Replacement Camera Syndrome


Two years ago I wrote about Last Camera Syndrome. That’s where you exit the constant cycle of upgrading your camera and just use what you’ve got, because it’s good enough for your needs. But what happens if you need to replace that “last camera”? 

Generally, two forms of unexpected replacement occur: (1) damage, and (2) theft. Curiously, what I’m seeing is that people deal with those two a bit differently. It also is somewhat dependent upon whether the equipment was insured or not. 

Let’s start with a damaged camera. Typically for those of you reading this, your entire kit doesn’t get damaged simultaneously. Usually it’s because you dropped a lens, a camera, or a camera with a lens mounted that damage occurs. Your other lenses and backup body are probably still in your bag, and just fine. 

Here in the US, NikonUSA has a mostly prix fixe approach to repair costs, with three basic tiers of repair (B1, B2, and C). While the prix fixe de jour changes from time to time, those repair costs tend to fit in the US$300-800 range at the moment. I can tell you right now if the damaged camera is a D3300 to D7100 and its significantly damaged, you’re probably better off just buying a refurbished product much of the time (e.g., a D7100 is currently US$700 refurbished).

If your Last Camera was from an earlier generation and not the current one, buying something refurbished that’s the near equivalent is probably the right bet. Which brings me to a rule of thumb I use for myself and when advising others: if the cost of repair is more than the item could be sold for (or bought) on the used market today, it’s not worth repairing. If you’re not sure what your camera is worth on the used market, a reasonable good way to judge that is to go to KEH’s Web site and see what they’re selling your product for. Often you might find that you can just buy a used version of your damaged product in excellent or mint condition for less than it costs to repair. 

When your entire gear set is stolen things seem to change for most people. Especially if they get a lump sum settlement from their insurance company. All those legacy lens biases seem to disappear, as you often don’t have them any more. What you have is a check from the insurance company for some amount, and that tends to dictate what you do next. 

Let’s consider someone who had a modest amount of Nikon DSLR gear (couple of bodies, maybe four to six lenses, a flash, some accessories) all of which was stolen. They basically have the following choices in front of them:

  • Replace with like gear. In other words, buy a new Nikon DSLR kit. The good news is that you know the Nikon nomenclature and controls, you might be able to better rationalize your body/lens decisions, and you may even might move up to a newer generation of gear that performs better.
  • Switch mounts. Buy a new Canon DSLR kit. Don’t laugh, I’ve known several pros that faced this decision and did just that, because at the time they lost their gear the other mount offered some slight perceived benefit to them. Think of a D300 user, for example. His D300, D90, 17-55mm, 70-200mm, and a few other things are stolen. What would they replace that with? Well, switching to a Canon 7DII might be the right choice: same level of gear, but newer generation that performs better.
  • Switch systems. Maybe that DSLR gear was getting you down. It’s heavier and bigger than all that new stuff that’s out there, so you were getting less inclined to carry it. Nikon never did produce the DX lenses you wanted ;~). Plus you have grass-is-always-greener syndrome, too. Sony’s A7 pricing is getting really aggressive, and not that much more than DX, so you could kill a lot of birds with one choice: move from Nikon DX DSLR to Sony FE mirrorless. 

I’m seeing fewer people make the first choice (replace with like gear) and instead making the last choice these days (switch systems). Not that this is a big enough sample set to constitute a real trend, but it is interesting to me how, when freed of the mount legacy, people’s thinking seems to change to the more modern mirrorless approach. You might recall that in this series of articles (starting with Last Camera Syndrome) I’ve written about Samplers and Leakers. Well, I’m seeing Leaking happening more often now because of needing to replace a camera. 

The good news is that most of us probably won’t ever have to face Replacement Camera Syndrome. Yet, let me suggest that you perform the thought experiment anyway, because it will tell you something about how you value your current gear versus what’s on the market.

Pretend for a moment that you’ve lost all your camera gear to a theft, house fire, earthquake, or some other catastrophe. So there are two basic questions you have to answer:

  • Do you really still want to do photography at the higher levels your equipment was capable of? 
  • If the answer to the first question is yes, what gear are you going to buy?

If your answer to the second question isn’t “Nikon DSLR and Nikkor lenses,” then maybe you’ve got the wrong gear in your closet. Either that or you have Other Camera Envy ;~). 

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