In truth, I don’t know that this question is unique following the Christmas holidays, but the volume of posts on forums and the number of click-bait web sites certainly goes up. Rather than get engaged with all the crapola, let’s examine this question objectively.
I’m going to start with a sample of a very common conversation that I seem to have at this time of year.
Photographer : I think that it’s time to upgrade my camera
Ross : Ok, what do you want from a new camera?
Photographer : Better pictures!
Ross : How do you mean? What is not working with your current pictures?
Photographer : Sometimes they aren’t really sharp, sometimes the colours don’t look very good, and a lot of them are just boring. I look at them afterwards and tell myself that they would be better with a better camera.
Ross : Sorry, I’m still missing something. The concerns that you have may not be related to the camera itself. There may be other factors, including your own technique and approach. Sometimes we try things and they just don’t work out.
Photographer : Well I want them to all be great. I see really great images on the web and mine are not great like those.
Ross : Fair enough, how do you know that the root cause is the camera itself and not something eles?
Photographer : Well any camera more than a couple of years old, it really out of date and doesn’t take as goo a picture as a new one. My current camera is an XXX and it’s five years old. A new camera would take better pictures.
Ross : What makes you believe that to be true?
Photographer : Well everybody says so. I have a crop sensor camera, so for good pictures I really need a full frame camera, but if I do that I have to replace my lenses because they will not fit the new camera that I am looking at.
Ross : That sounds very expensive. I would like to try to help. Can you tell me a bit about your use cases? What types of subjects appeal to you? Is there a particular style of photography that you want to invest more time in? You mentioned that some shots have poor colour and aren’t as sharp as you’d like, have you determined why that is?
Photographer : Well I’m not a professional but I have a side business doing photography. So i photograph everything that comes along so I can get experience. If a series of pictures don’t work out, then I try to shoot something that turns out better.
Ross : And how does that work out for you?
Photographer : Great. But sometimes ti still doesn't work. That’s why I need a new camera.
Ross : So if I understand you properly, you have no particular use cases, you want to shoot everything, but if something does not work out the first time, you move on to try something else. Did I hear you correctly.
Photographer : Well it sounds a bit rude when you put it that way, but I guess that’s it.
Ross : How many classes or workshops where you had direct instruction have you done in the last year?
Photographer : I watch a lot of stuff on YouTube. I went on a photowalk in the city, but that was just people walking around together with cameras, there was no teaching. I took a workshop that was really expensive and it was mostly about the photographer showing us his pictures and basically telling us how great he was. When we went to photograph, he shot alongside us, but he didn’t really help me very much.
Ross : Did you ask for help?
Photographer : Yeah, he was a bit of a jerk, He told me to apply what he showed in the lecture and that it was unprofessional to interrupt another photographer when he was working. I felt like I paid a lot of money to look at pictures and go shooting with someone who basically ignored me.
Ross : I am very sorry to hear that. Sadly I hear that more times than not. When a photo does not turn out the way you like it, what do you do?
Photographer : Most of the time, I just move on, but sometimes I try to use sharpening and some software to make it better. When a picture did not look good in colour, I try black and white. Sometimes I use presets to make the scene more interesting.
Ross : How is that working for you? I ask because you feel that your camera is not good enough.
Photographer : If I’m honest, it really doesn’t, that’s why I need a better camera!
Ross : Just curious, have you had the camera professionally check out, for exposure and focus accuracy.
Photographer : Yes I sent it to the manufacturer for service. Cost me over two hundred dollars and they said nothing was wrong. They cleaned and did a basic service, but my pictures still aren’t good.
Ross : So the maker says that there is nothing wrong with the camera, but you still think it’s not good, right?
Photographer : Well the service counter lady said a new camera would be better.
Ross : Did she say how it would be better?
Photographer : Well it would be newer. And better in low light than my camera. Plus the new one comes with a different lens, so that would be better.
Ross : Do you do much low light photography? Or do you have a consistent issue with the lenses that you have?
Photographer : No I only shoot outside. Inside pictures are something I don’t do and I don’t like flash,. I read that real professionals only shoot in natural light. I only have one lens, the one that came with the camera.
Ross : What do you do with your finished keepers? How big a print do you make?
Photographer : I keep my best shots on my phone, or post them on Facebook and Instagram. I never make prints, I mean no one makes prints any more do they? They can just look at the picture on the computer.
I could go on, but I won’t. This is a synopsis, edited for time, from a real conversation held at a local Tim Horton’s coffee place. It’s a very common conversation that I have and now let’s consider the real world prescription that I would give anyone feeling this way, with all the socially conscious and politically correct BS extracts.
It’s not the camera. The camera is a tool. If the camera is functioning to specification, everything junk that falls out of it is a result of actions committed by the human holding it.
If the desired output is the web, in any form, you cannot see the difference between a shot from a full frame camera and a smartphone, focus and exposure being correct. Web resolution is so darn low, that NO ONE can see a difference in sharpness or acuity. An original RAW file would look different, but a web resolution JPEG has so much compression and discards so much colour space data that you won’t see any of the extra dynamic range that you paid for, regardless of sensor size.
A full frame camera does not necessarily product better pictures. Yes the sensor area is larger, and the megapixel count may be higher, but resolution is measured REALLY but the number of light receptors per square millimetre. I’ve done the math. Some smartphones have more resolution than a full frame camera. To believe by any other measurement of resolution is a lie to yourself.
This photographer wants to make money from other people by shooting pictures, but has not taken any real courses, has no discipline for practice or trial and learn. The photographer expects the camera to do everything and has no understanding of focal length, shutter speed, aperture or any other camera basics. He wants a smartphone like experience from a real camera but will not use the Automatic or even Program modes, because a YouTube video told him that the only way to get good photos is to shoot in manual. Any keepers he gets are on his best day, an accident. If no one ever hires him, that’s the best he should hope for. It will avoid lawsuits and high costs and all manner of other detritus.
A new camera body will do NOTHING to deliver better pictures, let alone compelling photographs. A photograph is made in the mind of the creator, not in a plastic box full of glass and electronics. Contrary to a popular and erroneous opinion, easier to use cameras do not product more photographers, they produce more disposable pictures that in an era of care and craftspersonship would never have been clicked.
Take a class, get a mentor, get a professional critique that is a conversation with an artist that you trust, not a bunch of people that you don’t actually know on the internet? I see lots of critiques from people who really should not be let anywhere near a camera.
A camera is just a box. If you are missing some key functionality or feature that you cannot shoot your use cases without, then perhaps a new body makes sense. If it’s just a megapixel bump and there’s nothing that directly serves your specific goals, you are a fool if you spend that money. Ask any real working professional, and you will consistently hear that lenses matter, bodies don’t. While many folks are paid or offered consideration to write a positive review for a new camera, the desired outcome is to separate you from your money by creating a mental need/want where one may not exist. And a review produced on any product with it in hand for less than a couple of weeks is of dubious value and if the tester’s use cases do not match your own, the whole thing might be useless anyway.
It’s funny but I do not find painters getting all worked up about the paint, or the brushes or the medium in use. Each will certainly have a preference based on personal goals, but no painter worth a cent will tell you that you will make better paintings if you use the brush that she uses? Why would a camera be any different.
Invest in yourself, not in gear. Use your gear until you hit the limits of its capabilities in alignment with only YOUR personal use cases. Until then, you aren’t growing.
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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, watching and listening and until next time, peace.