Let’s face it. Photographers make all the excuses in the world to upgrade their gear. When we do, should there be an evident difference in our photos?
The answer to this question, much like most gear-related ones, is that it depends on what you previously had and what you just got, it depends on the difference between the two pieces of gear in question, and it depends of course on how skilled you are in utilizing them. For the purpose of this discussion, we will limit the context to getting new camera bodies and lenses, then discuss the situations.
When You Upgrade to a Higher-Resolution Camera Body: No
When get a new camera with a higher megapixel count sensor, unless you’re coming from something as small as two or even eight megapixels, your photos generally shouldn’t differ so much. Your prints and the maximum size at which you can make them will of course increase. But the general aesthetic of your output won't really change. However, getting new gear might inspire you to take better photos to an extent, so there lies that hope.
When You Upgrade to a Faster Camera Body: Yes
The answer is yes if the kind of photography you do is fast-paced and relies mainly on how many frames per second it can take. Logically, if you shoot landscapes or anything similarly paced, getting a camera with faster frame rates and autofocus really won't change the way you shoot. Obviously, for sports photographers, wildlife photographers, or anyone that requires a similar shooting pace, how fast your gear can go does not necessarily determine how good you are as a photographer, but being able to capture more frames and being able to capture many of them with accurate focusing can give you better chances of capturing split-second moments that you might miss with a slower camera. Your creativity isn’t really defined by that upgrade, but it gives you more accuracy in capturing such crucial moments.
When You Get High-End Lenses: No
Getting new lenses don’t always equate to better photos. Yes, your full-resolution output might be much sharper, but everything else, namely the photos you post on social media, the ones you keep on your phone, and even the ones you print in smaller sizes won't be that much different from when you were shooting with a cheaper lens. However, if the difference is speed related, then the principle behind the previous situation applies. Faster lenses with faster autofocus can give you better accuracy in capturing fast-paced moments. Of course, low-light capabilities also come into play. However, in the context of getting "premium glass" lens lines like the L series, G Master, SP, Art, etc., they really shouldn't make much difference unless you're pixel-peeping or printing big.
When You Get a Camera With Wider Dynamic Range: No
Getting a camera with much better DR capabilities doesn’t really give you better photos. However, this can give you more freedom in post-processing in bringing out details that may not have been as visible with your old camera. A common misconception about dealing with dynamic range is that it gives you the capability to shoot underexposed photos and recover them in post-processing. Instead, the prudent use of better DR capabilities is being able to recover more details in photos with extremely contrasting or dynamic lighting situations. The point of getting a camera with more stops of dynamic range is to have more room to work with in post-processing without “breaking” your raw file and messing it up with unwanted noise.
This past month, I personally gave up my 50-megapixel DSLR to get a Sony A7R III. Some friends questioned this move, saying that I lost a few megapixels and said that I should have kept my Canon 5DS. What they don’t understand is the fact that image quality doesn’t only depend on the megapixel count but instead in the camera’s capability to give you artistic freedom. Paired with the knowledge to bring out the optimal image, having a relatively wider DR rating beats more megapixels any day.
When You Shift to Another Brand With “Better Colors”: No
If you’ve been on Facebook, Instagram, or any other platform inhabited by modern photographers, you would know that while certain camera brands have relative affinity towards certain hues, color in photographs is better determined by how well the photographer manages their tones. If you shoot and process raw files, you would know that modern cameras have so much flexibility when it comes to color. In addition, color profiles in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom now have middle-ground standard profiles and color palettes in the form of the Adobe camera profiles. Shooting with two or more different brands and wanting to standardize your color rendering actually got much easier thanks to that development. Given that fact, color is now much less limited by the brand of your camera.
In the end, your creativity should not be bound by the kind of camera you have. You should never make purchases in hopes of becoming a better photographer. For most cases, getting new gear enables you to take better photos if and only if you know how to in the first place.