Each post in this series builds on information discussed in previous posts. See the Photography for Beginners page on the menu for links to all the posts.
When talking about photography gear it’s natural to want to discuss which new camera to buy. The thought of new gear is exciting. But that’s often the wrong place to start.
The first question shouldn’t be which camera. The first question should be, do I need a new camera?
This question assumes that you already have a camera and that you can’t afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on every whim. The money spent needs to be justified as a worthwhile purchase.
If you are buying your first real camera, love the camera you own, or you have the money to buy new cameras whenever you feel like it, you can ignore this post.
One of the biggest mistakes many people make is thinking that better gear will make them a better photographer. This is false.
The only things that will make you a better photographer are continually educating yourself about photography and lots and lots of practice. Your gear is irrelevant to those two things.
Upgrading to a more expensive camera provides a complicated piece of technology and hopefully better image quality. It will not improve your skill level. A better camera can’t improve what isn’t there.
So here are some questions to think about to help with deciding if you would benefit from a new camera now, or if you should stick with what you have for the time being. (If you decide to wait, you can still start saving up for one!)
Do you know what most of the features of your camera do and when and how to use them?
If the answer is no then you definitely don’t need a new camera.
Not only do you not need one, you shouldn’t buy one. If you don’t know when and how to use most of the features then you don’t know enough to make a good decision when buying a new camera.
I say most because all cameras have features that you never use because you don’t need them or don’t find them that useful. Which features those are vary from person to person.
You do need to know what you like and don’t like about how your camera operates, and you need to know what its strengths and weaknesses are, in order to know which upgraded model will best suit your wants and needs. It will also be much easier to learn how to use a more advanced camera if you’ve mastered the one you already have.
Have you learned how to get the most out of your camera?
This is different than merely knowing how camera features work. It’s the next level.
It’s easy to get in a rut with a camera you’ve been using for a while because you stick to what you’ve already learned and the functions you can use without thinking.
Most people never look at the manual again once they have a camera set up and running. But you might be surprised at what you can discover by going through it a few months or years later once you know more about photography. There’s a good chance your camera can do more than you think it can. Take the time to find out.
Aside from the features aspect, how much do you experiment with different types of photography, new techniques, or challenging conditions? Stretch your skills and see how your camera responds.
Before shelling out the money for an upgrade, push your camera to the limits of what it can do.
If you find that your camera can do everything you need it to at this time is it reasonable to upgrade? Maybe not. But maybe with your improved photography skills it’s time to upgrade for IQ reasons. Decide based on your own priorities.
Have you reached a point where your camera is holding you back?
This is related to pushing the limits. Unless you already own a highly advanced camera, at some point you probably will find that it’s not capable of doing something you want, or at least can’t do it well.
It could be a list of smaller things that start frustrating you, like not being able to use the Kelvin scale for white balance.
It could be something major like autofocus not being responsive enough for the action photography you’ve become interested in, or it performs poorly in low light and you’ve discovered you really want to get into night photography.
Maybe you need a longer or wider lens for the kinds of photos you like to take. Maybe you need a larger max aperture. Maybe you need a larger sensor to get the results you want.
The tipping point is different for different people. It depends on the capabilities of your current camera and the type(s) of photography you are becoming more interested in. The more basic your current camera is and the more quickly you improve as a photographer, the sooner you will hit limits that really are related to gear and not skill.
When you know for sure your camera can’t perform the way you need it to it’s definitely time to consider an upgrade.
Do you enjoy using your camera?
Merely not liking your current camera might seem like a frivolous reason to spend money on a new one, but liking your camera is important. This consideration is unrelated to your skill level and the camera’s capabilities.
When buying a camera people often get so focused on the technical specifications and feature lists that they neglect handling different models enough to know which design suits them best. This is an excellent way to end up with a camera you don’t like very much even though it had the “best” specs in your price range. Did you make that mistake?
Cameras are like shoes. What fits one person perfectly can be a bad fit for someone else.
Things that matter other than specs:
* Size. Is it too small, just right, or too big? Same for weight. Just right or too heavy?
* How does it feel in your hands? Awkward, okay, or really good?
* Buttons and dials. Are there too few? Too many? Can you customize some to make things easier? Are they easy to use by feel without looking? Are they in convenient places on the body? Is there one in a spot that you too frequently press by accident?
* Menu. Is the menu difficult to figure out and remember where things are? (Most camera menus are bad, but some are worse than others.) Are too many frequently used functions relegated to the menu instead of buttons and dials?
Most tech differences between camera models within a set price range won’t have a significant affect on the quality of your photos. But the above items can significantly affect how much you enjoy taking photos.
If too many items on the list have negative answers, if your camera frustrates you, if you feel like you have to fight it to get it to do what you want, you might want to consider making a change.
The better a camera fits your personal tastes the more fun it is to use. The more fun your camera is to operate the more often you will use it. And as we said at the beginning, using your camera a lot is how you become a better photographer.
Part 22: Upgrading Camera Body vs. Lens
4 thoughts on “Photography for Beginners Part 21: Should You Buy a New Camera?”
Love this post. I had a longer lens that I used for almost everything that I just beat the heck out of over the years. Now the autofocus doesn’t work at all when it’s extended, and I’ve moved back to using the lens that came with the camera. I miss my long lens. I was considering getting another lens when husband told me he was researching the next level up in cameras. That was exciting. Then some other expenses came up and I decided we should wait for a time on spending money on a new camera. Still. I was out yesterday with the kit lens and my results just aren’t what I hoped….and not easily fixable in Lightroom either. So it really is time to either get the new lens or get the new camera. I LOVE the way my current camera feels in my hand. There’s something about a full size camera. And I think I’ve figured out most of what this camera can do, though I learned something new yesterday. And your advice to read the manual after you’ve used the camera awhile is excellent. I’ll try to remember that when (or if) I get a new camera in the future!
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Yeah, there have been a couple times with my two previous cameras I was wishing it could do something, only to discover when looking at the manual later on that it could. I also discovered one time why an attachment I’d tried had never worked. It needed a setting changed, but it was too late by then because I’d gotten rid of the attachment. RTFM!
Frustrating about your lens. I hate not having a telephoto. I didn’t have one for my current camera for the first several months because I had to wait for credit card points, and Xmas and bday gift certs to help with paying for it.
Excellent advice. I’ve never regretted spending the money I was thinking about spending on a camera on digital photography classes at the local community college. I had to get a new camera last summer because some mechanisms on my old one stopped working, at that point I knew what I wanted by way of features.
One thing someone looking for a camera might find of interest: I found a great tool online that allows you to compare sample photographs taken by different models. I can’t remember the name of it but it had things like different colors so you can see how the camera renders colors and black and white swirls so you can assess the amount of the dreaded purple fringe.
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Good point about comparing photos from different models. I had planned to mention that when I get into deciding which camera to buy. I didn’t know about a website like that though so will try to remember to see if I can find it.
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