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Quick Tip: New Camera or New Lens?

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When money burns a hole in a photographer's pocket, the million dollar question that seems to divide photographers is whether to choose a new lens or a new camera body. Which is better? Depending on your situation, you might be surprised. Today,, we're looking at which upgrade is right for you.

New Lens

If you're still using that first kit lens that came with the camera, you might feel that your images are falling short of what you want to create. The answer here is not to upgrade the camera, but instead to look to new optics to expand your creative options.

When I open my bag, I'm staring at lenses from three different decades. One of my favorite lenses is a fast prime, an 85mm f/1.8 lens from the 90's. I bought it used from a photographer who had bought it from another photographer (and it probably goes back several photographers earlier than that). I can only imagine the number of images it has seen in its 20 years of use.

This is the Canon 35L, a lens that drives the majority of my professional work. I jumped around between cameras with the same cheap lenses before realizing that expanding my lens selection would help me elevate my photography.

The point here is that a new lens has a much longer lifespan than a camera, especially if it's well cared for. My camera big is filled with lenses from a 30 year span, but I don't own a camera older than 5 years. Obviously, it takes both parts of the system to make images, but good glass is going to be a much larger upgrade than a marginally newer camera.

Build your lens collection first. A fast prime can help to solve the bulk of the issues that beginning photographers experience. If you don't have the reach you require, consider a long zoom, or even an ultra wide for stunning landscapes.

Generally speaking, I think that photographers should trend toward purchasing a new lens for their kit. Good glass is going to transcend your next camera update, and lens compatibility means that it's going to endure camera changes.

New Camera

The tried and true advice is to recommend a user to select a new lens that fits their needs. However, there are certainly situations in which you want to upgrade your camera body as well. Let's take a look at these scenarios.

One of the few things that a new lens can't solve is the noise issue. If you are looking for better performance at high ISO settings, newer cameras are far superior in this department. However, if it's more light you need, consider a fast prime with a wide aperture. I know that in wedding photography, high ISO performance is an essential consideration in my selection of a camera.

After filling out my lens selection, I knew that it was time for an upgrade to a full frame camera like the Canon 5D Mark II.

Autofocus is another factor limited by the camera. Sure, faster lenses with new autofocus motors are going to lock focus faster. However, if your camera's autofocus system is not smart, it doesn't matter how quick that motor can drive the lens. New cameras have better and faster autofocus systems that have become much smarter than me.

Finally, new cameras simply offer new features that you can't get from a lens. If you want to explore the world of DSLR video, you'll have to get a camera body from the last few years. Make sure that these upgrades are still more valuable to you than the value of a good lens.

Wrapping Up

In general, I think it's sound advice to build a solid collection of lenses instead of jumping camera bodies every few years. However, with your lens kit filled out, it's not a bad idea to reach for a new camera body every few years for better ISO performance, faster autofocus, or new features that haven't even been imagined yet.

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