Do You Use Yesterday's Camera Tech?

Do You Use Yesterday's Camera Tech?

Were you one of the early adopters who jumped to a Fuji X series, selling your extensive Canon camera body and lens range, to be thoroughly unimpressed with the image quality to then jump back? Or did you fork out on a PhaseONE medium format, drooling over that dreamy tonal range to then see Pentax release the rather good 645Z for a quarter of the price a year later? Enter the "Yesterday's Tech" purchasing model.

We've all succumbed to GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) at some point in our photographic careers. In my alternate GAS-fueled life I identified four potential reasons for acquiescence.

Firstly, simply because it's new and no one else has it. This is what is called "invidious consumption" which was developed by the nineteenth century economist Thorstein Veblen. He described it as the outwardly public "consumption" of goods in order to provoke envy in others and, let's face it, it does feel pretty good to pick up that brand new EOS R at B&H, post the unboxing video on YouTube, before proudly walking down the street with it. And that's before you've actually taken any pictures!

The second reason for GAS is because it solves a problem you don't have. You were impressed by the high 20fps frame rate of the Sony a9 when it arrived on the scene and that camera remains game changing for sports photographers who work in a high octane genre and demand not only rapid fire imagery, but class leading focus tracking. Except you're a landscape photographer and don't actually need it!

Thirdly, the product you've bought actually doesn't work! There is a whole heap of gear I could happily discard as rubbish that I shouldn't have bought in the first place. Usually it's lower cost items, but every so often you find a leading manufacturer who manages to produce something that really, well, shouldn't have been released. I'm looking at you Nikon with the first release of SnapBridge. In fact, the golden rule of thumb for class leading kit under active development is to buy the third iteration. Think the Sony a7 or, indeed, Tesla.

Fourthly, unlike point three, it does work but is actually far too much effort to be worthwhile. You think you really want those raw files on your smartphone so buy a portable hotspot to transfer your images and then find it's slow, fiddly and, at the end of the day, not really any better than taking a snapshot with your phone in the first place and editing it directly.

Of course invidious consumption is rarely based upon the actual manufacturing cost. There is an acquisition cost which is the manufacturers "charge" for being an early adopter. This is the price you pay for being able to use it before most other people. Where does the value of a product lie? If you are a professional photographer then this is determined by your operating profit, which you take after covering your costs. So if you factor in your new gear, depreciated over five years, does it pay for itself? Could a lower priced product perform equally well? It's a bit like buying Walmart beans instead of Heinz (of course you might well be missing out on their 57 varieties!). The key question becomes this:

Does this piece of gear genuinely give me a competitive advantage?

Some new products are a slow burn. Take the mirrorless camera. They've come a long way since the Epson RD1 (released in 2004) which cost $3000 and you'd have been hard pushed to pay for that in terms of competitive advantage, yet they have redefined the camera market. In contrast the Canon 5DMkII revolutionized independent film making. If you bought one of these, then you were able to create filmic quality videos. And that really could have paid for itself.

Whether a piece of gear is actually worth what you pay for it only you can determine. However the following exercise might allow you to gauge the sorts of successes you have had. Go through every piece of gear you have (and I mean every piece of gear!), then type the name, purchase date, and price in to a spreadsheet. It's also worth adding the resale value (if there is one). Just adding up the total cost and resale value columns will be a salutary reminder of how much you have spent and what it is now worth. You could sort by purchase date to see how much you have spent each year and then review the last time you used each piece of gear.

The intention is not to beat yourself with a stick about buying gear, but rather to objectively assess whether your purchases are providing value for money. The "smell test" is whether you are actually using it. If not, sell it and assess any new potential purchases in the light of what you now consider to be gear that didn't provide value for money.

While you are undertaking this exercise, why not write down the serial number and, If you have the receipt, take a picture of it. Why the serial number? This is a great way to do a stock check and value your gear. It then makes dealing with lost, stolen, or broken equipment so much easier.

When I went through this process for my gear, it showed me that I have a penchant for buying little gadgets and lenses, many of which are little used. Some of the gadgets include a right angle view finder, close-up lens, UV pass-through filter, Lee graduated filters, and a bargain reversing ring. Other more expensive items that don't pass the smell test include an IR converted camera, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro lens, Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom, and Manfrotto carbon tripod.

What are used extensively include my aging Nikon D700, 70-200mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2, and 24mm f/2.8 lenses. Alongside these my Blackrapid Breathe strap, 3Pod travel tripod, Lee filter holder (and Super Stopper), and Fuji Instax SP2 printer all see extensive and regular use. Both the Sony RX100M2 and Fuji M1 cameras are used in conjunction to provide some extra latitude.

This list leads to my first general principle of photography:

Yesterday's camera technology reliably delivers 95% of your photographic projects

I should moderate that principle by saying that while "yesterday's tech" is often great, "last week's tech" won't necessarily be. Don't worry about not being on the latest and greatest kit, but do know when to upgrade. As a business, where you can gain a competitive advantage, buy the latest gear that will deliver it.

Are you a "yesterday" tech user or do you buy the latest camera offerings? Does it deliver for you? What purchasing tips do you recommend?

Lead image in the Public Domain via Wikimedia. Copy image courtesy of Lucas Favre via Unsplash, used under Creative Commons.

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42 Comments

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Lee Stirling's picture

I have definitely fallen victim to GAS when it comes to acquiring photo gear. Fortunately for me, it's GAS re: Yesterday's Tech. Since January 2018 I have acquired 9 different film cameras (35mm SLR, Rangefinder, P&S, TLR) and nearly as many lenses to go with them. It's not nearly as costly to have film GAS as it is to have digital GAS when you can find quality, working lenses and cameras for $50-100 or less and when you develop your own film at home. I guess what I'm saying is that there is GAS and then there is GAS.

Wes Jones's picture

I still love my 5D2. It's a great camera.

Marius Pettersen's picture

I'm still shooting with my old trusty 5D, but mostly for personal work. I choose the Mark IV whenever money is involved and when I have to rely on better tech to make the best out of the situation.

Still rockin' my 6D and 60D in 2019, baby! The one-two punch nobody sees coming!

MAHENDRA BHAINDARKAR's picture

This post impressed me so much that I’ll be doing audit n list of my gears today itself. I’m shooting with Nikon D4s since last 3 years & have Nikon D4 as a spare body. Also have all Nikon lenses from 16mm fisheye to Nikon 200mm f/2 VR ii which I use for shooting weddings. The points mentioned in the post directly relates to me n yes the discussions further put light on related factors, which are much needed. Thanks a lot to you Mike Smith.

I agree with most of the things you wrote and it’s right to all kind of gadget, including men’s passion to cars. LOL! I had a Pentax LX since 85 to 98! I should have got rid of it go over to AF but I didn’t and it was a mistake. The I switched to a Nikon F90X and an F801S and worked as a part time freelance. Then the world around me started to go digi but stuck to the film cause I wanted a full frame Nikon. Eventually I manged to lay hands on a Kodak DCS14 pro/n that produced more noise than image. I noticed that digital technology advanced meanwhile a hell of a lot and made a serious move. In 2010 I switched to Canon 5D MKII while it was still very new. I must emphasize that I wasn’t making any pro photography anymore. Now, after I realized the new models are far more noise resistant I upgraded my system with a DxO editor that removes the noise very handy and matches the image quality to those of newer models. Yes, I know, if you enlarge the photo to 100% you might spot some differences but who’s looking at photography this way? This system brought me so much satisfaction and it’s really created according to my needs. I do more documentary and street’s photography, travel, landscape etc and hardly any sports that I realized long ago that I don’t really have to buy anything new. I remember this acquisition debate going on since the 80’s and I sensed already back then that people keep forgetting the real reason why we're here and that is to produce fine photos.

Ryan Davis's picture

I'm still shooting with my 5d mk ii, and a bunch of "first generation" L glass, and the weak link is, for the most part, me as a photographer rather than my gear. I rarely to never print bigger than 8x10, and even up to 16x20 the 5d resolves just fine.

Have I lost a few shots, or had less than "perfect" shots due to limitations of ISO, or noise, or whatever? Sure.

But what I always ask myself when a new body comes out is "will this (the 5d mk ii or iv) make my pictures 3000 euros better? Because that's the marginal cost for an upgrade, and it's quite a bit of money.

Would 3000 euros worth of lenses make my photos better than a 5d mk iv? Or perhaps 3000 euros worth of workshops? Where can I travel to for 3000 euros that would give me the time and opportunity to take much better pictures?

In the last 10 years or so, Canon hasn't made a new body that clears, for me, that marginal cost hurdle.

Sony a6000 for indoor sports, 5D (original) for weddings along with a 6D, 7D for outdoor sports. 300D for fun when I am bored. lol

While i like concept of new technology, the older ones are making their jobs just as fine. With photography it's rather about lenses / postprocessing and that's what really matters. I've compared my ancient 1DSmkIII with TS-E 17 and 24mk2 to the Nikon D850 with 14-24 zoom lens and for interior / architecture photos my combo just crushes that Nikon, visually. What's the point of having so many megapixels now if these photos ends mostly on the web or A3 prints, especially if you loose like third of them due to perspective correction in post. Or the dynamic range madness - that Nikon have far better DR than my Canon, but in reality both of these bodies need some bracketing in harsh conditions, so workflow stays the same. The good part of it is that you can buy massive amount of gear for nothing, bodies are dirt cheap, lenses as well, and in reality, if you can't take a good photo with the 5D2, i'm afraid it's not the matter of what camera you use.

Roberto Serrini's picture

I mean ... I run a blog called "Vintage Camera Quest" ... how much yesterday are we talking? ;)

www.vintagecameraquest.com

Still shooting with a 5D Mark III that I bought used 2 years ago and I love it, especially for doing RAW video. Maybe it was difficult in 2013 to shoot raw, but it's not an issue with a more recent computer. Plus, I've been shooting with 5D's since 2015 and I can't trade-in the muscle memory for some shiny new Panasonic.

Plus, has anyone heard of upscaling Full HD to 4k for YouTube? Your video gets a higher bitrate with less compression by YouTube. If you're delivering online, and the client doesn't need 4k, why shoot in 4k?

The biggest competitor to the new technology is old equipment that does the job perfectly well. People took fabulous photos with 10Mp cameras, and older lens technology. I would say that is one of the major reasons for declining sales in the ILC market. Why update to the latest, greatest, when you can, as many people here have mentioned,