Upgrading Your Camera
Why, When & Where
Through my many years of playing with cameras, I have changed brands, upgraded to better models and at times, just bought some that I wanted... simply because.

Why Upgrade?
I think a lot of photographers generally view "upgrading" as a way to improve their photography. Sometimes that could be true but for the most part it is not actually the truth. In my first years into my photography journey, my choice to upgrade from a 126 Instamatic to a 35mm Rangefinder would indeed improve the quality of my images, but not necessarily the quality of my image presentation.

No matter what level of photography equipment you have, it is not necessarily a direct reflection of the quality of the final visual presentation you produce. I have seen excellent images from photographers that were produced with a Holga and yet seen some very poor images from a Hasselblad.

I was fortunate when I was in my early twenties to work in a retail camera store and thus had the opportunity to try out lots of different cameras. Since we took in old cameras on trade, I also was able to keep changing my own gear bag contents as well. As I look over my FaceBook Album of "A Lifetime of Cameras", it is fun to remember back to those days when photography wasn't so much about what bells & whistles a camera had.

In fact, of the 31 cameras in that album, there is not actually any of them that immediately made my work better, except for the early upgrades from the 126 to the 35mm Rangefinder and then from the 35mm Rangefinder to the 35mm SLR. From that point on, the improvements in "quality of the gear" were not something that you would obviously notice in the final presentation of images.

Although I could tell slight differences in the image quality when I switched from my 6MP D100 to the 12MP D2x and then to the Full Frame 24MP D600 and minimal quality differences when making my latest move to the 36MP D810. I did upgrade from the D100 to the D2x simply for the chance to have the "Pro Body" and twice the image size since the advancements in DSLR's was on a fast pace at that time.

I did see a noticeable difference when I went from the crop frame to full frame, but there again, it would not be something the non-photographer and very few photographers would notice. The camera is only one part in construction of the final presented image and many times I have proven it to patrons visiting my gallery. I had 20x30 images from a Nikon D2X, D3100 and the D600 all hanging on the walls. And not a photographer yet has ever been able to look at them and tell me which camera captured which image.

You can even try for yourself to see if you can spot the difference from this selection of images from my Art of Autos Collection. There are images in this pop up window from the Nikon D3100, D2X, D600 and D810, but not in that order of course.

Take The Quiz
See if you can tell which image is from which camera by taking the quiz in the Pop-Up window. You may be hard pressed to actually tell the difference, since the images are all similar in perspective and composition, although they were all four taken with different cameras and different lens's.

Usually there will be some sort of feature your upgraded camera may have over the current one, but for the most part there is not going to be an extremely noticeable difference in image unless you are upgrading from a much older body or from crop frame to full frame. And then the difference is more in the size if the image it produces and the increase in Dynamic Range. As in the case from the switch to the D810, there are some slight differences in placement of things like White Balance, ISO and a few other settings.

Some good reasons how you can justify an upgrade could be: The switch to Full Frame, Higher Native ISO, or maybe you seek a greater Frames Per Second shutter due to your mostly shooting sports or wildlife. Then there is always the reason I used in my last upgrade... I simply wanted the bigger image and the joy of getting a new camera. It had nothing to do with an issue I felt I had in image quality that was going to be better with an upgrade.

When To Upgrade?
If you are not pressed for time and need the upgraded camera for a specific shoot you have coming up, then Ultimately the best thing to do is keep aware of the market price. It is not common for a manufacturer to increase the price after a price drop but it can happen if you are going to upgrade at Christmas time.

In my case I waited till Black Friday, but didn't buy for another 2 days after since the D810 was still priced at $2496 and came with the Battery Grip as a bonus. And then a month later the camera was back up to $2796 and without the added battery grip.

If you don't need to get the latest and greatest model as soon as it comes out, that is a good time to get the model it replaced at a discount, especially if there is not a great difference in the features. As in the case of the Nikon D7100 after the D7200 came out. There wasn't enough changes in the camera to switch from a 7100. Since manufacturers seem to put out a new model about every two years, it would be a good time to work around that time frame. As soon as the new improved model hits the shelves, they have to clear out the previous model.

Following the various photo magazines and web sites will usually tip you off as to when a new model that may interest you is coming out. Of course if you are looking to buy a used body, there isn't quite as much importance on the time of the year. In fact, getting a used DSLR with a low shutter count may be a great way to upgrade without exceeding your budget. When I bought my D2X years ago, the D3X was out, but I managed to get the D2X with only 1500 on the shutter count for $1600.

I think that the best Why & When to upgrade should be a happy medium between getting some features you could really use regularly that are not on your current camera. And the simple fact that you have had your current camera a few years and simply want a new one, especially if your current camera has a high shutter count that is near the life expectancy of it's accuracy.

If you have the time to wait, it will be in your best interest to try and upgrade after the release of a replacement model or during Holiday season. Unless of course, you want the latest and greatest brand new model, then it really doesn't matter when you upgrade.

Where To Upgrade?
Once you have decided to upgrade, it's time to choose the place you will acquire that new gear from. Hopefully by now you have researched the market-place and have an idea whether or not you will buy used from an individual, used from eBay, refurbished or brand new from a bricks & mortar camera store or on-line camera store.

I acquired most all of my cameras in my early years of photography from the used department of a camera store I worked in. But that was in the days of film cameras where everything was so mechanical and you could test a camera pretty thoroughly.

In today's modern times of DSLR cameras, I would have more reservations about buying used. The camera's sensor is very easily damaged and it would take some serious inspection to make sure the sensor was free of any impact damage or scratches.

I did buy the D2X used from eBay, but it had a very low shutter count of only 1500 and with many used camera auctions, you can return the product if defective. The D2X was an upgrade from the D100 that I actually traded an army of film gear for in 2002 and shot with it for 6 years.

I have also purchased about 4 or 5 lens's and some film camera bodies from eBay sellers in Japan, and in fact I look to buy from Japanese sellers first over ones here in the USA. It seems as if the gear they offer is always in better condition than posted in the auction. I have bought lens's that are said to be in excellent condition, when in fact they look fresh out of the box when I got them.

When I decided to upgrade to the D810, I had predetermined this time I was going to buy 'brand new". I had planned to make the buy after getting income tax refund at the beginning of the year, but then around Thanksgiving time I had the itch to go ahead. In the end it turned out to be a better move since I got the camera with the battery grip for $300 less than it is now a couple months later without the battery grip.

I thought about buying direct from the Nikon Store but after some research I could get it from Adoramma with a extra battery, memory card and some other cheapish perks. Even the gear bag that came with it makes a nice smaller bag to carry a handful of glass on shoots when I don't feel like lugging around a monster size camera bag full of stuff I probably wont use on the shoot.

Since it is almost impossible to find a traditional camera store anymore, the on-line shopping seems to be the way to go when buying new, or even used, Big Box stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy, do have some cameras in their offerings, but typically only the entry level DSLR that my not be quite the model you want.

Cameras That Pay For Themselves
Aside from the countless art pieces I have sold from the D2X, I ended up doing a couple of commercial photo shoots just a couple months after I purchased it that paid for the camera. Combine with the other commercial shoots and art pieces from the gallery, the D2X paid for itself many times over.

I bought the D600 as a Factory Refurbished unit with all confidence it would be in "as new" condition in 2013 and then sold the D2X for almost half of what I paid for it originally. Even today, three years after selling the D2X, it is still the leading income producer from Art Sales.

I do have a good selection of works from the D600 in the gallery now and managed to do several commercial shoots with it. In the three years I shot with it, I can say it paid for itself many times over in just art sales alone. And that alone was the biggest part of my self justification to upgrade to the D810.

If you are not making revenue from your camera, the need to upgrade is really no different. You don't have to justify it to anyone but yourself... or maybe your spouse.

Why Not Upgrade?
The most wrong reason to upgrade is to think the new gear will make your photos better. Or that you think another brand is better and you suddenly switch brands thinking you are going to produce better images. The camera and the software you use the produce your images are limited in what they can do... YOU are who decides what limits you have in photography.

There is no need to upgrade because of features you actually will never use just for the sake of having them. Some photographers may never need a shutter speed of 1/8000, or a f/1.4 lens and many other features that may have a more limited audience. Just like in the way we seem to not be able to function without a cell phone today, we seem to think that a Minolta SRT 101 film camera can not make an image as great as our high-tech DSLR can. Or let's just say that's what camera advertisements and sponsored professional photographers would like you to think.

If you feel you want to make better images than what you are making now... don't buy new gear thinking it is the magical way to do it.

Cover | About TPE | Previous Issues | Workshops | Gallery 5
Website Designed & Powered by Doctorsid Visual Media