Go on and admit it: you do it. If you spend time reading camera review websites, you're almost certainly guilty of obsessing over equipment. And if you're like me, somewhere in that obsession, you harbor a secret – or maybe not so secret – belief that the best shots are usually the ones captured by the best gear.
When I start falling too deeply into this fallacy (or the related: "I have great gear, so why am I still unhappy with my shots?"), I often find it helpful to seek out a little reality check. If you've been on the DCR forums in the last couple of days, you may have already seen the thread (thanks to DCR forum regular Tinderbox for the post) detailing the work of a member on the U.K.'s AVForums to convert a busted Canon kit lens into a close-focus optic by reversing it. If you haven't checked out the thread and seen the excellent macro images produced by this unique setup, it's definitely worth a read.
Even more than the great shots, though, it's the follow-up post by AVForums member Lightpainter, the creative thinker behind this improvised macro lens, that I find most compelling:
"This macro reverse lens setup has given me a new lease of life, I had been a bit down in the dumps in my attitude to photography looking at all the fantastic offerings from all members and thinking there's no point in submitting any of mine up against you lot! But now I'm getting really enthusiastic again with these macro shots!"
Isn't that the point of what we do as photographers, finding inspiration – whether through equipment, locations, or people – to see and present the world in unique ways?
And this is where equipment comes in. You can't, after all, take a picture without a camera, and if a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III or a Nikon D3 inspires you to take great shots (and it should!) and facilitates that process, then the investment in equipment has, on some level, been worthwhile.
At the same time, though, professional precision and optical perfection aren't the only paths to inspiration: it's an old cliché, but I continue to be surprised at how many of my favorite shots were taken with the budget DSLR and cheap two-lens kit that rides around under the seat of my car, rather than with my work kit. In so many cases, the moment, rather than the gear, makes the shot. Likewise, a body cap lens, and improvised filter setup, a cheap manual-focus optic, or any number of other instances of out-of-the-box thinking can just as easily – and considerably more cost-effectively – be the tool that inspires and refocuses your photography.
The lesson for me this week, then, has been a reminder of a subtle but persistent truth: in making photographs, the equipment you use is important, but not always in the way you think. If a piece of equipment helps you present a unique perspective on the world, and in turn inspires others through the images you create with it, then it's a worthy photographic tool – whether it's a $5000 system camera of a $5 filter.
At the end of the day, only the shot itself matters.
Round Up is a regular editorial column published weekly on DigitalCameraReview.com.