Investing in a camera system is a costly business. Once you are tied to a particular brand, you seem stuck with it. Changing is a big decision, but there can be good reasons both to and to not swap systems.
Before I start, I should point out the elephant in the room. It’s an undeniable fact that we consume much more than is sustainable. Earth has finite resources. Ten years ago, it was reported that if everyone worldwide consumed as many resources as the USA, we would need more than four Planet Earths to maintain that. Human consumption has grown since, and only the most foolish won’t recognize this as disastrous.
Changing camera brands means buying new stuff made from plastics, metals, and rare elements. They are mined in ways that are far less than environmentally friendly. Carbon dioxide is released in the production process, exacerbating climate change. Meanwhile, pollutants are pumped into the air, rivers, and seas. Camera production uses a lot of valuable fresh water too, which people finally realize is a limited resource following the droughts and wildfires sweeping the world.
Moreover, transporting the products worldwide and distribution to wholesalers and shops burns a lot of fossil fuel.
Camera manufacturing is not an environmentally friendly business. Let’s take Canon as a typical example. The risk to water supplies at its manufacturing sites is shown on page 71 of 148 of its new sustainability report, hidden within Canon’s global corporate website; you must hunt for it from the camera page. In the USA, the risk to the water supply at Canon’s manufacturing plants is high, as it is in many parts of the world. The risk is considered “Extremely High” at its manufacturing bases in Thailand and China. They also release nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the environment; 426 tons in 2021. Those chemicals dissolve in water, creating nitric and sulfuric acids. That is before considering their declared 990,000 tons of climate change gas emissions.
They make a lot of noise about improving their performance in these areas and are doing that steadily. But the amount of damage caused to the environment each year is still massive.
I should point out that Canon produces other equipment besides cameras. Furthermore, all manufacturers have similar problems happening in the background. I’ve used them to illustrate my point because they have the largest market share and as a general example of how the industry performs. Unlike Canon, not all manufacturers publish their data, and some of the other companies’ data is hard to decipher, so one can only assume they perform poorly.
I hope they are all improving as Canon is, but these multimillion-dollar businesses could change more quickly and set an example for photographers and other industries. Photographers are environmentally aware and will invest in low-impact products, so they should be working to impress us.
Then, there are the ethical considerations. There are countries around the world that have appalling human rights records. A growing awareness of this means that consumers are boycotting manufacturers whose production is based in certain countries. With the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war, many businesses have boycotted Russia and Belarus. But camera manufacturers are still selling there, although other arms of their companies have stopped.
So, unless we have a good reason — and surely, desire is not a good reason — then upgrading is something we should consider delaying until it becomes a necessity.
If you are contemplating changing systems, it is maybe because your camera is worn out. Sadly, many cameras have built-in obsolescence. Their limited shutter lives are indicative of the overall build quality. For example, the Nikon D750 was only supposed to last 150,000 shutter actuations, and the Canon 5D Mark IV likewise. Many entry-level cameras have far shorter lives, and manufacturers are starting not to publish their life expectancies to hide the deliberate restrictions they impose. When they can also design cameras with shutters to last more than 400,000 or 500,000 actuations, is there any doubt that they fitted inferior parts intended to fail, so the photographer will be forced to buy again? That approach is bad for the planet and the consumer.
The secondhand camera market is far more environmentally friendly and buoyant. If you decide to change, there are some excellent used models available. Other photographers will want to buy your used kit too. Even older cameras have value and, although not a perfect system, most countries have efficient electronic equipment recycling. Hopefully, your old camera is unlikely to end up in a landfill if you dispose of it responsibly.
Do you need to upgrade because you want a camera with functionality that yours lacks? Ten years ago, I would never have made asked that. Most cameras within any price bracket were much the same as the next. Indeed, even now, most top model cameras don’t have features you can’t find on similar models from other brands. Take the Canon EOS R series of cameras as an example. They are fine machines capable of taking great photos, but they don’t do anything special that sets them a long way apart from cameras from Nikon or Sony.
To illustrate that, look at this blog post on the Canon website. Ignoring the dreadful white balance and the camera strap about to fall out of the buckle in the lead image, nothing stands out in the descriptions that makes me want to swap to Canon. Its functions are commonplace. The three market leaders of Canon, Nikon, and Sony have little to choose between them. They can make super machines, but a proficient photographer can become familiar with any of them and take equally good photos, whichever model they chose.
Nevertheless, with the smaller brands, things have changed significantly. There are cameras with exceptional, unique features. Technology has leaped forward, and all cameras can do things they could not do before, and some can do things that other brands cannot. Additionally, many of the disadvantages of sensors smaller than 35mm have paled in insignificance as technology has advanced.
So, what factors might you be looking for when choosing a new system?
The type of photography you do may well dictate your choice. All cameras will do an excellent job of shooting standard, stationary or slow-moving subjects such as daytime landscapes and portraits. Similarly, with a fast lens, all modern flagship cameras will give excellent results in most genres.
But when you look at the more specialist areas, some cameras will help you achieve those shots more than others. For example, I do a lot of low-light, very long-exposure photography before dawn. So, having the ability to watch the image gradually develop on the rear screen and observe the histogram move to the right as the exposure progresses is a boon. Alternatively, I can set my camera so it only adds new light to the frame, which is excellent for shooting lightning or light painting. I also dabble in a bit of wildlife photography. Having images buffer while the shutter is half-pressed and the buffered images become recorded when I fully press the shutter release button means my reaction time is taken out of the equation. Consequently, I don’t miss the shot.
I have a couple of clients who don’t want to spend time processing photos. They both miss shooting with film, so they use Fujifilm cameras that emulate the look of film. They are both meticulous about composition and publish their JPEGs straight out of the camera.
Pentax cameras have a unique function called ASTROTRACER. That moves the image sensor to track the stars in the sky, negating the need for star-tracking tripod heads in many cases.
About 30 brands build cameras and lenses to the Micro Four Thirds standard. This includes Panasonic Lumix and the OM System (Olympus), as well as cinematic drones such as the Hasselblad camera and lens on the DJI Mavic 3, and the XDynamics Evolve 2. So, the cameras, while giving excellent image quality, are smaller, lighter, and thus more portable than their larger competition. That is an essential factor for some photographers.
To conclude, my message is that if you change the system or even buy for the first time, don’t just jump for the prominent brands without thinking about what else is available. All of the major brands make great cameras that will help you take great shots, but think about what you require. Some of the less obvious choices might suit you better.
There are lots of reasons for sticking with what you’ve got. As I said, all the manufacturers make great cameras, so if you are pleased with what you have, you have every reason to be. But have you changed your camera system lately? Are you contemplating it? What were the reasons that attracted you to a different brand? It would be great to hear your thoughts about why you would change in the comments.