15 years ago, the quality of the camera did not affect the quality of the photo. The quality of the photographer made the difference. You couldn’t tell the difference, in a photo, between a Nikkormat and a Nikon F3. Same film, same lens, same photographer therefore same photo. The recommendation was always spend you money on glass. Good lenses, better lenses…
Today, the quality of the camera is the difference. BTW, the quality of the photographer is extremely important, but not as much. Technology has filled-in many of the gaps. 30 years ago, the eye and the technique were equally important, today the eye is much more important than the technique.
- Focus: Does the autofocus works? It works 10 times better on high-end professional cameras than on the others. Speed is nice but how accurate is it? Exposure, lenses, … do not matter if your photo is out of focus, or you can save yourself a lot of money and switch to Lomography. As a professional, can you live with a 50% focus accuracy? Can you live with a 75% focus accuracy? Can you sell an out-of-focus photo? The new focus module from Nikon, the CAM 3500, is what allowed Nikon to come back in the professional ranks with the Nikon D300/D300s, D700, D3/D3s and D3x.
- Chips: Sensor and CPUs. It’s the combination of the sensor and the CPU that makes or breaks your photos. They controls the noise, the sharpness… If you want to improve the quality of your images, upgrade your camera body to the most current and your photos will improve immediately. But can you afford it? or can you afford not to upgrade? i.e.: other photographers, larger prints, new look/gadget… A Nikon D90 has better noise control, up to ISO 800, then a Nikon D3. The D300s and the D3s have regained their lead over the “prosumers”. It’s not because of the sensor, but because of the much faster CPU that can use far more complicated algorithms on the data stream. How’s about that, for computer talk? It just means that the CPU can evaluate many options before deciding on how to process the data stream. The CPU knows nothing about photos. The CPU only knows about data streams, and we, the photographers, translate that into a photo.
- Exposure: All camera manufacturers have resolved that problem 15 years ago. The exposure from a Nikon is different than from a Canon or Pentax… But it’s a matter of preferences.
- Plastics: The reviled plastics have allowed for the proper manufacturing of lenses and cameras. Because plastics are machine made, they can be manufactured into any shape required with an almost 100% accuracy. The computer designs have allowed for the great improvements in zoom lenses. Today’s cheapest zoom kit lens is 100 times better than any, hand designed and manufactured, professional zoom lens of 30 years ago.
- Sharpness: All new digital cameras are far too sharp for making good photos! We always want more megapixels and higher sharpness. The problem that I have is that when I make photos, I can see myself in my subjects eyes. How’s that for sharpness? Now you can see all the reflectors in people’s portraits. Have you ever seen a “pin sharp” photo from Cartier-Bresson, McCurry, or Eugene Smith? Sharpness does not make the photo.