To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade: That Is the Question.

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade: That Is the Question.

We are constantly pressured into buying the latest cameras. As the bottom has fallen out of the camera market, maybe it’s time that camera manufacturers had a rethink about what they offer us. Nevertheless, there are good reasons for and against both upgrading and changing your system.

If you read the comments section in a previous article, you will have learned that I am upgrading my camera. Before doing so, I went through a lot of internal turmoil, whether I should or shouldn't.

Let’s face it, all cameras today are great. After all, you’ve been shooting with yours for a few years now, and you’ve won accolades and competitions with it and even sold a few prints. If you haven’t, that has little to do with your camera. The thing is, for the last six or so years, our cameras have been good enough; we haven’t needed to upgrade. This is part of the reason the market has crashed.

Despite what many camera reviewers will let you believe, there is little difference between the capabilities of most contemporary cameras, especially those made by the big three. There are the odd exceptions, of course. Nevertheless, writers, vloggers, and journalists make big noises about what are minor differences because we are being paid to write about them, and we want to entertain you. It would not make very interesting reading if we let on that the latest Canon, Sony, and Nikon in each price bracket were all similar to each other. So, we make a lot of fuss about performance levels that make little difference in the real world.

Like the Canon 5D Mark III shown in the header image, the Nikon D5 is a few years old, but still a usable camera.

Gear reviews are among the most popular articles here. I find this strange because knowing more about other cameras isn’t going to make you a better photographer. Reading interviews of great photographers and educational articles is far more beneficial if we want to broaden our wealth of knowledge.

Arguments Against Upgrading or Changing Systems

Historically, individual camera models were manufactured for longer than they are now. The original Olympus OM-1 was produced for seven years, the Canon AE1 was produced for eight before it was replaced, the Nikon F2 lasted for nine, the Pentax K1000 for 16.

Over the last 20 years, some, not all camera manufacturers have been upgrading models almost yearly, as well as producing multiple models with few differences between them. Here in the UK, Canon has 25 interchangeable lens cameras on the market. Sony has 22. Meanwhile, Nikon has narrowed their range from where they were a few years ago with 15, which is the same as Fujifilm. Panasonic has 10, although their choice is confused by a bewildering array of different lens kit options.

From a consumer’s viewpoint, this is bad. Sometimes, the differences between a brand’s models are minute, especially at the basic consumer end. We would be much better served if they rationalized the range and included all the basic features in one or two cameras in each price range.

But many big businesses are cynical and disrespectful of the consumer. They know beginners will be forced to upgrade because the camera will lack the features they will soon need. Like drug dealers pushing gateway drugs, they dangle very cheap bottom-end cameras with limited capabilities to entice people to get hooked on their system. They know that an initial $500 spent might turn into a long-term investment of thousands. So, no matter the cost to the planet, and at the risk of disenchanting many with their shoddily limited low-end products, they churn out cheap dross.

In addition, too much choice is bad for our mental health. Psychologists call it “overchoice.” It leads to cognitive dissonance, as it increases the chances of us being overwhelmed and making the wrong decision, thus leading to feelings of regret. People are more satisfied with their choices when there were fewer options to choose between.

Is there too much choice?

Therefore, we should herald the OM-System that has just six mirrorlesses ILCs with viewfinders (the OM range), with three of those being high-end models with specialist features. Likewise, Pentax makes their customers’ choices simple too with just four models of DSLR. They make deciding easy. Wouldn't it be great if Sony, Canon, and Nikon perfected their entry-level cameras and reduced the range to one or two models that had all the features a novice needed and then did the same for enthusiast and professional cameras too?

One consideration before upgrading is the impact it has on the planet. This isn’t just the CO2 it produces, but the plastic and toxic heavy metals that will eventually end up in the environment, the damage caused by mining the lithium for the batteries, and, for some manufacturers, the human cost of production in countries with oppressive regimes.

Finally, cameras are expensive acquisitions. Not many of us have unlimited budgets.

Arguments in Favor of Upgrading or Changing Systems

Despite what I wrote earlier, there are significant differences between some systems, and it is especially noticeable when you move away from the big brands.

There are good arguments in favor of choosing a smaller brand.

If the photographic genre you shoot has changed then it may well be that a different format of camera suits you better. If you’ve been a studio photographer and want to venture into the wilds or start shooting wildlife, then you would leave the Hasselblad behind and slip a Micro Four Thirds camera into your rucksack.  

Then there is the look that some camera systems images have. It’s subjective, but I do like the feel of some camera/lens combinations over others.

I make a living from photography and have happily used my Olympus camera for six years, and the nine-year-old Mark I version became my backup. There were significant improvements between the two cameras, yet nobody has complained about my image quality with either camera, and I have shot for some major, internationally known household brands. However, despite the similarity of many cameras, occasionally, the newest release is a big improvement on the previous model. I didn’t upgrade to the last version of the camera because it didn’t bring any noticeable benefits to my work over what I use. Plus, I still have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. However, the newest release is a giant leap forward in functionality that will significantly help my photography. That's why I ordered it.

That doesn’t mean my older cameras will suddenly become bad. The Mark II will become my second camera and the other will become my loan camera for the workshops I run; despite reminding, clients often forget to charge their camera batteries, and I’ll use it as my webcam.

My soon to arrive new camera.

Would I consider changing systems? Not on your Nelly. I have tried the others and I just don’t find them as suitable for me as this one, plus they all broke down in a relatively short time. The system fits my hands perfectly, and its robust build and special features work for me too. I also admit to having an emotional attachment to the brand, with a couple of exceptions. I have used it since the mid-1980s.

Finally, there is, albeit short-term, the happiness brought when we satiate our Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Who doesn’t like the bright, shiny, new kit? That, of course, must be balanced with what our spouse thinks! Thankfully, my lovely wife said yes!

Are You Emotionally Attached to Your Camera Brand? I Am!

It’s that emotional attachment that can persuade people to stay with a brand. Related to the phenomenon of overchoice, people do not want to admit to having made a wrong decision with their brand selection. They will stick with what they invested their money in no matter how many faults it exhibits. Nevertheless, choosing to follow a different path is a bold and sometimes satisfying direction to take. Saying that, when I have tried, swapping brands hasn't worked out well for me.

There are a few reasons why changing systems, or upgrading a camera, might be worth considering, however. Firstly, having a new camera and a new system can give a boost to your photography. Discovering the new features and pushing them to new limits can reinvigorate your enthusiasm for our art. But, as I mentioned earlier, the camera itself won’t make you a better photographer, so it’s also worth considering investing in training; there’s always more to learn.

The other reason for changing systems is the exclusive features that other systems don’t have. As I said, most cameras are very similar, but there are exceptions like the OM System’s computational features, Fujifilm’s X-Trans sensor, or Pentax’s AstroTracer mode. I think there’s a lot to be said for switching to the smaller brands, not least because it bucks the trend and gives you more chance of being unique in your work.

I should also stress that just because this camera system is good for me, it may or may not be the right one for you, and I always advise never taking camera recommendations from another photographer, as they will always tell you to buy what they own.

Are you thinking about upgrading the camera or changing the system? Or are you content with the excellent camera you have? Please share your thought in the comments.

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33 Comments
Ray Sheffer's picture

Several months ago, i upgraded from my canon 7d mark 1 to the R5. I have been using the 7d for about 10-11 years. There is a good amount of difference since there is a 11 year difference in camera technology. I am using the 7d as a back up. But, i might buy the R7 which is the mirrorless version of the 7d series.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Yes, the technology has moved forward a lot in that time. Thank you for the comment. Hope you enjoy your new camera!

Ray Sheffer's picture

When it comes to cameras. I typically like to give it 5-12 years before I decide to upgrade. I would get the bang for my buck feeling.

Ivor Rackham's picture

The 5D Mk3 was and still is a superb camera. I nearly bought one several years ago, but sadly, once I held it in the shop, it just felt uncomfortable in my hands. I've got big hands and long fingers, and it's a big camera, but it was really uncomfortable trying to reach the buttons, plus it lacked the articulated rear screen, which I use all the while.

For movies: they made Captain Marvel using a Mk II, so the Mk III should still be plenty good enough.

If you are still happy with the results, then why change.

Ray, that's a good policy. My current main camera is six-years old, and my back-up nine. They still take good photos.

Chris Rogers's picture

"For movies: they made Captain Marvel using a Mk II, so the Mk III should still be plenty good enough. "

Seriously?! That's crazy! I never knew that!

Ivor Rackham's picture

Sorry, Captain America, not Captain Marvel! Getting my characters mixed up.

Chris Rogers's picture

Lol oh dang I was wondering hahaha. that's still really impressive though!

Susheel Chandradhas's picture

If I remember right the 5D mkII was used for some shots, not many, and certainly not all of them. Typically the 5Dmkii would be used in places where a cinema camera won't fit, or where the risk of the camera being damaged or destroyed is rather high... like in car crashes. The mkII essentially becomes disposable in comparison to cinema cameras but had a full-frame view, and good quality imagery. Where the mkII was revolutionary was with indie filmmakers.

Robert Nurse's picture

I upgraded from the 5DMk3 to the R5 which brought more convenient, efficient and more accurate shooting. The convenient part, for me anyway, is having a screen full of focusing points. Recomposing, especially at or near wide open, isn't nearly as much a juggling act. I've found that AF is faster which, again, makes shooting more efficient. And, let's not forget Eye/Face detection. That's really the game changer when shooting portraits. Upgrading, when you're moving to a system that provides this much improvement, makes sense, IMO. And, if the change gives you a little thrill, that's just gravy!

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

The cynical and disrespectful nature of the camera companies have largely kneecapped their business in the long run. They prioritized short term greed over long term success, and now the market is dwindling.
They have effectively walled off the ILC market to new users, as well making potential customers resentful.

For example, I have seen many people return entry level DSLRs and avoid the market entirely due to common issues that ruin the experience through no fault of the user.
Image capture is heavily reliant on precision, but entry level DSLRs have the loosest manufacturing tolerances, thus it is relatively rare to get an entry level kit that has perfectly calibrated phase detect AF, and thus most users will have some level of front or back focus. Due to how loose the tolerances are, even under warranty, camera makers will refuse to correct small amounts of front or back focus.

The end result is a beginner making their first upgrade from a point and shoot or smartphone, to a DLR, will have a worse experience, especially with many entry level lenses having lots of LoCA, making front and back focus issues more annoying.

Most of these issues can be corrected if the camera makers left inn the AF fine tune or other calibration functions, but they restricted those functions to more expensive models artificially, where the function is available in firmware but simply disabled in the UI.

It is pure greed and malice to restrict adjustments that only exist to compensate for shoddy workmanship of their products.If the cameras were built right at the factory, there would be no need for calibration. The response to this is that people either return the camera and never touch that brand or product type again, or they keep the camera after thinking it may have just been a lack of skill, and never touching it again when it turns out to be a calibration issue and they are past the return period.

While mirrorless have largely fixed the focus accuracy issues, they also took that chance to kill off the entry level price segment, thus providing no path to entry for new customers while they continue to lose existing customers through attrition.

David Pavlich's picture

Or, the fact that entry level shooters like phones better than cameras. Point and Shoot and entry level DSLRs were selling just fine until camera phones became mainstream. Lotsa' people are quite content with the limitations of a phone camera. Just a thought....

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

One issue there is that typically someone who is fine with the very basic camera in their smartphone will not consider dumping $500+ into a better camera.
The main problem comes in when someone has an interest in taking the next step in their interest in photography, but has that interest crushed due to due to issues that will turn that big step forward into a nightmare.

Many entry level restrictions, are the equivalent if a car maker made it so that all of their sub $30,000 cars no longer allowed you to calibrate the wheel alignment, or if they artificially disabled the auto timing advance in the combustion engines, unless you purchased the more expensive cars.

Unnecessary restrictions can have profound negative impacts on the market in the long run.

Chris Rogers's picture

I was lucky enough to learn about crappy entry level camera QC when I started photography. I opted to buy older professional grade bodies vs the newer entry level bodies for that reason. I have tried several Entry level dslrs and they were almost all garbage. the only one i liked was the nikon d40.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

ONE reason you are made to upgrade is a maker no longer has firmware updates AND then takes your model off their site never to be seen again making you go for their newer models. Do you then get the newer model or change makers? I studied for about a year in magazines ('13 not much WWW) when my T2i disappeared. You can stay with a maker or look at all makers. At the time mirrorless was new and the EVF was thought to be subpar by many. This is when you step out on the ledge with your wallet. What pulls you in? The $25 adapters for lenses you already have like Canon film FD and your current EF/EF-S lenses saving $ while you wait to buy the makers lenses, a $600 3 year old APS-C lens, Sony E 10-18mm F4 OSS (15-27mm) that can be used at 12-18mm in full frame mode getting 12-27mm and OSS your first maker lens (unheard of 12mm at the time). New on camera apps that cover things like filters, time lapse, startrials,toys etc.. High ISO settings beyond 6400 and Bracketing 5 at 3ev (HDR days) for moon and foreground without blending, 5 at 2ev perfect for small non blown out suns sunrises. Then three years later to upgrade? You get same low cost but added IBIS (no longer need sticks)/Bright Monitoring/ISO noise reduction steps/42 MP's with great night capture as well as the past things and some makers lenses that have been added to the line already bought.
As time goes by no other maker even comes close to what is offered, time never goes backward and $'s spent are gone as well, so you step into the unknown with $'s

first 12mm view of MW '15, first lunar eclipse using FD lens 10'14, Solar eclipse '17 EF 24-240mm, Hand Held Bracketed 3 at 2ev '17

Chris Rogers's picture

daaaaamn those are bad ass.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

Thanks Chris, every image is an experiment with light and knowing how the beaker works is the fun part.... also as a hobbyist not stuck on one type of image so the juices keep flowing!

Ivor Rackham's picture

Firmware upgrades is a great point. I agree with Chris, great photos.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

Thank you Ivor, just playing!

Scott McDonald's picture

I've thought of upgrading on several occasions only to talk myself out of it by seriously looking at what I already have and determining that the upgrade is not necessary. The only camera that I've ever bought brand new was a Canon M50 for my video needs. It still does a great job at a great price point. For chasing my firecracker 22-month-old around with a camera, I bought a used Sony A7RII for decent autofocus that still fills this need and gives me speed with a juicy sensor for manipulating that final image. Lastly, I bought a used Leica M10 for my own enthusiast satisfaction of shooting with a range finder. This M10 is the most fun I've experienced with a camera (regardless of what most people would bash Leica for). Not even considering the upgrade to the M11...no need for it in my bag and currently not even close to what I would pay for it.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Being content with what you have is great. I was for years, but there came a point when an upgrade made sense.

Chris Rogers's picture

I'm still using old Nikon DSLR's even though I have more modern mirrorless cameras. I dunno. Just right now I like them more plus i've been finding rock bottom deals on some bad ass F mount lenses.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Often, lenses make a bigger difference to the image than the camera. Plus, it's great when you find a good deal.

Jacob H.'s picture

As soon as photography becomes your job, you tend to look at gear differently. We host workshops in our studio and enthusiasts always want to find out why we don't use this or that brand. I keep on explaining that it's really the Indian and not the bow that makes the difference. Alas. I wish they would use the money they spend on gear a bit more on education or practice. That would be such a boost to photography that no brand can give you.

Ray Sheffer's picture

You're telling me that buying canon over nikon won't make me a better photographer. That i actually have to work to get better.

Jacob H.'s picture

#inconvenienttruth

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's a conversation I have a lot, Jacob.

Richard Bradbury's picture

I have decided to stick with what I have camera wise going forwards.

5D Mark II, (x2), 5D Mark IV, 5DsR. I may add a 2nd 5DsR as that is the camera I pick up most these days and I like the files out of it.

Zero interest in the Canon R5 etc or switching systems. Would rather put money needed to upgrade or switch to better use.

Ivor Rackham's picture

They are all fine cameras, and if you enjoy shooting with them and get good results, then that's all that matters.

Craig Bobchin's picture

Back in 2016 I knew that it was time to upgrade from my Canon 70D to a full frame body, as I only had a few EF-S lenses and no EF FF lenses, I knew that I'd have to buy new lenses to go with whatever body I chose.

I looked at my budget, then at the features & prices of the bodies, and finally the used lens market for each of the bodies.

I knew what features I wanted for the new system, and I didn't want to get into mirrorless. Canon was tossed away as I didn't like their lack of backwards lens compatibility.

I really wanted the Nikon D810, but cost & lack of an articulated rear LCD screen made me put them asides.

Then I heard about the Pentax K-1, and decided to look into it. I had a Pentax or two back in my film days in the '80s and liked them.

The more I researched it the more I liked what it had to offer in terms of features. Then the cost hit me. For less than the price of a D810 body, I could get the body, and a good 28-105 lens to start with.

I was sold. I have only a few minor regrets about switching to Pentax, the lack of 3rd party lenses and other accessories & the lack of support from the astronomy software community for camera control.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Pentax make fine cameras. I hope they survive as a brand because there is a lot to be said in favour of shooting with less dominant brands. Does you camera have the feature where the sensor shift can follow the stars?

Tom Reichner's picture

I would love to upgrade to MFT system, but it is prohibitively expensive for me. Maybe in a few years when the prices drop on the highest end MFT cameras and lenses.

A couple years ago I "upgraded" from a Canon 1D Mark 4 to a Canon 5D Mark 4. The image quality is so much better with the 5D4! But the autofocusing is so much better with the old 1D4. I mean SO MUCH better, with my huge Sigma 300-800mm lens. It seems like the 5D4, with its little tiny battery, just doesn't have enough power to move those huge heavy lens elements back and forth rapidly enough to maintain perfect focus on flying ducks. So when I use the big huge lens for stuff that is moving real fast, then I am forced to go back to the old body.

I want something that gives me perfectly clean images at 3200 ISO even when underexposed ("real" high ISO performance, not something that requires post processing to get the images perfecty clean), and has at least 30MP resolution for 48" prints, and can autofocus my huge Sigmonster with rapidly flying birds, all for an affordable price of around $1500. Frustrated that I haven't found an affordable body that can do everything that I need it to do.

Chris Rogers's picture

I noticed that focusing issue too. My D100 focuses better with it's 5 focus ponts than my d800e with it's plethora of focus points all bunched in the center.