Any professional photographer reading this article will be all too familiar with this question. The assumption that your camera of choice will be large, expensive, complicated and the latest model is of course a natural one based on the idea of a professional tool to fulfil a professional task but how accurate is this assumption?
It is now ten years since I bought myself two Canon 5D’s and a bunch of lenses to replace my trusty Hasselblads as my principle camera for commissioned shoots. Since then I have added to those cameras with a mixture of different brands and formats including upgrades on those original 5D’s but the simple fact is that the camera I use most is that within my smartphone.
I’m obviously not alone in this but the fact that the phone I use creates RAW files and can accept an additional memory card has transformed my use of the ‘camera that rings’. I have written in the past about how I have personally adopted the smartphone as an aid to visual exploration www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-35026932 and the development of photography as a visual language https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/teaching-photography-as-a-visual-language-91a9fdf0ce81#.lbkufi8kq but it has also made me reconsider my relationship with the physicality of image creation.
I have never been that interested in the technical side of cameras, in how they work and why they do, as long as they do the job I need them to do I’m satisfied. I am often seduced by the aesthetics of a product but never to the extent that I will buy a good looking piece of kit that isn’t what I need. I am not a kit ‘junkie’. The simplicity of a smartphone camera is therefore right up my street.
The ease with which I can use it to document my life and than post images to Instagram works for me as it does for so many others. But what it has also done is to change the way in which I work on commission and I wonder if it has had the same effect on others.
I am primarily commissioned to photograph portraits of what I call ‘people you may have heard of’ – artists, actors, novelists, creators, writers and television presenters – for editorial clients. Relaxed portraits often created in their homes or personal spaces. I always want the meeting and the conversation to be the central focus of the shoot and I have therefore eschewed complicated lighting set-ups and I rarely use a tripod for this work. It’s a simple set-up and approach that works for me.
However, over the past year my smartphone created images and the way in which I take photographs with it have led me to reduce this basic set-up even further as I have returned to the simplicity of my original Canon 5D’s, not the Mark II’s or III’s that now sit in my camera bags reserved for shoots that require their advanced functionality. Just as many photographers find themselves drawn back to the world of analogue so I find myself drawn back to the early days of mass adopted digital cameras.
On a recent shoot the personality I was photographing asked me for advice on what camera he should buy for his daughter who was looking to study photography at college. I asked if she had an Instagram account, he said yes so I suggested that she already had the camera she needed to explore photography. To understand the technical aspects of photography I recommended a trip to e-bay to source a second-hand 5D to use just as so many photography students once used a Pentax Spotmatic or Nikon FE in the past.
Essentially photography is capturing light in a box and those seem to me to be two boxes that are as good as any others to start with. But of course I could have recommended so many other cameras as we are now over ten years into a period of digital photography that has seen countless models launched, image capture quality get better and better and ease of use functionality become the norm. Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Sony, Leica, Pentax, Ricoh, Hasselblad, Lumix Panasonic and Canon continue to evolve and develop new versions of a ‘light capturing box’ as do Apple, Samsung, Huawei, HTC amongst others. There is no shortage of choice when it comes to buying a camera.
As with any tool required to do a job, you should choose the right one for the task at hand. However, today there are so many tools to choose from that few professional photographers will give the same answer to the often asked question that leads this post. There is one thing that you can be sure of however and that is that ease of use and image quality will always be the determining factor in what a professional photographer chooses, recommends and gives as an answer to the question they are asked most often.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of the United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015). You can see his photography at www.grantscott.com
© Grant Scott 2017