Q&A: To Upgrade or not to Upgrade that is the Question?

Well that is the gist of the question from reader Cas Pretorius following our recent Photo Tip on not rushing to buy new gear

His question was: “I am currently looking at buying a specific body that has come down in price , basically because of the exchange rates etc.  There is talk that the manufacturer may soon replace it (it’s been on the market for +- 2 years).  If that happens, it is expected that the price of the current, then ‘old’ model, may come down even more, until all stock has been sold.  My question (in light of this article by you) is this, namely is it wise to buy the older technology at a reduced price, instead of getting the new one, which will in any event be quite expensive due to the fact that it is new etc?”

I should have seen this coming having been down this road myself more than once. So what is the answer to Cas’ dilemma of wanting a body that is cheaper now than it was two years ago when it was launched and could very soon be replaced?

Cas very kindly in his question, does not mention which camera it is that he is thinking of. I am going to be a bit more directional in a hope to give an answer that will benefit several photographers considering an upgrade to the Nikon D700 or Canon EOS 5D mkII. These are the two cameras right now which scream out ‘upgrade coming soon’.

First Focus on NEEDS

In reality there are two main reasons why we need to upgrade. One is that our existing camera is on its last leg and the other is that it just does not meet our needs anymore. There are those who upgrade because they can and their existing camera isn’t up to what they ‘want’ it to achieve but the damage here is never being satisfied with what you have, take it from someone who has been down that road… its not worth it.

So ask yourself what your needs are and what it will take to meet them. If for example your need is a full frame camera as it is in the case of these two models then you are taking a big step closer to making that purchase. Full frame has several benefits particularly if you shoot portraits, weddings and landscapes. If you feel you are really needing a higher res, bigger file then full frame in the likes of the Canon EOS 5D mkII is the answer. If noise levels on your current APS senosr size camera are not up to what your mates (or competitors if you are pro) are getting, the move to a full frame D700 Nikon is also in your favour. So to sum up this section, focus on the needs and which camera will meet them.

What About Rumours of a New Model

Lets be honest, there are always rumours and in the case of both cameras mentioned above they have been going for over a year now. That doesn’t mean the cameras are not capable. If your camera is your bread and butter and your needs are not currently met, then don’t put off upgrading, the camera will pay for itself in time to upgrade again – at least it should be or perhaps you need to increase your rates.

For those of us not making this choice to pay our way we have the flexibility of time but here again I think a similar principle applies. If your camera is becoming unreliable or you are not enjoying your final product then perhaps its time to upgrade even if there could be another model around the corner.

We live in the digital age and there will always be a new model that is going to be released soon.

With all this said I am going to share some points to ponder on new model patterns that you should keep in mind. They are not rules but things I have noticed, being behind the counter in retail and during my brief time working in the marketing department for a manufacturer, that decide to some degree the products life cycle.

Price Drops

Cameras particularly on the higher end will experience one sometimes two significant price changes in their life time. Some cameras will see a price drop three or four months after their launch, this usually aids continued sales after the hype of the introduction wears off and usually occurs right at the very top from the factory doors.

The most common price drop on high end cameras occurs near the end of a cameras life cycle and tend to be more regional than HQ controlled as each country will change price based on their sales and stock on hand. I am not saying that is the case always or with all companies but very often these products will be produced based on forecasts from the regions and then the problem is in their hands. When a camera sees a fair price drop it usually means a new model is a few months off.

What about exchange rates? Most importers buy forward cover of 3 months to keep price stability. It is not often that exchange rates will impact prices right away unless a camera ships during a change in quarterly exchange rate changes.

Improved Specifications

This comes back down to the needs. The nature of technology is that you will get more for the same or a bit less than the last model. Experience has shown me that a new model seldom launches near the price of well discounted previous models. A recent example is the Nikon D90 vs D7000. Locally there were some large prices cuts on the D90, where it is now a few thousand Rand less than at its launch. The D7000 despite a strong Rand is retailing very near the launch price that the D90 had two years ago.

With this in mind you need to ask is your budget ready to wait for the new model and if yes, will it have more of what you need? Right now I don’t see noise levels improving drastically more than the D700 offers currently. I do see its replacement getting improved video and maybe a megapixel push. Are those things important to you?

Canon is a little more of a challenge. I think we will see improvement in noise but I doubt that they will be drastic unless they have a secret new sensor up their sleeve. Video improvement will be a given and maybe the biggest deal at launch.


I don’t have any secret information to make this any easier but as I said it comes down to your needs. We are in a world where cameras are already so much better than they have been in the past. I saw images from Fuji 800ISO film recently and was amazed at how much better noise levels are on most cameras we have tested of late than the grain is on this film.

It would be great to see some revolutionary new technology being launched in cameras this year but even if that is the case, and budgets are tight, I don’t think you will be unhappy with the models currently on offer.

4 thoughts on “Q&A: To Upgrade or not to Upgrade that is the Question?”

  1. Thank you Tristan, as always, very helpful in that you actally answered my question & gave me what I wanted to know (instead – as so many experts often do – of just listing pros & cons, leaving one more confused at the end!).

    I am also amazed at how, with the little information I gave (specifically done so as not to cloud your objectivity), you spotted the class of camera I am considering!

    So, I think that my feeling was right and maybe it is time to keep on watching prices and order that D700 just at the right time!

    Tkanks again.

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