When Should You Upgrade to a 'Professional' Camera?

If you are new to photography or are wondering whether you ought to take your photography more seriously, you may be debating an upgrade to a higher spec camera. But, when is that the right move?

There is a lot to consider with this sort of question. Firstly, a "professional" camera doesn't make much sense as a term as any camera can be used in a professional setting, it's more a description of features and spec. Secondly, your camera is of course not the only influential factor — and arguably not the most important either — with lenses playing a key role too.

However you phrase the question, you're essentially getting at whether or not it's worth changing your cheaper, entry-level camera to a higher-end model. Every situation will have different results, but there is a part of this video by David Bergman that ought to be core in the decision-making process: is your current gear holding you back?

You must be honest when answering this question and it's generally rarer than you might think, but it's the only true indicator. If your current camera cannot do what you're trying to do or need to do, that's the best sign you might need to upgrade, particularly if it's an important part of your work.

What do you think? What's the best sign you ought to upgrade your camera?

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7 Comments
Marc F's picture

“What do you think? What's the best sign you ought to upgrade your camera?”

My current only digital camera is a POS that cannot be converted to IR. That’s at least a good excuse to upgrade, but…

“ WHEN Should You Upgrade to a 'Professional' Camera?”

When I will have won the lottery. Then I would buy the Hasselblad and have it modified to full spectrum…

charles hoffman's picture

buying new camera gear and obsessing over specifications makes sense if you're more interested in the toys than the game you play with them

it all depends on what you need for what you do

if you take pics of mountaintops, you'd want to check the weight of the gear you'll be carrying on your climb

David Pavlich's picture

Buy what your budget allows. If you have the means to buy a Phase One to take pictures of your cat, then buy it. I like to see people buy new gear. It keeps the camera companies in business. Pro gear is typically higher end, so that means more profit for the camera manufacturers. Whether you buy a top line camera because you are a pro that needs what that camera can do, or your an enthusiast that has the extra dinars, who's to say when it's a good time to buy a top line camera?

Tom Reichner's picture

I shoot wildlife photos and sell them as stock.

I knew it was time to upgrade to a professional body when my competitors - shooting the same animals at the same place and at the same time - were getting photos that I couldn't get.

These competitors of mine were getting photos that I couldn't, due to three main reasons:

REASON #1

My competitors were shooting in low light conditions, when wildlife is typically most active. I often couldn't shoot in these same conditions and get acceptable results, due to the graininess that my camera body produced at higher ISOs.

RESON #2

I wouldn't get as many marketable frames from action sequences as my competitors were getting, because my camera was only shooting 3 frames per second, while my competitors were shooting at 10 or 12 frames per second. Hence, if a huge buck deer ran by, my competitors would get 10 or 15 quality frames, each with slightly different leg positions and backgrounds, that they could then market to several different publishers and stock agencies. Meanwhile, I would only have 3 or 4 frames of the same action sequence. Because many of the places that we submit images to have exclusivity requirements, that meant that I couldn't submit the photos to as many different buying entities that my competitors could, which limited my ability to market my images.

REASON #3

Megapixels. With many photo buying agencies preferring higher resolution images, if I had a photo that looked almost exactly like one of my competitor's images, and we both submitted the photo - taken of the same animal at the same place at the same instant with the same focal length from almost the same spot - then the buying entity would usually choose to license my competitor's photo, instead of mine, because his had greater native resolution. I should mention that most image buying entities have submission requirements that prohibit one from uprezzing the image. They usually require original, unedited files, so it needs to be great straight out of the camera if you ant to sell it.

In sumary, selling stock images in a competitive genre is very different than having someone hire you to shoot their grandma or their senior portrait or their wedding. You and several other professional photographers literally have photos of the same thing taken at the same time, and then Photo Editors and Art Directors are scrutinizing all of the submissions from you and your competitors at 100% and beyond, to see which has the slightly better image quality. That's how it works. Given that, the camera that one shoots with is obviously of great importance because image quality nerds are basing their buying decisions on what files stand up to pixel peeping scrutiny the best.

Rich Umfleet's picture

"When your spouse or significant other isn't around to stop you" is always the best time to upgrade gear!

David Ward's picture

The best time to buy "pro" gear? When you get GAS after reading what great value used pro gear is. Most of us know we don't need more equipment or a "better" camera, so trying to rationalize our purchases is pointless.