Do You Really Need the Latest Greatest Gear?

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If you’re like me, you enjoy reading and learning about the latest photography gear as soon as it comes out. Looking each month at popular photo magazines and online sites, reading the reviews, product articles, and ads, it’s hard not to head to your local camera shop and start spending money! But, really needing that new gear can be a very different issue. Let’s take a look at what you may, or may not, truly need as tools to create your art.

BobbyBaker Wave

Caught up in Marketing, or do you have a true need?

Yes, those big number megapixel camera bodies can be very sexy, and every month it seems that there are new, better than ever, lenses to consider. Besides photography, I also have a passion for sports cars. I have often chuckled at what a friend and I call the “horsepower wars”. Auto manufacturers stoke up the fires of desire for their cars with the ever raising horsepower number – resulting in more power than you would ever need, unless you’re a racecar driver! Camera companies, to an extent, have done likewise with megapixel marketing causing some to jump to buy because more must always be better, right? Or is it? That all depends. Ask yourself these questions:

#1 Are you happy with the results that you’re getting with your current camera body or system – for what you shoot?

If you can say yes, great! Keep shooting and growing, and you’ll know when it’s time to upgrade gear.

#2 Have you explored all settings and capabilities and understand them with your current camera?

I bet very few of us have fully explored all the capabilities of our current cameras.

#3 Do you have a clear understanding of megapixels, their size and relationship to sensors, and what that means to print sizes?

It’s best to understand this before you jump to a new body just because it has more megapixels (read this article on sensor size).

#4 Are you able to shoot the right size files for the size prints you need with consistently high quality results?

If you need to create bigger high-quality prints than you are capable of now, consider upgrading.

BobbyBaker Winter Tree

#5 Are you making money and growing happy customers with your current gear if you are a pro?

Then why mess with a good thing? Keep shooting and booking those gigs. Stay aware of updates and new gear. and you’ll know when you need a change.

#6 Are you comfortably ready to spend another several thousand dollars for the latest new gear?

The latest and greatest usually comes with a significant price tag. You may also need new batteries, memory cards or a computer upgrade. So factor it all in.

#7 Do you feel you need to upgrade to be taken seriously as a photographer?

Do you feel intimidated that you don’t own a “pro” body, and think that you need to in order to be a serious photographer – even though you may not really need a metal, sealed, or full-frame body?

This is the worst reason to buy more gear! Keep learning, growing, and be confident that your work comes from your eye and brain – not from how cool your new gear may be.

#8 What will the latest camera body, lens, etc., give you that you aren’t able to produce today with current gear?

If you can point to something that would definitely result in better quality work, then it is worth considering investing in better, or more gear.

If you answered: “yes, the latest, greatest new gear would make a significant difference in my work or business” then it would seem to make sense to jump in and spend what is needed to achieve that. But, if you feel the need to buy some new gear in order to feel more accomplished, or to keep up with your buddies, or think buying a new camera would be the main determinant of good work versus less than good work – or if your current gear is doing the job just fine and there are many settings/capabilities yet to explore with it, you should probably reconsider spending the money right now.

BobbyBaker Setting The Stage

Knowing when you NEED new gear

If you just love to buy all the latest gear as soon as possible, and can afford to do so, that’s very cool, fun, and good for you – but to me it’s always been about what you see, how you see it, and how you capture it – not the gear used. Currently I own a Nikon D800, D700, and I still have my D300 (I traded my D80 and other stuff towards the D300). I was a late adopter of the D800, buying it nearly a year after it was released. I admit that all the hype and the reviews of this 36.3 megapixel marvel very nearly tempted me to immediately run out and spend the $3000 right away on the latest and greatest camera. Instead I looked at my needs, and at that time all they were served very well with my D700 – which I still love.

As my fine art photography business grew, I became in need of providing larger files to produce much larger prints than I had been doing. It was only then that I really considered the D800, and eventually bought it – because I needed that tool. With regard to my lenses, I slowly but surely worked my way to a couple of professional level lens that cost a bunch, but really made a huge difference in my work. Once again, it wasn’t about buying gear because it was new, or well-known and on magazine covers, but because I had grown to need it. I worked alongside other photographers who used the latest pro level bodies and lenses, but I stayed the course using my 12.3 megapixel D300 body and DX lenses until I grew to where I had a sincere need for better gear, and not before.

BobbyBaker If Only

A while back I visited Austin, Texas on non-photography business, and knowing that my visit coincided with the SXSW event, I wanted to be sure to take a camera along. I threw my trusty ol’ D300 in my suitcase with an 18-200mm DX lens. Yes, I took my oldest, non-full frame DX body and a lens that cost a third of my favorite FX lens to shoot SXSW. And you just know that everywhere I turned that week in Austin, I saw someone shooting with the latest greatest camera. That bothered me not one bit! You can see the results of this shoot on my website in SXSW Portfolio. The images were reviewed by Shutterbug Magazine which wrote of the collection, “it makes you want to be there, an interesting link to the musical nature of Bobby Baker’s remarkable photography.” I didn’t need the latest gear to successfully capture this opportunity, just a good, solid camera (one that happened to be discontinued for more than five years) the understanding of how to use it well, and a good eye.

BobbyBaker Bat Bar BobbyBaker Upright on 6th

I am not saying that you shouldn’t buy new gear when it hits the market; what I am saying is buy the gear that you need and can afford, and don’t get caught up in marketing numbers or worse, pressure because your buddy has a mega-megapixel camera and you feel you need one to keep up. It’s about what you see, and what you create when capturing it, not what you used to shoot it. I look at other photographers work all the time, not their gear.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Bobby Baker is an award winning fine art photographer from New England. He is best known for his dramatic black and white work of Cape Cod and coastal New England. Bobby has been awarded Copley Artist status at the Copley Society of Art in Boston, and Master Artist status at the Cape Cod Art Association. You may see his work and bio information at www.bobbybaker.com.

  • La Cosa Preziosa

    Great post! As someone who works with digital audio, I can confirm that all of these points also apply. I particularly like n.2: we often don’t know just how much potential our current gear holds- even if it’s just about using it in unexpected ways.

    )))Sound Reflections

  • Bobby Baker

    Glad you like the post!

  • I think it is interesting that hardly anyone seems to buy a new camera because the old one does not work anymore and most people buy one because a new model just came out.

  • Bobby Baker

    Good point! Today’s camera’s are built well and last – especially the pro bodies. My decisions to buy a new camera were never driven by failing equipment, but by a need to create a higher quality work that my current gear could not provide – as in my need to provide larger files used to create much larger prints, etc.)

  • Alan Newbury

    The only reason i am considering an upgrade this year is that these days I am finding my trusty old Canon and associated lenses too heavy and I’m starting to get camera-shake in situations that were never a problem before [damn getting older :)]. Consequently I am looking seriously at a Sony A7.

  • HollyRMuller
  • Bobby Baker

    Alan, even though I am very happy with my Nikon gear, a hand injury and subsequent surgeries has me thinking the same as you.

  • Holly5896
  • Carlos J Encarnacion

    Being an old film photographer everything that comes along is extra and it is welcomed, some of the features in today’s cameras are the stuff I dreamed of
    back in the day.

  • Bobby Baker

    Carlos, I hear you! Even for those of us who have pretty much kept up with photography technology, the advances that keep coming are very exciting….and tempting…even when it is something we don’t need. I, too, started on film and still have my Olympus OM1n kit.

  • kenneth

    My main concern is the serviceable of the equipment and not the one who jump in the wagon to acquire the latest gear. If the one in hand can handle the job well why the hurry to buy a new one, I still love my D300 and D90.

  • Bobby Baker

    I agree!

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  • Alan Newbury

    Yes, my old Minolta SR 1000 is still sitting in the cupboard – probably needs a service by now though

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  • Nigel Cliff

    I have steadily upgraded my Canon gear from 40D to 60D and now 7D Mk2 for one reason, I shoot a lot of Non League football and the floodlights can be iffy to put it mildly so I need higher ISO.
    However when I needed a new carry always in the car camera as my compact has died I went for a Canon 40D and 18-135 IS,total cost £220 and 10 megapixels will do me fine

  • Bobby Baker

    Like me, your “upgrade” was driven by need. I still have my D300 as my “carry always” car camera and the 12 megapixels does me fine, too!

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  • Omar Toselli

    Thanks for the article…. I find myself often debating whether to get a 5d mark III or not. Then I ask myself why would I want it? It certainly wouldn’t make me better… I own a 550d, with a sigma 17-50, an 85mm 1.8 and 50mm 1.8. I enjoy all of them and I must convince myself that they will do just fine… Why do I want that big camera then? I think because I am just a bit of a geek 🙂 Some of my photos are here, from the 550d, phone and also some from some old film cameras. http://simplelife1982.tumblr.com/tagged/photos

  • Bobby Baker

    Omar, I know what you mean. I love the gear, too and fight the temptation to buy more “stuff” all the time. You make a great point when saying, “it certainly wouldn’t make me better” and that is my point with this article. If you have the desire and means to always buy the latest, greatest gear, great – BUT, if you are buying the latest cool gear with the thought that it will instantly “make you better” I think its the wrong decision. I looked at your work, nice stuff!

  • I went from the Canon 10D in 2003, to the original 5D in 2005 (was first full frame and was doing weddings at the time and needed the wide angle aspect, there weren’t wides made for APS-C yet) then got the 5d3 in 2011? I skipped the Mark2 as I didn’t need it – but the shutter way dying on the original. I also go about 6 years between new laptops when they’re so bogged down I can’t function. Same with phones – if it isn’t dead, it’s not getting replaced.

    But I agree – most people want the new stuff just cuz!

  • I think yours is a very good and commendable attitude! I try to do the same but sometimes still buy “stuff” I would not (yet) have needed.

  • Bobby Baker

    There is certainly no shortage of cool gear out there to tempt one beyond “need.”

  • We all do it. We can just be conscious of it and do our best. I actually plan on donating my old 5D classic to a kids group that does photography in Nicaragua. They can use it until it dies but they have low end cameras mostly and will be happy to get one full frame.

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  • chrysmarty

    I appreciate this article. I love my camera and lenses. I always tell people who ask what camera do I recommend and my philosophy has been learn to use the one in your hands first. My problem is I get emotionally attached and keep them. Every once in a while I get nostalgic and drag out an old one and use it for awhile. It’s what I learned with and forces me to go back to basics.

  • Bobby Baker

    I agree with you. Its easy to get attached to your “tools”. I still have my Olympus OM-1n complete with lens, filters, etc….every once in awhile I do take it out and it takes me back to the late 70’s when I was shooting events in south Florida, and wildlife in the Everglades…the good ol’ days with a manual film camera!

  • Miro Žilaji

    Couldn’t be better said, Bobby. It’s our common “want to have” vs. “need to have” internal battle. Keep on Rocking.

  • Bobby Baker

    Thanks, Miro!

  • Great article. I’ve always found it hard to let go of old gear, even after I have replaced it. The heritage glass and classic bodies are as good as anything to collect I suppose 🙂 In terms of digital, the biggest sensor i’ve ever owned is an APS-C and Im happy with the results it affords. As you say, different strokes for different folks… Considering a Sony A7 series now too however , an amazing piece of kit!

  • Bobby Baker

    Thanks, Hugo!

  • Sanjae Hudson

    Great article. As a young photographer I needed information like this. I currently have a Nikon D70 but I want to upgrade for I’m hoping to turn my love for photography into a business.

  • Bobby Baker

    Sanjae….Glad you liked the article!

  • Sanjae Hudson

    What advice could u give toward me choosing a well equipped camera, see you’ve been in the business for so long.

  • Bobby Baker

    Sanjae…
    There are several things for you to consider. As is usually
    the case, first and foremost, budget has to be addressed. It does you no good to put yourself in debt for a camera that may be beyond what you need at this point in your career. Understanding the “power” – or capabilities – of each camera that you look at is important. For instance, it would be mega overkill to buy a 36+ megapixel body if you intend to primarily shoot for websites. Understanding what you want to shoot and the size of prints you intend to make are important things to be sure of. Consider what type of photography you plan to focus on. Will you be shooting sports,landscapes, flowers, night photography, etc.? This will have an impact on your decision
    for things such as low light capabilities or how many frames per second you can capture and more. Knowing that you are now using a Nikon D70, I will assume that you like (?) Nikon cameras. A good starting point is to review the current lineup of Nikon bodies. See what each camera
    offers and see what bodies are available at the price point that you are
    comfortable with. You can do so at this website: http://www.nikonusa.com/en/nikon-products/dslr-cameras/index.page.
    Of course you can do the same research for any of the major camera manufacturers like Canon, Sony etc. One last thought for you. It has often been written that it makes the most sense to invest your money in the best possible lens that you can afford, as camera bodies will always evolve but pro-level glass will stay with you for a career. You will find that pro-level lens are much more expensive and made to use primarily on Full Frame(FX) bodies although most/many will work on crop-sensor (DX) bodies, too.
    If you don’t have many lens now, you may want to study up on lens and create a plan where you can move into better lens and build from there. You should also read up on FX vs DX bodies and know which will best serve your needs. Good gear is not cheap and you should do as much research as possible. A place to get good information on gear with solid user reviews on the gear is from B&H Photo at http://www.bhphotovideo.com/. I buy all my gear there and they have a very talented sales staff to help with each step of the purchase. They will give good feedback to your questions via email and live chat.
    I hope I have helped some and not confused you any. If I can be of further help, drop a note. Have fun!

  • pincherio

    I’ve already made the switch from Canon to Sony. My back thanks me for it. I still get to use the old glass with adapters but, for the most part, it’s straight up Sony when I want to travel light.

  • Bobby Baker

    I hear you! Weight is an issue – however I am still using my Nikon gear as it best suits the needs and quality of my work.

  • Tom Gomes

    I love photography and I equally love new technology and software. I am a good enough photographer to take advantage of the advances of the latest gear and am looking forward to even newer gear releases in the future. I have the Canon 5D Mark IV and love the 30 Megapixel image size….it is very advantageous when cropping wildlife (birds) etc. and, of course for printing. Low light performance (hi iso) has helped me push camera limits to get quality images under the most demanding conditions. Autofocus is fast and spot on. All this combined with the fast, 2.8 Canon lenses (70-200 and the 24-70) make me look like I know what I’m doing. Yes, Yes….get the latest gear if you have (or will have) the ability to utilize it’s power….and, of course, if you can afford it.

  • Bobby Baker

    Glad you are so jazzed about your gear. However, I would slow down on recommending to others to buy the “latest gear” so it can “make me look like I know what I am doing.” I assume that was said with a touch of humor, but I want to reiterate that to me, the camera, lens etc. are your tools. The most important thing is your eye, your compositional skills, and your ability to use the tools you have to create special images. Some of the most memorable images have been created with “gear” that specs wise pale in comparison to the gear you write of. To me, mastering a camera’s owners manual does not equate to being a “good enough photographer.” Yes, of course its important to understand how to use your tools, but as its not the hammer and saw that make a master carpenter, its not the latest camera and lens that makes the master photographer. I am not being overly critical of what you write, I just want to be sure that those that may not have the means to acquire the latest, greatest gear know that they can still create remarkable work with the “tools” they currently have. Keep shooting! Happy New Year!

  • Tom Gomes

    Thank you for your comment. I absolutely agree that “The most important thing is your eye, your compositional skills, and your ability to use the tools you have to create special images.”….but I would also add toward the top of that list “Passion”…..and,yes, “make me look like I know what I am doing.” was intended to add a little touch of self-deprecating humor,

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