Ever since I was young, I was interested in photography and being able to create awesome things that I could appreciate. At first, gear wasn't something that really mattered to me, as long as I could take photos and video and somehow edit them to create what I envisioned. As time went on and I began to get more serious, I realized my gear was sort of important and I do think that having the best gear you need for the field you are in is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself. I know not everyone is a huge gear head and may not want to invest in new gear, but I will share some of my reasons for upgrading my gear to benefit my work.
About 15 years ago, I had gotten my first camera ever. A little point and shoot canon that could do slow mo and play it back on the screen. As a 5th grader, this was so awesome to me and I loved using it, but it was by no means professional nor did it need to be. By the time high school rolled around and I was a Pole Vaulter, I thought I would be interested in shooting sports and taking photos and videos of myself and my teammates as we vaulted. I decided it would be good to upgrade my camera to a Nikon P90 (newer version P900) with a zoom and decent video capability for its time. My reason for making this upgrade had nothing to do with how good the camera was. It had to do with what I was using it for. I wanted to be able to zoom so I could shoot from far away and I also wanted to be able to shoot over eight frames a second to capture the sports I thought I'd be shooting. So high school goes by and I used that camera here and there. In the summer of 2012, I took every bit of money I had from graduation and put it towards a Sony a65 DSLR. My reason for this upgrade was so that I could further my camera control by switching lenses and controlling focus to shoot exactly what I wanted to shoot. This camera still had a fast burst mode and was also capable of decent 1080p video if I wanted to go there one day.
Fast forward four years. I'm in college now and I have taken all my film classes, and have learned how to shoot completely manual and actually use a camera. By this point I have gained so much knowledge that I began to realize the gear I had wasn't anything special at all. Of course the gear allowed me to learn the basics of a camera, specific lenses, and photography in general; it was also able to get me through college projects and whatever shoots I had to do outside of the professional world. Summer of 2015, I was introduced to the Nikon D610, a full frame DSLR. At the time this camera seemed really expensive to me and I questioned if it would be worth it or not to own a full frame camera and buy all new lenses for a completely new system I'd be shooting with. I bought the camera and it ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life so far. One of the best reasons not because the Nikon D610 is the most amazing camera out there, but because it was a real step into the "professional photography" realm which was the direction I wanted to go with my work.
Because of the full frame upgrade, I was able to start buying good lenses that would last and be compatible with whatever other Nikon bodies I bought. The camera and lenses alone were such a big upgrade to me that I actually felt better about my work and through this, got my first freelance job as an Airbnb Photographer that same summer. Back during this time, I didn't know where I was going to be later down the road, I still had a year left in college and had no clue what I was going to do when I graduated. This time when I was upgrading, it wasn't about how fast the camera could shoot or whatever other stupid features I thought I might have wanted to have. It was about the camera, the quality, the auto-focus, dynamic range, and all of the other important components that I saw helping me improve the work I wanted to do down the road.
When I first purchased a drone about a year and a half ago, I bought the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ because $700 for a drone at the time seemed like a steal and I didn't know much about them aside from the fact that I was interested in trying out aerial photography. I was not sure this was something I was interested in, but the only way to find out was to buy a drone and see what I could do with it. After owning this drone for about a month and having more than enough issues with camera distortion and signal strength, I decided that it was time to upgrade to the Phantom 3 Advanced for a more reliable drone, and a more stable and better camera. At this point in time, I was still in college and still not doing any professional work, I actually did not even think a drone could be a source of income back when I first started with them.
During the summer of 2016, I challenged myself to go out and fly as much as I could. I was inspired by a lot of aerial photos on Instagram and wanted my work to be as good as the work I saw on there. After spending a whole summer shooting with this drone and creating some pretty awesome photos, I was beginning to realize that the camera quality was lacking severely. The photos I was taking on my drone were comparable to photos I could take with my iPhone which essentially left me little to no room to play with my files when editing. This became more and more of an issue so I began to research a drone that would allow me to shoot better quality photos and put out higher quality video, the answer was the Inspire 1. I sat on this thought for a while knowing that the Inspire 1 was older than the Phantom 3 series and told myself I should just wait for a new one to come out, because I didn't even have the money for the Inspire anyway. I did my absolute best to make this work but every single time I would go out and shoot, I knew that if I was able to shoot a better quality file, control every setting on my camera, and change lenses, I would be able to advance my work so much.
Fast forward a few months, September 2016. At this point in time half of the work I did was with my drone. I had no reason to upgrade from my Phantom 3 because it did everything I needed it to do at the time. However, all it took was that summer shooting with my Phantom 3 to become more obsessed than I ever would have thought I could be. Because of that, I felt like I was at a loss with this drone because the quality to me was becoming more and more of an issue being that I wanted to actually pursue work in this field. More and more work began to actually come in and after shooting aerials for an architect and hearing the quality wasn't good enough. I kind of lost my cool and began thinking about the opportunity in investing in a better drone with a better camera to put out better work. By now, the Inspire 2 had finally been released and it was one beast of a drone, but I did not have the $6,000 to put down on a base model of the Inspire 2 with just one lens and a set of batteries. It was around January this year that I realized there was a high risk, high reward opportunity sitting right in front of me and if I didn't act on it then, it wouldn't pay off the way I wanted it to in the future.
I went ahead and bought the Inspire 2, X5S combo with extra batteries and lenses. I knew that in the short run I would be taking a hit money wise, but I told myself that if I familiarized myself with the drone in the winter, I could start putting out some really amazing work by the spring. With the right amount of practice, I was able to really start getting used to this drone and now with spring on its way, almost I am ready to go after any job I can with this drone knowing that it will not let me down. 90% of the work I do now involves me flying my drone and I have to say I couldn't be happier deciding to upgrade because now there are just endless opportunities for drone work lying in front of me.
So how do you know if it is time for you to upgrade your gear? For me it is as simple as realizing the opportunity it may open up for you in the long run. If you feel that upgrading your gear is something that is going to benefit you and you can see how it will benefit you; then maybe it's time you do it. I never realized the importance of gear until I realized how much I cared about the work I was doing. When I began working and doing photography full time and decided to start up a business doing it, I realized that putting out the best possible content is absolutely necessary. I have learned a lot in the past few years alone and I plan on learning a lot more as time goes on and technology improves. All in all, the most important thing to look at when buying gear is what it will do to help your work.