I totally get it. You’ve saved some serious cash for your next big international trip, and you want to take pictures of it all. That means you need a new camera, right?
Er, probably not.
Digital photography is mature, just as it has been for the last 8 years when the 10 megapixel barrier was broken at the consumer level. This is great news for everyone who takes pictures. And it’s actually not so bad for the camera companies, either, as all they have to do is tweak their features a bit and release a new camera every 3-5 years. Uninformed consumers still line up to pay top dollar for the latest and greatest, even though their old cameras work perfectly fine.
Let’s play “Guess the Camera!”
Let’s try a little experiment which I hope will help prove my point. One of these pictures was taken with a $60 camera, one with a $200 camera, one with an $800 camera, and one with a $3000 camera. See if you can guess which was shot with what:
Take the time to figure it out, and as you think you should ask yourself, are any of these photos thousands of dollars worth of “better” than the others?
=============AND NOW THE ANSWERS=============
And now for the answers:
Zurich: $200 DSLR
Chicago: $60 point and shoot
India: $3000 DSLR
China: $800 DSLR
So why would anyone spend more money on a camera?
More expensive cameras make it easier to get the photos you want, assuming you know how to work their features (this is easy to learn.) On my $3000 Canon 5DIII, I can instantly change the camera between preprogrammed settings. This lets me set up shots for different situations on the fly. Whether that’s worth $3000 is a matter of personal choice. My other cameras are far more cumbersome when I want to change settings, making it more likely that I’ll miss a shot. More expensive cameras have faster autofocus too, which lets us take better pictures of moving things. This matters a lot to sports, wedding, and action photographers, but for most travelers this means very little.
The other issue is quality. When zommed in to a pixel level, more expensive cameras offer higher quality. But absolutely no one views pictures pixel by pixel, we view images as a whole. Even large prints are viewed from a distance, making anything more than about 10 megapixels irrelevant. This explains why photographers like Larissa Olencoff take such great pictures with an iPhone, while others struggle with the highest quality (and most expensive) gear.
Alternatives to a new camera
The best option is to simply stick with what you have, but if you’re really wanting to upgrade your camera consider getting a used 5D ($600) or a used 5DII ($1200). If you’re into Nikon, get a D700 ($1200). Each of these cameras has an image sensor that’s larger than most of the cameras on the market today, allowing for higher quality pictures than similarly priced new products. If $600-$1200 is too much for a used camera (and it is quite a lot), get a used small sensor DSLR from keh.com or ebay. Bargains are everywhere, as long as you don’t get sucked in to today’s meaningless marketing terms. When you come back from a trip, do you really think anyone’s going to ask you if you used “phase detection autofocus” to take your pictures?
The other major way to upgrade your photography is to simplify. Instead of trying to shoot everything with a do it all zoom lens, bring only a few fast prime (fixed focal length) lenses on your next trip as one of my favorite travel photographers Timothy Allen suggests here: Take Better Travel Photographs. This will force you to slow down and think about what you’re shooting, and your pictures will be better for it. Fast primes can be found starting at about $100 for the acclaimed 50mm f1.8 lens.
Focus on the pictures, not the gear
The best way to improve your photography is to just take pictures! Grab whatever gear you have, and get out there and get shooting. Find your photographic style, and go from there.