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Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Purchasing a New Camera or Lens

2020 has brought with it a lot of very exciting new cameras and lenses, and like many, you might be considering whipping out your credit card and placing an order. Before you do that, though, be sure to ask yourself these five questions.

This seems obvious, but it has taken on a new meaning in light of the events of 2020. No doubt, you should always consider your business’ and personal financial situation before investing in expensive gear, but now, more than ever, it is important to err on the side of being cautious in such decisions. It is not yet clear what sort of timeline we can expect for a return to normalcy of some sort. And even if we do return to normalcy in a relatively short amount of time, the economic fallout from the pandemic is likely to persist much longer, which could seriously affect our industry as people and companies tighten their budgets over the next few years.

Try to keep a more long-term eye toward finances at this moment simply for your own protection. Reducing unnecessary spending right now can go a long way to helping you weather the next few years, particularly depending on how and when things pan out.

One of the biggest reasons that photographers frequently give for wanting a new camera or lens is because having it will enable them to get shots they can’t get with their current equipment. And certainly, that is a valid reason in a lot of cases. For example, wedding photographers often have to shoot in horrible lighting conditions and need a body that can handle high-ISO scenarios well, and modern bodies have come quite a long way in improving noise performance. Upgrading to a more modern body can make a legitimate difference in the quality of work they can produce.

Similarly, sports photographers rely on cameras with very fast burst rates and deep buffers to help them capture split-second action, and in the past few years, cameras have made major steps forward in both these areas. Wildlife photographers rely on top-level autofocus to get their shots, and the newest cameras often have impressively capable animal-specific autofocus. We have seen real steps forward in wide-aperture sharpness in portrait lenses as well, which could be a real boon for portraitists.

Undoubtedly, new gear can and frequently does make an appreciable difference in one’s work, whether in terms of efficiency or image quality. However, before you use this as justification for a purchase, be sure you can articulate a specific scenario you frequently encounter in which it will enable you to capture shots you couldn’t otherwise or appreciably improve existing work and increase your bottom line.

There can be a lot of hidden costs when it comes to upgrading to new gear. For example, with many newer cameras pushing sensor resolution higher and higher and offering 4K, 6K, and even 8K raw video, the amount of data being generated is absolutely massive. Of course, the first thing that means is increased need for storage: you need more memory cards (frequently in newer, more expensive formats like CFexpress), you need more hard disk space, and you might need more cloud storage space if you use that for backup or file delivery. Furthermore, things like 50-megapixel files and 8K raw video also place huge amounts of strain on your computer, and you may find that unless you are wielding the latest-generation processor and GPU along with lots of RAM that your computer might not be able to handle the large files you are throwing at it.

Beyond storage and computing issues, you may also need a collection of new batteries for a new camera. Accessories like flash remotes may also need to be updated, especially if you are changing brands. You may need to purchase a new battery grip. When calculating the cost of purchasing a new camera, be sure you factor in all the extra costs related to accessories, storage, and computing power.

I have certainly been guilty of getting swept up in the allure of gee-whiz features, only to buy a device and never use it because those features either were not relevant to what I do or were simply gimmicks. The key here is that you are not buying these based on a hypothetical situation; it is easy to delude ourselves into thinking “oh well, if I had that lens, I would definitely start shooting more portrait work.” If you are a landscape photographer, do you need a camera that fires images at 20 fps? Do you have any clients who are ever going to need 8K resolution? Be sure that that new camera or lens fits into your current workflow and needs, not a hypothetical one that justifies the purchase.

Hey, I am all for enjoying geeking out and enjoying camera gear just because it is fun to do so. Frankly, if you can afford it and it makes you happy, do not let anyone on the internet shame you for enjoying something that puts a smile on your face. It is simply important to avoid deluding yourself into conflating being enamored with the fun of that neat gadget with an actual need for it, as that is a trap a lot of us frequently fall into.

Generally, the best way to tease out the difference between these is to simply sleep on the decision. I have certainly spent many 2 am browsing sessions becoming smitten with some new camera or lens and convincing myself that I definitely needed it. Sure, I don’t shoot macro, but hey, if I get that lens, I bet I will start shooting it, right? But I have learned my spending habits and trained myself not to buy anything after 10 pm. Normally, when I wake up, my rationality has returned and my bank account thanks me.

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