How Much Camera Do You Really Need?

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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Previous comments
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.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

Video will never be an opt-in. The next 1Dx III is going to basically shoot video in stills mode because the frame rate is so fast. It's like the camera is already doing it so why not make it official and say it does video also?

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

- 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.

Steven Hille'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.


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.

Shawn Kenessey's picture

The only reason you bought something was because it was on sale? That is a ridiculous sentiment.

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.