Do I Want a Camera or Subjects?

I’m “that person” in my group of friends – the one who always has a camera out, taking awkward candid photos.  I estimate that I have tens of thousands of photos that I’ve taken with my two Canon point-and-shoots over the past 7 or 8 years.  (But for all the flak my friends give me about annoyingly documenting everything, they frequently tell me how much they appreciate my efforts and several times have asked for copies of photos from weddings.)  I have a bad memory so photos help me remember special events or just everyday life.


Recently, I’ve become paranoid about losing parts of my photo collection to hard drive failure or damage.  Even though we have most of our photos saved on 2-3 different hard drives, I’m not satisfied.  So Kyle has been looking to the most cost-effective offsite storage options.  (I think he has decided on Flickr.)  While he was going through our old photos, something really caught his attention: the enormous difference in the quality of the photos I’ve taken with our point-and-shoot camera with the ones friends and family members have taken with DSLRs/other nicer cameras.  A few days later, he told me that he is on a mission to get me a DSLR for my birthday next month.  He’s been doing tons of research (and actually we are considering a mirrorless camera instead of a DSLR) and watching for deals on new and used cameras.  Since Kyle is doing the legwork on choosing the camera, I think it’s up to me to find the money to buy it!


nice cameraLest you think this is completely out of the blue, we have wanted to buy a DSLR or similar camera for several yearsWe nearly bought an entry-level DSLR from our friend a year ago.  I am determined to buy a nice camera before we have a baby, but as we discussed on Monday that is likely still a few years down the road.  So there is no pressing need to get a camera now, but we have been putting off planning for the purchase for a while.


Since we have so little wiggle room in our budget, our best option for coming up with the money for a camera soon is to repurpose some of the discretionary funds we have built up in our targeted savings accounts.  Namely, we would take money from our Travel or Entertainment savings accounts, or possibly our Nest Egg.  (To be honest, before I started this blog I thought we would use the Nest Egg money toward a nice camera.  Now, that would make me feel guilty!)  However, the choice to use Travel or Entertainment soft-earmarked money to buy a camera means that we would be giving up the very fun activities that I would want to photograph!


I think this may come down to a choice between buying a nice camera and going on the big post-Kyle’s defense vacation that I wanted.  I really don’t want to give up on that vacation (although Kyle doesn’t want it to begin with), but it would also be amazing to get the new camera so that I have time, while Kyle is living Elsewhere, to devote to learning how to use it.


What would be doubly amazing is to be able to buy a camera before going on our vacation.  I think that would only be possible if we used money from our Nest Egg savings account or went totally bonkers earning extra money.  I really don’t want to have to choose between a vacation and a camera!!  I think if I had to I would lean toward the vacation, but considering that Kyle definitely wants the camera and not the vacation maybe it would switch.  I suppose we could take a big vacation after my defense next year…


In any case, we can’t make any major purchasing decisions until two things occur: 1) Kyle gets a job and we’re sure that we won’t face a period of him being unemployed and 2) we repair my car and we’re sure we don’t have to buy a new (to us) one.  Those two scenarios are bummers to think about but either could definitely ruin our plans for both the camera and travel scenarios.


In the meantime, though, I’m thinking of how we might revamp our targeted savings accounts to wring out some extra cash for the camera!


What would you choose, a vacation or a nice new toy?  What would you do if you wanted to make a big purchase on short notice?  Are there any purchases you’d like to make but are putting off?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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30 Responses to "Do I Want a Camera or Subjects?"

  1. Lucas says:

    As a semi-pro photographer I don’t think mirrorless is up to par at the moment. Of course this depends on your intended use, but contrast based focusing (mirrorless or live view on a DSLR) isn’t that useful for anything moving and will probably leave you rather frustrated (especially with kids/sports/wildlife). With the small sensor size on a point and shoot your depth of field is big enough that it usually doesn’t matter, but as soon as you get a bigger sensor (and faster lenses) your area in focus goes down a lot. This is what makes a “great” picture but also means that your focusing ability is really key.

    I know size is a consideration. But definitly play around with them in addition to the DSLRs. How it holds in your hands and easy access to all key functions through buttons (not menues) is key to being able to take pictures but not be stuck behind the camera all the time (after you get your flow down).

    I currently shoot with a Pentax K5. I choose Pentax as the best value option with body stabalization vs in-lens (canon/nikon) as the costs were lower. I have been pretty happy with my camera(s) but they are a little harder to find lenses, parts, rentals for, and they are usually slightly behind cannon/nikon with repect to features in each release. They also don’t have a path to a full frame SLR which is my main current problem, so there is a chance I will be switching over (probably to Canon as i think they have better focus systems). I am not up on my mirrorless lenses much but if you get an SLR definitly get the f1.8 50mm prime for your brand as it is usually the best quality lens for the price that you will ever get (~$100), is much better then the kit zooms, is a great portrait lens (I use mine all the time), and is a great learning lens. Don’t bother with the f1.4 as you won’t use the extra range much anyway as it is usually a lot softer and harder to focus (it can be very artistic though 🙂 ).

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for voicing your opinion on the camera and lens selection! We actually stopped in the camera section of Costco last time we were there so I got to handle a mirrorless camera for the first time and it did seem strangely unbalanced! The most recent reviews we read said they are comparable in image quality with a few small differences. I would basically see a mirrorless camera as a stepping stone to a mid-range DSLR, but if I decide I don’t want to invest more money into the hobby I might stop there.

      1. Lucas says:

        Yeah, It is hard to remove the laws of physics when building lenses 🙂 I think it is possible to use DSLR lenses on mirrorless with an adapter but probably not the otherway as you would need to scale up the focal point vs just cropping more. So you might be stuck spending more money on lenses if you move up to a DSLR.

  2. Before a vacation is a great time to get a new camera. I remember my first cruise super vividly because I got an underwater camera right before it and spent tons of time playing with the camera taking pictures!

    Check out entry level and used DSLRs. You might be surprised at how affordable they are. And camera shops will be able to tell you if they’ve been well maintained. The only thing I would add to your list of “wants” is to consider getting one that older lenses can still attach to. Mr. PoP got a pentax DSLR about 8 years ago and his grandfather’s lenses from the 70’s and earlier still fit it. Grandpa’s were free to Mr. PoP, but you can still find pentax lenses at flea markets and garage sales from the old film cameras that fit the new ones. It lowers the cost of the expensive add-ons to the new toy. =)
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Get Fit and Get Rich

    1. Emily says:

      I hadn’t thought of going through a camera shop so thanks for the tip. We recently learned about the compatibility of Canon vs. Nikon lenses and if we get a DSLR it will probably be a Canon. Not that we have anyone to give us lenses but maybe we can find a good deal on an older lens!

  3. Lucas says:

    Guess I didn’t really answer your question. I don’t tend to make big purchases on short notice, mainly becuase I like to research them a good bit first and “save up” for them out of monthly income. We have made choices about travel vs purchases before though as well, so re-allocating money is always an option. I tend to agree that being able to capture memories (ie having a nice camera) is a key priority so It is one of the few areas that I spend more on. I am quite happy my parents did the same (at least for certain periods of their life) as I have some great pictures to look back on.

    1. Emily says:

      We prefer to save up too, and always research for a long period of time. If we were to change our monthly budget it would be the savings rate for our Travel or Entertainment accounts anyway (in addition to redirecting budget leftovers and discretionary extra income) so moving money from those savings accounts amounts to the same thing.

      I looooove having all my pictures and I would love them more if they were high quality! I’ll definitely be over-documenting my children’s development.

  4. CashRebel says:

    I’d choose the vacation for sure. Yea, the new camera would be a fun new toy, but you’ve already got one, and it’s not like they wont be around in 6 months. I’d go on the vacation and just live with slightly lower quality pictures. That being said, both sounds like an attractive option too since it’s something you both clearly really want.
    CashRebel recently posted..My $8 Trip To Toronto

    1. Emily says:

      True, we aren’t missing any big opportunity by delaying the camera purchase, whereas the confluence of flexible scheduling we have in grad school will likely never come about again.

  5. In what way are you seeing a quality difference? When taking photos for my food blog, I’ve never noticed a big difference between photos I take with my EasyShare and the ones my brother has taken with his fancier camera. After all, 9MP works out to nearly half a million pixels per square inch on a 4×5 image. In comparison, my monitor is only capable of displaying <10,000 pixels per square inch! Where quality and megapixels come into play for most people is when they do substantial cropping and resizing.

    But to answer your question, while it would largely depend on the vacation and the toy, I tend to think that I would rather have the toy. You can only go on that vacation once, but you will use the gadget over and over.

    1. Lucas says:

      A couple of the main advantages of larger sensor (ie larger camera) don’t realy apply to fixed small subject photography, so I agree that it might not be as much of an issue for you with a food blog.

      1) Better Low Light performance (and hence faster shutter speed) – food isn’t moving that fast so probably not an issue for you. This is huge for photographing people indoors without having to use a direct flash, moving subjects, or extending photoshoot time into sunrise/set times.

      2) Smaller Depth of field – can isolate subject from a background much easier to creat a clear “story” with the photo. Macro shots tend not to have this problem and or if you can completely control your subject and background this isn’t too much of a problem (ie food 🙂 ).

      3) Support for larger lenses – gather more light, isolate subject from background better, and have narrower angle of view (also for solating subject).

      4) More controls – I shoot almost exclusivly RAW images – and definitly indoors with a mix of color temperature on lights. Most people can tell right away if someones skin tone is off, so having full ability to post process is ideal for me. If you have a plate with food on it, you can white balance match to that – or even if you can’t most people can’t tell you exactly what color tone different food is suppose to be.

    2. Emily says:

      I don’t know the technical reasons but I can just see it! Better colors, sharper focus. Just peruse flickr for non-food pics and see if you can tell a difference – a lot of photographers on there list the camera and lens they used to take their photos.

  6. krantcents says:

    If you view the vacation or the camera as unnecessary, then why do it? Many years ago, I had an SLR camera, but it cost only $150. The new DSLR camera s are much more expensive and may not be worth it for just memory pictures. It depends what your goal is when you consider an expensive purchase.
    krantcents recently posted..Google Reader Is Going Away, but I am Not!

    1. Emily says:

      Well, neither of them are necessary, but if we only satisfied our needs and not wants we would certainly be hoarding money! We’ll spend a couple to a few thousand dollars on one or the other or both this fall, probably. Good point that super high quality pics are not necessary to simply help remember an experience. I should articulate what my goals are for my photography and then find a camera (maybe the one we already have) to help meet them.

  7. Lucas says:

    If you are looking for backup utilities check out Crashplan. It is free download to use for local backups, backups to remote machines, and backups to friends computers (just setup a sharing agreement with a friend and you can get encrypted private backup off site 🙂 ). You can also pay for unlimited backup to crashplans servers if you want. I have a local backup and I pay for the unlimted backup to crashplans server (~$50/year or $5/mo – something like that). I consider it well worth it for the amount of data I back up. At least try out the free features 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      I’ll refer this to Kyle! Thanks!

  8. SarahN says:

    Ah I need a camera since I left mine in a cab two years ago almost. But I don’t know what I want or need (I’m making do with a damaged cheapie). Personally I’d likely prefer a holiday to a thing – they are more memorable. I think I’d get side income/overtime/tax refund before I’d feel super comfortable buying a camera. But even with those lately I still haven’t, instead focusing on savings goals. :s
    SarahN recently posted..Zero waste & tissues

    1. Emily says:

      I’m all about spending money on what you value most, so if the vacation way outranks a new camera, don’t even consider buying one now! If you’ve gotten by for two years with the camera you have it must be meeting your needs. 🙂

      1. SarahN says:

        It is meeting my needs, but there’s a weird shadow (gremlin? ghost?) in a lot of photos, and it’s ok for me, but maybe one day my blog’ll deserve better :p

  9. Troy says:

    I’ve been thinking of taking up photography lately, but can’t decide. I’m also horrible with tech – the only option I can use on my phone is the call button.
    Troy recently posted..Market Call: The Bull Market Will Keep Rising

    1. Emily says:

      I’m not so great with technology either – especially since getting married because Kyle likes to take care of all our tech stuff – but I’m definitely willing to learn for photography. Perhaps my undergraduate physics education will come in handy. 🙂

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