Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the camera

I get it: the point of saying, “It’s not the camera, it’s you,” is to get photographers off lusting over the latest gear, and get them out shooting with the gear they already have. But you know what? Sometimes it is the camera. Consider this photograph.

Bags of dirt
Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200

I took it with my Canon TLb, a 35mm SLR. I used a 50mm f/1.8 lens and Kodak Gold 200 film. I probably shot this at something like f/2 at 1/500 second. The lens lets me focus as close as about one foot.

I made this photo a minute later with my Voigtländer Vito II, a 35mm viewfinder camera, on Kodak Gold 200. It can’t focus closer than about three feet, so I had to stand farther back from my subject compared to the Canon SLR. And its 1/300 second top shutter speed and f/3.5 maximum aperture meant vastly different depth of field.

Bags of dirt
Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Gold 200

I know this subject isn’t really that interesting. But the point is: there may be some shots your camera can’t get that some other camera can.

know that any reasonable SLR will let me move in close and get that creamy background effect. But what interesting work can I do with the Vito II? The camera on my iPhone? An old box camera? Creativity happens within constraints. Pushing a limited tool to its limits is where surprising and outstanding work can happen.

And I might do some of that work were I not having so much fun shooting my SLRs!


12 responses to “Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the camera”

  1. Richard Armstrong Avatar
    Richard Armstrong

    One could fit the Vito with a Close up lens (Proximeter in Voigtlander speak) and maybe get a similar shot but when you have an SLR why bother unless you like a real challenge.

    Regards Richard

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  2. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    But isn’t the challange part of the fun of trying to get the best we can from an old camera, as well as the tangable aspect and beauty of the camera.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Absolutely! That was my point in the second-to-last paragraph, well, at least the “get the best we can” part!

  3. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Yes, Jim! With a good enough camera arsenal, it’s beneficial to pick specific cameras for specific projects, because each one will make you work a different way, and will affect your results. It’s why so many people shoot street photography with rangefinders, why many landscape photographers use medium and large format, etc.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s one of the wonderful things about collecting old film cameras: I have a whole arsenal of tools I can choose from for whatever job I want to approach. For 80+% of what I shoot, I can use any of my 35mm SLRs with a coupled light meter. But there are just times when one of my medium-format cameras is the right thing, or when I just want something small to slip in my pocket for casual shooting (such as my Olympus XA), etc.

  4. eppaar Avatar

    How close you can get depends on the lens not the camera. Some SLR lenses do focus closer than 3 or 4 feet. Rangefinders generally do not do closeups because of parallax constraints although they may focus with in 2 feet (Argus C3 for example).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, you’re quite right. I tend to conflate lens and camera a lot, as even with my interchangeable-lens cameras I tend to have just one lens.

  5. pesoto74 Avatar

    I remember back when I was first into photography I read an article where a guy talked about how it was important to learn what your camera and do and not do. He said most technically bad photos were the result of someone trying to make a camera do something it wasn’t capable of. I think one reason why I have been so taken with our times of being able to inexpensively get so many cameras is that it is fun to learn what a camera can do well. I tend to think that there are very few really bad cameras. Instead there are photographers who expect a camera to perform outside of its limitations. I do suppose why I like SLRs is that they seem to have the most wide range of capabilities.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes!!! On all counts. I thought when I started collecting again that I’d be a rangefinder guy, but the SLR is really where it’s at for me – because it is so versatile. Only wish is that one could fit in my front jeans pocket.

  6. Sam Avatar

    Very good post Jim! And you’re right, photographers always like to say “it’s not the camera” but as you said and showed so well with the pictures in this post, yes sometimes the camera matters! :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam!

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