A lot of photographers spend a good chunk of time reading about gear and considering if they should pull out their credit card to purchase that fancy new camera or lens. Here are three good reasons to purchase new gear and three bad reasons to do so.
Good Reasons for Upgrading Your Gear
1. Your Current Gear Can't Keep Pace With You
Are you missing shots specifically because of your gear? Perhaps the autofocus system is too slow or perhaps the burst rate and buffer are mediocre and can't get crucial action shots. There are certainly situations in which new gear can make a big difference.
It is important to be objective about your abilities and honest with yourself on this point. Are you truly missing shots because your gear simply can't keep up, or do you perhaps need to shore up your technique a bit or maybe watch a tutorial or two? Don't forget that often, a settings change can also make a difference, especially when it comes to autofocus. Most modern cameras have pretty advanced autofocus systems with intricate settings that can make a big difference with a little tweaking to match your specific shooting situation. Taking the time to dive into your camera's autofocus menu (or even the manual) can make a big difference.
Before you decide to upgrade your camera or lens because you think it can't keep up anymore, be sure you can articulate clear, objective scenarios in which and reasons why it can no longer keep pace with you and be sure that these are not due to needing to improve your technique.
2. Noticeably Better Image Quality
No doubt, a new camera or lens can bring definite improvements in image quality. Perhaps you shoot weddings, and your current camera's high ISO performance just is not good enough to give good results. Or perhaps you need more resolution to produce larger prints for your clients (though you might be surprised how little you need). Or maybe a big boost in dynamic range would help you create more balanced and complete exposures. Or maybe you are still working with a kit lens that simply isn't sharp. Whatever the reason, if you will see major gains in image quality, this can be a legitimate reason for an upgrade.
That being said, there's a major asterisk here. Are those gains necessary to satisfy a need? In other words, if we just said better image quality was reason enough for upgrading, we'd all be out there emptying our life savings to buy medium format kits. Here, that gain in image quality has to be qualified by a need: are clients dissatisfied with your image quality? Are you not able to create the prints you want to sell? What's the reason you need better quality?
3. It Makes You Happy and You Can Afford It
Hey, camera gear is fun. I'll be the first to admit that. I love playing with the latest and greatest when I can afford it. If you simply enjoy the nerdy tech side of photography and it is within your personal means to buy that new camera or lens, don't let anyone on the internet shame you for wanting to enjoy it. Do what makes you happy.
Bad Reasons for Upgrading Your Gear
1. You're Bored With Photography
Photography is a hobby that many, many people dabble in at some points in their lives, but like any other pursuit, many of them lose interest after a while. If you try to prop up that interest by buying a shiny new camera or lens, it will only be a temporary measure, and that same boredom will creep back in, leaving you right where you started, except with less money in your bank account.
On the other hand, new gear can absolutely invigorate your creativity if you are in a bit of a rut or feeling uninspired. For example, I was in such a place a few years ago, so I went to the B&H store in Manhattan and picked out a rather unique 10mm lens. Seeing the world from such a new perspective effectively rattled me out of that creative rut, and I've had a lot of fun with that lens since then. Just make sure it's your creativity that's feeling uninspired and not that you're falling out of love with or need a break from photography.
2. You're Using It to Bypass Fixing Your Technique
This is a trap a lot of us (myself included) have fallen into at some point. We can't get the photos we want, so we blame the gear, when really, it is our lack of technique holding us back. If you feel like it is your gear that is preventing you from getting the shots you want, I recommend finding a friend whose photographic opinion you trust and who has experience shooting whatever genre you do. Show them some of your missed shots and discuss the equipment you used and situation regarding the shot. They can likely offer you some useful feedback that can help you objectively evaluate where your skill level is and if it has outpaced your equipment's capabilities.
3. It's New
New gear is fun! Buyer's remorse is not. A lot of us jump on the never-ending hype train that runs through the photography industry, only to feel let down and disappointed when the novelty of the latest and greatest piece of gears wears off after a few weeks of owning it. While new camera and lens announcements are definitely exciting, if you find yourself getting caught up in the hype easily or simply being impulsive, I recommend taking a week or so to sleep on the decision before you click the "purchase" button, especially if you don't need that piece of gear immediately. You might find that once the initial excitement dies down a bit, you won't feel as compelled to buy that camera or lens.
Camera gear is not cheap, so when you decide to purchase some, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and not wasting money.