Your camera: 5 signs you’re ready for an upgrade

Oh my I really wish some of my most commonly asked questions were the easiest ones to answer. Alas, some questions just aren’t that easy. But before I try to answer this one, these are my top three unanswerable questions:

  1. What camera should I buy?
  2. What lens should I buy?
  3. What’s better: Canon or Nikon?

And coming in as my #4 unanswerable questions is {drum roll please….}

“How do I know it’s time for a new camera?”

I was a total idiotographer when I started my business. I think back to 3 or 4 years ago and literally just sit here thinking “how the heck am I still in business?!” I upgraded my camera every time something new came out. I bought cameras on credit {ouch} and then bought other cameras before I was finished paying them off. In 2 years, I had a 350d, 450d, 500d, 550d, 7d and 5dmkII. Stupid, right? Why is that succession of cameras stupid? Because the first 4 are all the same camera but with slightly upgraded bells and whistles. I was the Canon marketing team’s dream: blinded by shiny specs and hype. And under the impression that a better camera would make me a better photographer.

So here are reasons not to upgrade:

  1. Some other camera looks like a ‘good’ one
  2. Because you think a bigger camera makes you look more serious {c’mon…I’m not even asking you to show your face. Be honest with yourself if you’re thinking this way. I have!}
  3. Because your pictures aren’t what you want them to be
  4. Because the features of the newer model make you feel yours is inferior

It’s funny how I’ve been super in love with my 5dmkII for about a year now. Every time I pick it up, I’m like ‘aaaaah I love you!’ but the DAY the mkIII is announced, I suddenly look at it like ‘oh you’re so not a mkIII’. What changed overnight? Did the outstanding quality of my camera change? No. Did my camera break or something? No. Was it still the same camera I was smitten with just 24 hours prior? Yup. The only thing that changed was a new camera was thrown into the mix. Something else for me to oogle online and plot for how I could buy it, which lenses I’d need to sell to afford it, how I might get by without a backup camera so I could sell both my cameras just to get one. But instead of doing all that -for the first time ever- I just said “humph. Yeah, Canon brought out a new camera. Again.” and that feeling of disliking my mkII just faded away. Because really, I love it. And I will probably run it into the ground before I ever consider another camera.

The greatest jump I ever made was from the 7D to the 5DmkII and this is because the 5D is a full frame and that completely changed the game for me. It’s like seeing for the first time. But you know, I knew it would be that way. A friend once said that once you look through the viewfinder of a full frame camera, you will never want to go back to a crop sensor. And I took that very seriously and no matter how many opportunities I had to lift someone’s 5D to my face, I said no thank you. I never even looked through the viewfinder of a 5D until mine came in the mail. Because I know myself. And I wasn’t financially prepared to start wanting a full frame camera yet.

So why did I upgrade?

Of all those silly upgrades, the 5DmkII was probably my smartest. And I’m not saying the 7D isn’t a fantabulous camera because it really is. And I still enjoy it. But even that wasn’t a particularly educated decision. A good decision in hindsight, yes, but it was just the next link in my never-ending chain of cameras. Here are some reasons I’d say warrant an upgrade:

  1. You’re nearing the end of your camera’s life expectancy.
  2. You have grown out of your camera. For example, when you got your camera you were a new photographer and now you’re traveling to sessions with off camera flash and your camera doesn’t fire a Speedlite remotely. These types of situations mean you’re actually growing out of your camera and that’s good! Really good! {Note: you can just get a radio trigger for the hotshoe on your camera to fire a Speedlite. But even that costs a couple hundred smackers}
  3. You need a second camera. I’d never photograph something important like a wedding with just one camera. If you’re going to take these events into your own hands, I would highly recommend having two cameras because any number of disasters can happen that cause you to be responsible for ruining a couple’s eternal memories. So if you find that a second camera is required, you can take this opportunity to upgrade and make your current camera the backup.
  4. Because you know the value of the upgrade. Like I said, the first 4 cameras in my list were basically all the same camera. Same sensor, fresher bells n whistles. Slightly bigger screen or better quality video {as if I ever even used it}. So when/if you choose to upgrade, do it because you’re actually upgrading. I don’t consider a slightly newer camera an upgrade. Going from the 550d to the 5DmkII? Now THAT was an upgrade. And I say that because the sensor is actually in a whole ‘nuther universe from the sensor in the Rebel series cameras. So if you’re going to get a new camera, make sure you know exactly why you’re doing it and how it will truly benefit your art.
  5. And lastly, upgrade if you feel there are reasons why a different camera will enhance your ability to create art. I don’t mean this whole business of better camera = better pictures. I mean, for example, you struggle with noise because low-light photography is your thing. Or you’re a wide open junkie {welcome!} and you crave that full frame DOF.

Do you think painters just pick up a different brush because it looks like maybe it’ll be better? Or because someone else is painting with it? No. They choose their tools wisely and for very specific reasons.

So that’s the end of this topic for now. But before I go, let me say…I don’t think that a better camera = better pictures. But I do think you can make that argument in terms of lenses. If you feel like your photography is missing something and you can’t put your finger on it, it’s probably more an issue of lens choice than camera choice. So read this and see why I think a majority of the time, it’s wiser to invest in a new lens and not a new camera.



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Elizabeth Halford

Elizabeth Halford


She blogs about photography and business with her unique plain English approach. Elizabeth has been-there-done-that with running a photography business that doesn’t profit a penny and loves teaching photographers how to get away from the starving artist model of running a creative business.
Elizabeth Halford
  • Jennifer Michelet Vititoe - I love this post.  And feel a little better about my decision to upgrade from a Rebel XTi (I think that is the 450D for you, can I just say I pefer the  number system versus the Rebel names, it makes  more sense) straight to the 5Dmkii.  I had thought about getting the 7D, but new it would just be a stepping stone on my way to getting the full frame I really wanted. I love my mkii, at the time of purchase it may have been a little more camera than I was ready for, but I am growing into and loving it.

  • Cynthia Peterson - Great post.  I’m kind of the opposite.  I have a really hard time spending money on lenses and such, and have to talk myself into it.  But I finally convinced myself that I have outgrown my camera.  I have a Nikon D80, and my D800 is in the mail!  Yay!

  • Soly - Thank you for yet another insightful post!
    I’m working towards getting better equip and starting my photo business…lots of places I read talk about the camera not mattering, that its the photographer…yea, right. if that were the case, all the pros would be strutting around with Rebels (which is what I have). I am so ready to upgrade! Its nice to see a post about upgrading and how it CAN matter. I totally understand the photographer is the major factor but having good equipment DOES matter….and lens matter even more.  I’m starting to look at used equipment but that scares me…its not exactly cheap.  how do you go about buying used gear?

  • Barabe_m - love the post,

    I started approximately 4 years ago with a Canon XS, When the 7D came out, i was so much craving for it. Here is why, First I outgrew my camera, I got a whole lot of experience and was starting to take in little contracts ( one of my pictures taken with this camera sold for quite a bit and is in a magazine over 200 000 copies. I took  a turn for sports photography specially indors arena. I needed a fast camera and high ISO capabilities. The 7D was the answer for me. Yet i waited almost one year before i actually emptied my wallet to by one. Now, i am buying L lens and i noticed that the smart move would have been to buy those first because they make a whole world of a difference. The 5D III is very tempting because i will get a few weddings this summer and i do not have a Back up. I do not regret buying my 7D because my main source of revenue is sports and the camera is made for this.

  • allison - The timing of this post is completely ironic in my case because I just made the decision last evening to upgrade my gear and step things up to the next level!  I opened the post this morning and smiled because it fit me so well (even though I shoot Nikon… 🙂 .  Loved your post and it confirmed my already made decisions.  Thank you, as always, for your insight and time. It’s much appreciated by many.

  • Rayleigh Leavitt - I shoot with at T2i and I often feel like I really should upgrade so that I can stop feeling embarrassed around other photographers.  LOL!  I know that’s not a good reason to upgrade. There are other reasons to upgrade.  But financially it’s not a great option for me right now so I should stop worrying about what other photographers think.

  • Shannon - Another great post!  I upgraded in February to a 7D from a Rebel XSi (which I had for 2 1/2 years and did 9 weddings and numerous portraits with).  I love, love, LOVE my 7D.  I bought a camera bag that looks and doubles as my purse just so I can carry it everywhere with me.

    I didn’t just pick it out of the air.  I spent two or three weeks researching cameras.  I kept my budget in mind.  When I clicked that last button for my order to be shipped I felt similar to the day I found out I was pregnant with my first born child.

    When it came in I shook as I took it out of the box.  I couldn’t believe how it felt in my hands.  I knew in that moment I had made the right decision.  The shutter sounds so lush (I think that’s my favorite part.)  I did notice, though, a difference with my images.  They seemed smoother.  Clearer.  Sharper.  I wasn’t doing anything different.  I continue to see my images improving, though, because I absorb any bit of photography information that I can.

  • elizabethhalford - Shannon, what a brilliant comment thank you so much for telling us your story. Short and sweet and exactly how it should be to upgrade 🙂

  • Karen bufield - Great post – especially as I so want a 5D mk 2 but struggling to justify it – do I just want it or need it!!!  so some good points to consider her. Thanks.  🙂

  • Misty Waldenville - I’m exactly like Shannon… I upgraded in February from a T2i (I actually shot with an XT for 3 years but it gave up the ghost and insurance paid for the T2i) because I was tired of the noise in higher ISOs. While I have a business, I’m also a mamarazzi and wanted better quality photos of my own kids while we’re hanging out in my poorly lit home. The T2i had decent image quality in full light, but it’s terrible in low light.

    I researched and researched and read your blog over and over again, especially the posts comparing the 7D and 5D Mk II. I kept feeling like I SHOULD get the 5D Mk II because a pro “should” use full frame but I kept going back to the 7D. After seeing your image quality comparisons I finally just gave in and decided that the 7D was just the better option. I was willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of image quality and the full frame for the amazing features of the 7D. I love the extra focal points, super fast focusing, and super fast shooting. The price difference was also a nice benefit. I was able to upgrade 2 of my lenses with the extra $.

    I am literally in love with my camera. My son pulled it off the counter, breaking off a dial, and it was like taking my kid to the ER when I had to get it fixed. I actually shopped around looking for some one who could fix it same day rather than ship it off for 2 weeks because I just couldn’t bear to be without it. I even took a 2 hour train ride to NYC just so I didn’t have to give it up! I’m still awed by everything about it. I know that it’s not about the camera, and more about the photographer, but the features it provides have allowed me to become a better photographer. I actually even suggested it to a friend who was debating between the 2 and after shooting with my camera she chose the 7D over the 5D MK II after seeing how passionate I was about it.

    I think one of the most important things about getting a new camera is not regretting your decision or wishing you’d bought something else. I occasionally wish I had the full frame of the 5D Mk II, but shorty after I bought my camera they came out with the 5D Mk III and I KNEW I made the right decision. The Mk II is just the camera to skip for me. I obviously won’t be able to afford the Mk III for a few years and I’m okay with that because I have a future goal and a camera that I’m perfectly happy with in the mean time. I think that had I gone with the Mk II over the 7D I’d find myself longing for the features of the 7D. You just can’t beat the fast focusing and extra focal points! I also still have my T2i, which is still a great camera for zoo trips or walking around Manhattan. I like knowing that I have a quality camera that I take while I leave my “baby” at home.

  • Marla - I’ve had my XTi for a litte over 5 years now.  I’m so greatful to have had the dumb luck (as I knew NOTHING about cameras when we got it) to have stumbled upon that camera. Initially, I was content to just park this camera in auto, but it’s capabilities made me want to learn more, do more, and figure out how to be more creative in my photos.  I aquired some new lenses over the years, and with each new lens, I was further challenged to improve, learn, explore.  And what I’ve learned?  Well, I think this camera has helped me see things a little more creatively (not sure it that’s actually the camera or just 5 years of photos).  BUT, this year is the year I will upgrade.  For many reasons, but my main reasons were 1)I want a full frame sensor – I want to be able to use my lenses to their fullest capacity (and that means I want to capture all that wonderful distortion with my fisheye).  2) I’m tired of the noise – I love my XTi, but it’s noisy, noisy, noisy (like middle of a snowstorm noisy). Even at ISO 200, I still have to run noiseware just to smooth it out a bit, and the final reason for upgrading is 3) a much better focusing system. While the XTi has been wonderful, I’m at the point where I REALLY want sharpity-sharp, sharp images, and sometimes I get them with my XTi, and sometimes I don’t – doesen’t really matter if I use the center focus point or a peripheral one (frustrating).  And well, my little camera is 5+ years old, and I have no idea how many shutter clicks are left on it. It’s time. Is it expensive to upgrade . . . well, yeah, it is. But, THIS is my thing – THIS is what I love, and THIS is worth it to me! 

  • Veronica Daigle - I just got my first DSLR last fall after outgrowing my Fujifilm Finepix S1800 in about 6 months. My husband had bought it for me for my birthday last April not realizing it would be the fuel for a photography addiction. I finally had control over the basic settings but as a point and shoot it was really lacking in depth of field and I didn’t even realize until I got my DSLR how much sharpness I was missing out on. Once I realized that I couldn’t do a lot of things I wanted to with it I knew I had to start saving for a DSLR. It was going to take me at least a year to save the funds for it so in the meantime I researched and drooled, and eventually decided after reading countless comparison articles and going to the store just to feel all the different DSLRs that the Nikon D7000 was my camera. I decided to skip the entry level SLRs as I knew how fast I had outgrown my last camera and wanted to have some growing room and was willing to save for a little longer to get the extra features, but the price of a full frame camera was above my budget and I knew I wouldn’t really need it for a long time yet. Luckily I didn’t have to wait as long as I thought to get my baby, since my husband surprised be by selling off a bunch of his extra guitar gear and using it to buy me the D7000. He said it wasn’t fair that he had all the expensive toys and I didn’t have any. Although I think it was really as leverage so anytime I tell him I want a new lens he tells me he needs a new pedal 😉 And I have seen a huge difference in my pictures since getting my new camera and feel like I have lots of room left to learn before I outgrow it, if I ever do.

  • Mamaduso5 - I upgraded from my rebel xs to the 7D and I am so glad I did. Even with all it’s unexpected repairs.  But when I didn’t have it, I used my old camera to help at a wedding and even threw on the kit lens for some group shots and the pictures turned out wonderful.  I am so glad I learned how to use my camera first.  And I think I can honestly say I outgrew my camera.  (I also purchased several lens before buying a new body)

  • Cynthia Rankin - Oh me oh my what ever shall I buy… My same thoughts until I purchased my Mark II, Canon that is. I luvvvvv…. It. Smooch smooch!! Have you ever wished you would have bought 2 of that white totally bad to the bone chic skirt? Well that’s how I feel about my Canon Mark II. I want two of them. Please….

  • Jeanne Marie - Great post. I read on another site that you shouldn’t upgrade your gear (body or lenses) until it’s truly the gear that’s holding you back. I love my Canon advanced point and shoot and drool over a T4i or 60D, but my skills don’t justify one yet. I’m trying to learn enough about photography to “earn” a better camera.

  • Belinda - Wonderful post! I agree completely about looking through a full frame camera. I rented the MK3 Recently (after having only ever shot with a crop sensor) and going back to my current camera is just not the same.

  • Nic - I like this post. I’m hoping I can get some help though: I have a Sony alpha 58, and as a beginner-transitioning to – intermediate, I have a few grievances. I really wish I had an optical viewfinder, faster overall mechanical speed, and more lens options (Sony either has really cheap or really expensive lens). It does really well for capturing quality shots for small prints, but overall I was large print (30″ and up) for outdoor shots and low light. Any suggestions for a “next level” camera?

    Also, looking back at what I said above, your number 5 reason could be supplemented with a number 6: upgrade when you discover what you need from a camera outside of the actual picture itself.

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