Beginners Photography Advice: Gear Heads

Canon 17-40mm F/4 L

Gear isn't everything.

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.

canon 18-55 image

I still use my cheapo EF-S 18-55mm sometimes. It's light and I don't really care if I break it.

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.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Beginners Photography Advice: Gear Heads

  1. If I’m looking for a lens that will get the absolute amazing shots of my kids in action on the football field (can zoom really far, get quick shots) what am I looking for?

  2. Sports photography can be quite taxing on your equipment. There is a good reason why sports photographers carry those huge lenses! The things to look for in a lens are focal length (i.e. zoom range) and how quickly and accurately it can focus. The problem is for this type of photography the camera body itself can have a big impact on how your lens performs. Some autofocusing systems are a lot better than others and this is one of the things that people will pay for in a more expensive camera body. To make any more specific recommendations I would need to know what camera body you plan to buy, but I would definitely say if sports photography is what you’re looking to get into then I would definitely go with a DSLR and not one of the more compact mirrorless options.

  3. I was really thinking Canon Rebel ??

  4. If you’re thinking about going with a Canon, then the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II lens is (knowing you’re on a budget) quite a well-regarded lens for the price and would certainly give you a lot of reach. Since you aspire to shoot sports, I would recommend avoiding the bottom tier 1000D/1100D (Rebel XS/Rebel T3) Canons – the 600D (Rebel T3i) is the minimum I would go for. And if you’re not so bothered about having the best video function, you might look at the 550D (Rebel T2i) and save yourself a little bit of money.

    Personally, and this is just what *I* would do, is look for a second hand Canon 40D – but I understand treating yourself to a second hand camera is not quite the same 😛

  5. P.S. I hope I got those Rebel model numbers correct – I’m pretty sure I did but I sent myself a bit cross-eyed looking them up! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Beginners Photography Advice: Aspirations | Heyes Photo

  7. Thanks for the advice! I’m not scared of second hand, as long as it was treated kindly. My car and my husband were both previously used and have worked out pretty good so far! 🙂

  8. Haha I like it! There are some bargains to be found in the used market. Some semi-professional camera bodies from 4 or 5 years ago like the 40D are selling second-hand for less money than today’s new entry level cameras. The way I see it, if it was good enough for that market a few years ago, then it obviously did a great job! The only thing with older camera bodies is they tend to have less megapixels (which is not a big deal), lower ISO limit (which you can work around, and is not a huge concern outdoors) and a pretty basic screen on the back of the camera for previewing your photos. They also don’t have video modes, which will either be a dealbreaker or a complete non-issue. My Canon 5D was a £2500 camera when it was new and I picked one up second hand last year for £600 with 6 months warranty.

    I think you should go into a local independent camera store and have a play with some of the cameras, explaining what you want to achieve. Try Canon, try Nikon… try anything you can get your hands on!

  9. I can’t wait to start this journey! Googling now to find some camera stores…. I have always been obsessed with taking pics of nature and my kids and I just know a new camera is gonna push me beyond obsession, but hey, one day they’ll be all grown up and I can sit on the couch and boo-hoo about the 7th Grade SuperBowl Championship game! 🙂

  10. I think having a bit of enthusiasm behind you is a great thing – it will sustain you through those times you get disappointed. And there will be times where you think “oh God, these pictures suck” or someone thinks your favourite picture is terrible. While you’re shopping I recommend picking up the book “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson. It’s very readable and will give you a really good start in learning the basics.

  11. You just made my day! I have been searching for more “easy to digest” info on how to get the pics I want to take! Did I mention I have a beautiful daughter who is a budding singer? I’d love to take a ton of new pics for her website too…

  12. Between football and singing you won’t be short on photo opportunities that’s for sure, but they’ve given you a couple of stiff challenges in regards to photography. But that’s ok, we like a challenge!

    One of the things you’ll learn early on is that a lack of light is a real problem for a photographer, and that “low light” doesn’t necessarily mean “dark”. I consider pretty much anything indoors under average lighting to be “low light”. Rest assured I’ll be covering how to work around that problem in a future article!

  13. Nice post and great blog. I’m guilty of being a gearhead myself but through the years I’ve certainly learned that the camera doesn’t make the picture. I also notice people purchasing expensive lenses and then not taking them with them (when they travel for instance) because they’re afraid something will happen – completely defeats the purpose of buying quality equipment if you’re too afraid to carry it with you….

  14. I have a couple of the slower L series lenses, so I’m not totally excused myself. I’ve been deliberating for months whether to go out and buy a 24-70 f/2.8, but the price is making my stomach flip. The problem is I’ll probably regret buying a cheaper alternative. It’s certainly a problem most of us have to deal with at some point!

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