I have major gear envy syndrome. Every new release seems to bring with it a feature that makes me jealous enough to attempt to justify a ridiculously expensive purchase. But even for those of you happily using your 5-year-old DSLR (I secretly envy you), there is always the question of when to upgrade your camera gear.
I know that everyone’s situation is slightly different depending on what you use the gear for, whether it’s just a hobby or a business decision and how much disposable income you might have, but there are a few principles everyone can use to determine if now is the time to make that new purchase.
#1. Have you maxed out the gear you already have?
Most of us like shiny new toys but maybe the camera you already own do things you have not mastered yet! The more experience and knowledge you have of your camera’s strengths and limitations, the more you learn to work with them and around them to create amazing results. Make sure you know your gear, menu settings, lenses, and best accessories to maximize your camera before you look around for that expensive new upgrade.
My favorite thing to do is to join a Facebook group for the camera you already have or an older model professional camera and check out what others with that same camera are producing. I guarantee you will see some amazing results from talented people rocking it with cameras that were announced years ago.
#2. Is your gear usable?
Usability is often overlooked because we are usually too busy looking at spec sheets and awesome images to think about how that new piece of gear will integrate with our personal lifestyle and shooting style. The question we really should be asking ourselves is if the new camera or gear is going to encourage us to shoot more than we already do.
Most of us would be better off with a camera that is with you all time than one that sits locked up at home because it’s too large, heavy, or expensive to carry with you everywhere. I have plenty of amazing lenses, drones, and lights that rarely make it in my bag simply because they don’t fit well with my mobile and fast-paced shooting lifestyle. So rather than invest in something that spends 90% of its life on your shelf, invest in something that is empowering you all the time.
#3. Will image quality be noticeably better?
Something I quickly noticed is that image quality is often much less important than I imagine. Almost every camera and lens out there today can give you stunning quality if you know how to use it.
Additionally, with many of our images usually ending up on social media or smaller prints, having 14 stops of dynamic range and 45 megapixels is probably not as important as it could be. So, if image quality is the main reason you are justifying this purchase, ask yourself if you or your clients are REALLY going to notice or gain value from this purchase.
I’m personally guilty of being a gear snob so this one’s tough for me until I hang out on Instagram and see these epic images taken from extremely talented photographers using cameras that came out 5+ years ago. You will also find that lenses, lighting, and inexpensive accessories can often add more to your image quality than a fancy new camera.
#4. Would renting make more sense?
Now for those of you who are about to comment on how quality DOES matter or how some client recently required medium format or 4K in order to get that job, don’t forget you can always rent. Be careful not to dictate the camera you buy on the off chance you might get that big shoot or those few times a year something important comes around.
Typically, important events and travel are planned long in advance leaving plenty of time to rent the exact equipment you need for those shoots. So rather than purchasing gear based on what you might need 3-5 times a year, make sure the gear you purchase works for what you do every day.
#5. Will you get the shot you would have missed?
So, for all those reasons to not update, here is the main question I must keep asking myself before making a new purchase. Does the new camera, lens, or accessory help me get the shot I might have otherwise missed?
If you are shooting sports, this might mean an improved AF system or a longer lens. If you just shoot for fun, you might wait until another camera gives you the same or better performance in something that you can easily carry around or stash in your car. And if your budget is a main concern, consider waiting for that epic sale that is virtually guaranteed to happen in this ever-changing technology space.
Whatever the reason, try to ensure your new camera or gear is enabling you as a photographer or videographer to achieve something that was difficult or impossible to achieve before. Get to know the gear you currently have, never stop learning, and challenge yourself to discover new ways of enhancing what you already own to create something amazing.
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About the author: Dan Watson is a photographer, videographer, engineer, and musician. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Watson is a reviewer of cameras and all things photo/video. You can find more of his work on his YouTube channel and his Instagram.