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Camera-envy is the bane of many photographers. Discussion forums are filled with conversations about the benefits of the latest and greatest camera gear, and our commercial-driven societies fill us with the deep-seated need for more, more, more! But do you really need to upgrade to the latest camera?
This is the question truly at the heart of most photography gear debates: what really matters? Is it the camera or the photographer?
You know what you want the answer to be. When you show someone a favourite picture, you are looking for compliments and congratulations for yourself, not your equipment. You likely don’t post an album on Facebook hoping to get a “Way to buy that new camera!” style of comment. If you compare yourself to a chef and use the analogy that no one would think to praise the frying pan for an excellent meal.
But yet. . .
You see the photographs of others and immediately start making excuses. “Oh, well, he has a 400mm zoom lens” or “Well, she has a full frame sensor,” and at the same time we overlook the years of training or the hours of planning that went into that shot or that set-up. You choose not to wake up early or to stay up late and then wonder why your sunrises or sunsets do not have the same pizzazz or punch as another’s. You choose to shoot quickly and move on, rather than staying around, observing, and find that ‘decisive moment.’
You are the variable that matters. If you want to take better pictures, there are unlimited steps you should be taking before you worry about upgrading to the latest and greatest. Think about the time and energy that you put in to your photography. Are you truly pushing your camera to its maximum potential?
Many of the latest and greatest benefits touted by newer model cameras are those that will rarely be used or exploited by the vast majority of camera owners. 61 compared to 9 possible focal points are not necessarily useful if you consistently use the center point to focus-and-recompose or if you rarely use auto-focus or servo-focusing modes for moving subjects.
A faster frame rate of 6 compared to 3 frames per second is useful, perhaps, if you are shooting a rapidly changing subject like a bird in flight or kids jumping into a pool, but you do not need six (or even three) identical photographs of a rock formation or a bouquet of flowers. Ask yourself how often you even shoot in such a burst mode.
You should also think about the strengths and limitations of the current lenses that you own. A fast prime lens can open up a wide-range of new shots and opportunities. If you do not already have at least a 50mm f/1.8 lens, then you have not even begun to explore the potential of your current camera body. Many photographers recommend putting your purchasing power into lenses, especially ones that you can hold on to and use down the line.
Full disclosure, I shoot with a Canon T1i (500D for the European naming system), a camera that went on the market in early 2009 and has since been upgraded four additional times. At nearly a year-old, the current Canon T5i is likely due for an upgrade in the near future: the Canon T5 was just announced February 12th. In many photography circles the T1i would be considered a nearly ‘ancient’ digital model. It is also in the entry-level line of Canon DSLRs, with multiple tiers of both cropped and full-frame sensor cameras above it. All photographs in this post (other than the shots of cameras and gear) and my other articles on dPS, were taken with this camera.
I will readily admit that there are trade-offs and limitations to my camera. I know that I cannot push the ISO very high without introducing significant noise into the final images. I know that my buffer will fill quickly and then stall if I take a series of RAW shots in rapid succession. I know that I cannot adjust my LCD screen or see myself while standing in front of the camera for a selfie. Has that ever negatively impacted a shot that I was trying to take? Not often.
I also know that I can carry a tripod and use it if shooting in low light. I know that I can switch into just JPEG if I am trying to take a hurried sequence of shots. I know that I can use cues from a test shot to figure out how to tweak a self-portrait and use a remote to set the focus when I am in position. I know that 15 MP can look great at web sizes as well as printed on canvas or aluminum and hung on my wall.
What frustrates you about your current camera? Think about whether it is something that you could change or whether it really an issue with your camera.
Are you a frequent camera-upgrader or are you shooting with an “old” digital camera too? Share your constructive thoughts or an example photograph in the comments below.
Some other options to buying more stuff: