When Is It Wrong to Upgrade Your Camera Gear?

When Is It Wrong to Upgrade Your Camera Gear?

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?

Why Upgrade?

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.

I can definitely say that my recent upgrade to the Sony A7RV was both out of need and want. Some of my commercial clients have mentioned preference towards higher resolution images, at the same time the camera's new features made a lot of things easier for my landscape photography

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.

A good friend of mine, Angelo Rosales, who shoots sports was shooting with a relatively old camera body and one day during a crucial football game that camera suddenly stopped working. His entry-level APSC backup gave some usable images, he had to push it with limited resolution and cropping

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.

The experience of worrying about not getting the crucial shots urged him to upgrade to more reliable gear with faster performance and more adaptive auto-focus which lead him to capture great images with better efficiency and assurance. 
Photos by Angelo Rosales

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.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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I'll admit right up front that I didn't read ANOTHER article about yes/no upgrade. The ONLY caveat anyone should concern themselves with is this; does upgrading upset your budget? Are you digging into funds that are set aside for paying regular bills so that you can upgrade? Is so, then no, you don't upgrade. Otherwise, so what? It's that person's money. Why would anyone care what someone else does with THEIR money?

You saved me from giving the same answer.

It is a story we hear everyday from Magazines in past decades to today's reviewers on the Net. I was part of the new film age of the '70's when I bought my real camera a Canon Ftb, it had a built in light meter and all you had to do is put the aperture circle over the needle with the loaded film info on the upper dial - the first computerized like cameras and never knew about the light triangle,still have use today. I remained loyal to Canon in '09 with the T2i but it was the HDR days and it only had 3 at +/- 2EV but got a promote control to do more. Then it disappeared from the Canon site and no more firmware and the age of having to use Canon's SW to edit for PS and LR cost $800+ each and for each full update- the cost of the camera and two kit lenses, DUH! That is when Sony came to being '13 in the Mags and new mirrorless with $30 Capture One software that the pros used another DUH moment, as well the ability to use the old FE and EF lenses with an $25 adapter and the A7S did bracketing 5 at 3EV found the funds in Credit Card points I never knew I had. I found out in mags that it was perfect for Milky Ways a new idea and study with only one site/article on how Photopills. So the fun began. Canon/Nikon did not follow and some things changed- remember the clicking and flashes of cameras in congress all of a sudden stop well reporter went Sony where no need for flash in a lit room and it had silent shooting (no mirror slap). But still loyal Canon/Nikon etc. for years till recently when they also went mirrorless BUT the new cameras needed mirrorless lenses so more $$ when you upgraded and more needed to be made and the mirrorless cameras needed more tools so one could wait as the old lenses went down in $$. that is what is happening today is wait and get. The biggest problem is phones with you guessed it Sony sensors and even the new mirrorless Nikon with Sony sensors and some same processors all the while trying to catch up. Where are camera makers well circled back to the old film days were the pocket camera, the 110's etc, now are the cell phones that are needed in everyday life so everyone has one and a really great phone/computer/camera is about half or less of a real camera and lenses even on a bi yearly upgrade. Oh! did you hear Kodak is working 24/7 making film again oh and again the '70 and up film cameras/lenses costing cents on the dollar at every Flea market and free at Estate sales. So what direction to upgrade to is the biggest question and what is a REAL camera.
Remember the software thing well it has gotten so good and up against a wall is now using AI making a real photo not a real photo or more like a Photoshopped image. Have we lost the the thought of getting out and about to capture the today for remembering the past sota making make believe images!
SO! What is it you are upgrading to or going back to? Film/cameras/lenses ($'s today), old image of wife on Honeymoon '84, a moon capture with T2i using Promote Control with ghousting '12
Last is my first view of the hidden Milky Way with new A7s '14 Milky Way over Cedar Key using Sony Playmemories on camera app Digital Filter the hidden surprise in the Crackerjack camera and the unknown (even today) APS-C E 10-18mm f/4 OSS (15-27mm) with a secret 12-18mm in full frame getting a pano view in in 3:2 format BEFORE 12mm was even thought of with pin point stars at 30s. All 10+ years ago, Maybe just a used camera to start with! not shown is the Nov '14 morning lunar eclipse using A7s and FD 100-300mm lens with lit bridge below, you have to try to find out!

I fully agree... an expensive camera will not take a good photo for anyone by itself, but if you already know what to do with it, it can make the job much easier. But it must also make sense economically :-)