"Can I do it?" I asked myself looking at my old camera. The cosmetic wear was minimal and it was working still like a charm but the real question was: Did I need the latest camera body out there. When I had to upgrade some of my equipment I had some tough questions to ask. The first one was if my camera was really obsolete.
Cameras these days are produced faster than you can buy them. By the time you did your research and found something to your liking some manufacturer will announce that the next best thing will be in the market if you just wait a few more months. Long story short, years go by and I still haven't made up my mind. It was much easier in the past. Upgrading from amateur to mid-range to pro was easy. There were clear gaps in the camera market and I knew what I was getting more. Reach a certain level (no matter which) and try and get a new camera in that range and things become complicated.
First thing I noticed was the increase of the pixels. I like to read old reviews of the D200 or the D2X and chuckle. The great reviews that it got at the time and the testaments of "this is pro level" make me wonder if we really need to squeeze out those pixels. These testaments come from the same people that when the D700 came out swore that if you are going to be a pro let's say wedding photographer you need at least a D700 as a back up and a D3 as a primary. How did photographers do it in the older days then? The fact is that more megapixels do give you an advantage. Today you get monitors that can actually show off your work and prints that really highlight the flaws of the picture. That being said, you won't need more pixels if you are not planning to print your work extra large or if you are not selling your art to be printed on a billboard. There are actually arguments now of whether these many pixels are actually a good idea since they generate huge files and make it hard to process them.
Sensors have come a full circle. By that I don't mean that there is no room for improvement but that the format that started with a different aspect ratio than the film has come back to the point where your film lenses can be used again. Full frame (FX) is back on the menu, so if you were going to buy something for the future you can go ahead and purchase one of the FX cameras out there as they are going to last. Although still expensive the rate cameras are coming out the last 2 years will drop their price considerably. To be honest, the old aspect ratio is still in fashion but that is only a matter of time. It is a shame really because other than the smaller sensor the quality of those cameras is still getting better. I have a hard time telling pictures apart now of a DX and a FX if they are cropped, zoomed and have good balance of light. The difference is starting to get evident only at low light and in larger prints/monitors.
"Yes, but can you make it smaller?". Camera weight has been reduced considerably. A pro camera today can be under 2kg and that is great news for traveling photographers. The bulk of your weight in your backpack probably comes from two items: your camera and your tele-lens. Now pro-cameras are easier to carry which probably explains why I see so many people these days carrying around one when they are in large tourist groups (and no they are not always Japanese). Pro quality is becoming more attainable not only in price but also in weight. I believe this is a major concern for travelers otherwise the industry would not have invested so heavily in superzoom lenses or mirroless cameras.
So it is wise to upgrade? Well let me answer this with another question: Are you a pro? If not then taking it slowly and investing into another camera after 5-8 years might be the way to go. Your camera will easily last that long and the manufacturers will have something better on the market by then without you overspending. If you are a pro or want to be a pro then by all means buy the best you can afford. My advice though is to spend most of your budget on good lenses first. That way, when you do get the money for a good camera you will be all set.