This is the start of a series of posts about the obvious and not so obvious tools of the trade for photographers. I start with the camera. This interlinks nicely with my series about finding the perfect compact camera.

In 1980, Ansel Adams, the famous American landscape photographer and inventor of the Zone System, published a “The Camera”. This book describes the camera as a tool with it’s different aspects and uses.  He presents different brands, but uses them as examples for various types of cameras.

This is over 30 years ago. Photographers have even more choice today than ever before. Everything between rangefinder and large format film and digital cameras are available.

The majority of professional photographers use either Canon or Nikon DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflector) cameras. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems, but overall, the play in the same league. Sometimes Canon has a advantage in it’s development and sometimes Nikon. In my opinion, it boils down to personal preference. The last few years brought some amazing developments in sensor quality and the ability to photograph in low light and use your DSLR as high definition video camera. We experience a paradigm shift in the understanding of what a photographer does and doesn’t do.

Many photographers and myself included, change systems in their career or operate various systems parallel. When I started out as freelance press photographer for a local newspaper in Germany, I loved working with the Canon T90, which was ( and in my opinion) the most forward guiding camera in design and features. Compare a current DSLR with the Canon T90 and you will see the resemblance.

Essentially, a camera is a tool to make pictures. In it’s most basic form, it is a box with a small whole on the one side and a film (or digital media) on the other side.

The concept is simple and has so many different interpretations. Different assignments and jobs require a different tool. There is no such thing as the perfect camera, which can do everything. Deciding on which camera is the right tool to choose, is a decision on compromises and style.

Have a look at the two photographers, I presented last week Friday. Both photographers, Steve Huff and David Bergman are excellent concert photographers, but do it totally different. Is the one better than the other? I couldn’t say. The results they present in their work are based on the tools they choose or to be more precise: They choose the tool to give them the results they visualized.

Why do I choose the cameras to work with that I use? I use the tools that get the job done for my work as efficiently as possible. Would I change from one system to another over night? No, because this would just be a waste of money. The majority of my work (and almost exclusively) is done with Nikon cameras. Nikon works well for me, as much as Canon works for many of my colleagues.

A camera is a tool to express, what I pre-visualize in my mind. Some tools offer a bigger variety than others.

Interestingly enough, one of the great photographers of all time, Henri Cartier-Bresson, used for almost all of images one specific camera and lens combination. The cameras upgraded over time of course, but with the limitation to this tool and the limitations of it, he was able to create images that inspire photographers today. He knew about, what he could do with the camera and lens and what not. It made the process of his work easier.

This video made the rounds over the weekend on Facebook, Twitter and some blogs:

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON – Decisive Moment, The from bt465 on Vimeo.

Have a look at it and if I haven’t missed it, Henri Cartier-Bresson never speaks about a specific camera.

So, you might ask, why am I on a mission to find the perfect compact camera? It is the search for the perfect tool for a specific context and perfect means the perfect answer for the questions I ask. Your questions and answers might and most likely are totally different.

Don’t limit yourself by saying that you can’t afford this and that camera. You make pictures in your mind and essentially, you can choose almost any camera to create your images. A full blown DSLR with all blows and whistles might help expressing yourself. It can also limit you, with an over-focus on technical aspects of it.

As so many photographers, I do have my dream cameras (not only based on logic), but that doesn’t stop me of using the camera, I have accessible to create pictures. Very often, this is my iPhone camera (or any other mobile phone camera), because it is available, when I am on the road.


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