On Being Happy with Your Gear {and knowing when it’s time to upgrade}…

I’ll be the first to tell you: it’s not the camera that makes a photographer great.  Great photography has everything to do with vision and skill and very little to do with equipment. I believe that with every fiber of my being.

The art of photography was built with images taken with primitive contraptions…in a time when the word megapixel would have sounded like a sneeze and jpeg would have had more to do with carpentry. I have seen some incredible images taken with a camera phone and I have seen stunning works of art come from the novel instant film wonder that is a Polaroid.

I have also seen people with incredibly competent cameras taking lackluster {and even outright bad} pictures. Whatever equipment you posses, if you know how to use it, can help you make brilliant images. But you need to be able to know how to use the equipment you have to the best of its ability.

However, I also appreciate the value of an incredible portrait. I also believe that if you’re going to allow someone to pay you to take their pictures and then pay you again for prints of those pictures, that those pictures had better be a thorough combination of the artist’s unique vision, his/her excellent skills, and a product of high quality equipment.

I had used my Nikon D90 for a little over year. I learned so. much. with that camera. I was completely happy with the images that I took in really great lighting conditions. And I continued to try…very hard…to get better results in trickier lighting conditions. I researched, I experimented, I tried different techniques…but the fact of the matter was that, when it came to certain lighting conditions,I just couldn’t get results that I felt were at a professional level.

To be any sort of technician, having the right tools to do a job professionally is essential. I knew that I wanted to take my photography business beyond  the confines of exemplary lighting this year…I knew I needed a better tool to do the job professionally…and so I chose to upgrade to the D700.

Could I do what I wanted to do with my D90? Sure! It takes great pictures and it is a highly competent camera. However, I was feeling frustrated with wanting a certain look in my images, only being able to get partially there by manipulating the camera settings, and then having to spend hours editing it Lightroom and Photoshop to get the right tones and balance the lighting.

So…have I noticed a big difference? Um…heck yes! The majority of these images were not edited at all! I was able to achieve the bulk of my vision in camera….which has always been {and always should be} the main goal when shooting digitally. Photoshop can make good images great…but it can never make bad images good {trust me, I’ve tried!}

So…am I trying to tell you all to run out and buy D700s…No…not even close! I’m telling you to learn how to use your camera REALLY WELL! And when you feel you have substantial limitations…then you should consider upgrading. Getting a better camera will not make you a better photographer…although it may help you use your advanced skills on a more profound level.

Techie stuff:  images taken with a Nikon D700 with a 50mm 1.4 lens {although a couple were taken with the D90 and a lensbaby}…ISO 200, 1.6f, 1/400 sec

Great advice! I have a Canon Rebel, the entry level Canon DSLR, and while it has its limitations, I would not have any need or desire to upgrade if I didn’t feel the need to overcome those limitations, and the limitations are evident because I know how to work the camera.

I love this post! And I totally agree. I have a d90 and every day I learn something new with it. I know that one day I will definitely want to upgrade, but not for a good long while! I want to learn to work with what I have before that ever happens. Great post! <3

Great post..and gorgeous images!! I know what you mean..when I first got my D90 I thought that the ISO capabilities were great, but I definitely get frustrated with indoor and low light situations, sometimes having to move the shutter to speeds I’m really not happy with. I’m sure that full-frame sensor really makes a difference. Congrats on the new baby!

Agreed 100%. I shoot with a Canon 40d. Obselete now, but it still works great. But make no mistake, I am increasingly frustrated with what I can’t do with it and an upgrade is in the plan this year. I’ll be turning to my years of design and photoshop skills to help bridge the gap.

Oh, Meg…I feel as if you wrote this just for me. I feel like I’m in that in between state. When I got my first dslr I went full steam ahead and learned all I could with it. I still have it and love it (I even named it. LOL) The last few months I have been in a major slump feeling like I have done all I can do with my camera. There is so much more I want from my camera now. I can see the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between the two cameras. I think I’m ready to move up, but that price tag sure does make you think about it….long and hard. Thanks for sharing this.

This is a stunning set of photos. Your little miss is growing and growning. I love the photos with the sense of swirl. I like reading what you wrote-makes perfect sense. I’m still learning my first DSLR, but I had out-grown my point and shoot….but I could make that little thing sing. When this one starts singing and needs a more complex tune…I hear ya, time to upgrade.
Happy day to you.

Thanks for such a great post. I’ve been wanting a new camera but then decided that I still need to learn more about maxing out the old one I have. It isn’t a dSLR but I think it takes some pretty good photos for me. My goal this year to learn a little bit more about photography.

Your photos are fantastic! The light in them is just beautiful.

Beautiful images that are clearly created not just from that amazing {jealous? moi?} camera but from your soul. I’m hankering after a Canon 5D but I’m back to square one after the Mac purchase hehe!!

What a great lesson for so many other things, not just photography 😉
Gorgeous shots! Rayne is too cute!

Congrats on the new camera – the two of you do incredible work. I needed this reminder – I NEED to spend more time and learn to use what I have. I haven’t made it a priority lately and I can see it in the quality of photos I’m getting lately.

I love this post – and have SUCH a hard time on the photo end of life, although I do have this passion and desire TO take better pictures. I’m in awe of the beauty of the photos that you take – your words are inspiring. I think I just need to keep on clicking, keep on focusing, keep on trying, and keep on reading tips from talented people (like YOU!!!) Love your photos – all of them!

Love love love his post. I am looking forward to upgrading my camera this year (I’m really outgrowing my d80) but I agree with you 100% it is NOT the camera that makes the photographer. You can create amazing photos with very basic equipment – but having high quality equipment makes a huge difference!
I was thinking about upgrading to a Canon 50D MarkII how do you think that compares to the Nikon D700? I haven’t invested much in the lenses so it wouldn’t set me back to switch brands.

As much as I love my camera now, it works for me, I would love to upgrade – mainly because my camera just doesn’t handle low light – especially when my son is playing basketball. I’m saving my nickles and dimes.

Thanks so much for this post; it is by far the best argument I’ve read for upgrading! And your beautiful images speak volumes; I’m getting tired of fighting in Photoshop, Photomatix, etc. to try to get my images to match what I saw through the lens. I’m struggling with my camera’s limitations (poor results in low light being a huge issue) and, while I can’t afford to upgrade right now, somehow I feel better with what I have because I know that when I can upgrade, I’ll be doing it for the right reasons.

Excellent article and advise!!!

Have fun with your new toy! I think the limitations of cameras always come out in extreme conditions and knowing your cameras limitations is the mark that you’re really learning as a photographer.

Wonderful post, Meagan- your words are so true and the images beautiful as always. Have fun with your D700!

i am glad you talked about that. i totally agree with you, camera matters little, photography is all about eyes (and soul) ((and amount of practising)) nad (((many many other things) and only then comes equipment. and everybody that is into taking pictures daily knows that. i use nikon d80, love it and feel it is a very good camera for me. but i totally understand you, it may come time to think about a certain upgrade.

I loved the message in this post! I upgraded over the summer and kept it on Auto until here recently. I’m determined to make this my year to figure out all my camera can do and find my “style” of photography. Your photos are stunning as usual.

I totally could not agree more! I was taking pictures that I loved even with an old point and shoot from 2001 just last winter! When I felt like I was at my limit with the point and shoot, my in laws and hubby gifted me with the awesome Canon Rebel I use now.
This fall I became frustrated again at being limited in getting the shots I wanted in low-lighting. Hubby recognized my frustration, and he gifted me with a 50 mm lens, which has helped me to capture those low-lighting scenes I was trying so desperately to capture.
All this to say: yes, I agree!! Being content is good; but sometimes we need different tools to go where we really want to go.

Also: your pictures are beautiful and soft. Very impressed by what you can do with your new tools!

I love this post and all the wonderful images in it! I knew you would blow it out of the water with your new camera:) Your photography was already so wonderful and now it will only get better with the better light capabilities. That is exactly why I went with the D700 when I did, for the low light situations and I love the full frame sensor. You are gifted both in your photography and in your lovely way with words. Hope you are enjoying the new year:)

Great photos! I have been dying to upgrade to the D700, but I lost my job while I was saving for the camera, and it’s just not possible to buy one right now. I too feel limited with my camera – I’m still shooting with a D40 my mom got me as a birthday gift 3 years ago!

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