In Retrospect: Don’t Let Some Know-it-all Sway You From Upgrading

It’s been 3 years since I’ve gotten back into photography and I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned in that time. This is just the first of a few items I’ll be touching upon.

I wish I’d bought the right camera the first time.

As a primer, I bought my first DSLR back in 2006, a very expensive Nikon D200, and times were much different then. Full frame 35mm sensors were just beginning to show up, Youtube was barely a thing, and smartphones had keyboards, not cameras. Now, everyone who chooses photography beyond what their cameraphone can produce can buy a brand new DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera kit, with lens, for under $500 and learn how to use it, and use it well, via instructional videos on Youtube. In fact, many will even use Youtube to help narrow down the camera they feel will best suit them and their budget, purchase it on Amazon, and bypass the retail experience, and the experience of a knowledgeable sales staff, altogether. What a local camera store, not Best Buy, can offer both customers to new photography and experienced is invaluable, but that’s another topic.

First, I want to address the abundance of Youtubers who often, and loudly, try to talk their viewers out of upgrading their equipment. The line often goes, “instead of upgrading your gear, thinking it will make your photos better, invest that money into education,” and then they rattle off the names of affiliated Youtubers who sell online education courses on photography. Realize that this recent trend is wholly self-serving and not in your interest. There are of course those who are so affected by marketing that they believe a new camera will improve their photography but either can’t see, or won’t admit, that their results are from a personal, and not a technological, deficiency. However, those types are far fewer than these Youtubers would have you believe. More importantly, if you value education, I implore you to seek out a reputable photographer that teaches photographic techniques rather than some nobody whose only reputation is a trail of instagram posts. Just because they charge for their videos doesn’t mean they’re credible; in fact, your local camera store or public library are 2 places where free, or low cost, but highly valuable sources of education is offered on photography.

Second is the importance of hardware. You must drill into your head that a camera will not make you a better photographer. However, a new camera can help you realize the type of photos you enjoy taking or inspire you to take photos in and of itself. A camera that is enjoyable to use will encourage you to use it more and frequency of use can contribute to improving your photography. Once you discover the genres of photography that you enjoy most, it’s important to use a camera that makes it easier, and more enjoyable, to encourage and reward you for going out and practicing. For the more experienced, an upgrade may be what they need to do their job more effectively.

Everyone likes comparing cameras to carpentry tools, no matter how bad the analogy is. Why is it bad? Because a bad analogy is one that can be twisted to mean anything. Compare the camera to a hammer? Sure, both are just a single purpose tool, or are they? The bottom line is that a camera is like any other tool but their arguments against upgrading can also be used to support the idea that a cameraphone is just as capable as an interchangeable lens camera… something an interchangeable lens camera owner would consider heresy.

If you’re using a rubber mallet to hammer nails, don’t let some Youtubers convince you that a claw hammer is unnecessary and that you just need to buy lessons on how to use a hammer.

Do you feel like an upgrade is warranted to further your photographic goals? If your goal is to “take better pictures,” you probably don’t. But if it’s to make your goals easier to obtain because what you have now presents some sort of obstacle, then your want to upgrade is not wrong or bad. But you have to be honest with yourself and ask if the camera you want truly suits your needs. For example, if you find you enjoy landscape photography, and you’re unhappy with the detail rendered by the used, 12.2mp Canon Rebel T3 “starter camera” everyone told you to buy, an upgrade would be a good idea and considering something with more than 24mp wouldn’t necessarily be a “waste of money and capability” for you. Anyone who says that without seeing a single photo you’ve taken is either jealous of your ability to afford a high megapixel camera or insecure about their own ability as a photographer.

Keep things in perspective, though. Realize that the only person who sees the minute flaws that scream at you when zoomed in is you. If you have to zoom in to 1:1 ratio or greater, those flaws you see aren’t being noticed by anyone else but you, especially if you’re only posting your photos online and not printing them large; I’m talking poster sized, here.

Circling back to the statement I began this post with: when I got back into photography, I chose the Fujifilm X-T2. It was my intention to pick up where I’d left off and go back to shooting portraits and action sports, but I’d also chosen it because it was a more enjoyable camera for me to use. However, within 6 months I’d realized landscapes and nature photography was more my calling and it took a year for me to realize that, along with my physical disabilities, I was using a camera that often didn’t suit my needs more than it did. After an accident that forced me to replace it, this time with the X-T3, a few months with it made me realize I had no need for a high frame rate, fast focusing camera with face detection, great video and an abundance of film simulations. My biggest issue was the inability to print some photos large because I’d had to crop it down too much and accepted that what would really suit me was a slow, high resolution camera I can crop and recompose. My mobility issues can prevent me from returning to some locations if I didn’t get the shot perfectly the first time; cropping to recompose can save me from that. So I bought a Fujifilm GFX and it gives me both the joy of use and reduces the impact that limited mobility imposes on my photography. The best part is the weight savings… I can drop the 100-400mm lens from my bag and just carry 2 lenses as I can crop to zoom in on a composition.

There’s this oft-repeated advice that anyone first getting into photography should “start small.” Buy a cheap camera and then upgrade once you’ve learned how to properly use it. Then, once you feel you’re ready, those same people are here to tell you not to upgrade and instead buy their educational videos and Lightroom presets. Riiight. In spite of this, you the watch as they upgrade their gear, usually for reasons less valid than the ones you have for your own situation. The point they’re actually trying to make is that, because they’re a “pro,” they need what new, cutting edge gear can offer and can utilize it and you… can’t. That’s just as ridiculous as cops who think they’re better drivers than everyone else on the road.

Sorry, I disagree. You should start on the best camera you can afford that is ideally suited for the type of photography you intend to explore, as long as your camera budget doesn’t eat into your lens budget. Ideally, you should know what kind of photography you’re into before you go shopping. If you don’t, maybe starting with the camera you already own, your smartphone, or buying a cheap, second-hand camera is necessary so you can discover what speaks to you first. Entry-level cameras tend to have more “crutches” built in; if you look back on learning to ride a bicycle, did your time with training wheels actually help you stay upright without them? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit they didn’t. In some respects they made it harder to learn as you trained yourself to depend on them and had to then learn not to. Realistically, an entry-level camera can only teach you things you may eventually have to unlearn.

Only you know when to move on from that “starter camera,” or if a new camera will better suit your needs. But realize you’re not getting back your initial investment as cameras are a depreciating asset, so don’t let some Youtube talking face talk you into doubling your costs, or worse, crippling your enjoyment, by dictating what you shouldn’t buy and when through the use of humiliation and shame. Don’t fall for their “comparison shots,” like using an old camera to shoot the same shot as a new one, especially when any good shot will look even better when reduced to a 2 to 8 megapixel size to minimize any flaws. If you’re using a rubber mallet to hammer nails, don’t let some Youtubers convince you that a claw hammer is unnecessary and that you just need a lesson on how to use a hammer properly.

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