I’ve been saying for years that digital cameras have reached a peak as far as still photography goes. Yes, there are still some small advancements being made, but there hasn’t been anything groundbreaking for years.
That’s the topic that travel photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich explores in this video. The simple fact is that most cameras today are far better than the people wielding them and you should stop wasting money.
Every time a new camera is announced, I see oceans of people on social media saying they’ve pre-ordered one. They’ve done it without any real justification besides “Oooh, new shiny!”. They haven’t even hit the limits of the camera they already own. And, well, it’s their money, they can do what they want. But, why waste it if you don’t have to?
Gear Acquisition Syndrome
GAS, or Gear Acquisition Syndrome, used to be something we joked about in photography. Twenty years ago, it was a way to justify buying the things we wanted but didn’t really need. We knew why we wanted to play with them, though. We understood the implications of their use and how they’d benefit us.
These days, thanks to social media and overhyped YouTube marketing videos, every new piece of gear (not just cameras) is apparently the best thing since Betty White. If you don’t have it, you’re lagging behind everybody else. You must buy it or be banished to the bowels of obsolescence!
This is absolute nonsense, of course. As I said above, and as Mitchell says in his videos, most cameras are far more than capable of satisfying the needs of 99% of photographers, and they have been for years. Until mirrorless came along, DSLRs had pretty much peaked as far as technology goes before mirrorless came along. That’s why the Nikon D6 was almost identical to the Nikon D5.
Camera tech is stalling for photography
Sure, the Nikon D6 had built-in WiFi, a slightly faster processor and focus bracketing, but it was a very incremental upgrade over the D5, with worse battery life and fewer AF points. Up until the release of the D6, every Nikon flagship DSLR (and 35mm SLRs before them) brought major enhancements over its predecessor.
At the entry level, too, both Nikon and Canon basically just added tiny little incremental updates to each “new generation” of DSLRs, and this happened long before the D6 was released. The D5300 (2013), D5500 (2015) and D5600 (2016) are all largely identical, save for one or two minor differences. This is partly because they were holding back features for the more expensive bodies but also because there weren’t really any new features to add.
Even with the switch to mirrorless, photography hasn’t really changed all that much. And it took a while for mirrorless to actually catch up to DSLRs. Canon’s EOS M system took a long time to become viable. And just as it got there, it was killed off in favour of EOS R. Nikon’s previous mirrorless system… Well, we won’t talk about that.
There are a couple of huge technological advancements for photography that came with mirrorless, though. You’ve got on-sensor autofocus, allowing for things like Eye (and animal, vehicle, etc.) Detection and tracking. There’s also the electronic viewfinder (EVF), which lets you preview your final image before you hit the shutter.
But what’s next? More resolution? Even faster buffers? Autofocus that can track individual atoms of your subject? What do you actually need for photography that mirrorless cameras can’t already do?
Cameras got better at photography because of video
The biggest advancements mirrorless cameras have brought to still photography over the last few years have essentially been a byproduct of improvements to video. As video demands get greater, sensors and processors become more capable. But still, they’re only really providing higher resolutions and/or bigger buffers.
Other than that, most cameras on the market today are more than capable of providing the vast majority of people with the abilities they need to shoot great photos.
This is why most of the camera manufacturers now promote the video capabilities of new cameras rather than their stills abilities. They’ve pretty much hit a wall again. Mirrorless has caught up to DSLRS for photography and surpassed them in a handful of ways. But how much better can they get?
Sure, there are exceptions, obviously
Of course, there are going to be outliers. Working professionals who depend on certain specifications and a high level of durability have specific needs, and they often hit their camera’s limits. There are certain cameras and specifications that better suit things like timelapse, for example. But overall, these are edge cases that don’t count for anywhere near the number of posts I see on social media.
And the vast majority of those people, when they get that new camera, their images are no better than they were before with the camera they bought a year earlier. Or the one they the year before that.
I saw a meme on Facebook the other day on Facebook that said something along the lines of:
Collecting cameras and using them are two very different hobbies.
And while, yes, it’s a joke. It’s also true.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for buying new gear if and when you need it. But make sure you need it and know why you need it. A lot of you are wasting money on cameras when you should be spending it on something else.
Maybe that something else is lenses. Or lighting. Or travel, to shoot unique images in faraway locations. Many people, though, should probably spend it on photography classes so they understand whether their limitations are in the camera or in themselves.