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Welcome to 2008. The pace of technology increases because technology itself creates each newer technology. More has been invented in the past 30 years than all the rest of recorded humanity, and this pace hastens every month. Today I can't even keep my digital memory card page and compact digital camera recommendations pages up to date because new products obsolete old ones every few weeks.
You can't wait for the next great thing. If you have photos to make today just get what you can, and replace it when you want to. There will always be some not-yet-shipping wonder camera no one can buy. Also never wait because you just know something better is just around the corner but not announced. It's been that way for decades.
I'm not kidding! I wanted a personal computer when they first came out in the 1970s. I never bought one because they were getting so much better every few months. I never could bring myself to buy one because I just knew it would be obsolete the next week. Because of this fear I waited continuously for twenty-five years, until 2000, to buy my first personal computer. Don't let this happen to you. Cameras have also kept getting better all this time, but do you really want to go without one just because you're afraid that something better is coming soon?
Digital cameras will always be replaced by better ones in less and less time because of this constant acceleration. You think it's fast today? Wait to see how fast new products arrive next year! Not only products, but complete categories of technology come and go every few years, as Zip drives were replaced by recordable CDs in 2000 and inkjet printers were carried out to the trash heap in 2004, having been replaced by printing on real photo paper at most labs and Costcos and Wal-Marts everywhere from digital files in 2005.
Digital cameras are consumable, disposable and perishable commodities like milk, film or gasoline. Buy them if you have photos to make today and don't expect them to have value in three years. Contrast this to film gear which was a durable good more like investing in gold. Of course times change, and just as the value of gold drops if replaced by a better technology so have 35mm film cameras.
I'm the biggest cheapskate around and have been for over 30 years. I always buy my film cameras used when I can. For instance I just bought a used medium format panoramic camera system in 2005 for $5,000. New it would have been over $12,000. So why do I always buy new digital cameras, even when I know they'll be worthless for resale in three years?
Simple: because digital cameras are still improving by such leaps and bounds every few months that you simply don't want last year's camera. Sure, I could be using my 1MP floppy-disk Sony Mavica for which I paid $600 in 1999, but why would I when for $175 I can buy a far better, faster, smaller Canon Powershot? Likewise, why would I want to bother using my three year old huge, heavy and cumbersome $4,000 Nikon D1H DSLR when a D70 is better, lighter, sharper, runs longer on batteries and is even easier to use for only $800?
You don't have to buy a new camera every couple of years; you'll want to. If you want to continue using an old digital camera you can and it will work just fine.
Should you wait to buy a new digital camera till the new model comes out? NO!
If you already own a perfectly good digital camera then by all means wait till the new model comes out. New models are usually introduced by every brand at the PMA show at the end of February and every even-numbered year at Photokina in September. If you look at your brand's history you'll usually see a pattern. Thus don't buy a new digital camera in January if you already have one. Nikon replaces its digital SLR models every two years and Canon replaces its digital SLRs about every year.
If you're getting your first digital camera or first digital SLR then get one now and don't wait for the next great thing. Every day someone asks me if they ought to wait for the next Canon or Nikon DSLR which is always coming very soon.
The simple reason you should do as I did and just buy one today is because of:
1.) All the great photos you'll make between now and whenever you can really buy the next great thing. Even after the next great thing is announced it's usually months before you really can buy one. If all you're hearing today is rumors of the next thing from Canon or Nikon then just forget about them and buy whatever you want today.
2.) Not only will you have many months to a year of great photos you would have missed by waiting, but you are entitled to throwaway what you have in two to three years to buy the even better next great thing. For instance, if you buy model 1 today you'll have it for the next six months till model 2 is first available. In two years you'll still have model 1, and will be perfectly justified in buying the even better model 3 with no regrets. If you waited you'd still be stuck with the model 2 you got six months before and also wouldn't have the six months of additional photos you got with model 1. Since you would have just bought model 2 you'd have a much harder time justifying model 3, and be stuck with model two and be out the many months of photos from not having bought model 1 in the first place.
Case in point: I bought my first DSLR, the $4,500 Nikon D1H, a week before the February 2002 PMA show when I figured the next great thing might be introduced. Lo and behold, Nikon announced the D100 which I would have preferred. Did I return the D1H and wait for the D100. NO. Why? Simple: I predicted correctly and no one could get their hands on the D100 for about six months after the announcement. Then in 2004 when the D70 came out I had no problem justifying trashing my D1H and getting the D70 as soon as I could. If I had had the D100 instead I probably would have hemmed and hawed about it and still be using a three year old out of date D100 instead of my beloved D70.
But can't I just keep using my film camera till the next great digital camera comes out?
Sure, but as you'll learn when you finally get your digital SLR you'll never want to bother scanning again. As of 2005 digital cameras allow most people to make much better images than film cameras. If you're an advanced artist who prints his own work of course you can get better results using film as you have, but for 99% of people out there who never have mastered how to get all the performance of which their film gear is capable digital will allow most people to get better results much more consistently.
I never appreciated what a pain scanning was until I got my digital camera.
Use all your film up before buying a digital camera.
Don't place a new order for film just before buying your digital camera. When your digital SLR shows up you'll probably never finish any 35mm film in your fridge. We all told ourselves that we'd still shoot film, too, but none of us ever does after getting a digital SLR. I still shoot medium and large format, but in 2005 digital completely replaces 35mm.
OK, so why can't I upgrade a digital camera instead of throwing it away each time?
Again, everything about every new camera is better. It's not just a new CCD or new processor or new AF system, its every single thing about the camera. Not only that, but the difficulty in designing a replaceable upgrade instead of a clean new camera from scratch makes it cheaper just to get a new camera.
Digital is getting better so much faster that EVERYTHING is upgraded each 6 months. There is no point in the partial upgrades you or I might be able to do.
There are free firmware upgrades, of course. I've upgraded my D70 once already for free.
What about used? What about getting a great used D1X for the same price as a new D70?
As we say in New York, forget about it. As explained above digital cameras have been so primitive and are getting so much better so fast that the world's best digital camera 2 years ago is crummy compared to an ordinary camera today, and this will continue for years. In 2007 when you can get a used Canon 1Ds-MkII for $899 you ought to avoid it in favor of whatever is new then. Likewise, a Nikon D1X was the king in 2002, but a heavy, crappy pain-in-the-butt in 2005. The D1X had awful batteries that were always dead or dying and only could make a tiny fraction as many shots as the much smaller and lighter batteries of today and it's flash system was awful compared to the D70, etcetera etcetera.
Used digital cameras seem a bad deal, since every one I've seen offered has not had its price dropped as much as it should have. For comparison, new cameras are offered with deeper and deeper price reductions and rebates as a year goes on, so if you look you might be able to find the same model new for the same price offered as used; be sure to check the price again right before you buy used. I'd not buy a used digital camera since new ones are probably better for the same price or less. For instance, I paid $300 for my Canon A70 in October 2003. Today you can get the Canon A510 which has replaced the A70 two cameras ago, for $199, and it's a far better camera.
More improves than just pixel count. Everything improves in each iteration like AF speed and accuracy, low light performance, highlight rendition and dynamic range, ease of use, speed of response to user input, flash exposure accuracy, battery life, etc. Little of this makes it to the spec sheets and all of it makes it to the quality of images and the pleasure you get from using the camera.
How can I avoid all this obsolescence?
Simple: shoot film, especially the larger formats. I use 50 year old 4 x 5 cameras and lenses and they are as good as brand new. If you want to use digital then you're going to have to deal with obsolescence.
One way to try to avoid a little obsolescence is go Nikon or Canon DSLR. Sure you'll be throwing away the bodies, but the lenses will remain useful. Olympus is brilliant, I just suspect that the 4/3 format will be gone in a few years. The Nikon and Canon lens mounts will still be here even though the cameras will change. Each will offer special wide angle lenses for the smaller digital sensors. The normal and telephoto lenses will remain the same and compatible.
Of course flash is also advancing and changing fast. Nikon just made all their previous flashes pretty much useless with the new D70. The good news is the new system works so well and the old (digital) flash system worked so poorly I was happy to see it go.
Isn't it expensive to throw away perfectly good digital SLR cameras every two years?
Yes, but less expensive than the money I spent on film, processing, trips to the lab and filing.
Not only that, but you can sell your old cameras to people who haven't gotten up to the times. I'm perplexed that people will spend money on old used digital cameras instead of on the less expensive new models which are better. Case in point: in 2004 people paid more for a used 2001 D100 ($1,200) than they could have for a superior new D70 ($900).
By all means sell or donate your old used digital cameras, but don't buy them.
Can I just use my old digital camera?
Sure you can. If you want to hold on to what you buy today and use it for 5 years you certainly can. The reason for all this madness is that better equipment keeps coming out for such low costs that you'll probably not want to use your 5 year old digital camera.
So why should I even buy a digital camera today?
Simple: to make more photos better and more easily with more fun than you ever have.
Do what I do: know that you are buying a tool for the thousands of great photos you'll be making in next year or two that you can't make any other way today.
If you prefer film stick with it, and if you want digital's advantages just know that you'll prefer to get something else in a couple of years. It's the same as cars or computers, just that cameras are getting better even faster than cars or computers ever did.
Most people today are just considering jumping on the DSLR bandwagon. Those of us who have been around a while are overjoyed at throwing away the old cameras, for instance, a 6MP camera cost $20,000 in 1997 instead of $799 today, and the old camera sucked through mounds of big batteries and teeny memory devices. We're used to the digital trash heap while most hobbyists and folks outside of newspapers are just buying their first piece of FutureTrash® today.
Expect to throw away any $1000 digital camera in a two years simply because in those 2 years you'll be able to buy a much, much better and more convenient one for $239. You'll be able to sell the old one for $139 so it only costs you $100 for a camera three times as good. Of course you'll want to replace it.
The old Nikon D1X cost $4,000 (and still does) and the $800 D70 is, for me, better.
I hope this helps! I am a big cheapskate and prefer to think about all the great photos I've made that I never would have if I had to set up my 4 x 5 or worry about film costs each time.
I support my growing family through this website.
If you find this 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.
The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Ritz, and J&R when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. 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.
Thanks for reading!
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