This was a curious video to see pop up on my feed last night from Mike Smith. In it, he talks about the marketing hype surrounding most new camera releases and what the camera companies aren’t telling you – basically, that the gear you already own is probably already more than good enough or at least 90% of you. And, well, I think he’s right. I’ve thought it for a while.
Every time a new camera is announced, there’s a massive marketing campaign, with countless YouTubers and yes, websites like this one extolling its virtues and talking about how awesome this or that new feature is (or potentially is). But the truth is, you have to consider context and you can’t rely on just one source of information for whether or not you should buy that shiny new piece of kit.
It’s an interesting topic and Mike makes some great points, both about the value of many of the “reviews” you see online and a number of other items he mentions in the video. He’s not suggesting that reviewers are lying but a lot of them are also buying into the marketing hype themselves. And even the genuine reviews are really only giving you their perspective on things, highlighting and promoting features important to them that may not be important to you. A reviewer might praise a camera highly because a new feature fulfils a very specific need that they have while being no better than its predecessor in almost every other respect.
You also have to remember that some feature changes can be both a positive or a negative depending on your perspective. Like the time Nikon chose to remove the built-in GPS from the D5300 when they repackaged it (with very few other changes) as the D5500. Some saw its removal as a bonus because it helped increase battery life. I saw it as a negative because it’s my favourite little location scouting camera – purely due to its inclusion of a built-in GPS that doesn’t rely on my phone.
There’s also the fact that for at least the past decade now, digital cameras have come far beyond their 35mm film predecessors in capability and are more than good enough for the needs of 99% of the general public. More resolution, for example, is only a big deal if you really need that high resolution. And if you’re not producing massive wall-sized prints, do you really need a 60-megapixel sensor? Is amazing high ISO performance really a concern if you’re always shooting with flash or in the daytime? Does it matter that your AF hits in 0.42 seconds instead of 0.47 seconds if you’re just shooting portraits, landscapes and other relatively static subjects?
It’s why my main photography cameras are still a handful of Nikon D800 and D7000 bodies. For my own needs right now, they still give me everything I want. If my photography needs change in the future (or these cameras die), then maybe I’ll switch to something else. It’s why, when I switched to Panasonic for video in 2020, I bought two relatively entry-level GX80/GX85s and three G80/G85s cameras from 2016 (even though their successors had already been released). And it’s why I only finally bought a Panasonic GH5 (I needed one body that could do 4K60) three weeks before the GH6 was announced (yes, I knew it was coming).
Sometimes, good enough is good enough. And buying older gear that still does what you need – or buying gear from the used market instead of pre-ordering everything as it’s announced – will usually still allow you to create what you want while saving you a bunch of money. Of course, those specific features of new gear are definitely going to be beneficial to some people but those people really do know who they are. They’ve mastered their gear, they’re hitting real (not imaginary) walls and the new kit overcomes a limitation of their current gear. But that’s a teeny tiny fraction of camera owners.
It’s quite rare these days that cameras (or lenses, or most other related gear) offer a massive leap in advancement over their predecessors. And the last time I bought a brand new camera literally as it hit the shelves was the Nikon D300s back in 2009 (it was a completely different kind of beast over the D200). It’s rarer still that those leaps will benefit a majority of potential customers. Sure, there are some standout features like 8K video or Canon reintroducing eye control autofocus, but do you need them?
New gear is not going to make you a better photographer and it’s almost certainly not going to make your images look any better. The only thing that’ll do that is to get out and shoot and keep mastering your craft!
What was the last piece of camera gear you bought that didn’t live up to the hype?