One of the most tedious questions I get asked when people learn that I’m a photographer is “What do you shoot with?” In some cases, it’s a simple ice-breaker, which indicates that the person doesn’t really know what to say or how to react (in fact it’s often being followed with “I just use my phone”). However, on some occasions it is the start of a conversation about brand loyalty. Over the past few years, I tend to mention that I’m brand agnostic because I have a collection of 50 cameras from a wide range of manufacturers. If that doesn’t send my converser running for the hills, I then confess to being ‘a Nikon man’.
Thing is, I didn’t start out wanting to shoot Nikon. My first ever camera was a Voigtländer 110 and first SLR was a Fujica (I still have the latter). I ended up being a Nikon shooter because of my dad. He was a professional photographer and it was his recommendation that led me to my first DSLR, a Nikon D300 (yep, I still have it) and later to the camera I still shoot with now, the hefty D4. Like many, the decision to stick with a brand is driven by many factors but the main one is just being used to the way it handles. What irks me about that question though, is the frenzy of comments about megapixels, glass quality, ability to shoot video (which I genuinely don’t care about) etc that follows. The comparison can quickly turn into judgement, which for me just puts people off talking about photography. If someone is passionate about something, why make them feel like that?
A few years ago, I was in New York for my birthday and I dragged my lovely wife to the Leica store to look at a very special lens that I had ambitions of owning one day. The store was everything one might expect from a premium camera manufacturer and very soon an immaculately dressed gentleman came over to ask me if he could help (or perhaps thrown me out). I told him that I wanted to try the Noctilux f/0.95, the fastest lens that Leica make. He dutifully brought out the beast, fitted to their M10 digital camera which at the time was the current incarnation of arguably one of the finest 35mm cameras ever made. The M series had been around for 70 years and was famed for its ease of use and near-silent shutter. I excitedly shot some pictures around the store and then the damned question came. The relevant answer was an M3 (1957) and an M6 (1984) which are two of the prized cameras in my collection. After the genial ‘congratulations’ on my choice of the classics, his next comment resonated and has stuck with me ever since. “The camera is really just a holder for the lens”. Wow! It’s not strictly true, but the sentiment behind it is spot on. The quality of an image is dominated by the quality of the lens and no number of functions or megapixels will really change that.
The spectacular Noctilux f/0.95 being held by my Leica M6 - not a brand that I am loyal to or snobby about, though
When put into context of brand snobbery, all the mainstream manufacturers produce superb quality lenses for the whole range of their cameras. Legendary lens manufacturers such as Leitz/Leica, Carl Zeiss and Voigtländer make lenses that can be used with the major camera brands as well as some of the lesser-known ones. A friend of mine shoots a Panasonic G camera and encounters brand snobbery from time to time. What the people who judge her camera system often miss is that the lens she uses for her spectacular wildlife photographs is made by Leica. It certainly raises some eyebrows, including mine.
What really matters then, is to have a camera that is comfortable and easy to control, with the best quality lenses that you can afford. Beyond that, it comes down to the skill of the photographer. As another friend pointed out so someone in the same debate, “Do you like my photographs? Why does it matter what gear I’m using?” Just pick a brand, grab a camera and get shooting. If you need help getting to know what you’ve bought, you know where to find me…
…buying more cameras and avoiding any questions, most likely.
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