Here’s a Reason Not to Upgrade to That New Mirrorless Camera

Here’s a Reason Not to Upgrade to That New Mirrorless Camera

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:

A photo of Montauk Point from when my Canon EOS D30 was 9 years old. My current daily driver, a Nikon D700, is now more than 10 years old.

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).

The Panasonic GM1 and 20mm f/1.7 make a great walk-around combination. Yes, the camera actually came in this orange color.

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.

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22 Comments

Mark James's picture

Nice read, and I agree... But I still want a new toy. My wife took my GM1, and I feel a FF mirrorless is the best replacement.

Michael Little's picture

Thank you for telling me my D750 is all I need.

Daniel Medley's picture

I really like my D750. The only reason I've entertained the notion of upgrading is that a silent shutter would be very useful under many of the circumstances in which I shoot. Had Nikon come out with something at least on par with the A7III I very well may have gone with it.

But they didn't.

So I won't.

Jon Kellett's picture

I enjoyed this article and agree that GAS tends to have too much sway in our purchasing decisions.

For a very long time I've been happy with my Canon crop-sensor. It's been overseas with me, it's been through unprotected downpours, frigid conditions one day and high temp & humidity the next, it's allowed me to capture great street, fine art and triathlon photos. Every time I pick it up, it feels like it's a part of me.

And then...

Then I picked up a Panasonic m43. Then I decided to do some vlogging. Then I purchased a G85 to "play with". Then I ended up using the G85 for street photography and was amazed by how much easier it was - I didn't realise that so many people were aware of my standing there with a 24-105/f2.8 and "serious looking" camera until I moved to the G85. Now I get more photos and more joy.

Now I just need to see what Panasonic does next week to decide between a G9 and their FF camera. I like m43 size and weight, but love the idea of more res and better low light performance that comes with FF.

Harlan Bowling's picture

I think for stills, you're absolutely right 99% of the time. On video though, it can be a bit of a different animal. The advances on DSLR and Mirrorless video that are being made often create abilities that your current setup may not have. For example, the ability to shoot 120p or something to that effect.

Basically anything I can do to justify buying all. the. things. :)

Well said! We've made photos since the early 1800s without all the latest and greatest.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

well shit, with that logic why do we even have digital cameras? lets get rid of them all!

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

In the 1800s it was the latest and greatest though.

I had a similar conversation with some other photog while shooting a football game last week. The only reason I'm hot to switch/ invest more in mirrorless is due to my work as a set still photographer on feature films (being able to work without a blimp is life changing, but for everything else I do my Canon 5d Mark III and 7d Mark II are great). Waiting for the right project to drop money on either the Fuji or Canon side. Probably not sure which I will do till I get there.

Tony Teofilo's picture

All the points here are very sensible. But I have to say, moving to mirrorless was *so* satisfying. Jumping from Canon to Sony was super fun, partially because Canon has been dragging its feet in such a boring and curmudgeonly way. I am a video shooter too, so it made sense for me. If I was a stills shooter, perhaps it wouldn’t have made sense. But as a Sony user, I am loving their innovation. Some of the features they have, like auto eye focus, have saved me hours in doing portrait work with my children.

Well said! It's important to progress and to test new solution and technology, but we have to adapt it to our capability and need and not the viceversa

I get your point and fully agree, but this lighthouse shot form Canon D30 is naaasty. The amount of noise visible even at this size reminds me of some old ISO800 films. You can get better IQ form an iphone nowadays.

Graham Glover's picture

Great essay! When looking at new gear, I'll typically consider: What can't I do now that this new piece of gear will allow me to do? How does this new piece of gear make my life better (faster, more efficient with a net positive ROI)? Why am I still lusting over this piece of gear if it doesn't really help me?

I'm sure there will be a time for me to go mirrorless, but I see nothing compelling in the current offerings.

My D610's do good work.

But my life is going to be easier with a new body that works better in low light and has better AF.

Now maybe it'll be Mirrorless or I'll snag a D850. We'll see how it shakes out.

Rod Bruno's picture

I completely disagree with this article and YES you should buy a mirrorless body and PLEASE PM me if you are selling your used D850 :)

Errick Jackson's picture

I feel like one of these articles is made every time a new piece of equipment comes out; some rambling about "my old [insert camera older than 4 years] still takes great pictures" as an excuse to not care about new stuff; as if the coverage of new gear by photography websites is just too much.

It gets old. Just let us be excited by new gear. Everyone knows they don't need it to be a good photographer/videographer. Doesn't erase the exciting new doors new technology opens up.

Joseph Anthony's picture

Though the article is pleasant and a nice enough soft read. I agree with Errick. Sure, G.A.S. heads will be tempted. That's not a story. However, there will be a large group of people who need to get a new camera. Maybe theirs broke or is misbehaving, or uses film and that's hard to find theses days. Should they consider the mirrorless? I have a Canon 6D, it continues to be a great moneymaker and I have no need to replace it. Or do I? Lately it has been locking up on me, and I pulling out the battery and putting it back in seems to fix it. This is getting frustrating, especially if I have it on a tripod or other device that hides the camera latch. I find it too hard to find good articles on why I would purchase this over [fill in the blank]

Michael Dougherty's picture

My main reason is weight. The Z7 has substantially less wight than the D850. I do some travel and less weight is really important. Since most new lenses are incredibly better than older lenses, weight has become a more important factor as they are almost as sharp as the really heavy lenses. e.g. Tamron (lighter) versus Sigma (heavier)

Jon Kellett's picture

Weight (an looking less conspicuous) was a big reason for my purchasing a Panasonic M43.

I'm not sure when my next trip will be, but I want less weight. Last trip was only for a month, but I did enough walking to wear out a brand new pair of hiking shoes (admittedly, they were cheapies). The weight diff is amazing. Canon L-series equivalent versions of a 24-105/F4 and a 70-200/f2.8 + a G9 body weighs less than a Canon 70-200/f2.8! That's a big saving that can go into flashes and accessories...

But i thought it was the best camera that capture the best image.

Colin Shawhan's picture

I agree, and though I'm new to the camera world (well at least as a serious amateur) it seems to me we are reaching a technological plateau similar to what I'm used to with audio gear: you just can't add a whole lot to the technology that is already out there that will actually MATTER to a consumer, or even yourself. Cameras are increasingly featuring bells and whistles I probably don't need and the most important piece of equipment is me.

Audio, in my opinion, reached that point in the 1970's, just after the Beatles broke up. A lot changed from '65-'75, but really the music from that era sounds just as good - better? - than anything today. What do we have? Autotune? Give me a break!!

Cameras are pretty much there. Visible light has limited bandwidth, objects only move so fast (before their motion is irrelevant in the vanishingly narrow visible spectrum anyway) - we could shoot hummingbirds and honeybees twenty years ago. What more do you want?! All that's happening is the National Geographic level stuff from 1998 is now getting cheaper, and soon the only difference between my photography and Nat Geo will be my level of experience.

Want a fancier, faster lens, a better body? Wait a year or two. Soon that stuff will be $30 at Wal-Mart - maybe by 2029? We'll get there. Relax!

Michael Bernier's picture

Good points made in this. For me, the choice of buying a new piece of gear usually comes down to one of two things: either what I have is broken or starting to fail and the repair cost is more than it's worth, or there's something I want to do but can't with what I currently have. I can't find anything I want to do right now that cannot be done with my current 7D Mark II and 5D Mark III camera bodies, so I'll stick with them for now.