How to Know When to Upgrade Your Gear

Photo by Mitchell Hollander

Upgrading gear is always a seductive action, but you need to do it with purpose unless you want to get broke in a week. Oh but that seems just like what camera companies want us to do right?

The best way there is for building the mindset that camera manufacturers don’t want you to have is to understand cameras and lenses as the beautiful tools they are. From there on, you’ll always make wise choices when it comes to upgrading or changing gear. Today I want to share with you my personal opinion about how to know when you need to upgrade your gear.

  1. It isn’t working properly anymore

Well, yeah, that is quite obvious, but sometimes people tend to forget about this. Perhaps the main reason (or at least the one with the most weight) for upgrading gear is when the current stuff simply stops working properly. We include this as upgrade because it is very likely that anything you buy after your gear stops working will be an upgrade, that is just how technology evolves.

If this happens too fast, maybe you should consider changing brand or watching plenty of reviews in order to make up your mind. We all learn from our previous investments. Oh boy, so many unnecessary lenses… If your gear starts failing after a determined cause, then take this event into consideration while browsing for a new option.

2. It is clearly limiting you

Try to be as objective as you can, and decide if you are really falling behind just because of gear. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of great photographers getting mentally blocked just because they don’t have the latest and greatest. I’ve seen it with my students every single term, and is very curious. Limitations can mainly come in two flavors:

  • Professionally

The most important ones are professional limitations. If you aren’t able to deliver the expected quality from your clients, then you should upgrade your gear. This applies more to lenses really, but I’ll cover this in a bit. Cameras are very capable these days, I remember back in they day when ISO 400 was synonym of very nasty noise. Now you can get entry level cameras with almost no noise at 1600 or even 3200.

  • Creatively

Creative limitations are pretty annoying, but most of them can be surpassed via creative exercises or projects. Getting away with a creative block isn’t easy but is not impossible. You should never credit your images to a tool. It is true that a new tool that makes you all excited about makes you go and shoot more, but don’t depend on this for being creative.

If you feel that you are really struggling to produce images that are closer to your ideas due to gear and only because of gear, then you should invest in a new piece of gear based on your needs. Never fall for those advertisements telling you that a new camera or lens will make you more creative, that is just a bluff.

3. No further support from manufacturer

Camera manufacturers upgrade their stuff on average every 2 or even 3 years tops. After the new Mark of something appears in the market, the old one stops getting support. Well, eventually, it doesn’t happen right away of course, but if you get some troubles with your gear you’ll find a harder time on getting support with older models than the most fresh ones. If you are very much in love with a camera model, you could wait for a couple of more upgrades before considering investing in the next model.

Risky Way: What about changing from a brand or a system to another one? Well, it is pretty hard to do because there is a feeling that has been constructed in your mind after getting so many lenses of a specific brand. Knowing that this might happen before hand can be useful, never engage or compromise too much with a brand, because you never know when you might want to try something new. Renting is a good solution, but there is something quite nice about actually owing the thing.

4. It doesn’t feel comfortable anymore

As you start developing yourself as a photographer and start shooting for long periods of time you start to notice the importance of ergonomics. This doesn’t appear right away, but it can be prevented. More than 10 years ago when I decided to invest in a “pro” camera I was a little bit polluted by the “Canon and Nikon” debate. I had the opportunity of working both systems before swiping the card, and I went with Canon for a single reason, it felt better in my hand and eye. At that time I could only buy a basic entry level camera and between these two models, Canon felt better. Later on I handled a Nikon D850 and oh my… What a beauty.

What I am trying to say here is that you need to consider ergonomics before upgrading gear. It is very hard to know that you really need when it comes to the biomechanics simply by using a camera for a couple of hours. It is very likely that you already have a camera and you are thinking about upgrading at this point. think about how this current setup actually feels to work with, if you find to many uncomfortable points, then you might need to upgrade to a better designed body.

5. Near to Surpassing Shutter life expectancy

Did you know that cameras have life expectancy? Well yup, they have, and it might not be as you expect it to be. Camera’s life expectancy is highly related to its shutter stress. Cameras span between 30,000 to even 400,000 clicks, this will depend on every model. There is a decent database built up by Oleg Kikin, and it is a shame that he didn’t continued his effort, but you can still Google what your camera’s shutter life expectancy is.

Curious Fact: For those still shoting with DSLR cameras, you should know that these have several moving parts inside, and they stress out after shooting and shooting. And just like a vehicle wears out, cameras suffer as well. After this, hopefully you might think better about mirrorless cameras which have less moving parts than chunky DSLRs.

On Lens Upgrading

Gear isn’t just about cameras of course, there are among other great things, lenses. These fellows are quite overwhelming when you don’t understand much about them, especially when you get the shiny brochure after buying your first ever camera. Lenses though evolve at a slower pace than camera bodies, that’s why there are many options out there. Some have undoubtedly legacies, and some others are just starting to develop their own history. About lenses I have two things to say about thinking to upgrade them:

  1. Serious damage

No kidding? Alright, this is quite obvious, but the point is this, you don’t really need to upgrade a lens unless it is broken. Final. There is nothing more to say about it.

2. After defining your style

For me the kit lens is the best thing that can happen to a beginner, and I’ll tell you why. It is a wide-angle lens (18mm) and a small telephoto as well (55mm). Here you have a glimpse of what the whole lens spectrum can give to you. If you start to notice that you like having very wide angle shots, you might need to upgrade to a fixed wide angle lens, and the other way around as well. Aperture is very limited here, but the purpose of the kit lens is to awaken your style, and for some reason, camera manufacturers don’t tell you this.

So, wrapping it up, you don’t need the latest and greatest for shooting beautiful photographs that speak right and true to you. What you need is a tool that fits within your needs in order to enjoy it as much as you can. Photography is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and I will work hard in order to share my passion with the world. Please, let us know about your experiences behind upgrading, you might help others out as well. Share what you would like to advice a younger version of yourself when it comes to gear upgrading.

Originally Published at Light Stalking

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