That’s a big question! You have the money, so should you buy that high-quality lens that you’ve been looking at for a year? Your Grandma gave you a thousand dollars; do you buy the sophisticated camera that everybody’s been raving about? A loony truck driver crashed into your car and your insurance money’s come through! You figure you don’t need another car… Should you upgrade all your photography gear?
I’m going to look at whether you need to upgrade your equipment from three perspectives:
- Your familiarity with your existing kit,
- Your ability (or inability) to learn complex things quickly, and
- Do you actually need the upgrade?
1. How Familiar Are You With Your Equipment?
Do you know your camera gear well enough to work with it in a storm? Can you press the right buttons in the pitch black of a new moon night on top of a mountain without a torch and with only the stars that lit the way up to the top?
Digital Cameras come with quite a few buttons and dials on top, on the back, and in front of the camera body… the VR/IS/OSS lenses come with around 3-4 buttons… Then there are all the functions that are buried deep in the menu system. CAN YOU HANDLE THEM ALL?
You are already making the most of it
If you think you can handle it all without too much trouble, and you’ve reached the limits of what your current equipment can do, then you probably need an upgrade.
You should be thinking about creating the photograph exactly how you visualised it, more than the mechanical acts of working with your equipment… Then maybe you should try something new…
Treat yourself to a new lens or some new accessory if your equipment is holding you back from achieving your creative vision, or is making creativity difficult.
2. New Equipment Has a Learning Curve
Remember that there are many new things that you’ll have to learn about once you get new equipment. This is especially true if you’re upgrading from a mobile phone or bridge camera to a prosumer DSLR or Mirrorless camera.
If you’re making the film-digital jump, by all means, go for it! I highly recommend moving to the digital age. It can only enhance the creative value of pictures that can come out of your mind and onto the sensor. However, I’d recommend that you go slow and take it easy. Start with a consumer-end digital camera with manual controls and slowly move up to the prosumer cameras.
The move from one brand to another is also quite difficult. You’ll have to get used to new positions for controls and new terms for some of the menu commands. Among the cameras that I’ve used, I’ve found that the Nikon D200 has the most comprehensive set of controls on the camera that you can access without going into the menu. I love this interface even though I shoot more often with a Canon 5D (and that’s an amazing camera in its own right).
Learning new things comes easy to me
If you find it difficult to learn things quickly and adapt to new equipment and terminology, I’d recommend again that you upgrade in steps. Move from basic to more advanced equipment and upgrade once again once you’re familiar. But if you love learning, and you can easily adapt to new equipment, then perhaps you should buy that gear!
3. Do You Actually Need The Upgrade?
I’m a photographer who shoots for billboards on many occasions and my clients demand high-quality images that are sometimes taken in difficult lighting situations, yet ask that there be low noise in all the images. I NEED a high-end digital camera. I’ve tried a number of cameras and a lot of them just don’t make the cut. Ditto for lenses.
I will actually be using these advanced features
Do you NEED a Nikon D200 with a 10.2MPX sensor and all those great features? Will you ever use them? Will they help you push your photography through the barriers that your current equipment was throwing at you? Yes? Then upgrade… No? Still, do you have the money and inclination to figure out your gear as you take photographs? Then upgrade… No? Then you’ve answered the question yourself…
Here’s a humorous flowchart guiding you on to your next lens upgrade.
Define your relationship with your equipment. Don’t let equipment define you.
I’ve already written about photography being something that is defined by the photographer, not the gear, so don’t worry about working with your existing equipment. Use it till you know you’ve reached the limits of what it can do and that you need something better to take your photography to the next level, and when you find that you do need to upgrade, remember to buy the best you can afford.
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Published: May 17, 2007 | Last Updated: July 28, 2021