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.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
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.