Source: Jakob Owens (@jakobowens1)  on Unsplash

Source: Jakob Owens (@jakobowens1) on Unsplash

005 - Of Gear and Pixels

by Lucius Felimus | September 3, 2020

As a photographer, perhaps the question I get asked the most is:

"What camera do you shoot with?"

Whenever I hear any variation of these words, part of me genuinely wants to help them out; and another part of me just wants to facepalm about how gear-oriented photography culture has become - considering the fact that this is the very first question that people must ask.

Just to get it out of the way, I shoot using a Canon EOS 1100D (DSLR), a Fujifilm X-A3 (mirrorless), and my smartphone. My lenses are either the default kit lenses that came with the cameras, or vintage manual lenses that can be bought for cheap.

Why do I use them?

The Canon is actually a hand-me-down from my family because they barely ever use it. It became my "proper" practice camera for figuring out which settings and focal lengths work for the kind of photography I do. Once I felt that the size of that thing was limiting me, I saved up for and upgraded to the Fujifilm mirrorless camera. Even if it has better specs and twice the amount of megapixels, I consider the single biggest "upgrade" to be the fact that it's a lot smaller and more lightweight than the DSLR - which means I can bring it with me more often. Plus, it's the most affordable mirrorless camera I can find in stores. As for my phone... well, everyone has a smartphone these days.

You may have noticed that I'm not really particular when it comes to brands. The Canon camera was just pretty much given to me for free. The Fujifilm? Well, the most affordable mirrorless camera I can find just happened to be a Fujifilm. While I do use those brands, I don't really consider myself to be a "Canon Shooter" nor a "Fuji Shooter". I don't really care what brand of gear I use or what other photographers use - all I know is that they're devices that can take pictures.

I still don't get why photographers have to identify themselves with a particular brand. Forgive me for coming off as a bit elitist, but to me, it all sounds like petty tribalism. Before you come on to me about all the differences and features that each ecosystem provides - well, sorry, but I'm not interested. You may have a point, but it should be up to the photographer to decide which camera they like, and I already have my reasons.

I'm constantly on the search for like minded people, so I've been joining many online photography groups on Facebook and elsewhere. In most of these communities, I can't help but feel disillusioned about how much people talk about gear rather than techniques or even photography itself as an art form. When I was a newbie photographer (to be honest, I still am), I would often find out how ridiculous the price tags are on "decent" camera gear that other photographers use. As someone whose passion for photography is far greater than what my budget can allow for, I often felt discouraged about what I can't afford. Because of this, I decided to do what I do best - fight back and prove a point.

I made it my advocacy to show the world that photography can be fun even with only basic gear and cheap lenses. That's why I never really see myself buying any expensive high-end gear in the future - I want to make do with what I have and what my budget allows me to. I want to inspire people to keep taking photos instead of being discouraged about the gear they have - no matter how "less" they may be.

Of course, I won't stop you from buying gear if you want to. But what I'd like for you to consider is how that piece of gear will actually impact you and your photography. I don't want anyone to fall into the trap of what we call in the photography world Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or GAS. Just because you've seen some famous photographer (or a highly-experienced pro, even) use it, doesn't mean you should too. Just because there's a new camera model out there that has better specs than yours doesn't mean you have to upgrade. Actually, I highly discourage anyone from doing this. In most cases, it's better to just stick with what you have because chances are, you already have good enough gear that already does the job you're trying to accomplish.

Since I only shoot with low-end gear, many of my photos have some imperfections in them, although most people (fellow photographers included!) don't even notice. As for those that do, they're a whole other can of worms - we call them pixel peepers.

Sometimes, when I post my pictures to Reddit or Facebook groups, people complain about blemishes in my pictures - most of the time it's noise, but other times it's vignetting, lack of sharpness when zoomed in, or fogginess. While I try my best to minimize them, it's usually not enough to eradicate them completely, but just enough to keep them from being too distracting.

So, instead of imperfections, what I like to call them instead is character.

I'll give an example. Because I almost always shoot at high ISO in low light, my pictures have noticeable grain in them, which photographers don't take kindly to in general. I used to apply obscene amounts of Gaussian blur in my earlier work to help conceal the grain. As a result, they become foggy instead (which I also liked for the atmospheric effect it gives).

"Pink Noval"

"Pink Noval"

But even then, there are some people who would complain about the fog.

So I thought, screw it - I can't please everyone. I'll just make what looks good to me, according to my own eyes.

Recently, I've been learning to embrace grain as part of my aesthetic. If you look closely at this picture, which is one of my favorites by far:

"Condominium Belt"

"Condominium Belt"

The grain is very noticeable, but I think it adds to the picture rather than ruins it. The "pixel fog" effect caused by high ISO grain looks very cyberpunk!

Another use I've found for grain is to add to the gritty dystopian effect that makes the environments look more "rugged":

"Neon Underbelly"

"Neon Underbelly"

I don't think I would have captured the same feel if I removed the ISO grain completely!

After all, my photography is never meant to be about realism and technical perfection in the first place. As I said in a previous blog entry, it's all about worldbuilding. I try to go for a more surreal "painterly" look rather than trying to replicate the real world.

While I think it's important to learn the technical side of photography to minimize blemishes that you don't like, take a step back and see if your pixel peeping gets in the way of your creativity. The vast majority of people who view your work probably won't even mind nor even notice any minor imperfections; only you do.

What you should try to focus on instead are concept, composition, and technique - three things that gear and pixel-peeping have very little to do with.


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