Monday, 2 May 2011

Stop the upgrade madness

A couple of posts ago I outlined my recent Canon gear purchases, and also talked about the Powershot G3 that's due any day now. In deciding on the G3 I visited a few internet review sites, watched some videos on YouTube, and read through some (admittedly old) user reviews.

One comment that struck me was posted by someone responding to a very positive review of the G3 and it went something along the lines of: "I can't believe you use that camera anymore. What a brick!"

I laughed about this at the time and treated it as just another inane comment from an opinionated internet idiot who loves the sound of his own voice. But later it did get me thinking - about the decisions I have made with my recent camera purchases, and about the prevailing views on technology and using the 'latest and greatest'.

My 'old' Canon Kit. The newest camera is still 6 years old! 

I'll let you in on a little secret - but don't tell anyone. The digital camera you are using now won't stop working when the newer model comes out. I know - amazing, right!? 

Think about what you really need a camera for. Ask yourself some serious questions about your photography and the tools you require to create the images you want/need to create. Do you print bigger than 8x10" prints - ever? That's an important question. Because if you don't, then you really don't need anything more than about 4 megapixels. Especially if, like me, you tend to compose 'in-camera' and hardly ever crop your images in any serious manner.

If you don't need much more than 4 or 6 megapixels, then you can start to save yourself some serious money. The mid to late 2000's saw the megapixel wars, where changes to most cameras were only related to the sensor size. Almost everything else stayed the same (maybe a slightly bigger lcd screen, or slightly larger buffer - but most reviewers talked about 'evolutionary' rather than 'revolutionary' changes). So the differences between the Canon 20D and the 50D in respect to Image Quality, is arguably negligible for someone who will print at most to 8x12 (A3) sizes. Yet the difference in price between the two on the used market is substantial

OK, if you need Live View, or a 3" lcd screen, or ISO's up to 6400 then yes, you'll need to 'upgrade' to the 50D. But do you really need those things? Photographers worked for decades without ever needing Live View on their cameras. Heck, I had it on my Nikon D300 and honestly never ever used it. Not once. I will admit that the 3" lcd on the D300 is nice to look at, but again, do you really need it!? We were happy 6 years ago with a 1.8" or 2" lcd screen, and I don't believe for a second that our images suffered because we only had 1.8" lcd screens, or that we immediately became better photographers because we suddenly got 3" lcd screens. In fact, you could almost argue the opposite. Photographer's who rely on their lcd screens for their exposure are simply asking for trouble! Yes, the 1.8" lcd on the 20D is small, but it's not un-useable. And it's more than enough for a quick check of the histogram (which is what you should be using the lcd screen for) to get your exposures right so you can concentrate on what really matters, composing the image.

But what about ISO? It's true that the megapixel war has now been replaced by the high ISO war. Who cares about how many megapixels we've got, as long as we can shoot noise-free at ISO 64 million - right? Well, again, maybe there are some photographers who make their living shooting portraits down a coal mine, using natural light, who need ISO 64 million. But what about the rest of us? 

In the good old/bad old days of film, ISO 400 made photographers sweat and ISO 800 was unusual. Yet now we complain if we don't shoot at 800 noise-free all the time. And what about that whole noise-free thing anyway? I have never had a client look at any of my images and tell me that they loved the smile on their Grandmothers face, but hated the noise in the image! I'll let you in on another dirty little secret - the average joe (your clients) don't even know about noise! Only photographers do. And trust me - only photographers care! 

At ISO 400 my 20D and 5D create fantastic images with the barest hint of noise - easily fixed in Noise Ninja if I felt that way inclined. Even the Powershot G3 shoots fine at ISO400 - its highest ISO setting. Want my advice? Don't sweat the ISO thing. Even if your camera goes up to ISO 64 million, please shoot at the lowest ISO you can, and if you need to add more light. Yes, that's right, learn to use your speedlites! Don't give me that "I only shoot natural light because I'm an arteest" line of rubbish. That's just code for "I'm too lazy to learn how to use my flash properly."

Chase Jarvis told us all to shoot with the camera you have with you. This is great advice - but I still get the feeling that we are made to think that what we have with us needs to be the latest and the greatest. When the Canon G3 came out in 2002, it was the latest and the greatest. People drooled over it, reviewers glowed and users waxed lyrical. And yet nine years later opinionated internet flatheads will claim that "I can't believe you use that anymore"

What changed? Obviously not the camera. Sensors got bigger (do you need bigger), ISO's got higher, lcd screens got larger, and processors got quicker. All nice changes. But changes that are necessary for creating better images? I think not.

And now we have HD video in our DSLR's that we need. Don't get me started on that! All I'm going to say about HD video on DSLR's is that if video is really important to you, buy a dedicated video recorder and NOT a digital SLR. Nuff said.

Finally I want to say this. PLEASE, if you are thinking about 'upgrading' because you need x,y or z, STOP and ask yourself some really serious questions. Do you really need those features that you're upgrading for? Are you a photographer or a techno junkie? Think about it - and then go and buy some nice glass. That's what really makes a difference to your images.

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