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A Lot Depends on Circumstances and Needs

Buying camera gear can be difficult. One person will tell you one thing, another something else. If only everyone could agree on what was best.

I own a closet full of camera bags. I can attest to the fact that it's possible to use more than one at a time in certain situations, but there's no way I can make use of all I own simultaneously. Truth told, I generally don't need more than one bag, but the question is, which one? I have small bags for short outings and huge camera backpacks for longer trekking. I have one hip-belt fanny pack that only gets used when shooting tide pools. I've found it works better than other bags to allow access to what's inside without having to set down the bag and risk getting it wet. Having to set other bags down, even when I think I'm safe, some sneaker wave will come out of nowhere and force me to run to save my gear before disaster. While I wish there were such a thing as a perfect camera bag, there are only bags that seem perfect for certain uses. No one bag works well for everything.

Using a tripod can help keep your camera stable to help avoid motion blur during long exposures. They can also help by letting you be more methodical in how you approach composition and the entire process of getting ready for each shot. The problem is that good tripods tend to weigh a bit and cost more than a bit. If only there were a good, sturdy but lightweight and inexpensive tripod, everybody would want one. But alas, no such a thing exists. If your tripod is too lightweight, it can be easily jostled and may even blow over. While it does have other advantages, carbon fiber helps only a little in terms of weight. If your tripod is too cheap, it likely won't last very long. Many of the knockoff imported tripods you can find on eBay and other sites are made poorly, making up for the fact by packing in enough grease to fill any voids left in manufacturing.

The prices for camera lenses range widely. And for all sorts of reasons. Fast aperture lenses are more expensive than ones with smaller maximum apertures. As focal length increases, so too does cost. But wait, price goes way up at the extreme wide-angle end, too. But independent of these and other factors generally listed as specs, build quality can have a bearing on cost as well, and this is often overlooked by less experienced buyers. But one thing that simply doesn't exist is a cheap lens that is well built and can take great pictures. Choose two perhaps, but not all three.

New shooters often spend as much as they can justify on their cameras and neglect to consider everything else. Hoping to cover most needs without blowing their budget, they try to find "the best lens" for their new pride and joy. But there simply is no such thing, at least not without regard to what type of subject matter and composition they are aiming for. It sometimes comes as a surprise I guess, but if you buy an interchangeable lens camera, you'll probably end up owning more than one lens. Even as a first lens, it's worth considering subject matter. The best lens for birding simply isn't the best lens for landscapes. No one lens can cover everything.

Even experienced shooters can fall into the trap of looking for a "magic bullet" of sorts. If only you could find a new lens or something that would take your photography to the next level. Sometimes your gear can be a limitation of course. But it can also be tempting to make that your scapegoat when there's another equally likely factor. You can often make even more significant strides by simply making the most of your existing gear.

Most everything ends up being a matter of tradeoffs. Sometimes it may be more important to save money, but in the long run, such a strategy can work against you. Back when I bought my first serious tripod, I tried to buy one that would last me. I used that Gitzo for many years before replacing it with another Gitzo. But I simply couldn't justify spending what it took to buy a good ball head. Instead, I found I could buy both a cheap ball head and a serviceable pan-tilt head for less money than what I knew to be the best. Yes, someone recommended this option to save money. After giving up in frustration, I realized I should have bought a better one to begin with. I've kept those two original heads as reminders that you often get what you pay for.

But such a tripod isn't necessarily the perfect one for everyone. If you just bought a new, compact mirrorless camera, a lighter weight model should suffice just as well. But if you're seriously into long telephoto wildlife shooting, you'd be well served to invest in something even more massive than I use. And one fitted with a gimbal rather than a ball head. And if what you shoot with varies widely enough, you might want to consider owning several tripods. There is no mythical tripod that works best for everything.

When you think about it, the fact that this is so points out the need to consider your own needs carefully rather than just following industry advice and recommendations. Lists ranking the "best cameras of the year" and similar accolades can help inform your decision but should not substitute for it. Despite what some try to tell you, no one can decide for you. That too is a myth.

Date posted: February 2, 2020


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Buying Lenses

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