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Should You Get the New Camera or Buy an Old One?

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I was recently helping another photographer with a dilemma. He wanted to get a new kit, switching from Sony to Fujifilm and was curious if he should get the newer Fujifilm X-T30 or if its predecessor, the X-T20, was good enough.

I go through my own similar dilemma whenever a new camera comes out and did so last year between the X-T20 and X-T30.

It’s important for us to consider “consumer culture” when faced with these dilemmas, and I wanted to step up on my soapbox for a few minutes if you’ll let me. After all, this is something I have to remind myself of too every few months.

Consumer culture sucks for photographers

Consumer culture tells us that we need the newest, most advanced, most expensive gadget. That’s just how capitalism works. But it’s not how art works.

Potters don’t buy new pottery wheels whenever new models come out (if that’s even a thing?). Painters don’t buy the new model of paintbrushes whenever those are released (again, does that even happen?). Potters and painters know their equipment because they use the same tools for years, if not decades. The pottery wheel and the brush become extensions of the artists’ bodies, and they can create art without even thinking about the tools because they’re so familiar with them.

Unfortunately, photography technology moves exponentially faster than those tools. But cameras are no less of a creative tool than a painter’s brush or potter’s wheel. So why do we treat them so differently?

Because marketers’ strategies tell us that we can’t make good photos without the newest upgrades. YouTube “influencers” do the same. Cameras are treated as status symbols instead of creative tools, and that’s unfortunate. It’s been planted in your subconscious no matter how you look at it.

It’s as if all photos up to this point have sucked because they didn’t have a full-frame backside-illuminated pixel-shift 60MP sensor. And how far from the truth is that?

bob ross
If Bob Ross was a YouTube star today, I’m willing to bet he’d be teaching painting, not selling art supplies

Why you shouldn’t buy the new camera

Ease into it

If you’re new to photography, just beginning to learn the craft, it’s ridiculous to spend $3,000 on the most expensive camera you can find.

It will have features you’ll never use, you may find you’re just not that into it, and you won’t be able to use it to its full potential yet.

Buy old, buy used instead

Whenever a new camera comes out, pricing on its predecessor drops considerably. This is a great time to buy the older model. The newer model is unlikely to have any major upgrades that will make a significant difference to you. And all of the bugs would have already been worked out on the older model.

Used cameras don’t generally “go bad.” There are amazing deals to be had on places like eBay and B&H Photo Video.

On eBay, you can purchase used cameras from private sellers and get great deals. Just make sure they have 100% stellar feedback ratings so you know you’re not getting swindled. But I’ve purchased several used cameras and lenses off of eBay with zero bad experiences.

B&H Photo Video has a Used department where they sell “demonstration” cameras and other cameras they collect. Being one of the world’s most respected camera stores, you can buy with confidence from them knowing that their used equipment has been vetted. I’ve also purchased a number of used pieces of camera gear from them with no regrets.

Or rent

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you need the old camera model or the new one, just rent the old camera, or rent both, to see how they work for you.

Places like BorrowLenses will rent cameras and lenses to you for as long as you want for great prices.

Stay out of debt

Digital photography can become very expensive, especially if you’re listening to the camera marketers and YouTube talking heads.

Debt is a very serious problem, and spending unnecessary money on the most expensive camera can make it your problem if you’re not paying cash for it.

This means you’ll have to work harder and longer to pay it off, taking away opportunities for you to use the camera.

Spend your money on a trip

Buy the cheaper camera and spend the savings differential on a fun trip.

What good is a great camera if you can no longer afford to travel because you spent all of your money on the camera?

Wouldn’t you rather be able to take last year’s camera somewhere cool than not be able to go anywhere at all with this year’s camera?

And guess what, no one looking at your images will know the difference or care that you used last year’s camera.

Spend your money on education

You can teach yourself photography, but that’s no substitute for having a teacher or mentor. These people usually come at a cost, but you’ll get much more out of it than watching YouTube videos.

Having an actual teacher gives you a two-way educational relationship, rather than the one-way relationship you get out of YouTube videos and photography books.

Ideas for getting a real photography education:

  • Class at local community college
  • Private photography lessons
  • Photography workshops
  • Online courses

Shameless plug for my online photography courses.

Lenses. It’s all about lenses.

Spend your money on quality lenses instead of the new camera, if you want or have an interchangeable-lens system.

The light has to go through your lens first, before getting to the camera, right? So why would you skimp on this, the first link in the chain? A camera is only as good as the lens in front of it.

I don’t know if I can take credit for this phrase as I’m sure others have said something to this effect. But this is the biggest takeaway I want you to have in the “should I upgrade the camera or not” dilemma:

An old camera with a great lens will always be better than a new camera with a cheap lens – in the right hands.

So get that education, buy a better lens instead of the newest camera, and start breaking out as a photographer.

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Thursday 9th of February 2023

Still holds true even this day and age.

Jumping from one body to another just because it is shiny and has more bells and whistle does not necessary equates you into a better photographer. In fact, this is a counter productive approach since your learning curve will bring to a dip or a halt as you need to go over again instead of focusing to the improvement of creating an image. Composition.

Dave Maciak

Monday 16th of October 2023

@John Peltier, I was a working pro for many years; worked for two different agencies in Vietnam during the war, a studio photographer for a couple of years. Took up weddings so I could spend more time at home, also as a darkroom guy at two different aerospace companies, Pretty good background! Now, as an old man it's grand kids and a once in a while landscape guy. I have a close friend whom I've been "mentoring" for several years. As in your writings, he always has a long lens dangling from his camera. Always the best for him. He loves buttons, switches, knobs and complicated menu items. He never seems to get a good photo. " See your photo-then turn it into an image!" He is astounded when I go out with a fixed lens Fuji (X100T) and no extra gear except a lens wipe and a spare battery. When reviewing his shots with him he misses more than he gets from playing with settings--instead of his subject. I can take my trusty old D5000 and sell prints from it--and have. Or I can take my X Pro 3 and get a not great ratio. Your advice to know your gear is paramount! Also buy used instead of new. I recently switched from Nikon to Fuji, traded my old gear, though it hurt, but in the dealings saved a little over 2 grand! No regrets. Keep your great articles and tips. DSM

John Peltier

Thursday 9th of February 2023

Yes, exactly! You need to know the camera inside and out so that you can really "focus" on the creative nearly start over with that every time you get a new camera.


Wednesday 20th of July 2022

Great advice, thanks

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