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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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.

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

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.

user-156929'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.

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.

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.

user-156818'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

David Love'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.

user-216690'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.

user-216690's picture

Yeah, it's a no brainer really.

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.

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.

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

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:
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.

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.

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.

user-206807'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).

user-206807'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.

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