Do You Need or Want New Photo Equipment?

Do You Need or Want New Photo Equipment?

Look at your gear right now. How much of it did you need and how much of it did you want? Knowing the difference between the two can save you thousands and make you a more sophisticated photographer who focuses on art. 

We are often biased to believe that a newer camera has exactly what we need to take better photos. And it's easy to be of that opinion. There hasn't been a week without a gear release for the past decade. With the constant bombardment of news, we want that new piece of gear. But sometimes, we may need a better camera to get a certain result. Not every purchase we make is out of desire; some are out of necessity. Before we can delve into deciding the next purchase, let's take a step back and look at what we already have. 

What Do You Have Now?

Look at your camera kit, no matter the level. Take the things you use on every shoot and compare them with the stuff you used once. Ideally, you would put the two in separate piles. You are trying to separate the stuff you used once, from the equipment that is absolutely necessary to create an image. If you're a paid professional, add backups to the mix. I can't say what's a good ratio between the two piles, but if most of the things are in the "wrong" pile, then you might consider changing your buying habits. Here's an example from my world: the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens

I Need That to Complete the Kit

When I bought the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, it was right after a series of big jobs, and I could finally afford a used copy. At that time, I was very interested in completing the golden kit of three f/2.8 zooms. So, I knew I had to get the lens. And besides, I do recall needing a wider focal length when I shot interiors and very large groups. In hindsight, the interior and large group work ended as soon as the pandemic started. That money would have been a lot more useful in the bank. Practically speaking, my purchase of the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 was out of wanting to complete a made-up kit. When buying it, I didn't consider it an investment, but as a simple item that would cover those wide angles in case I needed them. Now that I shoot fashion, the only time the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens comes out is for BTS work or a very specific look. The time wasted on reading reviews comparing the three versions is never coming back too. By most standards, that's a very bad business investment. I no longer consider any equipment as part of a kit. If anyone tells you that a portrait lens is a Canon 85mm f/1.2 while a beauty lens is a Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro and a fashion lens is a Canon 35mm f/1.4, that's complete nonsense. I shot 95% of my work on a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, and there has never been a situation in which I needed something else in that focal length range. What's more, most of my images are in the 45-55 mm range, meaning, I could technically have a Canon 50mm f/1.2 to do all my work, but I won't because I don't need a faster aperture. 

When Do I Really Need Gear?

Knowing when you need gear and when to justify the purchase is what we all came here to know. There's a series of flags that can point in the direction of needing an upgrade. 

When Your Current Equipment Can't Produce the Required Image

When it comes to needing a camera, I doubt you do. There hasn't been a bad camera since 2009, and what you have is probably more than enough to do paid work. Having shot events in low light on a Canon 5D Mark II with one functioning focus point, I can guarantee you that. If you're a hobbyist doing landscape work, a Canon 5D Original will set you off some $300 and will provide excellent results.

Speaking of lenses, a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 is plenty to do most work. If you're using a kit lens to do wildlife work, you may want to rent or buy a more dedicated lens. If you're a hobbyist starting out, I suggest really getting to know your kit lens before upgrading. And despite what YouTube told you, no, you probably won't need a Canon 50mm f/1.8 right away. 

Lighting-wise, if you own a flash with decent recycle speed and flash duration, you're good to go. Most of the Godox lights are great. If you own old big brand lights, you're also good to go. When it comes to modifiers, though, you really need to do the research before you invest in something. I suggest more expensive modifiers, as they last decades, so much so, mine were bought for next-to-nothing from studios that went bust. 

When Renting Is More Expensive Than Owning

There isn't a large city I can think of that doesn't hire out big-brand equipment. Profoto prides itself on being available worldwide, I'm sure the deal is the same with other camera brands. This often results in photographers taking out something on a frequent basis. For example, I love the Profoto Fresnel, and it's readily available in the rental house. But, it costs $2,690 to buy, so I would have to rent it a good 150 times in order for it to become more expensive. I don't shoot that much in a year, so the Fresnel isn't something I will buy. Compared with a White Umbrella that comes out on every shoot, it's easy to see what I need. 

Used with permission of Andrea Belluso

When Do I Really Want Gear?

In general, it's a bad idea to invest in your business because you feel like it. If you're a hobbyist, the issue is not as pressing, but there are better ways to spend money. Here are some signs of you wanting new gear. 

When Hoping to Be a Better Photographer Because of Owning It

Can you tell me exactly the feature you need in a new camera and how you need it? If you can't, then probably, you are hoping a newer camera will just make better photos by itself. The topic "it's the photographer, not the camera" has been covered to death everywhere. Perhaps it is the excitement you want out of a new camera. I can relate to that, but I can also guarantee that you(and I) can't tell a difference between a camera from 2009 and a camera from 2016. A recent article compares the differences between two lenses at either end of the price scale. You may want a new camera, but make sure you are taking advantage of all the relevant features of your current one. Use it to death. Upgrade only when absolutely necessary. You will save time, money, and be a better photographer. 

When Needing to Cover All Bases

I hear this a lot from people buying lenses. "Oh, but what if I have to shoot a job with an extreme telephoto?" "What if the moment needs that specific lens? I must have all bases covered." People buying lights will say they need three different battery-powered strobes because each has a different use. That one is for portability, the other is for the flash duration, and the third one is for the battery capacity. In reality, having all bases covered doesn't get you beyond the hypothetical "what if" cases. If you need more, rental houses have fleets of lights you can take out.

When it comes to lenses, having all bases covered sounds a bit silly to me. I can't think of a photographer who would regularly shoot from 11mm to 400mm. I can, however, think of photographers who shoot all of their portfolio work on a single lens. Having one decent zoom lens is more than plenty for most work. Canon's 24-105mm is a brilliant example of one. 

When Someone Else Has It

There's a good reason influencers are given free stuff. It goes without saying that a product endorsement from a public figure will drive sales above and beyond. Remember Juicy Couture? It became an overnight sensation because celebrities were sent free JC tracksuits — they pioneered the influencer marketing strategy. The same goes with cameras and pretty much anything else. You may want the camera a famous photographer uses, but you most likely don't need it. The same goes for photographers who race their competitors in camera versions. You should only race your competition in the amount of profit you can make and the amount of fun you're having while doing it.

Closing Thoughts

Reflecting on your buying habits, especially when so much money is at stake can do wonders to how much you can invest in your business or perhaps the next dream trip. Buying because of want can also lead to uneducated purchases, which result in disappointment (TV infomercials are a perfect example of that). Hopefully, this article helped you to become a more educated purchaser and a much more careful spender. What are some purchases that you made and regretted? What are some items that you needed and now use all the time? Let me know in the comments; I always read them. 

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27 Comments

El Dooderino's picture

Yes.

sam dasso's picture

At $65 per day for prophoto fresnel 150 rentals will cost you $9750. You can buy it 3 times and have money left over. Break even is 40 rentals, 20 if you rent for 2 days at a time.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Where I’m based, the fresnel costs roughly 17-20$ to rent. So it varies from country by country😊

Mike Ditz's picture

Rentals are a billable expense so it costs you nothing! Or if you do buy it, then bill it to the job at $45 per day.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Investment shoots are paid for by me.

A M's picture

There's also two Profoto fresnels. One with a built in head, one without.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Three for that matter haha. The one I rent is the fresnel spot. It's a great modifier.

Tom Reichner's picture

Illya Ovchar asked,

"Look at your gear right now. How much of it did you need and how much of it did you want?"

I have never wanted any piece of photography gear ..... but I have sorely needed every piece of gear that I own.

How can it be that I have never wanted any photography gear? Because I don't really like cameras or lenses or accessories. I don't think they are interesting or "cool". But cameras and lenses do a job, and I need that job to be done, therefore, I need the gear, whether I like it or not. It is a necessary evil, if you will.

I am extremely interested in PHOTOGRAPHS. That is what fuels me. I have an insatiable desire to make as many good wildlife photos as possible. The photos themselves are what I am interested in. And the wild animals - my subjects - are what I am impassioned with. The cameras and lenses are just stupid things that I need in order to make the photos that I love so much.

I kind of have the same attitude about my cameras and lenses that a landscaper has about his shovels and wheelbarrows. Or that a plumber has about his wrenches and pliers. They are nothing more than tools that do a job; and it is always the job that is important, not the tools that are used to do the job.

If someone is really, REALLY interested in cameras, and lusts for the latest gear, than I would think that such a person isn't really even a photographer at all. They are a cameraographer, or a lensographer, but not a photographer. At least that's how I see it.

Illya Ovchar's picture

I wouldn't call gear a necessary evil, but for sure it is a rabbit hole that unfortunately so many photographers go down. It's truly sad to see how many photographers obsess over gear releases. I know I've been one haha.
You're absolutely right, a photographer, as its greek roots suggest is one who paints with light. And as with any painter, no one cares what brush they use.
I think it's natural for a photographer to know what cameras do, but only the ones they're using. E.g I use Canon 5d, and I can't tell you what anything else does. Frankly, I have better things to know, than camera specs haha.
Being passionate about your subject goes an extremely long way in helping you be a better photographer. Cheers to you!

Warwick Cairns's picture

I think it’s hard to separate the tools from the finished result. If you’re a landscape gardener and a special kind of shovel comes on the market that makes your digging easier and more precise, you’re going to want that shovel and feel proud to own it. Same if you’re a plumber with top-of-the-range wrenches or a chef with Japanese steel knives. Craftsmen respect their tools.
I’d even go further and say that if you want to be really good at something you have to be more than a little in love with not just the end result but the process of doing it as well. Which will include the tools you use. Otherwise why keep on hour after hour, day after day, dedicating your time and attention to an activity if it’s not what gives you fulfilment in life?

Illya Ovchar's picture

Interesting point, enjoying the process is key, I agree.

Charles Mercier's picture

I love it all. (Though I'm not a professional.) Going out and shooting - I've done it for years with just a point and shoot. I love the amazing technology, the advances. It's fun to read about new gear - but also about people's opinions, views, looking at photos, period, yours, mine, etc. I enjoy looking at my old photos and my new ones. It's great to become a better photographer. I love reviews too. I want stupid expensive gear but I don't buy it because I'm not well off but whatever. It's all good! I have regretted not having good equipment - though as I've semi-mentioned, I've just used mediocre p&s cameras for too long.

Bruce Grant's picture

I realized I needed a new camera when my first DSLR a gifted Rebel T5 could not keep up with my shooting because of its abysmal FPS. I had determined i could no longer grow with that camera and had learned everything there was to know about it and maxed it out. I replaced it with a 77D and I've yet to max it out - it keeps up with me, has improved image quality, faster FPS, etc.

I knew I needed to replace my EF-S 55-250mm years ago when I could no longer take the image quality that did my photos no favors. I've gotten some decent shots from it, including one that made it into a CTC review. I've since upgraded to a Sigma 150-600mm and I'm absolutely blown away by the IQ.

Won't be needing an upgrade for a while.

Illya Ovchar's picture

I'm glad you upgraded when necessary! That's what we should all do ;-)
Relating to FPS, I once shot sports on a 5d mark II(3fps, I think) and managed to get decent results. But I'm not a sports photographer, that was a one-off. I'd hate to shoot sports on a camera that does 3fps haha.

Matthew Lacy's picture

My sports work is done with a Nikon D5600, which shoots at 5 frames per second. It's possible to work through, but it's still a limiting factor for sure.

Bruce Grant's picture

Same FPS as my T5. Do you feel the need to upgrade or have you accepted its limitations and will continue to work with them?

Matthew Lacy's picture

I've long-since accepted the limitations of the body. My best work around so far has been to just abandon the notion of shooting with burst mode altogether. 90% of my photos are made with a single shutter actuation, but a well-timed one. I shot at the Indiana High School Basketball State Championship Friday, but haven't had time to really edit many of them. I'm including a few SOOC examples of what I was able to get with a 70-200 f/2.8 and the 5fps. The first and second were done with burst, and the third and fourth were via single shots.

Bruce Grant's picture

Wow those are really great shots! Great timing!

Matthew Lacy's picture

Thank you! I hope to get some of them edited and processed when I have time next weekend. This was the biggest event I've ever covered. The ability to still get photos like this is the biggest factor that has kept me from upgrading. The biggest issue I have is actually the focus, rather than getting the right moment.

Illya Ovchar's picture

There's always that one thing we have a slight problem with haha! Great work though, impressive!

Debra Coleman's picture

Been using the same Nikon D7200 for years. Three lenses, 300mm f4, 70-200 f2.8 and 50mm f1.8, the only one that I don’t use almost weekly is the 50mm.
Recent purchase, not necessarily out of need but forward thinking (?) - Nikon Z6 II with the lens adapter. Because, mirrorless is probably going to be the future, like it or not, and I scored a deal because I bought it from someone who you describe above and wanted it, used it once and didn’t like it. So, brand new and over £700 less than the current commercial price

Illya Ovchar's picture

The 50 f/1.8 is such a boring lens it's unbelievable. When I first got it, I was underwhelmed haha. Same with the 24-70 f/2.8. It's an incredibly boring lens, but I use if for 95% of my work.
I personally don't see upgrading to a mirrorless system anytime soon. As a fashion photographer, a 5d mark III or IV(even II) is plenty for most jobs. 10 years down the road I'll inevitably switch, but only because of manufacturer support
As an example, my 70-200 is the first version released in 2001. I can upgrade to version II or even III but I won't because no one can tell the difference, it won't make me more money, or improve my efficiency.

Mike Sandman's picture

This comes at a perfect time -- I'm looking at a Sony f/1.8 20mm lens, and I already have a Sony f/4 16-35 mm lens that performs well at 20mm. But I'll be using it on an s7C camera, which I bought for its-portability... and the 20mm lens is (a) slightly smaller and lighter than the 16-35 zoom; (b) 20 mm is the sweet spot for a lot of my photography; and (c) the lens is reputedly very good. But you've made me think twice, or at least made me obsess some more. Thank you, I think.

Bruce Grant's picture

Buy the one you want and sell other?

Charles Mercier's picture

Did you know that sony is coming out with a number of new lightweight lens? I assume specifically because of the a7c.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Glad it helped, Mike!

Chris Rogers's picture

As long as I have one decent body a sharp telephoto, a sharp 35mm, at least a 200 watt strobe, a light stand, and one large soft box, that would be all I'd NEED for what I do. My 70-200 is pretty much glued to my camera though lol. Even if it was a 55-300mm f3.5-5.6 as long as the glass is sharp I don't care.