Like many people across the US, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new iPhone 6s today. Exciting! I’ve been hoping Apple would increase the resolution on the cameras, and they finally did with these latest devices.
It’s highly unusual for me to be one of the first people to get a new device. Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t excite me. Over time, I have developed some personal guidelines I follow around upgrading gear, which keeps me from running out and getting every new device or lens or widget that comes along. My philosophy is not going to win me any friends in the camera hardware industry, but it has served me well over the years, ensuring a good return on investment.
Today I’ll share my thoughts with you on how to cut through the marketing hype and figure out when it’s the right time to upgrade your camera gear. This applies to all camera gear, whether we are talking about an iPhone, dSLR camera bodies and lenses, or accessories.
Understand your current gear
The first step before upgrading is to really understand your current gear. Have you taken the time to learn the ins and outs of what you already have? Have you pushed it to its limits? Have you played with every feature, read the manual, watched the tutorials? There is often more capability in your current gear then you realize.
When you dig in and really learn to use what you have, you have a better understanding of what an upgrade might bring you. For example, if you have a new lens, use it exclusively for a period of time to see how it performs in a range of situations. See where you feel limited, where it surprises you with its capabilities; where you surprise yourself by using it creatively. It’s not until you understand the current capabilities of what you own that you can understand what the increased capabilities of an upgrade might bring you.
When you do spend this kind of quality time understanding your gear, you learn what matters to you. It’s the limitations you discover and the frustrations you encounter which tell you where you might want to make your next purchase. But you have to invest the time and energy to use the gear you have and really learn why it’s limiting you, or you may be throwing good money away for capability you already have or will never use.
Know your style
As you learn more about photography and the gear you have, you will also learn things about your personal style that affect your gear purchases. When you know your style — the type of photographs you like to make, the way you like to make them — you can filter through the sales messages to get to what will truly work for you.
For example, unlike many women, I am a minimalist when it comes to what I carry around with me. I always have been, long before becoming a photographer. I don’t like to carry a bag or a purse if I can help it. So those cute designer camera bags which allow you to “carry it all” are not going to work for me, no matter how gorgeous or functional they are.
The same principle applies to gear of all types… Just because it’s the most popular, whizzy thing out on the market doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. When spend some time to think through and factor your personal style into your evaluation of a purchase — asking, “Knowing what I know about myself, will I really use this?” — you will find you make better decisions. Maybe fewer investments in gear, too.
Experiment before purchase
Of course, if you want to move in a completely new direction, it can be hard to know whether it’s worthwhile to buy the gear until you have some experience. Rather than go directly with a purchase, look for ways to experiment with the gear you are interested in. Borrow, rent, or take a class where you can try the gear out. Talk to others with that area of interest and listen closely to their recommendations, tempering them with an understanding of your style and experience as compared to theirs.
It’s amazing how a little first-hand research can seal the deal on whether or not to make a purchase. In the past, holding a camera body has told me it was not the right weight or fit for my hand. Borrowing a LensBaby taught me that it frustrated the heck out of me, and I probably wouldn’t use it much. Experimenting with mobile photography using an old iPod Touch, which had a terrible VGA camera, quickly showed me the potential of this kind of device. I confidently upgraded to my first iPhone.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, so a big investment might be best served with a small investment first to try it out. Having some hands-on experience can make a big difference in purchasing gear you will use instead of gear that will sit on a shelf, gathering dust.
(Side note: That doesn’t mean I recommend buying a cheap version of something, to make a decision whether to invest in more expensive version. I believe in doing my research in advance, and then buying quality gear, once.)
Purchase only when it makes a difference — for you
The underpinning of my philosophy is to buy new gear when it’s really going to make a difference in my photography. When I’ve run up against a limitation in my current gear, when it will solve a problem, make my life easier, or allow me to explore a new creative direction are the key factors in the decision. Framing that with what I know about my style and how I’ve used (or not used) past purchases helps too.
Just getting the newest thing because it is touted as “better” is a waste of money if it doesn’t change anything for me. The camera improvements in my last upgrade, the iPhone 5 to the 5s, were minimal. It was a scratched camera lens which drove me to get a new device. Funnily enough, it turned out the Touch ID new to the 5s had a much bigger impact on my photography than the camera, by enabling me to get into my camera apps quicker.
So why am I getting the iPhone 6s? What great things will it bring to my photography? The increased sensor resolution is not going to substantially change the images I make, but it will improve the quality of my images straight out of the camera, requiring less in the way of upsizing and resolution management as I edit. That will be nice efficiency improvement.
Beyond that, whether the new device brings any other improvements to my photography or editing processes will remain to be seen. I will keep you posted!