Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some photography gear is a waste of money

Lens filtersOften photography equipment, especially a DSLR with lenses, many travelers purchase to capture high quality memories of their treks, isn't inexpensive.

Sometimes, after spending substantial cash to purchase equipment some photographers try to conserve their remaining expendable photo gear money by augmenting that gear with “inexpensive” (read that “cheap”) gear. More often than not, when that occurs, some purchases turn out to be a waste of money.

In my early years of purchasing photo equipment, before I knew what I was doing, I goofed purchasing camera bags which didn't last or meet my needs, tripods which didn't hold my camera/lens steady, and filters which diminished my image quality.

I've got a list of some of the classic purchase errors photographers sometimes make to save some money. Unfortunately, in the long run, these purchases are too expensive, because they either need quick replacement with better gear, or are permanently relegated to a drawer or closet
  • Cheap filters for your lenses — Even if you've purchased an entry level DSLR camera with a single lens, you've likely spent at least $500. That entry level DSLR can produce some very high quality images. So why reduce your camera/lens' image quality by placing a cheap filter on the front end of your lens?

    While not everyone agrees, in my opinion, using a filter to protect the front end of your lenses makes sense when traveling, or in harsh conditions, like blowing sand in Death Valley. A filter saved one of my lenses while in Paris a few years ago, when I was accidentally pushing into a metal railing. UV or better yet for DSLRs, clear NC filters can protect your lens against physical damage from bumps and bruises.

    Circular polarizers can make skies appear deeper blue, reduce glare and reflections from water and other surfaces, and reduce the contrast between land and sky.

    But, utilizing cheap filters will create more problems than they solve. A cheap UV filter, for example, won't be multi-coated, and therefore won't minimize reflection at the filter surface. As a result you can expect to see flare and ghosting during their use. In addition, it's likely that the quality of glass will be such that it alone will reduce the image quality (IQ) of the lens.

    Similarly, inexpensive polarizing filters are generally too thick to use on wide-angle lenses, and are of low enough quality to reduce your lens' IQ.

  • Cheap tripods — The sole purpose of a tripod is to hold your camera/lens, steady as a rock, so your image will be able to be “tack sharp.” If the tripod can't fulfill that purpose, or if it's heavy enough that you leave it at home more often than taking it with you, when it would serve its purpose, it's too expensive at any price, no matter how inexpensive it is.

    Using a remote shutter release, hanging a weight from below the head of the tripod, or locking up your DSLR's mirror, are great for augmenting a tripod in difficult conditions, but they are not reasonable methods to make up for a poor choice of tripod in the first place, as when conditions are less than ideal, your tripod won't do its job.

  • Cheap equipment bag with or without a camera manufacturer's logo — Even the best photography equipment bags aren't perfect, but cheap camera bags often end up being far more expensive over the long run, than their “expensive” cousins.

    Cheap photo equipment bags are often either too lightweight that they don't properly protect your equipment, or too heavy so that they limit what you take. They wear out too quickly necessitating a replacement and often have poor closures which open too easily exposing your equipment, or use cheap plastic zippers which soon fail.

    The bags with the big and/or colorful manufacturer's logos, like “Nikon” or “Canon” may look good to many, but they're walking advertisements, essentially with arrows pointing to the bag saying “Steal me, expensive photo equipment on board!” If you're traveling, I can't imagine a poorer investment in a camera bag than one which broadcasts what's in the bag.

  • Cheap no-name memory cards — Many photographers, with a camera/lens costing several hundred, or even several thousand dollars try to save money by going on eBay or other locations, and finding the least expensive memory card possible. That doesn't make sense to me.

    Memory cards in digital cameras are essentially your film. If your card fails before you get a chance to save your images on your computer, while traveling, or once you return home, you'll have likely lost all the images stored on it, which may easily number 500 or more, considering the capacity of today's memory cards.

    From what I have gathered from readers, and various Internet photo forum members, depending on “cheapo” memory cards to store your “travel memories” doesn't make a lot of sense. They fail much more often than the top brand cards.

  • A DSLR used only on automatic — Presumably the most important reason travelers purchase a DSLR is because of its capability to produce great images in less than ideal conditions, such as capturing a subject in low light where you can't use a flash, or when your subject is backlighted.

    When you put a DSLR on automatic shooting mode, you've essentially turned it into a very expensive Point and Shoot camera, often unable to capture the images, in less than ideal conditions, for which it was purchased. In my opinion, if you're not going to learn how to use your DSLR in manual or semi-automatic modes, save your money and purchase a top quality point and shoot camera.


Stan said...

Right you are about cheap filters Ned. When I first started I made the mistake of going in that direction with some cheap UV filters. I tossed them out within a few months of purchasing them with my first lenses. They caused flaring.

People would do well to follow the advice of your article.

Mary said...

I don't know why you didn't write this article months ago so I wouldn't have wasted my money buying a tripod last spring. (LOL)

Steve said...

I went to 47th Street Photo to buy my camera and they pushed a bag on me that was really inexpensive. It died within a month while I was traveling. I'm buy nothing but Think Tank bags now. They are worth every penny.

Harry said...

When I purchased my D300, my first DSLR, the salesman got me to purchase a shoulder bag. I used it twice. It's now in my closet. I use a backpack now.

The article is great. Keep them coming.

Kage01 said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. It will help me choose my gear wisely. I am a beginner who has just invested in a new Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm kit lens.

Ned S. Levi said...

Kage, your best investment is your time. Practice, practice, practice!

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