Cameras vs. Lenses – Which is More Important Long Term?

I’ve been shooting with Nikon SLR and DSLR cameras for about 33 years now. I’ve also been buying lenses for those same camera bodies. Looking back in time, I’ve come to some conclusions about the importance of camera bodies and lenses. Which is more important over time?

While the shapes and sizes of my Nikon camera bodies have changed over the years and the functionality built into each camera body has increased, my lenses have pretty much remained constant.

Nikon FM with AI-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Lens

Nikon FM with AI-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Lens

During your photographic journey, camera bodies will come and go, especially in the digital world. Camera bodies are like computers and become obsolete within a few years. You don’t absolutely have to buy a new camera when the new ones come out. I have a ten-year-old DSLR camera body (Nikon D100) that works perfectly. Of course, you have to achieve a minimum level of camera body quality to take advantage of your excellent lenses. Don’t skimp there either!

However, new cameras add more features and may even increase the quality of the image, so you’ll upgrade. Your photographic enthusiasm will insist; even if your partner or spouse does not understand why. One of the reasons photography is so expensive is that—nearly every time you want a new accessory—you will have to buy something new for your partner too. If you buy a new accessory-shoe-mounted GPS unit for your camera, your partner isn’t going to settle for a nice coffee mug! I hope your partner is someone that loves photography too.

AI Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and 200mm f/4 lenses – mid-1970's lenses, still working great on my Nikon DSLRs

AI Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and 200mm f/4 lenses – mid-1970’s lenses, still working great on my Nikon DSLRs, such as my D800 and D600

A few years ago, I bought my wife a new camera for our anniversary. She likes photography too, thank goodness. Now, when I want a new lens, all I have to do is buy her one too and all is well.

If your partner doesn’t like photography, try to get him or her involved in some expensive hobby. Then when you want a new camera body, you can simply buy an expensive goody for your partner’s hobby too. Learn these lessons well because if you are like most of us, photography can become a passionate endeavor that involves not only the pleasure of a beautiful image, but also the enjoyment of owning quality camera equipment. Go for quality equipment and you’ll get back quality images.

I’ve found that showing extra affection for several weeks before a major camera purchase works wonders. That and new stuff for the partner too. Be careful though; once I bought myself a new lens and a new vacuum cleaner for my wife. I never knew a female of the species had enough upper-body strength to swing a vacuum cleaner like a baseball bat as she chased me from the house. Right after that is when I bought her the new camera. I figured it out! Get it right and you’ll do well.

Camera Levels - Consumer, Enthusiast, Semi-pro, to pro

Camera Levels – Consumer, Enthusiast, Semi-pro, to pro

Just like there are various levels in cameras—from consumer to pro—there are also lens levels. There are lenses made of plastic and good glass that only cost a few bucks and lenses made of metal and exotic glass that cost as much as a new compact car.

In reality (remember this), lenses are much more important than the camera body. Where camera bodies will come and go, lenses last for a very long time—if you buy good ones. I have lenses from the mid 1970s that work perfectly well on my newest DSLR cameras. I bought well-made lenses and they have never worn out on me. I treat them like babies, of course, but the point is—they can last a lifetime. This is why it is so important to choose wisely when selecting a camera brand. You want a manufacturer that has longevity and makes lenses that will last—like Nikon.

When I look back over the many years since I started shooting with a degree of professionalism, I remember many camera bodies that I used to own and no longer have. I miss some of them, such as my old Nikon F4 body. However, the majority of the lenses I’ve ever owned are still in my camera bags. They are still mine and will be until I pass them on to my heirs. In my opinion, lenses are the most important items in photography. Camera bodies will come and go, but lenses will stay.

AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G and 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lenses

AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G and 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lenses

If you aren’t buying lenses that you would be proud to hand down to your heirs, you may need to rethink your lens purchases. Lenses are the crown jewels in the photography world. Don’t skimp on your lenses. Buy the best you can afford and your images will thank you for it.

Keep on capturing time…
Darrell Young
See my Nikon books here:

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