Question: Do I Really Need a DSLR?

After yesterday’s disappointment with A&M Photo World, I’ve been contemplating whether I would really use my new toy, once I ever manage to save up a grand to get it. I don’t think this is a case of ‘sour grapes’—it’s more of the usual process I go through when I’m about to buy a big-ticket item.

The big question: would I use it?

When my Minolta was my only camera, I used to bring it to special occasions and festivals and generally anywhere I thought there would be neat photo ops. Walmsley’s wedding out in PA, Applebutter Festival in Grand Rapids, Black Swamp Art Festival in Bowling Green, I took a roll of neat Halloween pics one year—and, of course, lots of Christmas pics, especially ‘artsy’ ones of the tree.

Now that I’ve got my Lomo, I’ve taken about six rolls of film with it in the time I used up one on the Minolta. I only just recently finished my Christmas roll on the ‘Good Camera’ (although that was mainly because my frame counter fucked up and I couldn’t tell how many exposures I had left). Now, the reason I take the Lomo everywhere is because it fits in my purse / pocket / hand / whathaveyou, and it’s inconspicuous. I can take pictures anywhere, and it’s not obvious that I have a halfway decent camera (which, of course, is up for debate amongst photography experts).

Which makes me wonder: should I just use my money to get a better digital point-and-shoot than we have now? Smaller, with more features and higher resolution? Even though I might use a P/S more often than a bigger DSLR, I just can’t justify that. If I’m going to pay hundreds of dollars for a good P/S, I’d rather just wait a little longer and get something better, with real depth of field (which is my big qualm with our Fuji—everything’s in focus, even backgrounds, no matter what).

Another thought that gives me pause is the fact that I’ll be starting from the ground up, as far as lenses and accessories are concerned. Since my Minolta lenses won’t fit on the Nikon D70 (different brand, plus the Minolta doesn’t have autofocus), I’ll have to buy a ‘kit’ instead of just a camera body, then upgrade lenses and filters and such as I go. When I bought the Minolta from my Aunt Sammie for $200 (which was a great deal), it came with a 50mm lens—a “normal” focal length, neither wide-angle nor telephoto—plus a 80mm-200mm zoom and macro filters. Since then, I’ve acquired a wide-angle lens and a 2x teleconverter. I’m good to go with nearly any focal length I might need (although I’d love to have a super-uber-long lens, too).

Even if I bought a new film SLR to complement my Minolta X370s, though, I’d be doing the same thing. My new camera would be autofocus, anyway, as that’s the one feature I’m really jonesing for, and I’d have to upgrade lenses even if I got another Minolta.

My final big issue is the basic film vs. digital debate. If I take a photo on my Minolta, and it rocks, and it’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever done, I could have it enlarged and make a freakin’ mural out of it. Assuming, of course, that the focus was sharp enough, which it rarely is. Anywho: if I take a picture on a digital, even at 6.1 megapixels, and it kicks much booty, the biggest I could possibly enlarge it would be about 11×17. I think this argument is bogus, though, given the fact that my Minolta rarely takes super-sharp images—partly due to my lack of manual-focus mojo, partly due to my cheap lenses. So, IMO, anything I’d take with a new DSLR would be superior to anything I’d take with the Minolta. I think.

Which brings me to one more thought: who’s to say that I’d take better pictures with a better camera? I mean, I think I’m a pretty good amateur photographer, and I’ve been seeing more potential pictures since I’ve been carrying my Lomo around with me. But what if I buy this new axe, and my new pics come out just like my old ones? What then? Did I just wipe my ass with $1000? It’s like when I used to complain to my private lesson instructor about needing a better clarinet, and then he swapped me mouthpieces, picked up my horn, and proceeded to school me *bad* on my supposedly inferior instrument.

I’d hate to put out a grand on a new camera, then realize that the autofocus and fancy settings and ability to upload immediately to my website without waiting for Snapfish really wasn’t worth it, or that I wouldn’t use it any more often than I do my Minolta.

I still really want it, but I can think of other things I’d use, too, like a set of strobes (flashes) and/or backgrounds and/or a plexi (i.e. a sheet of neato reflective plexiglass) to photograph eBay items on. (I’m not my mother—I don’t do portraits well… mainly because I don’t have any friends to photograph, and I don’t have the experience or confidence to try freelancing portrait photography in my basement.)

I guess I’m asking all you friends and strangers who frequent my site for some advice. Should I try pushing the limits on my Minolta before I get a DSLR? Should I buy things like strobes and backgrounds instead, for now? Or should I go ahead and save up and get myself an expensive toy / axe?

What do you think?

Postscript: I ended up buying three pairs of pants on clearance today at Lane Bryant, of which I had been in dire need, and that used up $50 of my incentive. Then Aaron also suggested that I might want to pay off some of my credit card debt (a Very Good Idea™) or buy that iPod I’ve been wanting (also a Very Good Idea™). So now I’m *really* in a quandary. I know I’ll sit on this money for a couple weeks before I buy anything, though, just to be sure that I don’t end up regretting my purchase (whatever it may be).

Edit, Monday: After I realized I still have to pay dues of $150 to be in the LakeShoremen this year, I figured that I may as well just sit on the rest of my money, maybe pay a little extra on my credit cards. Maybe I can continue to save up and buy my camera next year—and, after seeing my attempt at a 2004 Holiday Portrait with the Minolta, I do believe a new camera is in order.

One thought on “Question: Do I Really Need a DSLR?

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  1. OK, dude. Here’s the question you need to answer:
    Do I want a cool new camera because it has things my other camera doesn’t have, will take significantly better pictures (theoretically, w/o considering your photography mojo), will make me want to go out and snap more pictures, or will bring joy to my photography hobby in some other way?
    Or do I just want the new camera because it’s a cool toy and I like cool toys?
    You see, the answer to this question should shed some light on what you should spend your money on. If you buy the camera and it ends up spending most of the time sitting on the shelf being cool, I’d say forget it, keep playing around with your old one, and buy an iPod (I feel your pain, man, because I’ve been wanting one too) or pay off your credit cards. However, if the camera will somehow bring joy to your soul as a photographer, you need to weigh it against a.)will it bring more joy than getting rid of some of my credit card debt? and b.) will it bring more joy than buying an iPod? Now, after you have answered these two questions, you will only have two possibilities. First, you may discover that buying the camera will bring you more joy than either of the other options, in which case you should buy it. Or, second, you may have at least narrowed your field of choices to two and can now bang your head against the wall deciding between only two things instead of three.
    See, I can be helpful.