The reflexive answer is “Yes, of course”. Most of us lust for new equipment. But think about it a bit. What about your camera is holding you back? How will having a new camera make you a better and more creative photographer?
Resolution is one of the technical parameters of cameras that increases over time. It is an easy thing to measure and use as a figure of merit for comparing cameras. Is it a good measure?
Well, yes, more is better, some of the time. It depends on your needs. Will you be making and selling prints that are 48″ or larger? You probably need a lot of resolution. But even then, it depends on what you shoot. If your subjects are highly detailed and you want your viewers to be able to come up nose-length to the print and see every bit of the fine detail, well, it comes with a cost. You want all the resolution you can get. And more.
Be aware there is a cost. Not just the price of the camera. File sizes get huge. After I’ve taken an image into Photoshop for editing I sometimes end up with files that are more than 4GBytes in size. Everything has to scale up with this: the computer memory, all my disk sizes, including backups, memory card size and cost, and my speed of working slows down.
So far it is worth it to me, but there will be a limit.
One of the other metrics people use to justify a new camera is image capture speed. If your current camera can “only” take 5 frames a second wouldn’t it be a lot better to have one that takes 10 frames a second?
Maybe. It depends on what you do. I no longer shoot sports so this has become insignificant to me. Occasionally I need to take a burst of a few frames to try to capture a certain moment. It is becoming more and more rare, though. I usually challenge myself to use my instincts developed over the years to know how to recognize and capture the “decisive moment” instead of blasting through a group of 20 frames hoping the one I want is in there somewhere. It usually works well for me and I feel like a better craftsman.
Again, your mileage will vary. It depends on the real needs you have. Don’t just optimizing specs.
Dynamic range is one that can draw me. This is the range of dark to light values the sensor can reliably record.
I often have very wide exposure ranges in my images. It is much better for me to be able to capture the entire range in one frame instead of relying on putting together an HDR set. This is because many of my pictures are strongly oriented to motion. That makes each frame unique. It is almost impossible to stack them for HDR.
But are you really at a disadvantage with what you have today? I shoot Nikon, so that is all I can talk about. Full frame Nikons since at least the D800 (about 2012?) have excellent dynamic range. So if you have a high end camera that is not more than about 10 years old it probably does a very good job. Note, the image with this blog is one of my earliest pictures shot on my D800. Great camera.
Are you really being held back?
I suggest you give it careful consideration before laying out a lot of money on a new camera. Unless you just have thousands sitting around that you want to get rid of. If so, congratulations. Check out my prints. 🙂
Instead of “do I need a new camera” maybe a better question for yourself is “how do I make better images?” This is much more difficult and important. And it is something you can do without spending much money.
Ansel Adams once said “The single most important component to a camera is the twelve inches behind it.” Meaning, of course, that the photographer, the artist,, determines the quality of the image. Do you have the skills to get the best from the equipment you have now? Do you really know all the ways you can edit and improve your “negatives”?
Todd Vorenkamp, whose opinion I’ve come to respect, said:
“Search yourself for improvement, not your gear. A great photographer can make a great photograph with any camera. A poor photographer can make a poor photograph with the world’s most expensive camera. Photography is a technologically based art form, but the technology does not make the art, the human behind the camera does. Do not look for solutions in something that runs on batteries and arrives in a box. “
I believe this. And it is a gutsy thing for Todd to say, because he works for a large camera retailer. BTW, B&H is a great place to buy your equipment. Be assured I get no compensation for this plug.
We have come to a time where camera designers are pushing the limits of physics. Improvement in resolution and dynamic range are getting much harder. Incremental Engineering improvements still happen all the time, but true breakthroughs are more rare. Newer cameras usually have small improvements and more bells and whistles to have to learn.
How to move forward
Most photographers are always shopping for shiny new equipment and the greatest new technology. I include myself. Nikon, if you’re listening, I would love for you to bring out a 100MPixel mirrorless body. I would probably put my deposit down immediately.
But Todd is right, and Ansel is right – it is the photographer that makes the difference. I believe you should not go for a new camera (and the computer processing to go with it) until you are confident you can wring all the performance possible from your current one. Best to master your current tools before getting new ones to learn.
Are your techniques good enough to make the best image the camera is capable of? Are you confident you can edit well enough to achieve your goals? Maybe hardest of all, do you understand your vision for what you want to create?
When you can honestly assess those questions I think you will know when it is time to move on. Maybe you do need a new camera.