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Context

I've been shooting with an a6000 (APS_C mirrorless) and I plan to move on up to full frame, preferably mirrorless as well. I'm debating on when to upgrade, and probably don't plan to buy until next year.

I know I'll need to buy new full frame lens.

Question

Is there a "right" time to buy camera bodies, both mirrorless in my case as well as DSLRs? (I've seen the a7rII and like it but there might also be an a9 looming.) I feel that this is like smartphones in which the best time to buy is now as you might always be waiting until the next upgrade.

Related, are full frame bodies discounted during the holiday season or is that limited only to entry level bodies and older full frame bodies?

Related

When do the differences between APS-C and full frame sensors matter, and why?

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When you need to. That is the one and only time you need to think about it.

If the answer to one or more of these questions is a Yes, then you may want to consider an upgrade...

  • Do you need a shallower depth of field?
  • Do you need a bazillion megapixels?
  • Do you want to use old or specific lenses that require full frame?
  • Is your viewfinder too small?
  • Is your current equipment broken and in need of replacement?
  • Is there some specific limitation that a new body offers over your current one (significant improvement in ISO sensitivity/gamut?)

By need I do actually mean need as in it's necessary to get the output you intended or to fulfil contractual obligations - anything else is really a want.

As pointed out in a comment, if you feel the goal is always going to be for a larger sensor then you have to ask is it worth eschewing full-frame entirely in favour of Medium Format?

For most the limitations on photography are glass and their artistic skills and then the right time to upgrade is only when your current equipment starts to fail.

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    I couldn't agree more. I imagine most of the pictures we see on the main page are crop sensors, and you know what? They look awesome! The most important thing when taking a picture isn't the glass, isn't the body, but the person behind the viewfinder. – SailorCire Nov 9 '15 at 20:37
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    The "want to use old lenses?" is not really an indicator, as an APS-C accepts the same lenses as an FF mirrorless. Just with a crop factor. – Henk Holterman Nov 9 '15 at 21:55
  • @HenkHolterman - If you're into vintage glass and want the full effect then you need to be able to make use of the full image circle. For example a lens known for a pleasing vignette wouldn't have the same effect on a crop sensor. A lens working is not the same as getting the best out of it. – James Snell Nov 9 '15 at 23:08
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    This really needs "Do you need better high ISO performance" and also "Do you want to use very specific lenses" to be a complete answer. – dpollitt Nov 10 '15 at 2:10
  • My camera response is getting a bit flaky so it's good to see that point on it. Also add increase sharpness too on the list. – unsignedzero Nov 10 '15 at 6:37
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Is there a "right" time to buy camera bodies, both mirrorless in my case as well as DSLRs?

Yes. But like any other camera purchase decision, it will be highly individual, depending on a number of factors, such as what your budget is, what your needs are, and how much you care about specific aspects of image quality. For some people, with purchasing full frame, the answer may be "now", for some it may be "next year", for some it may be "never".

Full frame is not the ultimate end-goal of every digital shooter, despite the fact that it's often touted as such.

The only real timing advice I can give is that most of the new-camera product announcements tend to cluster around the late fall (Oct/Nov) and early spring (Feb/Mar) time frames. That doesn't mean new cameras haven't been announced in the summertime. But these seem to be the clusters, usually around a large camera product show. So, right before those time periods, you may want to hold off to see what's in this specific cycle. But nobody can predict with any accuracy what's coming down the pipe, which is why rumors sites can be such fun. Just take all the "announcements" with a grain of salt--particularly the ones that smell a great deal of "wishful thinking."

Related, are full frame bodies discounted during the holiday season or is that limited only to entry level bodies and older full frame bodies?

Discounts basically happen if a body is about to become discontinued, or you can find a deal on a used/refurbished one (I picked up my 5DMkII through the Canon Loyalty Program's deal on refurbed copies). But all cameras tend to depreciate over their product life cycles, even when brand new. Some do so more slowly than others--super "hot" or popular items may never drop at all, or only a small amount--but most will be substantially lower in price at the time they're discontinued and replaced by a new model that's likely to be priced back up at the beginning of the cycle (or possibly higher).

I suggest using the camelcamelcamel.com site to view the Amazon price history of any given camera body, and you'll see a downward trend over time. This is also shadowed on the used market. Few camera prices ever "drop off a cliff" for one reason or another, but will see a gentle, steady, downward trend over time as it gets farther and farther from the point of introduction.

As with cellphones and computers, the nearer you are to the beginning of the cycle, the more you'll pay, but the more time you'll have to enjoy the features. The later you are to the end of the cycle, the less you'll pay, but the more likely you may be to go jonesing after the replacement. :)

  • Differences in the exchange rate between the dollar and yen are also reflected in changing prices of cameras from Japanese manufacturers. – Michael C Nov 10 '15 at 11:09
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I want to challenge the question, here. "Full frame" isn't an upgrade. It's a different format. That format has strengths, and it also has drawbacks. Think of this as someone asking when it's the right time to upgrade from a sports car to a pickup truck — that's just not the way to think about it.

You can read more about differences between the common APS-C format and full-frame at When do the differences between APS-C and full frame sensors matter, and why?, but as you do that, remember that there's a whole spectrum of digital formats available, from tiny sensors in compact or large-zoom models to Micro Four Thirds to APS-C to digital medium format (44×33mm). Along that continuum you'll find different tradeoffs for cost, size and weight, depth of field and "reach", light gathering ability, and so on. But crucially, you can get top-notch, award-winning, jaw-dropping A+++ images with cameras anywhere on the spectrum. There is no spot that's particularly magical, and in fact as technology improves the difference becomes smaller.

Actually, the differences between Micro Four Thirds and APS-C, or between APS-C and full frame, or full frame and medium format as generally not even the biggest thing. Have you really mastered lighting? Composition for telling stories with your images? Can you get the essence of your subject in a photograph? If the answer to any of these things is "no", buying something isn't the answer — see How to know you've outgrown your equipment? for more on this. Beware of a little voice in your head wanting full frame because you like to "have the best" or want "serious pro gear". That voice isn't your conscience — it's "gear acquisition syndrome".

Even if you do have a good justification for spending some cash, buying "full frame" isn't the first thing you should worry about. Portraits? Do you have a flash system and know how to use it? Landscape? Do you have a really good tripod? Events? Do you have backups for all of your gear? In general: do you have lenses that take advantage of the format you have and work for the photographs you want to take?

If you're at a place in your life where cost isn't a concern including the whole system, and strengths of a larger format appeal to you more than strengths of smaller ones, there's nothing at all wrong with that. But if you're thinking "wow, full-frame is now under $2k... I can stretch my budget for that, and the rest will follow eventually"… eh, I really, really encourage you to rethink.

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From my personal experience, the best time to buy and stay somewhat current, is to buy the previous model just as the next one is released (there seems to be a push to get new models out for NAB which happens every spring).

There are often deals for Black Friday, but they are often for overstock of older models so there may not be many available. (see https://www.blackfriday.fm/deals/digital_cameras for current deals)

You don't HAVE to buy full frame glass if you are staying within the same mount system. The APS_C glass should work (if the same mounting system), you just wont' be using the entire sensor. I believe most cameras will auto-detect that it is an APS_C lens and will put it into crop mode for you. [at least this is how it works on my Nikon]

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    Nikon does it. Canon EF-S lenses won't even mount on a Full Frame EOS camera without modifying the lenses mounting bayonet. That is because some EF-S lenses take advantage of the smaller mirror inherent in a crop sensor body to allow the rear lens elements to protrude further into the light box. If such a lens were used with a FF camera the mirror could strike the back of the lens elements at certain focal length and focus positions. – Michael C Nov 10 '15 at 11:07
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Spend your big money on quality lenses and learn how to use them to get exactly what you want.

The technical differences between FF and APS are negligible for an amateur who is not blowing images up to A1 size. And if you're shooting for a living, it's a different question...

Bodies will come and go, but your lenses will serve you for many years!

  • While this is good general advice, it doesn't really answer the question. – Philip Kendall Nov 10 '15 at 15:28
  • The implicit answer to the question is "No." – Michael C Nov 10 '15 at 21:03
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    Sorry Philip - To clarify, the answer in my mind is No. – Simon Nov 12 '15 at 10:06

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