Back in the day, photography was something exclusive to a select few; not only was it expensive, it was also inaccessible and complicated. With the digital revolution, smartphones, Instagram, suddenly everyone is a photographer, and I guess me included. In a way, it has democratized the whole business. A lot of people study photography. They spend unbelievable amounts on photography equipment, but most of them will likely never earn a dime for their work, and the photographic accomplishments that they do make will probably get lost in the forest of pictures on Facebook or Twitter, maybe earning the occasional thumbs up. As the value of good photography decreases, is money spent on photography equipment for amateurs well-spent?

I got my first DSLR for Christmas in 2009, and ever since I have become hooked. The ability to capture a moment, an emotion, tell a story, is addictive. What is also addictive is buying new gear. Faster lenses, stronger and more flashes, flash triggers and other accessories, camera bodies… you name it; I want to buy it. While I agree 100% that it is the photographer that makes the photo, and not the camera, I must also confess that better equipment makes it so much easier. I have a Nikon D5000, an entry-level crop sensor DSLR, but over the summer I got to shoot with a professional full-frame Canon EOS 1D Mark 4, with a set of the best lenses, and the difference was monumental. I was able to take photos in dark lit conditions, and get super-sharp photos, in conditions where I normally would leave my lens cap on, with my D5000.

I don’t think that my camera limits my creatively, but I am certain that I miss many good shots just because my equipment can’t handle it. I think there are very many people in the same position as me. We are photography-enthusiasts, we love and study photography, but we will most likely never become a professional photographers. Hell, I’ll probably never make enough money to pay for my first camera. They do say:

The quickest way of making money at photography is by selling your camera

With the new Nikon D600, Canon 6D, photography equipment is ‘cheaper than ever’. But, as a soon-university student, any money is a considerable investment. I could afford spending a couple thousand euros on camera equipment, but is it worth it?

Studio photo shoot with my good friend Diego

I will probably progress much faster in learning photography if I bought better equipment, not just because I would be able to take photos in a greater variety of circumstances, but perhaps also because I would feel that I have already invested and committed in the task. I will also be able to take less blurry, less grainy, sharper,  photos with a smaller depth of field; what many would say is a ‘better photograph’.

Another advantage of more expensive camera equipment is that it looks fancier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not striving to look cool with a big-ass large camera, but I would say that people definitely associate the price of a photographers equipment to his seriousness in the art. This was apparent when I went traveling around the outskirts of Shanghai with my uncle. I carried my D5000, and he had his 5d Mk2, and 1D Mk4. Stepping out of my modesty (which some claim doesn’t exist *cough*) for a second, I can say with absolute certainty that between me and my uncle, I take the better pictures by far; and he agrees. Despite this, people were much more impressed with him, and just assumed that he was a better photographer. People would even come up to him and say, translated from Chinese, “Wow, that is something. You must be a famous photographer”, and ask him to take their photo. With more expensive equipment, people think you are better, it becomes presentable in a professional context; this could be a huge benefit.

But at the end of the day, I will most likely not make any money doing photography, and while I enjoy taking photos, it’s not essential to my life, such as food, housing, etc. Is it irresponsible to spend so much money on just a hobby?

What do you guys think? Should I, as an amateur (forever amateur), spend some (read: a lot) of money on camera equipment or on something else? Discuss it in the comments.