Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) pt. 2
The digital section of the original GAS article ended up being way longer than I thought, so I decided to post it separately.
I think that this is an entirely different ball game from film photography. Instead of being surrounded by a myriad of fascinating unique options, digital photographers are sucked into an ecosystem under a brand and are marketed the upgrades within that ecosystem. From everything I can see, I would say that there are five angles that brands work to market the upgrades: megapixel count, low light/high ISO performance, frame rate, autofocus quality, and video specs.
And now, to analyze why a lot of the time, these angles can be a trick to get photographers to pour money into upgrades that you really don’t need.
First: Megapixel count. Out of the five mentioned, this angle is probably the most scam like. The megapixel count of a camera is one of the very foremost things advertised. It’s generally touted as being synonymous with image quality directly because “the camera just has more megapixels.” Here’s how this works from a non-technically inclined person. Please correct me if I’m wrong (but keep in mind that this will definitely be an oversimplification). When you consider megapixels, it only makes sense to do so if you consider with the sensor size. There are both APS-C and full frame cameras that both have 24 megapixels. But, that’s obviously not the same thing, because there was also a phone that has a less than 1 inch sensor that was marketed to have 100 megapixels. Here’s the key thing: consider the 24 megapixel example. In both cameras, there are 24 million pixels on the sensor, but in the APS-C camera, in order to have that many pixels, the actual pixels have to be smaller so as to fit on the smaller sensor. With that, imagine how small the pixels for the 100 megapixel phone camera must be, when the sensor is maybe the size of your fingertip. And THAT is what technically affects image quality. The smaller pixels just don’t perform as well in low light, and the smaller size affects the image size when translated on a screen or in print, specifically how it can be enlarged.
This discussion doesn’t end there either. Because even with all those considerations, the megapixels and sensor size don’t necessarily matter for you in the first place. First of all, if your images are only ever going to be displayed on screens, as is unfortunately the case for many digital photographers, I would argue that you can use my 10 megapixel, not even micro 4/3 sensor Canon G11 (As long as you’re good with the colors). In my opinion, if you’re shopping for a camera with a sensor size micro 4/3 and above, you only really need to worry about megapixel count if you’re going to be printing your photos larger than 8x10 or even 11x14.
That leads well into the next point, high ISO performance. Printing high ISO photos can be difficult; and of the five angles, I would say this is one of the ones you should actually consider if you intend on shooting at ISO 1600 and above. Having a clean high ISO performance will have a huge impact on how sharp your higher ISO photos print out. Now, high ISO performance isn’t necessarily measurable with a number, but it’s generally displayed with example photos. So look at sample high ISO images from a camera you‘re interested in, and see what reviewers think of it. Opinion generally doesn’t vary on a single camera’s high ISO performance. But, if you’re buying an APS-C camera from after around 2012 or so, I’d say you’d be good using ISO 1600 and getting acceptable results.
Moving right on to frame rate: this is quite possibly one of the most specialized considerations. But realistically, unless you are a wildlife or sports/action photographer, this basically doesn’t matter!! Perhaps it might matter if you want to photograph moving targets like your kids! But it definitely shouldn’t be the deciding factor of a camera purchase. Pretty much all cameras have a frame rate and should be useful enough to the average stills photographer.
Autofocus quality is a parameter I‘m using to say autofocus points, tracking, and autofocus modes. Personally, I could care less about the number of autofocus points in a camera’s focusing system. If I use autofocus, I use a single point in the middle of the camera. I seriously do not understand how some photographers can change their autofocus points in such a way that is faster than just using a single focus point and recomposing. However, I admit that might just be more of a real thing. If that’s something you see yourself using efficiently, then by all means look at how many autofocus points a camera has. If that’s your primary concern check out the Sony Alpha series. For tracking, I don’t use continuous shooting and tracking, nor do I shoot video, so I don’t feel qualified to comment; the same is true for autofocus modes. However, I do have thoughts about autofocus in general, especially its speed. I think it’s undeniable that autofocus speed in an older camera won’t be as accurate or fast as more recent models, but I use a Fuji X-T10 and I have only had problems with the autofocus in super low light with super flat scenes. I think it performs acceptably fast, though I do know it could be better. But, I think that any camera made in the last 8 years will have usable autofocus, so unless the speed is absolutely essential to you, it’s something that you can avoid an upgrade for if that were the only actual upgrade.
Video specs is the last thing on the list. Again, I don’t shoot video on any of my cameras. However, if you’re only shooting stills lIke me, don’t think about the video specs, plain and simple. But, for the video shooters, I would say that having a 1080p video quality at 60fps with in camera stabilization and RAW recording would be a good spec to start off of for amateurs. If you intend on shooting video in a more prosumer to professional setting, 4K is quickly becoming the standard. And, I would also recommend overlooking any “upgrades” that have 4K with a crop. 8K recording isn’t quite on the level where anyone seems to be recommending it.
For digital gear, to summarize my thoughts I would say that if you can shoot at more traditional ISOs, are not shooting super fast targets, and not enlarging past 11x14, most digital cameras after 2010 can ultimately be used to serve your needs. There is rarely a solid reason that a camera body MUST be upgraded after 2 - 4 years of use. Do not underestimate your cameras, and only upgrade when there is a shift in feature set that can actually elevate your photography from what it was. Think twice before absorbing a brand’s marketing for a new camera; do some research into how much better an upgrade really is in the context of your own photography. Consider what you shoot and the style in which you shoot.
Thanks for tuning into the second part of this GAS article series!