Lessons I've Learned the Hard Way When Buying Cameras Over the Years

by Anna Munhin Mar 19, 2023 News
Lessons I

The camera buyer always goes on merry-go-round. There are a few lessons I have learned.

It is over. I won't say what it is. I think it's a camera. The point of this article is not to insult any particular brand or camera. I bought a very expensive camera a few years ago that I hoped would transform the way I work. Over the years, it only came up short time and time again at doing what I needed, despite the fact that it was repeatedly tried to find a place in my workflows. As a result, it has spent the majority of its lifespan sitting in a camera case, collecting dust, and taking out my bank account. I had to purchase more cameras to address the issues that it was supposed to address. It took me this long to sell it because I was holding out hope that I could make more money. After a small increase in trade-in value, I decided to take what I could get. I am not happy to have lost money on the investment, but I think there is at least a bit of satisfaction in closing that chapter.

I realized as I shipped the camera to the buyer. I no longer buy new gear. It's for the foreseeable future. I don't mean to say that I won't buy a new camera in the future. 10 years from now, it is likely that some technology will have emerged that my brain is incapable of imagining, because I have a while to go in my working life. It's always a good idea to never say never.

My bold declaration that I am done buying new gear for the foreseeable future only comes after the last five years of spending far more than is logical as I fought a losing battle against my lack of will and overhauled everything in my arsenal. Part of me says I don't need to buy anything else because I don't. Many of the lessons learned about buying gear were learned the hard way.

Most of this camera carousel was instigated by the industry's shift from DSLR to mirrorless in the last half decade. While I made the shift begrudgingly, I eventually did go fully mirrorless, less for the photography benefits and more to accommodate changes in my career path which have made filmmaking a larger and larger portion of my annual billings. For larger film projects, I still rent video-centric cinema camera systems as opposed to dropping six figures to own my own top-level cinema cameras, which are still, ahem, well beyond my financial reach. But I did want an in-house camera capable of shooting anything at any moment for projects without a rental budget or more modest ambitions. Trying to find which mirrorless camera system would be the right fit for both my unique preferences as a photographer and my technical needs as a filmmaker while not breaking my budget has been far more difficult than I imagined. Let the manufacturers tell it: all you need to do is keep buying whatever camera they released last and you will always have “the perfect camera.” Of course, this is nonsense. Instead, my attempts to find a one-size-fits-all camera for my needs resulted in a number of near misses and eventually a small collection of cameras that all did part of the process well while falling short in others.

I landed on a camera. The article is not about why you should purchase the Z9. All I can say is that, after all these years of looking, I have finally found a camera that meshes the needle for the majority of my needs and gives me the confidence that, whatever new cameras are coming down the line, my own camera needs should be satisfied for some. I put away my credit card, bought two cameras, sold my other cameras, and am looking forward to not having to shop for cameras again until one of the Z9 bodies gives up the ghost.

I learned a lot from buying high and selling low on my camera gear before finding the right system for me. I wish I'd told myself a few things at the start.

Don’t Go Down the YouTube Rabbit Hole of Camera Reviews

There is nothing wrong with watching a camera review of something you are about to buy. It was hypocritical of me to suggest that there was something wrong with wanting to be informed on the latest and greatest. It's easy to fall down an endless rabbit hole of photo related content on the internet. The reviews are likely doing you no favors.

This is what I mean. My camera purchases have gone this way. There is a new camera on the market. I might not have to go that far. I hear one of my favorites talk about this rumor for months before the announcement. The camera is announced and it has better specifications than I currently have. A few of the reviewers who might have gotten to test the product will more than likely make videos about how great it is because that is what gets clicks. I've spent hours of my life watching content about a particular camera product that I really don't need, but have convinced myself that it's because I've heard its name repeated so many times. On the part of the manufacturers, this is not a bad thing. This is marketing class. It's important to convince a buyer that something they really need. Every time, it works. I find myself extremely vulnerable because of my obsessive nature and inability to move on.

I made a point of being less knowledgeable about new cameras. I like to enjoy the personality of the channels I watch more than the information they provide. I try to stay away from upcoming products. I ask what isn't my current camera doing for me instead of asking what can this new camera do for me. If you have a camera, it's likely that it's doing a good job by you. While the newer version will have more bells and whistles, there is no reason why you can't accomplish all your artistic tasks with what you already have.

Buy Used

When it comes to value for money, newer isn't always good.

Earlier, I wasn't completely honest. I have two cameras in my arsenal, one of which is my Z9s. While the Z9s handle most of my professional still work and a large portion of the video work, there is one area where the camera isn't the best fit. That doesn't mean it can't do it It's perfect for documentary work. A smaller, less feature-rich body is what the doctor ordered if I just want to go for a walk with a friend or take some vacation photos. I decided to buy a used camera body to serve my personal needs. I will have an article on that camera soon, so I won't go into details here. The value proposition was one of the main reasons I picked it up.

New gear is more expensive than used gear. That is not rocket science. Even if a camera arrives with a few scratches or a less-than-virginal shutter, it doesn't mean it can't do the job. The same rules apply for professional equipment as they do for personal equipment. You can get peak performance for half the price if you do your homework and buy from a trustworthy dealer. If you are in the business of photography to make a profit or just an amateur looking for the best bang for your buck, buying used should be considered.

I always choose to use when I have the chance. If you don't chase the new releases, this will be even simpler. When you know you've addressed your need at the best possible price, it makes a purchase feel better. When you think about the next point, it's even more so.

You Don’t Always Need the New Model

Photography is an art form and not a computer equation. New features can make life easier as a photographer. Photographers have been taking pictures for over a century. Most of it is captured without creature comforts such as eye detection or IBIS.

A camera that is capable of taking pictures is what you need to be a photographer. If you have a field, you may need a minimum level of megapixels. It is possible to shoot a certain number of frames per second in your field. Almost any decent camera made in the last 10 years is capable of doing most of the work that needs to be done and will be for some time to come.

There will always be reasons to upgrade. Do you want to ask yourself? Are there any images in your head that would make you want to use your current camera more? The new model may make it simpler. That could be a unit of value if it improves. Couldn't you do the same thing by doing more work with the system you already have? Is it worth it to spend thousands of dollars to upgrade or remake your system just to say that you have the best? If you could still do the same thing by spending less money, then why wouldn't you?

There are exceptions. Video capabilities were the main reason for my move to mirrorless. I like having end-to-end focusing points. It's not like I couldn't keep things in focus. It would be difficult for me to justify focusing improvements on my job.

I was wondering if the smart move was even worth it. Staying with DSLRs, saving a lot of money, using them for 100% of my still photography, and investing all those savings into a dedicated cinema body would have been the smarter move. I am completely satisfied with the course I took after I got the Z9. I could make a strong case for taking the opposite approach.

The perception of value is dependent on one's own needs and resources. I can't tell you how to proceed with your purchases. After years of trial and error in filling out the system, my own satisfaction with my current setup has only come after. The camera I mentioned at the top of the article has paid off handsomely. The support gear is more than the cameras themselves. I don't want you to stop buying equipment.

I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned. It's obvious some of them. They bear repeating. I repeat these lessons to myself in order to focus on the art and not the technology.