This is why you probably shouldn’t upgrade your camera gear
It’s the perpetual question in photography. Should I upgrade my gear? It’s one that photographers seem to struggle with every day – because that’s how often new cameras seem to be getting announced these days. Everybody thinks they’re missing out on something wonderful and amazing when they don’t have the latest and greatest kit.
But do you really need it? Should you upgrade? That’s the answer that photographer Dan Watson attempts to answer in this video – as he walks into frame carrying a Nikon Z7, Canon EOS R, Fujifilm X-T3, Sony A7III and Sony A7RIII. The short answer, though, is that you probably don’t. Not really. Not if you need to ask the question.
Dan and I appear to be polar opposites when it comes to actual reality. He suffers from major gear envy, and judging by the kit he brought on to start the video, he manages to satisfy it. Whereas I was still shooting the Nikon D300s I purchased in 2009 as my main body untillast year when I replaced it with a D800. I only went for the D800 because the autofocus in my D300s diied and a good deal came up on the D800 at the right time. I still have my D300s, I just bought a split prism focusing screen for it and keep using it with manual focus lenses.
But we both see eye-to-eye on the general question of “Should I upgrade my gear?”. Many of the points he raises in the video are things I say when somebody asks me if they should buy this camera or that camera (often two very different cameras for very different uses).
Have you mastered your current kit?
Chances are if you’re asking this question, there are tens of thousands of people out there making better images than you with the same camera you’re using. Because if you’re one of those people making the absolute best images you can with your current kit, you don’t need to ask this question. That’s not to make you feel bad. It’s to motivate you to push yourself and your abilities.
Every day I see people giving up on their cameras as “crap”. They post asking if they should upgrade to a 5D Mark IV, Nikon D750 or D850, or a Sony A7III, often considering completely switching brands, because they believe it will make the photos “better”. Well, newsflash. It won’t. Only you can make your photos better.
Is it something you’re actually going to use?
Dan brings out the DJI Inspire 2 drone as an example of this. It’s a fantastic drone, it’s an expensive drone. But it’s also a huge drone that’s not easy to travel with – especially compared to the likes of the Mavic Air or Mavic 2. Buying a specialist, and expensive, tool that you’re almost never going to use is definitely a waste of money that can be better spent elsewhere – perhaps more training to master your current kit.
I’ve spent I don’t know how much on photography things over the last couple of decades that I used a couple of times and then forgot about. Fortunately, I was able to sell most of it – unfortunately, it was mostly at a huge loss. Now, I’m a lot more hesitant to put down money on gear that, if I’m honest with myself, I might only ever use a handful of times.
The whole IQ thing is one of the biggest arguments. But, honestly, it’s kind of a nonsense argument, especially if 99% of your images are only ever going to be posted to Facebook and Instagram. I’ve shot images side-by-side with that 36MP Nikon D800 and my 16-year-old 6.1MP Nikon D100 and when scaled down to the kinds of sizes we use for social media, nobody can tell the difference. Anybody who tells me they can is lying (just like all the people who’ve told me over the years they can spot the difference between a photo shot on a crop body vs full frame).
And after web compression, even if there were a slight difference in image quality at the source, is anybody going to even notice it when scrolling through their feed? No, probably not.
Sure, there is definitely a difference in image quality as you go up to higher resolution sensors with more dynamic range, better filters (or a lack of filters) over the sensor, but if you really need this, you’re probably not asking people if you should buy a camera. You just know and will buy it.
Rent stuff (or buy used)
This goes along with the second option about actually using stuff. If it’s something you just want to try out or you’re not going to use it that often then just rent it. Use it for the specific task that requires the features of that particular piece of hardware or just to play with it and see if it’s worth investing in buying, and then send it back.
Dan doesn’t mention this in his video, but another option is to just buy a used one. Try it out for 2 or 3 months. This will give you a good amount of time to really put it through its paces and decide if you even like it or will use it. If you hate it or won’t use it then just sell it on and you’ve lost nothing. If you love it, then either keep it or sell it on at no loss and buy a new one with a full warranty – obviously, this option doesn’t typically exist with the very latest new gear.
Is it going to offer you something you can’t already do?
When people ask me if they should upgrade and I ask them what they already have. My first question is this…
What do you want to do that the [camera model they currently own] is not allowing you to do?
Nine times out of ten, they can’t really give me a real answer, especially when I show them the work of others doing exactly what they claim they want to do with the same gear they own. This goes back to that first point about mastering your camera. If you haven’t mastered your camera, you really don’t know if this or that new camera body is really going to fix your problem. Because if you haven’t mastered your kit, you don’t really know for sure that the kit is the problem. The problem might be you.
But sometimes there is a genuine need to get new gear. Perhaps you already have f/1.4 primes, and your shutter speed’s as low as you can comfortably hold, yet you’re still raising your ISO up way higher than you’d like, producing far too much noise. Well, yeah, you might want to consider a camera with better high ISO performance. Or maybe you’re a sports shooter with a camera that only shoots 4fps and you really do need the Sony A9’s 20fps to increase the chances of capturing that perfect defining moment in a game or race.
For most people, though, no, you probably don’t. This is why I had no problem buying the D800 last year. Yes, I got it at a price that I would’ve been stupid to reject, but it will easily satisfy my needs right now – at least for photography. If it didn’t, I would’ve sold the D800 on (and made a profit) and bought a D810. Or I’d have kept the D800 as a backup and bought the D810 anyway. But the D810 offers me nothing I can’t do with the D800, so I didn’t.
Wait – Be patient
There are generally two main reasons for waiting to buy kit. The first is that it gives you chance to figure out all the stuff above. The second is that sales often pop up. So if you decide that you really do need it, you might save yourself some money.
I’ve been waiting to make the jump to 4K video. If I’d just gone and splashed out on everything I saw that looked cool or interested in, I’d have bought at least a pair of GH5 bodies, then a pair of A7III bodies, and now a pair of Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4Ks. I’d have spent (and lost) a lot of money in the process. I put off getting either the GH5 or the A7III because there were one or two things they didn’t offer that I wanted. I’ll be going with the Pocket 4K. Waiting has saved me a fortune. And while I have been waiting, I’ve just rented or borrowed 4K capable cameras when needed.
There are no sales on the Pocket 4K right now (and I doubt we’ll see any on Black Friday this year, either) but that’s still roughly 8 grand I didn’t have to spend on 4 cameras that I’d end up selling at a huge loss. Just because I waited for the camera that really did give me what I needed instead of buying into the shiny new toys as they were announced.
Ultimately, my personal belief for this kind of question is that if you have to ask (especially on Facebook) whether you should upgrade, without being able to provide a legitimate reason as to why, then 99% of the time, no, you don’t need to upgrade.
The people who really do need to upgrade can usually answer the question for themselves, and just get what they need to do the job.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.