Essential Gear for the Beginner Photographer (And How to Get Them For Cheap)Thursday, May 12, 2016
It's time to take a break from all the trip posts and talk about other fun things. For one, I'm going to feature more posts on what you can do to improve your photo shooting game so your pics quickly go from basic to fab on whatever camera you have on hand, be it an iPhone or DSLR. Today's post is a list of gear and accessories you want to have when first starting out. The rundown is that you just need a DSLR with a kit lens and BOOM you're good to go. But realistically, if you want to keep the value of your camera and lenses for at least a few years before an upgrade or for extra money, you'll need a few more things on hand. So if you want to step it up a notch in photo taking, here are my recommendations and tips for you to become successful.
WHAT YOU NEED
1. DSLR Camera
The three most important factors that determines your camera's performance are the lens (more on this next), digital image processor, and image sensor. When choosing cameras, don't get hung up over the number of megapixels or if it has WiFi capabilities. Instead, base your choice on the version of the processor and sensor. Consider buying either the latest or one of the most recent for quick response, accurate and vibrant colors, faster image processing when shooting, improved noise reduction, better frame rate, and more. Canon's image processors are called DIGIC (Digital Imaging Integrated Circuit) with the latest version in for their DSLR's being the DIGIC 6.
I've just always used Canon, both with compact cameras and DSLR, so that's what I can speak about in terms of its capabilities. The Canon Rebel T6i uses the latest processor, has WiFi capabilities, swivel LCD screen, shoots at 24.2MP and 5fps and is easy to use overall. This is a great entry-level camera to use, especially if you want to send the photos to your computer or phone right away for upload to social media or you want to venture into making videos or vlogging for YouTube, the WiFi and swivel screen, respectively, will come in handy. If you're looking for something of the same capabilities and quality but a little more budget friendly, the Canon Rebel T5i is a great alternative with minor differences, such as DIGIC 5 Image Processor and 18MP capabilities instead.
TIP: When you have settled between a few cameras, go in stores to try them out. You might find that the one you had your heart set on doesn't feel as comfortable as another one, or the buttons' and dials' placements are cumbersome and too complicated.
In terms of what camera model and make you choose, what will make the difference between a good and great photo will ultimately come down to your familiarity of the cameras' capabilities and knowing what camera settings to use for the best photo. So don't get too hung up over the tech specs. Choose one that fits your budget and go shoot! Practice, practice, practice.
2. Camera Lens
With Canon kit lenses, since I'm most familiar with this brand and their gear lineup, there are the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6, and 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6. Their performance are all about the same with the major, and obvious, difference being the zoom length. Therefore, go with whichever fits your budget. The 18-135mm lens or the 18-200mm lens would be better if you want to experiment with composition from far away distances and want to reduce the space in your camera bag with carrying an extra lens. The kit lenses with a longer reach are versatile enough for macro, food, landscape, portrait, still life, and sport photography.
I also suggest buying a 50mm f/1.8 lens to go along with your kit lens. This is a prime lens, meaning that you "zoom" with your feet instead of adjusting the zoom on the lens itself. BUT with the f-stop lower than that of a kit lens, the lens opens up more and you get a smaller depth of field, thus enabling your subject to be sharp in focus with the background blurred and gaining that beautiful "bokeh" effect. It's excellent for portraits, low light/night time, and action photography and is one of the best performing lenses that you can get for your money (under $120). Coupled with the kit lens gives you the capability of experimenting with your camera and different styles as you first start out.
3. UV Filter
To know what size filter you need, look for the inner diameter symbol, ⌀, on the front end of the lens. The number following this symbol is the size that you need. For example, ⌀77 means you need a 77mm filter.
3. Spare battery
Keep a spare battery on hand as a backup to avoid the dead battery dilemma in the middle of shooting. You can opt for either a standard battery pack or a battery grip. The latter is the equivalent of two battery packs and that type of grip is more comfortable if you're often shooting portraits with the camera turned vertically, but has the downside of being pricier and taking up more space and weight than a regular battery.
6. Camera Bag
There are a variety of camera bags, backpacks, bag inserts, and cases on the market, all with one purpose: to protect your equipment. Make sure the one you choose can fit your camera with you main lens attached, another lens, and pockets for your accessories at the minimum. I prefer using a backpack for better weight distribution on my shoulders (although the backpacks I use aren't geared towards photography...more on what's in my bag and why I don't use a camera bag in a later post). A camera insert is a great and budget friendly alternative if you already have a large bag laying around and want protection for your gear.
7. Lens Cleaning Pen
WHERE TO GET GREAT GEAR FOR CHEAP
Now all of these sound like it will cost a ton to get started, but the good thing is that there are several options you can choose from to find the best for your buck. The camera and lens will cost the most. However, you can find great deals for them for up to 50% off retail price if you're patient! Here are some tips and places to browse for your next photography purchases:
- Amazon and eBay - Both sites sell a huge variety of photography accessories as well as the camera body only, camera body with a kit lens, and a bundle that usually include most of and more than what I included above. The bundle can be your best bet when you're starting out, but they usually include a lot more extra than what you really need. A way to cut down on costs is to make your own bundle and buy everything separately on those sites. If the price sounds too good to be true and is considerably lower than what Amazon or B&H sells it for, chances are it's a scam, so watch out for those too.
- Buy refurbished - Camera manufacturers have a refurbished page where you can buy a second-hand, near perfect condition DSLR for much cheaper than what it actually costs. Some even come with a 1 year warranty, so if time is not a factor, wait for the model that you want to pop up on the refurbished page.
- Buy on Black Friday or Cyber Monday - If you live in the US, you know two of the best days of the year to get deeply discounted electronics is on these two days after Thanksgiving. In fact, that's when I bought my current camera because it was much more affordable that way.
- Rent It - If you're unsure about dropping a lot of money on equipment, whether it be lighting, tripods, drones, cameras, or lenses, consider renting it. There are a few sites that do this, including Lens Rentals, Borrow Lenses, and Camera Lens Rentals. This is a great option if you don't have a camera store nearby to try something out. For example, the MSRP for the Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 is $650. But on Lens Rentals, you can rent it for $32 for 2 days. What's not to love about that!