One of the most common questions photographers have is “should I upgrade my camera?” It’s right up there with “what lens I should buy” and “can I take selfies with this?” (That last one isn’t actually a common question.)
You may really want that Nikon Z7 or that Canon EOS R, but do you really need it? Whenever I ask myself the same question, I remind myself of a simple phrase that I tell my students thinking about a new camera: Your camera never takes pictures any worse than the day you brought it.
I own a few older cameras. Some I bought for nostalgic value and other were my daily drivers for a time. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of G.A.S., but after having kids, that sort of thing grinds to a halt (diapers are expensive). Now, I’ve learned to really appreciate and use the cameras I’ve got, and in addition, it makes me really think about making every camera purchase count.
I recently got the pang again when I saw the new mirrorless offerings from Nikon and Canon. On paper, they’re specced really well, and one of the new RF mirrorless system lenses from Canon would scratch an itch I’ve been commenting about for a long time: a standard zoom that’s faster than f/2.8, my white whale, the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM. Such a lens coupled with a new, slick-looking EOS R body seems like an amazing combo.
But then I thought to myself, is anything I’m shooting with now really holding me back? And the answer to that question is no. My DSLRs are getting me work just fine, and my clients have been happy. Maybe I’d notice the extra stop of bokeh and light-gathering goodness, but no one who’s paying me money will, nor will my family, the subjects of most of my personal photos. They will notice the missing $5,000 in the bank account though. There are things I want in the package: the lens of course, the on-sensor focusing ability, EVF, etc., but these are not things I need. My clients liked the photos out of my Nikon D750 and D700 the day I bought them, and that’s still the case today. I even occasionally bust out the Canon EOS D30 for personal photos and am still surprised by how good the results are from an 18-year-old-camera. Check out this shot from Montauk Point:
What Do You Already Have?
When the Fujifilm X100F came out, I really, really wanted one. Being a Fujifilm fan with the X-T1, it seemed like a perfect walkaround camera. Then I remembered, I had what I once thought was the perfect walkaround camera already, the Panasonic GM1. Coupled with the Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II lens, it was pretty much the same deal as the X100F in a smaller package, at least from an imaging standpoint, if not a features standpoint. In fact, the photo at the top of this article was taken with this combination.
I dug the 2013-era camera and 2009 lens out of the closet, charged the batteries, and after a few shoots reacquainting myself with the camera, I remembered why I loved it in the first place, and my X100F lust went away (this advice may work for relationships as well, but don’t quote me on that).
Taking a trip back through cameras you already own might show you that you don’t really need the one you don’t own. I loved the GM1 when I bought it, and I found out that I still do.
Think about your clients. If you need more resolution to make them happy, or speed to get the photos they want, or autofocus to get more keepers in your shoot, make the change, but if you just want it, maybe the money is better spent on the kid's college fund.