Should Your Photos Improve When You Get New Camera Gear?

Should Your Photos Improve When You Get New Camera Gear?

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

This photo was shot with a Canon 6D, a camera that wasn't really made for shooting something fast paced. However, anticipating the moment played a vital role in bridging the technological gap.

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

This photo could have been taken by any other camera. However, the optical integrity is better preserved with a sensor more suitable for the workflow.

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. 

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30 Comments

Kyle Foreman's picture

Just curious, as I have been contemplating this a lot lately. What would your answer be for moving from a Nikon d3200 to something like a d750 or a full frame mirrorless like the sony a7ii or a7iii? Mostly for landscape photography and wildlife photography. The upside for wildlife photography is obvious as all of these shoot much more fps than my 3200 and probably have much better AF. Mostly interested in how much better they would be for landscapes?

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I have no experience of shooting with the D3200 but specs wise, D3200 a crop sensor DSLR, while the D750 is full frame. As common concepts apply, dynamic range would definitely be where the advantage would lie.

In terms of the overall shooting experience, you would feel the difference in the overall feel given the speed difference but they shouldn't change your photos all that much.

As I said, i have no experience with that exact camera so let me ask a Nikon Product Specialist friend of mine to give you a more experience-based answer. :)

David Pavlich's picture

One thing that an upgraded camera gives you is a bit more ease when shooting. That's what comes with the extra expense. The better focus and fps makes it a little easier to accomplish your goals.

The FF sensor will give you a bit better dynamic range and the sensor in the 750 will allow you to recover shadows with cleaner results which will help your landscape shooting when you find shots that have a wide range of lighting.

Will it improve your images? All things being equal, I would say yes. It's just a matter of a better sensor producing a better image.

Vince Tanching's picture

Hi Kyle! For me, I would highly recommend the Z 6...great AF in low light, amazing dynamic range plus very lightweight body. If you are keen on shooting wildlife, the Z 6 is also a great option for it as it has 11fps continuous shooting. Plus, we tried out the Eye-AF on cats and it works pretty well (so it may work better on larger animals) 🙂

I could also recommend the Z 50 as an alternative of the Z 6....it's like a baby Z 6....80% of the features (though it's a crop-sensor camera) but maintains a lower price point 🙂 plus the FTZ adapter works wonders if you have a number of Nikon F-mount lenses, as it opens a whole new world of optics 🙂

Kyle Foreman's picture

Thanks for the info. I would like to stick with Nikon. Haven’t gotten a chance to get my hands on a z6 yet. I have messed a round with a couple of the Sony’s. I’ll definitely have to check it out before I end up making a decision. How well do the z6/z50 work in lowlight/at night?

Vince Tanching's picture

Both the Z 6 and Z 50 work flawlessly in low light, up to -4 EV actually (that's like shooting outdoors away from city lights with the moon your only source of illumination). Plus, ISOs are pretty good too so boosting them to higher levels are no problem :)

Kyle Foreman's picture

Thanks for all of the info Vince. Would you also recommend that 24-70 f/4 lens that is bundled with it? Or would you recommend something else? I like shooting wide. My Tokina 11-16 is my favorite lens right now and I'm usually using it at 11 which would put me in the 16-17 range on FF. The f/4 also has me a little worried about using it for astrophotography as I"m usually at 2.8. I am seriously considering going with the z6 though just curious which direction to go lens wise w/o breaking the bank too much. Thanks.

Vince Tanching's picture

In all honesty, I really love the Z 6's 24-70 f/4 kit lens, as it is sharp as hell. The Tokina 11-16 works well too, especially if you use it with the FTZ adapter but I would highly recommend the 14-30mm f/4 S.

Although it is an f/4, it still has many benefits including the only ultrawide lens able to mount front screw in filters (if you still use that) as it has a standard 82mm filter thread. And because the lens mount of the Z has a flange distance (distance between lens mount to the sensor) of 16mm - the shortest in the industry for mirrorless cameras, light transmission is effectively improved, out of focus areas is also better.

The light gathering capability of the lens is an equivalent to an f/2.8 lens.

Both the 24-70 f/4 kit lens and the 14-30 ultrawide have the same characteristic of better light gathereing capability so sholting at f/4 should be no problem 😉

Kyle Foreman's picture

Awesome, good to know. I think I'm sold. I've been reading and reviewing things for a while now. I'm looking to upgrade sometime this year and this will more than likely be the route I go. Thanks again!

Michael Krueger's picture

I used the D3200 as my main camera until I got a D750 last year. I do a mix of landscape, event, and nature photography. There are 3 things I noticed as big improvments.

Auto focus, especially in less than idea lighting, there is no comparison.
Low light/high ISO, the D3200 is trash above ISO 1600 IMO, D750 still looks acceptable at 6400.
Dynamic range/post processing, I've noticed despite both being 24mp the RAW files on the D750 are larger and I'm able to recover more from highlights and especially shadows.

Also has a much faster framerate but it doesn't effect the way I shoot.

I'd suspect you'd be able to get much better results from your wildlife photography and landscapes it will depend on lighting.

Kyle Foreman's picture

This is great to know. I completely agree about not going over 1600 on the d3200. It’s just terrible. I like doing night photography and I do some events from time to time as well and the 3200 just struggles. It is a great first camera but I think I’m ready to upgrade. I’m just torn cause I have a couple fairly decent DX lenses and I’m not sure what direction I should go. FF or mirrorless? Also thinking about staying in the dx world with something like the d500. There are too many choices!

Matt Owen's picture

I went through something similar when I was moving on from a D7100 and ended up with the D500, partly because I had several DX lenses I didn't want to give up. The auto focus is ridiculously good (same system as the D5), and 10 fps improves your odds for wildlife. I've had acceptable results up to ISO 9000 in some situations.

Kyle Foreman's picture

The d500 is also on my list as a possibility as I have a couple of decent DX lenses as well. How is the d500 at night/low light?

Matt Owen's picture

I wouldn't use it for astrophotography but it's really good in low light. I'm on the photo team at my church and was able to get this at f/6.3, ISO 6400 in some weak stage lighting:

Daniel Medley's picture

When current gear, or lack of, stands in the way of what you want to make, yes, your photos certainly can improve.

Deleted Account's picture

Depends on how much of a step up your new gear is from your old gear and what the nature of the gear is.

Jerome Brill's picture

It all comes down to knowing how to use the tools. It's easy to get sucked into thinking a new camera or lens will magically make everything better.

New gear can improve but you should already know what specific aspect is going to get better with that upgrade. If it's just a general purchase because it's the latest and the greatest, you're not going to get the results you want.

Martin Owen's picture

Of course there will be a learning curve (well, probably) with the new gear particularly if it’s a camera body. Even with the same manufacturer there may be enough differences that it could take a while before you’re completely familiar. I changed from a canon 70D to a 5D MkVII. yes bigger sensor and a few other changes, but it’s taken a while to become completely familiar and to change what could be called muscle memory. So, first a drop off in quality then, it’s much the same before improvement if any.

Kirk Darling's picture

If it doesn't make your work easier, cheaper, faster, or better, it wasn't an economical business purchase.

Rohan Gillett's picture

When I started my own blog I used a little point and shoot. After a while I thought a better camera would help, so I bought a Pentax K-30, and then a K-3. Finally I moved to Fujfilm and its X-T2. When I look back I wish I still had that K-30. My photos aren't that good, especially when compared to others, but I can see an improvement over the years. I've never pushed a camera to its limits but I'll get there ... one day. But when I got that K-30 I hadn't even started. I often wonder if I still had it, what pictures might I have taken? Sometimes I really want to take more using less.

chris bryant's picture

I moved from the Caon 5DSR to the Nikon Z6. For some years I had been jealous of the dynamic range of Nikon and Sony cameras, so when the opportunity came to grab a Z6 I did.

The 5DSR is a fine camera, but as a Fell walking photographer, the dynamic range of the 5DSR is very disappointing. My kind of photography is very much peripatetic, no filters, no tripod, 10 mile hikes.

The Z6 is an amazing camera, the plastic files with huge DR is amazing. No filters, no tripod needed. I have never been happier with a camera and that has made a noticable effect on my pictures.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

exactly the same sentiments :)

Stuart Carver's picture

Damn you, i will buy a GFX100 and it will make my images award winning!!!!!

Ivan Zalesskiy's picture

I think that getting not necessarily a better camera but a camera that you like to use more can make you a better photographer solely because you will start taking more pictures. For instance, I own a Sony SLT a77 and unfortunately, I don't enjoy shooting with it very much. I much preferred my previous camera Sony a300 which objectively is quite a bit worse.

The laggy experience and weight just made me shoot less. I find that sometimes when I'm out with a smartphone I take pictures that I wouldn't have taken otherwise because it's so effortless.

And there are also some things that can help you objectively. For example, if your gear is weather sealed it will allow you to be in situations where you couldn't have been otherwise. Great light often happens after, before or during a storm, so if the gear doesn't let you be there, you won't be able to experience it.

Or if you have an older APS-C camera like me you will notice that you almost can't shoot in the woods on an overcast day, especially things like wildlife. ISO and autofocus capabilities just hider you a lot.

So I think if you are moving from a Z6 to a Z7 or from a Nikon d810 to a d850 it won't make you a better photographer.

But if you are moving up several generations and price ranges, it might because it opens up some possibilities that you didn't have before.

Your enjoyment will go up, then the time you spend shooting will go up. As a result, your skill will go up.

Chiel Broerse's picture

I was going to write my comment, but came across this: "I think that getting not necessarily a better camera but a camera that you like to use more can make you a better photographer solely because you will start taking more pictures". Which was exactly what I was going to write down.
I upgraded from a Canon 40D to a Canon 70D recently (I know, I'm on a very tight budget....). Quality wise i don't notice much difference. More pixels: yes, but that's about it. However, I have taken loads of pictures with this new camera, while the old camera was being used less and less. Why? Just because there are loads of extra functions that I can play with, it is quieter, it is faster. As a result, I have come up with better pictures in the end. And not only because I had more pictures to choose from, but because I was actually putting more hours in.
So, technology aside, something new and exiting does improve your photography.

Ryan Ringstad's picture

Disagree on the lens. Sure if you already have that focal length/range and are just upgrading to the "premium" version (f/4 vs f/2.8 for example) your imagines might not change much but if you're getting an entirely new focal length/zoom range yeah you should definitely end up with better photos. It's pretty tough to capture a great photo of that cheetah at 150m using a nifty fifty.

Paul Behan's picture

I'm currently contemplating upgrading from a Nikon D3500 to a Nikon D7500. I would mainly be using the camera for Bird photography and other Wildlife. Would this be a worthwhile upgrade ? The D7500 is currently retailing for €1100 where I'm from

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

My Nikon specialist friend Vince Tanching will respond to you shortly to give you better advice. As I said in the comments above, I have limited experience with Nikon cameras. :)

Steven Gotz's picture

A few months ago my zoo shipped a couple of female baboons, a mother/daughter pair, down to the San Diego Zoo to help out one of their males who did not have his own females.

I was asked if I had some photos from December 2015 when the daughter was an infant.

I looked back at that month in Lightroom and while I browsed through the first part of the month I had gotten some good shots, but when I got to the end of the month my photos were dramatically better. It took me a while before I looked at which lens I had used. I started the month using the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and ended the month using the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 which I received on the 16th.

The ability to get closer shots changed the way I framed the photo and resulted in better photos. Some was learning more but most was because of the lens.

I am on the waiting list for the 120-300mm f/2.8 because I shoot through a lot of fencing and having 300mm at f/2.8 will get me the ability to focus past the fencing at 300mm at f/2.8 or even f/4, which will get me the photos I want that just don't work at 300mm using the 200-500mm due to the new lens having a wider aperture.

Sometimes different tools allow for better results. It isn't always an expensive lens, just different. This time, for me, it is crazy expensive, but I do expect to get better results and it is likely with that focal range I will stop carrying two lenses most of the time.