Day +626: Gear or Photographer, Part 1

I’m officially joining in on the debate of whether a “good camera” is all that is needed to produce great images. But instead of showing you how great images can be made with the top-of-the-line pro camera and lens, costing many thousands of dollars, I’m going to do the opposite, and subject an affordable, “hobbyist” camera and lens combination to a set of different challenging scenarios and see how it performs.

Can a cheap prosumer camera create images that a professional camera can? Let’s take a look:



Gear: I’m using a Olympus EM10 (mark I) + 40-150mm/f4-5.6 lens + pop-up flash. This combination can be had at any regular camera store in Australia for $1050 or less (and that’s for the Mk II version of the camera body). Compare that to say, a professional Canon DSLR (5D Mk IV) + equivalent (the Olympus is a full-frame equivalent of a 80-300mm lens), and you’re looking at $6700! And you’d have to add another $800 for a flash because the Canon does not have a built-in flash
Scenario: Mid-day sun, playground + beach

We know what results we will get with the Canon, so let’s forget about that. What we want to know is what sort of images we can get from a camera that is less than 1/6th of the cost.



This shot was taken at the park. Settings: ISO 200, f 6.3 @170mm, 1/250th, pop-up flash at 1/16th power.


This next image was taken at the beach, and all I can say is, YUCK! Anyone who knows me knows that I love to shoot wide open, because it blurs out the background and creates a nice “bokeh”. With my Sony gear, I would have shot this at f1.4, using flash with High-Speed Sync to fill in the shadows in the face. With the Olympus, I had to shoot this at 80mm, ISO 200, 1/250th with pop-up flash at 1/25th power. Because there was no HSS with what I had today, I had to shoot this at f13 (!) to show the face without overexposing the background, and hence the guys in the background are clearly visible and in focus. My other options would have been to not use flash, and use a reflector instead, or expose for her face and completely blow out the background.


This final image, like the title featured image of this post, was taken at the edge of the water, ISO 200 at 290mm, f 5.6 (the lowest available aperture for this lens at this focal length), at 1/2500th. I like it, but if I could shoot this at say, f2.8, the background would have been much nicer.


So, for this beach scenario, I managed to get some decent photos, but would have got even nicer photos (with less fiddling of settings) with better gear. I’m certain of this. Please note that all the images here have been adjusted in Lightroom, but Photoshop was not used. For most people, these images would be perfectly acceptable, and it’s up to the individual as to whether the much greater expense is justified.


Conclusion thus far:

There are clearly some PROs of the gear I used today:

  • Much, much cheaper gear. Especially in such an environment as this, where there is a much greater risk of damage to camera gear. If unfortunately, the camera fell into the water, it would have cost 1/6th of the price to replace
  • Much, much lighter. I actually brought 3 lenses with me (but only used one, because I didn’t want to risk changing lenses on a wet and windy beach)- the 40-150, 14-40 Pro (constant f2.8 lens), and the 25/1.7. All of these lenses fitted in a small bag which would barely have held my Sony plus one lens. The weight was barely noticeable
  • Reasonably competent photos. The autofocus was surprisingly accurate, and the dynamic range was good. Photos taken with this camera could easily have been blown up to a large size for printing
  • Much less intrusiveness. The beach was full of families with young kids, and to point a ginormous white lens might have drawn some unwanted attention

With pro gear, I could have got:

  • Much, much nicer bokeh, shooting wide open (wide apertures) with blurred backgrounds. The type of images that almost separates amateurs from professionals

How much is this worth to you? And if it is worth a lot, do you need it all of the time? Or is it the right thing for you to have 2 different systems? Only you can decide. But whatever it is that you decide, just go out there and have fun. Remember, find what you love to do, and then do it as often as you possibly can. Until next time…