Necessary Camera Gear graphic

Stop Wasting Money on Needless Camera Gear!

The best photo gear for going out and taking beautiful images is the gear you’ve already got. Period.

Everyone always talks about this new dSLR/point-and-shoot, this great new zoom lens, that fancy speed light, and great new tripod. It’s all very shiny, very powerful and versatile, very complicated, very expensive, and usually, for most, very unnecessary.

When I started out in the world of digital, I bought into a lot of the hype about gear. I got the best dSLR I could afford, a collection of lenses and flashes and lots of strange tools and gear for specific and “cool” needs. And after almost a decade of experience shooting digital photos, I have yet found a need for much of what I bought. The camera, a Nikon D40, was nice and simple (thank god!). At least I picked a tool I could learn from. The most important feature in any camera is the ability to use it easily. As I learned more, I bought more complex tools.

But most of the speed-lights and other assorted crap I almost rarely use. Why? I like to shoot nature and I prefer to use natural light and carry a lightweight load. Therefore, I don’t often use/need flash and all the detritus.

If you’ve never tried photography before, start simple. After you figure out what you like to shoot, and how you like to shoot, then start upgrading your tools. Don’t go and get the fanciest camera, if it’s too complicated you’ll not have fun using it and by the time you’ve figured out all the features, it’ll be time to upgrade–so save the money for the next camera.

If you’re currently shooting, and having fun, using only a camera phone. Good! Even many professionals are now incorporating camera phones and other “consumer” friendly devices into their work. These devices are small, easy, functional, and convenient. And I’ve seen results from an iPhone that rival work done using a $4000 dSLR kit.

It doesn’t matter the tools–it’s you the photographer that really counts. Just you and a camera for capturing the moment, the beauty, the expression, the scene, the color, the whatever. No excuses, get up and go take photos. And if you’re not liking the results out of the camera, try editing them. There are inexpensive, and often free, tools available for people that offer simple edits like adjusting contrast and color and for creating effects like infrared, black and white, sepia, old-photo, high-dynamic range, etc…

Just like with the gear, don’t buy Photoshop if you’ve never used a tool like Photoshop. It’s now a subscription software ($19.99/month) and it’ll take months of using and learning to even begin to unlock its most powerful features. I recommend the reasonably inexpensive Photoshop Elements first–its learning curve is much less steep and the experience you get using it will translate into Photoshop if/when you’re ready to make the leap. Not everyone likes/needs to use Photoshop. Discover that about yourself before spending lots of money on software–Adobe offers a free trial. And they’re many good and cheaper alternatives.

There are so many cameras, types of cameras, lenses, types of lenses, flashes, types of flashes… Use what you’ve got, buy only what you’ll use, can use, and can afford. Never buy a piece of equipment you can’t afford.

If you’ve got a paying gig coming up, make sure you’ve already got the necessary equipment. Or maybe figure out a way to get partial payment upfront to fund the gear upgrade. You absolutely need to be able to use that gear perfectly on the day of the paying event. If you can’t figure out the camera, flash, or lens the results will look much worse than if you just used the stuff you already have, even if it’s limited in features and function. Go for what you know!

I have all the gizmos one could ever need for doing silly little things, but I don’t often do silly little things. Wasted money! I have a dozen lenses, some that I spent hundreds of dollars on. And when I go out and shoot for the day, I usually only grab two of them, maybe three! Why? Like I said before, it’s the way I shoot and what I like to shoot that decides what gear I use, not the other way around. If I put on a lens I’m not comfortable with, no matter how good it is, the results aren’t very good and I’m not very happy. If you like wide-angle, shoot wide-angle. If you like normal, shoot normal or use a zoom. If you love how flash adds that extra wow to your images, use flash. Only you can decide what you need–not some reviewer in a magazine or on a website.

Mega-pixels, shmegapixels. More is NOT better! Unless you need to print 5ft tall posters you will not benefit from using a 20+ mega-pixel camera. A 10 mega-pixel camera that resolves the detail well and exposes the image correctly will yield much more functional results–and much smaller file sizes;) A good 10 mega-pixel camera will most often get you much better results than a crappy 16 mega-pixel camera. The lens on cheap point and shoots can’t resolute detail good enough for 16 mega-pixels, and the smaller photo sensors of point and shoots and camera phones produce way too much noise to show any noticeable improvement from 10 to 16 mega-pixels–more noise not detail.

Resolution is NOT mega-pixels. Resolution refers to the amount of resolvable detail present in an image. Mega-pixels refers to the number of dots the camera puts on the memory card to show off that detail. With 2013 technology it takes perhaps $1000 or more in gear to get a 16+ mega-pixel image to show off close to an equivalent 16+ mega-pixels of detail. And who prints poster-sized images that are meant to be viewed from only a few inches away

Keep it simple, stupid. Spend less money and instead spend more time on what you like doing. There are thousands of perfectly good high-end cameras, lenses, flashes, and tripods sitting in closets getting dusty and old because people spent money in the wrong places.

You’ll have more fun and get better results if you use what you have, what you like, and only what you can afford. Knowledge comes from trying, not reading. And skill comes from practice, not ever from spending more money!