Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Purchasing a New Camera or Lens

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Purchasing a New Camera or Lens

2020 has brought with it a lot of very exciting new cameras and lenses, and like many, you might be considering whipping out your credit card and placing an order. Before you do that, though, be sure to ask yourself these five questions. 

Can I Afford It?

This seems obvious, but it has taken on a new meaning in light of the events of 2020. No doubt, you should always consider your business' and personal financial situation before investing in expensive gear, but now, more than ever, it is important to err on the side of being cautious in such decisions. It is not yet clear what sort of timeline we can expect for a return to normalcy of some sort. And even if we do return to normalcy in a relatively short amount of time, the economic fallout from the pandemic is likely to persist much longer, which could seriously affect our industry as people and companies tighten their budgets over the next few years.

Try to keep a more long-term eye toward finances at this moment simply for your own protection. Reducing unnecessary spending right now can go a long way to helping you weather the next few years, particularly depending on how and when things pan out. 

Are You Consistently Missing Specific Shots Because of Your Current Setup?

One of the biggest reasons that photographers frequently give for wanting a new camera or lens is because having it will enable them to get shots they can't get with their current equipment. And certainly, that is a valid reason in a lot of cases. For example, wedding photographers often have to shoot in horrible lighting conditions and need a body that can handle high-ISO scenarios well, and modern bodies have come quite a long way in improving noise performance. Upgrading to a more modern body can make a legitimate difference in the quality of work they can produce.

Some genres do require specific specialized equipment.

Similarly, sports photographers rely on cameras with very fast burst rates and deep buffers to help them capture split-second action, and in the past few years, cameras have made major steps forward in both these areas. Wildlife photographers rely on top-level autofocus to get their shots, and the newest cameras often have impressively capable animal-specific autofocus. We have seen real steps forward in wide-aperture sharpness in portrait lenses as well, which could be a real boon for portraitists. 

Undoubtedly, new gear can and frequently does make an appreciable difference in one's work, whether in terms of efficiency or image quality. However, before you use this as justification for a purchase, be sure you can articulate a specific scenario you frequently encounter in which it will enable you to capture shots you couldn't otherwise or appreciably improve existing work and increase your bottom line.

Do You Have All the Necessary Accessories and Computer Power?

There can be a lot of hidden costs when it comes to upgrading to new gear. For example, with many newer cameras pushing sensor resolution higher and higher and offering 4K, 6K, and even 8K raw video, the amount of data being generated is absolutely massive. Of course, the first thing that means is increased need for storage: you need more memory cards (frequently in newer, more expensive formats like CFexpress), you need more hard disk space, and you might need more cloud storage space if you use that for backup or file delivery. Furthermore, things like 50-megapixel files and 8K raw video also place huge amounts of strain on your computer, and you may find that unless you are wielding the latest-generation processor and GPU along with lots of RAM that your computer might not be able to handle the large files you are throwing at it. 

Beyond storage and computing issues, you may also need a collection of new batteries for a new camera. Accessories like flash remotes may also need to be updated, especially if you are changing brands. You may need to purchase a new battery grip. When calculating the cost of purchasing a new camera, be sure you factor in all the extra costs related to accessories, storage, and computing power.

Will You Actually Use the New Features?

I have certainly been guilty of getting swept up in the allure of gee-whiz features, only to buy a device and never use it because those features either were not relevant to what I do or were simply gimmicks. The key here is that you are not buying these based on a hypothetical situation; it is easy to delude ourselves into thinking "oh well, if I had that lens, I would definitely start shooting more portrait work." If you are a landscape photographer, do you need a camera that fires images at 20 fps? Do you have any clients who are ever going to need 8K resolution? Be sure that that new camera or lens fits into your current workflow and needs, not a hypothetical one that justifies the purchase. 

Is It Just for Enjoyment?

Hey, I am all for enjoying geeking out and enjoying camera gear just because it is fun to do so. Frankly, if you can afford it and it makes you happy, do not let anyone on the internet shame you for enjoying something that puts a smile on your face. It is simply important to avoid deluding yourself into conflating being enamored with the fun of that neat gadget with an actual need for it, as that is a trap a lot of us frequently fall into. 

Having fun is ok too.

Generally, the best way to tease out the difference between these is to simply sleep on the decision. I have certainly spent many 2 am browsing sessions becoming smitten with some new camera or lens and convincing myself that I definitely needed it. Sure, I don't shoot macro, but hey, if I get that lens, I bet I will start shooting it, right? But I have learned my spending habits and trained myself not to buy anything after 10 pm. Normally, when I wake up, my rationality has returned and my bank account thanks me. 

Purchasing new gear can be an exciting thing. Just be sure you go about it the right way!

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

Log in or register to post comments

Good article that covers most of the bases. Speaking of bases, good shot of the fielder's catch. I've watched a few games at UT's field. Where is the courthouse with the unfortunate parking lot?

All those questions lead to just one main I really need it? As for...can I afford it, that shouldn't exist. You already know if you can or not.

"Can I afford it," is a question that many people do need to ask themselves. I've known a lot of people who got themselves into awful trouble when they ignored that one.

Exactly. And 'whipping our your credit card' as stated in the intro is really the worst thing to do for non-commercial photographers. (Business is a completely different game and has different rules). Unfortunately, the urge to posses is too strong, fueled by all the advertisements (who does not want to 'rule' by owning a R5? - whatever that actually means...). I still go by the advice given by several seasoned guys: get second hand equipment, 2-5 years old. Now with the release of R5 all the predecessor models will drop in resale value anyway.

Well, people who do that are fooling themselves. Maybe they should be asking, Should I TRY to afford it. Too often the desire wins out over reason. If they have to debate it within themselves, then the answer is almost

Everything I purchase is for my business, if it didn’t make me any money I would just be shooting with my phone for fun, it’s unreal how good the photos are.

Pretty good article! As someone who’s currently feeling the pain of far too many unnecessary purchases I can say it certainly isn’t worth it if it’s not something you really need.

Precondition: does the wife approve.

Or will wife notice the new body? Mine definitely will :-P

It’s Funny hearing about photographers are willing to go in credit card debt over having the opportunity to now have two memory card slots and the return of a joystick on the new Canon camera? I love seeing influencers on YouTube doing their unboxing of there new cameras, I call it G.A.S PORN (Gear. Acquisition. Syndrome). I love it when I hear about photographers who are considering to upgrade their camera gear because of these YouTube videos (as we are fully aware that the camera companies are given these influencers their new cameras for free, or at reduce cost for their endorsements). Hey, I used to fall for this practice and have the equipment collecting dust, hello. Right now, as a wedding photographer/event photographer how do you seriously justify having these expensive cameras when there are no large wedding/event now. I love to hear photo influencers say, I just upgraded to the new camera system for the upcoming wedding season. It’s August? Trust me, in 2021 the camera companies will come out with their new cameras. I have one prediction, Canon will start making medium format camera, due to photographers want to stand out in an over saturated market and 45 megapixel Is not enough. This article was a good read.

By far, my best recent large expense were two Bron Siros. I would take the 45mp from the R5, but having to pay extra for the video makes absolutely no business sense right now. The Siros have opened my work to more business opportunities and flexibility than the 45mp upgrade could ever do. I don't know of any extra work the R5 can bring considering what I do, but I am considering getting two more Siros now.

As I'm waiting for my R5 to show up, I'm also wondering when Wifey will notice the $7K hole in our checking account! LOL

What I've found that happens to me is I lust after the R5 but decide that the R6 will do. Then after buying the R6, I'm not satisfied and end up buying the R5 which costs more money than if I'd have bought the R5 in the first place. Numerous times I have done this is to inch up to what I really wanted in the first place and end up spending more money and have extra unwanted equipment than if I'd just bought what I wanted in the first place. I've come to the realization that for me I might as well buy what I wanted in the first place and the difference in money spent will be quickly forgotten. Of course, as the article points out, don't buy what you can't afford or can't hide from your wife!

My Answer is YES :D

I really do need all of the newest and best technology in order to capture all of the images the way I want to capture them. But I cannot afford the latest high end cameras. So, I make do by looking for the "best bang for the buck".

I have found the sweet spot to be used cameras that are 3 to 4 years old. For instance, I just bought a Canon 5D Mark 4 for $1500. I can't think of anything in that price range that would be better for what I photograph and the way I photograph it and what I want to do with the images after I take them, a.k.a. "end use".

The Canon R5 that just came out looks like it would be excellent for my needs. So my plan is to buy one used once the prices come down to the $1500 range, which I expect to be sometime in 2024 or thereabouts.

So for the next 4 years I will be using my 5D4. This is not ideal, but given monetary constraints, it makes the most sense. Let the other guy suffer the bulk of depreciation, because I simply cannot afford to do it myself.

Good article, Alex, thank you. When I opened it I thought about whether there will be a paragraph about the cost and here it is! And I totally agree with you about thinking whether you will use all the new features, i.e. whether they are worth paying money. Not really about a photography equipement, but I knew people buying fancy new phones just because it is "cool" to have a newer thing. Some of them claimed it was because of the better camera but everything they wanted to get could be achieved through the simple photo editors like photoworks or capture one. There is no need to buy a pricey thing just because it is "cool" and then never use the features it has!