Buying Equipment

Nikon D300 DSLRI get quite a few requests asking about equipment and what to buy. I often wish there was a simple answer. Obviously, everyone's situation is different... be it their needs, shooting objectives and, of course, budget.

Rather than throw out pat answers suggesting one type or another... or favoring one brand over another, I try to guide people toward asking themselves the right questions and coming to a conclusion on their own.

Let's face it, there are a lot of great cameras out there and certainly something to suit every application and pocket book. Sure, you could simply read all the reviews ... or even just break the bank and buy the latest and greatest. But, in this day and age, is that really necessary? Sure... I'd urge you to over-buy by a little bit, since that's always better than underestimating your needs. But you don't have to go whole hog and you shouldn't blow the rent just to soothe your ego.

Canon L Series 70mm-200mm Telephoto ZoomIf you're a pro or an aspiring pro... or even a very serious hobbyist, then the answer is simple; buy the very best YOU CAN AFFORD. Do your homework, balance the system for the type of shooting you intend to do, and put the emphasis on quality lenses. Bodies come and go... but the life of a lenses will easily span several generations of bodies. Now, that's not to say just buy a sub-par body.... but buy the best when it comes to glass. You won't regret it.

So, let's talk to those of you that want to pursue the hobby and don't want to be handicapped by poor equipment. I have to tell you, that's going to be pretty hard to do these days. The scope of equipment is as impressive as it is plentiful.

Leica D-Lux 4 the current "Mac-Daddy" of the point n' shoots.The two categories we'll talk about are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) and the cream of the crop point n' shoots.

FIrst, ask yourself what you want to do with the camera. Family photos, sports, landscapes, travel? Be honest. Chances are you want to do several of those things, so prioritize your list.

Next, think about the physical differences between the DSLR and the point n' shoot. Do you want multiple lenses? Is carrying a bag full of equipment going to cramp your style?

Last, think about the budget.

Nikon Coolpix P6000 is a gem of a camera.Don't underestimate the point n' shoot. The Canon G10, Nikon Coolpix P6000, Panasonic LX3 or Leica D-Lux 4 are truly stunning cameras. They have all the capabilities to manually override the automatic settings, will shoot RAW and will provide file sizes suitable for 24x36 inch posters. I've been carrying a small point and shoot at races for years... there are lots of occasions where they really fill the bill. Will they handle a 1/15 of a second pan shot trackside? NO. But, they'll produce stunning images in most other situations. We're talking between $450 and $700 for one of these beauties... but the results (in capable hands) rival anything out there.

The Canon 40D Pro-sumer DSLRNow if you've got the itch for a full blown DSLR, you have a few more challenges to contend with. First and foremost, your budget. Whereas the point n' shoot cameras we're talking about usually have a zoom range of 28mm-100mm, with a DSLR you're going to want to select a few lenses that provide you with the additional range you'll need to cover the type of shooting you want to do. Remember, this is a SYSTEM. If landscapes are your thing, you'll want a nice wide angle lens. If sports shooting is calling your name, you'll need to think about something at least upwards of 200mm. So give serious thought to how wide you think you'll need and what's the longest focal length you can get by with.

The "perfect" system would have you carrying three lenses ranging from ultra wide (say 16mm) to a medium telephoto of 200mm. Most manufacturers will offer zooms that have a range allowing you to overlap each lens. Personally, I carry a 16mm-35mm, a 24mm-105mm and a 70mm-200mm. I also have wider and prime lenses a lot longer... but we're trying to nail down a good all-purpose kit here.

Canon 24mm-105mm zoomDigital technology is far enough along now that you don't necessarily need the absolute latest and greatest. Most manufacturer's offer "consumer," "Pro-sumer" and "Pro" models. If I could offer you one important piece of advice it would be this, buy a pro-sumer model.

Learn the difference between a benefit and a feature. A benefit is something that improves the performance of the camera and gives you the tools you need to take great photos. Features are typically things that don't mean squat. Take megapixels. We had enough megapixels 5 years ago to satisfy any magazine editor. I've never had an agency or client tell me... "we need a bigger file." You don't need all the megapixels on the planet. Believe me, 10MP will give you all you need. So when you compare cameras, ask yourself, "is this a feature or a benefit and will it improve my pictures?"

Canon G10 point n' shootYou want a solid build. You want comfort. You want 10-12 MP. You want reliability. Do you need 8 frames per second burst rate? Probably not. I'm sure in most instances, 3-5 FPS will do. What I'm driving at here is you'd be better off looking for a clean used pro-sumer camera for the same price as new consumer model. You'll get more of what YOU need and you'll get a better camera.

You should be able to get a good clean pro-sumer camera that's one generation back for about $750. Two generations back, you'll be paying $500-$600. These are great cameras. Their newer replacements might have more megapixels or a bigger display screen etc. But for the most part, they're pretty much the same.

AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mmLenses will take some work and soul searching on your part. Maybe start with a good medium range zoom. The 24mm-105mm is going to give you the "average" that is going to accommodate a lot of shooting situations and can tie you over until you can add either the wide or the medium telephoto zoom. But, hey... you might just find you really don't need them. One lens may fill the bill and the others will be luxuries you can spend money on later. But, be prepared to spend $800-$1100 on a good medium range zoom. Remember what I said, glass has a very long shelf life compared to bodies. And, any shooter will tell you, at the end of the day, quality images require quality glass. Don't take lens purchases lightly.

Ultimately, this whole process is about you being brutally honest with yourself. If you're going to talk yourself into things you don't need... or if you think it's better to buy three cheap off-brand lenses as opposed to one good medium range, you'll be sorely disappointed.. AND you'll be doing this all over again at a later date. You will realize the error of your ways. The saddest part of that (to me) is some people never recover. They sell the process short, have inferior equipment and equally inferior results and they simply give the hobby up. That's too bad.

Can you spot the "feature?"Don't become an equipment junkie. The purpose of this exercise is to help you avoid that. Remember, the hobby is about taking pictures, NOT collecting equipment. I've said it before and I'll say it over and over again, "what stands between me and photographic greatness lies between my ears, NOT in my camera bag." So, follow this buying advice and then go to work on improving your picture taking. You should only upgrade when you find that your equipment is not keeping up with you. And only then, should you consider buying new. And even then, look at the new camera and again, review the benefits. Will these benefits improve your photos? That's the benchmark.

Hope you're less confused than when we started. Don't get frustrated and DON'T RUSH TO BUY. Take your time and get it right. The more you like your camera, the more you'll want to shoot and it will start to show up in your results.

Thanks for listening.

JT