Can we stop pretending gear doesn’t matter? I’m not saying this from atop a high horse, because I’m as guilty of parroting the old “it’s not the gear, it’s the photographer” line as anyone else. I say it because we’ve turned a debate with an infinite amount of grey area into a black-and-white, yes-or-no, one-or-the-other question, and it’s hurting beginners, intermediate, and advanced photographers alike.

Gear matters. It REALLY matters. And when you ask photographers the right way, they’ll tell you so, as I discovered when I shared the following impromptu Twitter poll about a month ago:

I didn’t ask “is it the gear of the photographer that matters?” That would likely have ended up a landslide for “the photographer” because it’s become almost taboo to answer “gear.”

I asked “What’s the best financial investment you’ve made for your art?” Financial because I wanted to eliminate “time” or “practice” as the obvious non-financial investments. I wanted to see what people spent their money on, and what made the biggest difference.

800+ answers later—not the biggest sample size, granted, but not insignificant by any means—the answer at the top totally surprised me.

Surprise! by Simon Roy on

Spend enough time saying “gear doesn’t matter” and you start to believe it, internalize it. It’s easy, because it’s not entirely untrue. A command over composition, understanding of light, appreciation for color theory, and the objective beauty of the scene you’re standing in front of all have a massive impact on the quality of your photography.

A smartphone or cheap camera is a great way to force yourself to focus on these crucial aspects of photography, and in that sense the gear DOESN’T matter.

So why, then, did “Gear” win my poll? Why did “Educational Material” come in a distant third and “Workshops” dead last of the four options? Because when you approach this question from a financial standpoint, the biggest, most instant bang for your buck comes from the gear… period.

20/366 - Love Photography by Luis Valadares on

The instant quality jump you get by moving from a smartphone or cheap point-and-shoot to an entry level ILC (mirrorless or otherwise) can’t be overstated. And you’ll see that jump even if you have only the most rudimentary understanding of photography as an art.

Photo snobs (*raises hand timidly*… I’m one too) make fun of the moms and dads who pick up a consumer level DSLR and kit lens from their local BestBuy to go photograph their kids’ sports games. But without a single ounce of training or further investment, do you think the photos they’re capturing now are much better than the ones they were getting with their cell phone? You bet your ass they are.

Free educational materials are everywhere, so why spend money on paid tutorials? Workshops and photo trips are expensive, time consuming, and fleeting.

Gear, on the other hand, falls into this financial sweet spot where you can spend a grand or two on something that will have an instant impact on your photography and last you many years if you treat it right.

Vintage Camera Lover by Alberto Suárez on

Gear matters. Let’s not forget that, or scoff at beginners who are tempted to buy a camera that is probably beyond their ability to understand and use properly. Above all, let’s embrace the subtlety that a question like this demands.

My favorite response to the poll came from amazing photographer and artist Alexia Sinclair, and it captures that subtlety beautifully. “All crucial” she replied simply enough. When I pressed her for more, here’s what she had to say:

Gear = Basic Requirement.