It's Not the Size of Your Lens That Counts; It's How You Use It

By Reader ViolentPacifist on at

A crowd parts for the man with the expertly-engineered tool in hand, awaiting his display of expertise. But this is no knight with sword and armour, not even a firefighter in overalls holding a hose, but a photographer in oversized cargo shorts tightly gripping his L-lens.

The tech world is full of photography; from the lowly Instagramming Galaxy Ace, to Phase One's medium format goliaths. To a lot of us, it becomes a hobby that we desperately have to feed, and one that turns quickly to blaming our results on our equipment. Your 5MP camera phone becomes an optical zooming point and shoot, which becomes an entry level DSLR, and next thing you know there's a few thousands quid's worth of glass and a couple of magnesium alloy bodies sitting atop those £200 tripods that you just had to buy.

The big problem is, the general public are equally aware of this too, and begin to "oooh" and "ahhh" at the 2 and a half feet of lens you leave hanging from your neck. Your ego gets fed a little more, and the vicious cycle begins. It's no longer about the picture, it's about the numbers. The parting crowd before wasn't hyperbole; it was exactly what happened when I visited the Frankfurt Motor Show. My D5000 trumped people's smartphones and I was given space to snap once I'd pushed to the front, but along comes Mr "I've-invested-more-in-Canon-than-I-have-in-my-personal-hygiene" and suddenly I'm a little fish again.

In some homoerotic moment you check out his f2.8 70-200mm lens and immediately feel humiliated with your humble f4-5.6 70-300mm. You have to hold that second of begrudging eye contact as he measures up your equipment then turns away again and flashes his press pass. He's up close to the £200,000 concept Ferrari; you're still sat pressed against the fence under some large fella's sweaty armpit. Someone is looking at buying the coupé, so their 17-year-old snaps away with a D800 that daddy bought. You know the spoilt brat has it in full auto mode, but you still envy the kit and how close they're allowed to get. It doesn't matter where you are -- car show, zoo, airport observation deck, beach at sunset -- the jealousy is always there festering, and the bigger your kit the more people who stand below you waiting to be shat on.

Of course, it works the other way too. Wander past Tower Place West in central London and try and take a photo with an SLR. You can bet your Neutral Grade Filter that some angst-filled security guard will pop up and begin giving you an earful about taking photos. Who do they think I'm spying on with a 35mm lens, and why is it fine for the haggle of tourists behind me to snap away on their iPhones? The pro-sumer photographer is treated like some sort of digital hermit, cast out of the safety of the plebes and their generic tiny image sensors, while still far away from the luxuries of the fortified castle the professionals and kit-hoarders sit in.

A new companion has joined us in our barren landscape of crop sensors and limited lens collections though. Since the birth of micro four thirds in 2008 and competition from cameras such as the Sony NEX following in the years after, the Mirrorless Army walks amongst us. Initially the cameras were mocked as toys, vanity objects for people who wanted to pretend that they were better at taking photos than the uneducated masses with their Coolpix and Powershots. And yet over time, they have matured, with the current flagships of most brands holding ground against their full sized counterparts. The recently released Sony Alpha 7/R has lots of big words like "full frame," "weather sealing" and "defraction correction technology" to entice just about anyone who knows the difference between ISO and aperture and hankers after something small and powerful.

The mirrorless crowd suffers with us as well, despite their awesome new technologies. Stories float around of people being refused photo passes for "not having a proper camera" to places like Gazelle Canyon, despite being professional photographers who just happen to be holding an NEX 7R instead of a Canon 7D. The general public changes too, dismissing the smaller body as some fancy-looking point and shoot, while bowing before a hipster with a long outdated D70 they never really learned how to use. Is there any hope left?

Well, maybe. It's not uncommon nowadays to hear people heralding the death of the consumer SLR. Sales are plummeting as the market spreads out. Somehow, in a world where 15 second videos, GIFs and pictures of your lunch rule supreme, the focus has managed to be shifting slowly back towards photography. Nikon is teasing a "for photographers" camera that mimics the film cameras of yore in a shrunken shell; Fuji's X100S shows just what can be milked out of a point-and-shoot style body, and even Nokia and Apple have shaken things up with cameras in their flagship phones that challenge the quality of professional gear from less than a decade ago.

Hopefully, this leads to a point where the photographer is expected to choose the tool for the job, and not feel they have to use the biggest device for the best result. Enough time of tiny cameras producing fantastic work, and maybe everyone will begin to ignore the size and numbers when it comes to photography. Sure, somewhere up in the high kingdom of Hasselblad you'll still be able to tell the difference, but out of the studio and on the streets is where the mindset needs to change.

The stigma needs to shift: anyone can take a photograph but the art comes from making one. Composition over components.

Alex Stuart is a CompSci student born in England, studying in Wales, and working in Germany. When not playing "which country next?" he's a keen photographer who you can find online at AJFStuart, Twitter at @alxstuart or LinkedIn.

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Image Credit: Photographers from Shutterstock