The Best Camera in the World?

By Essdras M Suarez, a two-time Pulitzer prizewinner and a Kennedy award winner for photojournalism.

Christopher Columbus Cemetery (Cemetario de Colon), Havana, Cuba
Captured with iPhone 6 at Christopher Columbus Cemetery (Cemetario de Colon), Havana, Cuba

I feel one cannot tackle this question without first establishing a photography quintessence. As Ansel Adams so eloquently stated: “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!”

I find the words in this quote to ring the truest and loudest. This is simply because in it, Adams stated one of the ultimate truths about the picture- making process. The photographer will always be the most important element of a photo.

So having set the records straight, what is the best camera in the world?
This is a very common question and one I’ve heard asked repeatedly throughout my years on the field, in the speaker’s circuit and in classrooms. People always want to know what kind of camera, lens, or file was used in the making of a photo.

My answer is always the same: “The best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand at the time you are making the photo.”
This is because that photographic device at that precise moment is the only one you can control. Thus, it’s the only one that matters.

On a recent visit to Cuba I found myself at the biggest cemetery in Havana called Christopher Columbus. It was a perfect Caribbean day with sunny bright sky, puffy white clouds and endless visibility.

I was waiting for my photo- workshop students to return with photos and I was passing the time taking photos with my iPhone. I noticed a couple of brightly colored American classic cars parked side by side. Their placement was in such manner if you stood behind them you could perfectly frame the cemetery’s central chapel. I made a couple of frames with my phone and just I was about to make the same photo with my DSLRs the cars moved away and the moment was gone.

However the end result still worked. Because I took the time to use that photographic device at hand in the best possible way I know how to while making a photo. I took the time to properly compose the image and to lower myself below the normal eye-level perspective.

And so has been the story of photography from the beginnings of time.  We photographers work with what we have at hand.

Starting with Thomas Wedgewood’s unsuccessful attempt in the year 1,800 to bring the Greek’s concept of camera obscura and that of exposing a material to light in order to capture an image. To Louis Jacques Mande’s daguerreotypes in the first half of the 1800s, the first successful commercial production of a photographic device.  To our current state- of- the art DSLRs with their weather proofing, shock absorbing and 10 frames- per second capacity.

To the latest addition of the mighty mirror-less wonders, with their light weight and impressive sensors. And finally to the most modern and specialized high-speed cameras capable of producing Femto-photography,  with its trillion-frames per second capacity that allows scientist not only to be able to see how light particles travel through a room but actually to be able to see around corners.

However the same common denominator runs through all these varied tools of photography: Without the photographer, the camera would just sit there as an inert object, a tool waiting to be used. It is up to us, the humans behind the lens, to make these artifacts the best cameras in the world.

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