Don’t Be A Guy With A Camera
In response to yesterday's syndication of Wired's article, Why the Megapixel Race Needs to End, I did a lot of thinking. Subconsciously, the topic is a soft spot for me. I really believe that many people don't really know what they have in their hands.
Professionally, I am a Landscape Architect (there's a point here, don't worry). Those who don't really understand what I do like to sum it up as best as they can. They're almost never on the mark unless they, themselves, are Landscape Architects or are married to one. But humans try to quantify everything in order to understand. So their minds will affix to one specific detail: How many clients do I have? What's my favorite tree? Public sector or private sector? It does not matter how you look at it, you can't understand the big picture from any of those details. As far as they're concerned, I might as well mow lawns. I have yet to meet a Landscape Architect who mows lawns. Those guys are Landscape Contractors. Without the education, training and experience to back them, they will not be able to do what I do. I refer to those guys as “Guys with Trucks”. They can do some of what I do, and they may even be able to do some of that well. But they will always just be guys with trucks.
Okay, Travis…how does this relate to the photography world? Well, consumers are very much like anyone trying to assess my job. They don't fully understand the big picture so they affix their minds to one specific detail that can be quantified and compared – in the digital camera world, the megapixel reigns as king. But it does not tell the whole story.
If you are not willing to learn every aspect of a camera, then you cannot make a true assessment of the product. If you cannot tell me without hesitation the crop factor of your camera's sensor, then you haven't done your research. You may as well be just another “Guy with a Camera”.
Now I'm not saying that in order to be a photographer, you need to know all this stuff. That would be unfair. And frankly, I would be a pot calling the kettle black as I still have a ton to learn about photography. What's important is that you know what you don't know. If you don't know what you need to learn, you can't learn.
So, my challenge to you is to stop being a consumer and start being a photographer. Lets start by focusing on your equipment. It's a very important aspect of photography. Know this – you can have the cost of your equipment does not compare to knowing its limitations. So lets start there. Go to a site like Digital Camera Review, or browse the web for technical reviews, and find your camera or a camera you're considering. Look at every statistic and every technical detail about the camera. If you don't understand a category, look it up. Understanding these details is important to evaluating a camera.
For example, Imentioned the crop factor of the sensor. On my camera, a Nikon D80, my sensor has a crop factor of 1.5 whereas a professional quality camera may have a sensor with a crop factor of 1. What this really means is that the focal length of your lens is actually shooting longer with this camera. On a full-sized professional camera, a 50mm lens shoots at 50mm. But on my camera, it's actually shooting at 75mm. It's not that big a deal, but it's something that will affect my photography. If I really need a lens shorter than 50mm, I need something less than 33mm (24mm, perhaps).
But that's what I'm talking about. Many people are comparing apples to oranges. Without understanding all of these details, you can't really evaluate which camera is better for your needs. I may pass up a higher resolution camera if, perhaps, one camera had a better crop factor. Or I may favor a camera over the other because of the lenses available for that camera. Or maybe one of the cameras has an ultra-low ISO (50 ISO) that would be useful for the still-shots you may favor.
My point is that you need to look at all angles and every aspect of your equipment. The megapixel vs. megapixel discussion is fine for talks with your friends or in passing. But you better mentally know more about your camera than that.
Don't just be a guy with a camera. Be a Photographer.