© 2013, updated 2016 Terry Mercer Photography
Seriously, having been behind cameras for over 40 years, and in the photography 'business' for over a dozen years, and messing with video shooting and editing since 2012. The one thing I've learned is that the average person does NOT NEED A NEW CAMERA BODY, or the latest body, if they already have a camera body with a detachable lens that meets their USUAL EXPOSURE NEEDS. (sorry, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Pentax, Hasselblad, etc. but I don't belong to the 'body of the year club' ... or even every 3 to 5 years usually). I purchase bodies based on NEED, PURPOSE, and usually buy wise enough that I run that body until it dies or gets broken. THEN I replace the body, and with few exceptions, ONLY THEN!
Ultimately, I'm going to assume you have a camera, and that it already has a body that employ’s a REMOVABLE LENS... if you don't, then THAT IS YOUR NEXT LOGICAL STEP. And making a wise decision for WHICH BODY (with the option of removable lens) you should get, honestly depends on a wide variety of factors:
~ response time (of the shutter)
~ low light ability (low noise high ISO)
~ features that you will honestly & actually USE... like remote shutter, built in flash (yes or no), wifi control (wireless see what you're getting, remote shutter), articulating screen, video ability, underwater housing cost, etc. etc.
~ cost of glass (lenses) for that body, and the ability of any lens you purchase to work with future bodies.
Please review another blog post/article I have on Buying a Camera. This is primarily for people that ALREADY HAVE a camera, and are thinking of getting a new one - upgrading, or replacing their existing camera.
If you already have a body that allows removable lenses, then you really need to consider if you have all the RIGHT GLASS for what you are wanting to shoot. If not, I suggest INVESTING IN GLASS over the latest 'body of the year' upgrade game.
What the average (hobbyist and professional) needs is GREAT GLASS, better glass, quality glass! NOT a new body...
Fact: Camera companies release a new body every year, often two or three, with some bell or whistle that they generally hope adds enough value, or marketing purpose, over their previous model, to get you to think about spending the money for the upgrade. Maybe it's a slightly higher megapixel, a faster frames per second, or more focus points, or even some fashion of built in Wi-Fi. But 99 of 100 'photographers' (of all levels) that already have a detachable lens camera body really and truly won't improve the quality of their images from the NEW BODY, only the maximum size (or crop ability)… or low light capability (because of a higher ISO, and better processor).
Again, 99% of the photographers today, will NOT improve the quality of their work with the latest and greatest camera body. I say this after having a multitude of bodies over the years, including Mark II’s, III’s and even using a Mark IV, as well as an assortment of crop sensor bodies, and fixed lens cameras. They are ultimately a TOOL… and if you know how to use it correctly, like a framing hammer, verses a roofing hammer, verses a general purpose hammer… they are all basically the same, and do the same thing. But if you are really using it on a daily basis, and doing so as your career, then selecting THE RIGHT ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS is important; but fewer than 1 in 100 photographers really ‘need’ (or can benefit from) the latest generation ‘new’ body.
Another vital thing people need to understand, bodies will quickly depreciate in value (about 25% in the first year, and as much as 90% in a decade); whereas glass & most non-model specific accessories are more likely to MAINTAIN their value, usually plateauing at a low value of about 50 to 80% of their original costs up to 10 to 20 YEARS LATER! Of course, to a degree, it depends on the quality and popularity to begin with, and care you take of that item. With bodies, those ‘care’ and ‘quality’ factors just don’t matter much for resale value. Example: a 24-104mm L f4 lens was new about $1,000, over a dozen years later in good working order is still worth $500-700 today on a pretty quick sale. Whereas a Mark II - 1Ds purchased at the same time was nearly $8,000 in fall of 2002, but one would be lucky to get $300 to 600ish out of it today. Huge difference! I’ve seen the MKIV’s that were initially sold for over $6,000 go for under $1,000 on a quick sale in a pawn shop, craigs list, and eBay. So, camera bodies, by and large, are NOT a wise investment, unless you are able to use it better, faster, or more than what you currently have to make significantly more money.
Plus, most importantly, the new body - in and of itself - won't 'improve' your photos; with very few exceptions. Going from a crop sensor to a full frame can enhance the ‘drop off’ (depth of field), but only if you have the glass necessary to take advantage of that. The full frame will allow ‘more’ of the wide angle landscape to be captured than a crop sensor camera. (Note: there are always exceptions, but in general, for the vast majority, a new body won’t improve their photographs or enhance their ability to make money, this is true 99.999,999%.) Either you’ve figured out how to make money with photography, or you haven’t (and hopefully are learning). Either you’ve learned to correctly capture images, with proper exposure and focus, or you haven’t. If you aren’t shooting RAW, aren’t shooting in manual mode most of the time, aren’t using a camera body with interchangeable lens, then you’ve got a long ways to go yet.
The exposure triangle remains the same, though noise at higher ISO settings is a big deal for some low light photographers. And, of course, higher megapixel cameras allow for more cropping IN on an image, which allows for a larger finished product. So, that 40 megapixel image can have 75% cropped out, and still leave the average person with a 10 megapixel (poster sized) finished product without pixilation. However, with interpolation and technology, I've seen 'wallet size' images blown up to murals and billboards without any nasty pixilation, so it's ultimately WHAT TOOLS ARE EMPLOYED, and how much the photographer know about up-sizing images. Anything above 10 megapixels is usually sufficient, unless you’re shooting for billboards. Anything that shoots in RAW, with manual override settings is all that matters, in a body (regardless of the lens). Then there are 'features' - like 'articulating screen' (which I love, and none of Canon's full frames have yet). There's the built-in flash, which while not perfect... it's perfect for big/busy events, and long backpacking trips… and there when you need it, for objects within about 20 feet. There's the built in Wi-fi, which is cool & awesome, and more cameras are shipping with that feature (but it's existed for about 5 years or so... so can be purchased on an older model camera for much less than the newest model of the year). And frankly, few people even know how to really use or benefit from it (and for most, there is a slight delay that makes it impractical for remotely controlling a camera in sports action settings).
In general, 99% of the avid camera users that are already using an exchangeable lens camera body will NOT benefit by up grading their camera body nearly as much as they will by upgrading their glass. Also, most (not all) body upgrades, necessarily require paying attention to battery type (especially if you already have a bunch, because camera makers love changing things up on occasion, to enhance their ‘aftermarket sales’). Oh, and if you have a vertical battery grip, kiss that goodbye, because most won’t work on a newer body type, EVEN IF IT USES THE SAME BATTERY! Any remote controls, special triggers (lightening, motion, sound, laser, etc.) might also require different cable connections… be sure the tools you have & use work, or it will add to the cost of the upgrade (and is another set of things to be aware of before you buy a different body). Also pay attention to lens mount type (especially if you already have some glass, or want to get new/more in the future) ~ for example the Canon EF-S glass will NOT work on a full frame camera, yet all the EF & EF L glass, and EF-S will work on a crop sensor Canon body. Then, of course memory card type (frankly, if a body doesn't use SD or CF cards, it's pretty worthless to me… and should be a concern to you), but it’s another thing you should double check. With SD Cards now in the 256 Gigabyte range, and 95ms (megabytes per second) write speeds, and solid reliability, it's tough to consider anything else.
IF you are already using a reasonable removable lens body and are already optimizing their settings, shooting manual, in RAW, and already have some great glass... and you're either making money with what you have, or you have money you want to toss at 'keeping up with the Jones' (who ever the Jone's are)... then by all means get a new body. If you truly want to toss the money at it... get the 200 megapixel medium format Hasselblad (unless you're a sports action photographer)! For a mere $30,000+ you too could have the body (and digital back) that most photographers drool over. And that's awesome; IF you can afford their glass... and aren't shooting a bunch of action or low light fast shutter required photography... or wanting to take that body underwater... or in a dust storm... or in the rain, on the ocean... or that might get ran into or over... each of which can quickly make short work of that expensive body if not cleaned and cared for quickly, correctly, and EVERY TIME!
There are massive options for the 'Professional' (and pro-sumer) market. Ultimately, you have to define the TYPE OF SHOOTING you are doing, HOW & WHERE you'll be using your camera, and what type of camera will best suit your needs, and what your budget really is… both now, and per year in the future. (See I Want to Buy A Camera for more details about that).
I repeat: 99.999% of the camera users - hobbyist or professional, WILL BENEFIT FROM BETTER & MORE GLASS! aka Lens. The better the lens, the wider the aperture, the more controlled and accurate the settings, the lower the ISO requirements, the faster the 'snap to' of the focus, and better 'image stabilization' options, the better the photograph will necessarily be, with the exact same body. Getting 'faster' (wider aperture, for lower ISO's in less light, with faster shutter speed) glass should be the ultimate goal of every real photographer. Even if you can't - yet - afford the $1,000+ on a "L" series (professional) f2.8 of faster glass, getting the glass you can readily use, and immediately benefit from for decades to come, through multiple bodies in your future, should be your goal… before seriously thinking about spending money upgrading your body.
Some of my personal favorite lens, that most ‘professional’ photographers, and extra serious hobbyists, should have (these are CANON LENSES, as that what I shoot - with the still cameras):
Wide angles: 10-22, 16-35 f2.8 L, 28-70f2.8 L, 24-105f4 L, or 18-105f4 pro lens.
Telephotos make sure you CAN reach out and touch your subject well with lenses like: the 70-200 f2.8 IS EFII L, 100-400 IS EFII L, or 28-300 IS L... or 150-600mm IS EF L.
Good glass, good fast memory cards, good quality accessories that can be upgraded or aren’t ‘make & model’ specific are all wise investments that can last you for many years to come. The flavor of the year body will be available for 25 to 40% less within 6 to 12 months, 35 to 60% less within 24 months. So, unless you have all the glass you really want and need, it’s a better investment than a body… especially any body that ‘just comes out.’ Ultimately it’s your money, do with it what you want. But from my experience, 99.999% of the time, glass is more necessary and helpful to improving images than ‘a body’ (any body) has ever been.
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