How To Photograph Real Estate and Vacation Rentals

Is It Better to Upgrade Your Camera or Your Lens?

You've got some extra money burning a hole in your pocket and you're ready to upgrade your gear, but is it better to spend that cash on a new camera body or a new lens? This helpful video will help you decide.

Coming to you from YCImaging, this great video talks about whether it's better to upgrade your camera body or to grab a new lens, mostly leaning toward spending that money on better glass. In general, I agree. A new lens can drastically change the look of your work depending on what you're shooting with now and what you're considering upgrading to. On the other hand, a new camera body can certainly provide better features or capabilities than what you have at the moment, but unless your current body is more than a couple generations behind, it's not likely to provide the same sort of drastic shift a new lens can, unless you're constantly working at your camera's extremes. And in addition to the big upgrade in image quality you can achieve with a new lens, depending on what you buy, you can open all sorts of new creative avenues. Definitely think carefully before you decide to upgrade your gear. 

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50 Comments
EXkurogane Blog's picture

Good camera + crap lens = crap photos
"Bad" camera + good lens = good photos

I'll never understand people who put most of their budget, $2500, $3000 for the latest full frame because it had a boatload of features, but will probably get stuck on the bundled kit lens for the next 3 years.

Hugh Dom's picture

Been using an entry mirrorless with good vintage primes, couldn't be happier.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Olympus OM lenses on an OM-D E-M10 gives me good results without spending big bucks on the modern equivalent lenses. Using them on an A6000 too.

Deleted Account's picture

Not arguing for upgrading the camera but I've seen a lot of excellent photos taken with kit lenses. So, "crap photos"? Not because of the lens.

Duane Klipping's picture

Agreed most of my published images have been from an 18-55mm kit lens on a D7100 body. It is more about knowledge of the tool and craft than it is about equipment.

michaeljin's picture

If you're getting crap photos, the fault is not with the gear. Even kit lenses can produce great photos these days. The really aren't any truly bad lenses or camera bodies anymore... at least not from any major manufacturer.

EXkurogane Blog's picture

I have gotten good photos out of kit lenses but let's face it, the amount of chromatic aberrations and other flaws are not up to the standards of higher end glass. Image quality only reaches its peak when you go down to f8, f9.

I find it really dumb to limit the potential of a camera's true abilities and sensor by using kit lenses. They are fine for vacation or casual shots but i would not use them from serious work.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

E.g. I find eyeAF really useful and don’t need anything below f4 for studio portraits. I’ll spend 4K for camera and 0.6K for crappy 85/1.8 lens.

Deleted Account's picture

Good camera + crap lens + good photographer = good photos
crap camera + good lens + good photographer = good photos

Rather tired of whole "equipment makes the image" schtick. While you need equipment to do the job, a capable photographer can create a great image no matter what kind of gear they use.

Lee Stirling's picture

"Bad" Camera + "Crap" Lens + Creative and Proficient Photographer = Good Photos.
We know you can't put a round peg in a square hole, so trying to make your camera/lens combo do something it can't do will lead to bad photos. But getting creative and finding the round hole for your round peg will let you produce images beyond the innate capability you think your "bad" camera/lens is capable of.

Rifki Syahputra's picture

I prefer better glass, it gives better yield

Chris Konieczny's picture

What does that mean?

davidlovephotog's picture

Forget them both and focus on lighting. A really good picture of something horribly lit won't help much.

Eric Crudup's picture

Yeah pretty much. Better lenses give photos that look better and are more manipulable when lighting isnt amazing. But lighting is the biggest factor by far. For a lot of styles you can't control lighting though, so buying better equipment is one way to improve quality.

Deleted Account's picture

Given that I'm far from wealthy, and given that I do not wish to accumulate any more debt, the pertinent question becomes 'camera gear or travel?' So, at this point my choice for the year is between something like the Z6 or a trip to Japan.

Joseph Natale's picture

Go to Japan. You will take amazing photos that you might not otherwise get the opportunity to take ever again. The Z6 will wait for you.

Deleted Account's picture

Yeah, it's a no brainer really.

W S's picture

Z6 AND Japan. ;-)
Seriously, I lugged my D500 around Japan with a 17-50mm f/2.8, my back and shoulders hated it... now I'm thinking that I should have brought my micro4/3 camera and lenses instead.
If you're not on a tour, and just going to Japan and walking around all day, lighter is better, much, much better.

Rodrigo Ortiz's picture

No offense and I don't know your circumstances, but if you found walking around with a D500 and that lens tiring perhaps it is time to go to the gym.

W S's picture

Plus my backpack with my laptop. The camera's not the only thing that I lugged around. However, it was an extra couple of pounds that the strap for the camera and lens that pushed into my shoulder causing some pain.
You should try it before replying with a snitty comment about going to the gym.
My solution is just as proper, switch to a lighter camera system

Rodrigo Ortiz's picture

Trust me, I've tried it with full sized bodies. multiple lenses and medium format systems, laptops, drives, batteries, motion control systems, chargers, food, water, tent, sleeping bag, etc. over multiple days. That's why I can't understand why carrying what you mention is problematic, but I see it is for you.
Since switching to a lighter system is a compromise I am not willing to make I decided to lose weight myself and working out has helped quite a bit, sorry you took offense to my comments.It was an honest recommendation.
A while back ago I used these camera support straps from Thinkank to rest the weight of the body and lens on the backpack and it helped quite a bit: https://www.thinktankphoto.com/collections/camera-straps/products/camera...
Check them out they may be useful for you, even with the lighter system you are planning on getting

Jonathan Brady's picture

Blown away that anyone thinks there's a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. Camera. Lens. Lighting. Software. Education. Travel. Etc. They're ALL viable options, depending on an individual's particular situation.
Also, great photographers can produce better results with an entry level Rebel + kit lens from 10 years ago + their lighting and software than the vast majority of the folks who write for and read this site. And I am ABSOLUTELY included in that "vast majority".
Gear is more for fun and variety. Of course, there are legitimate reasons to add or upgrade gear, it's just not as necessary as most of us (me included) have convinced ourselves that it is.

Doc M's picture

sometimes stepping back a few generations in lenses can offer dramatic increase in quality of your photographs as well. give up autofocus and look at some vintage primes. I have a nikkor 50mm f1.4 that rivals the quality of my leica 50mm summilux. also have a 28mm konica that gives amazing quality of photos. not at the same level as my leica 28mm but as a travel lens it is amazing. Without pixel peeping can't tell the difference. If shooting a mirrorless you can adapt just about anything to them and get amazing results. my photos are not limited by my equipment or the $28 konica lens. Anything lacking in my photos are a result of my skill. I was gifted a new zeiss 16-35 sony mount for christmas and it did not take nearly as good of photos as my vintage lens. while the autofocus was amazing the photos just didn't have the feel that I like. So it went back. While I am far from an expert I also at a point where I know what i like and what i should get for such a costly lens.

Chris Silvis's picture

Preach

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

If you are doing photography for a living, ask you this simple question:
How can I get my investment back? and how long it's gonna take?
For a lens, the answer can be 2 to 5 years when it have to be more one to 2 for a camera body.

In most situation, it's more the lens who do the picture. For example, macro photography, sport and wildlife. In this case, there are no way around.

I found myself being able to fix in post most of my "old camera body weakness" more than my lack of correct lens.

Paul Scharff's picture

Obviously it depends on what you have. My lenses are good enough for me hold onto, and to instead upgrade to a new camera if Canon ever introduces any non-incremental upgrade in my lifetime. But every so often there's a justification for a new lens if there has been progress in a previous version, e.g. from the Sigma 50-500 non-OS to their new 60-600 OS.

Deleted Account's picture

I have stopped to use the cameras that I have bought 20 years ago.
I still uses lenses that I have bought 40 years ago.
A (good) lens if for the life!

Kirk Darling's picture

So that means once you have the lenses that fit your work, it's the body upgrades that make more sense...for you (for me, too).

Deleted Account's picture

Yes. But there is a point that we should also consider: some today new cameras have a higher resolution than many old lenses, so for these cameras you should use new modern lenses to take advantage of both.

Kirk Darling's picture

First, the idea floating around that higher resolution cameras require new lenses is only a little bit true. System resolution is a product of the resolutions of lens and sensor, and it never, ever reaches the theoretical maximum of either. Nether lens nor sensor is ever actually "maxed out." A higher resolution sensor merely pulls the lens closer to its theoretical maximum. So there is still a system resolution benefit.

The big lens revolution happened as lens designs transitioned from film camera lenses to digital camera lenses (reflection coatings and lots more). When my testing revealed my 5D Mk I could get within a negligible distance from my Mamiya RZ67, I was "there."

Second, our last couple of iterations of the lenses that are basic "money lenses" (like the medium telephoto zooms) haven't particularly been significant resolution increases. As I mentioned in another post, replacing a Canon 5D Mk I with a Canon tD Mk III makes a whale of a greater difference than replacing a Canon f/2.8 70-200mm IS L Mk I with a Canon f/2.8 70-200mm IS L Mk III.

In terms of professional use, once someone has the good lenses that are doing what needs doing, body upgrades become more advantageous.

Deleted Account's picture

Kirk, I think that you make (a fairly common) confusion.
When we speak of the resolution of a sensor we speak of the number of pixels. But when we speak of the resolution of a lens we speak of the angular resolution of the lens, so the ability o distinguish small details of an object, thereby making it a major determinant of image resolution.
And good prime lenses produced in 2018 have a higher angular resolution than the ones produced 40 years ago, this in great part because of the better quality of the materials and technologies used today. Generally modern lenses have less diffraction, less aberration, less distortion…
The difference is visible and evident to naked eye for anybody who does not need a good visit to an ophthalmologist…

Kirk Darling's picture

I'm not talking about upgrading from a lens produced 40 years ago. I'm talking about there not being a need to upgrade from a lens produced six or eight years ago compared to the improvement of cameras from six or eight years ago.

Deleted Account's picture

So, according to you lenses produced 6 or 8 years ago are good as lenses such as Sigma Art lenses and other lenses produced these last 2 or 3 years like the Nikon 300mm and 500mm PF…
Have a nice day and good shooting!

Deleted Account's picture

I'd go for a lens that I didn't have. Or fancied.
The steps up in body tech are getting minimal. Ok there's the endless debate of DSLR or Mirrorless, advantages and disadvantages based on the type of shooting you do. Either train that you ride, and no matter what flavour of brand, lenses are generally a place where we can gain in image quality and flexibility.

As someone making a living from photography, upgrades and new kit are part of business and less about features. Once kit is written off the books, it's smart to 're-invest' in the company. The easiest option there is a new body. Lenses, I find it hard to out a perfectly good F2.8 lens because the new one is minimally better in some circumstances, rather waiting until they all apart. Which is rare. Maybe I need too shift that mentality though, I dunno.
Next up on my business spends though, new desktop computer.

Allen Keefner's picture

I think everyone here is forgetting a crucial point and that’s that whatever combination of gear you use (good lens + bad camera, bad lens + good camera) is irrelevant. It boils down to your skills as a photographer. I’ve seen amazing results from photographers using both combinations. I myself shot my first short film on a Kodak Easyshare and was literally blown away by the surprising quality I got out of a camera that should NEVER have been used to shoot a cinematic story. I achieved that effect by utilizing the proper lighting techniques. It ultimately comes down to how much control you want and how much work you want to do to achieve the kinds of images you want to achieve. If you don’t mind some grain and using higher ISO then go for a lower cost camera body and a higher cost low light lens. If grain bothers you or doesn’t fit your aesthetic then opt for a better, possibly full frame camera body. Even some of the widest apertures on lenses often aren’t enough to completely do away with the use of high ISO on some camera models. Maybe you don’t even need a good low light lens or high ISO capable camera. In that case you’ve lucked out in terms of equipment cost and your available options. It’s all about you, not your equipment.

Deleted Account's picture

Why use "good lens + bad camera, bad lens + good camera" when you can use good lens and good camera?

Christian Lainesse's picture

it depends on what you typically photograph, really.

Rhonald Rose's picture

Use that money to travel. If you already have a descent camera + lens, it's time to travel and take some photos

Simon Patterson's picture

Is it better to upgrade your camera or your lens? If you need a YouTube video to give you the answer, then you probably need to upgrade your experience levels before you buy anything extra.

Tamas Nemeth's picture

Maybe a field trip or a workshop would be a better place for that money, if the goal is to improve the overall result (eg. the photographs). The weak chain most of the case is the human behind these tools.

Jonathan Watson's picture

When I bought my K-3, I got into a bit of LBA. Some turned out to be good purchases (Takumar 50 f/1.4 was excellent), while others I purchased before reading up, and should have saved (Pentax SMC DA 50-200 is a "meh" zoom).

However, what I have found as I have gotten more into photography and learning not only about the art, but about myself, is that I should stick with a couple decent lenses, covering ranges from (say) 50 - 300, and see where I find myself needing more, based on my pursuits. So, I realized recently that I take a great many indoor photos where flash is not the best option, and a 18-50 F/4 does not achieve anything in terms of low-light capability. So I invested in a Tamron 28-75mm F2.8 AF XR Di LD Macro SP, which suits much better. Now that I am getting into astrophotography, the Tamron _might_ be long for starscapes, so I continue to investigate and avoid LBA.

Tony Clark's picture

I’ve always tried to buy used gear and utilize it all, not collecting it. Every body was used from the 1D up to the 1Dx then I finally bought two new 5DIV’s. I was usually a generation behind but as others have said, it’s the photographer not the gear. If you’re a pro, you want a level of dependability and quality so the latest and greatest isn’t necessary.

David Pavlich's picture

Depends on the shooter and his/her objective. Snapshots of the cat and all you need is a phone. A wedding photo that includes a cat, you might just need better equipment. My view is you buy the best equipment that your budget will allow. Second, with that budget, you buy what fits your photo mission the best.

Jeff Drew's picture

It’s too late to save me! “Date the bodies and marry the lenses!” 😆

Don Miner's picture

I'd rather dig a swimming pool with a tractor than a shovel. The appropriate tool with operator skills to match generally produces the best results.

Rafal Wegiel's picture

How about upgrading your skills? Sorry in my opinion this is another pointless debate...

Yang W.'s picture

since sony cameras are release so frequent, lenses are better investments as they hold value better.

in terms what you should get, it should really be about what your needs are and how a new camera or a new lens address those needs

Lee Stirling's picture

Before you spend money on a new camera or lens, I think it would be useful to find inspiration to make better photos on your own, using what you already have. Thinking that a new piece of gear will make you a better photographer, is somewhat folly unless you have a specific understanding of the technical limits of your existing gear. Take a trip to a new and inspiring place, somewhere you are excited to visit and photograph, a place that will get your creative juices flowing. Get up early for sunrise and stay out late for blue hour and star photography. You need to put yourself at the right place at the right time to capture amazing images, or be with people to take portraits in new places. Just having the best gear and not going where the photos are isn't going to help.

Kirk Darling's picture

Once upon a time the old wisdom of upgrading glass first was the best rule to follow. That was back when only casual amateur bodies got frequent model updates of trim and minor features, but pro bodies only got upgraded every decade or so.

Today with cameras being mostly computers, an upgraded body may provide significant changes, while lens upgrades might provide very little change.

For instance, I suspect the actual image quality difference between the versions I and III of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens was not worth the upgrade expense for anyone who took that financial bath.

But for darned sure, upgrading from the 5D Mark I (with its dicey autofocus) to the FD Mark III or IV would have been worth it.

So it totally depends on what your needs are, what you want to do, and what specific upgrade you're making.

The old wisdom can't be taken for granted anymore.

Jatz D's picture

Hi , new to the forum. I currently own a Canon 700D which is an ok camera in good light. I wanted a body which can do good in low light, which is smaller, and ended up buying a used A7RII for USD800$ equivalent. However since the FE lenses are so expensive had to put in more money into a lens too. I am definitely happy with the freedom of a more detailed image I am getting in cropping, I get more hit rates in terms of megapixels (to crop with whopping 42 MP clean image) and higher rate of in focus images. If money is not a problem, definitely this upgrade is not a regret.

Key point is that FE lenses are made for higher resolution cameras, and pictures I am getting with the Tamron FE28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 lens is much sharper than the generally the Canon crop sensor lenses I used to shoot with. Same stand with Sony lenses.

I am having second thoughts as whether I could've spent only half of that money on good glass and had better setup? Any thoughts?