Now the camera market has gone full swing into the new mirrorless market, does an old DSLR keep up with the new tech on the block? Can it still produce professional quality images that rival even the latest cameras, or does it fall short?
These are all the sorts of questions we ask ourselves when looking for a new camera. For those with tight budgets, we need to weigh up whether we can get away with using slightly older but comparatively less expensive kit, or if we need to save more and invest in the latest gear. But for others who can afford to splash the cash, a purchase may come down to what features it has to aid the user or whether it produces better quality photographs.
Does a New Camera Mean Better Photos?
I can hear some readers groaning already. "No!" some of you may exclaim. Proposing that a photograph is all down to the photographer. To some extent I agree. Give a beginner the latest flagship camera, and Annie Leibovitz an old point-and-shoot, and it's highly likely that Annie will be outshooting the newcomer despite the huge difference in technology.
But what about two photographers of equal skill, one with an old beaten-up DSLR and the other with the latest mirrorless? Well, that's where I think the new tech has an advantage. Similar to other tech-reliant endeavors such as Formula 1 racing, the equipment is becoming ultra smart and can close the gap when it comes to shooting a better photo.
For example, ask photographer A to shoot sports with a manual focus lens, and photographer B to capture with an autofocus lens and it's pretty obvious which one will have more in-focus action shots. So modern cameras with improved features do contribute to better photos in some way.
What Features Can You Afford to Miss?
Depending on what kind of photography you're interested in means you may not need the latest 15 FPS burst speed if portraits is your focus. Face or eye-tracking might be superfluous if you're going into architectural photography. Electronic viewfinders may help astro-shooters compose their scene, but will it make much difference if you're a daytime landscape photographer?
While there are plenty of new features on cameras that make things easier, a lot of the bells and whistles are just that. Shiny toys that are included to entice customers, and beat competition in the market. It makes sense because the more things your camera does, the more desirable it is against the competition, but it doesn't necessarily help you take better photos. Generally speaking, the older high level and pro cameras worked for the pros just a few years ago, so why wouldn't they be good enough for the rest of us now?
Is Image Quality Actually Any Better?
Yes. Almost always the latest image sensor technology will be an improvement on the last. So in this respect the newer gear wins out, in my opinion. Higher dynamic range, extended ISO capacity, and reduced noise are just a few of the things that improve photo quality in newer cameras. But these improvements are usually incremental. I believe that changing cameras every 5-6 years is more than enough for the average photographer to really see a jump in quality while saving money.
Unless you're a professional or working in a creative field that studies photos zoomed in at 100%, I doubt you'll notice much difference between a 6-year-old camera and a modern day equivalent shot with the same settings under the same lighting conditions.
Overall, a newer camera might speed up the shooting process, and objectively deliver better quality images, but I'm not convinced that most of us need the newest camera. I've noticed this myself when comparing images from a Nikon D750 to a Nikon Z 7. I managed to shoot a bit quicker with the Z 7, and the images were a bit sharper. But on the whole, if I'd given it to a magazine to put on their front cover, they wouldn't turn their nose up at my D750 shot. I know that, because it's happened to me.
So as long as you're willing to live with fewer features, and take a little longer setting things up, I'm confident that 6-year-old camera is more than enough for the best of us. Especially if we hone our craft by improving lighting, composition, and subject choice.