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.

Pho­to: techradar.com

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.”

Planned obsolescence

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.

Nikon FM2 has been in pro­duc­tion for almost 20 years. Pho­to: ru.m.wikipedia.org

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.

What will your cam­era look like in 100 years? Pho­to cred­it: jooinn.com

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.

Here’s what Pho­to­shop has to say after you decide to trans­fer pho­tos from your new cam­era to your old com­put­er. Source: fixthephoto.com

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.

High-end food pho­tog­ra­phy is one of the few gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy where you need all those megapix­els. Pho­to: poppstudios.com

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