The best camera is the one you have with you.
I don’t know who said that first – searching for a proper source is tough because it’s been appropriated by countless blogs, photographers, and even electronics manufacturers. But I think we all get the point – photography is about the photograph, not the gear. Pining for the next great piece of equipment is fruitless and wastes the energy you could be putting into the the next great piece of imagery.
There’s another, oft-stated meaning behind this post’s leading aphorism: regardless of how many and what sort of cameras you own, the best isn’t always measured absolutely by lens quality or megapixels or film/sensor format. You take the picture in front of you with the camera on your person and be grateful for having seen it at all. I’d combine these two meanings and say that if you want to take pictures you need simply have some form of camera – pinhole, digital point-and-shoot, or medium format – and have it with you as often as possible.
That’s all fine and dandy. I do happen to have a lot of cameras. Most of them were given to me, and some I’ve purchased. I only use a handful of them these days, but my clear favorite is a bulky and heavy Mamiya medium format camera. This thing weighs around 6 pounds with lens and metered prism attached, and I only get 10 shots per roll of 120-format film. I have two interchangeable backs, but this still makes for frequent film changing and a lot of weight to carry over my shoulder when in use. Now it’s easy for me to consider the capabilities of this camera and judge it my best camera. But due to its bulk I don’t often take it with me unless I have plans to use it. I was willing to lug it around Ireland because I intended to use it for vacation photos, for example.
I don’t just throw this beast in the car with me, however, when I head to the coffee shop. And I don’t take it with me to the office. And I don’t take it with me on any casual outings. Why? Because it’s cumbersome and inconvenient. And I sweat too easily as it is without carrying this thing everywhere.
But I think this needs to change because my real problem ends up being that I don’t take any other camera with me since the Mamiya is the one I really want to use. So this morning, for the millionth time, I saw a glorious photo opportunity…
…only I missed it because I didn’t have a camera with me at all. A combination of my laziness and stubbornness left me undone. If I’d taken any of my cameras with me I could have made the photograph I saw in my head. But I really saw that photograph in a 6×7 landscape format with all the detail of medium format film.
So here’s the thing: I already know that I love photography – taking pictures, processing them, sharing them with people. I’m faced with some choices, though: either get over my desire to use the Mamiya over my other cameras, or get over my feelings of inconvenience toward hauling around a huge camera. And the more I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’m going to choose the latter. It doesn’t mean I’ll never shoot 35mm again, but if I can make this work, I’ll probably shoot it less than I already do (for now).
Because isn’t it worth my sweat and tiredness to get the images I’m after? Isn’t it worth the inconvenience of dealing with short rolls of film? Isn’t it worth the more-often-than-not possibility that I’ll carry around a heavy bag full of gear and come home without having opened it? I’m not suggesting that everybody needs to use their bulkiest kit when they’re out and about. I’m just saying that, for me, I’m trying to get past my excuses for not taking the pictures I want to take. I’m not a working photographer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work for my photographs.
EDIT: For those asking, “What about your phone’s camera?” I’ll say this – about a year ago I accidentally dropped my un-cased iPhone 4 on to asphalt. I was lucky that the phone didn’t shatter, but the camera lens was scratched beyond use, unfortunately. So yeah, I do always have THAT camera, but unless I want all my shots to look like I smeared Vaseline on the lens (I don’t), the phone stays in my pocket.