Should I upgrade My DSLR Camera?

“Hey dude, you need pro level equipment to get the best results… You can’t do much with the kit lens that came with your camera… Buy this ‘pro’ lens and then you can take great photos… You need to upgrade to the latest mirrorless camera to get the best results…”

Is Your Old DSLR Camera Good Enough?

No major camera manufacturer is making a bad camera or lens nowadays. They could not stay in business in this tough market if they did. In fact, because of the pressure to produce the best equipment at the most popular price points, the DSLR camera and kit lenses that start in the $600 & under price range are excellent photographic tools, and value leaders in photography equipment. In skillful hands, they can produce results that look every bit as good as that produced by expensive ‘professional’ gear.

Most camera upgrades are driven by marketing pitches and will not improve your photography.

The image quality differences, in most cases, can be measured in a lab but are most often indiscernible or negligible in the eye of the viewer. In most cases, the DSLR camera in the $600 price range can take a photo that will be just as satisfying as that captured with a $2000 model. Here is an example:

Should I Upgrade My DSLR Camera?
Photographed in 2006 with Nikon D40 and Nikon 55-200mm DX lens.

This photo was shot eleven years ago, in New Mexico, with my first new DSLR camera, a Nikon D40. That entry-level 6 megapixels DSLR camera was one of the cheapest on the market at the time it was introduced. I paid less than $500 for the kit (camera body and basic zoom lens). Now, do you believe that the low cost of the DSLR camera used to shoot this photo degraded the image quality? I think not! The image is sharp, colorful and a vivid depiction of what I saw. It is a very satisfying image.

That camera, introduced in 2006, is still competitive in image quality to what is currently on the market. Oh, it may not have the latest upgrades and features. Professionals will not use this camera model to create billboard size images (although it can be done with proper technique). But as a photography tool for hobbyists like you and me, it will do whatever you ask of it to a very satisfactory degree.

Unless you want to make videos, nearly all DSLR cameras made in the last ten years will produce excellent photos.

Frugal Photography
Photographed with a 3 megapixels Canon DSLR camera made in 2001

Most of the difference in the cost of lower and higher-priced cameras and lenses can be attributed to more exotic construction materials. For $500 you are buying a camera and lens that uses more plastic in its body and lens. The higher-priced ‘pro’ cameras have more rugged constructed to stand up to daily use by working photographers. They are also sold in much lower volume, necessitating a higher price per unit. In truth, with most camera manufacturers, their budget-priced camera model typically uses the sensor and electronics that were featured in the prior year’s higher priced models. The differences in final image quality may be measurable in a lab, but does not really matter in the general quality of the photos you produce! For most photography, your entry-level or current DSLR camera will do everything you expect of a camera.

Your Photography Questions Answered
This photo was captured with a 15-year-old 6-megapixels Canon 10D DSLR camera and low-cost 50mm lens.

Will A Camera Upgrade Make You a Better Photographer?

Upon hearing any of these all-too-common sales pitches, many new photographers become convinced that they will never be any good unless they take out a second mortgage to fund the acquisition of the latest and greatest camera gear. As a frugal photographer, I am a strong believer in mastering what you have first before upgrading. I also like to get the best value when purchasing photography equipment. The vast majority of so-called “expert” photo gear advice you are likely to hear is given with the primary objective of getting you to spend more money, to not make you a better photographer.

Visit my Cherry Blossom Festival, Branch Brook Park page to see photos shot with a seven-year-old entry-level Canon DSLR (Rebel XS) and an inexpensive lens (Canon 55-250mm F/4-5.6 IS EF-S lens).

How To Get The Best Deal On a New DSLR Camera Upgrade

One of the best ways to get the most camera for your money is to buy last years camera model at a discounted price. Often, it is heavily discounted when compared to the newly released DSLR. If you can get a manufacturer refurbished camera (usually they are brand new cameras in a plain box with a limited warranty) you can save even more money. Use the money you save to visit places worth photographing!

I follow my own advice. Like most of you, photography does not pay my bills. So, for me, purchasing high-end equipment makes little sense. The craft of photography is about the art of seeing. The frugal photographer masters his craft and is able to create great photos without breaking the bank. So stop buying and start shooting!