Advertising of photographic equipment is full of bright slogans about superprocessors, megatons of megapixels, autofocus at the speed of light and other joys of modern technologies that new cameras are stuffed with. But how much do you really need all this? When (and whether it is generally necessary) to update your old camera — let’s figure it out together.
Important: If you are using your old digital camera with a kit lens and feel that the image quality could be better, we would suggest upgrading the lens first and then see if it is worth changing the camera itself. But if you already have a great lens, but the picture still doesn’t please you, then this article is for you.
Q: When should I upgrade my camera?
Answer: “When your old camera can no longer do what you need.”
Today, most manufacturers release updates to their main lines on average once every couple of years. But during the heyday of film photography, the intervals between the release of new cameras were much longer. The professional flagship film DSLR had a lifespan unmatched by today’s digital cameras — some models were made for 20 years in a row!
Of course, updating like this in fifteen years is a good thing, no question, especially if all your lenses are compatible with the new model.
In the digital age, production cycles for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have been drastically reduced. Although, even with technology becoming obsolete more quickly, some manufacturers give buyers enough time before introducing a new product in one line or another. Moreover, brands can be very consistent when it comes to the interval between models: just look on the Internet to quite accurately predict when a new version will be released.
Other companies (let’s not point fingers) barely let the paint dry on their latest model before preparing a press release for a “revolutionary new camera”.
With predictable updates and a fair amount of time, it’s probably worth it to upgrade to a newer version, especially if you bought your current camera right after release. In the case of super-frequent releases, you can safely skip a generation or two to save money.
Also, becoming obsolete in a digital world doesn’t always mean inoperable, which brings us to our next point…
If your 12-megapixel digital camera from 15 years ago took great pictures, they will still be just as good today — just get a quality lens. But what about mechanical aging?
Manufacturers put the shutter to the test (they call it “tests”): testing ranges from 50,000 shutter cycles for entry-level cameras to almost 500,000 for flagship models. But even 50,000 is not at all small: a little less than 14 photos a day for 10 years in a row. However, if you get close to that number, your camera days may be numbered.
You can not write off cosmetic wear and tear. Old rangefinder cameras with worn brass bodies look cool. Unfortunately, modern models do not age so beautifully: rubber stripped from the grip and sticky buttons create inconvenience rather than give “vintage”.
Increasing the resolution is one of the main features of any new camera. But remember the beginning of the digital age. For many years, the best professional photographers in the world have used cameras with a resolution of 6 megapixels (or even less). At that time, the National Geographic requirement for a minimum photo resolution was still the same 6 megapixels. And if that was enough for National Geographic, it was enough for everything else. With these 6‑megapixel cameras, photographers have been reporting from all over the world, capturing stunning portraits, commercial shots for publicity, and printing large-format prints with ease. These cameras are capable of doing the same thing today, so why are users constantly chasing abstract megapixels? Yes, the more of them, the more large-format print you can print. However, technology has already far surpassed the number of megapixels required to produce an incredibly large print. In addition, the majority of photographs today are shown on social networks, and they limit the resolution of images.
Attention! Modern sensors with very high resolution can exceed the resolution of older lenses, especially film lenses. If you’re planning a big jump in megapixels, then you’ll probably need to consider buying a new lens as well.
Storage and handling
Switching to a higher resolution camera may force you to change your computer (or at least buy an external hard drive), because now you need to store and process much larger files. And they will require not only an increase in physical memory, but also more RAM, as well as processor power for processing in photo editors.
If your current computer and camera work well together, it may not be worth introducing a new overly demanding partner into this relationship.
Your needs and requests
This is where things get a little more complicated. If you’re pushing your camera’s limits (autofocus, resolution, ISO, dynamic range, etc.), it may not perform as well in some tasks.
Many veterans of the genre grew up with digital technologies: they expanded the capabilities of cameras, but they, in turn, contributed to the advancement of technology, improving their art. While some may think that an old camera is holding back their creativity, it’s worth taking a look at the stunning shots taken in the early days of digital photography with models that don’t have all the modern bells and whistles.
Like film cameras, all digital cameras have their own technical limits. In hardware art, you must be aware of the limitations of your devices and be able to work within those limits. As technology pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, you can expand the “range” of your own creativity.
Time to upgrade (?)
If you are a professional who, due to the complexity of the images you create, needs the latest technological developments, then whenever possible, update the camera with the release of each new generation.
Unless you’re particularly hindered by the technical limitations of your current camera, new technologies are unlikely to provide any significant benefits — the money saved is better spent on new lenses.
How often do you change cameras? We would love to read your stories in the comments.
* In preparing the article, materials from the resource bhphotovideo.com (author Todd Vorenkamp) were used