November 16, 2010 in Essay

Zack Arias is not right: Photography gear does matter!

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Listen to the statement of Zack Arias in this video at 38:50min:

I cannot stand such populistic statements anymore.

Words, often said, won’t automatically become truth.

This is excessive strobist hype bullshit!

Those who are telling us “gear doesn’t matter” are not sharing the whole story. Let me explain you why:

I differentiate between the technical quality and the artistic quality of a photo.

The technical quality of a photo

The proportions of influence due to technical “gear” on the quality of a photo are (imho):

  • 60% lens
  • 25% body
  • 10% other gear
  • 5% retouching software

If you are agreeing only a little with this statement you know gear is in relation with the quality of a photo.

The technical aspects are limited. But you cannot measure the quality of a photo because the biggest responsibility for the quality of a photo is lying in the artistic aspects of this photo.

The artistic quality of a photo

That’s for sure: You can boost the quality of your photos working on your artistic vision and style. The artistic aspects of a photo aren’t measurable. There are so many things you can do or combine for a unique photo.

Artistic aspects are theoretically unlimited.


Here lies the key to understand the statement of my blog post.

The truth is that without gear there is no art. Technical gear is building the fundament for your vision.

In other words: Technical possibilities are limiting your visions. So…

Photography gear does matter:

  • Without a wide angle lens it is hard to capture wideness.
  • It is impossible to shot a macro without a macro lens.
  • Wedding portraits in a dark church cannot be shot without a great lens and a camera with good noise reduction.
  • HDR visions are nothing without software.
  • And for sure the possibilities in terms of speed, contrast and bokeh with a 85mm f1.2 prime lens are better than on a cheap kit zoom lens at 85mm.

Gear does matter because it defines artistic possibilities.

Photographers who are really successful with their art are not working in strobists minimalism. They are working with high quality gear!

Those who are on their way only working with a small flash, a camera and a lens listen:

You are not alone!

It is like thousands of people are drawing with the color red and thinking they are reinventing painting.

For sure all outputs will be really red.

Most strobist gurus are more selling a good idea and building a personal success on that idea rather than selling their photos. In business terms this is a GREAT idea!

But if you are on your way becoming a strobist fanboy be aware of it:

You are caught by one idea with thousand of other photographers!

Why painting in red if there are so many other colors to express emotions and visions?

The strobist gurus are not sharing the whole story with you. The truth is more complicated than you can tell it with the phrase “gear doesn’t matter”!

  • Without gear there is no art. Gear defines artistic possibilities.
  • The more gear you have the more possibilities you have to define a vision.
  • You have to know the possibilities of gear for your personal vision to make the right technical decisions. You have to master your gear than it won’t need much gear to take your “best photo”.
  • Artistic aspects are much more important than technical aspects.
  • Everybody can buy gear. So everybody can buy the same photography possibilities. But nobody can buy artistic vision. Artistic vision makes your art unique.

Most of the time I will agree with the statement “less is more”, because:

  • You have to be clear to decide for less!
  • If you are working with less you have to work on your visions!

And I will agree with the statement:

Gear is not so important than artistic vision.

But to be precise and fair there are more words to be spoken. So, not all of the time, less is more.

What do you think about the strobist hype?


  1. November 20, 2010 at 15:38

    Glyn Davies Photo Artist Ltd


    Hi Olaf

    Just found your blog after you started following me on Twitter 🙂

    These guys are entitled to make those statements, as for some people, maybe them, then it is an absolute truth For others, they feel they need expensive gear to take better photographs, but this is also total nonsense.

    What of course matters, is that a crap idea and a bad eye will never be helped by pro gear, but a brilliant idea and a good eye will always show through even if the camera is basic, the lenses cheap and the edge resolution poor ! 🙂 In point of fact, I went to see a Bill Brandt exhibition at London’s V&A a few years back and I was amazed at how soft (ney almost out of focus) some of the images were, as Zack says, yet no one would ever deny Brandt was a brilliant photographer.

    All of this is dependent on final usage. If you are a commercial photographer shooting ad campaigns for 48 sheet billboards then your iPhone is going to struggle, but if you only ever make Ltd Edition prints at micro sizes from an iPhone then you could be just fine.

    What always makes me laugh is the number of number of equipment obsessed amateurs who buy flagship cameras but never print anything more than A3 on an ink-jet printer.

    However, and this is the main point, we DO now have access to great gear, great software, great printing and so on, so the question would be WHY would we use crap gear when so much good stuff is available, that would just be stupid. The hope of course is that at least a handful of people use real intelligence and real creative observation/imagination, to capitalise on the gear, at the moment the gear is way beyond what most people produce on it :-))

    Best wishes and an interesting thread, nice one

    1. November 20, 2010 at 15:59



      @Glyn: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is also a question about limitations. Whether I have imitate myself because of my budget or limit myself because I wanted it. But good gear is for possibilities and a creative boost comes from creativity.

  2. November 17, 2010 at 23:51



    I fully agree! I am pushing the limits of my gear and need to upgrade (worn) everything right now. Not too mention I get me students to take pictures in the worst lighting conditions during my workshops and there are actually turning out acceptable due to the amazing new sensors.

    I think Zack and a few others need to come back to reality instead of spewing the philisophical Bull$#!t. Sure I can take a killer image with an iphone, but will POWDER mag accept it? Hell no.

    1. November 18, 2010 at 08:50



      @kurtis: it depends on the photo. considering it shows a plane in hudson river and opens a new dimension in journalism maybe it would be shown.

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  5. November 16, 2010 at 09:20



    Hi Olaf,

    I am totally with you! I love the “strobist movement” but all the idols of that movement are always equipped with the best.
    Sure there are situations in which equipment isn’t that important but in most cases I tell myself “if you had that piece of equpment you would have been able to shoot this scene more interesting”.
    I started with a nikon d70s and a sigma 28-75 4,5-5,6, then upgraded to d80, d300 and now a d700. Sure the difference between a d300 and a d700 isn’t that big than the difference between a d80 and a d700 but saying that Equipment doesn’t matter is simply a lie.
    Same scenario with light, bags, filters etc.

    I think the most important is the mix between talent and gear. This issue is worth to be discussed but now.


    1. November 16, 2010 at 09:44



      @Tobi: If you know the possibilities of gear you have done a great step. And if you know your artistic possibilities you are on the main road. The rest will come with success, investments or Santa Claus. 🙂 Thanks for the comment…

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