I get questions about this topic quite often, so I thought I’d write some thoughts on this topic.
First, note that the answers you get for this question will probably depend on who you ask. If you ask a camera salesperson, remember their job is to sell camera gear. I’m not saying that is bad thing. Many might steer you in the right direction on what you could purchase that will best meet your needs. But let’s step back a bit from the presumption that you need to buy new camera gear, and first assess what your real needs are.
I know slick marketing of all the great cameras and lenses will have you drooling over the ads (if they’re effective, they’ll make you feel like you “just have to have it”). And then if you see your photographer friends with their latest new camera gear, that might just make you feel like you simply must upgrade what you have to be just like them. Or maybe you received a “stimulus check” or you are getting money back from the IRS this year, and that money is “burning a hole in your pocket” and you’re anxious to spend it. Again, I encourage you to pause and first assess your situation.
Know What Problem You Are Trying to Solve
Sometimes the problem with your photography may be a limitation imposed by your camera gear. It might be an issue of some technical limitation, or maybe it is just too heavy or bulky. But many times the problem may be due to you not knowing how to use your camera most effectively, and upgrading the camera might not solve the problem at all.
Here are some reasons an upgrade might be in order:
- First of all, make sure the problem isn’t YOU. Get to know your camera really well and how to best to use its features to manage exposure settings, aperture, shutter speeds, ISO, metering, focusing, etc. For example, if you are always getting shots that aren’t very sharp, you need to figure out if it is a problem with how you are using your camera. Upgrading a lens or camera body won’t necessarily fix that. Maybe the upgrade that is needed is YOU. First, upgrade yourself to be the best photographer you can be with the equipment you have. THEN, from there, assess what other improvements might be necessary.
- Image sharpness issues might be due to your choices in how you use the auto focus system of your camera. Get to know that really well. Then, if it turns out that you are doing a great job with focusing and managing depth-of-field and your images still aren’t sharp, also make sure you aren’t having issues with motion blur due to vibration introduced by hand-holding your camera. You can manage that by ensuring properly fast shutter speeds or using image stabilization offered by various manufacturers under various trademarked names.
- Some cameras have image stabilization built into the camera body, and others have it built into the lenses, and some offer a hybrid combination of camera and lens cooperating together to stabilize motion blur. If you have a camera that only implements image stabilization in the lens, and you happen to own a lens that does not support image stabilization, that might be a great reason to upgrade to a lens that supports this feature. Or upgrade to a camera/lens combination that offers even better stabilization. This is potentially a very big deal in getting sharper shots. Or the alternative is to just ensure you are using faster shutters speeds to avoid the motion blur problem entirely. That is the cheaper alternative, but still, having good image stabilization is a huge plus, often well worth the extra $$.
- The latest generation cameras have more advanced focusing systems, with more focusing points, more “cross type” focusing (meaning the focus points can discern detail sharpness horizontally and vertically), better tracking features, and some brands offering automatic detection of faces or eyes, and depending on your circumstance, that might be of great value to you. It just depends on the type of photography you do. If you just shoot studio portraits, the demands on the autofocusing system are not nearly as great as shooting birds in flight, for example.
- Sometimes your images might seem to always be a bit “soft” no matter what you do to ensure sharp shots. It could be a problem with your lens. Not all lenses are equal. Some are sharper than others. If the problem is due to your lens not being as sharp, this might be a very compelling reason to get rid of that lens and upgrade to something better (usually meaning a higher price lens).
- Sometimes you might find your current lenses never seem to have a wide enough view of the world, or maybe you can never get close enough to photograph that bird in the tree, or maybe you never can focus as close as you want to. This would suggest it is time to figure out what lenses you should get rid of, and what new lenses you might want to buy, going more wide angle, or more telephoto, or maybe getting a macro (close-focusing) lens. There are so many options out there, and every photographer’s needs are different.
- Maybe you frequently shoot in low light environments, and you are constantly finding your camera doesn’t do well in those environments. That could be a very compelling reason to upgrade your camera to one with a higher ISO capability and perhaps better dynamic range (ability to record details in highlight and shadow areas). This is often a pretty big deal and one of the more practical reasons to upgrade a camera body.
- Most folks rarely need to upgrade their camera to be able to create images with more megapixels. This is a lesser compelling reason to upgrade a camera, but there might be some circumstances where you need the added resolution, but note you will need to also ensure you do super-accurate focusing, minimize any blur due to hand-held camera movement, and have the very best quality lenses, or having those extra megapixels will not matter very much!
- Maybe you also want to shoot video and your current camera does not do a good job with video. That would be an obvious reason to upgrade.
- Perhaps you’re finding your camera and lenses are just too heavy or too bulky. If that is the case, you might look at other lens or camera body alternatives that might be smaller or lighter. You might look into cameras in the “micro four thirds” category, offered by Olympus and Panasonic.
- The super high-end cameras may look fancy and attractive and will surely impress your photographer friends, but often you don’t need the top-of-the-line camera to take outstanding shots. So, while you might be ready to upgrade, remember the money you spend on the camera body, might mean less funds available to spend on lenses or a flash or a tripod or camera bag. Even if you have almost unlimited funds available, buying the top-of-the-line camera still might not be right for you as it might be heavier or bulkier, so take that into consideration also.
- Maybe your camera is aging a bit and it is just time to upgrade to take advantage of some of the many features offered in the newer cameras. Cameras are rated to have a certain number of shutter actuations as their expected “shutter life”. Some cameras are rated at 100,000 and some are rated at 150,000 and some at 200,000. Camera “age” is not just measured in years. It is measured in shutter actuations. A camera could be just a couple of years old, yet be way beyond its shutter actuation life if it was used a lot. (Keep this in mind if you purchase a used camera.) You can find software online that can assess how many times your shutter has been fired.
- You can always upgrade to a different brand of camera or from a cropped sensor to a full frame sensor. Note there are compatibility issues you’ll need to keep in mind. Some lenses (Nikon DX, Canon EF-S, Tamron DI-II) are designed to only work on cameras with cropped sensor (such as APS-C sensors) and won’t work on a full frame camera, so if you upgrade to full-frame, you may have to upgrade your lenses. Or if you move from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera, you will have to buy an adapter if you want to use the same lenses. Or if you move from one brand to another, you may not be able to just upgrade your camera. If an adapter is available, you could possibly use the same lenses OR you may have to buy all new lenses.
- I could probably come up with some more suggestions if I thought about this more. This is what I came up with “off the top of my head.” Feel free to email me with your questions related to this topic! Send an email to and I’ll post your answer on our blog!