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Is It Worth It?
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August 2011   Nikon Reviews   Canon   LEICA   All Reviews

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Everytime anything new comes out, everyone asks me "is it worth it?"

If I don't know you, I can't answer this directly.

Something is worth it if its benefit exceeds its cost - to you. That's easy to answer if I know you, what you shoot and your situation.

I can help you understand what's new and why anyone would care, but only you know how much money means to you and whether or not you use the features that may have been added.


How Much Money You Got?

(This heading paraphrased from a line heard by New York City folk Hero Bernie Goetz.)

If it's worth it largely depends on what money means to you. We all come from different circumstances.


Rich Man

Readers who write me include Hollywood celebrities you'd all recognize and mutual fund managers living in Luxembourg and Switzerland of whom you've never heard.

If you're in this category, the cost of any piece of exotic photo gear is less than you pay for a night at the real Ritz in Paris.

If it's new and it's from a big player like Nikon or Canon, go for it. You'll love it. Each of them have been leapfrogging each other with newer, better gear at least since I started paying attention in the late 1960s. Neither has introduced any junk yet, so place your order the moment it's announced and I doubt you'll be disappointed. If you are, return it within a week or so and all the places from which I buy (Ritz (the camera store, not hotel), Amazon and Adorama) will cheerfully give you a refund in cash.

Unlike the good old days where America and Germany played in the popular photo world, today it all comes from the mind of Japan, and from what dangerous little I know of their culture, I think they'd all Seppuku if they ever introduced anything less than excellent. It's messy for the Japanese, but ensures an excellent flow of new cameras. (Sorry if this article turned out bloody; it just turned out that way.)

This is why I don't worry about ordering gear sight unseen. I know Nikon and Canon make great stuff, and if not, I'm not obligated to keep it. Ditto for Apple computers and other brands associated with decades of top products and service.


Poor Man

I have readers write me who are in grade school as I was when I started, and I have readers write me as students in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia.

If you're in this financial category, then no way does new gear make any sense whatsoever, except maybe if you want a digital camera, which are best bought new, like the $170 Canon A550.

New features are nice, but every camera or lens shares the same basic ability to make photos. A $150 camera produces results the same as an $5,000 camera. Use what you have, and don't waste a second thinking you're missing anything.

I was 11 years old when I bought my first advanced SLR. I saved my allowance for a year and paid $75 for a ten-year-old Minolta SR-1.

Minolta SR-1

Self Portrait, 1974.

The meter didn't read through the lens or viewfinder: it clipped on the top and you had to set the aperture after reading it from the meter! It had X and M (flashbulb) sync. It had a mirror which flipped up at the start of the selftimer interval, much better than the default operation of any of today's DSLRs.

Rosedale, NY 1973

Rosedale, New York, 1973. enlarge. (the lines are reflections from passing cars.)

Primitive, but the photos I made with it 33 years ago are the same as I can make today. Actually, I could make better photos with it today, since we only had Kodachrome back then, not Velvia. There was (and still is) a full range of lenses available for this Minolta, and I even bought a full-frame fisheye for it years later. That Minolta 16mm fisheye had built-in filters selected with a ring; far more advanced than the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye I bought for my Nikon this month.

$75 in 1973 was the same as $350 in 2007, so a brand-new A550 today is a great deal, even for a kid. Today kids get their parents to spend more on sneakers. Today that Minolta is probably worth ten or twenty dollars, and still works as well as it ever did. (I sold mine in 1985. Let me know if you have one gathering dust.)

I've spent 40 years screwing with gear. I was using my parent's cameras or using the Instamatics they bought for me ever since I was 5 years old. If I had spent this time concentrating on photography instead of on cameras I'd be a much better photographer.

New gear is for people flush with cash, not for people on limited budgets. Having watched features improve for 40 continuous years I know that all they do is make things faster, easier or work over a wider range of conditions. New features don't make better images, unless you're shooting something odd and are now able to shoot something you couldn't before.

If an 11-year-old sixth-grader (me) could shoot this at night in New York City while visiting his grandparents for Thanksgiving, you can do anything. Don't expect me to justify paying a lot of money for the newest model camera. This was my first roll of film and no, I didn't need to bracket.



What do you shoot? When? Where? How often? For how long?

If you shoot the occasional landscape, even at night like the above, any camera works great.

If you're shooting sports all day, every day for a living, you'll want a fast camera, like the 9 FPS Nikon D3 or 10FPS Canon 1D Mk III.

Most new things don't matter, or aren't really new. Sometimes a new thing comes along that really does matter, like IS/VR, or a lens which replaces several older ones, like the Nikon 18-200mm.

If a new thing changes your world, as the Nikon 18-200mm did for me, get it. If it's just a new acronym invented by a marketing person looking to push the same old stuff, like a "new" processor inside a digital camera, ignore it. Hopefully I can help sort through what matters in my reviews.

In the 1950s, coupled rangefinders were new. In the 1960s, coupled TTL meters and electronic flash were new. In the 1970s, auto exposure and multicoating were new. In the 1980s, autofocus was new. In the 1990s, zoom lenses replaced fixed lenses. In the 2000s, digital replaced film, and so it goes. Most other innovations aren't that important.

If you use it all day, every day, then even small improvements in convenience and build quality make a big difference. If you only use it once a week for an hour or two, you won't appreciate it as much.

If you earn your living with it and deduct its cost as an expense, go whole hog.

If buying it makes you more money, do it yesterday!

I used my 12" iBook, Apple's cheapest laptop computer, to do this website and all my photography for two years from 2004 - 2006! When I got it I was a cheapskate. In January 2006 I blew $7,000 on Apple's biggest, baddest desktop and a 30" screen. Holy cow! I was such an idiot for not buying this sooner. That $7,000 investment helped me get so much more done faster that it paid for itself in a month or two.

If you only whip out a camera once a year for vacation, the benefits to you are much less.



You know yourself better than I ever could.

1.) Read my reviews for my take on what new products mean to me.

2.) Take my observations and interpret how they'll matter to you.

3.) Figure out what it really costs you. If a new camera's benefits to you exceed its cost to you, go for it. If a new camera is going to cost you even one trip to a good photo location, then keep what you have and go shoot with what you've got.

4.) Look at the real cost. Photo gear can be sold. My pal humanitarian photojournalist Karl Grobl and I were always amazed when Karl could drag a (film) camera all over the world for a couple of years, and then sell it for 70% of what he paid brand new.

That convinced me to get what I need, since the real cost is what you paid minus what you get for it when you're done with it.

This is another reason I prefer only camera-brand lenses (Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus etc. and not Spooginar, Sigma, Tamron and etc.). Camera brand lenses are a known premium commodity, today and for the future.

A Nikon lens bought 30 years ago still has value and works perfectly on my D3. (see The Mother of All Nikon Lens Compatibility Charts.) A 1980 70-210mm f/4 Kiron zoom is worth $20 on eBay, while the Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5 sells for five times the price, and has a slower f/stop and narrower zoom range.


Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links to Adorama, Amazon, eBay, B&H, Ritz, Calumet, J&R and ScanCafe when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

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Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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