The Ultimate Guide for Not Buying a New Camera

The Ultimate Guide for Not Buying a New Camera

I'm sure every one of us has spent at least a four-figure amount in gear that was supposed to make our images and videos better, but in the end, it didn't. Here are a few tips that could save you a few thousand dollars.

Do You Know How the Camera Works?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. You might have a misconception of what this small box does. It is not as smart as they have told you it is. It just records the image you point it at. There are three basic settings that control how light or dark the image is. They are the aperture, the shutter speed, and the sensor sensitivity called ISO. The combination of these three helps make your image properly exposed. In order to have full control over your photographs switch your camera to manual mode, which is usually the M on your dial.

Mode dial on the Canon 5D mark IV

There are side effects from changing these three settings. One of the most famous effects is the blurred background. This happens when you set the aperture to a smaller number, like f/4.0, and get closer to your subject. The higher the number the less blurred the background is. You usually need a less blurred background when shooting landscapes or architecture which means you have to use a higher number for the aperture, like f/9.0 or above. Technically speaking the aperture numbers are fractions like "1/9.0," but to save space on the display, the manufacturer usually shows just the "9.0" part. Choosing your aperture is usually your first guess based on the amount of blur you want on your background.

Child with a puppy

If your photograph is too bright or too dark you can set a higher speed for your shutter. A side effect of that setting is the amount of motion blur when photographing a non-still subject or the camera is being moved. The speed of your shutter is set in seconds or fractions of a second such as 1/250 or 1/50. The slower the shutter speed, like 1/50, the more prominent any motion would be. If you want to "freeze" a faster moving subject set the shutter to a higher speed like 1/250 and above.

If your aperture and shutter speed settings are optimal for the shot but the image still needs adjusting the exposure, the last resort is changing your ISO. The higher the number is, the brighter the image, but also the more noise it will introduce. It's better to have a noisy but sharp image, instead of a clean and a blurred one. One of the reasons to buy a newer camera is that sometimes they might have less noise when shooting at high ISO values. This is especially needed when frequently shooting in low light situations. The good news is that many lower end cameras today are better at higher ISO than expensive cameras in the past. So is the software that cleans the noise up.

This advice is a good start, but if you want to get the most out of your current camera, be sure to check Fstoppers' Photography 101 tutorial.

Do You Know What The Lens Does to The Image?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. Some people buy a new camera because they want a blurred background in their images. That's not the right direction. The blurred background is a property of the lens and the modern cameras control that setting from dials on the body. There are lenses that have a ring that controls that, but most of the time you control it from buttons on the camera body. The setting that controls the amount of blurred background is the aperture and it is that funky number such as "f/2.8." No, "f" doesn't stand for "funky," but "focal." Such number is also printed on the lens and tells you how big the aperture of this lens can be opened. It can take other values but this is the end of the aperture range on that lens. The smaller the number, the bigger the maximum opening can be and the more blurred the background can be. A lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 can produce a more blurred background than a lens with an f/4.0. Lenses have many other optical properties such as barrel distortion, variable zoom, vignetting, sharpness that have to be taken into consideration. In my portfolio, I rarely use a very blurred background. If you happen to shoot mostly landscapes and interiors, you don't need a lens with a wide aperture and certainly, you don't need a new camera.

IT company kitchen

Are You Experienced with Shaping Natural and Artificial Light?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. If you point your camera to a subject that is back-lit by the sun, do not expect a side-lit result. Remember that the camera and lens combination simply makes the image darker or brighter. This means if your subject is not lit well your camera will record a poorly lit image. Poorly lit scenes can't be saved even by the most expensive cameras. The professional photographers don't take pictures in every situation. The amateurs usually rely on imaginary magic skills of the expensive box to turn a bad situation into a masterpiece. It doesn't work this way. Don't buy a new camera. Learn how to use light.

Girl running by the lake

This image has been taken with a discontinued Canon 40D and three strobes. You can't get that with any camera without using some extra lights.

Do You Know How to Calibrate Your Monitor and How Color Charts Work?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. If you think it's your camera's fault for your green, blue, or orange looking images that's partially true. The good news is that you don't have to buy a new camera or switch to a different camera system. They all have the same problem: cameras are not that good of understanding light color. They can try to guess it, but they are not always spot-on. This is the reason color charts were invented. Professional photographers don't buy new cameras to produce accurate color. They buy a color chart. If you need to have a perfect color for print, you need to buy a color chart and calibrate your monitor. Then you will find that your camera can produce beautiful realistic colors.

Color Checker Passport

Do You Know What Raw Files Are?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. Cameras are not good at scenes where there's a lot of contrast like photographing a subject at sunset with the sun behind them. This is the case where you might need to use camera's raw files format. They will give you plenty of detail to work with even if the shot was slightly darker or lighter. Of course, raw files are not the silver bullet for masterpieces, but they will give you much more latitude than shooting in JPEG mode and you'd be able to bring information from the slightly overexposed highlights and darker shadows without sacrificing the image quality.

Do You Know How to Get the Maximum from Your Raw Files?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. The easiest way to squeeze the information from the raw files is using a raw file editor. Applications such as Adobe Lightroom, Capture One Pro, ACDSee, Affinity Photo will help you understand how much potential your current camera has. 

Are You Experienced with Retouching?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. If you are experienced in retouching you will know that it's hard to fix a badly photographed picture. If you're not into retouching you might think that post processing is what makes the snapshot a masterpiece. While there are brilliant retouchers you can learn from, it's good to know what the limits of your camera and its files are. Most modern cameras provide more file information than many professional cameras 10 years before. This means you can do a lot with the current gear on the market, even with the lower end one. Retouching has to be your last resort for crafting a masterpiece, although it can help improve a good image and make it look great.

Girl in a lake

This is a composite. I could not make it all in camera, because of budget constraints and used photoshop instead merging the two images together.

Are You Going to Use This Camera Frequently?

Yes? Proceed to the next question. Many beginners or amateur photographers are trying to photograph everything that happens to be interesting. This makes them bump into the walls of technical limitations because sometimes there are cameras better for something but not suitable for a different type of images. For example, one might get fascinated with astrophotography but just because they wanted to make one or two cool images it's not justified to get a camera that has low-noise images at high ISO. In this case you can work that around with a few retouching techniques. Every time you think of buying a new camera ask yourself how frequently you'd use the features of this camera that are the main reason to buy it. Remember that you can always rent one and do your job.

Do You Know That Full-Frame Cameras Won't Turn Your Photographs into Masterpieces?

Yes. Proceed to the next question. Many beginners buy a crop-sensor camera and start dreaming of the day they will get that full-frame machine that will immediately make them pro overnight. That is very far from the truth because the only thing that will change is your retouching habits, your wallet, and your hard drives. Nobody else will see the difference. At the time I'm writing this article, I am still shooting with a crop-sensor camera. I am renting a full-frame when I need it, but in 99% a crop sensor is fine. Read my article on justifying the use of a crop sensor for my business.

Can You Point Three Images You Want but You Can't Take with Your Current Camera?

Yes. Proceed to the next question. If your answer is "I'm not sure" then you have to be absolutely sure you surely don't need a new camera. I'm sure about it. Buying a new camera, because you don't think you can take an image with yours is shooting in the dark. In this situation simply ask the photographer if you can use your current gear to create a similar picture. This can save you a lot of money and you can make a new friend.

Do You Have the Money?

Yes? Well, this article didn't manage to stop you. What if I didn't have the money? My advice is to work on a few personal projects and attract paying clients with them. That's what I do in this case.

Conclusion

Buying a new camera is surely exciting, but it has to be motivated by sound reasons especially if you don't print your own money.

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32 Comments

Cudos! It's so nice to see an item that mentions photo editing solutions that are not Adobe products. One gets the impression with much of the 'how-to' content published here that Adobe is paying the freight. Not true, I'm sure but more balance among the alternative solutions would be a great enhancer of the site.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yeah, it's not just Adobe. I'm personally using Capture One as a raw converter.

Johnny Rico's picture

'One gets the impression with much of the 'how-to' content published here that Adobe is paying the freight." I mean there are those monthly Adobe Stock ads around here.

Marcos Assis Santos's picture

Beautiful article. Thanks for share!

What poor advice. A user is perfectly entitled to buy an expensive camera and take a shit picture. I do it all the time.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That was funny :)

michaeljin's picture

Curious to know whether you (and others) think that post-processing is a requisite skill that a photographer ought to possess. I get why some might see it that way, but I've always seen them as two separate things, just like I see printing as yet another separate skill from those.

Of course it's nice to understand all three well enough to see your vision through from beginning to end, but I don't know too many photographers that find particular pleasure in sitting in front of a computer on Photoshop or Lightroom for hours doing post-processing much like I really don't know many musicians that want to sit at a computer for hours on Pro Tools editing, mixing, and mastering a song.

Actually, I know just few photographers who work post-processing very good, and this pictures is too many in front of others. Post processing in very important, not just now, all known photographers do it or have a team who do it, yesterday was lab, today is in comp.
And by the way, your comparison with musicians in not good, you forget how many time they spent in exercise and play scales. Do you practice every time before you take a photo? But when you want to record the song, if you don't want to sound like a frog, you must sit and have a hard work to record, mix and edit. It's not the same way but if you want a stunning result, you must sit and spent a time on post process

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

You are right about most things. The musician also listens to a music. The photographer reads articles, watches videos, looks at images. This is also a part of the "playing scales." Musicians' (players') craft is very physical and they need to excersise that. Photographers don't have to warm up their index finger every time before shooting, but they must train their brain into guessing lighting, figuring out how to deal with obstacles in the environment and so forth.

There are musicians who use a recording artist, because the latter knows what to do or because the musician doesn't have time to do it. In both cases with time the musician learns which sounds good and which doesn't and can say their preferences to the technician and even do their own recording. It's a personal choice, I think. Good audio equipment costs a fortune, but a few people would notice if you've recorded something with nice but not so high-end gear. There's a saying among musicians that "if it sounds good, it's good."

So, it depends. It's not mandatory to have or not to have a retoucher. But it's a fact that a well retouched picture can take a well-shot masterpiece to a new level and yet be invisible as an intervention.

michaeljin's picture

Plenty of famous photographers back in the film days did not develop their own film or do their own printing. Plenty of famous photographers today don't do their own color correction, re-touching, or printing either. Sure, most of them were CAPABLE of doing these processes to varying degrees, but it comes down to specialization and expertise, which is why I brought up the example of the musician and audio engineer.

Few photographers will ever be as good at re-touching as a person whose sole job it is 40+ hours to week is to re-touch photos, learning all of the ins and outs of Photoshop and practicing every trick in the book. Very few photographers back in the analog days were anywhere near as proficient as the master printers who lived in the darkroom printing works for professional photographers all day long. In the beginning people tend to do everything themselves out of necessity, but when given the resources, most people will choose to focus on their own strengths and outsource things that are not their particular strength even if only to free up their own time to do other things that they enjoy. No, you don't have to work out your shutter finger, but you can spend your time as a photographer experimenting with different lighting, different techniques, studying other good photography, etc. There are plenty of very time-consuming ways in which you can improve your own craft in photography that do not involve learning post-processing so it's not as if photographers would suddenly have nothing to do or improve upon if they decided not to pursue educating themselves in post-processing.

In the case of musicians, it's also not true at all that they don't have the time to record, mix, and master their own music. Outside of perhaps professional orchestra musicians, most people that walk into a recording studio are not sitting there practicing their scales for 8 hours a day. The vast majority are regular people with pretty regular lives that might write a song Reaper, Logic, Pro Tools, etc. and do some rudimentary recording and mixing, but the reason that they hire a recording engineer is simply because the recording engineer has way more experience and expertise when it comes to recording. A recording engineer records day-in and day-out. They know their mic placements; they know how to gain stage properly; they know which mics to use for which sources; they know where to place the drums or amp in a room; simply put, a good recording engineer will always know way more than any musician could possibly know about recording. Likewise, a mixing engineer who specializes in only mixing will probably know much more than a recording engineer about how to mix down tracks, EQ instruments to create space for each other, etc. and a mastering engineer will know more than the other two about mastering the final mix for distribution. This isn't to say that there aren't musicians either today or in the past that take it upon themselves to control the process from beginning to end, but when you get to the higher end where they aren't essentially starving artists, these people are very few and far between. Also, it's not really the musician being recorded that gives input in regard to the final product, but the producer (sometimes the two are the same person) that is ultimately directing the project.

I would say that having spent far more time working in a photo lab on Photoshop than I have taking photos, I am probably better than the average photographer when it comes to post-processing, but I find that's it's just not something I'm very interested in doing, which is why I basically don't do it 99% of the time aside from applying a preset and maybe some very broad local adjustments in Lightroom. Maybe it's just because I've spent so much time doing it in my life, but the idea sitting in front of a computer with Photoshop open staring at the same photo for hours straight making tiny tweaks here and there just makes me want to vomit... Call it PTSD, I guess. :/

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

It all really comes to personal preferences and the kind of work that is retouched. Retouching fashion, retouching men, retouching women, retouching commercial advertising stuff, retouching landscape, retouching 1000 wedding photos are quite different jobs. Some require hours of fine-detail work, others require seconds. There are areas of photography where you have just 2-3 final images that need to be retouched, not 50 or 1000. It's different.

This is why most retouchers are mainly working in fashion, because there you have to stay a few hours working on a very detailed image to make it flawless.

In most cases it's true that people who specialize in one area can be better than others, but there's a certain level beyond which the difference in the final product is small between those who do the job from beginning to end by themselves and those who do only one part of the job. And the difference matters to the end viewer or listener.

For example there are many high-budget Hollywood movies that are not well shot or directed, but the viewers enjoy them if they like the story. Yes, we tend to see the technical details and say that something's not well made, but the end viewer doesn't see it. I'm not talking about rookie mistakes here. I'm talking about the work of experienced directors and DPs. Sometimes their work is not that good, but yet the people like the end product.

The same for audio engineering and retouching.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Retouching is not a mandatory skill. It depends on what you kind of work you are doing, are you able to do your own post processing, and can you afford it.

For example a landscape or an architectural photographer might not use Photoshop or a similar software for retouching that much but mostly would rely on the raw converters to squeeze a bit more of the file information or simply apply a few actions.

I, myself, am not a fashion photographer and I'm not capable of retouching portraits to an absolute perfection. I do some very basic editing and I don't enjoy the process. I like the part where I work with the lights and take the pictures. I can't afford to have a separate editor and this is the reason I do my own editing yet.

You are correct all about that. It's not a mandatory ability, but some of us need to learn it out of necessity.

Peter Witama's picture

And I have one good reason why I should buy a new camera.

My camera was stolen two weeks ago and I have a wedding to shoot by the end of this month. LOL

Very nice article! Thank you for sharing..

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Sorry about that. I hope you quickly get compensated for this by having well-paid projects.

Great article which reminds me why I shot 4x5 film which requires a big heavy tripod, cable release, low ISO and arriving before dawn. And when I switched to Digital and picked up a Sigma Merrill DP2 I was still using a big heavy tripod, cable release, low ISO and arriving before dawn.

Know thy gear and focus on the end result.....

ANDREW Todd's picture

Good Article. I am hooked on buying cameras. Currently using a Sony A7rii and Nikon D750. I need to focus on improving my skills and stop buying new cameras.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Show your friends images from the Sony and from the Nikon and ask them if they can tell which is which. This may motivate you more on your decision to stop buying cameras :) I don't really care about cameras. I care about ideas I can accomplish. This really helps.

I can't fully agree with you on this. Quality might be very similar but with Sony you might be able to capture more interesting moments as it's lighter and easier to use. Size/weight/ergonomics need to be taken into account as well.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

While size and weight of mirrorless cameras is definitely a difference (not always better for the stable shot), I've always wondered what "easier to use" means.

As I said, I've never used a mirrorless camera, but with my DSLRs I don't find it hard to capture interesting moments. I'm not shooting reportage or photojournalism, I don't shoot weddings for example, but when I shoot personal stuff it is something like that. I'm always on manual, I don't take my eye off the viewfinder to change settings, because all three important settings (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) are at the tips of my fingers. I dial them when I need and I watch my lightmeter through the viewfinder and I take the shot. I don't guess the settings, I just pay attention to the meter and when in manual mode you need to get the settings for the scene right in the beginning and then you just compose and press the button. I don't think this is hard or something that can't be done by anybody. I don't see why a mirrorless camera would be easier to use in this regard. It's just three settings and a shutter release button. There are lower-end DSLRs where you have to look at the menu display in order to dial the settings, but all the rest have dedicated buttons and dials for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I guess mirrorless cameras (or some of them) have such dedicated controls too and this doesn't make any difference in terms of operational ease.

Anonymous's picture

One very important detail, check if your favourite software is supporting the camera you wish to buy.
My bigest surprise was when I replaced my Fuji X100 with XPRO-2 and cannot use DxO anymore.

A lot of very good points. I have a different dilemma. I have several Nikon bodies and good collection of lenses. I am not able to use my equipment in many situations as I simply don't have space for the gear. I bought X100T but it is freaking slow focusing and I miss a lot of moments. Any suggestions for a mirrorless camera that is as fast as DSLR but compact in size. I would be ok with a fixed lens but switching to new lens system is also possible. Two primary concerns: very fast focusing and great low light performance.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I don't have any experience with mirrorless cameras.

Maybe someone else from the readers may help here?

Anonymous's picture

The Fuji XPRO2 with the 35mm (eq.50) is very fast. Larger lenses are slow except 16mm but this is quite bulky.

Thank you for suggestion. Is responsiveness of this camera coming close to a DSLR? What really bothers me in my X100T is how long it takes to take a picture, autofocus is really slow. It does produce amazing photos but you lose so much in speed.

Anonymous's picture

XPRO2 focusing speed at normal light is comparable to DSLR focus speed, in low light is a little bit slower, but no haunting with 35mm lens.
The X100T has a different processor and the lens is still the ur X100 model.

Thank you. I decided to give xt20 a try. Seemed like a good choice for speed and size. Was also looking into xt2 but xt20 won me over by size as that is a primary reason I'm looking into mirrorless setup. Hope I've made the right choice.

Anonymous's picture

The XT20 should have the same focusing speed as it has the latest processor generation, although I just read that today started a $500 discount campaign on XT2, XPRO2 and XE3. I know, its hard to decide.

NICOLAS RIVERA's picture

This was great article @Tihomir Lazarov Currently Im interested in getting better at building optimal exposure in camera. if anyone has any article suggestions or links they can share, your help will be gratefully appreciated. thanks again for this excellent read.

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