Talking about camera gear and upgrading has always been a polarizing topic anywhere. We all love our cameras but differing opinions often lead to long discussions. But when is it really acceptable to upgrade?
Different photographers would give varied reasons why they would urge or discourage someone from upgrading their gear. It’s often a never-ending debate on whether a person should invest in new skills to acquire by spending on something that would help them learn whether it be a paid tutorial, a workshop, or some form of unique shooting experience, or alternatively, spend the money on new cameras, lenses, or other accessories whether they already need it or they’re “growing into” the level of it. Let’s state the obvious first. Why does one get the urge to buy new gear?
There are countless reasons as to why a photographer would be interested in looking at new gear. The first one is obvious but not commonly said and that is because all cameras are imperfect. There is no such thing as a perfect camera which is why in all the years that all the camera brands have existed, they never stopped developing new gear. One way or another, no matter how much you have spent on your current camera setup, you’d be able to name a few things you would like improved on it. Not necessarily meaning that you aren’t happy or contented with it, but there would probably be features, new or old, that you wish it had.
There are also instances of course wherein there is an actual need to upgrade. As a photographer, you yourself have probably said the line “the best camera around is the one that’s in your hands” or some other variation of that saying. However, most professionals would agree that even a skilled and experienced photographer would benefit from an upgrade because even though they can take nice photos with any camera, there are newer or better cameras that make it easier to do or those that minimize the margin of error. An experienced and skilled photographer can take good photos with a cheap camera, that’s true. But more importantly, a skilled photographer with an efficient camera would be able to do it with ease and peace of mind in high-pressure situations. The need to upgrade arises from situations wherein the photographer would feel limited either in terms of range, image quality, or efficiency in the creative process.
Is Upgrading A Must?
If you’re a professional or a serious hobbyist who has felt a certain need to upgrade because of how your current gear limits or hinders you then you don’t need anyone else’s opinion on whether you should. It is however interesting that whenever articles or content about new cameras or lenses come out, whether on this site, on YouTube, or on social media platforms, there would be people reacting as if they are being forced to upgrade into whatever new piece of gear they are talking about. The truth is new gear will always emerge and if you have the older version it doesn’t mean that you automatically need to get the newer one. It’s also important to remember that if a particular camera model fits you well, there is a possibility that the manufacturer would not go in the same direction that you might have wanted it to go for the next version. Again, there is no such thing as a perfect camera, and finding the right gear for you most likely means finding one that is most compatible with the requirements of your own creative process.
Gear Versus Skills
We must realize that purchasing new gear and acquiring new skills don’t have to be an “either-or” situation. Getting better at a particular skill or even becoming more creative is totally independent of whatever equipment you are using. At the same time, purchasing new equipment does not come with added skills either. We have to let go of the notion that better gear is only for “masters” or even skilled users. Buying a camera does not require any special license to operate in the same way that a million-dollar luxury car requires the same old driver’s license as driving your uncle’s old Toyota. One rarely affects the other and when they do, a lot more factors come in.
What if we start seeing learning new skills as a never-ending process? You can sit down and browse the images of your favorite photographers on Instagram and automatically pick up a couple of new approaches if you open yourself up to inspiration. Learning does not always require spending money and in reality, opening yourself up to more shooting experiences ultimately leads to the best chances of learning.
On the other hand, if you had the money, you can go down to your nearest car dealership and purchase the fastest and most expensive car and drive it around waking up everyone in your neighborhood. The same thing goes for even the nicest cameras in the market. For as long as you can afford it, as long as it doesn’t hurt the well-being of your family or other people who depend on you, as long as you are not breaking any law, you are entitled to upgrading to whatever kind of camera you want. Some people might criticize you for owning an expensive camera with barely any output but at the end of the day, that’s just envy kicking in. Yes, a prudent friend (or writer) still would encourage you to maximize the capabilities of that camera but even if you end up putting it in a glass case on display forever, that’s your money, your camera, and your choice - no one else’s. Whether you shoot professionally for the biggest and most demanding clients or you earn a lot of money from a job unrelated to photography, you deserve it if you want it as long as you are not putting your finances in jeopardy.
When Upgrading Is Crucial
As much as we’d like to keep saying the above-mentioned line, there are in actuality instances when upgrading can be crucial. For anyone who shoots things or events with a very short time frame or basically things that you can’t come back and redo, it is crucial when less capable gear puts your workflow at risk.
For example, sports and action photographers can technically shoot with slower cameras but there is simply more assurance that they will get the perfect split-second moments if they capture more frames per second. There are also instances when, even if an older camera can technically do the job, commercial clients or publications require certain specifications or even specific camera systems for the photographers that they hire or work with. And while one can spend time arguing that other cameras can perform just as well, there are instances wherein the preference of the clients are non-negotiable.
No matter how much we talk about new features on new pieces of gear, no matter how much these new innovations can make things easier for us as photographers, the choice of whether to upgrade is ultimately yours and no one else’s. For personal use, your choice of gear has absolutely no implications on other people even if you’re a beginner who wants to start learning photography with the newest flagship model from the best camera brand around. For professionals, our desire to have a smoother and more foolproof creative process, our preference over significantly better quality images, and the possibility of more work opportunities are what mainly drives the decision-making. Gear upgrades and improved skills are independent of each other but can make each other more possible down the line depending on how amenable we are to both of them.