I see, with great regularity, posts from folks who want advice on what camera or lens to get. Very often they ask for this advice with minimal information, yet people often give advice (well meant) based on their experience, their needs and their resources, not yours. You have to find your own way. .
So I am setting up this thread to which I can point inquirers in that situation to consider questions they need to ask themselves, because very few people responding do.
So here are the questions I have evolved to ask when someone asks "What should I get?"
What is it SPECIFICALLY that your current camera does not do that you need to improve your images?
That is critical, as it identifies the benefits you need to seek from any new purchase.* (see below)
We all go through troughs when we want inspiration, and in those times it is tempting to think that some retail therapy will bring back our mojo again. From my own experience, and those of others, I can say with some certainty that after the initial spark of excitement has gone from the new purchase one ends back in much the same position again, but a little poorer. If you can't specify at least one benefit, then beware Gear Acquisition Syndrome.
What are you prepared to spend? IF you have a budget you need to stick to it, it's easy to get up-sold by friends and vendors.
What kind of photographer are you? By that I mean something between casual social use of a camera, through student, enthusiast, pro-sumer to professional. At each level there is a cost/benefit envelope to gear that increases according to the level of commitment. As one moves up the scale the expected investment is likely to increase, but then the cost of switching increases too as often lenses have to be swapped or adapted (always a compromise).
What kind of photographic subjects do you capture? To a major degree this defines the types of lenses you will use and that has implications for the quality of glass available for a system. However it also has implications for the sensor: A FF sensor (such as a Nikon D850 or Canon 5D) will give advantages in low light and for wide angle use (such as some landscapes), while a crop sensor (APS-C, Micro 4/3, 1" etc.) is disadvantaged there, but comes into its own for telephoto use, where the crop reduces the field of view but the pixel count can exceed that of an equivalent cropped FF image.
What are you going to create? To me this is one of the biggest issues that is often left unaddressed, yet it is all about what we are doing. To make large, high-resolution prints demands a much greater investment than producing for web viewing, which is often pared down in resolution and viewed on small screens such as phones or tablets. Even viewing on large monitors, the required gear does not have to approach that of the big print. There is growing trend not to produce hard copy prints: I have seen a plunge in such prints for competitions in Canada and NZ, while digital submissions have increased. This can have huge implications for the specs of gear you consider.
What are you prepared to Carry? As we age, have injuries, or have specific activities like travel and hiking the heavy gear we once had no difficulty toting can become a challenge. So moving to a smaller, lighter system may be seen as beneficial. Definitely, if I was looking at a gear change and was maturing (that's a nice way of saying getting older) then smaller, lighter systems such as mirrorless may be attractive.
What about the ergonomics and interface? If you have a preference it’s important to say so.
The performance specs of gear tell us many things, but not how it will feel to actually manipulate the camera's controls or use its menus - which can be a very personal thing. I have met people who have purchased gear on line, based on the technical capabilities they have read, then been completely thrown by the operation of their purchase.
Switching between bodies can also be a challenge. For example: Canon DSLRs FF units use the EF mount, APS-C units use EF and EF-S lenses. EOS M series use EF-M mounts and with an adapter (adding bulk and weight) use the EF lenses, but those lenses will likely be relatively bulky and heavy compared to the compact body, so the advantage of size and weight is lost. The EOS R series has similar issues - it can use adapters for EF, but not EF-M lenses. There are relatively few native lenses for the RF mount (good as they are) so if you are not able to afford the premium cost you are looking at adapters and your bulky lenses again. As a long-term Canon user I have looked at the R series but with over $50k of gear I am not rushing to change, but if I was starting out I would seriously consider the R series. Similar issues are likely with other makes.
I have been shooting since the early 1980's. Many of the photos I have submitted to this forum have been shot on the Canon EOS 60D (2011 vintage) and they have earned kudos based on the quality of the image, not the equipment. I still shoot on occasion with my 60D's (I have 3) and they still do an OK job, heck I shoot with a Canon D30 that is almost 20 years old! Over almost 40 years of photography, including a professional career, I have not felt constrained by the equipment I have used, rather my skill in using it and I have used Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and several medium format brands.
So I shall finish with a couple of other thoughts to consider if you are looking for inspiration:
- Go on a course to work with others, gain skills and sharpen your focus.
- If you have not done so, join a local camera club or photographic society
- Consider investing the money on trips to inspire your photography
Only then, when you can honestly say that you need the upgrade...
Consider keeping your body but improving your glass.
In the end you may go for a new camera, a whole new system or whatever - and that's fine, but if you consider the questions I posed you may feel better about your decision.
* Value: Separating Features from Benefits:
A FEATURE is a characteristic of a device or service that is offered by the producer, but has no specific connection to any one purchaser. For example a camera may offer 4k Video capability with ear and microphone ports. A feature has no value to the consumer unless it benefits them. So, in my case a camera may offer 4k but as a stills photographer who does not do video, that feature has no benefit and thus no value to me.
A BENEFIT is a some need, specific to the consumer that either improves their performance or removes as constraint to their performance. So, for example, one may want to make detailed, large prints, but recognize that their current equipment is not capable of doing so. Consequently they will seek gear with features to support that need. Perhaps a FF sensor with good glass - appropriate to the kind of subjects they are capturing.
Only when you can map a feature to a benefit do you get value.