Who Takes Better Images: A Pro with Amateur Gear or an Amateur with Pro Gear?

Which is the biggest contributor to great images: the creator or the gear?

As filmmakers, we've all had many negative experiences dealing with gear, but perhaps one of the more frustrating is feeling like your gear is holding you back from creating better work. Maybe you're still dinking around with your Canon Rebel or low-level Nikon D series model, all with a kit lens, thinking, "I can create so much better content than this!" And you'd be right, but for the wrong reasons, because who's really responsible for subpar work, your gear or you?

In this video, Mango Street Labs sees what happens when you give two professional photographers some "amateur" gear, a $300 Canon Rebel T3i (which is now discontinued), and an amateur photographer a "pro-level" $3500 Canon 5D Mark IV

The equipment the professional photographers used was on the cheap side: low-end lenses, including a kit 18-55mm and a $175 40mm f/2.8 pancake, while the  equipment used by the amateur photographer was considerably more expensive, including a $1700 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens. So, clearly it would seem as though the amateur had quite an advantage over the pros gear-wise, but, as you can see from the video, you wouldn't be able to tell looking at the photos.

Shot by an amateur photographer
Shot by an amateur photographer
Shot by a professional photographer
Shot by a professional photographer
Shot by a professional photographer
You can't tell the amateur had an "advantage" gear-wise, because gear isn't really what makes images great. It's a combination of other things, like composition, lighting, staging, blocking, and direction that make images great, and those elements can really only be accessed through years of practice and experience. While the amateur photographer does a decent job shooting an okay-looking photo, notice how the first couple of them are out of focus, shot at eyeline, and centered in the frame. What this says to me is that the camera and the model are doing most of the heavy lifting.

Now, take a look at how the pro photographers think more outside of the box when it comes to perspective (the photo of the model looking down into a mirror) and direction (the photo of the model with her head in a basket). They move themselves, the model, and the camera to get the shot they want, as well as take more chances using the props that were on hand. Essentially, the amateur played it safe while the pro took more risks.

All of these things revealed the true "secret sauce" of great photography/cinematography, and it wasn't a $5000 camera kit, it was experience.

Even though most of us would agree that creating beautiful images doesn't require tons of expensive, professional gear, a lot of us still chase after the newest cameras, fastest lenses, and most advanced lighting rigs. Who knows if it's due to the fact that we really think better gear equals better pictures or if we are simply unconfident with our own creative abilities, but I think this video reveals that you don't have to drop thousands of dollars on new camera gear every year in order to produce great work. All we need is to go out and shoot with the camera we do have.     

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Your Comment


I personally kind of liked the raw feel to the amateur photos.

June 10, 2017 at 6:11PM

David Prokopchuk
Photographer / Film Maker

Yeah I don't like the Pro's white backdrop. Booooooring, haha

Funny how subjective art is.

Which maybe is the point .

June 10, 2017 at 6:40PM


I actually liked some of the amateur photos. Yeah, pros played more but the difference is not impressive. Not gear, not experiencie, feeling.

June 10, 2017 at 8:52PM


That was really inspirational. Thank you.

June 11, 2017 at 1:15AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Doesn't matter if you have good light and a good subject matter? =)

June 11, 2017 at 1:45AM


To answer the title: depends on the pro and on the amateur.
In both group there are great talented and skilled people and people who have no clue.
Especially when pro vs amateur is defined by getting paid for making pictures.


June 11, 2017 at 4:05AM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

The endless discussion; creator versus gear. I think in the end it's all about getting connected with a story the creator tries to tell. Your personal taste plays a big role in your 'verdict' of liking something or disliking it.

I really liked the "amateur" photo's aswell, thought the "pro" photo's were too staged; but that's my personal opinion.

June 11, 2017 at 4:12AM

Michiel Eskens
Director & Editor

Its plausible to me that all the photos could have been taken by the same photographer, theres not a huge difference. They admit it themselves that they expected more distinction. I think lesson is we should put less emphasis on the words creative and professional. They do not imply each other.

June 11, 2017 at 9:59AM

Indie Guy

To use a musical metaphor, I can dig both punk rock and classical.

June 11, 2017 at 10:14AM


Would have loved to have gotten through to the end of this article without the Humera ad auto-playing every 30 seconds - is that a normal thing? It was driving me insane - no matter what I did to click it on/off/mute, it played. Mocking me.

(Or was it a harbinger of things to come? Rheumatoid arthritis, here I come?)

June 11, 2017 at 4:25PM

Matthew Swanson

A pro with amateur gear.

June 12, 2017 at 2:35AM, Edited June 12, 2:35AM

You voted '+1'.
Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker

Can the amateur follow a brief to get a specific look? If they have problems with the shot (glare, need more contrast, etc.) do they know how to do it?

Maybe photography is different, I dunno, but cinematography is way more often about accomplishing something specific-ish. Even for an art film, you're trying to evoke a certain emotion or association on purpose. OK, fine, not for experimental pieces or camera tests - but generally filmmakers are trying to say *something*.

Especially with films that are rooted in a story (be it fiction or documentary), on the most technical of levels. For example, if the character looks out the window onto the ocean in california, but the shoot is in some studio setup in NY, the cinematographer needs to emulate the feeling of light that would have happened on location - otherwise the magic is lost and attention is called to the wrong details. They can also talk about the beauty of the shot and how the latitude of better equipment helps sell it - but the difference is more about capability in situations like that.

June 12, 2017 at 2:52AM, Edited June 12, 2:53AM


One major difference is knowing what magazine editors etc. are looking for. An amateur might have some raw talent but not be able to nail the style required for professional publication.

June 12, 2017 at 3:12AM


I like the amateur photographer's photos more too. The professional takes photos that you would see in a high school photography class. It's gimmicky and cliché

June 12, 2017 at 5:57AM

Josef Lorenzo

None of these look professional or creative to me. They all look amateurish.

June 12, 2017 at 7:50AM, Edited June 12, 7:50AM

Richard Krall

They should have exhibited a few more photos with that window.
Dealing with natural light disparities would be a decent way to test both raw talent and technical skill.

Also, pro gear would be more than just an expensive lens and camera. That's something an amateur does. Pro gear would be various tools to help with fickle situations. Even if it's just some ND or a polarizer.

June 12, 2017 at 9:58AM

Alex Alva

Agreed. Using a white-walled studio with a a big diffuse window means there's going to be soft light bouncing everywhere, and very little change in background, so many of the variables are removed. Put them outdoors at sunset, or in a living room with a single window with hard direct sunlight, or in a cluttered hotel suite, and the separation would probably be a lot greater.

August 9, 2019 at 11:21PM


My favorite is actually the record player shot. Lots more intention behind it than, "Put your head in this basket. Just get weird."

June 12, 2017 at 5:55PM, Edited June 12, 5:55PM

Steve Yager

You can see there's a real know-how behind the pro stills compared to the amateur ones. Yes some of the amateur can look good, but it is simple point and shoot (oh this looks good: photo). The pro knows what he's looking for and how to achieve it. Could be the pros loose that genuine "oh this looks good" overtime, yes, it could be, but change it for something else.

June 13, 2017 at 3:22AM


Still using a T3i and proud to say so.

June 13, 2017 at 6:38AM

chip brandstetter
Filmmaker, Editor, Animator, Sound Design, Composer

I agree with most of the other comments, the amateur photos seem more "real" and the pro more "staged". Maybe due to having learned to shoot what the client expects on a given project. It proves the point to just get out and shoot with what you got.

June 17, 2017 at 6:22AM

James Schindler
Aspiring Film maker