“It doesn’t matter what you look at, but what you see.” - Henry David Thoreau
And it doesn’t matter what camera you use, I feel like adding to this very true quote that is leading my work since I started. One of the questions that I get asked quite frequently is about the gear I use for HUMANS (and sometimes also why I use it). A question I always hesitate a bit to answer. Not because it is not important, but more that I feel that quite often it is about the camera, full-, half- or whatever -frame, megapixels, sharpness or noise instead of the real crucial questions. At the end I always think today there is only one important question in all that left and that is (maybe) about the lens you use, because that is deciding a lot on what you photograph or how and what your images tell at the end.
So, before we started HUMANS, I had a couple of decisions to make. First of all, I knew that this whole project is about people and creating a close connection with them. This made me somehow uneasy with big cameras, big lenses, big gear, because it can be quite intimidating for the subject to pull a big camera to your face and aim people with it. Another point was that I would have to carry it all the way through Africa as well. The next decision was influenced by the fact that I wanted good video capabilities with a lots of manual capabilities as this is beside the pictures the other essential part of the project. Bringing a camera like the Canon 7D or 5D for that, made me start sweating just by thinking about it, as a lot of extra equipment is needed for shooting proper video with them (adding to the already heavy equipment).
So it came down to something compact, light, easy to carry, maybe flip-LCD to directly show pictures to people or looking at them while taking pictures of them. The decision at the end came in with the contact I got with Panasonic that offered to support the project as they loved it and believed in it. And after I took the Lumix GH2 out for some proper testing for both video and photo, I was sure that it would be possible to use it for this project and work professionally with it. The only thing I had to get used to was at the end actually the compact size, something I had been looking for, but now in my big hands it felt very different than my big DSLR. Also the Electronic Viewfinder and I needed a bit of time to get used to each other (now we have a ok relationship, also using his big brother, the LCD frequently).
The choice of lenses were pretty much influenced by the aim of the project or in general by how I take pictures. I have two bodies with me, equipped with the workhorses these days, quite similar to what I use on the DSLRs. These are the wideangle zoom 7-14mm/4,0 (equals 14-28mm on fullframe) and the primelens 20mm/1,7 (equals 40mm on fullframe). I would love the new Leica 25mm/1,4 sometimes as 50mm (Fullframe) is pretty much my go-to lens on the Canons, but it was not available at the time and it is far less compact. Sometimes I use the Leica 45mm (90mm on fullframe) for portraits, that’s it. The rest is mainly for playing, like the fisheye, or as backup and I only bring it because I saved so much weight and space with the rest. In case of a breakdown of one of the lenses we have the Vario HD 14-140mm and the 14mm/2,5 in the bag as well.
Now, a couple of months into the project, I’m happier than ever with the decisions we made. The compact size of cameras and lenses allow me to carry everything always around with me while it’s weight is maybe half of what I would have brought with the big DSLRs. I mean, two bodies, six lenses all in a messanger bag, what are you more asking for? The flip-LCD actually changed quite a bit how I shoot, way more often trying different angles and having closer interaction with the subjects. And while I don’t wanna talk about the pixel-beeping on the pictures, also here I feel that the lenses and camera is bringing more than enough quality to fullfill my needs. The video-capabilities are beyond what is possible with my DSLR and all with less gear around it.
I know, this sounded now like an ad for Panasonic, but at the end it doesn’t even matter at all that it’s a Panasonic camera. You have to bring what fits your needs. For some jobs it might still be the fullframe DSLRs, but at the end, no one cares about a picture that has 24 Megapixel, because it has 24 Megapixel, but because it is a great photograph. And if it is a great photograph, it doesn’t matter if it was made with a cheap compact or your phone or a high end DSLR (as long as it is not supposed to be printed on big billboards). The only thing that counts is that it is a great photograph.
So when I get asked what equipment I recommend to take great photographs, at the end there is only one reply: The most important tool are your eyes and that they know how to see. The camera is only there to capture this.