I know the general advice is to spend money on lenses and avoid spending on the camera body.

However, I'm in a position where I intend to purchase a camera to last for 15 or 20 years. I'm not a professional photographer, but I would like a DSLR anyway because I simply can't stand the noisy garbage that comes out of point and shoot sensors.

Based on Rfusca's recommendation, (again using Nikon as an example) I'm probably looking at a D5100 or a D7000. Now, there's a $500 price difference between these cameras, but that's really not true because the D7000 kit comes with a more general purpose (18-105mm VR) lens, while the D5100 comes with a plain ol' (18-50mm VR) lens (and the cost difference in the lenses is 2 to 3 hundred). With the D5100 kit I'd probably end up purchasing another lens now; with the 7000 I'd probably not be doing so for quite some time.

Now, with this in mind I'm considering spending the additional money for the 7000 kit. My main "stopper" for doing that right now though is that little voice in the back of my skull saying "don't spend that on the camera, spend that on lenses..."

I'm wondering if the foundation for that advice is for people who are going to replace their body every 5 years, which I won't be doing. Is that the case?

  • \$\begingroup\$ @rfusca: Sorry. :( (Err.. actually -- wasn't it right before? I copy/pasted from your username) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:02
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be a little shocked if any DSLR is still relevant in 20 years - just so you know. Within 5 years, a entry level camera often has a better sensor than a pro level right now. But if you want it to last that long, you're DEFINITELY going to want the best body you can just for ruggedness sake. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Billy ONeal - it wasn't right, but then I fat fingered it again lol. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rfusca: While that's true, 5 years ago most DSLRs could not come close to matching the quality of plain old film. Now most can easily, and if it's better than plain ol' film, it's plenty for what I'm doing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In my experience the paradigm is more one of 'buy the lenses once, have them always, buy bodies as often as necessary to keep up with the technology/features that are important to you.' While we're at the point technologically where build quality, ISO numbers and MP numbers are as 'good as they will ever need to be' for your average non-pro photographer (and thus, your odds of being able to go 15 or 20 years on a single body are dramatically higher than they were even 5 years ago) there's no telling what other features the manufacturers will be rolling out over the coming years. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:09

3 Answers 3


Personally I would go for the D7000 if you can afford it. While the 'buy lenses not bodies' advice is still sound to an extent, it was a lot more relevant in the days of film, when the body was really just a light-proof box with shutters inside.

Nowadays the bodies have a lot more features that have a greater impact on the photographs you take with them, and so if you can afford to get one with a better sensor, more focusing points etc, it's a good idea to go for it.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank god somebody recommending to spend money on a decent body - the body matters! \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:00

To be totally honest, asking five years of a DSLR is asking a lot, and 15-20 is not very likely. But, if you insist, dump as much money on as good a constructed body as you can get -- that is, no plastic -- you want metal, and heavy, and weather-sealed, etc. I'm not familiar with the Nikon line, but if that means going up further than the D7000 and you can afford it, go there.

That said, you have a couple critical issues with a camera that you want to last 20 years:

  • Shutter Activations
    • Most DSLRs are rated from 50 to 150 thousand actuations, depending on the model.
    • Does that mean your DSLR will be dead after 150? No, just that this is the average lifespan of the mechanics.
    • Some cameras will get significantly less; others will get more depending on treatment.
  • Compatibility
    • Computers and cameras have advanced so far in the last ten years, that I can't even begin to think about what we will have in the next ten, let alone, twenty years.
    • It's possible you won't have any way of procuring new media for your camera
    • It's possible even if you had good media, you may not be able to get it off the media
    • Once you get it off the media, will any program read it?
  • Wear & Tear
    • If this camera is going to be used hard, forget it. Just like anything else, it will wear out based upon use. If it's around a lot of water, sand, etc., there's little to no way it's going to last as long as you want it to last.
    • Will you be able to get parts for the camera in 5 years? 10 years? 15? 20? At some point the camera will fail and you won't be able to get any parts.
  • Price for Quality
    • It may not be such a bad thing to simply factor in the cost of upgrades in the future every four or five years. Goodness knows that DSLRs five years ago were nothing to talk about, and now even the entry-level DSLR is better than the best film camera we had (with respect to Image Quality, AF, and a few other details). In five years, imagine what the cameras will be like -- the price will be lower, and the quality will be better, etc. At some point the cost of getting something now that probably won't last 15-20 years (and not planning for an upgrade along the way) vs. getting a medium-level body now and planning an upgrade every 4-5 years needs to be an issue.

All the above said, well constructed bodies with all the bells and whistles and latest technologies do make a difference. Lenses do too. You have to make the decision as to which one is most important to you. Lenses generally make a larger difference, but if your current DSLR is more than a year or two old, a newer, better body will also make a big difference. Just don't be surprised if whatever you get doesn't last more than four or five years.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would still be using my grandmother's D40 for the next five years if I was the actual owner. It still takes better pictures than anything else I've ever used. My question here though is more general -- for those who are going to keep their camera body a long time (maybe extremely long by your standards), is the advice of skimping on a body and splurging on lenses good advice. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Goodness no. If you're 99% sure you're going to keep whatever you buy for a very long time, make sure it is as good quality as you can afford. To some degree, I'd split it some amount between lenses and bodies, but if you don't have a body, those lenses do you no good. So get a great body, and if possible get one or two good-great lenses as you can afford them. All that said, however, I would still plan on an unexpected body change, so keep that in mind. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 20:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, if you already have great glass, there is little reason to get more (unless you need it for a certain reason). E.g., if you have a 70-200 f/4, don't rush out to get the f/2.8 just because, unless you need it. The benefits of getting a new lens is really most seen when going from kit lens (low-end) to the higher end lenses; if you already have good glass, chances are good that you'll see more difference from the body than the glass. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kerri: Ah, I see your point better now. +!. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ While there may be (almost certainly are) at least a few ways in which an entry level dSLR would be a high-end film camera, there are certainly others in which the opposite is true. Just for one obvious difference, entry-level dSLRs universally have relatively poor viewfinders. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 5:30

If you're expecting your body to last 15-20 years, then while the sensor may be good enough for you then, you'll need the high build quality of the more professional level of cameras. You'll want all the metal, weather sealing, etc you can throw at it and even then, thats a LONG TIME for the life of electronics that get heavily used.

If thats your reason, I'd say get the D5100, invest the extra 500 in something relatively stable and use the money to buy a kick butt replacement in 5 years.

The D7000 does have great, great features - but its probably not a 20 year camera for 500 more.


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