So, my friend J.D. and I are up photographing along the South Fork of Bishop Creek in the Eastern Sierra. It’s autumn, there’s excellent color in the aspens in the valley, and we’ve scouted the area the previous day to estimate when last light will fall on the aspens. We arrive ten or fifteen minutes before, set up our tripods, find our compositions, and casually embrace the “If it looks good, shoot it….” rule, shooting as we chat and watch the shadow of the valley wall creep towards the edge of our compositions.
That last moment approaches, and just then….
…just then, a white pickup pulls up along side of the road. We keep shooting, a couple of guys get out of the pickup, ignoring the amazing light right in front of them, cameras in hand. They wander up and start talking to us about our cameras. “Do you prefer Canon or Nikon?”
What I should have answered, had I been willing to spend a few brain cells on it, was “Yes.” But I don’t think they would have embraced the Zen. Instead, I politely asked if they’d wait a moment, shot through the remaining minute or two of usable light, and then got to their question. I explained some of the things I thought each brand did a bit better than the other, and that I had Canon largely for historical reasons. Which is what they really wanted to know, but probably not what they really needed to learn.
What they really needed to learn, although they didn’t know it, was they were wasting their energy on a question that it wasn’t that important to get right. And losing good photographs while they try. Yes, then, as now, there are differences between the Canon and Nikon (and now Sony, etc.) lineups. At the time Canon had better ISO performance and was the only brand that embraced full-frame digital sensors. Today Nikon has better high-ISO performance on average.
And y’know what? In a sense, I can understand why that seems to be so important. We spend a lot of cash on a good digital camera body, it’s entirely reasonable to want the best value. But, at least for the last six or eight years, the differences between the two lines have been very small when measured against the relentless march of progress in improved sensors. If those minor differences in quailty are important to you, you’d be better off keeping whichever brand of lenses you already own and buying the new body that will surely be out after the next Photokina.
While I desire high resolution sensors and sharp lenses as much as the next photographer, I have to tell you, the folks who actually buy photographs, with the exception of one or two photographers, aren’t going to notice the differences in the quality of the images taken with one modern DSLR vs. another. What they do care about is whether the image is generally beautiful and generally well-crafted, and whether the subject of the photograph is memorable and/or meaningful to them. (Oh, and whether it goes with the couch.)
There’s an old photographic maxim, “f/8 and be there.” f/8 isn’t always the right answer, but there is no substitute for “being there.” You can’t take a good photograph if you’re too wrapped up in your equipment to shoot, or to see, and the quality of a photograph never taken is meaningless.
Don’t be those guys.