Buying A New Camera System: Demystifying Hard Decisions To Be Made

Author: David Curelea, Photographic Artist at davidcurelea.com

Photo by David Curelea

Should you buy a new digital camera system or a film based system? A professional, semi-professional or a consumer system? At some stage you’ll need to make this decision –whether new to photography or a decades-seasoned photographer. This article aims to demystify some of the key factors and realities involved so you can make a clearer decision, saving time, money and potential heart-ache.

First, realize you are actually making a series of decisions, with varying consequences. It can be an agonizingly tough decision to buy into or move to a whole new system. It’s not simply about ‘buying a new camera’, you’re buying into a whole system with numerous components. Buying a whole new system might include a DSLR or any camera system really, buying numerous lenses (providing coverage for a range of lenses such as ultra-wide, wide, normal, telephoto or macro lenses), purchasing additional recommended memory cards, flash, etc. Besides the cost of a new system – there are other huge considerations to bear in mind.

First, there is the age-old needs versus wants issue – for example, do I really need to go digital full-frame or is it just a want? Do I really need this camera system over another one or my existing one? Why? Do you need more speed, more quality or more flexibility?

Versatility

A key factor in deciding should be versatility of the system and its lens offerings. Is the camera system designed for use in the field, studio, for travel, or everything? Are big pro zoom lenses that would shoot across the range of your needs available that might mean carrying fewer lenses, or allow you to work faster or in available-light? Do the technical specifications and optical performance of the camera and lenses meet your needs? (Is this verified by independent test results)? Your needs could be for a lens that could be used for shooting high-quality fine-art prints, as well as spontaneous travel and people photography moments. Zooms have often been banished for their more inferior optical quality and sharpness. But, do pro-grade zooms I’m looking at match or excel in performance and quality compared with the various versions of the fixed focal length (prime) lenses available?

The System’s Market

A key area to consider also is whether this system is produced for a professional and semi-professional market, or made for the amateur or consumer markets? There are significant differences in things such as quality, usability, customization, versatility, robustness or workmanship and engineering. See what features differentiate the consumer product from the professional equipment and evaluate your options.

Embracing The Past And Future

Another big consideration is forward and backward compatibility – Is the camera-body-to-lens relationship like a romantic life-long relationship or more like a short-lived stint that will disappear rapidly? In other words, are the lenses and camera body compatible with current and older lenses that may better meet you needs? Is the technology changing in a way that will affect forward-compatibility or scalability which will enable the system to ‘grow’? An example would be where manufacturers have moved from digital to full-frame digital. What best meets your needs in this area so you don’t buy into a page that is being turned?

The Actual Output – Image Quality, Size, Style

It’s not all about mega-pixels! The system you choose should provide enough resolution or mega pixels to meet or exceed your image quality needs. There will be different needs based on whether images will be used for editorial, fine art, or commercial purposes. Research the specifications in detail to ensure the mega pixel figure, sensor size and type, digital image resulting size and lens integration – all meet one’s needs. It has much to do with the actual output medium and size – Will you be printing standard photo size prints, wall-mounted artwork, wall size prints or electronically presented work only?

One of the biggest factors to consider is how this affects your core operations in business, or the way you photograph. The core of your needs as a photographer are determined by what type of subjects you shoot, what other subjects or forms of photography you wish to venture into to grow, and your individual style of shooting. This has everything to do with your unique photographic journey. This can be the ultimate decide. Will the new system help you to do a considerably better job of your core photography than an existing system or other system you’re evaluating? Or will the system you use already be sufficient; can it be extended to better meet your needs at a fraction of the price of a whole system change?

Proven, Stable Systems vs. Leading-Edge Technology

Technology that’s been around for decades is more proven, refined and corrected, understood and integrated into our photographic world. Leading-edge technology can be very expensive in various ways: Initial cost at first release especially, the cost of learning a new system – time or monetary expense. It’s also not-proven in terms of whether it really does what the marketing blurb on the box says. Leading-edge technology is also not-proven in terms of whether the market will accept it as a laudable product, and whether in 5-10 years it will still be a highly sought-after or even collectable system as opposed to the system everyone is donating to the pawn shop. Leading-edge can be great, and other times it can be a fairly profitless investment.

Great Systems Are Backed By Great Reviews

A camera system that’s been around for many years has professional reviews by leading review websites, technology specialists and journals. Their highly-detailed analysis along with dozens if not hundreds of consumer reviews from professionals and consumers alike can be a wealth of knowledge and insight. You can almost do a SWOT analysis yourself and consider the various Strengths and Weaknesses (pros and cons). Also analyze Opportunities that it can open up, and potential Threats – or issues that may make the system not appropriate to your needs. It will often be clear whether there is some general acceptance of the system in the various markets.

The Cost And Your Budget

Justifying the investment is another important area, as it will mean using up funds that could be allocated to something more worthwhile in advancing your photographic journey. It takes time and money to learn a new system and to integrate it into your workflow. The timing of such a migration can be important too in the scope of your other projects. Evaluate the funds you intend to allocate on a camera system in light of your other projects, travel or educational expenses. Remember, a new camera system won’t automatically make you a better photographer – that takes lots of research, work, craftsmanship and practice. Ask yourself how much it solves your core needs? Could it be that for a fifth of the price of the new system you could significantly enhance your existing system to match your real needs?

What other factors can help in making the big decisions around opting for a new system?

Comparison With Competing Manufacturers’ Offerings

If you already have a camera system, will you be disloyal to your preferred manufacturer to see if the glass is sharper on the other side? In doing so, will you have two systems to care for and work with, and pay more for of course?

Availability Of Accessories

Availability of accessories is also important. Do you need the additional battery-grip accessory? Or perhaps it’s a specific bit of gear – like a macro ring-flash. Are these needed accessories available? Evaluate beforehand whether any crucial accessories you require are definitely available and within your budget.

So, hopefully the factors in this article will help shed some light on some of the key issues involved in deciding on a new camera system and help demystify the decisions you may need to make now or in future. Dissect and analyze the issue in needs versus wants fashion, even creating a columned pros and cons list if necessary. Do thorough research. Hire the camera system for a week or weekend and shoot as much as possible to see if it suits the way you think and see the world. Ask yourself truthfully whether it all justifies the move to the new system? If you find everything is pointing towards a new system, by all means, evaluate carefully and enjoy your new system!

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