Thoughts on Cameras

I’m a photographer, and I like cameras – why is that not ok? (Video)

The other day I posted the above photo to Instagram. I quite often have light hearted conversations with people about whether or not it’s ok to put chrome lenses on black cameras… of course it makes no difference, but some people find it offends their aesthetic sensibilities.

I expected this topic to be the primary message in the responses, but what actually happened was a lot of people telling me that “the camera doesn’t matter, it’s the photos taken with it that counts”. Of course, on many levels I am aware of this… if for no other reason than that I’ve had this nugget of wisdom shared with me something in the region of 10,000 times over the last 5 years…

This particular bout of people sharing their wisdom pushed me over the edge… so I made a video in response:

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34 Comments

  • Reply
    Simon Forster
    July 17, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Here’s another nugget of wisdom; the best camera is the one in your hands.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 18, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      Ha, that’s going to be the topic of a later video

  • Reply
    Johnnie Rogers
    July 17, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Well said, as a photographer I too have a strong interest in cameras. I grew up with film and appreciate the quality of construction and attention to detail often lacking in todays cameras. Maybe it is nostalgia but there is something very satisfying in using a classic camera and never really knowing how the image will turn out. Every frame being precious! My wife has never understood why I have so many, every one has a soul, an indefinable quality that my digital cameras doesn’t possess. My 60 year old Voigtlanders still work, will my digital cameras in 60 years time?

  • Reply
    Michael D Carey
    July 17, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Hamish, I’m totally with you on this topic. Like you, I’m a photographer who’s love of the hobby increasingly includes the cameras themselves rather than only the images they can create.
    I feel similarly about audio equipment, enjoying aspects of that hobby that go beyond just base music reproduction.
    This same phenomenon occurs with autos, watches, smartphones, and really any object that can be appreciated as a mechanical and/or electrical device. What we’re talking about is Product Design, including the performance spec sheet, but going beyond to consider subjective attributes of user experience.
    Mike Carey
    Georgia, USA

  • Reply
    Mike
    July 17, 2018 at 11:55 am

    You seemed to be almost in tears there, you really wanted to swear didn’t you?
    What camera did you shoot that with? Nah, doesn’t matter does it.

  • Reply
    Kevin Thomas
    July 17, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Great video! I love old cameras, for a multitude of reasons. I also play the guitar, have for over 40 years. In that time I’ve accumulated about 20 guitars… and I’ve gotten the same type of thing. “It’s not the guitar that’s important, it’s the music.” Well, yeah, but different guitars inspire me to play differently. Similarly, different cameras seem to inspire different pictures. My Argus C3 works quite differently from my Canon A-1, and so I approach the process of taking a photo differently, even if the subject matter is the same.

    “it’s not the camera, it’s the photo”. Obvious, and meaningless, as long as a camera is involved in taking a picture. Anyone who makes that pronouncement should be given an old box camera to shoot.

  • Reply
    Nigel Cliff
    July 17, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    Totally with you Hamish, I mean what’s the difference between liking driving and liking cars,if you said you liked the former but not the latter the same people who moan at you would say that was daft

  • Reply
    paul snaith
    July 17, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    The irony of this is that in order to take photographs of any sort or any standard, that person has to take an interest in the camera and lens they are using. I’ve heard that statement you refer to many times myself, and I suspect it’s another way of saying, ‘You can have a fantastic camera and lens at your disposal, but if you don’t have an eye for composition, light, subject matter etc and you don’t take ‘good’ photographs with it (and just how subjective is that?), then what’s the point in owning/using it’. And that the camera and lens are merely a means to an end to some users, and I can understand that up to a point. But there are those of us who like the look of a particular camera, or camera and lens combination. We like the way it works, its quirks, its simplicity. its complexity. We like the fact that sometimes we have to fix the ruddy thing before we can use it. We appreciate or admire its style, its design, its colour. Cameras are to me engineered pieces of art and science combined. The older film cameras will inevitably outlive the digital ones because the latter have a restricted shelf life (shutter count). So hey. each to their own. Hamish, as you well know the internet is the land of the loon, and there are one or two opinionated camera Nazis out there. So the only advice I can offer is DLTBGYD. Look it up if you have to 🙂 And keep the articles coming – there are many of us who really enjoy reading the articles on here. Now go and have a look at one of your favourite cameras (complete with lens), pick it up in your hands, fiddle around with it, and dry fire it a few times as you look through its viewfinder, and try not to sigh with pleasure too loudly.

    • Reply
      Evette Rodriguez
      July 22, 2018 at 2:10 am

      I love your final statements here. I too sit after hours peering through the lens of one of my precious slr’s, sighing. 😌

  • Reply
    Cheyenne Morrison
    July 17, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Seriously, people say that? How stupid. Yes on one hand a camera is just a tool, and it’s more the lens that will affect what image are produced that doesn’t encompass things truly.

    It’s like comparing driving a Toyota Prius to work vs taking the coast road in California in a vintage convertible. Both technically driving, but one is more memorable and enjoyable because of the beauty and craftsmanship of the vehicle.

    You can probably take nice photos with a plastic point and shoot, but creating photos with a beautiful vintage camera and lens is a holistic experience. The feel, the smell, the history, the aesthetics, the hours of hunting it took to find that one camera arre all wrapped up into the experience of taking the photo.

    Vintage cameras and lenses are such beautiful artifacts, handling them is like having a tiny time machine, transporting you back to a time before designed obsolescence, when people didn’t see creating things as a job, but a craft. Their craftsmanship imbues these lovely artifacts of an earlier time with soul.

    All the great guitarist want a vintage Gibson, violinists want a Stradivarius, so why should Photographers look upon the the tools of our trade as mere tools, they are far more than that; or should be.

  • Reply
    Cal Stewart
    July 17, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    I understand the perspective that animates the view “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer/picture”. People rebel against the materialistic dimension to our Art/Profession/ Pastime/ Hobby. And it is fair. If you just want to have fun and take pictures, you can do that with any camera, in a sense.

    However, cameras vary greatly in how they allow the photographer to operate. This is particularly the case with film cameras. Rangefinders, modular slr’s or view cameras are all distinct. And that is to say nothing about format and aspect ratio. None of these things will make you a better photographer necessarily, however they will change the way that you make images. I strongly believe that. I also dare say that most of the people who leave the comment “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” haven’t considered what a different type of camera might do for their photography.

    If you accept that photography is an Art, and you also accept that Art (for the artist) is as much about a process as it is the result, then if you change the nature of the tools that you use to make that Art, you can change the Art itself. 35mm and 4×5 are as distinct from one another as oil on canvas and watercolours. If people can’t see that, then stuff ’em.

  • Reply
    George Feucht
    July 17, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Well put. It’s like the folks who go to a classic car gathering and show off their perfectly restored ’58 Turbo-Coupe-Whatever. No one says to them “It doesn’t matter if the chrome air filter cap is vintage original, all that matters is the drives you take with the car.” It’s a fun hobby to appreciate masterfully crafted machines.

    The only sad aside to this is a recent experience I had: I met a couple who had a beautiful M3 with 50 rigid ‘cron attached. It was on a display shelf. I told them how beautiful and what great shape it was in. The wife said it was her father’s camera and he passed away years ago. Suddenly I realized that this camera had been reduced to a decorative memorial. It would never have a roll of film through it again. I told her to shoot some film in the spirit of her father and keep that beautiful camera going. I was met with a blank look and “Oh. But I have to put film in it, right?”

    I have to say that your design on your M3 repaint is perfect. As I said on Instagram, I love the chrome trim on the body and how it complements a silver lens. That is why it works in this case. It works even better when the lens has black accents, like the Canon 1.4.

  • Reply
    Marco Andres
    July 17, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    This is a spot-on refutation of “it’s not the camera …”
    Do people say
    It’s not the paintbrush/canvas/paints that make the painting…
    It’s obvious that among other things the tools and their choice certainly influence/constrain the work. Yes, it’s the “image”, not the tools that <> to the viewer at <>. Not needing to know the specific tools used doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Tools are extraneous; the work depends on them. For the art-historian/critic the tools/techniques matter.

  • Reply
    Paul Rice
    July 17, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    I shoot digital and analog and I’m the first person to say it’s the photographer that creates the image, not the camera BUT, as a gearhead part of the joy of shooting a film camera for me is the feel and sound of a mechanical film advance and the process itself. It’s the appreciation of the clockwork mechanisms and machined parts that make it all possible. Nothing wrong with that. You can enjoy looking at and tinkering with classic cars AND you can enjoy the drive.

  • Reply
    Rob Jamieson
    July 17, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Hamish,
    I loved your thoughts on this.
    I don’t think I’ve ever thought this deeply about the difference between the interest in photography and a separate interest in cameras. It’s such a personal thing, these things we’re interested in. The odd thing is people projecting their point of view onto you which says volumes about them and has very little to do with you as a photographer and camera lover. If you extend this line of thinking further there are (possibly) people who out there who love cameras but don’t love taking photographs (collectors). And there seem to be people who try and minimize their gear or just shoot with one camera and concentrate solely on making photographs (Eric Kim, Wouter Brandsma, my wife and her iphone, etc.) It’s interesting to break it down into two separate but related passions. I’ve always been interested in how cameras work. My father was an engineer and took archival photographs as part of his job. He was very technical about cameras. He was fascinated by how they work. I inherited that bug from him. Hence, there are some cameras I have, both digital and analogue, that I use a lot for shooting (my Rx1r for digital, my Pentax LX, Yashica T5 and Pentax 645 for film). But I also have some cameras that I love and that I don’t really shoot very often (a Fuji GL690 and a junk store Minolta Autocord, for instance). I probably take more pride in the autocord than any other camera that I own because I found it for a steal and nursed it back to life even though, as s a camera in my stable it doesn’t get used by a thosuandth compared to the ones that are always in my bag, but as an object of design, an object of art, an object of history and as a mechanical tool it’s probably my favorite camera because it’s just so weird and cool. Taking a camera in hand and a photo of another camera you love seems like the most natural thing in the world. We shoot the things we’re interested in. What we shoot is a reflection of our interests and in some sense a reflection of who we are. Some people look at a picture of a camera and if they see a lump of metal, plastic and glass, well…that’s ok. some of us see seeds of wonder. What is that? How does it work? Where did it come from? Who made it? How did they build it? How is it similar and how is it different to other things like it? What could I do with that? It doesn’t have to be GAS to be interested in cameras. I love looking at what other people in other parts of the world are shooting with. I’m endlessly fascinated. lots and lots of us are. The weird thing is why on earth would somebody tell you what to think of something that you’re passionate about? I would never in a million years comment in that way on someone’s post about cookware or model airplanes or knitting needles or automobiles. Sorry for rambling on here a bit. Love your site and your work (and all the pictures of cameras you post for us!) best, Rob J

  • Reply
    Stu =
    July 17, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Then, when you take a good photo, you’re asked what camera/lens. Cos it must be a good one, right?

  • Reply
    JoeVC
    July 18, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Photography is a subset of graphic arts. All visual artists employ some type of tools to fashion their work, but photography is especially tool-oriented. There’s no shame in taking pleasure in one’s tools, as long as we understand the tools and the work are distinct.

  • Reply
    Malcolm Myers
    July 18, 2018 at 5:36 am

    I think there is a hint of snobbery or jealousy about the “It’s not the camera …” statement which roughly translates to “You clearly need an expensive camera to take a decent photograph, whereas I …”.

    Photography has always been a two-sided hobby for me; both art and industrial design. Yes, you do need to know about composition and light and that sort of thing. But I love cameras as mechanical works of art, with levers and knobs and buttons. I enjoy having lots of cameras, it allows me to choose what I want to achieve and then select the right tool: SLR, compact, medium format? For me, the explosion of sales of digital cameras over the past fifteen years proves that, for most people, having 8MP is better than 6MP, and having 10 MP is better than 8MP, and so on. In other words, the camera definitely does count!

    And If you enjoy different cameras you take them out more, and that way you become a better photographer anyway.

    Don’t worry about it Hamish, I think your critics are suffering from what Shakespeare described as, “the lady doth protest too much”.

  • Reply
    Blinx
    July 18, 2018 at 10:37 am

    It’s hard to know what “the camera doesn’t matter” is a response to? If someone claims you need a very expensive camera to take a good picture, that’s clearly untrue. I long ago decided my taste in photographs had nothing to do with the sharpness of the lens or the brand of the camera. In a hobby obsessed by brands and sharpness, this makes one an outsider. Neither am I interested in Lomo effects or other gratuitous distortions.

    Photography is a broad church, best exemplified by two Japanese photographers. Daido Moriyama claims to have never bought a camera, he used whatever compact camera friends gave him. Nobuyoshi Araki on the other hand, uses a different camera for almost every project. Cameras matter to people they matter to.

  • Reply
    Wayne Carey
    July 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Hamish, I fully agree with you and the reason I’ve followed you and read your blog posts almost daily is for the cameras. There will always be people to complain about whatever they can but here’s an analogy you can use. Cars… Why do we have magazines, tv shows, tv networks and blog posts (written or video) on the cars themselves? They’re just tools. They get us from point A to point B, right? Yes, they do but many of them are like cameras. They are pieces of art to themselves and they should be shared with the world and within the car community to drool over and dream about owning such a beautiful classic car. It’s the same with your blog. It’s the cameras that drew me in to see and read about. That’s all. I can see photos all over the place everyday. Oh, look another photo! Pictures are pictures but the cameras used to take them is what matters to me. So… My point is… Don’t let the jackasses of the community bother you with their lame comments. Your blog is about the camera, not the photos. Keep up the good work and do what comes best!

  • Reply
    Karl Valentin
    July 18, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    Dear Hamish,
    I battled ignorance for a long time, also before internet and I just learned
    to just give a shit about opinions of other people.
    Why should you care too ? Keep on going on with what makes you happy !
    If you compare photography with cooking – sure there are some who just
    see the dish as result but for others things start with going on the market
    picking out the right pan and finishing all on the right plate……because they
    like the whole process !
    When I start a new project I have “the picture” I want to take in my mind
    and the second step ist to find out how to get it and what technics are needed.
    I get excited finding a new way and a new camera or lens to come close to my idea
    and of course this is half the fun – so why not enjoy it ?

    Keep this in mind…….

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 20, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      Karl, don’t be under any illusion that this genuinly bothers me. The second part of what you’ve said is exactly my approach too. I have just bought a mf lens to shift adapt to my nikon to achieve a shot I want. The wonders of used vintage gear is that it doesn’t depreciate. I can take my shot and move the kit on if I don’t find I need it again!

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    July 18, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Some people has an eye for photography and others a taste for cameras, the same some know driving a Ferrari and others about its mechanics.

  • Reply
    DMR
    July 18, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Hamish, great website. I have subscribed for some time now, and I read most all of your posts. Just trying to throw this out there (sorry if it offends):

    I think it’s great you enjoy photography and cameras. I personally enjoy both as well. However, I think this video is a bit much. If people keep posting that the camera is no more than a box, great. You shouldn’t worry about. You can buy an expensive watch or an Apple watch, or a cheap digital watch. All 3 tell time, but cost vastly different. Will everyone appreciate the expensive one – nope. But, there is obviously a market for someone to appreciate it, or otherwise, the manufacturer wouldn’t be in the business of making expensive watches. So, it doesn’t matter if someone does or does not appreciate your enjoyment of both cameras and photography as mutually exclusive.

    You say this as much in the video at the 4:00 minute mark, that what they say doesn’t bother you (“who cares really?”). And that’s the point of this, as commentators above have said, you seem almost tearful or frustrated in the video, so you do care. It just makes this video too much for me. Hope you get past what anybody with an iPhone or keyboard happens to think about your hobbies. Best Regards!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 18, 2018 at 5:58 pm

      I’m honestly taken aback by this, at what stage do I look tearful? I laugh about 5 times, and actually end the video with a chuckle.
      This was supposed to be a light hearted rant – I really can’t see how it could come across as anything more…?!

  • Reply
    Jason T
    July 19, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    For me this falls under the umbrella of trolls…an unfortunate consequence in allowing comment sections on the internet. I wonder how many people tell Ferrari enthusiasts that a car is a tool to travel from point A to B. Best to just dismiss any troll comments immediately and not bother further with it, lest you want the trolls to win. There is simply no other explanation why a person (troll) who ostensibly doesn’t enjoy/appreciate cameras, is wasting their time, not just browsing on a camera-appreciation blog, but is further compelled to type out a stupid comment.

  • Reply
    Finn Calander
    July 19, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    My aunt has been an artist for 70 years (and still going strong). After a solo exhibition several years ago, she had sold several paintings, making a fair profit, she went to an artists shop an bought a watercolor brush at 20 times the cost of an ordinary quite ok ditto. “Why on earth did you do that,” we (her relatives) asked? “Is it really worth so much more? Couldn’t you paint just as well with a cheaper one?” “Yes,” she conceded, “I can paint with any kind of brush. I can use the kinds that preschool children use in kindergarten if I must. However, this brush makes it so much easier. It lies in the hand much better. It holds the water much better. It makes my strokes fluent in a way that is hard to explain to someone who is not her/him/self an artist.” My view on cameras are along these lines. Not meaning that a more expensive camera necessarily is a better one than a cheaper – my point is that a camera that feels like an extension of your hand and eye, one that lets you capture the shots you want with a minimum of interference in the image making process, that is the best camera you can have. For me the easiest (and best) camera to use is the Leica M Monochrom. Great design. Nothing but the bare essentials to manipulate.

  • Reply
    Evan Bedford
    July 20, 2018 at 3:30 am

    Those people are idiots. I suspect they’d also trash the Golden Gate bridge, saying that it’s just a nerd’s creation for getting across a body of water.

  • Reply
    Yarkozelen
    July 20, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    It is all about the camera and the story behind it. I’ve dreamed about Leica III since I was a child. Got my IIIF from beautiful people in Tokyo(which was another childish dream of me). Do I love it more than my grandfather’s Fed 2B – no, I love them both because of everything about them. The same goes about just any camera that touched my hands. Because photography is magic, and I like it that way. If you do not believe it – try taking photos without a camera. Than you will learn what exactly your camera is learning you to see…

  • Reply
    Charles Vernon Watson
    July 22, 2018 at 2:39 am

    Would you go to someone who has a classic car and say, “It isn’t the car, it’s getting where your going?”

  • Reply
    Charles Vernon Watson
    July 22, 2018 at 2:56 am

    I can get Inspiration from using the camera that a great photographer used. A Contax like Capa and others. A Leica like Cartier-Bresson and others. An old Rolleiflex life Maier and others. And many others, like myself.

  • Reply
    Blinx
    July 23, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    There’s another take on cameras that hasn’t been mentioned, and which I fully own up to. I care about cameras, but I don’t care about cameras other people care about. Call this inverted snobbery or simple perversity, but if a camera is held to be exemplary I’m unlikely to care much for it. Same with lenses. Give me a simple 3-element lens or a nice old Taylor Hobson over a computer designed apochromatic lump any day.

    This is partly practical as I use a lot of film and don’t take more care of gear than absolutely necessary. It certainly isn’t cosseted and it’s a rare camera that doesn’t get a chip, ding or scratch soon after it comes into my hands. Thinking that I’d just taken £1k off its value would seriously inhibit its use.

    I adopt the same approach to cars and most other things. Rubber mats, good, carpets not so good. No computer on board, even better. Painted metal dashboard and a single speedo, best of all. I give cameras a lot of thought before I buy them, so ideally I’ll never have to give them another conscious thought afterwards.

  • Reply
    Reflections on Experiencing an Attack of Anti-GAS - By Dan Marinelli - 35mmc
    August 11, 2018 at 9:00 am

    […] also since watched Hamish’s video on why it’s okay to like cameras AND still be a photographer… as he points out, […]

  • Reply
    Matt Byrne
    August 19, 2018 at 11:44 am

    I had similar feeling the other day when complimenting an X100F user on how well that particular camera records images and I got the response of “it’s just a tool like any other camera, it records what the eye sees”. Well, so does my 5Dii with the 17-40L, but I don’t have the desire to shoot the incidental curiosities I see when I have the X100F in my hand and I wouldn’t be happy leaving Canon to interpret a JPEG in the way I totally entrust Fuji to.

    Of course it’s about the camera, you aren’t taking wildlife photos with 28mm fixed focal length compacts for the same reason you’re not using 400mm white glass for landscapes. The gear matters, it has to matter and there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking it. Sure, it’s a tool. Who said you can’t enjoy the tool, anyway? If you didn’t have the tool, you’d have no image at all, so you might as well enjoy using the damn thing.

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