Posted by: kerryl29 | June 4, 2013

Today’s Hot Question: So, How Do You Like the [INSERT YOUR CAMERA MAKE/MODEL HERE]?

Remember the guy who was “sick to death of stream photography”?  He did have time to ask me a question about my camera.

“So,” he said, “how do you like the D800E?”  At the time we were on Sparks Lane and I was in the process of setting up to take the photo you see immediately below.  I had been standing on Sparks Lane, eying the scene and trying to find the best position/perspective when he drove his car right into my line of sight.  To his credit he realized what he’d done and backed his vehicle out of the way, but then he got out and started chatting with me.  We had the scene you see below all to ourselves, and the light was changing by the second and he’s asking about camera models.  Sigh.

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

It was the fourth time during my week-plus in the Smokies that I had heard that question.  At first I’d been a bit startled; how did these people even know that I was shooting with a D800E?  I hadn’t noticed anyone stealing a glance at the writing on the front of the camera body that identifies the model…and, yes, I would have been aware of such a thing.  But then I remembered…the camera’s strap has the make and model of the camera on it.  If someone wants to, they can easily tell what camera you’re shooting, unless you use a third party strap.  Presumably that’s what this guy had done–looked at the strap on my camera.  He proceeded to tell me–I didn’t ask–that he was shooting with the non-E version of the D800 himself.  Or, rather, he would be shooting with that model, when he wasn’t gabbing.  He wasn’t set up to take advantage of the sublime light and epic sky that was rapidly disappearing that morning.  Why make images when you can be busy talking about gear?

And he wasn’t the only one, as I’ve implied above.

This begs the question:  why on earth does anyone care?  I can say without fear of contradiction that, when I’m out in the field, I have never attempted to determine what make or model someone else is shooting–not once;  I just don’t care and I’m a bit bemused that anyone else would.

I had received the same how-do-you-like-the-D800E question two days before.  As I was in the process of shooting a sunset sequence from Clingman’s Dome (see below), a woman asked me what I thought of the D800E.  That was the third time I’d been asked about the camera.

Clingman's Dome Sunset, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Clingman’s Dome Sunset, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

“I’m very happy with it,” I said, as I was confirming focus with Live View.

“I am too,” she said.  Turned out that she had a D800E of her own.  So why was she asking me about it?  Is this some form of validation?

Then there was the guy who approached me as I was photographing the Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove the day before the Clingman’s Dome incident.  He had a D3s–I didn’t ask, he told me unsolicited–and had no intention of getting a new camera.  Good for him.  Seriously.

Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Primitive Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The first incident had taken place on my first full day in the park, at the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, as I was struggling with a composition of moss-covered fallen logs amidst a carpet of fringed phacelia while attempting to deal with an annoyingly persistent breeze.  “So, what do you think of the D800E?”  It was the first time I’d heard the question and, as I mentioned above, at first I was perplexed as to how he knew that’s what I was using…and then I remembered about the strap.  Anyway, this guy was a Canon shooter (again, I didn’t ask, but he felt the need to tell me) and wanted to compare my camera to his–a 5D Mk III, he told me.

I didn’t take that bait.

“I’ve heard it’s a great camera,” I said in reference to the 5D, which seemed to defuse the entire discussion (which was really closer to being a monologue–and I wasn’t the practitioner).  That was fortunate for me because it enabled me to concentrate on getting my shot before it got any darker.

Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

This series of encounters really made me scratch my head.  I understand that a lot of photographers like to talk about cameras and other gear.  That’s fine, to a point.  But in the field?  When there are images to be made all around them?  I mean, do baseball players talk about which model of bat or glove they use during a game?  (I never heard anyone do that when I was playing.)  Has this obsession with gear completely jumped the shark at this point?

I can imagine the following conversation:

Hypothetical Other Photographer:  So, how do you like the D800E?

Me:  It’s great, but do you mind if we wait a minute or two to talk about it?  I want to try to capture this quintuple rainbow.



  1. Great shots and LOL for your portrayal of the goobers out there! Somehow its always when the light is changing that someone wants to have a conversation. We’re already established that “stream-guy” clearly was a guy with a camera vs a photographer 🙂

    • Thanks, Tina.

      FWIW, “stream guy” (gotta love that he’s now got a semi-official moniker) had–based on the unsolicited information he gave me about his kit–well over $10K worth of equipment with him. I’m just sayin’… 🙂

  2. Kerry,

    I enjoyed your post. I get the same question, too, plus, “What kind of camera do you have?” I think people who ask those questions don’t really care what your answer is. That’s not the point. What they really are saying is one or all of the following: 1) Curiosity: I wonder if my pics are as good as his. 2) Ignorance: They have a camera they have no idea what to do with, and are fishing for help.3) Envy: I wish I had that camera.

    I say this because my experience has been that if you do engage these curious, ignorant, envious people in a “camera” conversation, chances are that they will end up talking more about their camera and how much they like it and how well it performs than they will asking legit questions about your camera.

    The way you ended your post is the correct response. Anyone with any sense would not violate photographic etiquette the way you described. Instead, they would set up shop next to you, and after the sunset say, “Let’s go get a beer.”


    • Thanks for weighing in, Bruce.

      I completely agree with your second paragraph. In fact, this is what separates legitimate “gear talk” (and there’s plenty of that, IMO) from what I experienced in the Smokies; not one of these people seemed to be truly interested in the camera (from the point of view of–“I’m thinking about getting one; what’s your experience been like?”).

      And, of course, their timing was universally bad. 🙂

  3. You have to laugh at the situation and also feel rather sad. Your suggested response is just right. My biggest frustration is the continual Canon/Nikon discussions. I recall attending a lecture on a African Safari. The presenter was a great photographer and illustrated his talk with some great shots, shots that were all a little bit different to the usual run off the mill safari shots…he had thought a great deal about getting something different and hen getting it right. First question at the end from the audience….what camera did you use? Did it matter….but with a sigh he replied Nikon to which there was an even bigger sigh from one section of the audience and the odd comment, Oh! not Canon then. Over coffee afterwards the topic was not the great evening, the great shots bit the merits of Nikon over Canon and vice versa. Forget the gear …get the shot.

    • I completely agree. The whole Nikon/Canon thing is far past the point of being a hackneyed cliche. I’ve never once seen a terrific photograph and wondered what make of camera was used to capture it.

  4. Well, I will admit that there were a few months when I was asking people about their gear, mostly lenses, but never while they were shooting. I’d meet some one on the trail carrying a lens that I was interested in, and after pleasantries, would ask how well the lens worked for them while birding. A perfect example of that was last month, while I was walking out of an area and met some one else was walking in, and we struck up a conversation about lenses. I noticed a redstart in a tree near us, I pointed it out to my fellow birder, we shot away until the bird left, then we resumed our conversation. Now that I’m carrying a Sigma 150-500 mm, I have people walking up to me all the time asking about that lens. Fortunately, I can shoot birds and talk at the same time, but I can understand how frustrating it would be for you to have some one bugging you or stepping into the frame as you were waiting for just the right moment.

    • Nothing wrong with asking questions about gear, Jerry. Less than nothing wrong, in fact, particularly when you’re asking for information to help make an intelligent decision about what to purchase.

      But as I mentioned in response to Bruce’s comment, not one of these people asked me about the camera because they were pondering a purchase. That–and their bad sense of timing–is what differentiates you and your legitimate, appropriately-timed lens questions from these folks.

  5. Gorgeous photos

    • Thanks very much!

  6. Thank you for your thoughts, very refreshing.

  7. Great photos & hilarious commentary – it also says a lot about what is worse in human nature!

    I remember when i was 16 years old, back in in 1973, my father and I took a series of photography classes from a local professional photographer. We learned so much about depth of field, ISO, lighting, compostition.& rule of thirds, etc. etc.

    I had a little kodak instamatic and I felt very consious it was not “fancy’ like all the other peoples cameras . He made it very clear that photography is not about what camera you own, but rather how you use it – and key, as you point out so well, is seeing and seizing those special & often brief moments.

    And a little (or a lot) of post editing, can make a good picture great!

    Thanks for genorously sharing your expertise.

    • Thanks very much for sharing that story, Bruce.

      FWIW, I had a Kodak Instamatic once upon a time, too. And I completely agree with the professional photographer who taught the class that you took–it’s far more about the person behind the lens and what he/she does with whatever gear is in possession than it is about the gear itself.

  8. You sure that the D800E is better than the 5DIII? 🙂

    Enjoy your blogs Kerry, as well as your work.


    • I don’t know, Sandy. The Nikon fanboys assure me that the D800E is far better; the Canon fanboys say it’s the 5D3. I’m thinking about seeing whether they’d like to have a steel cage death match to decide bragging rights. 🙂

      Good to hear from you.

  9. I found the wide brand-marked strap on my DSLR highly annoying because of the width which didn’t wrap conveniently around my hand. I substituted a strap from an old model Pentax SLR from the 70s (no branding visible)… it seems to have eliminated the type of questions you describe. I hadn’t thought of that being an added bonus. 😀

    • Sounds to me as though you’re way ahead of the game. Maybe I need to attach a generic strap…

  10. I never use the branded strap as I feel like it is always drawing unwanted attention. Sort of like the color of my lens draws some people in and while I don’t mind a casual “what do you think of that lens” or something like that, I sure don’t want to miss the quadruple rainbow talking about gear. Now that makes me think back to where I met you, Kerry. 🙂 Our very brief conversation in the Canaan Valley centered around what was up that mountain and what Seneca Rocks looked like in the morning while I was pumping your for Bear Rock information. 🙂 Now I will admit that right now is the first time that I am aware of what camera you was shooting and even though I had mine in my hand when I was talking to you, I don’t think you know what I was shooting. Nice shoots like always and interesting enough is that I missed you down in the GSMNP by one week this spring. I was there the week after you and the guy that doesn’t care for the streams.

    • Hi, Terry; good to hear from you. I remember our discussion in Canaan (Oct., 2011).

      BTW, I checked out your Smugmug site…you’ve got some very nice images from your Smokies trip. In fact, I recognize some of the exact spots (like that ephemeral hillside waterfall/cascade just off the road a bit north of the Oconaluftee Vistors Center. I first spotted that location in 2008 and photographed it again this year. I’d never seen a shot of that waterfall other than my own until today.

      • Yes that is the same waterfall/cascade. I love that spot and it always amazes me when I drive by it and no one is there shooting it. Thank you for the comments, Kerry. As you can tell, I am the “anti doesn’t care for the streams guy. 😉

        • There are several reasons why that waterfall/cascade doesn’t get much action, I think. First, it’s on the NC side of the park, which gets less traffic than the TN side. Second, you really can’t see it when you’re heading south, even if you’re looking for it (I speak from experience :)). Third, it’s on a blind curve, so even if you’re northbound you’re essentially past it by the time you spot it. There is a pullout right there, as I’m sure you know, but you almost have to drive up the road to the next turnaround spot (I think it’s almost a mile) and then come back. And fourth, it’s pretty tough to find a good composition. Five years ago, I shot it from up on the berm. This year, I wandered all the way down into the basin with my rubber boots and did my shooting from there.

          Keep being the anti-doesn’t-care-for-streams-guy, Terry!

  11. Fabulous, fabulous images.

    • Thanks very much.

  12. But, Kerry, you never answered the question 🙂

    • Sure I did. And I quote (myself): “It’s great, but do you mind if we wait a minute or two to talk about it?” 🙂

      You’re not just trying to stir up trouble, are you Andy? 🙂

  13. Beautiful images Kerry! I could never tire of the Smokies! I enjoyed reading this post a lot. I agree 100%. I never pay attention to other peoples cameras. I’m too busy watching the light and looking for the shot!

    • Thanks, Micheal. Great to hear from you. I actually thought about you when I was in the Smokies because I remembered your affinity for the place.

  14. Wonderful shots and fascinating commentary (and discussion in the responses). What you raise is part of a broader issue of whether and how to respond to people they ask you questions as you are shooting. If you shoot in a public place and point your camera (especially if it’s on a tripod, it seems), folks will pepper you with questions. It seems rude not to respond when someone asks what you are shooting (or even worse, what you might have been shooting earlier in the day). How do you respond? Will it satisfy the questioners if you give a brief response, or will it encourage them to hang around? I have had this debate with one of my fellow photographers and his solution is to ignore the questions totally and to walk away if the person persists.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mike. I try not to be rude, and I think I’m usually successful in that regard. Most people who talk to me while I’m in the field are pretty polite and simply ask innocuous questions (e.g. “Getting any good shots?”). And most of these folks are not photographers themselves. (I do have some great stories that have come from running into non-photographers while out with my gear. I may relate those in a future installment.)

      By the way, you’re absolutely correct about the correlation between using a tripod and a sense of wonderment on the part of those you’ll encounter out in the field. It’s like turning on a beacon.

  15. It’s not so much the camera but the lenses which matter. I use Canon and have a variety of L lenses but I only have a 60D camera. I could use a budget canon SLR and get great results with this when I have these great quality lenses.

    • I’d say that both the camera and the lenses matter, but you make a fair point; the glass has far greater staying power, particularly in the digital age.

      Regardless, the public doesn’t know this and seems intensely fixated on the camera itself. While in the Smokies, I didn’t get a single question about the lenses I was using. 🙂

      • There’s a big difference between the lenses which are supplied with cameras bodies and L lenses. After using L lenses I cannot look through cheap ones as I notice how bad they are.

        Similarly with binoculars, cheap Chinese lenses are not a patch on German, Austrian and Japanese ones.

        • There absolutely is a significant difference when it comes to lenses between pro grade optics and kit offerings. But let me say another word or two about the relevance of the camera body in this equation; I kind of breezed by it the first time.

          Here’s an example. You mentioned that you’re using a 60D, which has an APS-C-sized sensor. Your L lenses are all designed for full frame (i.e. 35 mm film equivalent) cameras. The vast majority of lenses that I’ve used (and seen reviewed), regardless of manufacturer, are relatively weaker optically in the corners than in the center of the lens. With a crop-sensor camera, you are (most of the time) eliminating the worst part of the lens’ ability to resolve detail and (usually) eliminate distortions and other impurities (CA, linear distortion, etc.). Relatively weak full frame lenses will hold up better, all other things being equal, on a crop sensor camera than on a full frame variety. And–again, all things being equal–the higher resolution the sensor, the more any optical weaknesses will be revealed when you pixel peep.

          So…all of your lenses will almost certainly appear to perform better (optically speaking) on your 60D than they would on, say, a 5DIII. And a do-it-all full frame lens will appear to provide better results on a 60D than a 5DIII.

          Believe me, when I moved from the D700 (full frame 12 MP) to the D800E (full frame 36 MP, newer generation sensor, built-in compensation for the anti-aliasing filter), using the exact same set of high end lenses–and examined the results at the same magnification (100%), there were some pretty stark differences. Of course I anticipated this, but it was worth seeing just how large the discrepancies were. Again, the only thing that changed here was the camera; the lenses were identical.

          This isn’t an apples and apples comparison (because 100% for an image taken with a 36 MP camera is not the same as 100% for an image taken with a 12 MP camera). But the point is, using the same technique, the D800E is far less forgiving of image scrutiny than the D700.

          So…yes, the lens matters. A lot. But so does the camera.

        • I may consider a full frame camera in the future but now I mainly take sports (European) football and nature pictures so I need a camera which brings the action as close as possible.

  16. Kerry, you are cracking me up! I never use the strap that comes with my Nikon; I frankly don’t want anyone to know what I’m using when I’m out in public. However, the “inappropriate gear question” isn’t only restricted to camera gear. My husband laughs every time someone asks a great guitarist what strings they use, as if using the same ones would help them without doing all the grunt work of practicing and developing as a musician. It sure is a lot more about the work you put into becoming an artist; the tools help but it is a lot deeper than that. Using my iPhone as a camera on a regular basis keeps me humble and on my toes 🙂

    • Thanks, Lynn. Re your statement about using your iPhone–back in the day, that’s what I used to occasionally hear people say about pinhole cameras. 🙂

  17. This is a super post Kerry and a total joy to read. I can relate to everything you discussed. The first thing I do with any camera body is change the strap for the reason you stated. I can’t stand walking around with a strap that has NIKON in giant yellow letters broadcasting to passersby what brand I shoot. My experience with the factory straps has been questions like “oh, that’s a Nikon camera” or “you like Nikon better than-insert brand here-?” and it’s always at an inopportune moment. Odd how it works out that way. If the conversation leads anywhere I just say “It’s a Ford /Chevy thing” and it’s really the person behind the camera that counts. That usually works. If it’s okay with you I’d like to get back to photographing this……

    • Thanks, David. Good idea re Ford/Chevy. I’m a big baseball fan…maybe I should say “It’s a Cubs-White Sox thing.” (Or, in my case, an Orioles-whomever thing. :))

      I wonder if people who get hassled about their vehicle of choice say “It’s a Canon/Nikon thing.” 🙂

  18. […] the workshop participant immediately to my left noticed the camera I was shooting–if this sounds familiar, it should–and started asking me about it.  “How do you like the D800E?” came […]

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