Are You Ready To Upgrade Your Camera Body?

Are You Ready To Upgrade Your Camera Body?
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.
 

Autofocus

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. 
 
 

FPS

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.
 

Other Factors

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. 
 
 
 
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30 Comments

Sean Shimmel's picture

I admire your highlighted topics. Shooting with a Nikon D800, I am supremely satisfied. It's confident capabilities make me confident.

Yet, it's fun to see what we all can still accomplish with our "outdated underdogs" (mine is the Nikon D80).

Take a peek (more to come):

http://lifeascinema.blogspot.com/2015/06/that-little-giant.html

Daniel Pryce's picture

The D800 is great, but the autofocus on the 2 D800 bodies i've had is horrible. I'm looking at the D810 only for the AF improvements. Its at the point where I wouldn't recommend anyone to get the D800 at this point.

Jozef Povazan's picture

Had the D800 right when it was released, shot a 5 day wedding, got pissed with back-focusing issue of the left AF points, send the camera back to Nikon for refund and never touched it again for couple more reasons... I am a happy D3s D750 shooter with hands on D810 as we speak :)... like all of those !

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

wow! thought i was bad.. but i have the same problem! iam so depressed of the back-focus so i will sell it and buy a Nikon D700. ^^

Jozef Povazan's picture

Get D750 instead !!! trust me you will not look back, but mine needed quite a big AF tune before it was pin sharp so check it before your shoots and calibrate if needed :) nothing is perfect these days but D750 is a monster :)

Jason Vinson's picture

I only had 1 lens of 6 that needed any type of adjustment so i have to think it was the lens and not the camera.

Jozef Povazan's picture

Not in my case I had two of the top notch lenses 24-70 f2.8 and 14-24 f2.8 which are razor sharp on my D3s and they were upside down on D750 !

Sean Shimmel's picture

Strange. Mine is superfantastic every which way. But thanks for the field report.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I don't know if the initial D800 firmware version had bugs in the AF but mine now is at least as solid in the AF department as my D700 which at least for me was my gold standard.

Then again I only use single point focus so perhaps that is not nearly as intense as the other modes.

Austin Rogers's picture

Tell me about it. I had terrible back focusing on my body (more than could be corrected with the af-fine-tune). I sent it to Midwest Camera Repair and they got me sorted. Now all my lenses are focusing perfectly with 0 fine-tune. It was beyond frustrating.

How much was this service Austin? I'm having the same issues.

Chris Cheek's picture

Love my D750...

As i do shot at low light, very High dynamic Lighting environment, on a moving and vibrating platform
https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnlsl/15294150255/

Or a a verly low light and High dynamic Lighting environment, Trying to freeze Moving object up
https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnlsl/14918840560/

I do require my camera to have a very strong Low Light Capabilities with verly High dynamic Range in a single shot
Any New camera can give me this and i am going in for it

Tony Carter's picture

Dang...this has been my EXACT experience in the last 9 months when I switched from a Canon crop (7D) to a Nikon full (D610). When shooting sports, I thought I'd miss having 8fps capability, but when dropping down to 6fps, I just learned to anticipate more when the real action was going to happen before firing away.

The other thing to remember is that just when you think you've learned and utilized all that you can know about your camera, you're probably wrong ;)

Ramon Vaquero's picture

Shooting with a D800 for three years long, very satisfied with IQ but sometimes its horrible AF-S mode is going to make me "upgrade" to the D750. I will use it for low light and events pro photography - which don't really need 36 mpx files - keeping the D800 for studio and more laid-back works.

Rabia Ahmad's picture

Iv been shooting with a nikon D5100 for about 3 years now. and i think its time to upgrade. I havent shot in a while because my current camera keeps missing focus as i mostly like shooting sports. I am concerned about what will happen to my lenses if i do end up upgrading.

https://500px.com/Rabia_Ahmed

I would also include camera size in decision-making! In fact I'd regard it as one of the most significant real-world considerations. I'm shooting professionally with mirrorless cameras now, and simply wouldn't go back to DSLRs. Bodies and lenses are unnecessarily big (and heavy!) and the viewfinders don't give enough info. I'm more likely to have a pro-spec camera with me now, and that really counts for a lot. The viewfinders on my OM-Ds show me exposure compensation, white balance and highlight clipping — or black and white if I'm using the camera's built-in filters. Big heavy DSLR, no need… no thanks!

Joel Meaders's picture

From the photos I've seen the OM-D doesn't seem much smaller than any other DSLR. I wanted to get a mirror-less body to bring around with me since I don't like bringing my larger cameras unless I'm getting paid. I haven't found one to suit me yet.

Ben McLendon's picture

I've been working with a Canon 7D for the last few years. It is an incredibly functional and reliable body. I recently added a 6D to my kit. I chose this body primarily for the full frame sensor. I haven't used it for a gig yet but my initial impression of the body is very positive.

I did the opposite. Using 5D and 40D bodies since forever, finally upgraded to 6D (GPS and Wi-Fi can actually be useful). Had a 60D for two years, only 1,706 actuations. Ditched that for a pair of 7D bodies. Now I have a full frame with GPS and high ISO for outdoor/wildlife, and the 7D bodies are worlds ahead of the 60D for wildlife, when I need the extra reach. And I love them all for their applications. But still not chasing more pixels.

Good article that addresses a number of points to consider. What is also important is that the improvements these days are incremental and have a small effect on the final image. The very fact that we have fiery forum debates on IQ is proof of that.
In the end it is a business decision. If you can make your living more easily with new gear go for it. Otherwise preserve your cash to get you through times of no work.

If more photographers shot film with a manual focus camera for a couple of months, they would realize that a lot of what they think they need is really just stuff they want.

I'm shooting Nikon D300 + D7100.

I use the D7100 for portraits because it has more pixels.
I use the D300 for sports photography. Faster AF and FPS.

On both Camera, I use Sensitivity Control wich works well when working in A mode. 90% are sharp, but a bit noisy. My clients don't notice, though.

For me to upgrade my body would be later on. I have some lenses that are not FX compatible. I can still deliver professional work with my DX cameras.

Anonymous's picture

Still (mid-2015) using a pair of 10-year-old Canons: an EOS 1-D ii N and an EOS 1-Ds ii. The 16.7 Mp of the s-model is more than enough for just about any use, and even the 8.2Mp (which seems miserly these days) of the faster-shooting 1D ii N will produce beautiful images at huge sizes. They may seem long in the tooth, but they both feel indestructible, and still work perfectly. Despite taking over 70,000 shots, being dropped, soaked and taking other abuse one of them still looks brand new (and the other is not looking bad).

More recent cameras have marginally better AF, better metering, and a higher-res rear screen, none of which makes any big difference to how these cameras perform. Current models are worth having for their Lithium batteries but the benefits are not so valuable as to justify an expensive upgrade. The same can be said for the faster image processing of the latest from Canon. The other big improvements in current cameras, like the 1-Dx and top-of-the-range Nikons, are (much) better low light performance and live view ... neither of which is of any relevance to my sort of photography.

Before I switched to 1-series EOS cameras I had been put off by all those internet-bleaters and nay-sayers that warned of their great weight. But far from finding it a problem, it helps me to keep the cameras steady, and I have no trouble carrying one or two of them all day long. I have decided that most of the warnings came from people that have never picked up a 1-D series EOS.

I still have an EOS 10D that is a bit slow handling, and is not great in low light, but otherwise makes beautiful images. I would keep it forever if it were not that many image banks now demand images of not fewer than 8Mp.

My 10D was the first camera I wore out the shutter on. I keep it for nostalgiac reasons.

james darden's picture

I'd like to upgrade to a system that performed better in low light environments. There were a couple previous articles you guys put up about shooting CrossFit and this is what I primarily shoot. The gyms are notorious for having poor lighting. It's mostly flourescent in nature with super high ceilings. It's too bad they don't have daylight floods. My D700 doesn't do so well at the higher ISOs needed to leave the SB-xxx in the bag. I friend of mine shoots with a 5dMkIII and I'm constantly amazed at the high ISO performance. The images are so crisp and sharp with little evidence of noise. I don't think he even does that much in post.

25 years of using Canon, I understand the envy. ;)

Not yet. I bought my Canon 5D Mk III in December 2013. Do I want the 1Dx? Heck yea!. Can I afford it? Heck no! I tend to hang onto cameras for a while. I still use my Canon A-1 that I bought new in 1980; I bought my F-1N used in 2013. The FPS of the 5D is comparable with the motor drives on the A-1 and F-1N.

Dino Mari's picture

D700, some 200k clicks on it. Had no GAS in years now. Might be me, might be the industry.

Kian McKellar's picture

Great article on the pros and cons of such a decision. Thanks.