Is it time to upgrade your camera? 11 things to consider.

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We all reach a point when we feel that our cameras are a bit long in the tooth, and we would like to upgrade. Especially when a new camera comes onto the market, that is bigger, faster, clever-ere (is that a word?). Now if we follow our buying impulses and if your budget allows it, we would then buying a new camera every 18months. How ever the reality is it is completely pointless to have the latest and greatest camera if all you intend to do is resize images for a the web or the odd print. So an up-grade is usually a case of “I want” rather than “I need” to upgrade.

Before any camera upgrade should be considered, its important to know what your requirements are in a camera. There are a number of factors that differeante cameras and these factors are the ones camera manufactures update or upgrade. Below are a few of the important ones to consider, you may want the latest camera available but your requirements or photographic style requires something less demanding, you ultimately run the risk of pay for features that your will never use.

So read through the following 8 camera feature considerations and make your own list of requirements for your ultimate camera that best suites your needs and not your wants.

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1. Maximum Shutter Speed

This is the rate at which a camera can take a photograph and is usually limited by the speed of the shutter moving up and down. Most cameras will shoot at 1/4000th of a second, which is fine for most applications. However if you shoot during really bring period of the day  or photograph, birds inflight, wildlife and sport, as faster shutter speed of 8000th of a second may be better suited to your needs.

2. Frames per Second

Frames per Second (fps) is the amount of images that can be captured within a second. The standard here is about 4 to 5 fps for most applications, again if you are shooting fast action a higher frames per second is required. Look for a camera that could do 10fps and more.

3. Buffer Memory

This is the number of images the camera can store in its on board memory before it writes them to the memory card. There is little point in having a camera that can capture 10fps but has only a buffer of 20 images. That means you will fill the buffer in 2 seconds and you will have to wait for the buffer to clear before shooting again.

4. Memory Cards

There are basically two options here, 1 or 2 slots. We suggest get a camera with two card slots and read our blog about backing up, 3 fail safe ways to back up your images while on safari. 

5. ISO Range

Look at what the ISO range is of the camera the standard is around 100 to 12000, but more importantly what is the lowest ISO possible, 50 is great and read up on what the noise os like at the higher ISO values. Modern cameras should produce workable images at ISO 6400 now.

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6. Dynamic Range

This is basically what is the range (in stops of light) between your highlights and shadows that your camera can photograph. If it has a good dynamic range your will be able to rescue more highlights and recover more shadows from your files in your editing software.

7. Focus Points

Focus points are the little empty squares or dots that are seen through the viewfinder, points where the camera finds focus. The more focusing points, the better. The number of auto focusing points is not the only important factor to consider; the type of focusing point plays a part as well and there are two kinds.

    • Vertical sensors are one-dimensional that only detect contrast on a vertical line.
    • Cross-type sensors are two-dimensional that can pick up variation both on vertical and horizontal lines, making cross-type sensors much more capable than vertical sensors. The more cross type focus points, the better.

8. Weather sealing

Weather Sealing is achieved with special gaskets and lining comprised of rubber and silicon at all points on the camera that could be exposed to the elements. It complements the design of the camera. This is not a make or break requirement for normal photography situations however if you are a keen Landscape or wildlife photographer, it is reassuring to know that a camera can work in a light rain shower, thick snow and a sand storm.

9. Full Frame or Cropped Sensor

Technology has developed to such a point that this decision is an entirely personal one. Historically the big difference between the sensor sizes is image quality and Dynamic range. I believe full frame still has the better quality. In reality, this is only noticeable if you are planning on becoming a fine art photographer and will be printing very large images. Otherwise, it does not really matter. There is a small effect on the way a Cropped sensor camera sees background blur or depth of field, because the sensor is smaller the depth of field is less.

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10. Mirrorless or DSLR

The biggest difference between these comes down to size and availability of assessors. Mirrorless are significantly lighter and smaller than even entry level DSLR camera systems, with no loss in quality of the final image. Dynamic range may not be as good as a full frame DSLR. There is also a huge third party and second hand market for DSLR gear, but Mirrorless is growing fast so this should not be a reason not to buy into a mirrorless system.

11. Selection of Lenses

You want to remain or buy into a camera system that has a range of lenses that suite your needs, so a brand with the biggest range of lenses is best. For smaller brands look at there lens roadmap or their future lens releases, this will give you an indication what is planned into the future.

We specifically did not include the number of megapixels that a camera should have as this is largely irrelevant in a modern camera. All camera’s produced in the last 5 years have enough data written into the image files to keep any stock library, bride, printer or magazine editor happy.

Etienne Oosthuizen

Etienne Oosthuizen

Guide, tutor & Photographer

We suggest you take some time and write down what you need from your camera and please don’t be sneaky and write down the specs for the camera you want, but rather the looks at your photographic needs and write the specs accordingly.  The points above should give your a good starting point with this list and once you have the list stick to it. Start looking for a camera that best meets your needs and buy that. If your currently camera meets these needs, then scratch the need to buy something by investing into better lenses.



If you are unsure about the camera you want to upgrade to and want to test it before buying, a good idea is to rent it for a weekend or day and get a good idea if its for you or not.