Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Buying Camera Equipment

When it comes to camera equipment, most purchases are big investments so, naturally, we all want to get it right. Unfortunately, if you really enjoy photography and are continually learning about it, you may not ever have a blank wish-list. So as you try to rationalize your lens choices, here are two principles to keep in mind:
  1. Stick to a budget
  2. Prioritize your needs
Stick to a Budget
Everybody's budget is different so obviously I can't provide any numbers here, but I think it is very helpful to figure out how much you can (or are willing to) spend on your equipment. Having a budget not only helps you limit yourself, but it also allows you to feel okay about buying something. If you are like my wife, anything in triple digits is painful to purchase. However, if you budget $100 a year (for example) and wait two years, you don't have to feel bad about spending $200 on a lens. Of course, if you are more of a free-spender, a budget might help keep you out of trouble. I'm not a financial guru, so I won't belabor this point, but I encourage you to figure out a budget if you plan to continue to add to and upgrade your equipment.
Prioritize Your Needs
The easiest way I can think of to prioritize your needs is to ask yourself, "Where do I hit the limits of my current equipment most frequently?" If you have a D40 and the 18-55mm kit lens consider these possibilities:
  • Do you zoom all the way out to 18mm (a lot) and wish you could go farther?
  • Do you zoom all the way in to 55mm (a lot) and wish you could go farther?
  • Do you feel limited by your aperture and wish you could have blurrier backgrounds?
  • Do you take a lot of pictures inside and feel like there is never enough light?
Determining which of these issues is most important to you right now, could help you know where to start. In each case, there are multiple options to meet your needs, so this is just the beginning of the decision making process.
Other Considerations
Here are some additional issues you need to consider as you plan for your next purchase and others down the road.
  • As you buy lenses it helps to think past your next purchase so you can plan to have a kit that works together. For example, it may be a waste of money to buy a lens that overlaps in its range with one you plan to buy later.
  • As you choose lenses, you need to rank the importance of quality, flexibility and price. The best lenses are usually the most expensive, but not everybody needs the absolute best lenses. The lenses with the greatest zoom range typically sacrifice some picture quality and are often more expensive than two lenses that cover the same range.
  • Do you want to buy "third party" lenses (or other accessories)? Other companies make lenses for Nikon and Canon cameras and they are usually cheaper than their "first party" counterparts. In my experience, though, the real deal has been consistently and noticeably better.
Coming up, I'm going to give advice and recommendations on specific lenses, so if you are in the market, start by considering the issues I've listed here.