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Should You Upgrade?
© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Please help KenRockwell..com

Mono Lake, 25 July 1993

Mono Lake, snapped with a defective old camera. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, eBay and Ritz when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.


August 2011   Nikon Reviews   Canon   LEICA   All Reviews

See also Is it Worth It.


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People are always asking me if they should upgrade.

Should you get that new lens, new camera, or just as often, since you're considering lenses and bodies, should you just upgrade to a better brand of camera?

If you have to ask, then the answer is a clear




Why? Simple: if you have an obvious need for something, like a telephoto lens to photograph your kids at sports, there's no question that you ought to get it. If its obvious, you're not asking anyone, although you might be trying to sell your wife on the idea.

On the other hand, if you have to ask, the answer is NO.

I once asked a wise old friend if I ought to marry a certain girl. I valued his input on something so important. He laughed, and said "If you have to ask, the answer is NO." He went on to explain that if she was the right girl, it would be so obvious that I wouldn't be asking anyone. Therefore, if the answer wasn't obvious, then she's not the right one, and the answer is unquestionably NO.

With equipment, what everyone (except accomplished masters) fails to realize is how little the camera has to do with the actual result. Even though LEICA M lenses really are sharper than most Nikon or Canon lenses, so what: you'll never actually see any difference in real pictures made under real field conditions. What you're taking a picture of, and how you do it, are far more important to the final image than what brand of lens you used.

What you will see is that your pictures will suffer when your attention is distracted away from your subject, and instead focused on worrying about your equipment, or worse, worrying about equipment that you don't have yet!

The only thing that contributes to good photos is paying attention to your subject and the basic elements that lead to strong compositions. The best place to learn these critical things is to read everything I have at How to Take Better Pictures, and read, understand and take to heart Bruce Barnbaum's book "The Art of Photography."

If you know how to take great pictures, you can make them on a pocket camera, an old 35mm camera, an old $5 garage-sale camera, or even an expired disposable camera. These links go to examples of shots I've made with each crappy camera, and every one of you already has a much better camera than any of those. Even cell phone cameras are good enough to win photo contests, and friends of mine have made big money doing just that.

None of us has unlimited cognitive (thinking) ability. Whatever brain cells we expend on worrying about "should I upgrade" are brain cells that aren't contributing to thinking about our subject, or making a picture right now. This is precisely why even thinking about upgrades makes our pictures worse: we're thinking about gear we don't have, and not thinking about our pictures.

It's easy to let ourselves off the hook today, knowing that as soon as we get that next great gotta-have-it thing that then our pictures will suddenly be great. The sad reality is that there is always some next-great-thing, and getting it is never the answer.

Some of us, myself included in my stupider days, have spent decades worrying about the next upgrade, and never stopped to think about what makes a good picture.

The only thing that improves our pictures is to be paying attention to what makes a great picture right here and right now, with what you already have.

Making great photographs takes hard work. Sure, everyone gets great shots now and then by pure luck, but it takes careful attention and discipline to make great photos consistently.

Thinking that a sharper lens or more feature-infested camera will make better pictures tomorrow is the coward's excuse for not making a great picture today. Right now is all that matters, and putting off the hard work until tomorrow is for wimps. Any pussy can think that if they only had some great new camera that they'd be making shots like the pros, but the fact is that the pros would be making the same pictures if you put your camera in their hands.

The reason everyone thinks in terms of constant upgrades is that it's an easy way to think, and manufacturers spend billions of dollars in advertising to nurture the myth of the upgrade as the easy way out.

Pentax, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Leica, Hasselblad and Phase One all take the same pictures.

Only when you become a master should you even start to think about changing cameras, and then, why bother? You need to be good enough to get perfect exposures for every shot. I'm far from great, but even I can do this with any camera because I know how to test it and then compensate each exposure as needed. Even the best camera on Earth can't always do this by itself. You have to be in control. If you can't get the results you want with what you already have, it's your fault, not the camera's. A new camera won't improve your pictures.

If you're loaded, sure, go ahead and buy it, but don't expect it to make your pictures any better.

Paying attention to your picture, and not to buying more gear, is the only way to improve.


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Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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