They say you should replace your camera every 3-5 years. WTF do they know?

Sony and other cameras
(Image credit: Future)

Okay, cards on the table, I like to acquire new tech – and it probably won't come as a surprise that cameras are high up on my list. But, as a responsible grown-up, I thought I'd ask the world – through the medium of search – how long I should expect my camera to last.

In other words, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, "Am I justified in thinking that my Sony A7 III, which I've had since launch, is due a replacement?" The reasonably consistent answer that the web offered was 3-5 years. My camera harks from April 2018 so, by that logic, it must be due a replacement, right?

• The A7III is still one of the best Sony cameras (despite its age!)

But that's not the whole story. Cameras age a little like cars – they have a second measure of age. Where cars are measured in terms of miles (or kilometers) driven, there is much talk of "shutter actuations." The actual-ness of each one is a more debatable point for cameras without moving parts, but a DSLR will certainly age a little each time.

So what actually will wear your camera out?

  • Dust and sand – it gets in and it's hard to get out, plus it can scratch optics and the image sensor. You can try a hurricane blower or the brush of a lens pen.
  • Moisture – if it gets in, it'll corrode components, and weather sealing only works up to a point.
  • Physical violence – should be obvious, but a good camera bag doesn't hurt; not all damage happens when you're there.

(Image credit: Future)

How long will a digital camera really last?

All things being equal, with a bit of luck, a car can perform its key function more-or-less perfectly after a decade,§ but – thanks to the progress of time – the electronics can seem very out of date much sooner. How fast did the ability to connect a phone change how we view in-car systems? 

The same does seem to be true of my camera. Mechanically, though, the LCD screens are all still free of even a single dead pixel, and the body looks pretty new (I admit the lens could do with some love). 

I haven't yet reached Sony's suggested 200,000-shot lifespan for my A7 III, but despite it having WiFi and Bluetooth and all kinds of features that still feel very modern for a camera, there still seem to be limitations to what is possible (though, to be fair, it's my understanding that Sony's crappy apps and Apple-unfriendliness haven't magically been resolved with more recent cameras).

Personally, I shoot onto the memory card and copy the files to the computer. They're often part of a review and resolution-wise the stills resolution or 4K is plenty for me. None of that tech is likely to significantly change in the next couple of years. If the promise of transferring files painlessly to unlimited cloud space comes along without draining all my phone/camera battery, perhaps my attention will be attracted – but for now, my camera still works for my needs. 

That doesn't mean I'm going to stop investing, though. 

For one thing, I've coped far too long with the kit lens, plus a 70-200mm zoom and a 50mm prime. I need an aperture that enables me to do more with my day-to-day lens. A lens changes a camera more than a new body changes your lenses, especially if focus generally works for you already. 

Not every camera you buy has to be your main camera! (Image credit: Adam Juniper)

Secondly, well, not every camera you obsess about needs to be your "main camera". We live in a time of spectacular innovation when it comes to the physical shape of the tech itself, and my most recent camera purchase was an Insta360 X3. I recently wrote about taking a 360-degree camera on a family trip before, and I'm glad that I put my camera cash in that direction.

The other lesson that the X3 taught me was how much better any tech can be when a decent app is involved. Converting 360-degree video to traditional format needs some help, so software development was always going to be important to create that platform. For me, that just makes it even more frustrating that a simple remote operation app for my Sony camera is so painful. It's not just me, right?

Of course, that means my 3-year-old iMac Core i7 is probably also on the list for an upgrade…

If you're looking to replace your existing camera, take a look at the best mirrorless cameras available right now – or spread your wings and check out the best 360 cameras. And if you're anything like me, you might need to peruse the best iMac for photo and video editing, too!

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Adam Juniper
Managing Editor

With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 

He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video and The Drone Pilot's Handbook