Photography Gear, Your Wallet, and You
Why spending money on new gear is necessary, and losing money on upgrading is worth it.
As someone who is using his camera constantly, it makes a lot of sense for me to have the gear I do. I didn’t always have this clarity around what gear I needed, what gear I wanted, and the gear I had. I’m hoping to start a conversation with casual photographers and beginners not about specific gear (canon, Nikon, etc.), but about the mindset and conversation around buying/selling it and upgrades.
I think every photographer or videographer looking at entering the market either for pleasure or business needs to have a few things. If you’re buying your first dslr, lots of kits come with everything you need to get started. Although I do find these helpful, I wouldn’t necessarily buy them. The main thread that will pull through this whole post is that buying used will always be the way to go. So, for the newbie – before you buy anything – consult a pro. Really. I’m happy to suggest the consumer line of my preferred brand, and maybe one or two lenses that might be a good purchase. The idea here is to cross reference what the stores are selling, what the pros are suggesting, and what’s online on your favorite used classifieds (Facebook marketplace, kijiji, etc.). And then, of course cross reference with a YouTube review, blog, etc.
No matter what you ended up buying, the most important thing you can do is to be consistent with practice, learning, and trying things. The number one comment I hear from beginners is that their new camera ended up in it’s carrying case and just sat in a closet until a trip came around, and then the trip photos didn’t turn out. There are tons of resources, both free and paid, that are out there to help you get acquainted with your new purchase (or the one that gathered dust). I highly recommend entertaining at least one option to get you on your feet getting decent pictures/video, etc..
Assuming you’ve done all of that, you can read on knowing that we’ve got the basics covered. After you’ve learned a bit, you’ll be looking at upgrading (since there is almost always an opportunity to get the newest piece of gear).
Buying new gear is very exciting. I often shop for months before I decide to even rent a new lens to try. The smell, the packaging…it’s all part of the experience. I also don’t often get this opportunity. Because I’m frugal, partly, but because I’m thoughtful.
When you’ve nearly decided to buy a new piece of gear from your local camera store, the very first thing I would encourage you to consider is the purpose. Why do I need that piece of gear? What will it help me achieve? If you have a full understanding of those two questions, you’re probably in a good spot. If you have a half-baked answer, you’re probably convincing yourself you need to upgrade because why not.
The next thing to ponder is if you can get it for cheaper. And usually, the answer is yes. The trick is being vigilant and patient. Do your research and sift through Facebook marketplace or kijiji every day. It may take a while, but the right deal almost always comes along – and you have to be ready to jump on it. The catch to this is that you have to be ready to accept the shortcomings and liabilities of it. And this is really where it gets tricky. I bought a camera body from another photographer once that had a small part missing I knew I could replace. It wasn’t a perfect replacement, but it’d suffice for me. There was also one glaring issue with it that I didn’t know about. There were dust mites inside the camera. A quick trip to the freezer overnight had that problem solved (thank you internet). Point here is that for the right price, I was willing to accept some risk in a used camera body with some damage.
The final thing I can ask you to ask yourself before buying a new piece of gear is if you can sell it again if needed. Usually the answer here is yes – but the catch is if you are willing to take a financial hit to upgrade next time. Again, tricky question, simple answer. I’ve bought lenses that I lost probably 30% or more on, and gear that I’ll take a 50% or more hit on that I’ll sell to upgrade with the mindset that I wore that piece of gear down enough that the value goes down. Trouble is, brand new gear is like a new car. As soon as you drive it off the lot, resale price drops. This happens less with glass (lenses). Glass never goes bad – it just wears down. If you’re gentle with your gear, you should be able to recoop costs if you choose to resell.
At the end of the day, if you’ve bought a new piece of gear, either new in box, or from a classified, it’s worth it. What you’ll learn by obtaining and using that lens is worth more than money. You’ll learn how a new IS system works maybe, or perhaps you’ll develop a new niche in portraits, or maybe you’ll start doing video (in my case). The opportunities are endless. You’ve permanently opened a door to new ideas and concepts by doing your research, watching videos, reading the specs, and reading reviews. You’ve exposed yourself to a different world where someone thinks that piece of gear is the bees knees and they swear by it.
You’ll change your workflow to use the new gear. You’ll learn a new skill, like how to operate a gimbal, gimbal moves, lighting, or sound. Your outlook on the next phase of your growth will change. It may sound grand, but the reality is that buying new gear is important, even if it teaches you that it’s gear you don’t need. So yes, if this helps justify that next purchase, then great, do it.
But know that at some stage, you’ll reach a balance point, when you have the right gear for the job.
These days, there’s always a better, or newer tool. Keep shopping. Keep learning. And if you can’t afford it yet, use that as motivation to keep working so that you can. And if you've met me, there's a chance you could be looking Through My (old) Lens.