If I could give myself advice when I started buying camera gear…

This is a list of thoughts and advice that I would share with myself at the start of my camera gear purchases a few years ago if I could.

Despite the gear pictured what this is not is an endorsement of any type of camera gear as I am ultimately brand agnostic.

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Questions:

  • Most importantly what is your budget range?
    • This is key. Above everything else this ultimately made some big decisions for me. There some fantastic systems out there, but when I finally realized what I really wanted personally (Fast factory normal and tele zooms and a portrait lens.) as the bullet below asks many systems priced themselves right out of my hands.
  • What do you need? Do not focus on what you want.
    • As an example at one point I convinced myself that I needed full frame, but I quickly found out that for my purposes a full frame camera was definitely a want.
    • Your mileage may very. Yes full frame cameras are great. No denying that. But if you peruse the flickr feeds searching for all types of cameras you will see that great images can be made regardless of sensor most of the time.
  • What is it that you like to shoot?
    • Style of shooting is another large determining factor. If you like discrete street shooting a tilty touch screen small mirrorless may be up your alley and an EVF may or not matter to you. Shooting birds or sports and you have beef mitts for hands you will most likely be happier with a proper DSLR.
    • Will you shoot video? I do not enjoy video necessarily, but under protest this is a forced consideration because kids. As such this is another item that made a major decision for me.
  • How big of a bag are you willing to carry around?
    • One night I was the solo parent with two of my kids at a HS football game when my wife was looking after an ailing child at home. In uncharacteristically cold temps for where we live a child did not follow rendezvous instructions. In these brick conditions I hustled around trying to predict where the logic of an early teen would take them (no small feat) with a Lowepro backpack chock full of plastic, metal and glass strapped to my back like I was on the first leg of a Kilimanjaro climb. Winded I thought to myself ‘this nonsense must end’ and I downsized my kit to messenger bag status the next week.
  • Do you want compatible gear or is a mismatch of brands and types ok with you?
    • I am a techie thrice certified by inclination, education, and vocation. As such I am a bit OCD and like things to be matchy. I once split my digital gear (my film gear is all over the place because sentimentality overrules good sense) between two ILS brands. What is the harm? Well the harm I found was that while deciding what lens to get for one system was a challenge deciding what lens to get next when choosing from two pools of mounts was near impossible for me. For others this may not matter.
  • What is your end goal? Is this for fun or do you see yourself ‘going professional’ down the road.
    • Initially I thought of this as a for fun venture, but not long after I purchased my first big boy camera (the first 2 being quite capable, but housed in EVF-less rangefinder-ish sized bodies). Problem? Yes. One hot shoe, but two hot shoe accessories (EVF and a flash). Plus it does not make your pictures look any better, but many mirrorless uninitiated will look at you funny when you show up no matter how much explaining you do about the capability of your gear. Hm. Camera looks DSLR-ish. They must be good.
  • Are you you going to take on requests for your photography services? Because there is a good possibility you will be asked.
    • I have moved from no, to maybe, to where I am at now which is that I take what comes my way by word of mouth (mainly for the experience/challenge), but I do not actively promote or pursue. That being said I have taken some steps to prepare myself in case I have a change of heart and I am actively researching more.

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Thoughts:

  • Price cameras AND lenses for a given system before you start buying.
    • As an example I jumped on a great A7 deal when the A7ii was released. Full frame for less than a grand? Sign me up. Like ripping off a bandaid I sold the gear I had because I did not want 2 systems. Yeah… I was a bit hasty on that one. Soon after I purchased the giggle fit inducing Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 but when gear spiked dopamine levels normalized I realized that Sony’s top glass was beyond what I was willing or able to pay. Further some glass was not available yet (f/2.8 normal and tele zooms and an 85mm portrait lens at that time). Their recent announcement has not impacted my decision because they are priced even further beyond my fiscal grasp. I am not saying the lenses were or will not be worth what was/is being asked. Instead I realized they lived on the other side of my price pain point.

GAS fueled parade of gear gallery below.

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  • If you do not start at the top of a range camera body and lens wise, how much does the top of range cost.
    • GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is real people. I am a witness. Bought an E-PL5, but really wanted an OMD-EM5. Tried to go halfway and got an E-P5 and by then they released the OMD-EM1. Drats. I once owned and very much liked a D3300 and even though I sold it a while ago I still have an itch for the D7200, D750, and D810. I may still even troll the used bins of online stores for all of them. Maybe. In all seriousness know that as your skill levels grow those features you once thought unnecessary may be they very things you wish you had. Brace yourself and prepare accordingly.
  • If you do not splurge on the top of the line body at first do not cheap out on the lenses. Lenses have a far longer shelf life than bodies.
    • I am now a firm believer that while camera bodies are indeed important nothing is more important than a system that contains the lenses that are right for you.
  • Do not get caught up in the latest flavor.
    • Resist. One of my favorite flickr pages was created using a camera that was released in 2004 and now lists for about $50 on amazon used. So, no you do not need the just released Leicanonikonfulympansung Megablast SL-OMD-D-Rebellion-5000 Mkii to replace the Mki you just bought 6 weeks or months ago. Put the tablet down. Close the laptop. Take a walk… Outside. And bring your camera and take some pics.
  • Do not listen to others that tell you that you must have XYZ brand or camera type.
    • I do not know why people do this. This is like blindly recommending a car you like to someone when you have not a clue what this person’s vehicular needs are. Oddly I often get asked for camera recommendations. A request I am sure some have regretted because I first quiz them like an adoption agency and even then I usually provide quite a few options for them to consider after giving them tips on what to consider.
  • Do not trade away gear hoping that your upgrade will surpass what you already have.
    • Simply stated it is hard to compare apples to apples when you do not have possession of one of the apples. I traded cameras once and after a period of weeks where I hit every corner of my use model I realized I made a costly mistake. Later when contemplating another trade my wife gave advice that I should not trade before comparing them side by side for a while. I listened to my brilliant wife and this allowed me to confirm the direction to proceed in with confidence. A direction that defies logic to some, but fit my needs perfectly.
  • Where possible purchase new to you gear.
    • I have saved a fortune by purchasing used gear. My current system started with a used purchase that allowed me to gain entry to a body (awkward phrasing much?) that I would not have been able to afford otherwise.
  • Do not try and make one system do everything. There is a reason there are many choices.
    • I once tried to make one rangefinder-ish sized body all things. Pocket camera and big boy camera. While relatively small in size it weighed like a brick and caused me to list starboard when in pocket. Then to get both an EVF and a flash I frankensteined it with a clip on EVF, flash bracket, and a flash (as big as the camera) remotely triggered from the on body pop-up flash. Yep. Worked OK, but looked and handled about as stupidly as it sounds. From then on I have kept 2 distinct cameras for each purpose.
  • Stay focused. Photography is an industry that is keenly adept at distracting with the latest and greatest.
    • See GAS reference above. Must stay strong.
  • Before you read one single blog or review know what is important to you. Photography is a pursuit that can become emotionally driven even for the most technical person. Forget what is important to you and you will end up with gear that is not best for you.

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What did these questions and thoughts lead me to purchase? For the purposes of this post that is not important. While I enjoyed my gear hopping journey I could have saved considerable amounts of money and time if I had considered the contents of this post in advance.

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All the best, -ELW