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How Much Camera Do You Really Need?

Are you looking to buy a new camera this year? Perhaps you are hoping that the holiday season will bring you a fantastic new camera as a gift. I bet you already know which camera you would like to have next. But what is wrong with your current camera?

I’m no different than almost any other photographer; I like new gear. There, I admitted it, and I'm sure you can too. Go ahead, and I'll wait. Now, don't you feel better that you accepted it? New gear, especially a new camera body, gets me excited, and it even motivates me to get out and shoot more often. That's a good thing. Yet how much of that new camera's capabilities are you going to use?
 
The other day, I was sitting with my camera waiting for some photos to download to the computer, when I started scrolling through the various menus. As I scrolled, I kept thinking to myself that I never used this setting or that setting. I began to realize that I didn't even know what some of the features do or how I would use those settings. Don't get me wrong; I believe that I understand my camera well, and I do customize numerous settings to get the camera to perform the way I want it to perform and need it to perform. Yet, if I had to guess, I use less than 20% of the various settings and capabilities of the camera.
 
Sure, I have customized the camera to use back-button focus, which I love. I have my dual card slots set to record raw to one card and JPEG to the other. I've changed my low burst rate to more of a medium burst rate of 5 frames per second. I've even adjusted my dial wheel's shutter speed and aperture settings to scroll differently than the manufacturer's settings. However, when I scrolled through those menus and their sub-menus on my camera, I started to realize that I don't use and have never used a considerable portion of them. Of course, some of the features are not needed for my type of photography, and I'm sure some of the features I use aren't required by other photographers. The camera manufacturers know this, but it is better for them to load the camera with many different features to appeal to as many customers as possible.
 
I believe when most people are considering a new camera body, their desire for the new camera body focuses mainly on five features: sensor size, ISO range, megapixels, burst frame rate, and today, mirrorless or not. Sure, there are other considerations like camera body size that come into play. But who is looking at all those other features when purchasing the camera?

So, what's wrong with having all those features even if I don't use them? They're there in case someday I do, right? Well, I can agree with that until the time I'm trying to find that setting I want to change, and I have to traverse my way through all those menus and options. First, I need to remember where that setting is changed in the menu and how to get there. Second, it takes time to scroll and click through the menu. I want to be in the settings that I want to change as fast as I can. And most of the upper-end cameras still don't have touchscreen features. We are still hampered with dials and buttons to make changes.

Here are a couple of features that I have never used:

  • Auto white balance adjustment
  • The entire retouch menu
  • Multiple exposures
  • Limit AF-area selection mode

What features do you never use, and what features are ones that you can't live without for your photography?

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40 Comments

Ryszard Błogowski's picture

Well...
It's true. I'm looking to buy a new camera this year. The reason is simple: my current one is 12 years old and I recently started shooting in low light :P

Basia Kowalska's picture

🙌 definitely upgrade, Ryszku. Low light/night photography is the most beautiful and powerful exercise of photography there is

D M's picture

How much of a camera do I need? How much of a camera do you have?

Mark Wyatt's picture

I was looking at one of my favorite full frame cameras, and I turned it over and realized- hey, the Contax iia does not have a screen. No menus. It has the basic controls that most photographers use most of the time- shutter speed, aperture, and a means of focusing. No burst, no SD slots, no video, no 392 points of autofocus . But it is still one of my favorite cameras, which I have used a lot this year. It competes with my Fujifilm XT-2 as one of my favorites.

Deleted Account's picture

I feel that way about my F3.

mark wilkins's picture

My spotmatic is on my bookcase shelf...its been there 40 years!

Mark Wyatt's picture

I would not be surprised if it still works fine (hope you at least took the battery out)!

Deleted Account's picture

I might upgrade from my D700 one day.

Motti Bembaron's picture

As long as it works, you own one of the best DSLR ever made.

I am just editing a job that I shot with my new D500 and my aging D3, I absolutely love the results of the D3 in terms of color and overall looks. I find it so much better than the D500. I am keeping it until it does not work anymore.

Cheers

Kurt Hummel's picture

I’m looking forward to the 5dsr replacement but I doubt it will be worth the upgrade. I love the 5dsr, just wish I had a little better high iso capability and a couple more frames per second. The replacement will probably have much higher megapixel so the frame rate will probably be the same but the iso will probably improve.

I’ve never used video on any camera, I don’t use gps on my 1DX2 never set up the u1,u2 menus and a bunch of other stuff in the menus, I just keep it simple.

David Pavlich's picture

There's things I never use on my camera, but we can't buy cameras ala carte. So you find the camera that does what you need it to do and go with it.

Rhonald Rose's picture

As much as my wallet will allow. They may not end up being used which is a different story.

(Riche) Rifkind's picture

True, but it should be what cameras are lacking. For a good years I've have a cannon Sx50hs. But was looking to upgrade and I knew price was reasonable. But my problem they had decided to remove hotshoe from newer models, So I started to look elsewhere and I settled bon Sony Rx10 IV. Yes. More expensive and more features etc. But it did all I needed. But its helped me up my photography game.

Eder Abogabir's picture

I own two d750's looking to sell the oldest one and get a Z6. I need a lighter camera ... is that a smart decision? hehe Great Article.

Douglas Turney's picture

Thank you.

Lux Shots's picture

Hmmmm.

I think it's time to upgrade my Panasonic S1H....

😂

Dave Palmer's picture

How much camera do you need? The most camera you can afford.

Micamis Biggs's picture

I prefer 12MP RAW and a great lens unless I'm shooting low light, high resolution, or need to transfer direct to my phone.

mar par's picture

Agree, most of the adjustments are hardly used by many snappers. The reason is because, as a photographer, it is impossible, due to cost, to customer design a camera specifically for my needs, therefore manufacturers try and cover all bases by incorporating as many "adjustments" as possible to appeal to all customers ( and it looks good in photographic mags - "mines bigger than yours" mentality. This trend of over delivering on options/adjustments is also widespread in other products e.g. washing machines, TVs, microwave cookers etc.

Mark Doiron's picture

Since I use multiple cameras during trips, switching back and forth rather randomly, a major feature for me is similarity of controls and menus. As for upgrades, they don't happen unless there's a significant feature I need, or a dramatic performance improvement. I'd upgrade for 120 hz video, since I like to use slow motion effects. And I might be talked out of my left testicle for a camera that renders clouds like film. For lenses, I'm a sucker for improved stabilization since I shoot a lot of handheld video. But just because there's a new model? Nope, not for me.

Rose Florida's picture

Silly. Most of the "features" you don't access are software based. So maybe some day there will be an AI interface and you will be able to just tell the camera what you want. Maybe you would feel happier with software that only did what you wanted to do and blanked out everything else. How many of us use the many features our cell phones, tablets and PCs have? How much time do you spend working your way through all the menu items on the TV screen in your new car that the manufacturers and reviewers seem to think is so important? I have a thermostat in my house that seems to have more computing power than a lunar module, yet all I want to do is change the temperature. So what?

J.a. Spieringhs's picture

Shutterspeed, aperture, iso and some way to focus.

Sadie Bree's picture

I want to do low light shooting and video. My current cameras are EOS 30D and 1D mark IIN. I have taken some great shots with both, but migrating to Fujifilm

Cliff Batson's picture

I have a Canon EOS 1DX mark II and a 5D mark III. (Oh, I also have a Leica M10 and 5 Leitz lenses.) I just bought a $999 Canon RP and I love the interface better than my more expensive cameras. It doesn't have the dynamic range or some of the other features of my more expensive gear but it's more fun to shoot with. For 90% of my photos, the cheapest full-frame mirrorless camera (Canon RP) would be totally fine. My advice is always to invest in great lenses.

John Herzel's picture

If there was a way to put a full frame sensor on my old Canon AE-1 P, with maybe some modern glass, I would be happy. (For less $ than a new camera of course...never happen but I can dream)

Mylapore Kumar's picture

The features added daily to cameras eventhough attracting us,we may frustrate after we feel they would be idle Forever ever.Recently I added cannon G1x Mark II and happy with its features easily accessible. The digital one may compete with analogue features when it comes to accessibility.
But the decade old ISO, SHUTTER AND APPERTURE become the main stay. One thing I am doubtful that the high iso is really replacing the tripod. Bright pictures are made possible but quality is like tripod made?

Mike Dixon's picture

I've been really liking having two different buttons customized for back-button focus on my 5D4. One for whatever point I have manually selected, and one that uses all focus points. I think that would be really hard to live without now that I've used it.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm happy with my 4 year old E-M5 Mark II. Intend to use it as my main camera for the next 4 years as it serves all my needs. Newer camera's are better in every way, but I rather invest the money in lenses and skills.

Robert Nurse's picture

How much camera do I need? Here's how much camera I want:

- The elimination of the need for micro focus adjust
- Autofocusing that isn't timed by a calendar in low light situations
- Double digit fps rate
- Video should be an opt-in
- Increased dynamic range
- Histogram in the viewfinder
- Dual CF cards.

If all this boils down to mirrorless, then that's what I want. One feature I have on my 5D Mark III is video. For me, it's a waste of space.

Michael Dougherty's picture

My favorite and often used features on my D850 and Z7 are Auto ISO and highlight weighted matrix metering.

Campbell Sinclair's picture

I have a Nikon D4. I use a few of settings , manual ISO button - ISO auto.manual with front dial is great , histogram , focus-release AF function , 11fps burst , RAW 14bit record , AF illumination. Only thing I miss is Group AF which is on my D750 but the D4 doesn't have,. No duel slots is highly annoying and Nikon was stupid for going sown this path in the first place.

Blake Aghili's picture

It DEPENDS :)
- Beauty Makeup shots: PhaseOne XF 100 MP Please. . Do I care about how many auto focus points it has? Nop.
- Fashion Editorial Outdoors: 24 MP is enough. Do I care if it has auto focus? Nop.
- Weddings: 24 MP is enough. Do I care about ISO performance and auto focus and focus points? Yes I do.

Deleted Account's picture

I might have a different take then most? After having $15k worth of camera gear go up in smoke last year in the Paradise 'Camp Fire.' Some of the takeaways from this simply translated in behavioral changes. Foremost I said no more impulse buying when it came to lenses and camera gear. I wanted to buy less, but own better equipment. Try to think out what I really need vs. what I want. Heck I would have been happy with a cheap cell phone camera the day after the fire. It put's everything into perspective when it's all gone. My goals are to be humble, be open to constructive criticism and break out of my comfort zone when it comes to photography. I guess I will forever look at my camera acquisition priorities differently.

Francisco B's picture

You can get away with a cheaper camera if you're not doing large print, or need a crazy fast camera.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Actually there are plenty of cheaper cameras that will make very large, beautiful prints (try a Speed Graphic 4x5 for instance).

Francisco B's picture

That is impractical for most people, who want to shoot in digital for the several obvious benefits.

Slre29 na's picture

hii

Rod Bruno's picture

Some are in photography for the gear, others for the experiences and photos...and that's where I'm at...the only reason I got a "new" camera last year( an used d810) is that I found it on the "liquidation bin" with a very steep discount.

maghi cat Grzan's picture

It is true, it is not the camera that makes the picture. It is the photographer. But that being said there are some key elements one should look to when making an upgrade decision. The first one that comes to mind is High Dynamic Range. How many people even know what the HDR rating is on their current camera? Yet those improvements can make a significant difference in your image quality especially in low light. On the other side, one aspect of a camera is may not be as important as it once was and that is resolution. At 61 MP and Canon upcoming 70+ MP is simply excessive. I can't afford to print 40 x 60 where I think you would need to print to see differences with the human eye. I love how comparisons are even done, where you have to zoom in 10x to see the differences! Who has 10x eyes?
I think you have to look at improvements in technology that will actually improve your images and weigh those differences with a practical perspective.