Why oh why does the tools vs skills debate still continue? In so many debates, I’ve noticed people taking extreme views, all or nothing, dismissing balance for the sake of needless arguing. After all, a balanced perspective is boring and it often ends the discussion, but that’s no fun, is it? For photographers, it’s pretty simple: a “really good camera” isn’t going to do much for someone lacking skill and vision (it COULD even hamper them). Likewise, the most skillful photographer in the world, confined to the wrong tools or shabby equipment, will likely come up short in the final product. This is a universal philosophy in any art or trade, and it’s really not that complicated. People polarize the debate to death with, “tools don’t matter,” while others cling to their brand or tool, being the ONLY thing to use.
The Right Tools for The Job
Years ago, I often had to use slow consumer grade lenses for smaller media press work — low-light concerts, for example. No matter my skill, my images were NOT going to be as clean on grain as those with brighter, sharper glass. I got great results through lots of shooting, editing, and skill development, but more appropriate tools would’ve made a difference. As well, a refined pro or artist with a sharp eye can often see the subtleties between one lens and another (especially a low-grade consumer lens, versus a high-end optic). This counts for fulfilling their vision, as well as consistently meeting the standards required by various buyers and agencies. It can be equated to a master musician hearing the slight subtleties of one hand-crafted woodwind instrument vs another; two identical clarinets produce a slightly different tone. Tools matter.
The Camera Doesn’t Make the Photographer
On the other hand, I know some photographers — very renowned for their work — who swear Nikon or Canon is the only system to use. Nonsense. Nikon and Canon BOTH dominate the pro market because of their vast support of gear, service, and establishment, which is an excellent reason for a working pro to choose one of the two, but the higher end products from most any other brand are spectacular in quality, as well. This is where skill and vision count over tools.
And then there are non-photographers who think they’ll get MUCH better results by having a “professional” camera. Easy access to tools has become the disease of the modern DIY movement. A “really good camera” is only as good as the photographer behind it, and some of the most brilliant images have been photographed with the most basic equipment. When I photographed nightclubs in South Florida, one of my favorite cameras to use for the awesome club lights and personalities was the drop-dead simple Olympus Stylus Epic — a $100 film camera with a fixed, bright, sharp lens. It had basic capabilities, and I knew how to manipulate the club lights to get some edgy images. The camera was also very concealable, and while it was more of a consumer camera, it probably sold to more pros as their pocket camera due to its no-frills, basic, quality design. Unlike the bells and whistles mega-zoom point and shoots of the day, it was more about technique. Skills matter.
You can’t nail a screw into a wall — at least not very well, no matter how skilled you are. No, the tools don’t make any craftsman, but the right tools for the job DO count. A mediocre carpenter drilling a screw into the wall will likely outdo a master carpenter trying to hammer the same screw. Skill, vision, and tools — they’re ALL essential. Do you get too hung up on your lenses and cameras, or are you holding yourself back because you’re overly determined to make the job happen with inadequate tools?