That New Camera Probably Will Not Improve Your Photography

Yeah that new camera will definitely make better photographs.  Not.

Yeah that new camera will definitely make better photographs. Not.

Now wait just a darn minute there! Every ad and review I see says that this new camera is going to make better pictures than the one that I have! Are you, Mr. Photo Video Guy, trying to tell me that the makers are lying to me?

Yes.

Let’s look at this from a number of different perspectives and start with the photograph itself. The fundamentals of aperture, shutter speed and ISO have not changed. Nor have the laws of physics or chemistry. Thus while the new camera may have a wider metering or exposure range, at its core, it is still doing the same thing, holding a shutter open for a period of time against a defined aperture while applying some level of encoding to the sensitivity of the sensor. 1/125th of a second is still 1/125th of a second. F/5.6 is still f/5.6 and ISO 100 remains ISO 100.

These are technicalities. Just as a painting is not made with paint and canvas, a photograph is not made in the box. The photograph, like the painting, is made in the eye and mind of the artist. That’s why everyone wants to be called a creative.

Sidebar #1 - that’s a reason that AI is such deep stinking pile of dung when it comes to art.

Will you, in your mind and your eye make better photographs because you got a new camera? The probability is minuscule. What if you were to take the money and invest it in a trip to an interesting location, or put it towards training and mentorship from a real expert.

Sidebar #2 - just because you pay for a workshop does not mean you are getting mentoring or learning new approaches. All too often it means that you are funding someone else’s photographic trip. Here’s a really good tip. If the leader of your workshop is making photographs, it’s not a workshop, it’s a cash grab. There I said it.

The new camera may have more megapixels. Fair enough. How big do you print? Do you habitually print larger than 20” x 30”? If you do, and view the prints from an artistically reasonable viewing distance, which is commonly defined as a minimum of twice the diagonal measurement of the print, you will be hard pressed to see the difference in the print between 12 megapixels and 50 megapixels.

If you don’t print and only look at the images on a computer screen or a smartphone, megapixels are irrelevant. Even crap cameras are delivering higher resolution than your screen can display and thus megapixels don’t matter. Yup they’re a scam to separate you from your money.

The new camera may be “full frame” instead of a smaller sensor. Go back to actual resolution measurements and guess what? It won’t matter. In fact there is plenty of practical real evidence based on real images and not the conjecture of pundits that the average viewer cannot tell you what sensor size made a particular image. Most people cannot tell the difference between a well exposed smartphone shot and one from an expensive full frame DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Thinking that sensor size is going to make a massive difference is a misrepresentation. Spend your money if it makes you happy, but it will not mean better photographs.

So why would anyone bother dropping thousands of dollars to buy a new camera when the one owned is probably more capable than that person will ever need?

The first answer is ego. Folks who spent a lot of money on a camera will want to show and tell everyone how much they spent on the camera. They wear branded clothing or hats. They have the maker’s name and model on their glow in the dark camera strap. There are a lot of folks walking around with very expensive cameras who could not make an image to save their life but they feel good about themselves because they bought an expensive camera. The medical word for these people is “idiot”

The next answer is entitlement. You will encounter folks who will tell you that they have upgraded because they “put in the time and deserve a new camera” which is absolutely true in their minds. Again, they tend to be concerned more about appearance than about what they can produce.

Farther down the list will be device capability. Let’s suppose that your use cases include a lot of low light work and not always at the maximum aperture that the lens allows. Perhaps a maker releases a new product that gives a two stop improvement in image quality. For example, this would be a camera that produces the same noise level at ISO 12800 as the predecessor did at ISO 3200. If you shoot in low light that’s a benefit. If you never shoot at higher than ISO 400, then it’s not. A nice to have but not making any real difference. I’ve been both routes. There is a tangible difference in low light performance between a Canon 1Dx and Canon 1Dx Mark II. It’s not two stops, about a stop and one third, but it made enough of a difference for sports that the spend was worthwhile. By the same token, the Canon 7D Mark II was marketed as better in every way than the Canon 7D. This was a line of bullshit as the performance at higher ISOs is no better and in some cases worse. But if you are one of those people with the time to move focus points all over the screen, then more points might be a benefit to you.

The number of focus points is another element of device capability. Whether this is a raw count or a wider threshold (more coverage) is dependent on the camera. My primary camera has 61 focus points. I use one. I have shot with cameras with 399 focus points. I used one. I choose to be in control over where the camera is focusing, not let the camera decide. To each his or her own, but you either are part of the process or you are simply a button pushing observer. There used to be a flight term for observers. JAFO. Look it up if you wish.

It all comes down to what you need to facilitate making your image. Do you need incredible detail because you are making monster sized prints that will be viewed only from a couple of inches away? Do you need massive low light capability because everything that you photograph is happening at or below EV -2? Ask yourself the hard questions about what you cannot do today with what you own and then do the modicum of research to find out if this is a missing in the camera, or merely in your knowledge. If it’s your knowledge, go find out what you don’t know because even if the new camera can help solve the problem, you still will not know how to use it.

We know that people buy new cameras for emotional not practical reasons. One way that we know is the incredibly shitty documentation that come with some of these cameras. They are incredibly powerful devices with menu upon menu of capabilities and a 20 page manual. This means that the maker saw you coming, baited the hook and sunk it deep into your mouth. It that makes you sound like you got fished, well you did.

Amazing photographs were made on manual film cameras for decades because the photographers who made those shots understood that the camera did not make the shot, the photographer did. Despite all the hoopla and mcmarketing crapola, that has not changed.

Good luck and try not to get that barbed hook sunk into your cheek.