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Photography with a 35mm camera used to be a relatively simple affair. Camera bodies seemed as steadfast and unchanging as your grandma's hairstyle, and there seemed little reason or need to constantly upgrade your equipment. Sure, there was always the latest and greatest camera innovation, but there wasn’t always a 'need' to change. Film choice had more of an impact, in my opinion, than did your actual camera equipment. One's personal artistic vision was more important than the actual camera used. Today, although these general tenets of photography and equipment still exist, gear does play an ever-increasing role of importance in the final output.
Editor's Note: This is a guest blogpost from Photographer Mark Fisher.
Throughout my 20+ years of experience with cameras and lenses of all types, the process of photography has not really changed. My ever-evolving cache of gear—be it lenses, bodies, flashes, or any combination thereof—has allowed me to push my photography in new directions, and has allowed me to grow as a photographer. As my skills grew, I outgrew my gear, and I longed for faster lenses, cameras with better autofocus, and flashes with TTL metering.
I come from a highly-artistic family, and I was encouraged by my parents to pursue the arts in one form or another. Being the perfectionist that I am, I always struggled with my impatience, and the 'imperfect art' that I produced as a result. The camera made sense to me, and it was exciting. My first-ever camera was the Kodak Disc Camera, which did little more than ignite my love of image making, and the photographic process in general. At that time in my life—1984, to be exact—I was living in Dubai, UAE. Prior to moving to Dubai, my dad had invested in a Canon T70. This was the first 'real' camera that I was exposed to, and when I was lucky enough, I was able to use it.
My first official photography class during my sophomore year of high school cemented my love of photography, and laid the foundation of my understanding. Shortly before this class, I had inherited my grandfather’s camera system; a Nikon FM2, a 50mm prime lens, and a Vivitar 285 flash. It was an amazing camera, and one that I used for many, many years. Photography was simple back then; I rolled and developed my own film, I had few lenses, and I focused on the basics. This camera was perfect. In fact, this camera system lasted me until 1997, when I acquired my first autofocus camera, a Nikon F70. I missed the ruggedness of the FM2, and comparatively, the F70 felt cheap. But I couldn’t afford 'pro' camera bodies at that time, and really, the F70 was just fine.
I ended up shooting on Nikon's system until 1999, when I began working with a commercial photographer in Germany. He shot with everything from 35mm to 8x10, including Canon. It was an amazing apprenticeship, and during that time I was lucky enough to shoot on everything from a Linhof 4x5, to one of the early pro digital SLRs, the Kodak DCS 460. Looking back at that dinosaur of a digital camera—it didn’t shoot a RAW file, was 6 megapixels, and cost over $25,000 new—it’s amazing where we’ve come in such a short time.
More than any other gear, I got hooked on Canon glass, and I’ve never been able to go back. There is something incredible about Canon glass. I’m not a technical zealot, so I’ve never bothered to research or read details about Nikon vs Canon glass, but Nikon always felt harsh to me. Canon, other the other hand, has such a magical 'softness' to it, even though the lenses are still tack-sharp. I promptly sold all my Nikon gear at the time, which wasn’t much, and have been on the Canon program since.
Here’s a quick evolution of my Canon 35mm camera system:
1999: Canon Elan IIe
2001-2005: Canon EOS 3
2005-2007: Canon 20D, sold Elan IIe
2006-2008: added Canon 5D
2007: Added 1D Mark III, sold 20D
2008: sold EOS 3
2009: Added 5D Mark II
2010: Added 1D Mark IV and 7D
2011: sold Canon 7D
2012: Added 5D Mark III, sold 5D Mark II
I never leave home without my Canon 5D. I've had all three generations of the 5D. The latest generation can actually be a good sports camera. But the full-frame sensor is the only way to go, and the image quality is incredible. It's also lightweight, which is important. The video capabilities are second to none in the DSLR video world.
Lenses I Currently Own (all Canon):
50mm f1.2 L prime
85mm f1.2 L prime
24-105mm f4 L IS lens: The Canon 24-105 f/4 IS lens is my go-to lens. I have quite a love/hate relationship with this lens. On the one hand, it is indispensable and super-versatile, due to its focal range, and the image stabilizer is really important for video. If I'm going light in the mountains, for instance, this is the one lens I take. But, it's not the sharpest lens, and I really wish it went down to f2.8. If there was a 24-105mm f2.8 IS lens, it would—in my opinion—be the perfect lens.
100-400mm f 3.5-5.6 L IS lens
1.4 and 2x teleconverters
Canon 600 EX-RT flashes (2)
The digital world has progressed rapidly, and with DSLRs, camera technology seems to be even more important than ever. New sensor technology, in particular, makes a huge difference in final output. I now find myself anxiously awaiting the latest new camera release, aching for features that I want. And I feel that with digital, the camera has taken on an ever-important role, as it dictates the final output so much. In fact, more than once in the past 10 years have I come close to switching back to Nikon, just because of some technical advance in their cameras that surpassed Canon. Thankfully, I never made the switch, because in my opinion, Canon has a huge leg up in the video world. But that’s a debate for someone else, on another day.
Who knows what will happen over the next 10 years. With an array of 4K video-capable cameras shooting with 35mm glass now on the market, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen. As much as I’d like to deny it, a bigger, fancier camera, such as a Red Epic, really does make a difference in final output. The host of production tools available to small filmmakers makes a huge difference as well. Ultimately, though, photographic tools should enable you to achieve your vision, not define it. The most expensive camera in the world is only as good as the person behind the lens. And the only certainty in my world in terms of gear is that there will always be some other item that entices me.
For now, I’ll stick with the trusted and exceptional Canon system I’ve developed over the years, and focus on the execution of my vision.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo Video Pro Audio