If you’re a gear head, admit it now
Some people just like buying camera bodies and lenses for the pleasure of it – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that as long as you understand that sinking money into equipment will not make you a better photographer.
You need to decide whether you’re serious about taking better pictures or just using your hobby as a vehicle to justify buying new stuff. That’s not to say these things are mutually exclusive, as many experienced photographers are self-admitted gear heads, but just be honest with yourself.
The problem with being motivated by equipment is that you’ll never be happy until you’ve got the best. You may temporarily suspend your instincts and buy a cheaper 55-250mm zoom, but that 70-200mm f/2.8 is always going to be in the back of your mind and you’ll end up buying it anyway. If this is you, then you might as well cut to the chase and just buy the best lens you want outright. At least then you won’t have a cheap lens to offload and you’ll actually save a little bit of money.
You might find it strange that I seem to be advocating the purchase of professional equipment to beginners, but the truth is I’m not. I’m being realistic. I know what people are like, and if you have your mind set on something your subconscious will just niggle away until it is satisfied.
Most top photographers will tell you that your equipment only counts for a fraction of what is necessary to make great images, but in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking, “that’s alright for you to say, you’ve got £5000 worth of camera in your bag.” And to a certain extent, that’s a valid point. If the cheap stuff is so good, then why aren’t you using it? The reason is because the professional lenses have features that pay for themselves through daily use. They may be harder wearing, weather resistant and focus more accurately which is important for people who are relying on their equipment to get paid.
If you’re just shooting for fun or still learning then it really isn’t a big deal if the focus misses a few times or you have to put your camera away when it starts raining. A press photographer working in a downpour might have 2 seconds to get the shot before it disappears. They literally don’t have the time for a slow-focusing lens nor the luxury of simply not taking the shot – that’s where the value of professional equipment comes into play.
My advice? Avoid the top and bottom of the market. You will curse your entry level equipment for being cheap and resent the top of the line purchases for blowing a gaping hole in your bank account. The sweet spot, in my experience, is around the upper end of the consumer range and lower end of the professional range.
Photography can be expensive at times, but it doesn’t have to be low value. Unwrapping brand new camera X or lens Y might give you a buzz for a couple of days, but the satisfaction of getting a bargain and knowing you don’t need the greatest stuff to get fantastic results will last a lot longer.