Gear is often a controversial topic. On the one side there are those who obsess about it and seem to be photographing only for the sake of buying newer, better gear. On the other side there are those who say gear doesn’t matter at all. It’s the person behind the camera which matters.
While I generally agree with the latter group of people, I think there are instances when gear can completely change your images.
My Nikon D5500
I started taking pictures on the streets using my first DSLR – the Nikon D5500. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a great camera! It served me more than well while I was still learning the basics of street photography. There came a point however when I began to feel like it was holding me back.
For one, it became too slow for my workflow. As I progressed and had more routine in spotting good moments, the autofocus and the bulkiness of the D5500 often made me miss scenes because it became slower than my eye.
Additionally, the camera started being too conspicuous for the way I wanted to work. I wanted to get into the scenes and be closer to the subjects. Yet sticking a DSLR with a big, fat lens into someone’s face isn’t the best way to stay under the radar, not to mention to stay out of trouble.
But the biggest downside for me turned out to be its portability – or the lack thereof. It was so big that I always had to take a special bag with me. I couldn’t just stick it into my pocket and go about my day. Therefore, taking pictures wasn’t part of my day-to-day life but instead always something on its own. I constantly spotted potential images but only sometimes had my camera with me to capture them.
To sum it up: I felt like the mechanical and physical features of the D5500 kept me from working the way I actually wanted to.
The Fuji XT20
Maybe out of desperation and brainwashing by the Fuji-Mafia on Instagram, I decided to invest into something smaller, lighter and faster: The Fuji XT20. I’ve often thought about buying a second camera. But I had always put off the thought by saying that it’s me creating the images, not the camera. Meaning a new camera won’t bring me better results.
As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Making the sudden switch from bulky and slow to small and fast made me feel nearly invincible. Sure, the quality of the images themselves might not have improved over the D5500. But the XT20 allowed me to get in situations unnoticed which would have been disturbed by just raising the Nikon to my eye.
With features such as the tilting screen and the fast autofocus I could take in perspectives which before were difficult to pull off. The thought “damn…I wish I had my camera right now” became a thing of the past because since I had the XT20, it’s constantly waiting in my pocket ready to fire. And while I had discovered zone-focussing for myself mostly out of desperation about the D5500’s slow autofocus, having a camera that nails focus as quickly as the Fuji cameras do made shooting a pure joy and improved my hit rate a lot.
New gear can make the difference
So where do I want to go with all this?
Generally, I’d say don’t waste your money on new gear. Neither is it going to improve your compositions nor your timing and the quality won’t change noticeably either. Instead give yourself a boost by spending that money on travelling, workshops or photobooks. Invest in yourself.
But one of the most important aspects for street photography, in my opinion, is that you become one with your camera. It should be an extension of yourself and never stand in the way of getting a shot. So, if you feel like physical features such as size and ease of use keep you from taking the images you want to take, then I’d say investing in new, more suitable equipment might be the right choice.
In that instance gear does matter. It won’t be what improves your images per se, but it’ll be what brings you more opportunities to do so.