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For all of you camera enthusiasts, lens aficionados and gear fetishists, hearts race and palms sweat when broaching the subject of camera equipment upgrades. Camera companies keep a constant flow of equipment releases coming to quench the insatiable appetite of those who are convinced they need the latest and greatest.
It’s important to keep in mind that just because the new iteration of your camera body or a new lens with an even longer list of acronyms outlining its features is released, it doesn’t instantly make your equipment obsolete.
All you savvy consumers should strive to be honest with yourselves and carefully consider the tangible benefits that you will enjoy from that upgrade. Certainly most of you will legitimately grow out of that point-and-shoot or entry-level DSLR, however, many make the jump too soon before you’re able to fully exploit the capabilities of your equipment.
If you are reading this, you have likely purchased a camera (and possibly additional lenses and other accessories), in which case you are familiar with what could be called the Christmas morning feeling.
For photographers, an upgraded body or a new lens can be an important catalyst to revive waning enthusiasm. Many certainly see this as a thinly veiled excuse for coughing up the cash for some new equipment, but it can provide a needed boost to drag you out of the dreaded photographers-block.
For example, adding a large aperture lens – with an f-stop of f/2.8 or greater – to your stable reveals a whole new perspective, enabling you to further blur out backgrounds and isolate your subject.
Similarly, a telephoto lens will enable you to compose tighter shots from farther away, or experiment with closely cropped shots from a short distance. As focal length increases (and with it the distance to the subject), the narrower field of view makes background objects appear closer to the subject opening up new compositional opportunities.
If you are already shooting with a DSLR, depending on the lenses you are using, adding a teleconverter to your bag can be a less expensive option for increasing lens focal length. Teleconverters fit between the lens and camera, and add a certain level of magnification such as 1.5x or 2x. Many lenses are compatible with teleconverters, but not all, so be sure to check with the manufacturer before buying one.
While some photographers can continue to produce compelling images with a basic body and a 50mm lens, many will discover a new realm of possibilities which unfold with the addition of new equipment.
Another way to legitimize an upgrade is if you recognize that your evolution as a photographer is being hindered by your equipment’s limitations.
One advancement which can be gained with a camera or lens upgrade is improved low-light performance. If you find yourself shooting fast-moving kids in your dimly lit house or indoor sporting events, you will quickly discover that shooting at high ISO settings at maximum aperture results in less sharp images riddled with color noise. Color rendition and saturation levels can also suffer greatly in these situations, especially in shadowed areas and with skin tones.
Unfortunately, other than the limited corrections you can make with editing software, an equipment upgrade may be a necessity if you want to get great looking photos in low-light conditions. Point-and-shoot and entry-level DSLR cameras sport better high-ISO performance than just a few years ago, but more advanced models show a drastic improvement in this regard and large aperture lenses can enable you to shoot at lower ISO settings.
In addition to better low-light performance, upgrading your camera body can put a bunch of useful features in your hands such as: a self-cleaning sensor, wireless uploading, increased pixel count, more accurate auto-focusing, faster shooting rates, dual memory-card slots, and more. Be sure to compare your current camera’s specifications with that of a potential upgrade and ask yourself if the added features will have a significant impact on your photography.
Although it doesn’t go in your camera bag, upgrading your editing software can be a game changer for your photographic pursuits. Making the leap from using free editing software, to purchasing and learning Lightroom or Photoshop, can make drastic changes to your final images. These programs open up new avenues for stylizing your images, and countless plugins are available which can enable you to have even more control over the look and feel of your work.
Even if you have the software already, an upgrade in your understanding and ability to use it, can go a long way. Investing time in knowing how to use the software properly, may help boost the quality of your images.
A more utilitarian reason to upgrade equipment is that it is simply reaching the end of its usable life. Camera shutters are rated for a certain number of actuations, at which point the risk of failure and inaccurate shutter speeds increase.
Even the best lenses have many plastic parts, and most modern ones have internal motors with a finite life span. Stiff or stuttering zoom and focus rings, loud or slow focusing and loose lens mounts are a few indications that a repair or replacement is imminent.
This may be a non-issue for many who live by the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” philosophy, however, if you use your equipment for paying gigs or to document important events, you may end up regretting a potentially preventable equipment failure.
There are many reasons to make equipment upgrades and most of you will make that leap at some point, but it is important not to set your expectations too high as to what new gear will do for your photographs. Think about your goals and consider which is the most accessible path to take in order to reach them.
I’ll leave you to think about this quote:
“A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.” – Arnold Newman