If you read my recent post, Green-Eyed Monster, you might be thinking that I advocate getting the latest gadgets just for the sake of it. And while I think you should always buy the best model you can afford (whether that be a mobile, digital camera or toaster), it’s certainly doesn’t follow that you will only get the best results from the best kit.
As a known photographer amongst my friends, I’m quite often asked for my opinions on this or that camera. Thy cry goes up “I want to take great pictures, what camera should I buy?” And often I want to reply, “Go buy a decent book on composition and photographic technique, read it, and then tell me what sort of pictures you want to take.” But I know this isn’t the answer they want. So my answer more usually consists of “what’s your budget” etc. Either that, or on seeing my photos, people say “oh, you take great pictures, you must have a really good camera”. Well, it’s true, I do have a pretty good camera, but that’s not the point. Reminds me of an old Jasper Carrott sketch called Virgin Voter when he talks a lot of double-entendres about green 18-year-olds and their first experience of voting, the upshot of which is “It’s not the size of your cross that counts, it’s where you put it!”
You can take great pictures with a £20 fully-manual Praktika SLR if you know what you’re doing. That’s the “luxury” piece of kit (acquired second-hand from Jessops) I took with me on my Lapland Husky Safari back in 2003. Follow the link for some of the results. I knew I wanted a robust, reliable SLR (and at this point, digital wasn’t really an option for me anyway) and I didn’t want to take my “best” film camera for fear of getting it dropped in the snow or eaten by Huskies. Hence the purchase of the Praktika MTL5B. It cost me another twenty quid for a 35-95mm Auto Rosley (who??) zoom lens.
Just after I bought it, we had some snow in the UK, so I was able to go out and play in similar conditions and make sure I knew how much compensate for the white of the snow. I think I ran it at least ½-stop under all the time, and that seemed to work fine. So even for quite extreme conditions, you don’t always need the top gear to do it justice. It’s only when you want to do something pretty specialised that you start to hit the limits of your equipment, and more probably, your own abilities! I’m hoping to upgrade to a Canon EOS20D or perhaps 30D eventually which will give me better shooting/writing burst speed, plus ISO3200 equivalence; and also a pro-spec 100-400mm EF zoom with Image Stabilization, both for those times that it really is as black as a coal-hole but you still need to take pictures. It would be great for more gig photography as well as dingy winter trips to the rugby.
And of course, it’s not just cameras. When I first started to teach myself to play bass guitar, I bought a cheap and cheerful 4-string model to see if I would get on OK with it. As I improved, I started getting frustrated. A lot of songs I like to noodle along with seem to be in the key of D. And a 4-string bass only goes down to E, so if I wanted to play them easily, I either had to drop-tune the E do D (a pain in the butt) or get a 5-string bass with a low B. I managed with the drop-tuning for a few months and then bit the bullet, getting a rather nice hand-made bass from a friend who was selling it. Life has been easier since – except when I try and play anything in flat keys (a nightmare for any string player, we prefer sharps any day!). But that’s just because I’m trying to learn harder pieces!
Anyway, I’ve rabbited on quite long enough, I’ll leave you with a picture of my lovely Iceni Funkmeister – looks like a 5-string Fender Precision, and has a custom purple paint job, which looks rather more red in this photo than it should.