There comes a time in every growing photographer's career when he or she decides that it is time to upgrade their equipment. If you are like me, then you put it off for as long as possible. In recent posts, I’ve mentioned that I firmly believe that you can create some great images using a very basic DSLR. While this is true under most circumstances, there are often times as a working photographer that you will need the options of a professional grade DSLR. While clients, budgets and timing are all factors in your upgrade, making a choice can also be complicated and confusing. How many autofocus points do you really need? Do you absolutely need huge files? or, is 18 vs 24 megapixels really going to make a difference. While there is no substitute for good old fashioned research and learning, here are a few simple reasons why you might be ready to upgrade your camera.
Low Light Capabilities
One of the first things that drove my decision to upgrade to a full frame DSLR was the ability to shoot in low light conditions. Personally, I didn’t have a lot of money invested in lenses and lighting at the time. I had a few decent lenses and I decided that after investing in a body, I would make my lens upgrades as needed. While strobes are a great way to increase light, I also wanted to have the option to shoot at a higher ISO and get a clean, grain free image. The camera I was using at the time allowed me to shoot at about 1600 ISO before things got a little funky. That’s not to say you can’t make some changes in post that will make things a little better but I really wanted the option to be able to shoot at a high ISO if I needed to.
Proper lighting is absolutely essential to having quality work, any event, portrait or wedding I shoot I always bring off camera lighting. When it comes to weddings, I try my best to capture moments, and while I do my best to set up strobes and use bounce flash techniques, sometimes in order to capture a moment you just have to work with what you've got. I am ok with turning up the ISO and using available light to capture a moment as it unfolds. Sometimes you just don’t have time to set up lights, and I don’t always prefer the way an on camera flash lights a shot. I have found it useful being able to shoot with a fast enough shutter speed to stop motion because I was confident that I could get a clean image with a higher ISO.
While my bread and butter work is in the studio shooting products where getting a quick focus isn’t always as important, I also shoot weddings and events, as well as spend a ton of time outside shooting various activities. One of my favorite subjects to shoot is surfing and having a camera with a good autofocus is essential. While there is nothing wrong the basic autofocus systems on most entry level DSLR’s, they do suffer from some set backs. For weddings and events where moments are unfolding right in front of you, having a camera that has an autofocus system you can trust will do wonders for your work. There is nothing worse that looking down at your camera to see a shot where the focus locked on to something in the foreground and your subject is out of focus. I love my D7000 and it is a great camera however it is notorious for doing this and can be frustrating and cause you to miss some great moments. Also, if you plan on doing any video work, can be crucial to have a camera that is capable of staying in focus as you film
Autofocus as well as low light capabilities have a lot to do with the lenses you are using as well. I know that personally, I often heard photographers say its wise to invest in glass before a body. I believe that the decisions should be made some what together. Just because you have a couple nice Canon lenses doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick with Canon. I did a lot of work early on with an entry level Canon. I had a few decent lenses but when the time came for me to upgrade, I couldn’t deny the Nikon D750. I purchased the camera with a plan for investing in lenses as my work grew. When I had a shoot that required a lens I didn’t have, I would just rent one. Don’t limit yourself just because you have a few lenses. gear changes and sometimes your needs change. Maybe the camera system you bought 3 years ago isn’t exactly what you need now, don’t let brands get you stuck.
This one really depends on what your needs are. While I like the idea of being able to shoot at a higher frame rate It wasn’t as important for me in my wedding and event work and definitely not for portraits. While I can see being able to shooting several photos rapidly could be useful in the occasional wedding situation I’m not really a huge fan of the spray and pray. My interests was more for my work outdoors. The situations I find it most useful in are high speed action shots. In surfing, when someone is in a barrel it is nice to be able to sift through shots in post and pick out the photo with the best positioning or to create a sequence. It is also useful in wildlife photography, capturing a moment as it happens in front of you, you may only have one chance to get the shot you want and blasting out at least half a dozen shots per second can give you some options.
Depending on what your main body of work is will ultimately determine your need for a shooting at a higher frame rate. Some photographers want huge bursts while other don't require it. Don't let yourself be convinced of something that you don't really need. If it will help your work then I say sure, go for it. But don't spend the extra money for something you don't really need.
My intention is not to guide you to a specific camera but rather discuss some of the common factors that are effected by having a camera that cannot keep up with the level of work you are doing. For me, low light capabilities, having a good autofocus system, and the frame rate were important, these may not be as crucial for your work. Some other common factors that can influence your upgrade are File size, Wifi connectivity, how much noise the shutter makes (having a quiet mode), having in camera controls for time lapse, intervals, and HDR. The list goes on but these are some common areas you should consider when assessing what you really need with your new camera.
As I have mentioned previously, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a basic DSLR. With proper lighting and post production you can truly create some amazing images and there are many great artists that do this. Unless you are planning on blowing up your images for huge prints then the quality shouldn’t make much of a difference. When I upgraded my equipment, I went from a crop frame to a full frame sensor. That doesn’t mean you have to do the same, there are some great crop frame DSLRs out there that have a lot of the options I mentioned above. In my opinion, the biggest reason to upgrade your equipment is moments. When your camera is not allowing you to capture the moment fast enough with professional quality, that is where I draw the line. Especially as a wedding photographer, I feel as it is my duty to capture these moments as clear and beautiful as possible. That is not to say you can’t get some great artistic shots, maybe a little motion blur or grain will only add to your image, it is all personal preference. For me, I know I can create a lot of those effects in post if I want to. If that's your style and its what your hired for, more power to you. But as a working professional, sometimes its about making the client happy and paying the bills so having options and meeting their needs is number one. Feel free to share any advice you have about upgrading your camera. I would love to hear what you started with and what you use now.