We spend a lot of time discussing the best time to buy new gear. But it can also be harder to know when is the right time to ditch old gear.
I didn’t quite come to the store yesterday. I had planned to go there. I intended to go there. But a pervasive sense of uncertainty led me to linger on the couch just long enough for the occasion to pass. To be fair, this is an opportunity that will come again. In fact, it’s something I can do anytime, including doing it now instead of writing this article. It’s just that doing it yesterday would have been a bit more convenient for my schedule.
The event in question was one of KEH’s regular buy events. I have sold a number of cameras to them in the past once the cameras outgrew usefulness. Usually it’s as simple as packing things up and bringing them to UPS. Then wait to find out if the actual estimate will be up to the estimated one that I had calculated online. To make this process even easier, KEH will occasionally take the show on the road. A representative will come to a local camera store to receive the equipment in person. No trips to UPS. And, if you accept the agreement, the payment on the spot.
There was such an event here in Los Angeles this weekend. I put it on my calendar, just as a point of reference, before I have something in particular in mind that I would like to sell. After years of battling equipment acquisition syndrome, there’s always something lying around my house that isn’t being used. But trade-ins aren’t always worth rummaging through the garage, so often these trade-in events come and go without me actually benefiting from them.
What piqued my interest this time was what had happened the night before. I wrote last week about using the Nikon Z30 to (re)launch my YouTube channel, Movable canvas. I had to send the loan unit back, so for the episode I was shooting this week, I thought I’d audition one of my other cameras to film the episode. This particular mission was entrusted to the Canon EOS-R5. If you think the camera is a bit overkill for shooting a direct-to-video YouTube video, you might be right. I certainly didn’t buy it for that purpose. I bought this almost two years ago to be my primary mirrorless camera for professional work. At the time, I shot the majority of my photos with the GOAT, the Nikon D850, but this camera lacked many of the video features I needed, so as my work became more and more video-focused, the R5 started getting more and more shots. I’ve shot a number of ad campaigns, editorials and personal projects with the R5 and it has produced some of my favorite images. A long-time Nikon-ian, I seriously entertained the idea that this Canon R5 might be the right fit for the future.
Then the Z9 came out of. I quickly realized that the Z 9 was the perfect camera for my particular needs. It felt good in my hand. It is designed to work quickly and efficiently. Efficiency is my middle name. And, being a longtime Nikon-ian, it was just fine. No judgment on other brands. But, for me, the Z 9 turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. Once I was able to get my hands on a second Z 9 as a replacement for the first, I suddenly found that all my camera needs were taken care of for the foreseeable future.
That’s not to say the R5 was still useless. Along with the Z 9’s built-in grip, there are advantages to having another smaller body like the R5 when you need to navigate some less user-friendly shooting environments. The smaller body is also beneficial in some gimbal shooting scenarios (although the Z 9 also performs well on a gimbal). And, while it uses a different log/raw format, having a third camera that’s also capable of shooting 8K isn’t exactly a terrible option to have around.
The question, however, is how often am I likely to use this option. Because the Z 9 has established itself as the camera of choice, any game time the R5 gets at this point would be like a C-camera. And while it has the advantage of small size over to the Z 9, it’s not like there’s anything it does that the Z 9 can’t. Except, of course, it has the swivel screen. And that’s why I thought I might audition him as the cameraman for my YouTube channel.
It reminded me of two things. First, the image quality of the video is amazing. And, second, the thing always overheats. This has improved with recent firmware updates, but depending on your combination of settings, that blinking red overheat light is still a lingering threat. I was reminded of this when in the middle of recording the episode I got the overheating warning and was forced to stop my recording for about half an hour before I could resume and finish what I was doing. It was not particularly hot in the room. I was not shooting in 8K. There didn’t seem to be any reason I couldn’t have gone through a simple direct-to-camera address, other than my own propensity to trip over my lines. Still, the camera actually overheated, which reminds me of one of the main benefits of going to the big-body Z 9 in the first place. This thing can shoot 8K, 4K, or any K for days without limits. Therefore, one of the main reasons why he took over the starting point.
I didn’t want this article to become a comparison between the Z 9 and the R5. Both cameras have served me incredibly well as a professional photographer and filmmaker. But I wanted to give some context as to why I found myself yesterday morning trying to decide whether to finally box up the R5 and take the reader to the store to see how to redeem it. Because it’s still an amazing camera, the R5 should still be able to fetch a fair price on the used market. And the value is unlikely to increase over time. So trading it now while the value is still relatively high makes a lot of financial sense. It’s just my own internal hesitation that makes me wonder what situations might arise where I wish I still had it in my toolkit. No doubt there will come a time, if I were to trade it, when I wish I had kept it. Swapping it would also mean that all cameras I have now would be of the built-in grip variety (other than the compact Nikon Z fc). It’s weird not having an average sized body somewhere in the collection. But, again, is that really a reason not to cash in now when the value is still high?
With this column, I often have the opportunity to talk about all the many detailed reasons why you should or shouldn’t buy a certain kit. But I find deciding when to ditch the existing kit is a much bigger challenge. What’s the best way to decide when it’s time to let go of an old camera? And where is the line between its value as a backup option and its monetary value as an exchange? With the R5, it has value. But what if the camera you’re considering trading in is worth so little compared to what you paid that the question becomes more difficult?
I was once dating a woman who had a one in, one out philosophy when it came to clothing. In order to keep her closet manageable, for every new item of clothing she purchased, she donated one item of clothing to Goodwill. A born accuser, I have always envied her this discipline. I had a similar approach to the cameras. I usually sell the old ones to help pay for the new ones. But, even though I now have multiple cameras, they all have slightly different lenses and come in slightly different shapes, which makes the decision slightly more difficult.
I’ve heard of some photographers who set a schedule for their reshoots. Every three years, they exchange their old cameras and upgrade them. I think this approach has a lot of selling points. For one, it takes the guesswork out of when to upgrade. We love to debate which cameras are best for us and how one brand is better than another. But, truth be told, most of us very rarely need an upgrade. We want. But, chances are, any camera you’ve bought in the last three years will be perfectly capable of doing the job. So if you just set a calendar date to update your gear and you’re able to stick to it, it gets you out of the technological rat race where every time you buy something new it becomes obsolete in the six months.
The other benefit of doing it this way is that it forces you to sell when the resale value is relatively high. Once the new model is announced, the price of the old one will inevitably drop. If you set up a schedule to sell your old ones at regular intervals, it could help you get the most out of your trade.
These are of course just my working theories. But I’d like to understand how you go about deciding when to ditch your old gear. Do you set a schedule? Are you constantly upgrading every six months to stay ahead of the technology? Do you keep cameras until they disintegrate on the shelf? I’m really curious how others are handling the retirement of cameras and hardware that have served us so well over the years. In the meantime, I’ll keep twirling my fingers looking at my R5. The answer will eventually come to me.