A tool versus instrument

Some say camera is just a tool. For others it’s a life-style. Some of us are perhaps somewhere in between and don’t see cameras strictly as either one.

For many, camera is rather an instrument than a tool. A tool has a similar connotation as a hammer or a chisel. They are used to build something by pounding nails or carving joints, where as an instrument is a more specialised and sophisticated device.

Drawing parallels with cameras and musical instruments

If an old manual film camera would be a musical instrument, it could perhaps be a traditional violin. There are no digital violins that are trying to think on your behalf. You must learn to play it yourself instead.

A violin is not a tool either. It is a musical instrument. As an analogy, it describes cameras perfectly. I suppose you could say, that a violinist uses a violin as a tool to play their music, but somehow it doesn’t sound right. 

A camera is an optical precision instrument, a rather complex one too, designed to make images via documentation. Musical instruments and cameras have more parallels than, for example, hand tools. They have a cultural and artistic undertone, which a ‘tool’ doesn’t carry in the same respect.

Thinking about using a camera as a tool, is to do a job, or just to take pictures. Approaching it as an instrument, is to express creativity and to make visual art. Every craft requires much practise of course, in order to master the art, whether it’s a chisel, violin or a camera. The right kind of mind-set can be achieved with approaching a camera as you would any instrument. You could almost say that when you’re doing photography, you’re almost like playing the camera, because you’re using it as the instrument for making your art. The result just isn’t music, but images.