Stop Buying New Cameras.

Last year, I spent a week in Paris shooting street photography and wandering around the city anytime after noon (best solution to jet lag? Don't adjust). I had planned to bring my GH4 with me until I found a used Fuji X-Pro for $400 at Roberts Photo in Indianapolis. I had used the Fuji X100 when it first came out and had alove hate relationship with the camera. The images were amazing, but the camera was incredibly frustrating to use - it's autofocus was bad and it's manual focus was somehow significantly worse. I sold it and pretty much swore off the Fuji X cameras. 

But at $400 and with several years worth of firmware updates behind it, the X-Pro was a tempting package. Small size, unique hybrid optical and electronic viewfinders, and excellent IQ combined with the much superior used pricing pushed me to take the plunge. I picked up a 23 1.4 alongside it and set off for Paris. 

This purchase got me thinking: Why do we always look to what's new when we're buying gear?

With the recent launch of the XPRO-2, I realized my feelings towards the XPRO-1 were so strong that I didn't really pay attention to specs or improvements offered by the XPRO-2. It's that I'm in not interested in new features, but there's simply nothing wrong with the XPRO-1. It is probably my favorite stills camera of all time. Given that I'm not why I'd replace it now or really ever.

In the era before digital that really wasn't uncommon - some folks shot their entire careers using a Leica M-6. For the first ten years or so digital had a lot of catching up to do, but at this point I think its entirely possible to skip a generation or three. I felt very similarly about the 5D Mark III - I shot the entire Obama re-election campaign with a 5D Mark II and a 7D. Both of those cameras were pretty old in 2012, but nobody could even tell the difference between the 5D and the 7D, let alone the photos I shot and those shot on 1DX's or 5D Mark IIIs.

As photographers we've all been told the camera doesn't matter, the photographer does. When you're shooting with low end gear you feel the limits of that equipment all of the time - bad low light, poor autofocus, bad video, etc... Gear does make an impact and especially with digital improvements did make it not only easier to make great work, it expanded our capabilities. Camera companies know that and with every new release they try to convince their consumers that this new model is going to have the same impact on your work that your first real piece of gear did. 

I don't think that's true anymore, in fact I think the pace innovation should be bringing gear we've long forgotten about back into our minds when we think about what cameras we should buy or recommend to folks starting out.

The Fuji is a great example of this. When it was launched the X-Pro body only was $1800, approaching the same price as a used 5D Mark II. The camera had bad autofocusing, limited lens selection, and terrible video quality. There were stills photographers who adored it, but for the most part it fell of my radar. 

 

3 years later the X Pro is a much better value. You can pick up a used body for under $500 most places, firmware updates have given the camera a usable autofocus system and not only has Fuji expanded it's own lens offerings third party companies like metabones have released adapters that give the X Pro's full frame field of view with Canon FD, Nikon, and Minolta lenses. For $800 you could be shooting full frame with manual focus lenses with excellent image quality at basically every ISO the camera offers. It would cost more to buy a Leica M6 body. 

This is true with higher end cameras too. The Sony FS700 initially sold for $8,000 with the primary selling point being 240 FPS HD footage and the promise of 4K footage down the road. We're down the road and now the FS700 cost half what did it at launch and combined with a raw recorder offers 4K 120 FPS raw amongst a host of other added features. Does the camera have flaws? Sure, it's not the most ergonomic design in the world and the internal codec is weaker than an FS7. But, you could buy two FS700's for the price of a single new FS7. 

In the long term camera's don't hold their value. Not a lot of gear does. There are times when buying something brand new can make a lot of sense - the right specs for the job or an excellent price/performance ration from day one (the GH4 comes to mind), but often you can find a better deal by buying a camera that's a generation old and lost the allure of being shiny and new. And maybe more than that, you can build a bond with a camera that stops you from thinking about the gear at all.