I’m currently facing a dilemma that affects millions of photographers every day: Whether or not to upgrade their gear. Camera, printer and software manufacturers are upgrading or introducing new products at a lightning-fast pace, so much so that it seems as though you’ve just purchased a new item for your gear bag, and its replacement is on store shelves less than a month later. Of course, the product cycle is usually around 14-plus months, but it feels like it’s only been 30-days.

I have a few questions/rules that I follow before making the move to upgrade a piece of equipment. Nothing crazy or scientific, but it keeps me from making spur-of-the-moment, uninformed or just plain bad purchases. And yes, I’ve made my share of purchases that rank as “what the heck was I thinking?!”

Do you want or really need it: I like to start out with the most difficult question first. Am I looking to upgrade because it’s a shiny new toy, or is it something that will help advance my images, the way I make pictures or my business in general? If the upgrade doesn’t net me a 25% plus improvement, then it’s a certain no-go. That’s not to say that I don’t get it at some point and time. I usually add the item to my wish list, and when I can afford to “treat” myself, I’ll get it (with my other half’s approval, of course).
Do your Homework: Usually, I’m looking to upgrade because the item I currently have doesn’t do something I wish it did, it doesn’t meet my current expectations, or it replacement does something that makes what I do easier. I view my gear as my tools of the trade – I take the handyman’s approach: Yeah, I have a hammer. It’s not broken, but if there’s a new hammer that weighs less, delivers more striking force, but doesn’t transfer shock through the handle, you bet I’m gonna upgrade! The same rings true with cameras, printers and related gear. There has to be a significant amount of change to warrant the upgrade.
Be patient, grasshopper: When a new camera is announced, it’s darn tempting to drive down to the camera shop and throw a couple hundred down on a camera that’s only in beta testing. But you have to keep in mind that the specifications aren’t finalized until production starts, and there’s a good chance that there’s a bug or two to be worked out. If you’re the type of person who has to see that new movie the day it comes out, or you’re willing to deal with a few inconveniences that might rear their head, then slap your money down on the counter. I like to wait a couple of months for the initial kinks to be worked out. Now and then, I will break this rule. A good example is when we swapped out our Canon Image PROGRAF iPF8300 for the new iPF8400. The old printer had died, and no new 8300s were to be had. Basically, its same printer, but the way it lays down the inks is totally different, so all of our old profiles were now useless, unless you wanted images that looked like a cross between a Warhol and an Monet. Funky, but not what I want. The printer was so green to the industry that the only available profiles were for Canon papers. Fortunately, we have the equipment to make our own profiles, so we were up and running in about a day.
Learn from others: You gotta love those early adopters – they get a hold of the first units, use them for a few days, then usually post their impressions and experiences on blogs or write reviews on photographic sites. It’s here where you’ll learn the good, bad and ugly about the item you’re thinking of purchasing. Is the information relevant to you? The key is to learn how to read the reviews. For instance, most reviews carry labels denoting the experience of the reviewer. I tend to give more weight to a review written by someone with a skill set similar to mine, and I particularly hone in on reviews by nature shooters. I also pay attention to when a review was written, giving more emphasis to whose composed within the previous 30-days. Why? Because products and their firmware are usually upgraded fairly soon after launch, so an item you buy a few months after it’s been introduced, will more than likely come with the latest and greatest firmware and with the least issues.
I’ve been spending the last few days researching point and shoot cameras. I’ve had my Canon Powershot G10 for many moons now, and I really need a camera that “lives” in my truck, just for those times there’s an incredible shot to be taken, and my big bag o’ gear’s sitting on the rack in the studio. That’s why I bought the Fuji HS20EXR several months back for (Bridging the Gap). While it’s a good camera, it doesn’t really suit my needs, plus it won’t fit into any of the cubbies in my truck (which is weird, seeing that I can fit my small Gitzo pod.
So now I’m running through the plusses and minuses of Canon’s G1 X, G15 and the SX50 HS, and their related price tags. I’m early in the process, so there’s lots of homework to do. So far, there’s no smoking gun. They each offer great image quality and shoot in RAW mode. It all depends on the nuances I deem most important that’ll hone my decision, and whether I decide to move the potential purchase from the want to need column. Now only if Hawaii had a lotto to play…