Is That New Gear Really Worth Buying? Ask Yourself These Questions First

Is That New Gear Really Worth Buying? Ask Yourself These Questions First

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.

The Tamron 35-150mm is so much better than the Canon 24-105L in my view

I recently wrote an article about how much I enjoy using my new Tamron 35-150mm in comparison with my old Canon 24-105mm. I outlined the benefits and features that I get from that Tamron and I remain adamant that it is a lens that is significantly better than the 24-105mm I discarded. In that sense, it certainly meets the criteria here of being a measurable step up in quality.

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.

This Tamron 150-600mm opens up a whole new world of opportunities

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.

Summing Up

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.

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25 Comments

David Pavlich's picture

I agree with the 'economically justifiable' part. If it's in the budget, then there's no need to question the purchase since it's not hurting you financially. Going in debt because you 'want'? Not good.

Like I've said many times, if you have the budget for a Phase 1 to take pictures of your kat, who cares? It's your money.

Johnny Rico's picture

Buy used, 1 gen old. The budget goes a lot farther.

Nicholas Monteleone's picture

So, I just came across this article two days after buying my "new to me" A7RIII. I feel justified by the article and even better with this comment. Couldn't do the A7RIV, but a used RIII was just the ticket.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes, as I said in the article, I didn’t write for those lucky Phase 1 types....

There are dozens of articles on fstoppers on how to save money, not to waste money, not to buy what you like but buy what you need. Sometimes it feels like wannabe financial advisers are writing these articles. Isn't it just trivial that if you have money you buy what you want, if you don't then tough luck - buy what you can afford.

Iain Stanley's picture

If only such sensible financial planning existed in the world. Not sure the banks or credit companies would be particularly happy though.......besides which, photography is expensive. Do you know many other hobbies (for most people) where enthusiasts can literally spend tens of thousands on gear and get nothing in return....? I think it's prudent, especially in current times, to be a bit more wary of impulse buying

David Pavlich's picture

Try astronomy. ;-)

JT Blenker's picture

That Astronomy Money is no joke.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yeah that’d probably be at the top of the tree. Perhaps along with restoration of old cars (for collectors who have no intention of selling)

David Pavlich's picture

Prior to retiring, I was heavily into astronomy to the point that I had a backyard observatory. The list of scopes that I went through is long and diverse. Now that I'm retired, I have to watch my dinars a lot more closely, so just the opposite of my astro days, I practice restraint. :-)

Tom Reichner's picture

Some of my friends and relatives have hobbies that are way more expensive than photography. Try golfing, where my uncle travels all over the world to golf at the the world's finest courses. The gear is nothing - the travel is where the costs add up to tens of thousands of dollars every single year.

Then there is recreational boating, where my friend Bob spends over ten grand every year. The big $130,000 motorboat, the marina slip fees, the dry storage fees in the off-season, the astronomical liability insurance on the boats, the trailers for the boats, the $200+- of fuel every day he takes everybody out on the boat for a day of waterskiing and tubing. Then the little motorboat that is used to tow the skiers and tubers - not sure how much that was, but it is an 18 foot long Chris Craft, so probably $40,000 or thereabouts.

Then a guy I know in Montana collects natural history artifacts as a hobby - dinosaur bones and prehistoric animal parts, like Wooly Mammoth tusks, a Sabre-tooth Tiger skull, a Cave Bear skull and Cave Bear paws, a Wooly Rhinocerous leg bone, dozens of jumbo-sized Megalodon teeth, a perfect fossil of a 30" long salmon-like fish, a really nice skull of a Dire Wolf, many really big T-Rex teeth in excellent condition, and literally hundreds of other such items that I can't recall at the moment. We're talking about well over a quarter million dollars spent on animal parts just because he thinks they're cool.

Then there's my other friend Bob, who collects guitars and Dodge Vipers. He owns 3 of the Vipers, each one some sort of special edition. Doesn't drive them - just collects them and looks at them.
Then the guitars that he collects are guitars that were owned and used by famous musicians like Elvis, Glenn Frey, etc. A few years ago someone offered him $230,000 for one of the guitars, and he thought that was above market value, so he sold it. He has about a dozen other guitars that are of similar value. This guy is also an excellent hobby photographer who gets his images published regularly on magazine covers, but he spends way, way, WAY less on photography than he does on his other hobbies.

When you say that photography is an expensive hobby, I can't really relate to that statement, because the vast majority of the people I know who love photography as a hobby don't even spend $2,000 a year on it. And many of the people I know who have other hobbies spend tens of thousands of dollars on those hobbies every single year.

I know this will go against what many believe, but I think we should buy whatever floats our boat. And I'd even go as far to say spend a little more than you're comfortable with.

Yes at the time, you may wonder, "Did I do the right thing?" But from my experience, those thoughts vanish fairly quickly and then you have the camera you love to shoot with.

Iain Stanley's picture

yes and no. Because the "camera you love to shoot with" might be a different brand etc. Thus, you need to have the lenses to go along with the "camera you love to shoot with". Such things are never so simple. And are a big part of the reason I've stuck solid with Canon DSLRs

I get what you're saying from an economic standpoint, but I'd hate to be stuck with gear I don't love shooting with - just because I had the lenses for it.

There are ways to switch systems and minimize the costs like selling your old gear, finding adaptors for your old lenses or if your generous - gift your old system and invest in someone who has the passion but cannot afford.

Yes switching systems takes time and resources. But don't settle no matter what the cost. Fight for your dreams! Otherwise, all that will end up happening is just having regrets.

I don't necessarily like talking about the Coronavirus, but this blindsided all of us. It's already destroying lives. Life's too short - enjoy the gear you have or get something you love.

Iain Stanley's picture

Agree on all the parts about life being too short etc. As for the money side, the single me - absolutely. The married me with 2 young girls? The wife says nooooo :)

Ok I can't argue that.

Iain Stanley's picture

can any husband?!? Disclaimer: I love my wife.

David Pavlich's picture

I agree as long as you're not putting essential purchases on the back burner to get that new body or lens.

Just me's picture

Can I do something with this new gear that I can't do now and get my invested money back in a short time?
If the answer is yes; you can go ahead.

Iain Stanley's picture

I think I covered those points :)

LA M's picture

Nothing wrong with buying new gear...BUT..

1) Do you have 6 months worth of expenses/resources saved up in a bank account

Iain Stanley's picture

This current pandemic would suggest that the answer is an emphatic "no" for most people......

Not most companies either, apparently.

Ed Kennedy's picture

Good article. I have a Sony NEX-6. Lens - Sigma 16mm f1.4 and a Sony 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 plus some great old Minolta manual focus glass. I fooled myself into believing I had to have a Sony a6100. Wrong. Whether an a6100 or higher, I realized the good old NEX-6 was what I needed. Fortunately I was able to sell the a6100 within $18.00 of that I paid for it. I have pictures with the NEX-6 that are as good as or better than the upgraded versions. As the old saying goes.....comparison is the worst enemy of contentment. I dodged a bullet and am happy with my gear. Please think twice before jumping on the bandwagon. Seriously consider what you have before making a new purchase. Lesson learned.

Iain Stanley's picture

Comparison is the worst enemy of contentment. I like it! A much more sophisticated way of saying the grass is always greener....