Your next camera: What to buy after you outgrow your basic dSLR


If you are like most photographers, you started out with an entry-level dSLR like a Canon Rebel or a Nikon 3100 and 18-55 mm slow kit lens.

And now, a couple of years later, you want or need better lenses and maybe even a bigger sensor.

Are you planning an epic trip and want better gear? Or do you want to make money with your camera, and your original camera doesn’t have all the features you need? Do you need better video capabilities?

There are many good reasons to upgrade our camera systems. Chances are that crappy entry-level lens you got bundled with your camera, will be the first thing you want to replace.

You’re at the crossroads. You can:

  1. Stick with the same camera brand and add to your collection
  2. Totally switch systems

Why stay with the same brand?

  • You develop brand loyalty
  • You like where the buttons are on the camera you have
  • You like the sales person who really understands the system you work with
  • You’re just used it
  • You think you’ll need that old camera and lens (but trust me you won’t)
  • It’s easier to stay with the same brand because you don’t have time to research other brands
  • You resist change

Why switch systems?

  • It’s a perfect time to switch systems as your investment hasn’t been that great yet – probably under $1,000
  • It’s quite shocking to realize how bad those kit lenses are, but you don’t really know until you get a really good lens to compare it to
  • You’ll be replacing your camera body anyhow, because the sensor technology improves a bit with each new generation of camera
  • You’re very likely going to be upgrading the camera body and the lenses at the same time, especially if you go for a full frame camera
  • Maybe you didn’t really like that Canon Rebel as much as you thought

No matter which upgrade path you take, it requires a significant investment

Here is a price comparison chart that shows the Nikon and the Canon upgrade routes you can take, as well as an alternative, the Panasonic Lumix GH3. I’m comparing prices of equivalent cameras and lenses in each brand, as well as the weight of each system.

*Prices are current at the time of writing (March 2013) and all come from B&H PhotoVideo website and are in $USD.

Gear comparison chart – these are possible routes you can take when upgrading from your entry-level dSLR

upgrade-chart-2-600px

Do the math!

If you do the math, you’ll quickly see the advantages in price and weight, of choosing a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) like the Panasonic Lumix GH3. It’s going to be lighter on both your wallet and in your camera bag.

So why throw a totally different camera system into the mix?

As you might know, I recently upgraded my Canon 5D Mark II full frame camera system with a Panasonic Lumix GH3 MILC system. I bought the equivalent lens combination as what I had with my Canon.

I was very skeptical about going mirrorless and leaving my Canon comfort zone!

  • I’ve been using Canon cameras for over 37 years! (Yes, I’m that old.)
  • Mirrorless cameras weren’t even on my radar 6 months ago.
  • I had a hard time getting used to it
  • I had to let go of my biases that were mostly due to marketing hype from Canon
  • I had to get over the full frame sensor hype, and I did

get-over-it

I have no regrets about switching to a mirrorless system

I now enjoy these advantages of my Lumix GH3:

  • Less expensive than equivalent pro gear
  • Lighter system overall – under 3lbs for the system above
  • Sharper lenses – yes, sharper than my Canon L series pro lenses
  • Low light sensor
  • Flip around screen
  • True auto-focus video
  • Built in jpg filter effects that you just can’t get when you shoot raw files – and most of those work with video too
  • Amazing black and white photos and video
  • I can fit it all into a small camera bag, saving my back and hips from more heavy lifting
  • Seeing is believing!

What’s still missing from the GH3 lineup

  • A good macro lens. But here’s the thing: You can use other Micro 4/3 lenses on Lumix Micro 4/3 cameras. For example, I can put an Olympus 60mm macro lens on my GH3.
  • UPDATE: A good flash system is now available – I have tested the Panasonic wireless flash here.

These things will come in due time. The GH3 has only been on the market since late 2012.

Final thoughts

So before you invest heavily (pun very much intended) into a full frame pro-sumer camera system, you need to seriously consider the Lumix GH3 or other MILC. It is a professional quality system and several pros I know are using it.

I suggest you rent one for a week and see for yourself. You’ll save thousands of dollars and a few pounds in the process too.