Photography for Beginners Part 22: Upgrading Camera Body vs. Lens

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.

Part 21: Should You Buy a New Camera


In the previous post we went through some questions to think about to help with deciding if you should upgrade to a better camera. If your current camera is an ILC (interchangeable lens camera) there is one additional thing to consider before upgrading.

Lenses are often much more important than the camera body.

If your primary reasons for upgrading are things like wanting a sensor with better high ISO performance or you want specific new features, then yes, upgrading the camera body is a good idea. But if improved IQ is mainly what you’re after then you should probably be thinking about lenses instead.

You usually get better photos with an entry-level body and a high quality lens than with an expensive body and a cheap lens. This is especially important to know if you’re still using a kit lens.

The term “kit lens” refers to a lens that is sold as a package with the body. All camera brands select one or two of their lenses to sell with bodies as a kit.

You get a nice discount buying the lens this way vs. buying it separately. Because it’s a good deal most people buy their first ILC as a kit, rather than buying the body only and a better lens separately to go with it. You don’t get the kit discount on a better lens just because you’re buying it at the same time as a body.

The term kit lens is usually perceived as derogatory because most kit lenses aren’t that great. They are fine for getting you off to a good start, but are usually significantly lacking in one or more ways. There are a few exceptions. For instance, Fujifilm sells an above average 18-55mm zoom as a kit lens. But that’s not the norm.

Most kit lenses tend to have problems with things like chromatic aberration or barrel distortion, aren’t very sharp, and/or don’t have large max apertures. Even if you have a better than average kit lens, it’s probably still a step or two below a really high quality lens.

So if IQ is your main reason for upgrading, your best option is probably to invest your money in better glass rather than a new body. Not only will you see an improvement in the IQ of your photos, if you do eventually upgrade the body you’ll already have a great lens to go with it to take full advantage of the better camera.

Upgrading glass can accomplish several things. Here are a few of them:

*  Your images will be sharper.

*  You’ll have less distortion.

*  You can get a faster lens, which lets you use a lower ISO and/or stop down to increase sharpness in low light, and you get shallower depth of field.

*  You can choose a different focal length that is wider or longer to better fit the type of photography you do.

*  Depending on the lens, you may see an improvement in autofocus performance.

So if you own an ILC and have decided it’s definitely time to upgrade, consider if the reasons you are upgrading would be better resolved by buying a new body or by buying a much better lens. Camera bodies come and go, but quality glass can serve you a great many years or even decades.


Part 23:  Buying a Camera – Types of Cameras


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