How to Know When You Need to Upgrade Your Gear


Upgrading gear is always seductive, but you need to do it with purpose unless you want to go broke in a week (Oh, but that seems just like what camera companies want us to do right? Nah, just kidding – sort of).

The best way for building the mindset that camera manufacturers don't want you to have is to understand cameras and lenses as the excellent 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.

 It Isn't Working Properly Anymore

Photo by Paul Gaudriault

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 stops working correctly.

We include this as an 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 the brand or watching plenty of reviews to make up your mind. We all learn from our previous investments.

Oh boy, so many unnecessary lenses…

If your gear starts failing for a definitive reason, then consider this when browsing for a new option.

It Is Clearly Limiting You

Photo by Dan Gold

Try to be as objective as you can, and decide if you are falling behind just because of your camera 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 flavours:

1. Professionally

The most important are professional limitations. If you aren't able to deliver the expected quality to 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 the day when ISO 400 was synonymous with very nasty noise. Now you can get entry-level cameras with almost no noise at 1600 or even 3200.

2. Creatively

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

If you feel that you are struggling to produce images that are closer to your ideas due to your camera gear – and only because of gear, then you should invest in some new kit 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.

No Further Support From The Manufacturer

Photo by Conor Luddy

Camera manufacturers upgrade their offerings 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 issues with your gear, you'll find getting support for older models much more difficult than for your new fancy gear.

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 beforehand 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 lovely about actually owning the kit.

It Doesn't Feel Comfortable Anymore

Photo by Math

As you start developing yourself as a photographer and start shooting for long periods, you begin to notice the importance of ergonomics. This doesn't appear right away, but it can be prevented. More than ten 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 with 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 tough to know what you need when it comes to the biomechanics by merely 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 feels to work with, if you find too many uncomfortable points, then you might need to upgrade to a better-designed body.

Near To Surpassing Shutter Life Expectancy

Did you know that cameras have a life expectancy? Well, yup, they have, and it might not be as you expect it to be. A camera's life expectancy is highly related to its shutter stress. This spans between 30,000 to even 400,000 clicks depending on the model. There is a decent database built up by Oleg Kikin, and it is a shame that he didn't continue his effort, but you can still Google what your camera's shutter life expectancy is.

Curious Fact: Cameras have moving parts inside, and they stress out after shooting and shooting. Just like a car wears out, cameras suffer as well. This may be a point in favour of mirrorless cameras which have less moving parts than DSLRs.

Upgrading Lens

Photo by Evan Wise

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 brands have legacies, and some others are just starting to develop their history.

About lenses, I have two things to say when thinking about upgrading them:

1. Serious damage

No kidding? Alright, this is quite obvious, but the point is this, you don't 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 taking very wide angle shots, you might need to upgrade to a fixed wide angle lens, or the opposite might be true.

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.

Final Thoughts

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 your needs to enjoy it as much as you can.

Photography is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and I will work hard to share my passion with the world.

Please, let us know about your experiences with upgrading, you might help others out as well. 

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

My eyes are not what they once were and I found it harder to focus with my rangefinder equipped Leica . To continue the enjoyment of my M lenses, I’ve sold the M and bought an SL (601).

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