the Nikon D5 for wildlife. Although every now and then I get tempted to jump to another brand, I have so much invested in glass (lenses) I couldn’t afford to switch at this moment.

But the truth is, this is all a distraction.  It doesn’t matter what brand you shoot or what kind of camera you shoot.  All of today’s professional digital cameras are better than most of the film cameras that produced most of the great images of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  The high megapixel count is only important if you are going to produce really large (the technical word is “substantial”) prints.  Murals and such.

What’s Really Important

What really matters is the person behind the camera, the mind that visualizes the image before it’s made, and the eye that person views the world with.

I’m frequently struck by the thought that if Ansel Adams were alive today, he would likely be able to make a better image with an iPhone than I could with my full-up kit.

So the message is this:  don’t worry about the photographer’s instrument. Worry about the photographer’s vision.  That’s what really produces the image.

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