So you’re thinking it’s time for a camera upgrade. Your current camera takes grainy photos and your family is growing up way too fast! You’ve read what feels like hundreds of online reviews and you’ve narrowed it down to just a few possibilities. You might even be thinking about asking your favourite photographer friend to help you make the final decision, but I think I can save you some time.
Here is the camera you should get: none! The camera you already have will probably do the trick.
I bet the camera you’re looking at is packed with features. It has one billion megapixels, 70 to infinity zoom, and a bulb setting; whatever that is; and you can always get extra lenses. But the truth is, unless you’re a professional, a photography student, or a diehard hobbyist you likely have no need for a camera better than the one in your smartphone. It probably does more than you need it to, and you’ll never use it to its full potential (or even want to).
“But,” you say, “I’m planning a trip to Africa, and I need a zoom lens that will keep me a safe distance from anything that can bite my head off or trample me to death.”
For you, world traveller, I have one question. How often do you intend to visit Africa? If this is a once-in-a-lifetime event and you are likely to bring your camera home all banged up and never touch it again, don’t spend thousands of dollars (or hundreds, even). Instead, try renting or borrowing gear. It will be considerably less expensive, and you won’t feel that pang of guilt each time you see it staring forlornly at you from the shelf. (Just remember to get the extra insurance.)
Good Reasons For A Camera Upgrade
Of course, I’m not totally against owning a family camera. But unless you intend to use it on a regular basis it might be an unnecessary expense. The truth is that most of us carry a camera in our pocket or purse every day. However, if you fall into all the categories below, you might consider investing in a family camera.
- Your current family camera is literally broken.
- You don’t own a smartphone or camera phone.
- You’re looking for a camera to use for more than one occasion.
- You intend to take a photography class so that you can make the most of your new contraption. (You can take some amateur photography classes online like at Lynda.com, and some local photographers offer one-on-one training.)
- You will take a course on file management and photo editing.
- You won’t forget to use your camera like your 6 year old forgot to feed the hamster.
- Your family doesn’t need to think about where the money will come from for your camera upgrade. Or you are able to set money aside over a reasonable period of time for it.
- You can’t think of any other productive way to spend or save the money you’d spend on your camera upgrade.
- You’re going to learn how to shoot remotely. This will allow you to be in the photos you take of your kids and adventures.
- You’re secretly (or not so secretly) passionate about photography, and regularly find yourself thinking, “I could do so much more if I just had <insert fancy-pants lens here>.”
Life Doesn’t Wait For Your Shutter
Finally, I’d like to make an argument for living life unfiltered by a viewfinder. I am someone who is expected to have a camera constantly glued to my face, but I have a secret. I rarely carry my professional gear with me. It’s liberating to spend more time enjoying an experience than photographing it, and far more fun to participate in the conversations around me than documenting them.
So many parents forget to get in on a special moment because “It’s so darn cute, I just have to Instagram it!” Let me tell you, while you’re busy snapping away you’re missing real moments with your kids. And while you’re struggling to get the right ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, that herd of elephants passed you by. Believe it or not, unless I’m working I prefer to use my iPhone to snap quick photos. It takes me so much less time that I can get back to being in the moment I felt compelled to photograph.
I’ve had friends go on spectacular adventures overseas and come back with amazing stories. They might post one photo or two of them standing on top of a mountain, but even that can’t compare to the light in their eyes when they recount how elephants visited their camp, or that time they were chased by rabid dogs. (This is a true story that happened to my cousin. Although there might not have been much light in his eyes while he told it.) These stories paint more elaborate pictures in my mind than any photograph they’ve shared with me.
For you, I wish a life unburdened by bags of equipment and running wild with the elephants, or toddlers, or embracing whatever shenanigans life may present you with. Before you make a considerable investment in a new camera, review my list of good reasons to upgrade your camera. If you don’t meet all of the items on the list, consider sticking with your smartphone or renting equipment for your next vacation.