We have all heard of the shiny object syndrome have we not? Perhaps you have even fallen victim to it? It’s an easy trap; especially when we are newbies. I have certainly been a victim of it when I first started and was always thinking that my photography would improve if only I had better gear. Right? Wrong! However, your photography will be better if you have the CORRECT gear.
From my experience of photographing professionally over a decade, I have realized a few things. One of which is that YOU control your gear – your gear does not control you. In other words, you can definitely produce mind-blowing images with the gear you currently have if you know how to use them correctly. Add a hint of creativity into it, and you are taking your images to the next level.
If you are a photographer, the very fundamental things you need to master would be understanding the exposure triangle, lighting (whether that be natural or artificial) and shooting in Manual mode. The first one underpins the last one. Without a solid understanding of the exposure triangle, you may struggle to shoot in Manual mode.
There is nothing wrong with shooting in semi-automatic modes like Aperture Priority or Speed Priority, but you get yourself in tricky scenarios if you rely entirely on shooting on Automatic mode. Your images will be inconsistent, and you will encounter problems in post-processing. Shooting in semi-manual mode still requires an understanding of what those modes do, so why not go the full haul and take the time to understand the exposure triangle.
With that preamble out of the way, I’d like to address the question “When and how often should you upgrade your equipment?” I offer my thoughts below which could greatly differ from other people’s opinions. That is all fine. It’s a free country, and we can exercise free speech.
Things to consider when buying equipment for the first time
1. Your budget
Sit down and think about how much you can afford without getting into debt. If you are buying gear to learn on, I would not suggest getting into debt to buy your first equipment. It is true that professional, full-frame cameras are better, but do you need them to learn how to shoot? Absolutely, not! Can you only produce good pictures with these top-of-the-range cameras and not with old second-hand models? Of course not.
2. Your subject
Think about what you want to shoot. Your lens choice depends on what subject you want to learn to shoot. For example, if you want to shoot landscapes, don’t buy a zoom lens. If you want to shoot portraits, don’t buy a super-wide-angle lens. If you want to learn both, explore your zoom options. This brings me to the issue of whether to buy the camera body and lens separately or buy a kit.
Brands often offer a kit bundle to save you money on them and have a variety of options to choose from. This isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but it could also be a big waste of money.
A bundle often has a camera, a wide to medium zoom and a longer zoom. These are fine if you want to shoot outdoors in ample light. However, you will quickly realize that if you want to do indoor portraits, these lenses perform below par. These kit lenses are generally the cheaper range with a variable aperture starting from f/3.5 going up to f/5.6 maximum aperture as you go longer on the focal length. These would be inadequate for very dim lighting or indoor ambient light without flash. Ideally, you would need apertures of f/2.8 and wider.
If you opt for buying a camera body separately, then you have more options, both new and second-hand. Just make sure you check the shutter count of the second-hand ones to ensure they have not exhausted the upper range of shutter click guaranteed by the manufacturer before the shutter mechanism starts deteriorating. Most second-hand sellers provide this information; if not, you must ask.
Buying the correct lens for your photography purpose will put you in good stead right off the bat. Why? Because if say you want to photograph portraits, buying the right lens will help you achieve beautiful portraits. Portraits I’m sure you have seen done by other people compared to if you were to shoot them with the wrong lens. You’d forever be wondering why you could not quite achieve the look you want.
Don’t go all-out buying every accessory on the market. These can be quite tempting but will burn a hole in your pocket and use money up earmarked for your main equipment. You would be better off buying the best main camera and lens your budget can afford and one or two essential accessories than spreading out your budget and making compromises on everything.
If you want to be a landscape photographer, for instance, buying a tripod and a remote shutter is a must otherwise there is little point in even trying. If your interest lies in still life, get a reflector. You don’t always need a tripod for still life photography, but a reflector always comes in handy. If you want to photograph people indoors, I’d say get a flash gun, even if you only want to use natural light. There will come a time when you realize that relying solely on natural light gets you into a pickle eventually and is no longer enough.
However, you mustn’t forget to buy absolute essential accessories – no matter what you are shooting:
a. Memory cards – don’t skimp on these. You want decent ones that you would be able to entrust your images!
b. A padded bag – there’s no point in shelling out good money for equipment and not have the proper protective bag for them!
When should you upgrade your equipment?
1. Initial investment
This question kind of depends on your initial investment decisions. You see, brands often come out with new camera models every year or more to entice people to keep upgrading. However, while it is true that some of these new models have improved features, nowadays, things are being invented and improved at an alarmingly fast rate. So if you follow the trends, you’ll soon be out of pocket.
My advice would be to buy the best lens you can afford with your money and buy a camera with the remainder of the budget. New cameras keep coming out every year, but lenses stay the same for many many years! They hold their value more compared to camera bodies too. Not all good lenses are expensive. You can buy the 35mm f/1.8 (DX only) and the 50mm f/1.8, and they are excellent lenses for the money.
I have written an in-depth article on lenses which may help you decide when purchasing either as a first-time buy or an upgrade. See them here and here.
Upgrading is a good mentality to have but not to do often. Do have a plan for upgrading (which you may have to do eventually), but do not upgrade every time a new model is churned out.
Consider the following when upgrading:
- Have you used your camera for the purpose that you have bought it for?
- Is it now inadequate for your needs? Are you finding that you need better features now that you have mastered it? For example, you may want a camera with better noise-handling ability, silent mode or a swivel LCD to enable you to take high-up shots, or perhaps one with dual slots?
- Are you at a point when you require another camera so you can use your first one as a back-up?
- Is your current camera now broken or have broken parts? Then yes, now would be a good time to upgrade! However, if you really love it, you may want to opt for repair.
My first full-frame professional range camera is the Nikon D700. I have bought newer models since, but you know what? I still use the D700 for my own family photos; especially outdoors. I love the colors the sensor produces, and in my opinion, they have never been able to replicate it in the newer brands. The RAW images I get from that camera are the closest to that film-look that I love and the edits required are minimal. However, it’s poor in handling noise, it’s big and brick-heavy and only has one card slot. However, I won’t ever part with it and am happy to use it for personal shots until it breaks.
I hope these considerations help you in your purchasing and upgrading decisions! Comments and suggestions of more factors to consider are welcome below!