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Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 85mm f/1.2 II Sony A7 with Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Insights & Thoughts

How Often Should You Upgrade Your Primary Camera Body?

By Anthony Thurston on April 6th 2015

In this day and age of yearly camera releases, there are always new camera bodies coming out with better this or better that. In the past, this was not always the case. You used to be able to count on a good 3-4, sometimes 5+ years with a single camera body before a “replacement” was announced.

sigma-nikon-zoom-prime-fx-d7100-photography-slrlounge-2 But those days are gone. Now it seems that the ‘point-n-shoot’ market mindset of constantly pushing out updates, even if the ‘updates’ are not much over a previous model, has crept its way into our DSLR/Mirrorless markets.

So should you be upgrading every year with the latest model in your camera line of choice, or maybe on some sort of every other model kind of rotation? It seems like a silly thing to upgrade so often, but camera manufacturers sure make it hard to hold out and stick with one model for any period of time.

How Often Should You Upgrade Your Primary Camera Body?

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Personally, I have it worse than most. Being the Product Reviews Editor, I am constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest (not that I am complaining), but this makes it extremely hard to stick with one camera. It’s one thing to read about the latest tech; it’s another to get to use it for 30 days and then have to send it back, and go back to whatever you had before.

[REWIND: CANON 5D MARK IV COULD BE FARTHER OUT THAN WE HAD HOPED…]

Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 85mm f/1.2 II Sony A7 with Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1

That being said, upgrading more often than every two years seems extreme to me. I mean, these are not cheap $100 P+S models here; we are talking about $2,000+ cameras. We may be professionals, but even for someone making their living from photography, that is a lot of money to be spending every other year.

What are your thoughts? Please elaborate on the answer you gave to the poll above in a comment below. I am curious where this community stands on the matter. Do you buy into the ‘upgrade often’ mantra camera manufacturers are pushing or are you sticking to your guns and using your gear as long as you can before you upgrade?

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

37 Comments

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  1. Jason K

    I have 147,000+ cycles on a shutter in a 7D rated to 150k.  I’m upgrading to a 7D MkII only because I can no longer trust the camera.  It has frozen up 3 times on 3 jobs in the last 10 and each time came back online with a swift and hard WACK! to the battery area (with the lens removed).  Nothing looks worse than a professional abusing a camera back into operational status.  I wanted to go 7D MkII /6D second camera, but I already have a 70D I got very cheap, and it is a decent shooter.  I’ll probably still use the 7D as a true backup as I can’t even sell it to the local pro shop for resale at its EXTREMELY high shutter count. 

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  2. Jesper Ek

    The cameras seems to get more specialized sports, studio etc.. Less need to change as often.

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  3. Thomas Horton

    I replace my camera when it is clear that it is my camera body that is holding my photography back.

    Good thing my camera body can’t replace me!

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  4. Daniel Lee

    I personally think the only time to upgrade is if your current body is holding you back or it’s broken. I know I’m going to keep my 6D for as long as I possibly can.

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  5. Richard Reed

    This has been discussed pretty thoroughly, but I’ll weigh in.

    D40 > D90 > D700 > D800 > D700 + X100T

    I’ve been on a 3-4 yr upgrade path on average. I jumped on a refurb D800 a couple years ago, but decided to return it and keep my D700 considering the extra megapixels wasn’t going to make my images any better and that money saved could be better spent elsewhere. As a matter of fact, I’ve sold off some gear and find myself using my X100T more often than my DSLR.

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  6. Richard Bremer

    Body upgrades aren’t as important as good glass, in my opinion. And glass only needs to be as good to meet your demand.

    Having said that, having to upgrade anything depends heavily on your type of usage and of the difficulties you run into with your current equipment. For example: I shoot weddings with two D7000 body’s. The picture quality with my f2.8 and better lenses is great, but autofocus accuracy leaves a bit to be desired. I won’t be upgrading my glass, but I am looking for better autofocus in both accuracy and lowlight performance. So, after 4 years of using my D7000s, I’ve ordered a D750 to find out if this brings me what I need and I will order the 2nd body if I like it. Given the reviews and quick sessions I had with this camera, I think it can sustain my work for 5 years easy. Assuming I don’t reach max shuttercount.

    This is just me, but a landscape photographer will need different quality’s, as does any other type of photographer. Allthough sensor and autofocus performance keep getting better, a lot of people still use older body’s because they suffice for their needs.

    This is why I voted 5 years. I think most body’s can sustain a photographer for years. Soms photographers need to upgrade sooner (for example, max shuttercount reached), some don’t need to upgrade in a decade. Needing and wanting are two different things, by the way…

    Some photographers upgrade as soon as a new body comes out and sell the old body on the 2nd hand market. Because they buy and sell at release, the 2nd hand price is still relatively high and the invenstment relatively low. This is a good way to keep up and not lose too much money. To each his own.

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  7. Paddy McDougall

    Some thoughts from my experience

    1. Choose your system and buy the best glass you can rather than the best camera. Buy the camera second hand a version below the new one. When I first started out I bought a lot of cheap glass to cover focal ranges and had to replace it. It took me four years to save for 24-70 2.8 l and 7 years for 70-200 2.8 is mkii however they made a bigger difference to my photography than upgrading my dslr.

    2. I love tech, however I would be broke if I tried to keep up with new cameras. Use your cash for travel, studio time, models depending on what style you like. Or use the extra money for a rail card or car to get you out and about.

    3. 20+ million pixels will only really make a difference if you print. Even 4k screens can’t show what you have shot.

    4. Most upgrades are incremental. So unless you can’t work with the noise levels etc then upgrade. Go see some photography exhibitions the digital shots are probably taken on 8-10million pixel cameras with poor DR sensors, no cross hair focal points.

    5. Most of the stock I have sold was from a 40d. So in income terms my photography has got worse since I upgraded! ;)
    If you have the cash and really want a new body, buy it. Life is short. ;)

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    • robert garfinkle

      I like you’re thinking here, seriously…

      I am not in the business, so I cannot speak for the “makes good business sense” aspect.

      It sounds like your priority is all about the photography, more so than equipment – cool, and you prioritize glass over camera. cool… very cool. Essentially, get something decent enough, build out your glass inventory, don’t worry so much about the bodies (or the race to have the next / best body) leaving you enough finances to actually do something with what you have –

      soundest piece of advice paddy…

      If I had to do it all over again, I still would have ponied up somehow for a decent enough body, one that cooks a good picture and is as bulletproof as it can be without me trading in my car for it… insure the heck out of it (to which I have that today), yet focus more on glass… that’s my attitude now…

      I have to concern myself with actually learning how to photograph and going places – the equipment is really unimportant.

      speaking of travel, it’s funny, now that you think about it – does the following make sense…

      you’re on the right path if:

      if the number of shots you take on your camera exceeds the number of miles traveled to take the shot, go back to class… if the number of miles traveled exceeds the number of shots you take on your camera, you’re probably doing something right… it’s the rule of someone’s broken / twisted thumb… mine!!

      formula: shots / miles = good || bad photographer. if you are 1 or greater your doin’ good, if you end up with less than 1, well, go to class… or give it up :)

      not that I travel much, and I don’t – but, explain this, I had a D800, it was well taken care of yet had 157,000 shots on it, with only about 20,000 (driving miles) with camera on hand – that’s nuts… of course it all depends too on what you are shooting, right. but, not at that ratio…

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    • Paddy McDougall

      @robert thanks for your reply, I had never thought of the ratio of miles versus shutter actuations! Definitely made me smile. I was lucky enough to attend a talk by William Cheung and he said something that stuck with me. Don’t worry about hit ratio, just look to do 12 shots a you are happy with a year. It really made me slow down and think about shots rather than rattle off loads of shots. Gigs, weddings and model shoots I still tend to take more shots than I need however slowing down and aiming for an end shot has been helpful

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  8. Jeff Forbes

    While the results and need is of course YMMV, one thing to note is the rate of improvements. I’m most famaliar with Canon, so I’ll note milestones for the consumer/prosumer lines:

    5D/5DII/5DIII is a reasonable upgrade path for a heavy shooter. 5DII -> 5DIII is a smaller jump in sensor performance though, it’s more that the 5DIII went upscale, and the 6D fits the same slot the 5DII did (or slightly below it).

    10D -> 40D -> 70D is a reasonable upgrade path. That’s 2003 -> 2007 -> 2012

    I went 300D -> 30D -> 7D -> 6D – 2003, 2006, 2010, 2015 – interesting pattern – 3, 4, 5 years. I don’t think I’ll be using the 6D in 2021 though. The 300D was frustratingly slow, but it made some good pictures for me. The 30D was a good performance fix for it, but the IQ wasn’t that much better. The 7D was all about usability and IQ for me – it was a vast improvement – but the 30D already had more than adequate performance for my needs. Now I landed on a 6D, as it has adequate performance until I randomly decide to start shooting something I’ve never shot much before, and suddenly want a 7DII to pair with the 6D.

    So I’ll say this – the minimum time between upgrades should be roughly on par with major generational changes. Anyone that had a 20D and went out and replaced it with a 30D was probably a little bit crazy. A bigger buffer, a spot meter, 2 AF points, and a slightly bigger LCD – I think that was really the differences that mattered. But at the time, the cameras were coming out at a much more frenetic pace, and the jumps in technology mattered a bit more.

    The 7D was sold new for 5 years. Sure, it wasn’t a particularly good deal new towards the end of its lifespan, but there wasn’t much that was equivalent to it for quite a while either.

    My prediction:

    In the future, people will buy new cameras less and less, and use them for longer, because the majority of gains made in performance and quality now are more incremental. Innovation has the potential to spark a huge number of sales, but I believe that IBIS is probably the most revolutionary thing to come to photography in recent years. Mirrorless bodies don’t hold their value very well (Say hi to my $200 E-PL5) – which is an indication that the new ones are much more desirable than the old ones – mostly because there is more innovation in that segment of the market – compare to SLR land, where the innovation is increased performance/quality/connectivity.

    So the real question is, what would seriously drive further adoption of new cameras? Features that redefine how the tool can be used. For example, integrated data/internet connectivity and a means of making it easy to transfer files wherever. There are some toolish means of doing that now with wifi, and some Android “smart” cameras, but these devices aren’t refined yet.

    TLDR version: Camera sales will continue to slow down as people use their current cameras for longer and more good cameras find their way to the secondary market. If anything will spark a major sales boom, it would likely be major connectivity capabilities that drive the sales rather than moderate improvements in quality or performance.

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    • robert garfinkle

      Interesting – less and less bodies, if true, will really dictate which MFR sticks around. Some companies rely on a purchase of a body more often than not. actually, they also depend on a set of glass purchased with that body too… the whole kit n kaboodle… I won’t mention which manufactures those are, yet you can kind of just know who they are… it also I think dictates the attitude they take on, are they really serious about delivering a good photographic product, or a good name…

      on that thinking – it’s gotta be tough out there for them. They are in business to make money, which means they constantly have to be competitive and inventive, bleeding edge etc… yet, at the same time, people can’t weather dumping thousands every few years or less – they just can’t…

      for me, well, yes I like a good sustainable body which can render a great image. that’s the bottom line – I don’t care too much about pixel count, however, if the high pixel count comes with the sustainability and ability to take great pictures – I’m all over it… pixels are just a bonus.

      I have a D810. If taken care of and file formats don’t change over time, it will outlast me. So will the glass. Will I get another body in the future. Most likely. would it be a D900 (or similar) maybe; but, it does not have to be – meaning, I don’t have to fall victim to the new / latest / greatest thing. My camera is just fine…

      But, more so, what is the motivator for me to change or get another body… Is it mirrorless, well, that’s not a motivator per se, just like pixels in the D810, that was not a mover / shaker for me – it was the sturdiness of the product and it’s ability for sharp / clean pictures…

      But my needs may change – not saying I’d trade clarity / sharp / colorful in for anything – yet, here is what I discover, for that camera. In order to take a picture at it’s best, it needs to be as immobile as possible – least amount of movement. the fact that it’s more a studio camera or landscape camera well, that’s what it’s meant for more so. and if I require to be more on the go, less tripod dependent, I might have to look elsewhere… it does not mean I abandon that camera, I’d be more inclined to get another body to give me more latitude in option / compromise…

      case n point – in order to get the D810 to “do it’s best” ISO 64, take advantage of no OLPF, best DR, good depth of field – I have to be tripod ridden, and that is limiting. do you agree. Maybe I do not know how to take a picture – that is evident. but I’m talkin taking advantage of what that camera promises to deliver… that’s hard to come by, on the go…

      so, if my needs change, it might lend me to look at other options giving me freedom – just saying…

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  9. robert garfinkle

    I suppose you can use anything that gets the job done up until it breaks…

    but, that’s just restating the obvious –

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  10. Ralph Hightower

    Like Jason Markos and John Cavan, I am an enthusiast. I still shoot film with my Canon A-1 that I bought new in 1980. Christmas 2011, my wife wanted to buy me a DSLR, but when she told me her budget was a Canon T3i, I talked her out of it. I figured that this DSLR would be the last DSLR that I owned, much like the A-1 would be the last camera I owned. For my “last DSLR”, I wanted a DSLR with more features. As a consolation, she bought me a used Canon FD 28mm f2.8 lens.

    Flash forward to July 2013, I mentioned to my wife that KEH has a Canon F-1N camera for sale with the AE Finder FN for sale, the AE Motor Drive FN was this listed price for a total of $400. She asked “That’s their flagship model?” I answered “Yes, for the 80’s” She said “Get it.”

    December 2013, my wife was surfing the internet and found this Canon 5D Mk III package on Amazon for $4000. I said “Let me check B&H.” I found a similar package for $500 less.

    Woot! Now, I’m a DSLR owner. I still continue to shoot film because both cameras still work.

    I’m proof that “gear doesn’t matter”; focal length does play a part. I placed second in a local photography club photojournalism contest using B&W film. Until the last contestant’s entry of up to 7 photos, there was a three way tie for first place.

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  11. Allan Zeiba

    my personal average is 3 years I have owned the 20D, 5D, 5D mark II and now the A7II, all of my purchases were opportunities, used cameras in a very good condition, but I also grab all my cameras with 2 to 3 years of use so the technology was already old at the moment of the purchase, now is the first time that I grab the newest camera of a brand so I’m hoping that this one will last 5 to 6 years

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  12. Anders Madsen

    2006: Canon 30D, 8,2 MP, 10.8 EV, 736 ISO
    2009: Canon 1Ds Mark II (second hand), 16,7 MP, 11.3 EV, 1480 ISO
    2014: Nikon D610, 24 MP, 14,4 EV, 2925 ISO

    The EV (dynamic range) and ISO values are taken from DxOMARK and while they are not the be-all, end-all, they give a pretty good idea about the improvements over time.

    I was originally an enthusiastic amateur but started out as a pro in late 2013 with the Canon 1Ds as my primary body and the old Canon 30D as a backup (it will do a nice single page but not a double spread). However, I soon came to a point where I did not have the nerves to trust this setup – if something happened to the 1Ds in a middle of a shoot, there were a very real risk that the 30D would be incapable of taking over and finish the job, simply because of the limited sensor resolution.

    The Nikon D610 is now my main camera and the 1Ds is backup, and I think that the 8 years between these two cameras is fine for my use (the 1Ds was introduced in 2006) but a more fair comparison would probably be the Canon 5D Mark II (introduced in 2009) and the Nikon D610 since they are more or less in the same class, whereas the 1Ds Mark II was the best of the best at its time of introduction.

    Hence, a 5 year lifespan for a camera body used mainly for portraits, fashion and packshots is probably not unreasonable. Had I been a sports- or wedding-shooter, the improvements in ISO-performance would probably have pushed me over the edge sooner. As it is, it was mostly the improved dynamic range and access to a selection of reasonable primes of good quality that did it for me.

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  13. Eric Sharpe

    I’ve only ever bought two digital cameras in 10 years. The first was the Nikon D70, and the second was the D7000. I’m a portrait and event photographer. There’s not really anything from the D70 that limits me, and nothing I can really find on the D7000. I do want every one of the latests cameras as they come out, but when I look at what I shoot vs what the new features provide, I can’t justify spending the money. It’s fun to read all about it, however. Not fun is explaining to the wife why I need the increased dynamic range, as she does the books.

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  14. philip nitchie

    Upgrades will also be based on usage. All cameras have a recommended shutter cycle. Most of these recommended cycles will be beyond the average pro. But when it gets to that end replacement bodies can be a better option. it should also be based on the tax right off for the equipment. If you are running your business correctly the tax right off should be base on your usage and not a desire for a new body. I’d suggest many people replace their camera bodies before they even get the most out of the one they’re using.
    More megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean better image quality. Better software and understanding of the software can often provide better image quality.
    A master painter doesn’t replace his brushes till he needs to. A accomplished musician will reluctantly replace his instrument. Unfortunately their is a false belief that is sold and we tend to buy in our industry that a newer piece of equipment will make us better.
    To quote David Duchemin ” vision is better”
    A good article to stimulate some discussion.
    Thanks Anthony

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    • JB Gimena

      I agree with your point and other analogies but not on musical instruments. Rarely do we see technological advancements to justify any purchase of new instruments. You can have a guitar as old as 50 years without having the need to replace it. The bonus is that its sound gets better with age and use. Heck, the Telecaster even retained its design since its conception.

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  15. Vince Arredondo

    I would say 3 years is the ideal time for me. You are not paying every other year and you are not too behind technology. Some times the upgrades are only little changes that wont hurt your photography. In that case, stick with my primary body a few more years would be the best decision.

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  16. Stephen Velasquez

    You should upgrade if the camera body you have now is limiting your creativity or the newer model will be better for your needs. You shouldn’t upgrade from a D7100-D7200, D800-D810 or D610-D750. The features are not big enough to justify an upgrade. A 5D3-5DS/R is a justifiable upgrade for those who need that resolution. I believe that you should use a professional DSLR/Medium Format camera for 5 yrs before changing to the latest and greatest. How about upgrading your skills for better images with substance.

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  17. Peter Nord

    Surely upgrading should be based not on a time scale but whether the changes will be beneficial to you.

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  18. robert garfinkle

    I would say it’s a simple set of answer’s

    1. If your a pro (i.e. photography is your living) – well, a camera is only as good as what you need it for. If, the body you own can last, always / continue to shoot pictures, and serve your business, then that’s an easy answer.

    2. If your are not a pro (i.e. me) – and like a nice camera, but am sometimes easily swayed by the next technology, well, then one needs to replace it in order to get there…

    what really drives me are two things –

    1. does the camera have the capability to produce a nice picture?
    2. can the device hold up – can it last?

    that is why I purchased a D810 – if I choose to keep it until it buys the farm, that farm purchase, if I keep the camera taken care of, will be well off into the future…

    seriously – to some, it may appear that I purchased it because it’s the next latest and greatest – there is a tiny truth in that. yet, the camera, again – if I take care of it, can last a long, long, long time – and take a bit of abuse if it happens with no worries that I have to get repairs or replace it… it’ll be there for me…

    The D810 is a tough nut – and produces great pictures…

    although, if by some odd chance, software / file formats change- to where I can no longer offload the images produced by the camera, well that’s definitely a show stopper – and if that happened in a year, well, camera is no good, right – or do I just keep a computer / software around that can process those pix –

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  19. John Cavan

    I’m not a pro, don’t even play one on TV, but I used to be pretty aggressive in my upgrades on the Pentax line because the improvements were usually substantive and the leap from the Samsung sensor to Sony was a major gain. Since moving to Nikon, with the D800, I haven’t felt the need yet.

    What I’m seeing with respect to current bodies is incremental improvements that will, over time, stack up to an possible upgrade for me. Maybe that’ll be the successor to the D810 or perhaps it’s successor. I’m pretty content to watch someone like Nikon tweak things to a point that I want the make an upgrade. I’m in no rush…

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I think you should only upgrade if you are making some good profit.

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    • John Cavan

      @Rafael – I upgrade when I do because I can. Being a techie, I really quite like having the latest in gadgets, but I recognize that it’s not always easy to do for everyone and there’s an analysis that should be considered for those in the photographic business. This is why I picked 3 years, it’s a common write-off period for equipment in a business and so can make financial sense under those conditions.

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  20. Jason Markos

    I’m only an enthusiast… So rather than how long should I keep a body for, I keep trying to ask myself: “What is it I can’t do with my existing body?” And/or: “Is my existing body coming to the end of it’s life?”

    That’s not to say I don’t spend far too much time drooling over new bodies like the D750 and X-T1!

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  21. Paul Empson

    Since 2005’ish D70, D300, D700, D810… The D810 is ALL I need in a main body… it will go for as long as it lasts.

    All the previous Nikons were a significant improvement on each other with the D700 being the watershed body: excellent ISO performance with 12mp.. I’m sure Nikon will try and tempt me with new whiz bang features however for me it’s still about image quality & low light performance. The D810 gives me dual slots (backup) and fulfils my main criteria.

    I don’t need (want) more MP, 36 is plenty enough…

    Rather than rush to keep trying to make us buy more it would be nice if they took a leaf out of Fuji’s book and released firmware upgrades to existing bodies that were more than just bug fixes… I may even be tempted to part with some money for the new features.

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      Paul, I agree with everything you said.

      The only relevant upgrade anymore for me is better ISO performance. Sure, all the other gidgets and gadgets being put into these things is nice to have, but really doesn’t effect the finished photo.

      I really welcome the last part of your comment. If these companies kept more time between camera upgrades and instead updated firmware the benefits would be 2-fold. 1; The new camera may not have so many bugs (d600/d800). 2; Re-sale value may be increased. I’m all for the quality vs quantity argument here.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      I totally agree most clients don´t care if you shoot with a D4 or a D700. They want the pictures not the camera!

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