“You must have a great camera…”

If you’ve ever captured a half-way decent image and shared it with people, odds are you’ve heard that quote before. The suggestion of course is that all one needs to create great images is a good camera. Apparently, some people are under the impression that photographers sit on a shaded veranda sipping a cool beverage, while the camera goes off on it’s own to do all the work. A great camera no more makes you a great photographer than a set of expensive golf clubs and a harem of cocktail waitresses makes you Tiger Woods.

In the past few months we’ve seen several new and interesting cameras introduced – Sony NEX-7, Fuji X-Pro 1, Olympus OM-D EM-5, Nikon D4 and D800, Canon EOS-1D X and Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Pentax K-01. There’s been a huge amount of hype for each release, and intense debates have erupted on photography forums and blogs, as the supporters/worshipers of each new camera battle for supremacy. Canon vs. Nikon. Olympus vs. Sony. Fuji vs. Olympus. Pentax vs. Tonka. Sometimes the debates can be humorous. Sometimes, not so much. For some folks, these battles become deeply, disturbingly personal – being able to claim that their camera is superior to yours means being able to claim that THEY are superior to YOU.

The truth is, all the new cameras have strengths and weaknesses. Yet all can be used to create fabulous, professional-caliber images, at least from a technical standpoint – and that’s the catch. How many times do you fall in love with an image because it’s sharply focused, or has low noise levels, or great dynamic range? Great photos may possess these qualities, but it’s not why we notice these images. It’s the content – the subject, the light, the composition, the artistry that commands our attention. If your images contain a tiny bit more noise, few people will notice – and even fewer will care – if you’ve created a compelling composition. Need proof? Look at some of the winners from the 2011 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, sponsored by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife. While many of the images were created using state-of-the-art professional caliber gear, many others were created using older, consumer grade equipment.

Take a look at this image created by Damian Bednarz (Poland) with a Canon EOS 400D, a camera introduced way back in 2006 – “A New Dawn”

Or this image created by Sandra Bartocha (Germany), using a Nikon D200, also introduced in 2006 – “Tongue Orchid and Hare’s-tail”

An image created by Ron McCombe (UK), using a Canon EOS 40D, first introduced in 2007 – “Extreme Foraging”

All of the following images were created using cameras first introduced in 2008…

Joe Sulik (USA, 11-14 age bracket!), Nikon D90 – “Spirit of the Badlands”

Daniel Jara (Spain), Nikon D300 – “Patagonia Woodscape”

Ross Hoddinott (UK), Nikon D300 – “Territorial Strut”

Gaurav Ramnarayanan (India), Nikon D300S – “The Warning”

Marton Schaul (Hungary), Sony Alpha A200 – “Pasque Flower at Sunset”

Jamie Unwin (United Kingdom, 15-17 age bracket), Sony A350 – “Frozen in Flight”

Or how about this terrific image, created by Xavier Ortega (Spain) – “Sleeping Infant”

“Sleeping Infant” was captured using a Nikon F90, which is – GASP! – a film camera introduced way back in 1992.

I’m not gonna lie. Like most photographers, I’m a “gearhead.” I lust after the latest and greatest and vintage gear alike. However, it’s important to keep this lust in perspective. If you want to become a better photographer, you’ll progress far faster by getting out and practicing your craft – with whatever camera you own – than you will by sitting in front of a computer drooling over the newest camera releases. After all, isn’t that what this is all about – creating great images? It’s not the camera, but the person – and artistic vision – behind it that creates a great image.

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