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A personal camera buying strategy.

 

 

 

Camera Buying Strategy

For a long time cameras evolved at a very slow place. Those were the film days, but now we are frimily in the digital era. Today, camera evolution followe Moore's law which loosly means their improvement is no longer linear but rather exponential. (Note that I'm talking about "cameras" only here; lenses is another story). You can expect camera features and performance to improve rapidly and dramatically  rendering what you bought today almost worthless (in sale price) in just a couple of years. So, given this reality, what should a buyer do? I gave this some thought and came-up with my personal strategy which I describe below. This will not be right for everyone (people's needs and means differ greatly), but I would propose that any serious photographer can benefit from giving this topic some thought and come-up with their own strategy.

The Three "Rules"  ("don't KRI" strategy)

To keep it simple and memorable, I'll reduce this to three main "rules", the KRI camera buying strategy (or don't KRI strategy?):

1) Keep your camera for 4 to 6 years

Buy a good camera that meets your needs and won't be outgrown too soon, and keep it for 4 to 6 years. This gives you enough time to become intimately familiar with your photographic "tool" and make the most out of it. Sticking to this timeline will save you a lot of money and ensure you will get a significant technological upgrade the next time around (i.e not just an incremental one). 

2) Look for at least a doubling of the pixel Resolution

This makes sense when you consider that nowadays cameras evolve exponentially, and not linearly, so a doubling at each step is a more natural progression. Also consider that resolution perception grows more slowly than the MP count. This is because thos pixels are filling-out an "area" not a "line" so that they get distributed in two dimensions. You need a significant increase in MP resolution to actually perceive a resolution increase...
Some experts will tell you that "nobody needs more megapixels" and that 12 to 16 megapixels are more than enough. True if you never crop your pictures, but I personally do crop them quite often. People used to say the same back when 6 MP was the norm, and today I bet nobody would buy such a camera, no matter how good. More megapixels can be a good thing, especially if you don't need to compromise other performance metrics like low-light noise. Which brings me to the third rule:

3) look for at least one stop of high-ISO Noise performance improvement

Low-light performance is very important and it's reasonable to expect an improvement in a 4 to 6 years time-frame. The rule basically means that, as an example, the noise at ISO 6400 in your new camera should look at least as good as ISO 3200 (one stop below, or 1/2) in your 'old' camera. 

Now, I understand it can be hard to stick to this plan (I haven't always) but setting a goal is at least a good start. In the interveaning years, you may also choose to focus more on lenses or other accessories for your camera. You might even consider actually taking some photos and classes and focus on the photography instead of the gear :) I kow, easier said than done.

A concrete example

As of this writing (February 2014) my last camera purchase was a Sony NEX-5N (Figure 1) which I bought in february 2012. 

 

24and200mm 0015

Figure 1 - Sony NEX-5N

  

Applying my 'don't KRI' strategy would imply:

1) Buying another camera in the 2016 to 2018 time-frame

2) Buying a camera with at least 32 MP (few choices as of this writing but I'd be surprised if that was still the case in 2016)

3) Usable ISO of at least ISO 6400 (I consider ISO 3200 to be the limit for my NES-5N; though this is a bit subjective and situation dependent).

So, here it is. Will I be able to stick to the plan? Time will tell... 

(UPDATE 2016: No, I was not able to resist. Bought the Sony A6000 in 2015. However, I still believe the strategy is sound... if you can stick to it:)

Comments, questions, suggestions? You can reach me at: contact (at sign) paulorenato (dot) com