Camera Buyer’s Remorse

Buying camera gear can be a daunting task with so many competing formats, brands and models. This is further complicated by a plethora of gear reviews extolling the virtues of specific cameras. And, plenty of ‘must have’ advice found on various photography sites. We can get overwhelmed with information… some of it contradictory. With the price of new camera gear ever increasing, it is critical to make a sound, logical decision. It’s all about finding camera gear that is the ‘best fit’ for our individual needs. Unfortunately getting caught up in never ending marketing hype can lead to camera buyer’s remorse. Many of us have suffered through that in the past. I know I have.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Some recent photographs captured during a trip to Ireland have been added as visual breaks.

River Finglas, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 44 mm, efov 118.8 mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-400

A number of years ago I allowed myself to get sucked in by camera marketing hype and ‘must have’ advice from others. I ended up investing quite a bit of money into full frame equipment. None of it helped to make me a better photographer. And none of it allowed me to better serve my clients. I learned the hard way that full frame camera gear wasn’t the right format for the work I do. Luckily, I was able to sell all of that full frame gear back in July 2015 without taking a major financial hit.

The first tip to avoid camera buyer’s remorse is pretty simple… pay no attention whatsoever to what someone else says that we ‘must have’ in terms of gear. Their opinion is based on their needs and their experiences… not ours.

Blennerville Windmill, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 27 mm, efov 72.9 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-160

When making any major purchase decision it is critical to clearly identify our individual needs. Things like the type of photography and video work we do. Subject matter. Lighting. Shooting environment. What we do with our images after they have been created. Our planned future growth as a photographer. Our needs should not be defined around camera formats, brands or models. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Obviously money we currently have invested in lenses can come into play.

If we convince ourselves that we must have a specific camera or format before we have defined our actual photographic needs, cognitive dissonance will kick in. We’ll find information to support our dominate belief. Even if that belief may be ill-founded… like my belief that I needed full frame gear. When that happens, we are far more likely to make an emotional decision, rather than a logical one. Emotion is at the root of buyer’s remorse. The second tip to avoid camera buyer’s remorse is to clearly define our photographic needs before considering any camera gear.

Cahore Point, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-160

Fundamentally, the pieces of camera gear we choose are simply the tools we need to efficiently and effectively create our images and videos. Camera gear has very little intrinsic value. Its value is produced by what we can create with it.

There are many different categories of camera buyers. If we boil all of them down into a binary world, people who own cameras would fall into two basic groups. One group is photographers. They use their camera gear to create images and videos. Photographers see and experience their camera gear as a means to an end… as the tools they need to produce their visual creations. They don’t spend time incessantly debating the virtues of various cameras online. They go out and regularly use what they own. For them, cameras are simply creative tools.

Walk to Glengarriff Blue Pool, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18.1 mm, f/5.6, 1/100, ISO-400

The second group is technology owners. They love to own the latest and greatest camera gear. Just like some people love to own the latest Smartphone. They are often active on photography chat sites where they debate formats and camera specifications. Digging into minute technological differences between cameras excites them. They are enthralled by technology for technology’s sake. Some are quick to criticize the photographic work of others, but rarely if ever, show their own work. In many ways they are ultimate photographic armchair quarterbacks. Sitting back watching and commenting on a game, rather than participating in it.

How can we tell if we are a photographer or a technology owner? By asking ourselves two simple questions. During the past month, how many days did we go out with a camera and actually create images… versus the number of days we engaged in online discussions about camera gear or read about equipment? Over the past year how many shutter actuations did we log on our cameras? Calculating our answer as a daily shutter actuation average can be instructive.

Copper Coast, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

The third tip to avoid camera buyer’s remorse is to experience and buy our camera gear as a photographer. Focus on what we specifically need camera gear to do for us in terms of a creative tool. Then, buy whatever format, brand and model that best suits our needs. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about what we buy and use. They’re not investing our money in gear. We are.

If we are a technology owner, we need to accept that camera buyer’s remorse may be a part of our life. There will always be something newer and greater around the corner to stimulate our emotions. That’s the nature of technology.

Carne Beach, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 11 mm, efov 29.7 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

So, if we’re a photographer, how do we determine the ‘best fit’ camera gear for our needs?  By asking ourselves lots of questions about what we do and how we do it. By analyzing facts and foregoing opinion.

If we divided up the work that we do into a pie, what percentage of our work falls into various subject categories? Birds and nature. Landscape. Portrait. Architecture. Sports. Flower and garden. Macro. Family. Wedding. Street. Events. Fashion. Travel. Photo journalism. Food. Product studio work… and so on. Are there specific equipment features that we need for particular subject matter?

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-1600

What percentage of our work is done under low light conditions where a full frame or larger sensor camera may make a lot of sense for us? How many shutter actuations do we typically use in a year? How long do we expect a new camera body to last?

What do we do with our images after the fact? Do we regularly produce large prints or is our work mainly shown in digital format? How many mega pixels do we really need for the work we do? If we bought a camera that produced significantly larger file sizes than we create now, what investments in computer equipment may be needed? Have we calculated the cost of the latest high performance memory cards that may be required?

Reginald’s Tower, Waterford Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/10, ISO-3200

If we’re contemplating changing systems what lenses are priorities for us? Do we like to use prime lenses, zooms, or a combination? If we examined all of the work that we produced during the past year, what lenses are the workhorses that created the majority of our photographs and videos? At what focal lengths and apertures are the majority of our photographs captured? Does the camera format/brand we are considering have all of the lenses we need? Are we planning to expand our work into other photographic subject matter that require special camera features or equipment?

We likely have some specific camera capabilities that are ‘must have’ for the work we do. For example, I’m a senior citizen. Being able to shoot my industrial client videos completely hand-held was a key consideration for me when I purchased some new gear. The less video-related equipment I have to haul around during a client assignment, the better.

Powerscourt, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9 mm, efov 24.3 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-400

When we are out using our camera gear, how often do we shoot in inclement weather? Do we use our gear for relatively short periods of time, or do we use it uninterrupted for extended periods? Do we shoot primarily using camera supports or hand-held? Far too often we don’t consider how important ergonomics, comfort and handling are when buying new camera gear.

The fourth tip to avoid camera buyer’s remorse is to experience the gear we are thinking of buying first hand. Hold it. Shoot with it. Experience its auto focusing performance. Take some test images and process them. If possible, rent it or borrow it. Spend time using it. Comfort, ergonomics and handling are far more important than a list of specifications. If a camera doesn’t feel good when we hold it and use it… we probably shouldn’t buy it.

Ring of Beara, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-400

We all face lots of questions when we investigate various camera gear options. Focusing on answering the questions that are fundamental to our photographic/video work can help bring logic and clarity to the situation.

When it comes to buying camera gear, keeping our emotions in check is one of the biggest factors that help us avoid camera buyer’s remorse. Our ability to make sound, logical decisions is inversely proportional to our degree of emotional arousal. Whether those emotions are positive or negative. Remaining calm is key. We need to remember that when we buy camera equipment, we’re making an investment in our creative future.

Waterford, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-160

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held using camera equipment as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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Brittas Bay, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-160

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15 thoughts on “Camera Buyer’s Remorse”

  1. I started with “kodak brownie/b+w zip palaroid/pocket 110/CANON AE 1/ Minolta X7a (leds for metering (WOW)+28 2.8 ,50 1.7 ,70-210, 2x converter, + BELLOWS?ext tubes , dedicated bounce flash……Now EM5+12-35,100-300 pany,t3+11-16,T5i+150-600,7D+70-300,7D+18-135,6D+17-40,A7r+24-240,nex6+35 2.8,5300+17-50 2.8,lumix G1+8mm f4, SONY superzoom 2.8-5.6 (at 800 mm AWESOME)hx300,z-80,P900 …..still have all my Minolta +3bodies , 58 1.4 rokkor,24 2.8…….I have to stop buying stuff…………plan to donate to a photography school when I am close to the end…..HIT MOOSE w minivan,car ran over foot (12 spd bike was hit)….and now “3 years since double lung transplant” ……mik/frm/can

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for sharing your camera history and some of your other life experiences! We hope that your planned donations to a photography school are still many years in the future.

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom
    How right you are! But still: Can it be done? For my part, I think it is not possible. Are we in pursuit of the truth (meaning to buy the camera system which is rationally perfect for us) or are we rather on the quest for happiness (meaning to buy the camera which we simply want because of emotions)?
    Why do I use my secondhand Hassy? It is big, it is heavy, additional components are horribly expensive, as a system it is not complete (e.g. no extreme teles, no tilt/shift), etc. Still, it is my dream come true… The rational part is hidden in „secondhand“, so the price was not as high as new. But it makes wonderful negatives. Do I really „need“ them? Rationally no, but still… I still use Nikon 1 too. But there is a but: One can see, that those files are simply not as good.
    That is the other, I might say the ugly – not so rational, although dressed in rational reasoning – face of buyers remorse: One does not have the camera which one really, really craves for which leads to arguing, why the choice was rational or wise or whatever.
    You are right, and you are not. We do not act solely rationally and/or emotionally. Intellectual experiment: Do we or did we act rationally at choosing our partners for life? Ouch, I am getting carried off…
    Certainly, you are right, but.. 😉 Take care, keep up your site and good luck!

    1. Hi Robert,

      🙂 As earthlings wandering around this planet we are all subject to our emotions… we’re not Mr. Spock! It is a difficult task for each of us to keep our emotions in check. The main message in my article is that when we can temper our emotions when making camera buying decisions, we lessen the risk of suffering buyer’s remorse down the road.

      You are absolutely right when you say that we don’t act rationally when choosing life partners. Those decisions are usually completely overwhelmed with positive emotions. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 50% of marriages end in divorce. In terms of life decisions isn’t that the ultimate in ‘buyer’s remorse’?

      I think your comment identifies the reason why many photographers own different cameras and formats. There is no such thing as a perfect camera. Various cameras have different capabilities and as a result excel at different subject matter and in different photographic conditions. When we take those factors into consideration we reduce the risk of buyer’s remorse with that particular camera decision. In terms of your Hassy… it is a wonderful camera that helps you produce some unique and no doubt quite spectacular work. You purchased it used, not new. And your comment doesn’t indicate that you have been upgrading that format of camera every time an updated model appears. You appear to be quite happy with what you currently own and use in terms of that particular format of camera. Perhaps there is more logic in your purchase of a used Hassy than for which you give yourself credit.

      This discussion could certainly get into quite a philosophic realm in terms of self definition, happiness, personal fulfillment, life purpose and so on. The degree to which our possessions play a role in all of that is an intensely personal thing and is different for each of us. At the end of our time here, each of us will leave the same behind… all of it.

      Tom

      1. Hi Tom
        If I remember correctly, even Mr. Spock has shown some emotions, it was in the movie young/new actors were employed.
        As I wrote you once, you should come to Europe, we could have a chat or two. In the middle of the Alps, what could be better! 😃
        Robert

        1. Hi Robert,

          Since I’m not a Sci-Fi fan and have never watched Star Trek, Star Wars and such things, I’ll have to take your word on that! I’m sure a philosophical chat with you would be quite enjoyable.

          Tom

  3. If you think about it, nearly every purchase we make can be a compromise.

    At the moment I don’t NEED more than what my current equipment offers. I enjoy using my cameras and taking photos.

    But I’ve certainly made some less than optimal gear choices in my time.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for adding to the discussion! At times I wonder if we have unrealistic expectations when it comes to camera gear… if we are searching for the ‘perfect camera’ in vain.

      In terms of some gear choices I’ve made over the years… some have been much worse than calling them ‘less than optimal’. I just chalk them up as learning experiences.

      Tom

  4. Thomas, this is a good article that reminds us to be thoughtful about purchasing gear. This article also shows us why the continued existence of brick-and-mortar stores is essential for photographers to make the best decisions when buying photo gear. I have been a Nikon 1 owner since late 2012, and I use my Nikon 1 gear as much for video work as I do for making photographs. Although the in-lens VR system works fairly well for video work, IBIS is better, especially when I have to move while shooting. (This is based on my own limited experience with IBIS.) No Nikon 1 camera has this type of feature, other than the J5, with its electronic sensor-based stabilization that doesn’t seem to be that effective.

    So I started looking at the m43 system. I had my eye on getting either the Olympus E-M5 II with 14-150mm kit lens or Panasonic G85 with 12-60mm kit lens. After a fair amount of playing with both cameras I concluded that neither camera suited me. I liked the feel of the G85 and its controls, but hated the colours in the photos and video clips. I liked the look of video clips and photos from the E-M5 II, but hated how it felt in my hands. How else would I have come to this conclusion so quickly without being able to go to a brick-and-mortar store? I decided to stick with Nikon 1 for now.

    There are rumours floating about that Nikon will introduce at least one APS-C mirrorless camera in the near future. If that is true then I will go to my local store to see if that camera is the right one for me.

    1. Hi Craig,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and adding to the discussion!

      I agree that bricks and mortar stores are important places where we can go to physically try out camera gear. You illustrate this point very well when discussing the E-M5 Mark II and the G85.

      A number of years ago I bought a GH4 and a couple of Panasonic Pro 2.8 zoom lenses based on rave reviews on the internet. My big mistake was not renting the camera for a few days to try it out before ordering it. For a number of reasons, after about 10 days I ended up returning it for a small restocking charge. The camera just wasn’t a good fit for me at all. A lesson learned… and luckily not an expensive one.

      Its always interesting how different people use their cameras. While I love using my J5’s for still photography… I don’t like that model for video work at all. My ‘go to’ Nikon 1 camera for video is the V2. I just love how it handles and the video quality when shot up to ISO-800 was on par with the D800 that I used to own.

      I have also heard rumors of some Nikon APS-C mirrorless cameras. It will be interesting to find out if any of them meet your needs. I have also heard rumors of an E-M5 Mark III being launched soon… could be in September.

      Tom

      1. Thomas, I agree with you about the quality of the video from the V2. The V1, which was my main video camera for over five years, had some quirks when it came to exposure. The V2 seems to not have these same quirks. The V1, however, has microphones that are quite good for built-in mics, and are easily covered with pieces of furry material that act as windbreakers. The V2’s mics, unfortunately, pick up internal noises that the V1’s do not, so I find myself using a compact Nikon external stereo mic when I shoot video with the V2. Overall, I prefer to use the V2 for stills and video shooting. That is the standard that any new camera I get will have to exceed.

    2. Hi Craig

      As the Nikon 1 cameras do not have IBIS, I am using a Zhiyun Crane gimbal for stabilization. This works very well indeed and if you own a V3, you can remote control focus, zooming and taking photos or videos using Nikon Camera Control Pro 2. Zooming of course only works with the 2 PD lenses. This avoids touching the camera on the gimbal and thereby shaking it slightly.

      Rudolf

  5. I read this article and I absolutely agree. I think it represents my position about the current photographic world. Why not say it, the discomfort that I sometimes feel to see that the camera matters more than the photo.

    Some people do not love photography, but cameras, their technical characteristics and how one surpasses the other by milliseconds. Users do not buy what they need, but what will be most admired and supposed to be better because someone said it on youtube.

    Our behavior as consumers of photographic equipment sometimes responds to ignorance. The greater the ignorance, the greater the possibility of erring in the purchase of equipment and vice versa. Finally we trust who sells us in the store or advises on YouTube since we can not discern for us.

    The ideal buyer is the one who buys informed and knows his needs, but to become one it takes time and mistakes will exist.

    I have never tied myself to brands or engaged in discussions to defend them. I use any camera that works for me, regardless of name, price or features.

    My humble advice would be: buy what you and your photography need. Implicitly implies photographic self-knowledge.

    Although I have a personal anecdote to share…

    In March I bought a Sony A7 with 28-70 lens. I didn’t wake up that day thinking about having a new camera, but the price was ridiculous. I always wanted an FF but their prices were very high. There was nothing to lose since if I didn’t like it I could sell it, but it stayed with me.

    It is not perfect FOR ME, I would change and add several things, but it has others that my Nikon D5300 does not. Live histogram and on-screen level, to mention just a few. I miss my Nikon rotating screen to the side, the possibility of adjusting a minimum shutter speed in AutoISO mode and the feel of its buttons. Cameras are just tools and something will always be missing, that’s where knowledge allows us to compensate for the limitations of the camera itself.

    The A7 made me a better photographer? Absolutely not. My style or photographic vision does not change by changing the camera. It only changes the time it takes to take the photos and the amount of buttons that I must press.

    Would i come back to APS-C? I don’t think so.

    The article and inspiration are appreciated,

    Greetings.

    1. Hi Motografia,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences! I had to smile when you mentioned… “The ideal buyer is the one who buys informed and knows his needs, but to become one it takes time and mistakes will exist.” I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes over the years. I’m open about sharing my mistakes with readers… especially if it can help folks avoid making some of the mistakes that I did!

      It was great to read that your most recent purchase is working out well for you. As your comment points out, every camera comes with some kind of trade-off. The key is for each of us to buy the camera that best meets our needs… and has trade-offs that we can accept.

      Tom

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