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Upgrading Photo Technology

January 11th, 2008

I’ve been working out some theories on the most practical way to upgrade technology. Cameras, computer hardware, and software technology move at an alarming rate. The question is: when does it make financial and practical sense to upgrade? There are considerations of implementation and cost involved. Here I will outline these considerations and my theories and strategies.
Moore’s Law describes a long-term trend in computer hardware where capacity of circuitry doubles every 24 months. These same principles can be applied to almost all technologies, though the timing is different for every technology and situation. Technology upgrade theory is all about cost, implementation, and gain. Developing a good strategy is dependent on the nature of the technology and that must be studied carefully.

Know the Technology and know the habits and schedules of the manufacturers of that technology.
Example #1 Adobe is on an 18Month upgrade cycle: they allow you to skip versions and still get upgrade pricing: and their upgrades are usually major.
Example #2 Nikon usually upgrades the flagship models six-nine months before the top prosumer models. The top of the line prosumer cameras usually have many of the desirable features of the Flagship model at 40% of the price. Nikon is notoriously slow in getting their announced cameras to market.
FYI: Nikon is making a major comeback; the D3X with the 14-24, WOW.
Example #3 Intel Processors are updated very often. The updates usually amount to only small gains (6-15%), but sometimes there is a major leap in the technology. These leaps usually require a new Motherboard with a new chipset. We are currently seeing a technology leap in processors that has captured my attention (probably ancient history by the time you read this). The Intel i7 processors and the X58 chipsets that are currently available on Windows will be coming to a Mac near you soon.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It This is very true if it does not interrupt a progression of upgrades, workflow, or resale.
Example #1: The new version of the software doesn’t help me, but the companies upgrade path requires progressive upgrades. It will save me money in the end to upgrade rather than buy a complete license in 18Months.
Example #2 I need to learn how to use this because I’ll need it eventually and I won’t have time to learn it on the spot.
Example #3 Mac computers hold their value through one upgrade cycle, but the resale value takes a huge drop after that. People remember the most recent model info, but have short memories and aren’t willing to pay much after that. An Apple employee taught me this principle of Apple hardware.
Example #4 I’m still running XP on a portable workstation. This is an 11 pound laptop with three hard drives. I tether it to a Canon 1DS Mark III or a Canon 5D on location using Adobe Lightroom. There were software and driver issues with Vista at the time I implemented this mobile workstation. Vista 64Bit could now be installed on this machine, but it works extremely well in its current configuration, so I’m not touching it. Actually, it’s one of the zippiest computers I own, which really helps on location. Also, XP is a solid and mature OS.

Skip a Version, and Keep On Working The time and money required to make an upgrade can be significant. Most of the time, it makes sense to skip a version and keep on working. The exception is for vital technology and major upgrades.
Example #1 I love my Canon G9 compact camera, but it’s not a primary business tool. The newer Canon G10 looks great, but I don’t need it, and the G11 will come out soon enough. Never forget that the pictures don’t wait for you! If you have pictures you want to make with a new technology, don’t hesitate, get it done. The pictures never wait!

The Bleeding Edge I live on the BLEEDING EDGE, because that’s how I roll, but I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT!
Example #1 I built an XP 64 Bit workstation; this workstation costed $12, 000 USD: it has 3 Raid 0 arrays, 18 hard drives, SAS raids, and a custom cooling system. I’m the only guy who can run this monstrosity. It did run like a bat out of hell for its day, but the technology has passed by this bleeding edge masterpiece and now a computer of its specs would only cost around $6000 USD. Note that this bleeding edge machine is not yet three years old. Moore’s Law is totally true here.
Example # 2 My first GPS managed to get me across the river from my destination. It also took me to a Wal-Mart distributor instead of a store and often took me many miles out of the way.

Second Best is Usually Fine In many cases the top of the line comes at a 25-33% premium. This sounds like a pittance to pay, but if you can upgrade more often, you will leapfrog those gains. Sometimes top of the line gear holds its resale better, but this rarely makes up for the investment.
Example #1 Top of the line processors like the extreme line of Intel processors are often 40% more expensive, but the next to best processor is only 6% less efficient when properly over-clocked. The next generation of processors will cost you another 30% if you properly re-market the second best processor you purchased and the performance gain might be 20%. An upgrading process to one of these machines might include buying a processor every 18-36 more, and selling the old on Craigslist or eBay.
Example #2 The top of the line pro versions of digital cameras come at a huge premium. The Canon 1ds Mark III is $7,000 while the Canon 5D Mark II is $2,700. There are some different features, but $4300 is a lot to pay for them.

Disposing of outdated technology is a thankless chore. I always seem to have a bunch of old cell phones, memory cards, and cables around. I don’t want to throw the stuff away, but it’s tricky find a home for outdated technology. I take most of my equipment that still has value to an eBay dealer. He takes 20%, but does a nice job of marketing and shipping the stuff.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to upgrading technology. I can only suggest that you make educated decisions; set guidelines for upgrades until enticing new models show up; and above all else know the technology. All the information you need is available on the web today. I’m sure that’s how you found me!

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