When should I upgrade my equipment?

By Marcus McAdam

This is one of the most common questions I get asked and, depending on how much time I have, I generally give one of two answers. The short answer is, “You’ll just know”, but for the sake of this blog post, I’ll give the longer answer too, otherwise it will end here!

While it is true that a photographer, not the camera, takes a photo, the camera can obviously have a huge influence on the end result. There are two potential limiting factors for a photograph, with one being the equipment and the other being the operator of the equipment. If the operator is the limiting factor, then changing the equipment isn’t going to make any difference. If the equipment is the limiting factor then upgrading this can make a huge difference and will open up new possibilities.

So how do you know what is the limiting factor in your photography? At the risk of repeating myself – if it is the equipment then you’ll just know. If you are confident that you are using your equipment to its potential, but still not getting the results you are expecting, then it’s time to upgrade. You need to be sure that you are using the camera, lens and, if relevant, tripod at their optimum settings. If you are now thinking to yourself “what can possibly be the optimum setting for a tripod?”, then the chances are that your tripod is not the limiting factor and even with a sturdier one, your images will not be improved. If, however, you know with certainty that you are using your lenses at their ‘sweet spot’ and your results are still not impressing you, then upgrading to a higher performing lens will probably make a difference. 

It needs to be said though, that it is always possible to use a great lens badly and get mediocre or even poor results from it. Conversely, it is possible to get great results from a kit lens if the user knows which settings to use. Upgrading a lens is only going to be of benefit if the user knows how to get the most out of each one, as a good lens used well is going to perform better than a basic lens used well.

This isn’t intended to be a tutorial on how to do this, as that’s a book in itself, but once you are confident that you are not the limiting factor in your photos, then depending on what you feel the limitations are with your existing images, will determine which parts of your camera equipment you should look to upgrade. 

The obvious and most common issue is sharpness. This is going to be largely down to the lens, but can also be hugely influenced by your tripod and in some cases your camera. A good tripod is probably the most underrated piece of equipment but they only come into their own if you have eliminated the other limiting factors in your photography (of which, you are one!). If you already know that your lens is capable of giving great results and you know that your scene was correctly focused but you’re still not being slapped around the face by the sharpness of the detail, then it may be time to invest in a better tripod.

If it’s the lack of dynamic range of your images which you feel is the major problem then only upgrading your camera is going to help with the issue, but there are also other things you can do to address the problem. Learning to shoot in conditions which provide a lower contrast or simply choosing suitable scenes are the obvious two.

So if you feel the need to ask the question “when should I upgrade my equipment”, the answer is probably “not yet”. If you find yourself asking “where should I upgrade my equipment” then the answer (at least in the UK) is to contact Ffordes Photographic and trade in your existing equipment for some lovely new gear.

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