Point & Shoot, My A**

In Creativity and Inspiration, GEAR, Rants and Sermons, Vision Is Better by David119 Comments

This March, I spent more time making photographs with my iPhone down the coast of Oregon than I did with my D3s and Pelican cases full of gear. Many of the images I made in those days are among the best of my recent photographs; unobstructed by all the gear I was more able to play. But not once did I simply point and shoot.

Point and shoot is an attitude, an approach to photography; it is not – nor to my mind should it be – a category of cameras. So while this post is more of my usual hair-splitting over semantics, I believe it’s important. It’s important because it says something about how we think about the tools we use and – more importantly – perpetuates the same kind of nonsense as the trumped up importance given to Pros. As in, Buy This Camera, Shoot Like a Pro. The implication is that we should want to shoot like a pro because to be a Pro is to be at the pinnacle of this art. I call bullsh*t. But that’s not my point.

When the Fuji x100 was announced there were mixed reactions, as they always are when a new piece of gear is released. We polarize so quickly on some of this stuff. Many of the reactions could most easily be summed up in a comment from a friend on Twitter this evening.Β  The x100 is just a $1200 point and shoot camera.

It struck me as a funny thing to say. And the more I thought about it seemed completely irrelevant. Not the comment, so much, but the fact that that comment should even mean something to me. And that something is: that’s serious money for a camera that’s not serious. Might not be what my friend meant, but it’s what I inferred and I’ve heard it elsewhere unambiguously.

So what makes a camera serious? Must it be a $3200 body with a $1800 lens? Does it need a certain sensor size? Must it be a DSLR? At the most basic our tools are boxes with a hole in them. Our media are time and light. We use optics to create a quality of focus and manipulate the geometry in the frame. We need to control the amount of light coming into the box, knowing that doing so with aperture and shutter allows other aesthetic effects. But as far as I know, beautiful photography has been created with pinhole cameras, antique rangefinders, and iPhones, as surely as a Ltd. Edition gold-plated Leicas and $10,000 pro-bodies have produced an astonishing quantity of crap. The recent enthusiasm towards plastic lens cameras (eg Holgas) is a great example. I’ve seen some incredible work created by photographers using the Holga and I’ve seen work I think we’d all agree was junk, even with a gracious and liberal allowance made in order to avoid being called a “snob”.

My x100 is a beautiful camera. It does everything my Nikon D3s does in terms of creating a simple, compelling photograph. It has constraints, to be sure, but I see those constraints as an opportunity for greater creativity, not less. I’m unlikely to serve clients with this camera, but I’m very likely to create work that I’m most proud of with it. And at no point would I describe my approach to photography, regardless of the camera I hold in my hands, as point and shoot.

Point and Shoot. The words imply automation. They imply a lack of intention and care. And to me those words trivialize the efforts to create something beautiful with these fundamentally simple and elegant boxes. To me it’s about the way we approach the entire art, however it is we do that. I guess my point is this; you can point and shoot, if you choose to, but your camera can not. Having a serious camera is not the point and never has been, because in the hands of an artists, a child’s toy will create beauty. Client needs aren’t the issue, that’s different. That has to do with the best tool for the job argument. My plea here is that we alone accept responsibility for creating something great, and we do it with the camera we most enjoy.

I suspect I’m naive and idealistic in hoping we’ll see an end to some of this nonsense anytime soon. It’s perpetuated by the same engines of commerce that want to convince every still photographer that their career is in peril unless they learn video – a completely different discipline and language. I’m probably banging my head against the wall, and I’m OK with that. Where I take it personally is when my friends, readers, and students –Β  people new to the craft and so full of enthusiasm – are convinced every 12 months to part with serious money because they’ve been convinced the newer, bigger cameras, are more serious. And they go from promise to promise. Red herring to red herring.They learn to divert what was once an enthusiasm for making photographs to an enthusiasm for better and better cameras. God forbid they should be caught making photographs with a point and shoot camera.

Get a camera you love to use. Make photographs you love. If that’s a simple, used, $50, beat-up 35mm camera, or a $700 iPhone, or a $10,000 Mamiya, just do what you love: make photographs. Leave the pointing and shooting for others. Your photographs are judged on their own merits, not the tool you used to create them.


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  3. Well said, David…I have a little 7mpx ‘point and shoot’ camera I still take photographs with. I love it, because it is my ‘every-day’ camera πŸ™‚ I wouldn’t use it for client portraits though πŸ™‚

  4. Lots of people get caught up in the camera settings. The most important things in photography are composition and lighting. You can do the basics with any camera.

  5. Thanks, David, for reminding us that it’s not the gear that’s most important — it’s the photographer, the eye, the creativity, the vision to capture a moment in time.

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  8. Well said David!
    I’m amazed at how many tools there are on the market that go somewhat against the expensive camera theology. What is with all the Holgas and lens-baby items? It is all about creativity and vision, and whatever tool you use (point and shoot or expensive SLR) to create your vision is not the point.

    I recently enjoyed the “What the Duck” comic strip (http://whattheduck.com/strip/95)

    Bystander: “Your camera takes really nice pictures.”
    Duck: “Your mouth makes really nice compliments”

  9. Well said, David. Great post.

    I would have to say I wish I always had my 5DmkII with me, but these iPhones are amazing. I’m even teaching my 2.5 year old nephew how to take pics with it!

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  11. Fantastic points! I admit I have a DSLR, but I use it most frequently in autofocus/auto macro mode while manually holding down the flash. And more than half the time, I use my iPhone. It’s there when the photographic moments in life appear. What more do you need, really? πŸ™‚

  12. My camera fits inside a cigarette box and I love it. Does exactly what I want/need 90% of the time. It’s composition that counts most. Like a chef, once you get that down you can make masterpieces in a kitchen of any size.

  13. Good points in your article. The only thing si the ability new technology brings. While I shoot with an old Canon 400D I borrowed brothers latest 550D to bring to Italy. Many of the cathredals etc I need the ISO3200 to even get a shot – I could never do that with my 400D. The only reason I would upgrade would be to enjoy the higher low noise ISO settings that the”latest” gear allow. Loving Italy and can see why this area draws you so much.

  14. Thank you for this great input!
    Nice to read.

    And the “point & shoot” Fuji x100 looks pretty cool. πŸ™‚

  15. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    ‘Point & Shoot’ and ‘Snapshot’ are two phrases that always set my teeth on edge and raise my hairs.
    I’m by no means a Pro and I do not spend hours to wait for the right light, etc.
    But I DO think when taking photos (most times). And it always made me wonder: What gives people the right to use categories or words like that?
    I can’t play with words as well as you do & obviously need more coffee or my thinking cap. But I wanted to at least tell you that I really like this πŸ™‚

  16. Some of my best photo’s that I love and others have liked as well; were composed and taken with my iPhone vs the $3,500.00 worth of Nikon gear I have. Great article…thanks

  17. David, correct me, but I thought this might be relevant, as IMO “snapshot” is the historical term for point and shoot… cheers!


    Gary Winogrand (Interview with Barbara Diamonstein 1981)

    D: If you don’t like “street photographer,” how do you respond to that other Γ¦tiresome phrase’, “snapshot aesthetic”?

    W: I knew that was coming. That’s another stupidity. The people who use the term don’t even know the meaning. They use it to refer to photographs they believe are loosely organized, or casually made, whatever you want to call it. Whatever terms you like. The fact is, when they’re talking about snapshots they’re talking about the family album picture, which is one of the most precisely made photographs. Everybody’s fifteen feet away and smiling. The sun is over the viewer’s shoulder. That’s when the picture is taken, always. It’s one of the most carefully made photographs that ever happened. People are just dumb. They misunderstand.”

  18. Point & Shot is a state of mind rather than a reflection of the equipment you have / use. We can have a point & shoot attitude with a Β£10 or a Β£1000 camera. The technical capabilities / refinements / customisation of more expensive cameras may allow us more ‘freedom’ or give us more ‘leeway’ to express our vision, but they aren’t absolutes to achieving a vision. An artist usIng only a basic charcoal stick or a graphiti artist with spray can still produce a work of art, in a similar way that a painter can with more expensive oils & canvas, though their tools are more restrictive or basic. The more expensive equipment used by the painter doesn’t make their work a better piece of art, just different, perhaps more detailed. A more basic camera, stereotypcally referred to as a point & shoot camera will produce art of a different vision compared to a DSLR due to it’s limitations but the master of a such a camera will wring every last ounce of art from it.

  19. I picked up an X100 2 weeks ago because I was tired of lugging my Canon 1Ds and lenses everywhere. I absolutely love the portability and the fact that it’s reminiscent of the film range finders I started out with.

    Most surprisingly, after spending the weekend at the Santa Cruz boardwalk this past weekend I came home and found that I shot fewer photos that I would if I’d taken the Canon and the 70-200, probably because without the “crutch” of the zoom, I was forced to think much more carefully about the composition.

    The truth of this post is that at the end of the day the tools are just boxes with a hole on one side and it really doesn’t matter what you use. For me, the 1200 was justified because the camera is so attractive and small that I have no excuse to not have a camera with me, and the choice of camera itself has forced me to start thinking about my compositions more carefully and has reminded me that my photography doesn’t have to be all work, but can be something I love for the sake of itself.

  20. Hey David,

    I love your rants and I agree with 99% of this one. A good point and shoot got me back into photography, but to change the subject a bit….

    You have some time on your hands now, and everybody can benefit from some quality entertainment, so I have a suggestion.

    Get yourself a copy of the DVD of your fellow countryman, Leonard Cohen’s β€œLive in London” and prepare yourself for one of the greatest, artistic concerts of all time. His backup musicians are totally fantastic and his performance is spot on. His voice has grown to fit the music. You won’t be disappointed, you will enrich a few hours of your life.

    Just in case you have caught it on PBS, they don’t do the whole concert, they leave out some of the very best songs.

    If you like β€œart,” this is it at its very best…

  21. david

    yes, one of the art/craft audience here, listening to you.

    the origins of “point and shoot” come from Herschel’s coining of “snapshot” in 1860, although the camera’s did not catch up to his concept until later. Herschel’s analogy was to the gun trigger in hunting.

    If we want to be hunters, well ok. But I demur. The analogy is no longer relevent. We have cameras now that are faster than we need. Lenses are better than most photographers. An analogy that points to hunting, gear, is just not relevant. It’s tired, a worn cliche.

    So, the concept came first. You are on target to point to the idea, the conception as primary.

    So what is the new analogy. The brain.

    We do not need to pay attention to the gear ads. What we do need to pay attention to is attention, cognition, visual organization skills, focus, the frontal lobes that let us plan what we are going to do. We must attend to 30-40 connected ideas we have BEFORE we even touch the gear.

    To understand our art, as photographers, means understanding what is in our brains. . .how our visual system sees.

    Now, I have nothing against the P/S audience. I just click on images that have thought, experience, sweat and imagination behind them.

    Great post, David.


  22. Author

    Keith, you’re right. But I’m not writing to that audience. We all photograph for different reasons and there are people that will want a point and shoot camera for just the reasons you stated. My hair-splitting is for a more specific audience – an audience that comes here to discuss the art and craft of photography more than just “snapshotting.” But I think it’s important to remember that we all do this for different reasons. So consider your $0.02 heeded. πŸ™‚

  23. Hey David tried to post last week…. Glad to hear your recovering nicely, though slower than you’d probably like.

    While I love the philosophy behind your rant I would I guess disagree to a point. Like others I would say there can be a category called point and shoot and it was developed by the millions of people who want to do just that. Turn it on, point it and shoot to save a memory (a snapshot if you will). They want to know its going to be easy (no manual futzing, no extra lenses to buy, smaller form factor, etc). Many of these cameras have the additional capability of manual features but are often buried inside menus or are much more difficult to do so on a regular basis. So while they have that capability it is not the primary objective of the category. To me if a company says it’s a point and shoot, the general population non-photogeeks understand what that means. (The Fujix100 doesn’t really seem to fit this category in my opinion.) When my grandma goes to best buy and says “is this easy for me”?
    A salespersons can say, “Yes its a great point and shoot camera” and and she knows what that means… It’s primarily an auto everything camera. I suppose they could call it an “instamatic” but then Kodak might get a bit cranky πŸ™‚

    point and shoot as a catagory I personally don’t have a problem with. P&S as a philosophy I have some problem with but recognize there is a place for the snapshot as I am constantly reminded by friends and family that not everyone wants to spend 20 minutes making a photograph but they want memories too.


  24. They do. The words. When you think about how much can go wrong when communicating with other beeings, it’s quite a surprise how good this process usually works even in average/mindless situations . So I am all for mindfulness in using language.

    What other word do you use for “shoot”? The original meaning has more to do with throwing stuff at others. With photography the process is actually the opposite: Opening up and letting in light.

    But this might not be the right place to discuss this.

    Thanks for clearing up my question!

  25. Author

    Christopher – To your first question, I would of course answer unequivicably Yes. That was the point of my article, beyond the fact that I reject the term point and shoot.

    To your second question, it’s really a question of semantics. I get what you’re saying and to a degree, yes, there comes a point for some photographers when they shoot in a way that seems very instinctive. But part of my point in this article is a rejection of the language. I don’t buy the notion that any good photograph is simply a result of pointing and shooting – this oversimplification denies the much more complex internal process that makes good photographs what they are. I’m all about getting to the point of zen, to borrow your language, but Zen, as I understand it is about mindfulness. Pointing and shooting, as I understand the words, is not.

    Don’t even get me started on the use of the word “shoot” which I’m also increasingly uncomfortable with. I know words aren’t as important to everyone as they sometimes are to me, but I think they matter.

  26. Thank you David for posting such a revelent subject. Sometimes when a new friend or co-worker sees my photos, they say “Wow, you must have a great camera.” They don’t know that they just insulted me more than if they would have said the images look like crap. So the ONLY reason the images are good becuase I have a nice camera? Thanks a bunch…
    My classes now include ALL types of cameras, including cell phone cameras. I teach that there is no such thing as a lousy camera, just lousy attitiudes. As an excersise I have my students only use a cell phone for one class. You should see the level of creativity just jump! They do much better with the fixed focal, zoom with your legs, quirky perspective cameras. After that one class, the quality of images shot with “real” cameras increases tenfold, but many times the shots with the cell phones are the best of the class! Point and shoot? Nope. No such camera. Save it for skeet…

  27. I can’t agree more with your sentiments David. I’ve always said you can make good and bad photographs with any camera, regardless of its cost.

    I’ve had little time to shoot with my very old DSLR recently so have been forcing myself to keep my creative eye trained by using my mobile phone whenever I can. I’ve realised I’m definitely thinking more and taking more time.

    I’m pleased with the results and am having fun, which I think we all sometimes forget to do.

    One example -> http://tinyurl.com/3l7wzaj

    Wishing you a steady recovery from your injuries.


  28. Beeing able to make nice photos with a point and shoot would be the sign of a true master photographer, no?

    Beeing able to point and shoot (and producing great pictures) to me implies mastery of your gear and wide awareness. Like black-belt, zen master, top pro photographer.

  29. I’m so thankful for you writing this; I’ve bookmarked it so I can re-read it when I feel the urge to “buy X camera b/c it will make me shoot like a pro.”

  30. I agree entirely with you. Maybe we should just call them compact cameras and be done with it. It’s silly to use an action term to describe gear now that I think about it.

    I do think that sometimes just “pointing and shooting” can provide interesting results though. Granted, it’s not the normal point & shoot exercise that normal (ie. non photography folks) people tend to do, and for which I assume the name was given. I for example, have been exploring a series on movement by using slow shutter speeds and shooting while moving, which means I can’t really look through the viewfinder and compose. So I basically point and shoot. But with some thought to it.

  31. Great article. I think you are correct and the
    temptation is to always wait to upgrade cameras. but, I graduated from a point and shoot canon, to a d90 with a goof prime lens 50mm, 1.4 and my pictures are marginally better with new lenses and better sensor. but, the only features ive needed are still basic, being able to adjust aperture and shutter speed. Your main point is crucial, you cant teach creativity or rather, more advanced gear does not constitute great images. Good technique and creativity (seeing) are essential to making world class images

  32. Right on the money David!!Here in Tampa at th Florida Museum of Photographic Arts(fmopa.org)is the new Ansel Adams exhibition.I’ve read his books but I’ve never seen any of his prints in a gallery.I was just floored by the clarity and detail in the shadows and highlights.Most of them were taken circa late 30’s into 40’s. all with Large Format Cameras and no Technology.I walked away thinking..Wow these are really works of Art!! Enough Said..Be Well…Mike

  33. Perhaps what “Point & Shoot” really means is “doesn’t have a [usable] viewfinder.” ;^)

  34. A camera, like a guitar, is just a box with a hole in it. Until it is placed in the hands of a true artist, it will not make music, only noise.

    Origin unknown to me but a poignant quote I keep with me.

  35. Spot on – great post David.

    Nor for a slight dissent…

    I love to point and shoot – it makes for some of the best pictures, period. But let me qualify…when a non-photographer “points and shoots” the results are typical – we seen the pictures Aunt Jenny took at the kids soccer game…we have seen THAT picture thousands of times growing up, whether with old film cameras or the newer digital compacts.

    I am talking about the seasoned pro or amateur who are capable of wonderful photography. Once the basic skills of composition are second nature, mixed with your individual style and hunger, lifting the camera, composing in 2 seconds and just shooting can create outstanding images on a regular basis.

    Of course I’m not against laboring for a shot – I did many last year in Florida – but the less we think, sometimes the better, imho.

    Now for the implication you would not use the X100 for “client work”. Really? I have images made from the Olympus Pen that just rock and could grace the cover of any magazine – not that I took them, but that the latent image quality in the modern DMLC (Digital Mirror-Less Camera) is that good. I would hope you “sneak” of few of your non-D3 images to World Vision and see what happens. πŸ™‚

  36. Hi David, thanks for the reply. I’m in San Diego at the moment, getting ready to head to The Philippines for a few NGO shoots and a photo tour, then to Cambodia for more NGO assignments and my first annual Angkor Photo Workshop. I really hope that some day you’ll be able to participate as an instructor. David, my invitation to you is always open, just let me know when you can be involved. Be assured that Gavin, Matt, Marco and I will raise our glasses (mine with a Budweiser) to you at this year’s event, wishing for your speedy and complete recovery. Cheers, Karl

  37. David,
    You are sounding like your old self again! Welcome back. I hope that physical progress is keeping in step with the your renewed mental prowess. Continued blessings.

  38. Karl – Hey man, always great to hear from you. Hope things are treating you well. I’ve thought often about your post about the thrashed cameras – you’re the post-boy for getting as much life out of your gear as possible. If more people were like you, well more people would have more money in their pockets, for one. We might also be one step closer to camera manufacturers and retailers following our desires instead of creating them.

    Be well and travel safe my friend. Where are you these days?

  39. Hi David, Thanks for this post, I like the fact that you’re covering this topic again, it’s worth repeating So many websites perpetuate the idea that folks need new gear in order to make better pictures and that’s just not true!
    I did a post a while back entitled “thrashed Canons” with pictures of the beat up gear I was using to make a living (just google “thrashed Canons”) In that post I said “These cameras may look like hell, but they work fine. Please remember, you don’t need the latest, greatest camera gear to make a living in photography. Find a camera system that works for you, learn it like the back of your hand, and you’ll probably make great pictures.” I went on to say “Don’t worry too much about gear, concentrate on what’s in front of the lens and how you’re going to compose and expose the shot. When they hand out Pulitzer prizes, the judges never ask what kind of camera the image was shot with, or whether it was shot on film or digital! ” Anyway, David, I just wanted to weigh in here and reiterate what you are saying. Get well my friend. Cheers, Karl

  40. I have always taught that it is the photographer who takes the picture, not the camera – it is just the tool between eye and subject, and if you haven’t got a good ‘eye’, an expensive camera won’t achieve any more than a cheapie. I have had images published off disposable cameras, as well as ‘P&S’, compacts, SLRs and DSLRs – each does its own thing, but the human eye is the real image capture device πŸ™‚

  41. David, I always enjoy your thoughts but I have to ask. Whats wrong with point and shoot? I see it in your work all the time. You just put a lot of thought into “where” you point and “when” you shoot. So to me, every camera is a point and shoot. LOL get well soon.

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  43. David, I hope you are feeling and getting better.
    I enjoyed this post. I have at times (maybe many times) been caught up in the idea that a particular camera is for serious work while another is just a toy. I sometimes label a camera as “point and shoot”, but never really felt that it was changing the way I took photos. I always try to get the most out of my shots, regardless of what is with me on the day. Or so I thought. I too now have the beautiful little X100. I was having so much fun walking around Sydney the other week with this camera while my D700 sat in my room. However, at some point I realised I was ignoring certain shots because I didn’t have my D700 with me. I was thinking, although not a 100% conscious about the fact, that what I had in my hands was not up to the task of the shot I wanted. You know, maybe the camera couldn’t get the same shot that I had in mind. But, I could certainly try and be a little more creative and come up with different ways of taking the shot with the fixed lens beauty I had. For the next 5 days, I carried my X100 with me. I was happy that I did, because I jumped out of my sand pit and started playing with different ideas.

    This post, along with your latest post on taking some risks in life, has come at an important time and point in my life. They have really helped me manage some difficulties I have had in my art, and more importantly with my current fear of flying.

    Thank you for sharing so much all the time David.


  44. Thank you, David. You bring the best side–devoid of snobbery and elitism–to the art of photography. Your words encourage me to take more photos and instill within me, even more adamantly than ever before, that we must follow our visions with whatever equipment we have.

    Love you, David! It is always wonderful to read what you have to say.

  45. Hi, David,

    Well said. I just got my first entry-level Canon DSLR last week (law school grad gift). So most of my photos in my 1-year-old foray into photography have been done on a $200 Canon “point/shoot.” Coincidentally, I just recently posted a night shot of the Bay Bridge (using my tiny Canon) to my site and included your quote “Gear is Good. Vision is Better.” I love the shot and the time I had creating it, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?

    By the way, great job on Vision & Voice. Just started it, and it’ll be one of my escapes from Bar Exam study.

    Rest up, and take care.

  46. This is why Mozart at the age of 5 sitting at his kiddie harpsichord was able to create beautiful symphonies and other works of art…it’s not the tool, it’s the artist! πŸ™‚

    Been enjoying the new attention you are giving here, but also hoping your mending continues…thanks for the words of inspiration! πŸ™‚

  47. You know I was recently looking over some prints I made from my old D70 using an 18-55mm Sigma kit lens. They are some of the sharpest images I’ve made to date. I’m not sure if it’s the sensor siZe coupled with the digitally-optimized lens or what, but I’m seriously considering putting this combo back in the bag!

  48. @Greg: you wouldn’t want to shoot sports with an iPhone if your goal was to get action shots that look like those shot with a Nikon and BIG ASS lens.

    However, if you wanted to do a series that looked like all candid shots taken by the players themselves (as if said players had a GREAT sense for photographic composition…and they stopped mid-play to snap a few FB photos), then an iPhone-esque tool might be the perfect/only choice to create that illusion.

  49. It’s funny how we can be made to feel (of make ourselves feel) like we are cheating if we got a great moment/great look using a cheap camera.

    In my world (TV commercials), shooting with a 5D II, a ‘professional’ DSLR, is considered amateur by ‘serious’ cinematographers. But it’s what I can afford and I like what I’m getting.

    Last fall I got beat-out on a gig because my competitor had a $30,000 *RED…and the spot ended up looking like $#@%!…not just my opinion, but the general consensus within the local industry.
    (*a RED is a KICK-ASS, professional digital movie camera)

    As such, I don’t advertise what gear I use because it’s not considered ‘professional’. Instead, I just show my work, get the gig, then show up on set – unapologetically – with my ridiculous little camera.

    ALL that to say, the whole discussion about whether a camera is ‘serious’ or ‘professional’ or whatever is as relative as it is moot. If an artist with a vision had both sufficient talent and sufficient skill at his craft, he could create an Oscar winning animated short using a Bic pen and a few rolls of toilet paper.

  50. Author

    Greg, agreed. You won’t want to do sports photography with an iPhone. But this is all part of what I mean when I talk about the best tool for the job and using the camera you love. Perhaps my big point is that only you can determine that and being prescriptive for anyone but your own self is impossible. The question, what is a serious camera and what is worth spending money on to pursue this art, that can only be answered by us personally.

  51. David, what a precise and wonderful thought! “Point And Shoot” camera can even be the most expensive one! This is a definition of a way of use but not of an equipment itself! Grrreat! I am sure to use this thought in one of my blog posts (with a credit to you of course!).
    But to be completely honest I must confess that I still think that some things in photography can be achieved only with good equipment. For example color landscape photography. Of course you have to be patient and persistent, and wait for the right weather conditions, and the right light, which speaks to you with a tiny voice from within, and when the time comes you simply know that this is the moment to press the shutter… but only good equipment will then create a good quality image which will be sharp (where needed) and will convey the colors in the best possible way. I agree that almost any kind of camera can technically create an acceptable quality image, but with good sensor and good glass the images will be technically better, and for example in color landscape photography it is a must in many cases.
    Though it is a tiny “objection” to what you wrote, and without the personal vision of the photographer photos won’t have soul, still I feel that this point should be made to complete the full picture.

  52. I just outed myself as adoring you as a photographer on facebook. By crikey, you’re writing some intensely wise and lucid stuff. I loved this, SO MUCH. Thank you!

  53. Author

    Thanks, Dawn. Could be while before my Instagram account gets used much. But with the new twitpic issues it’s inevitable I use it eventually. Right now I’ve got limited time for this stuff and writing about photographs seems a little easier than making them. Photographing in a hospital is a difficult thing for all kinds of confidentiality/paranoia/policy issues.

  54. Author

    Cynthia, the industry is a small, small part of the photography world. Far more people want to make photographs for the love of it, than want to make a living. As I said, this whole discussion is a separate one from a discussion about professional concerns. That’s a whole other ballgame with a whole other set of rules. Even the definitions we assign to words like “quality” will be defined differently, and as often as not by our clients and not us.

    If this were a discussion about commercial/professional photography you’d find me in very close agreement with you. But I write this blog for an audience that is much broader than the professional crowd, and for the people that simply want to express themselves and create art, the camera they love using is what matters. For some that’s a D3s with a 300/2.8, for others a Holga.

    I would be willing to bet that those that are starving artists out there are not starving because they don’t have the latest, biggest, and most expensive. In fact I’d also be willing to bet that many of those so-called starving artists are experiencing financial duress BECAUSE they’ve fallen for this nonsense and have purchased cameras that match their egos more closely than either their budgets or the needs of the clients they think they’ll attract with shiny big cameras. You can always rent a Hassleblad, you can’t rent passion, vision, or an eye for composition.

  55. Right on David. There are point and shoot photographers but a camera is just a camera whether it’s a Quaker Oats pinhole or that gold plated Leica. What comes out of the camera is the product of intent and skill. If you just point and shoot you are exercising neither intent nor skill no matter what camera you use.

  56. David, I think you hit the nail on the head. I totally agree. You can apply this mantra to just about anything, music, painting, writing … what matters is what you create in the end. Sometimes the process is more enjoyable and creative with simple tools.

    Thanks again for your blog. I appreciate someone who can put into words, what is difficult to quantify.

  57. Author

    Aaron, I like the way you think. Ultimately our photographs are all that matter. Some use the most tech possible, some use the lowest. But in the end the proof is in the photographs. Let the technogeeks geek out, that’s their prerogative. Energy is better spent making photographs. I don’t write my blog to convince the technogeeks – they have their own reasons for doing what they do and they seem harmless enough. I write to the others – the ones that got into this for the sake of the photograph and the chance to express themselves – they need to know the tech is never the point. And the recovering tech-addicts, well, they too are welcome here. πŸ™‚

    I like your use of the word evangelism. But in our case I think the best evangelism we can do would be in the style of St. Francis of Assisi, who said: “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” The best we can do is just make great photographs, if those alone don’t convince, then our words certainly won’t.

  58. Thanks for saying that man. As someone who’s still working through their own photographic-ness (I like to make up words) I had a serious epiphany.

    My daughters, age 6 and 3, are my primary subjects. As is probably the case with most dads.

    We were getting ready for school in the morning and in this one moment they were standing in front of the fridge and the one ray of sunlight came in through the window and illuminated their faces beautifully. I had my iPhone so I crouched down and said “Ok get ready”. They hugged each other and I got the picture. I never even thought about my SLR.

    It’s my favorite picture and made a gorgeous black and white. I’d put that picture up against any one that I have taken with my SLR or Micro 4/3.

    That was about a month ago. I now shoot for that feeling. Whether it’s landscape, portraits, whatever. My new mantra is “shoot for the soul”. Which, by the way, sounds way better than “shoot for the warm and fuzzies”.

    So I guess that was a long way of saying “preach it brother!”


  59. Maybe the best defense is a good offense. Case in point is a Toastmasters speech I gave last week about how to take great pictures. I set the stage with all my off camera flash gear, tripods, rocket blowers, and DSLR. Next I pulled the rug out from under the audience and told them none of the gear mattered. I backed up my statement with examples of cool photographs I made with my iPhone and a 3MP plastic Vivitar camera. I also shared with them how I thought about and composed the images.The audience was floored and I got more follow up questions after the speech than I can remember. This week I even got some cell phone pics from people using the knowledge I shared.

    If we believe in the message that gear is good and vision is better, we need to evangelize more as a community. I don’t think we need to riot in the streets or anything, but we do need to have the courage to call BS when our photogeek buddies are getting technowood over the newest gadget and losing track of the purpose of intentional photography.

    David, thanks for all the knowledge and wisdom you’ve shared! Get well soon!


  60. Author

    Scott, point taken, and yet most of the so-called P&S cameras I’ve looked at in the last three years have full manual controls and shoot in RAW. The image is King, that’s a great way to look at it.

    Cynthia Rankin, I think you are confusing technical perfection with compelling photography. Few hearts were ever moved by perfection. I too can, in some cases, tell the difference between images from a compact camera and, say, a D3x. But then I can also tell the difference – in some cases – between a D3x and a medium format. But that’s like saying you can tell the difference between oils and acrylics – it’s a comment only on the medium, not the photograph itself. I’m not sure what your comparison of handbags has to do with this, but again, it sounds like you’re more concerned with the tools of production than with the actual photographs. This discussion has nothing to do with “professional bodies,” it has to do with the creation of art, not client specs.

  61. Chris – good idea, I think until it’s pumpkin season I’ll fashion a watermelon pinhole… With vodka.

    David – yeah, it sucks that people think they need the best camera to make the best pictures, but it’s not just in photography that purchase price translates into apparent quality and, of course, status. Of course none of this has to do with your point of creating images and vision mongering, but I’m hard pressed to see them able separate anytime soon.

  62. To me, point-and-shoot is a description of the level of control a camera gives you. How many settings can you change, or does the camera do it all for you? My pocket camera is a P&S because the few settings it lets me change are irrelevant to the results. Sadly, changing those settings results in changes that can’t be seen once the JPG is on the computer screen. P&S is not a description of the process of pointing… Nor does it mean your photos are poor.

    I suspect the snobbery comes from the fact that if you do get a great photo out of one of these cameras, it is as much because the computer made good choices as you did. There will always be those who insist the hardest way is the best way. They can be safely ignored.

    I said it in an Amazon review, and I still think it: The image is king, the medium is a footnote.

  63. The focus on gear is also simply the easy way out.

    One, it’s an easy means of social distinction. Because all it takes is money. So you can show off your financial worth by buying a Leica, put up the image that you’re a “pro” by lugging around a D3X, etc. Have you ever seen how crabs establish a social order? They walk up to each other face to face (really close), stick out their claws as wide as they can, and the one with the widest reach is the winner. Same thing with humans and cameras. But humans are more eloquent than crabs, so they fill billions of forum posts defending their social worth in discussions of MTF charts, bokeh, megapixels, and all kinds of indecent “peeping” into the private parts of their cameras. All that is very easy compared to actually going out and working hard trying to create meaningful photographs.

    Why is it you never encounter the likes of William Eggleston, Sally Mann, Thomas Struth, or Gregory Crewdson on those forums? Because they’re too busy out there doing the real work, hangin’ out at the MoMa πŸ˜€

    Two, (which is partly a result of number one), gear promises an easy way of “improvement”. Instead of the drudgery of hard work, what could be a better move to improve your pictures than to acquire better gear? After all, all it takes is money. And if it turns out it doesn’t work, you will still have moved up a rung (or two) on the social gear ladder… πŸ™‚

    Three, (which is I think the biggest raison d’Γͺtre of gear-related forums), it simply provides people with stuff to talk about. People used to hang out in bars and clubs, now they hang out on forums. And cameras are a welcome subject around which those social gatherings can be organized. Same reason why you have horseriding forums, mountainbike forums, etc…

    So gear is important because it fulfills a lot of social functions. But those should never be confused with it’s function as a tool for the creation of Art.

    People who want to focus on art should not be bothered by the prevalent social obsession with gear. They should simply get out and do the work. Because, as Steven Pressfield so eloquently shows, in that area gear could very well be a particularly powerful incarnation of Resistance…

  64. For me it is similar to painters; they use pencils or charcoal to sketch ideas and be creative but for the final piece they may (or have to) use canvas and oils.
    I’ve sketches by Picaso and Dali and have been blown away by them, more than some of their finished work.
    Photography was the bastard child of science and art so we will always have the technical and artistic elements in our craft, some more of one than the other.

  65. Well said David. I find it quite refreshing when I meet a model for the 1st time, we chat, get to know each other, get comfortable & usually go take some pictures right there. I don’t bring much gear, usually cards,1 lens, & camera. What ever you have with you, make it work, it’s amazing how good the shots are if you dump, if I’d brought this or had a that, attitude. People come up to me on the street when I’m shooting, “You must be a pro with a camera like that, how do I do this?” I tell them I’m not sure about the pro thing but I am seriously lighter in the pocket for having a fancy camera. I take a shot, the same shot I’m taking with their camera and they’re amazed. I say try it yourself, you’ll see you can do it too. I think it was Tim Wallace who said to me “No one asked Shakespere what type of quill he used”
    Often the less gear I have the better my work, you don’t fuss about all the c**p and settings, power levels blah blah blah. See the light, bob & weave and see, maybe you’ll knock it outta the park.

    Enough of my ramblings, lets go shoot!

  66. I believe that the majority of people are not exposed to good photography. I am not necessarily speaking about a creative photo, just a good photo that is properly exposed etc. etc. I have people directing me all the time to A photographers website because they think that a particular photographer is “awesome”. Nine x’s out of ten I am disappointed, and walking away scratching my head wondering how they came up with calling “that” good photography. So I have concluded no matter what you use, a beautiful photograph is In the eyes of the beholder. I think that this fact leaves us that have a true passion to produce nothing less than perfect images with the best equipment on the market in hopes to eventually help people to truly distinguish between the brand name vs. the generic. I continually strive to perfect every photo in the camera before I ever post it online. I can tell the difference between a point and shoot and a costly DSLR. But my tastebuds have been exposed to the really goodstuff. To further clarify… I would never carry a fake Louis Vuitton, I don’t care how real it looks. Neither would I consider a point and shoot as my professional camera. The image may look good to the majority that doesn’t know any better but I’m afraid I’d eventually get looked over like a fake Louis.

  67. I am not sure, but I think it was Chase Jarvis (correct me if I am wrong) that once said: The best camera is the one you have with you, right now.

    I have been photographing as a hobby and in the real meaning of amateur for many years now. First starting as a youngster with a analog SLR, and of course, I was also led into the common camera club belief that bigger is better and that Nikon beats Canon, or was it the other way around? I don’t remember, and I don’t care anymore.

    I went into a long hiatus some years ago, and hardly shot a picture for 10 years. What got me out of that situation and into the digital arena, was actually a digital “point-and-shoot” Kodak that I borrowed from my work every weekend. Not directly small, but I learned from it, and some of the pictures I made from it are some that I cherish most, they describe all the fun my little family did when my daughter was young.

    That little Kodak sparked my photo interest again, and I have used a lot of cameras since then. In my head the term “point and shoot” therefore depict a small, easy-to-bring camera that capture what you might encounter there and then, and those cameras should not be looked down upon.

    However, your post made me realize that the term “point-and-shoot camera” maybe should be “compact camera” – again.


  68. I love this post. I shot with a Canon G9 and then a G11 for over two years. During that time I had a “semi-pro” friend constantly harping at me about how my camera wasn’t good enough, how it wasn’t a “real” camera. But, some of my favorite images were made on my G11- including one that was part of an exhibit at a local museum. Not too shabby for a “point and shoot.”

    I finally upgraded to an SLR, mostly for the faster autofocus and minimum shutter lag (I live in New Orleans and you have to be quick to capture everything that you want to at a Mardi Gras parade!) so I upgraded to a Pentax K-7. It had excellent reviews and was the most camera that I could get for the money. I bought it about a month after the then brand new (and much more expensive) K-5 was released. Suddenly though, in the forums, the camera that had tied with the d90 for American Photo’s Camera of the year was a hunk of junk and the new camera was the one to have…but you know, they are just going to turn around and say the exact same things about the k5 as soon as the k3 comes out (what the hell Pentax is going to do when it works down to K-1 is anyone’s guess). These people were perfectly happy with their k7s until the new version came out and then their old cameras were crap and the new camera would make them photography gods. Good luck with that.

    I love my camera, it works for me, and I don’t have to have a badge on it with the very latest model number proudly displayed to make art. In fact I spent part of the afternoon turning a $5 body cap into a pinhole lens so that I can experiment with a different form of photography than I’ve done before. It’s about creating, not purchasing- or at least it should be.

  69. My iPhone goes everywhere with me. EVERYwhere. and it has more imaging power than 3 or 4 compacts i owned since i gave up film for digital. but now that I am obsessively relearning to make images – on my dslr, books like yours, learning chemical-free darkroom via Lightroom — now I shoot with my iphone all the time. because i am SEEING more around me, and because my iphone is ALWAYS in my pocket.

    keep writing, keep healing!

  70. Good post mate, I’m very glad I went with the Canon S95 for my first ‘real’ camera. I like the constraints now I am used to them, it forces creativity.

  71. Great perspective, David. Some of my best pix were shot with what the industry would refer to as a point & shoot. I still enjoy using it even though I have a DSLR. πŸ™‚

  72. I think you just summarised why I call them “compacts,” or “compact digitals” if I’m feeling particularly wordy.

    You can point-and-shoot just as easily with my DSLR on auto, as you can with a compact in the same mode. It’ll simply give you a snapshot taken on more expensive equipment.

  73. Hi David,
    I hope you are feeling better and better every day!
    Excellent rant David! I completely agree.
    Can we hear one soon regarding photogs who upload every single solitary shot from each session; in colour, in sepia, in b/w… with selective colouring… geez, why don’t people get it that it’s better to only show their best work….
    Then by the time the viewer gets to the best work, {I’m} they’re bored to tears… or I’ve quit looking…plus; I convert an image to b/w because I see it in those tones, not in colour…and I don’t care what camera they use…
    Though I do have to admit, I’m sometimes curious about a lens…or a process…
    sorry… I guess I had a bit of a rant of my own, eh?
    Keep healing!

  74. Some of my best photographs were taken with a Canon A720IS “point and shoot”. I shot with it in manual from day one so I could actually learn how to operate the camera instead of letting it do the work. It was only after others enjoyed my work as much as I did that I moved up to a Canon T2i pro-sumer DSLR
    . I’m not sure that I’ve taken a better photograph with it. It opened up new possibilities but didn’t change the thinking or process that goes into the shots. I can enlarge a picture to poster size now and that’s the only true difference.

  75. I love reading your posts David and I do agree with your thinking … however this was bad timing for me. I just walked in the door with a new 50 f1.4G for my Nikon D90 and am excited to try it out!

  76. Great read as always David! Whenever anyone asks for my advice about making the move from point and shot to DSLR I always ask them if they’ve taken their camera off the auto modes. If they answer no then my advice is to save their money until they do. I worked my Canon G9 to death while I was trying to figure out whether or not I needed a DSLR.

  77. The big pro cameras are a better tool. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. If it wasn’t the case, Joe McNally, yourself, working pros, wouldn’t be getting them for pro use. What they do NOT do is make you a better photographer. They do not make you better at USING the tool.
    I used to shoot with a Nikon D60 (now a D7000). Chase Jarvis shoots a D3s. If we switched cameras, Chase would still kick my ass. Because he is a much better photographer than I am.
    If I had every “pro” piece of gear Nikon made for a year, I wouldn’t be published. Chase Jarvis got published with an iPhone.
    It’s not the size, it’s how you use it.

  78. David, I would understand it totally if you failed to see the benefits of your fall, but truly for us – your increased blog activity is a massive benefit!!

    Your last 3 blogs have been so strong and clear, and so spot-on! I teach English at a Chinese technology university, and 95% of my students wanted to be technology majors, NOT English majors, but teh system chooses for them. So, teh 1st semester they are here, their other teachers spend convincing them that they WANT to study English. So the line I hear really frequently from my students is, “English is a tool for communication”. So it relates to their ‘technology’ bent. And in the same vein, what you are saying is clearly, ‘The camera is a tool for communication’.

    Whatever we use to create that communication is pretty well irrelevant. The better we can use the tools we have, the more clearly we can communicate. But if we have nothing to communicate, then no tool in the world will do it for us. If my students have nothing to say in English, perfect pronunciation won’t be useful. If I have no idea what to communicate in my photography then my Canon 7D (which I love, but haven’t fully understood yet!) won’t help me.

  79. I’d like to argue that while there there are not “point & shoot” cameras, there are definitely “point & shoot” people. Regardless of the tool, I have sat through slide shows, posts and prints that lacked thought, subject or anything remotely compelling… It can be the product of a Mamiya or DSLR to iPhones; mediocrity doesn’t discriminate. Just sayin’ ….

  80. It’s the vision, not the camera. But having a little X100 around your neck or an iPhone in your pocket is a lot more comfortable than lugging a big multi pound DSLR. There is a time for each. Keep writing, your juices rare flowing!

  81. “Your photographs are judged on their own merits….” whew, am I ever happy to hear that. Someone wanna tell some of the gear gurus I’m constantly meeting who seem to want to suck all the fun from photography by telling me to upgrade my camera so I’m a more valid photographer?

  82. Thanks for this post. I’ve been toying with the idea of adding an iphone gallery to my website, because, like you, some of my favorite recent images have been shot with my phone. It has me “looking” again. A creative refresh.

  83. Thank you for sharing that David..! Some of my favourites were done with the ‘little’ olympus P&S camera I use at work..!

  84. Chris: With the right sized pumpkin, you might be able to make a pinhole camera. The pumpkin guts on the film might also give you some interesting effects. πŸ™‚

  85. David, your last few posts have hit so many personal notes it’s starting to become a little uncanny.

    Beginning with your personal story in Vision Mongers, which is helping me slowly see the potential of making a more serious transition back into a subject I learned at school with B&W 35mm film, to these latest posts which seem so timely in subject and context.

    Photography has been a passion and hobby for many years, even during the time when I traded in my SLR for a, err, compact camera, which was eventually replaced with a 2.0 MP Fuji Finepix 220, then a Sony Cybershot, and now almost full circle to a Nikon DSLR. Oh, and an iPhone, and a bunch of apps and web-services – the kind of things I get paid to do in my “day-job.” OK so it’s not quite like being a comedian. Unless we’re talking about the cosmic joke which has us all laughing and crying along the way.

    Anyway, after spending the last 3 months organizing 10 years worth of photos in Aperture, I have just uploaded a couple of sets, one of which is called Point and Shoots. The title is a little tongue in cheek for the same reason you have pointed out in this “message from the other side”, or wherever the drugs, sorry, meds are taking you πŸ™‚

    If you get any time during the final stint of your bed-in, please stop by to take a look. It would mean a lot.

    Keep the posts coming πŸ™‚

    Thank you


  86. David.
    You continue to amaze me with your thoughts. Whatever you do, don’t ease up on the pain meds any time soon. I really think your on to something! πŸ™‚

  87. Author

    Chris – that’s hilarious. Hard to put into your pocket, though. πŸ™‚

  88. Author

    Nothing wrong with that at all , Justin. The thing I like about your comment, and the tweet that predicated it all, is that it’s well-reasoned and non-perscriptive. Your needs will not be the needs of others. and vice verse.

    But I think the comment you just left has little to do with the prevalent and unfortunate thinking that goes on in the larger world of popular photography. I’m all for a vision that includes financial responsibility. I just don’t like the idea that we’ve begun to get so far from the main point of it all. Your comment was just a spring board – an excuse to rant. So, you know, thanks for that. πŸ™‚

  89. Sadly, the people who could most stand to read this will probably be the last to see it… too busy refreshing their browsers on Adorama waiting for their next camera to read this, much less actually go out and take photos. Lovely piece, though. πŸ™‚

  90. david, thank you for that awesome reframing (all puns intended) of the whole point and shoot thing.
    my little autofocus and iphone have never looked this interesting to me before! πŸ˜€

  91. I think it’s certainly difficult to form context on half a tweet, but I’m on side with your friend, at least the statement… Nothing wrong with that right?

    I have a $600 point and shoot, which I carried around with me for a year and a bit. I’ve sold prints I’ve taken with it, and it was certainly the right tool for the job when it was indeed used for a job (1/1000th sync on a G11? Large dof at f2.8? I don’t see full frame slurs doing that)

    But it’s a bit tired now, it still takes photos, the same photos as before, bit like so much in this field, for better or worse, it’s been replaced and is antiquated tech. That’s what a P&S really is: a computer with a lens.

    What I like about SLR’s, from a personal finance standpoint, is that the lenses are reusable, investments up front, that will outlast the camera body (the tech) that they are affixed to. So you can buy a great 35mm f1.4 lens that will work on a manufacturers cameras as long as they choose to support it.

    The x100 works for as long as it works, and then it’s dead. That freaks me out, my vision includes financial stability, my vision includes reliability. That, of course, from a working photographers standpoint. Would I love to walk around and shoot with the x100? Yes, but I see it as something that is marketed for photographers too. I don’t want anyone thinking they “have” to own it when somethingnhalf the price will work for them… It’s not the smart, impassioned, knowledgeable photographer I worry about, it’s everyone it’s intentionally being sold to.

    A lot of this is just my own self rationalization to NOT impulsively purchase this camera. I’ve steered my own mind to the similarly priced Canon 35 1.4 should my credit card typing fingers wander to the B&H website. To avoid it even further I’ve bought the Sigma f1.4 to quell my shallow dof needs… It is a compulsion to buy these new great tools and toys. One I need to keep in check, one I hope others think about thoroughly too.

    Nothing wrong with a little economic forecasting in your creative vision right!?

  92. Some of the best photos at my camera club are done on what is classed a point & shoot. You would be hard pressed to tell who is using a DSLR!

    I just upgraded my camera but I only bought what I needed. It was a discontinued model but it solved a few minor issues. Resisted buying one with video not something I do so not worth the extra cost!

    Love your rants.

  93. You are MY hero! For all aspiring
    photographers everywhere, thank
    you! “Your photographs are judged
    on their own merits, not the tool
    you used to create them.” Best
    advice I’ve heard all day.

  94. After 4 years beating the crap out of a Canon Rebel XTi, I upgraded to a Canon 5DMKII last month. I love it. It’s opened up a whole new level for my photography.

    but, yesterday, the light and expression were perfect for a few seconds and I took the most amazing photo of my dog at twilight with my Blackberry. It’s one I’ll keep forever.

    So yeah… what you said! πŸ™‚

  95. I always thought “point and shoot” was referring to a pistol, a la Clint Eastwood ripping a shot off from his belt as quickly as possible. He never even looks at the gun. He just points it and shoots it.

    That’s why I like to call myself a point and shooter with my camera. It makes me feel like Clint.


  96. Thanks for another great read, David. I’m absolutely in love with my X100 and have stopped posting EXIF data with my photographs because of thoughts similar to your last sentence. A pretty photo is a pretty photo, regardless of the tool used to create it. Cheers.

  97. David, thanks for this post. I utterly agree that the thought behind the image is the degree of difference that it takes, rather than the degrees of difference between gear. Thanks once again, for reminding us of this crucial point.

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