Is there anything better than buying new gear? Or anything worse than subsequent buyer’s regret? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you kiss your cash bye-bye.
As photographers, I think we can all accept that we’ve often thrown discipline and logic out the window when it comes to buying cameras, lenses, and various paraphernalia related to our craft. But how do we know when it’s time to put our foot on the brake a little and show a little bit of circumspection regarding how deeply we dip our hands into our pockets for new gear?
To clarify, I’m not talking about people who tap dance down the street in shiny golden shoes, have wads of cash in their pockets thicker than truck tyres, and live in houses so big their kids have two bedrooms each. For people like that who have the desire and the financial clout to buy whatever they want, whenever they want, then good for you, but this article does not apply to you.
It’s for the majority of us who suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) and want every new piece of brilliant photographic technology that gets put before our eyes every single year, but don’t quite have the number of zeros in our bank accounts to match our insatiable wants. We’re often stuck in that agonizing zone between 60/40 and 40/60 where can we find just as many reasons to buy as not to buy. So what kind of criteria can we use to really justify buying new gear? I have three which I consistently use and would like to share with you today.
Is It Considerably Better Than What You’ve Currently Got?
I’m in my mid 40s now so I’ve reached a stage in life where any change that I’m considering must come with significant, tangible benefits. I don’t even mean something that’s just a little bit better than what I currently have – I mean a genuine, noticeable step up. In the case of new camera bodies, it’s wonderful that we have access to all of the spec sheets because we can simply put our desired purchases next to our current gear and do a quick comparison spot check.
However, one thing you do need to be careful of when you do such a spec comparison is that you must think about what you actually need for your personal photography and the specs that really apply to your specific circumstances and desires. For example, you might be looking at a newly released camera that has Eye AF, and in-body image stabilization (IBIS). But if you’re a person exclusively shooting landscape images where you use a tripod and don’t really encounter many situations where you’re taking portraits or wildlife shots, then those features aren’t really something that are overly necessary for you, no matter how good they might be.
Is the New Gear Economically Justifiable?
When I say economically justifiable, I’m not just talking about the money that you have to outlay to get the new piece of equipment. I’m actually talking more about a cost/benefit analysis type of thing. For example, will this new piece of equipment, be it a lens or a new camera body, make more money for you in your photographic endeavors over time than what you’re making from your current gear? (assuming that you make money from photography)
Let’s say, for example, you’re into action sports photography and all you have is a lens with a maximum zoom range of 200mm. You may be making some decent money selling to local syndications and you’re thinking about taking it a step further. But if you were just contemplating going from a f/4 200mm to a f/2.8 200mm and shelling out a few thousand for that, then, as a general rule, I’m not sure I could really justify that purchase myself.
On the other hand, if you went out and got a lens that extended from 150-600mm, then of course, your opportunities to get so many more different types of shots and close-up action shots would rise exponentially, which could only benefit your financial opportunities of selling your images. In that sense, it would be a justifiable purchase in my eyes.
As a real life example, I switched to a Canon 7D Mark II from an old Canon Rebel many years ago when I got a little bit more serious about my surf photography. At the time, I hadn’t made any money from my surfing images, nor had I featured in any magazines or acquired any work through my shots. However, I knew the limitations of the Rebel and felt that I needed something a little bit better if I was going to take my photography further commercially.
It was a rather big outlay for a new body when I hadn’t made a single dime from my work but if I consider now how much money that Canon 7D II has made me in terms of sales and jobs that I’ve received from images that people have seen, then that purchase was easily worth the money and a hell of a lot more.
Can You Offset the Outlay?
This basically comes down to whether or not you think you can sell your current gear for a decent price. If you want to use sales of the equipment you currently have to fund purchases of future equipment then you have to work out if there are legitimate avenues for you to sell your gear. Some questions you might want to consider include whether or not there is a market for the gear that you have. Are there local sellers or online merchants that could provide a realistic opportunity of you selling some stuff and getting money for it?
Then you also have to think about whether or not you’re going to get a decent price for the gear that you have. If the market's already flooded with equipment similar to that which you’re trying to sell, then it might not really be a viable option. In my case, I’m happy to keep the gear that I’ve got and hand it down to my two young daughters in the hope that they will take up an interest in photography and come out with their dear old dad on early morning shoots down the ocean. But if you want to get rid of your gear to help fund new gear, then you have to look for the different avenues of selling that are available and then be very strict and honest in your appraisal of them.
New gear is cool. We love getting our hands on new lenses, new bodies, new filters, and anything else we think might add just a little bit more to our photographic endeavors. But not many of us are flush with cash, especially in these difficult times. So it’s good to have some criteria to consider before you go out and make that impulse buy.
What about you? How do you know when to keep that wallet in your back pocket, or flash it wide and proud and conspicuously? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.