You know. That talk that we don’t want to have if we’re dabbling in photography. The gear talk.
Photography gear is like opening a bag of chips: There’s a good chance you’re going to lose control.
But, like the bag of chips, you can alway learn to rein it in and regain some control.
Here’s the deal: When you own a point and shoot camera, that’s pretty much all you need; however, once you dip your photographer’s little toe in the DSLR ocean, you’ve probably opened a steady stream in to your wallet. Why? Well on the way to improving our photos, we want more control. We want to reduce camera shake so we get a tripod. If we want to reduce shake even more, we get triggers. Then we want to control light so we start with speed lights (when we didn’t know anything about photography, we called them flash). When we dive in a little more, we find we need another speed light. To gain more control over light, we start buying modifiers of different sizes, shapes, and forms. If you buy almost any modifier, you also need a stand and a bracket. For your smaller gear-speed lights, triggers, extra batteries for flash, extra batteries for your camera, you need a camera bag. I guarantee that whatever camera bag you purchase, you won’t have it in a few years or if you do, it will be hidden away somewhere. Why? Because the amount of gear you’ll have after a year or two will require you to purchase a bigger bag. You’ll need room to accommodate your gels, smaller light modifiers, straps, your camera battery pack, and on and on. That’s just the small portable stuff. Oh, by the way, that first tripod, you’re probably going to upgrade for something that holds the weight of your camera much better or perhaps you’ve moved up the camera line in whatever Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic or Olympus brand you patronize.
Should I even talk about lenses?Two years ago I attended a lecture given by a well-known photographer. This person’s photos were absolutely amazing and, like many, part of the reason for attending the lecture was to learn how to produce such rich and detailed photos. Well, it turned out that the conference was sponsored by Profoto. Once, I understood that, it was clear why the photos looked so amazing. Of course, the photographer was very talented but when lights that cost $2000-$4000 each are added to the landscape, the photos are even more striking. Most of us walked out of the lecture disappointed because while I can’t say we were given a sales pitch, I can say it felt like a Profoto class.
How many people purchased those strobes because of the lecture? I would guess not many, but I would also guess there must have been at least 1 or 2 who did. For Profoto, that’s a few thousand dollars. For the consumer, if he or she will use those strobes in their business and increase sales, it’s a good investment, but that doesn’t work for most us early on in our photography careers.
At the end of last summer, I attended a 2-day photography course. The second day focused on starting your own business including a discussion on gear. Those Profoto strobes came up again and yes, there are people who purchased them.
Photography is a business on many levels. Most don’t talk about it, but one aspect of the business is selling gear to those striving for better photos. Pros don’t have to verbally endorse a product. When a well-known photographer tells an audience that he or she used XXXX brand, there’ll be a spike in sales of that product. It’s a business.
If you’re new to photography and you plan on moving beyond the point and shoot camera, beware!
- Avoid spontaneous purchases when you attend a lecture in a store. It’s much too easy to run out after the lecture and purchase an item you just heard wonders about. The same applies to those big conferences. The companies that sponsor most of the photographers who appear and speak at conferences are usually in the exhibit center with lots of stock on-hand waiting for spontaneous compulsive buyers.
- When does it make sense to make a purchase at a conference? IF the item you’ve been interested in is significantly discounted.
- Research. Read independent reviews and consumer ratings and arrive at your own conclusions on items you think you need. Don’t just look at the stars; read what other consumers had to say about the item you’re interested in. Why? Because it means something when people take the time to praise of complain about a purchase.
- Purchase what you need which may cost less than the newest, up-to-date version of the product. You want to use a light meter? Sekonic has light meters ranging from $200-$700. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles save yourself some money and get what you need for the work that you do and for the photographs you take.
- Try used. I too had an aversion to used products, but, purchased from the right company or individuals with outstanding reputations, you can purchase high-quality products at tremendously discounted prices. I’ve purchased used lenses from B and H and could not believe the quality. They were like new though they were rated at 8. At B and H, the Used Department rates items’ conditions from 6-10, and as out of box (OB), never used (N), never owned and used only for demonstration purposes (D), and again, refurbished to manufacturers’ specifications (R)
- Most of us are wary of used products. We assume that they’ve been returned because of a problem. This is not alway true. There’s a segment of the population that easily and frequently upgrades gear. Take advantage.
- Try refurbished. This not only applies to camera gear but to other electronics including computers and laptops. According to electronic guru Dave Pogh, refurbished electronics is an underutilized resource especially when products are refurbished by the manufacturer. Think Apple, Nikon, Canon, etc. Pogh recently pointed out in an interview that refurbished products have to meet the manufacturers’ standards and usually carry the original warranty on the product. Refurbished products offer huge savings compared to the original cost of the same new item.
- Try 3rd Party: I own a Nikon SB-800 speed light with through the lens (TTL) capability. I can’t tell you how old it is except to say that I purchased it after my D-300 camera and the speed light was very expensive. If you know Nikon, you get the point: it’s old. It’s also very powerful. When I decided to purchase additional speed lights earlier this year, I knew I wouldn’t purchase brand name speed lights again. Instead, I took to reviews and found that many pros and semi-pros who use speed lights are perfectly happy using the Yongnuo brand, in particular, the Yongnuo 560 IV speed light that’s controlled by the Yonguo transmitter (Approximately $30.00). Each speed light costs between $65-$70 and runs on AA batteries.
- Rent: Renting equipment is the sensible way to go under the right circumstances. Birding, horse racing, car racing or any occasion that requires a specialty lens that you won’t use regularly gives you a great excuse for renting vs. buying. Another benefit of renting is using new gear and equipment, and familiarizing yourself with them prior to a purchase. I rented a 50 mm f1.8 lense years ago and fell in love with it. I knew that I would purchase one eventually but I didn’t “need” to at that time. Two years ago I purchased a relatively inexpensive 50mm f1.8 that I use for everyday outdoor shooting. In between my rental and purchase, the price dropped significantly.
- You can also rent a lot of other types of gear including strobes.
- If you’re going to use the gear frequently, calculate the cost of renting vs. buying. Remember, if you’re buying online, you may have to pay shipping costs so include that in your cost calculation. If you find you’re renting frequently, it may be more sensible to buy (refurbished or gently used).
- A few online lens and gear rental companies include:
- There are numerous other sites for lens and gear rental. It’s also a good idea to rent locally if there is a photo shop close to you. You get personalized attention and can build a relationship with a local pro. Remember, online or local, read the rental agreement carefully before signing the terms of the rental agreement.
Remember, the essential items of a photographer are the camera and good quality lenses or glass. If you’re going to spend money, that’s where the money should go, but even for these purchases exercise caution. Get what you need with a little room for growth but don’t go for bells and whistles that you don’t need. A consideration when it comes to lenses is the use on non-propriety lenses such as Sigma or Tamron. Again, read reviews. Among many pros, the quality of these brands are considered equal, and in some instances, superior to name brand lenses.
When I decided to upgrade my camera from the Nikon D300 (Okay, I admit to keeping that a bit too long.) there was much to choose from in the Nikon line. I did my research and decided on the D750, voted camera of the year in 2014. The D-800 and D-810 had already been out. The D-810, the Ferrari of the semi-pro consumer line, is magnificent, but I really don’t need another 10-plus megapixels. There are also features in my D-750 that were not included in the 810 model. I saved $1700 by researching and figuring out the best camera to give me superior photos and to meet my needs. That extra money went to purchasing 2 used/refurbished lenses, a Black Rapid strap (save your neck…please), and a couple of Yongnuo speed lights. The rest stayed in my pocket. A friend of mine upgrades his Nikon with every new camera in the semi-pro line. For all of the features he uses, he could probably downgrade and he’d be safe. Buy what you need with a little room for exploration and growth. Unless your printing huge prints, I’m not sure what people do with 50 megapixel cameras.
Be a smart camera consumers and photographer. Research. Compare prices: Amazon, eBay, big and small camera stores. Buy wisely. Remember, photography is a business, and your love of this art makes you a potential consumer for many tools-gear, videos, sign-up programs, classes, workshops, conferences, etc. Be smart and choose wisely. When you choose, use what you purchase and get your money’s worth. If you pay for workshops or conferences, use what you’ve learned. Get your money’s worth. If you want better gear, trade up or sell your old equipment.
I love gear too but what I love even more is when I see the benefits of purchasing that gear in my final image.