One of the most common pieces of advice photographers hear is 'gear doesn't matter.' This is often followed by the advising photographer talking about how revolutionary the latest canon/nikon/fuji gear is. Cynical jabs aside, 'gear doesn't matter' is often repeated and rightfully so. It's easy, particularly to those beginning in photography, to overbuy and end up with closets full of unused gear or, even worse, gear offering a single gimmick that grew tiresome in one shoot. The popular Youtube photography channel DigitalRev TV even has a whole series of videos giving professional photographers cheap, outdated, or quite literal toy cameras to shoot or film with. Their results are often better than what some can do with a DSLR camera showing that it's the photographer and not the gear that brings quality to a photograph. Thus gear doesn't matter... besides when it does.
At best 'gear doesn't matter' is a half-truth. Gear won't make you a better photographer, it won't make a better photograph, and it won't help refill that hole it left in your wallet. But that doesn't mean that gear isn't important. Enter the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. Even given the amount of praise this lens receives it's not one that I had any want of buying. There's a few reasons why but principle among them is that the lens is far from inexpensive, being primarily a portrait photographer I haven't had the need to go any wider than 24mm, and I generally prefer primes to zooms. Then a client approached me about shooting some of their real estate property and after a few houses in I felt constrained by the 24mm my widest lens offered. Now the client was happy with the photos and happier still with the significant increase in interest and subsequent sales of their properties. But as more jobs came in for real estate of various sizes the 24mm felt like more and more of a hindrance. The 14-24mm helped me photograph houses in a way that wasn't possible or efficient with the gear I had before. The focal range along with the other outstanding qualities of this lens has helped me provide the highest quality photos possible to my clients.
So why then is 'gear doesn't matter' so often repeated among photographers? It's true that the 14-24mm has allowed me to deliver more images to my clients but a new focal length ultimately plays a small role in creating a good photograph. Lighting and composition are still king and a new lens isn't going to stop the sunlight coming through the windows of a room from blowing out or the opposite wall from going to black in the shadows. I can compose the scene of a room differently with this new lens but I still have to be sure the composition keeps the room looking open and welcoming. Being able to provide wider, more open shots of a house is great but if the lighting and composition are off then I've taken a step back on what I'm delivering to my clients. Realistically, they couldn't care less what my photos are taken with as long as the quality of the images remains the same.
Where then are we left with our now tiring 'gear doesn't matter' adage? On one hand, it's the photographer that makes the photograph as gear isn't going to make up for poor composition or lighting. The tools used by the photographer to create a photograph is inconsequential. But if you've ever tried to drive a nail with a screwdriver because you couldn't find your hammer then you know the importance of having the right tools for the job. Some gear does make a photographers job easier but if you don't understand how to make the photograph then the tools don't matter. After all, a hammer does make driving a nail easier but if you're driving a nail into drywall you're going to have a bad time regardless.
Gratuitous photos of Louisville, KY below taken with the Nikon 14-24mm.