That was a nice, straightforward answer. Be sure to check in next week for more valuable insight into the world of photography.
Wait, that’s it?
Well, yes and no.
Ugh, this is going to get complicated now, isn’t it?
Alright, I can roll with that. Let’s dig into this question a bit more…
What do you actually get with a fancy camera?
It should be obvious that there are benefits to getting a better / more expensive camera. The trick is to separate the marketing fluff and the things you already have on your existing camera from the legitimate upgrades.
So, here are 10 things that a great camera gives you. The items are ranked in order of usefulness according to my opinion:
*1, 2 and 6 are largely the result of a larger, full-frame sensor size. If the camera you are upgrading to isn’t full-frame, you won’t see a huge benefit here.
1. ISO Performance
Cameras can’t see in the dark. Not yet.
But some of the high end cameras are getting pretty close.
Being able to take handheld pictures in low light situations does depends on your aperture and shooting technique, but often the limiting factor is ISO.
The point at which ISO “destroys” an image is subjective, but images taken with entry-level DSLR cameras tend really get noisy around ISO 1600. By comparison, a full frame camera takes shots that are still very usable at ISO 6400. That’s a lot of very valuable leeway for low light photography.
2. Better Depth-of-Field
One of the benefits of a full frame sensor is getting a much greater depth of field. Shots taken with a wide aperture slide into stunning bokeh much quicker. If you’re a landscape photographer, this won’t mean much, but many portrait photographers rely on a razor thin focus to set their images apart from the competition.
Knowing how to make your out-of-focus areas complimentary to the image still depends on your expertise as a photographer, but you definitely have more room to create.
3. More Options & Flexibility (especially Interchangeable Lenses)
Upgrading to a DSLR from a fixed lens camera opens up a whole new world of opportunities. You can switch from a zoom lens to a wide angle lens to a prime lens, depending on the scenario. There isn’t a single lens that can do everything without sacrificing some quality.
A high performance camera is also going to give you more in-camera settings. Remember that there won’t be an option called “Take Better Pictures” that you can turn on, but having a larger variety of options can open up new creative freedoms.
For example, having the ability to manage custom presets means you can create several presets to account for the variety of lighting in your area. Switching between different types of light is then a matter of flicking a switch, rather than adjusting each individual setting.
4. Faster, More Accurate Focus (Usually)
Generally, the better / newer the camera is, the more accurate the focus is going to be. That said, focus relies on the camera and lens working together. So your focus speed will also depend on having a lens that works well.
Another key point here is that when it comes to focus accuracy, many photographers think their camera is responsible for a missed shot when it reality it is user error. I can very honestly say: “Been there, done that.”
Slow shutter speeds, super wide apertures or shaky technique are quite often responsible for shots that appear out of focus. Refining your shooting technique and not trying to hit a moving target at f/1.4 might be the solution to your “unreliable focus”. The most accurate camera in the world won’t make up for a photographer who isn’t aware of how to use it.
5. Quieter Shutter Sound
The 5th most valuable thing about great cameras is a quieter shutter sound?
In my mind, yes.
If you are a street, event or candid photographer, the loud snap of the shutter in some lower event cameras is an annoying distraction. You might only have one chance to get a shot before your subject is distracted by your camera, breaking the natural rhythm of the scene.
Having a quiet shutter click in sports or portrait photography won’t do a world of difference, but in my mind it’s a nice feature to have.
6. Quality / Resolution
Yes, quality and resolution (image size) goes up with a better camera. But maximizing your resolution won’t matter so much unless you plan on regularly putting images on 20 feet tall billboards. Until that day comes, higher resolution often means larger file sizes that put more demands on your hard drive space.
Similarly, it’s delightful to shoot a high quality image, but that difference quality is generally appreciated only when the image is viewed at 200% or larger. (Besides, a lens probably influences your image quality more than your camera ever will)
Regarding quality, the most convincing argument here is in favour of cameras that have a wider dynamic range. Cameras don’t see the same way a human eye does .. that’s why some pictures have impenetrably black shadows or skies that have “blown out” with white. Dynamic range refers to the “width” of light that a camera can record – and it’s pretty darn valuable.
But you won’t get an incredible boost to your dynamic range by upgrading your camera. And picking the right time of day to take an image remains an infinitely more valuable way to guarantee a good shot.
7. Larger Viewfinder
This is fantastic. Going from the cramped and tiny viewfinder of an entry level DSLR to the spacious eyepiece of a full frame camera is incredibly refreshing.
Sometimes being behind a camera can make you feel like you’re missing everything around you. When you’re behind a large viewfinder, the feeling can be greatly diminished.
8. Weather Sealing
Do you enjoy trekking up snowy mountainsides or photographing sports action in the rain?
Well, a cheaper camera might not be for you.
Cameras are fairly delicate instruments. You shouldn’t, for example, throw it around like a baseball. But, with a bit of planning and preparation, you can take care of any camera in fairly extreme environments. Still, if you know you are going to regularly be exposing your camera to harsh weather, it might be worth it to spring for something with a tight seal
9. Custom User Presets
I love this. Lower-level cameras give you a smattering of options, some of which are completely useless. Upgrade a bit to a camera with custom presets and you can set multiple manual presets to deal with the variety of lighting conditions you are shooting in. I use this all the time when shooting hockey, since the light on the ice, the bench and the stands is all quite different. Two thumbs up for this feature.
10. Faster Shooting Speeds
This one only barely makes the list. Sure, being able to shoot 10 frames per speed increases your chance of getting a useable image when photographing, say, a snowboarding hitting a rail. But it also fills up your memory card in a flash and sabotages your willingness to learn the important art of timing and anticipation. Yes, I do enjoy flipping on the high speed shutter when needed, but it’s just a tool – I don’t rely on it to get the shoot that I am looking for.
Now here’s what having great camera can’t help you with, ranked in order of usefulness:
- An Attitude to Learn
- Recognizing & Making Use of Exceptional Light
- Developing an Understanding of what make an Interesting Picture
- Establishing a Unique Point of View
- Establishing a Unique Style
- Building your Technical Know-How
- Expert Post Processing
- And much, much more…
To summarize, if you feel like your photography is being held back because you lack any or all of the items on the first list, getting a better camera might be an important step in your growth as a photographer.
On the other hand, if your photography is being held back because you are missing something from the second list, a better camera won’t magically solve your problems.
Photography is a skill that is developed over time.
And, since it is a skill, it can’t simply be bought.
I hope this post has been encouraging. Or, at the very least, not discouraging.
What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Or do you vehemently disagree and are currently shaking with rage? Either way let me know in the comments!