Can Upgrading Your Gear Make You Less Happy?

Cyber Monday — the more recent sibling of Black Friday — is upon us. It is therefore a good time to remind everyone that upgrades of gear are not always the right move, and they can be detrimental in more ways than one.

I imagine most photographers and videographers have fallen foul of the allure new gear has. I know — for certain — that I have invested in new camera equipment under the belief I was improving my arsenal, only to gradually realize it wasn't a sensible use of my money. However, it also had either no long-term impact on my happiness (which in fairness, I didn't expect it to) and sometimes a negative impact.

Hedonic adaptation is an observed psychological principle that humans tend to return to a resting state of happiness despite positive or negative events. It is as if we are tethered to a degree of happiness that is much harder to change, and impacts to it, both large and small, are unlikely to change that stable state long-term.

One of the more fundamental and well-known examples of nothing more than a happiness blip is purchasing items you want. Us photographers are prone to gear envy and will often look to justify the purchase of new equipment. It is occasionally the correct decision, but I find the short spike of euphoria when buying gear isn't from these informed decisions, but rather purchases of the heart I may come to regret.

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6 Comments

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Over the years I watched most of the YouTube community and only a handful of local pros switch to Sony mirrorless from Canon and Nikon. During this time they told us how outdated our DSLRs were and that Sony was going to destroy Nikon and Canon and be the leading pro shooters choice of gear. After skipping the R and owning the 5D Mark IV for 4 years(woot woot on that beautiful ROI), switching to the R5 didn't make me less happy it made me understand why so many people loved upgrading to mirrorless and poo-pooed the now dying tech of DSLR.

Momchil Yordanov's picture

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that. Some people will feel happy, others will not. It's not about the gear, it's about their general state of mind and the place in life they are in. But as a general rule - if your photography is not giving you satisfaction, the most likely reason for that is NOT the camera or lens you are using. And purchasing new ones is unlikely to change that.

Chris Rogers's picture

Absolutely it can. When I first started taking photos seriously all I had was Nikon D100 and a 50mm f1.8D. I took more photos with that camera than I do currently with my newer ones. I have 13 cameras now of film and digital variety and I hardly ever shoot unless it's for work. Depression deffo doesn't help with this either. It's nigh impossible to enjoy anything if it's bad enough. I thought buying newer more capable gear would help solve my photography/depression woes and get my self out there to shoot. I was very wrong. I put my self in to quite a bit of debt because of it. It's not crippling but it is the result of a series of bad purchasing decisions. One of my favorite cameras, the Nikon D200 that I got a seriously spanking deal on ( like new for $100 :D) but I have yet to shoot it. More gear won't make you shoot more. All that money I spent on gear could have been for trips to go actually take photos in nice places. All that time I focused on learning gear and trying to "keep up" made my self miss out on ACTUAL photographic experiences I am now trying to to find the time to enjoy. I learned way late in the game that gear matters little. Actually taking photos is the most important thing you can do for your self as a photographer. Bad or good, just get out and shoot and enjoy the experience with who ever you may be with. Life is too short to have so much G.A.S.
Any more if I see ANY thing that has to do with talking about gear I avoid it. I will not give it the time of day. It's the same stuff over and over and over and over. "X brand releases new camera, here's what you should know!" Then it's just internet personalities spitting specs at you for 15 minutes while you learn nothing of photographic value in the process. Any media talking about specs, for me, is an absolute waste of time. Show us more lighting, editing, composition, & posing techniques. Teach us more about running a business. Stop with the "TOP [insert favorite number]" articles. They help no one and are just click bait.

Now if your whole purpose in photography is to just to collect camera gear then by all means please buy as much as you want. I can understand some people may just enjoy the functionality of a device. Like watches. You can spend $10 dollars on a watch that tells time or you can spend 10million on a watch that.... tells the exact same time. Collecting is partly about appreciating how the object functions and watches and cameras function in very complicated and precise ways that one can totally appreciate the engineering of. If that's you, Then you do you. If you fully plan on being a photographer and putting out high quality professional work then focus on the photographic process first. If you want to do both that's great too just know that time spent on one objective is time not spent another.

A M's picture

Assuming one actually 'needs' any new equipment (just like they 'need' a 1,000 cell phone), what the recent sales show us is the following: when the Canon 5D Mark IV and the Nikon 850 came out, a lot of people thought they were the ultimate cameras at the time. Today, the heavy discounting has started. So, the question is, if they were so wonderful back a few short years, are they not even better value now. Assuming you're not a pro, the answer, of course, is yes.

And the other important question is, have your photography and vision skills improved, in the meantime? Sometimes it's not the equipment that urgently needs 'updating'.

Edo Photo's picture

This is one of the more bizarre headlines I've seen recently. I honestly feel like some of these subjects are really non-subjects. That said...

I wanted to add one thing. I think that most photographers have an appreciation of gadgets and tech to some degree. Any new gadget or piece of tech becomes a process of learning /using and then applying (to something/some project).

So what you may be calling a happiness blip I call motivation so use a new tool to create with. I've been disheartened that one of my favorite recent cameras is absolutely shit at taking pictures - and budget constraints forced me to put off a plan purchase for quite some time. I finally pulled a trigger yesterday and now I'm looking forward to learning the new gear and everything it has to benefit me. Unlike some consumers I typically only buy stuff that I need, so this new little body will definitely be put to work ASAP.

Again my overall point in stat the gear can just be a lead-in to something to do or personal goal to conquer. And there's nothing wrong with that at all, I really feel like this is not a big deal or a valuable discussion. That's just my 2c. Cheers.

Malcolm Wright's picture

I guess buying new gear in the hope of improving falls into the category as doing the same things in the hope of a different outcome.