The Photo Equipment Arms Race

I received the following email a few days ago from one of my regular blog readers.

Les,

As an experienced and successful photographer I would appreciate your thinking on something that has bothered me for a long time. There is no end to the array of photography products that are introduced: cameras, lenses, etc.  There is always something new to be found in photography periodicals, store advertisements (e.g. Adorama, B+H )and so on. I ,for one, simply can never afford to get into that game and there has to be some rational way for saying to oneself , “enough already!”   I very much want to grow and learn in my retirement years but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by what I read about some product that is “new and revolutionary” …. You are a professional and obviously your needs are different than mine, i.e., to be a first rate amateur photographer especially interested in nature and landscape scenes.  I guess that you have been asked that question on different occasions.  I would appreciate if you would let me have the benefit of your thinking.

 

Thanks, Harry. In truth, I do get asked this often, and so I thought I’d respond here (Harry gave me permission to reprint his question).

First, I can’t agree with you more. After a while it can get to be more of a game than a true necessity. The obvious beneficiary are the camera and accessory companies. The question that one must face, whether amateur or pro, is whether or not the latest, greatest is really necessary to get quality images.

I’ll be the first to say that some of the products really represent major advances and should be thoughtfully considered. Others represent small conveniences that make picture-taking far easier and more enjoyable. Take my Hoodman loupe, for example (www.hoodmanusa.com). That’s one small, inexpensive device that I could not live without. It has truly changed my picture taking for the better.

When it comes to major items, such as cameras and lenses, I have serious doubts about the latest, greatest. Some improvements are incremental. Let me give you an example. I owned and enjoyed my Nikon D300 camera. Then Nikon came out with the D300S. It allowed one to take videos. I don’t take videos, so it had no appeal to me.

On the other hand, I own a Nikon D700, which is a 12 mega-pixel (MP) camera. It is a very fine, even wonderful camera. In the past several years my clients have demanded larger and larger images (we are currently producing a 29-foot image for one of our hospital clients!). So, when the Nikon D800 camera debuted a couple of months ago, touting a 36-MP sensor, I jumped. Those extra pixels will enable me to make much bigger and sharper enlargements. That is the main reason I spent $3,000 for a camera that essentially does just what my D700 does. (BTW, my D700 is now for sale, with a host of accessories. If you’re interested, please contact me.) So far the D800 has met my high expectations.

Do I need the D800 to make a good image? Of course not. Good images are a combination of good light, good composition, technical mastery and creative vision. Lots of great images are made on iPhones and 12 MP cameras. If all you will do with your images is post them on Facebook or other electronic venues, then a point-and-shoot will do nicely. If you are only making prints up to 8.5” x 11”, then there’s no need to upgrade.

The same holds true for lenses. I have some Nikon lenses that are more than 30 years old and they still perform flawlessly and work with even my newest D800. Unless there is a compelling reason for me to buy a new lens, I’m fine with the assortment I have. Periodically I will sell an older lens to upgrade to a newer one, but there is always a reason for my doing so. I recently upgraded my 200-400mm lens because I was shooting more wildlife and needed a faster lens that I could use effectively in lower light conditions and would also enable me to blur the background so that the main subject stands out. It’s hard making money in photography today, so my main rule is that only if I feel the new product can help me make better, more salable images will I consider buying it.

Hope this helps.

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