We have all been there, not just with photography but with many things in today’s fast-paced world. You buy a brand new product and before you can blink an eye a newer version of it is released that has some amazing new features that make your still basically new product feel a little less special. It is an unfortunate side effect of the rapidly evolving world in which we live, there is always something newer, something better, something more optimized for a specific task. It is the reason why things like GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) exists, these companies have trained us to always be on the looking for something newer, and as they would have you believe, something better.
But is having the newest gear really all that important? Will it make you a better photographer, or improve the appeal of your images, or anything like that? Honestly… the answer is about 10% yes and 90% no. If your gear is actually aging quite a bit (I am talking 4 to 5 years to more), or you are currently pushing your kit to the maximum of its capabilities then yes, having a newer camera in your kit could actually improve your photography and the results that you are getting out of it.
If that above case is not where you find yourself, then the answer to this question is more often than not going to be a hard resounding no. Why? Because truth be told, the capabilities of cameras are really only expanding on the extreme ends of the spectrum. In the conditions that most of you will be utilizing this gear, most cameras the last 3-6 years have been capable of producing excellent results. So the real difference, the true difference between your images and the images of a photographer that you look up to isn’t in the gear… no.
It is in the time and experience that those photographers have put into truly learning their gear. The time that they have put into playing and experimenting with their kit to learn its strengths and its weaknesses. Sure, you put any camera in their hand and they can take a decent shot, but put their own kit in their hand and they can produce a masterpiece. Why? Because their camera becomes an extension of them. They know how to manipulate its settings, how to shoot in a given situation to produce the best results with their kit; in short, they know how to get the most out of their camera because they have taken the time to know that.
If they were the type of person that was upgrading to the latest and greatest every 6 months to a year they wouldn’t be so well versed with their camera. They wouldn’t know how to get the most out of their various camera/lens combinations, and how to approach a shooting situation to highlight their gear’s strong suites. This sort of understanding about your gear doesn’t come from watching Youtube tutorials or spending hours on post-production or reading photography blogs.
No, this sort of expertise comes from doing one thing and one thing only. Using the gear – a lot. If you want to get better at your photography then you need to be using your gear every chance that you get. Practice different lighting setups, shoot in different locations, interacting with different subjects. The only way to truly know your gear like the back of your hand, to truly let it become an extension of yourself is to use it often enough that it becomes one; like putting on glasses or driving your daily driver.
Does this mean that you can’t take a good picture unless you are holding onto your gear for years? No, not at all. But your mind takes time to build the connections that are needed in order to reach that sort of proficiency with your gear, the quickest way to develop those neural pathways is to be consistently utilizing them. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So constantly practicing and honing your photography skills with a familiar kit is the best way to develop the sort of proficiency that separates the best of us from the rest of us.
So take this moment right now to think about this and ask yourself this question. How well do you know your gear? If something comes up in the field and you need to change settings or adapt your vision for the shoot based on shooting conditions; do you know your gear well enough that you are able to do so without fumbling around with your camera, digging through menus or wondering if your kit can handle the change in conditions? If not then your problem is not that you don’t have the best gear, your problem is that you don’t know your kit well enough, and instead of drooling over that new camera or lens that just came out, you should instead be out practicing and spending more time learning your current gear.
Get it out of your head that newer = better. It doesn’t. Newer may mean expanded capabilities, sure, but if you don’t take the time to learn your gear then those expanded capabilities will be wasted or underutilized anyway. So stop worrying about the “latest and greatest” and instead refocus that attention on yourself. What do you need, where are you currently running into walls with your current kit? If you are constantly finding that you want to do certain things at shoots but your current kit is unable to do so at a level that you are happy with then maybe an upgrade is a good way to go.
Outside of that, generally we recommend focusing on what you already have and how to use that to its full potential.