When should I upgrade my travel camera? This is a question many of us ponder.
With camera manufacturing companies constantly coming out with new and updated versions of models -with increasingly shortened life cycle periods – it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Do I need a camera with more mega-pixels?
Should I get a faster lens?
Should I upgrade to a camera with HD video capabilities?
The following is series of checkpoints one can use to determine whether or not is is time to retire your trusty old camera for a shiny new one:
When NOT to Upgrade
If the primary reason you’re considering upgrading your camera is for a boost in megapixels, save your money by not opening your wallet. The truth is that any digital camera made in the past several years has more than enough megapixels for photo usage on the web and for regular/large sized prints. Unless you take shots for the primary purpose of having them blown up and proudly displayed on billboards, it’s easily the most over-rated feature set for current camera models. In fact, in certain cases an increase in megapixels on a small sensor can lead to more noise (graininess) on your travel photos.
* Updated Model
In most cases, a single update for a camera model does not provide enough of a features upgrade for it to be worth shelling out big bucks for the latest and greatest. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to wait at least two generations before considering an upgrade. In certain cases, the newer model is actually WORSE than the previous one.
There are some people who are obsessed with having the latest toys at their disposal. If you’re buying a camera primarily because it’s new, put your credit card down. Taking great photo has a lot more to do with travel photography techniques than it does with the type of gear you are shooting with. Consider saving your money and instead investing your time into perfecting your craft and studying composition.
When to Upgrade
* Your current camera does not allow you to take the photos you desire
This is by far the most important consideration when buying a new camera. If your current model does not allow you to take the photos you want to take it’s time for an immediate upgrade. An good example, is an enthusiast getting into sports or wildlife photography.
If your camera suffers from shutter lag, has a slow burst mode or does not have significant enough zoom (either optically with a point and shoot or with an adequate enough telephoto lens for a dSLR) it’s worth considering buying a new camera.
If you have a strong desire to get into macro photography and you don’t have the right equipment to get sharp close-ups it’s time to pull out your wallet. Finally, as a last example, if you’re serious about shooting video and your camera does not have a video mode, it’s only common sense to find a newer model that does.
The take home message from all of this is that ought to have a big and specific enough ‘why’ in order to justify purchasing a new toy.
* The camera you plan on buying offers significant upgrades on a number of key features
Some folks spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get slight improvements over the current models they are shooting with today. I personally believe that one should only consider buying a new camera if significant core features are close to doubled in standard.
For example, if you have Camera A (7 megapixels, 3 frames per second, ISO 1600, no hd video) and can get Camera B (14 megapixels, 7 frames per second, ISO 3200, hd video) it’s well worth the investment.
* You know what kind of photographer you are and what tools you need to get the photos you want
I lied. This last point is actually equally if not important than having a camera that does not allow you to take the photos you desire. Knowing what kind of photographer you are really helps you narrow down the type of camera equipment you ought to consider purchasing.
If you want to take shots primarily of food you’ll need a camera with macro capabilities that performs well in lowlight situations.
If you want to shoot sports, wildlife and urban scenes you’ll need a camera that has fast frames per second and extended zoom capabilities.
If you’re looking to get more into video you may consider features such as HD capabilities, movie modes and features such as time lapse or high speed capabilities.
In the end, knowing primarily what kinds of shots you want to take is half the battle when choosing what kind of camera to buy.
Why I upgrade my dSLR Travel Camera
(From a Sony Alpha A500 to Sony Alpha A65)
First off, please don’t laugh – I shoot with a Sony 😛 One of the biggest considerations I had when buying a new camera was what system I would be using. Since my older model is a Sony – and I already have all of my camera lenses that are compatible only with a Sony system – my first choice would be to stick with this system.
Luckily, they had a dSLR model that offered a feature set that was tailor made for what I was looking for.
I know what kind of photographer I am at this point in the game.
Although I love taking photos of just about everything (macro shots, landscapes, wildlife, architecture, etc) my bread and butter style is more towards street and candid portrait photography. For this genre of photography I need to have a dSLR body that can shoot at fast frames per second, so that I’m able to capture natural moments on the street. Moreover, I need a camera that has excellent live view capabilities that allows me to shoot in stealth mode from time to time. Finally, as I strongly desired to start creating more travel videos, I required that my camera be able to shoot HD videos with the ability to autofocus.
In the end, I knew what features I needed to get the shots I desired; I realized the model I would be upgrading to would represent massive increases in every key area; I knew what kind of photography I wanted to specialize in. In other words, I checked off all three of the points I listed above in the ‘when to upgrade your camera’ section.
This is what I got: (Use snapsort.com/compare to compare your current camera with the one you’re thinking of buying)
As you can see buying the Sony SLT A65 represented major upgrades in a number of features. The ones I cared about the most were the following:
Shoots Movies: Going from no movie mode to full HD movie capabilities
Faster Autofocus: The ability to capture candid moments far more easily.
Screen Resolution: Going from 230K to 921K represents a huge increase in live view capabilities.
Shoots Much Faster: Going from 5 frames per second (5 photos per second) to 10 frames per second (10 photos per second) was the king of all feature upgrades.
I’m curious to hear what you have to say:
When would/do you consider upgrading your camera?
Do you think I made the right decision to upgrade mine?
Please let me know in the comments section below:
I’d love to upgrade from a digi to a DSLR someday. At the moment, I use a canon powershot 20x zoom which works well for wildlife pics etc, but still always feel like I’m missing out on photo opps. For example, in Churchill, Canada, other members of the group I was with all had pofessional equipment and were able to capture the subtle hues of the Northern Lights. My picture was lousy compared to theres, because they had all of the filters and lenses that are needed to get best shot. But, to be honest, I’m not even sure how to work all of the setting son my digi ha ha. Aside from the cost, I always think it’s a lot of weight to carry around so much equipment as well, but I’m sure it’s worth it for the results.
Hey Alison, I used the same type of camera you have a few years. I think you can naturally progress over time. I think the best camera is the one that makes the most sense for you. For example, if having a larger camera means you wouldn’t take it out as much, it wouldn’t be a good choice.
Congrats on your new camera! You make great points on when to upgrade. I upgraded mine when my needs changed and I needed more possibilities, and will likely upgrade again after I learn more about the craft.
Sounds like you’ve got a great plan Ayelet 🙂
Sony camera’s are very good. I’ve never used those two Sony cameras you mentioned but I had a pocket sized Sony DSC-W100 and it was a great camera. I took thousands of pictures while traveling Europe and the reason I upgraded was because it finally broke due to the internal cogs and moving parts eventually failing.
Then I went to a Canon G11 for a couple years but it I wanted to push my photography skills so I now use Nikon D7000 DSLR. I used to have a film camera SLR way back when and I feel more creative with more manual options and lens choices.
The reason I chose the D7000 was mostly for a few reasons, the built-in intervalometer for creating time-lapse gifs, it’s 1080p video resolution and the relatively affordable price for a DSLR, I got a Boxing Day sale price too which helps. 🙂 It’s quite the camera and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it’s capabilities. So much fun…!
You’ve got a great camera Jeremy! It’s certainly feature packed. I’ve often snagged my best deals on Boxing Day as well. That’s the best time to buy a camera in NA IMO.
I know very little about photography but its something I feel I have an eye for and with a little exploration and guidance, could be a useful and enjoyable skill to develop. I’m looking into photography courses at the moment but would like to purchase a decent dSLR first. Any advice on camera selection for a beginner whose ready to learn?
I think a nice progression would be going from a simple point and shoot to a more feature packed one (similar shape and controls to a dSLR) and finally to an actual dSLR. That was my exact path 🙂
Good reminder that I do not need a new camera as of yet! I’m happy with mine but a lens upgrade might be good at some point this year or next.
That’s cool Cheryl! I’m also thinking about upgrading my lenses soon, as well 🙂
I’m going through this at the moment, trying to figure out whether or not to fork out for a new DSLR body. I have a 3 year old Canon 450D which is amazing but is starting to show it’s age. I’m really keen on a 600D or even a 650D for the low light capability and video but of course that’s travel money… we are about to head off on a 5 month trip so I’m really torn between saving several hundred euro for travel or investing in an upgrade that’s really going to help capture our trip. It’s such a hard call!!
Thanks Samuel for this great tips. Its timely that I am about to buy a dlsr. But I guess, I will still re-think of buying one since my P&S Canon is still can produce a good shot. And it is indeed easy to use.:-).
I’ve toyed with the idea of upgrading as my Canon dSLR is getting a bit longer in the tooth now, and I’d love to be able to capture video as well. However, I’ve been spending the money on lenses instead as I feel that is getting me better results than a body upgrade. One day though…!
I think that is wise Laurence! Investing in glass is much better bang for you buck.
Yay! I finally found someone with a Sony!! I feel like everyone laughs at me when they notice it’s not a Canon or Nikon. So thanks for writing this and putting me at ease. Your pics look great. I’ve got the new Sony NEX F3 and so far so good!
That’s great to hear! Team Sony…lol I honestly don’t think brand name matters nearly as much as some people think it does.
An interesting, subjective point you raise here. I’m totally with most of what you say here but who’s to say when it’s right or wrong to upgrade camera equipment for a particular individual? Also, who’s to say it’s right or wrong for a fanboy, or someone with more money than photographic sense, to get the latest & greatest just because it’s that – the latest & greatest? It’s precisely for this reason that camera manufacturers continue to produce better products on a regular basis… which ultimately benefits us all.
I’d be firmly in the ‘lens first, body second’ camp. Get a body you’re comfortable with (ergonomically & function wise) & experiment with different lenses. While bodies are all well and good it’s really the glass you mount on it that make you a better photographer, which in turn helps you produce better images.
Just my two cents’ worth. Thanks for the article. An interesting read as always.
I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I’ve heard people say they spend 70-80% on their lenses alone. Nice glass is a wise investment because it doesn’t depreciate in value over time the way a body does.
Your post serves as a great reminder to us all about the right time for a camera- (or even a lens-) upgrade. My kit-lens died just as I was entering Milford Sound in late-July, so I’ve had to make do with a prime- or single focal-length lens. I now “zoom” by moving my feet either forward or backward, and it’s made composing photos far more “interesting”. 🙂 Besides, I can dream about going to a full-frame camera, too.
Thanks again for your post, Sam!
A nice upgrade from your kit lens might be an 18-135,18-200 or 18-250. Having that extra reach is really nice I’ve found 🙂
Great tips Samuel. I think mega pixels are overrated. As much as I love taking photographs on my travels, sometimes the best camera for me is the iPhone. I know how funny it sounds but often times I’ve faced with situations where iPhone was the easiest to access when I want to take a photo in a hurry.
Great point Shamis,
Sometimes the best camera is the one you can most easily use 🙂
I’m glad you wrote about megapixels, I lol’d because that’s the first question people ask and my answer never satisfies them. 🙂 I upgraded to a DSLR 3 years ago and it was the best investment ever! btw I have come across enough people who use their DSLR as a point and shoot camera… A beautiful picture has little to do with the camera!
“A beautiful picture has little to do with the camera!” I certainly agree! The first thing most people want to know (if they see a photo they like) is what camera was being used.
I say another rule is that you shouldn’t upgrade until you really know how to use the camera you have…. and that is more than just the aperture priority mode.
That’s a great point Stephanie!
I’m still shocked to find people who have an expensive camera without knowing how to operate it.
I think I’ll have my DSLR for awhile. It’s a decent amateur Nikon (D7000) – what I want are a couple of new lenses! Can’t wait to get to B&H when we get back to New York for some tax free shopping….
B&H is somewhere I really want to visit! I could see myself buying waaaay too much stuff though 😛
We found we have to upgrade to the Canon 5D mk2 and EOS 60D mainly because of the video capabilty. It didn’t play much of a factor when we started in pro photography but now we live in Asia making Cinematic Videos about our travels. Each camera has its own advantages but when we use those to make vids you can really produce something special. Main prob is Hard Drive space now. We shoot so many photos and videos they get filled up so quick!
I hear you about the hard-drive space! I’ve noticed that recently since I started shooting more HD footage myself. It’s incredible the quality of footage you can get from dSLR’s when just a few years ago they didn’t even have movie modes.
My theory is if you want it and you’ll use it then it’s a good time to upgrade! I love my camera (canon 50D) and have recently gone through the process of upgrading to L Series Glass (this wasn’t cheap!), the reason for the upgrade was noticing the quality difference between the lens I was using and some of my friends who shot with L Glass! Since upgrading, I haven’t been disappointed!!!!
That’s great Belle! I’m considering upgrading my lenses as well. This certainly isn’t a cheap hobby 😛
Hey Sam, I upgraded to a dSLR about 2 years ago, and it has proven to be one of the best investments and hobby upgrades that I’ve ever done. Another huge thing about upgrading for me is the Full HD video capabilities of a dSLR – mine records wonderful quality video which is really important to my current blogging. Great tips here, I’m thinking about updating again to get a pull-out LCD screen that will make it much easier for self recording.
Definitely a wise investment on your part and you’ve been putting your camera to good use with all your youtube videos. An articulating screen is a great investment IMO. You may also want to consider a mirror-less dSLR which will allow you to shoot in video mode with continuous autofocus.
Man, I still need to update my camera, haven’t taken your advice!
Hahaha…hopefully you’ll get the one you want soon enough 🙂
Good one, Sam! However, I was recently thinking about this subject in an opposite way…
“When should I DOWNGRADE my travel camera?”
Any thoughts 😉
Good question! I would consider a downgrade in features if I could get a smaller size. I think that might be worth the trade-off.
Yep, the size was my concern. It is hard to be an invisible street photographer with a full frame dslr.
It sure is! I’d like my gear to get smaller and more feature rich with every upgrade. I doubt my primary camera will ever fit in my pocket but I’d love for it to be lighter and more mobile.
I’m in the market for a new camera. (I’m currently borrowing my mom’s dSLR- time to get my own!) Thanks for writing about your camera, it gives me more to consider while I research this big purchase!
I personally think features is more important than brand. Hope you’ll get the one you want.
I was really nervous about upgrading our camera even though we’d somewhat outgrown the point and shoot because I worried we wouldn’t take the time to really learn about a DSLR and use it to the best of its capabilities, and that would be $1000+ down the drain. I got lucky in that my dad upgraded his camera and passed his used one on to me, and as it turns out, I’m loving the increased functionality!
That’s really cool Emily! My first chance to play around with a dSLR was at my old elementary school in Korea. They had a school dSLR available for staff usage and in the afternoons I would sign out for it and just fool around with everything. When I ended up buying my first one I knew how to use most features on it because of those practice sessions.
Great details on both the pro and con sides. Thnx Samuel!
Thanks Maria! It’s not the easiest decision to make!
You take good photos, so an upgrade has got to be worth it.
I am always interested in anything to do with cameras, so I read your article before I got your invitation to see it via Stumbleupon.
You may be interested in the article I wrote a while back about things to consider when choosing a camera – the link is in the weblink in my info. Let me know what you think?
My rule of thumb is that it has to be quite a significant upgrade for me to actually go out and buy a new one. I’m quite cheap…hahaha. Great photos from the Edinburgh Festival!
I’m sure I need to upgrade my camera, but first I should upgrade my photo-shooting ability with a course 😉
That’s a good attitude to have Angela. I would like to study more as well 🙂
I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a full-frame DSLR for a while now, because I’m sick of my 28mm lens basically being 50mm. I love shooting landscapes and could really use a wide-angle lens. I’ve been waiting for the price to come down, but I have a feeling I’ll be waiting quite a bit longer.
Hey Daniel, the full frame bodies are really expensive! I hear what you’re saying though. I don’t like the 1.5 to 2.0 conversion factor when it comes to wide angle shots. I still don’t know of any new full frame body that is under $1000. Maybe going with a used older model would allow you to get one for under 1K.
Nice points. A question for you, though: what are the merits of upgrading to a new lens but keeping the same camera? I’ve been thinking for a while I need something other than the boring kit lens I am still using. Any suggestions?
Aaah, yes that’s a really important consideration. The kits lenses typically shoot well for wide angle shots but have limited zoom capabilities. I recommend upgrading to an 18-135 or 18-250 (which is what I have now) – it’s a very versatile lens! Another one to consider is a 50 mm f/1.8 for low light situations (museums, night portraits, food shoots, etc).
Nice article Sam, I think that is some good advice you just gave out, just upgraded myself. I originally bought a canon g11, mainly because I wanted a camera which could take decent pictures to grace my blog. With my little g11 in hand I rediscovered my love of photography, I thought long and hard about upgrading, first I had to weigh up the pros and cons of micro 4/3rds, I decided it was ideal for me because it had lots of options, small body with pancake lens is not too intimidating for street photography, options of many inter-changeable lenses, and good quality photos. I eventually plumped for a Lumix G3.
One thing I would like to add about buying a new camera, besides the camera having the capabilities you require, make sure you like the camera, the look of it, the feel of it, and the menu. If you buy a camera that you decide is ugly or doesn’t feel right, or the menu is too complexed, you just won’t bother pulling it out the bag.
I did a lot of shopping around, sometimes I just picked a camera up and decided no that’s not right, some cameras came with optional viewfinders and flash, i want them there ready to go rather than stick them on when i needed them. Photography is something you grow in to, I would say most people who bother to read camera reviews end up being fairly serious, so buy something in your price range which has options you you can grow in to.
Some great points here! A camera could have all the features you want but if it doesn’t feel right in your hands (or is too big for your taste) it’s obviously not the right fit. I personally liked that my camera (with enhanced features) was also 10% smaller.
I love the top 2 shots….where are they from ?
I think it would be great if you could have some comparison shots. Perhaps the first 100 days on your old Camera to the first 100 days of your old camera. Or comparisons of macro/landscape/wildlife shots from old to new.
That’s a cool idea! I think the biggest upgrade honestly has been my ability to capture candid moments. The best examples of that would be for me to show some pictures that I recently took that I wouldn’t have been able to capture with my previous camera.