Photography Advice

Will That New Camera Make You a Better Photographer?

Only in your dreams!

More megapixels, faster shooting speeds, greater dynamic range… it all costs more money – lots more money- but will it make you a better photographer?

2017 has been an exciting year in the world of photography, especially when it comes to the cameras that we use. Sony released the A9 with its full frame 24.2 megapixel sensor and the ability to shoot 20 frames per second, not to mention 5 axis image stabilization that is equivalent to 5 stops of slower shutter speed. You can have all this amazingness for a mere $4,500 dollars for just the body.

Nikon released the D850 with its 45.7 megapixel full frame sensor and 9 frames per second shooting speed, the ability to shoot 8k time-lapse movies, and the lowest base ISO of any DSLR or Mirrorless camera currently on the market. You can buy the D850 for $3,300, and if you want the full 9 frames per second – add just another thousand dollars to that price tag.

I have to be honest with you… all these super specs…  just give me a super headache. And the price tags! That is some serious heartburn.

A Little Background

Let’s take a step back for moment. Remember Steve Jobs, the man who revolutionized cell phones and began an era of consumer fanboys who rabidly purchase the latest and greatest regardless of the cost and features?  I would argue that Steve Jobs also changed the world of photography, not because he included cameras in the phones, but because he tapped into an age-old concept: boys love toys. So what did he do? He gave us cooler, sexier, better toys.

Camera manufactures didn’t ignore this. They learned from Steve Jobs, and Sony was the first to capitalize on this phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong – Canon and Nikon shooters have debated which brand is better for decades- but Sony, with some truly great new gear bolstered by social media and a few well-timed YouTube videos, created a fan culture around their cameras at a time where there were only a few lenses available and even fewer accessories. Heck, still to this day Sony fanboys are so fanatical about their brand that they will by four thousand dollar camera bodies and then spend four hundred dollars on an adapter to put another company’s lens on it.

Let me be clear: I have mad respect for Sony gear, and I was a Sony shooter.  Yes. I was an early adopter Sony shooter and shot exclusively Sony gear for just over a year. My last Sony was the A7R and I love the EVF feature and miss it on my Nikons. But the fact is that I have been a Nikon shooter for my entire professional career – with the exception of that one year. If anything, my experience with Sony further solidified my commitment to Nikon, but that is a subject for another blog post.

How do you know when it’s time to upgrade your camera?

How important is it really to buy that newest, latest, greatest piece of gear right when it comes out or within a few months of its release? Do you really need to upgrade your camera? That is the big question.

If you are already a Sony or Nikon Fanboy and have your A9 or D850 – just relax for a few minutes.  It is the young and new photographers that I want to address specifically.

Hopefully you have learned that the camera doesn’t make the photo – the photographer makes the photo. Of course, many people choose to ignore that,  but it is true. Photographers all over the world are making incredible images with smartphones every day.

My Four Cameras

In my case, I own and use four different camera models for still photography. My primary go-to camera is the Nikon D810. It has 36.3 megapixels of sweet dynamic range and is perfect for portraiture and beauty, which is what I shoot.

I also recently purchased a Nikon D500, which is an APS-C camera with 21 megapixels of awesome speed and low-light capability. I bought the D500 so that I could compare Full frame and APS-C images for my YouTube videos, and I have to tell you – it is an awesome camera. I have been shooting beauty shots with it that blow my mind.

My third camera is a Panasonic Lumix GH5. I purchased this camera originally for video. The Togchat at the bottom of the page was shot with a Panasonic GH4.  The GH5 has proven itself to be an amazing camera and I find myself shooting stills as much as I do video. It is a micro four thirds sensor but it stands up to the big-boys incredibly well.

And last- but definitely not least – I shoot with an iPhone7 Plus. If you have any doubts about what that camera can do, check out the Instagram profile that I set up for my iPhone photos.

Buying a New Camera

In the last few weeks – I have been asked over and over again – if I am going to buy the new Nikon D850 when it comes out. Well, it’s out – I haven’t bought one and probably won’t buy.  At least definitely not in 2017, and I see no reason to purchase one next year.

This is where people look at me like I am strange and ask, “Why not?”

There are several questions to be considered BEFORE making the jump to a new and more expensive camera:

Question #1:  Is there anything wrong with my current camera?  Is it holding me back because it lacks features that I need? I don’t mean need in the sense of having a case of GAS – gear acquisition syndrome. I mean need as in there are techniques that you want to use that your camera does not support. For me and at this point in my career the D810 totally meets my needs.

Question #2:  Will this camera make my photography better? In the case of the D850: NO. Going from 36.3 megapixels to 45.7 sounds like a lot, but if your images aren’t being displayed on the side of a building in Times Square that is not a difference that will be noticed. Indeed, the D850 has even more dynamic range than the D810- but not enough for me to spend that kind of money, especially since two months ago (before the D850 was announced) I felt that the dynamic range of the D810 was awesome and better than any camera I had ever used. I still feel that way today. The D810 was and is still meeting my needs as a photographer.

Question #3: Will this new camera make me more money? Since I do this professionally and pay my bills with the camera, is it going to impact my bottom line in a positive way? The answer is a very simple NO.

Question #4:  Does the new camera have features that will save me time?  My business is not your typical 9 to 5 punch-the-clock-and-forget-about-it business.  Now I am not complaining – I love what I do – but I am always on the lookout for ways to streamline my workflow.

I was really excited about the initial rumor that the D850 would have an EVF – electronic viewfinder. For those of you who do not know what that is, most DSLR cameras – other than Sony – have OVF or optical viewfinders. When you look through the lens you are viewing the scene at your lens’s widest aperture and when you press the shutter the aperture contracts to record the shot. With an EVF  you are looking into the viewfinder at a high resolution LCD screen and you are seeing a finished image – depth of field and all. I do love that feature in the Sony cameras and I have no doubt that Nikon and Canon will adopt it, eventually. But that is not a feature that will make my photography better – it is a feature that will make my life easier.

I have to remember that purchasing a new camera is going to require a time investment to read the manual and familiarize myself with the camera. When I am working with the camera I need to focus my attention on my subject – not the camera – so it’s imperative that I get to know the camera inside and out and practice with it. This takes time, and camera manufacturers sometimes make this very difficult. I mentioned my recent purchase of the Nikon D500 – for whatever brilliant reason – Nikon changed the arrangement of the buttons on the D500 so that it’s laid out completely different than the D810 and other Nikons. That is annoying – but not something that I can use as an excuse when I am shooting.

Question #5:  If I do decide to upgrade – should I pre-order or buy it as soon as it is released?  Short answer: definitely not. The Sony A9 and Nikon D850 are perfect examples of new cameras with new technology.  A lot of the early A9 adopters had overheating issues, which Sony has resolved through firmware.  So far it would seem that D850 owners are in the clear and the camera is working as advertised, but let’s face it – is 30 days going to have a negative impact on your photography or business? Sit tight. Wait to see if problems are found with the camera. Better yet – rent one when they first come out and actually use it.

It’s mind boggling how many people buy cameras because they watched some guy drool all over one on YouTube. Most people don’t buy clothes or shoes without trying them on. Would you purchase a new car without test driving it? These are all things that we consider carefully and test before we buy so that we don’t have to think about them when we use them. Yet most photographers will buy a camera unseen because somebody else said it’s amazing or because they just love their brand that much.

A word of caution: Geartographers and Fanboys

Now you may think that I am making the camera companies sound like the bad guys. That is not my intent. We need Sony and Canon and Nikon- and heck even Pentax- and they need to make money. But what is happening is that in order to make money a lot of camera and equipment manufacturers are creating gear that most people don’t need, and then through excellent use of social media and YouTube they are creating a fanboy culture around their gear. This is shifting the focus of photography so that there are more and more GEARtographers and fewer and fewer PHOTOgraphers.

Now look – I am not talking trash about the geartographers either. I said earlier that boys love their toys so it is a given that there will always be a group of people who get more satisfaction from the gear they own than the quality of their images – and that’s okay.

But most people purchase their first camera NOT so they can have the coolest toys – but so they can take nice photos.

The downside to the dramatic increase in the fanboy culture and all of the geartographers that it’s creating is that we are encouraging the equipment companies to rush new technology to market and drive the prices higher and higher.

In conclusion

So I encourage you to resist the peer pressure- don’t follow the crowd. Really LEARN about photography instead of learning about every feature of every camera and why yours is better than the next guy’s. Use your time to practice and then practice some more. Develop the skills so that you can become known for the images you produce instead of the camera that you use.

And when you are considering new gear – be a smart consumer. Try it out, test it out. Hold it, touch it, heck, even go ahead and drool on it since it belongs to someone else. That way if you buy, you’ll really know what you’re getting into- and your camera won’t have the drool stains on it.

And those are my Togthoughts for the week. Thanks for reading!

As always – I hope you find this useful. You can watch the rest of Episode #77 of TogChat in the video below.

And until next time, go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot. So keep learning, keep thinking, keep shooting. Adios!

Watch the VIDEO…

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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