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Aztec Statue by Richard Keeling on 500px.com

I, like many others, eat up new technology like candy. I read the reviews, follow the product releases, and frequently end up buying if not exactly the latest and greatest, certainly the one-step-behind latest and greatest, most often on sale.

In this way I’ve accumulated a lot of cameras and lenses. I like having them and I use them. But one thing has become ever increasingly clear to me over the course of time. The quality of the camera adds maybe 5% to the quality of the result. No more. And that’s a big maybe. In most cases it makes no difference whatsoever.

You would think knowing this would stop me dead in my upgrade quest. It doesn’t though. I still care about that 5% improvement, at least a bit. But I would save myself a lot of money if I stopped.

Perhaps the only recent time when there was a real sense of technological change was during the 2000s as digital sensor technology went through a series of rapid improvements in sensitivity, resolution and self-cleaning technologies. But by the end of that decade, even though improvements continued, they became more marginal in impact as usefully effective limits were reached. These days, continuing improvements in resolution and dynamic range are helpful for those operating at the edges of camera technology. Not for the vast bulk of normal uses.

Much the same argument can be made for lens technology. Overall sharper lenses, lenses sharper over a wider range of the field of view and more flare and distortion resistant are undoubtedly being made today. Yet unless you are obsessed with looking in far corners at pixel level, holding a ruler to a horizon line, or desperate to have the sun full-on in your image without a picture full – or even partially full – of artifacts, there’s nothing today’s lenses will give you that wasn’t available fifty years ago – or longer for some lens technologies.

The real point of all of this is simple – cameras that are ‘good enough’ have existed for a very long time. Way back into the 19th century. What we have today are cheap, easy to use, and readily available but all they have done in democratize the ability to make a good photograph. They have done nothing to guarantee that good photograph.

Every time I find myself being lured by whatever neat technological trick is being marketed to sell the latest iteration of camera equipment, I need to remind myself of these truths. Mostly, I don’t. Then, after I’ve used my latest wonder camera for a while and found no real improvement in my results, I remember. And promise not to make the same mistake again.

But, so far, I always do.

 

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