Being a Camera Expert Does Not Make You a Photographer
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week, "Back to Work" with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin over at 5by5. If you haven't listened to it, you really should go subscribe right now and start with episode 1, or S1E1 as Merlin would say. Anyhow, in this last episode Merlin said something like, "Being a notebook expert is not the same as being a writer" and I thought "Of course it's not!" but at the same time I knew that there were plenty of people who don't get that yet, thus this little essay. Lately I've had a spate of inquiries from people asking for equipment recommendations. Cameras, lenses, printers, scanners, monitors. And as anyone who has listened to our podcast can tell you, I have my favorites and I'm not afraid to pass them on. That said, there was a time not too long ago when I knew all the latest gear when it was released. Specs, reviews, prices, you name it. All at the tip of my tongue for the asking. This time however, I had to go do some research before I felt comfortable giving an answer that had my name on it. Canon, Nikon, Epson, Zeiss. They'd all put out gear that I completely missed. Part of this is because I haven't bought anything new, other than a handful of hard drives, in a couple of years now. I'm out of the loop. The other part is that it really doesn't matter. I already wrote about this last November in an admitedly snarky post called: Gear and How to Get Good so I won't go into that too much here.
But what I will add on to that essay is the idea that reading all the latest photo news websites and magazines helps no one but the people selling the gear. Model A has a digital do-hicky that Model B doesn't have. So? I can think of 100 ways you could better spend that 5 minutes of reading that review or retaining that fact in your memory.
I used to be that way about audio gear. I knew everything about everything. Read every review in Stereophile. My favorite was a Michael Fremer review of a turntable which cost $100,000 that ran on compressed air to reduce motor noise. I spent a somewhat insane amount of money on a two channel setup that I still have and use today, ten years later. Is there better stuff out there now? Maybe, but not THAT much better, this stuff is analog after all. Can I suggest a good 5.1 surround sound system for you? Hell no. Never owned one, have no idea what to buy, and probably never will. Has any of this changed the way I listen to music? Absolutely. I actually listen to the music now instead of worrying about whether I've got a balanced connection between my CD player and pre-amp. (It's balanced if you were wondering).
The manufacturers are going to keep making the gear, don't worry. When it comes the time to buy a new camera (or stereo, or car, or laptop) you're allowed to spend an evening or two doing searches and reading reviews to figure out the latest and greatest. But please don't obsess. Choose one and then get back to shooting.
Someone can know every spec and every knob on every piece of photographic gear, but that doesn't make him a photographer, that makes him a camera expert and the two are very different things.
A photographer takes pictures, he doesn't read camera websites.