Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

We all suffer from it. We always want the next best thing. Camera companies tempt us with amazing new specs, and made up words like EXPEED and DIGIC which sound cool, even if we have no idea what they mean. Megapixels are being added to cameras by the truck-load and the upgrade cycle gets shorter and shorter.

Why is this happening? Simple. The camera companies don’t make money if you don’t buy cameras. So they want to upgrade you. But is it always a good idea?

Like everything else in photography, the answer is – it depends. Typically I think most people upgrade too often. And here are several reasons why.

1. Expense

If you are constantly upgrading, you are not getting the most of your investment in the old body. I still have a Canon 20D in my office that works perfectly. The digital cameras made in the last decade are of a remarkable quality and will last a long time, if properly taken care of. You waste a lot of money when you upgrade.

2. Familiarity

Your photos may suffer if you’re constantly upgrading because you have to constantly learn new bodies, features or systems. Where is that depth-of-field preview button again? Which menu do I use to get auto-bracketing? Your muscle memory is tuned to the camera you have now. If you upgrade and the manufacturer moves the buttons around, you may struggle to find the new button right at the critical moment you need to make the shot.

3. Quality

Yes I know, the new camera is SUPPOSED to be better. But what if it isn’t? I don’t mean to pick on Nikon here but I can tell you that quality wise, I’ve seen a bunch of mishaps from Nikon lately. (Don’t worry I’ll get to Canon in a minute.)

I used the Nikon D3 and then the D3s (yes I upgraded) and fortunately, the move was pretty painless. I got better performance out of the D3s and it was worth it. But when Nikon introduced the D4, I found it to be totally unsatisfying. For me, the images I captured from the D3s looked better. Part of this has to do with Nikon’s newfound love of the megapixel madness game, and part of it relates to the problem with muscle memory. They moved some key buttons and I was just not getting as many keepers with the D4 so I sent it back. Likewise the D800. I much, much prefer the images I get from the D700. The D700 is better in low light, has less noise and D700 images look better to me. Enter the D600. This is a camera that has suffered greatly from quality control issues. I picked up a D7100, the long-awaited successor to the amazing D7000. Again with the megapixel madness. I prefer the D7000 images all day long.

Canon users had a problem with the 1D MK III. It’s autofocus issues were legendary. Canon didn’t own up to the problem for a long time and all of us that were shooting the 1D MK II were busy trying to buy back our cameras. The III simply sucked.


It may be best to keep the camera you have until you have used it up. It may be best to avoid the upgrade that comes next because it may not be better. And lastly, you probably aren’t getting everything you can out of your current camera. Chances are you haven’t fully explored its capabilities. Most cameras (Like most lenses) are better than the photographer operating them.

Are there times when an upgrade is warranted? You bet. The Fuji X100 didn’t work out so well. The upgraded Fuji X100s is a tremendous upgrade and well worth the money. But the best approach to take here might be one involving patience. Let the new cameras float around for six months before you decide to upgrade. Rent them and try them out first to see if they live up to your expectations. And finally, go out and shoot the heck out of your current camera. Read and re-read and re-read again the manual and learn what it’s fully capable of. Then you can make an informed decision on whether or not you should upgrade.

In the mean time, anyone want to buy a very slightly used D7100?


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