Taking photos and recording video means progressing through different pieces of equipment. What can you learn from the process?
Over the past decade, I’ve used a number of different cameras — from an entry-level DSLR to one of the most advanced mirrorless cameras, and from a manual 35mm stills camera to a professional cinema camera. I’ve near enough owned every camera brand, bar a few. Some have been natural progressions, such as ascending from the entry-level Nikon D60 to the intermediate Canon 550D, then to the advanced 5d MK II. Others, like the Canon EOS 3, which is an electronic 35mm film camera, were experimental purchases. Perhaps I can be branded as a gearhead, but I just love camera technology.
Jumping from brand to brand, and owning such a wide variety of cameras with a mass number of lenses, I’ve picked up a few valuable lessons that can help you save money and time. Therefore, if you’re looking to make your first camera purchase, or perhaps looking to upgrade from your entry-level DSLR, read on.
The Bigger, The Better
I’m not talking about camera bodies or even lenses but the accessories that you’ll pick up over the years — filters, memory cards, cases. I think when you start photography or filmmaking, as you enter with a budget-friendly camera, the equipment you also pick up is budget-friendly or will only cater to the equipment you have. However, I’d recommend that you avoid buying accessories, such as filters, that only fit your current lens and, instead, buy bigger. Most budget lenses will have a small filter thread diameter, such as 49mm, and as you progress and upgrade your lenses, they naturally start to get larger. If you purchased a set of 49mm filters, they become obsolete as soon as you move on to a larger lens.
Image via Abraksis.
As I note in the video, the aftermarket is very harsh to electronics and camera equipment — aside from Leica — and filters and other accessories will typically drop in value when used. Especially with any cosmetic defects. While a $150 77mm filter may seem expensive when you can buy a $50 49mm filter, the savings will soon start to drop when you purchase another filter, at a different size, for your next lens.
I’ve had the same variable ND filter for nearly eight years. It’s a 77mm attachment, and I’ve only had maybe two or three lenses that have 77mm filter threads. Every other lens has been smaller. Yet, with a step-up ring, I can easily attach my 77mm variable ND to any lens I’ve ever owned.
A step-up ring is an attachment that allows you to mount a larger filter to a lens with a smaller filter thread.
Of course, buying several step-up rings can soon become pricey. But, I can guarantee you, two ND filters are far more costly than a dozen step-up rings.
The same goes for memory cards. If you’re shooting on an entry-level DSLR, you may not have access to a RAW format, or the camera may not record or photograph large files. As such, you’re not going to need a fast memory card or one that houses hundreds of GBs, but again when you finally upgrade to a camera that shoots RAW files or can shoot 10fps, it’s another component that will also have to shift with you. While the savings is a long-term investment, if I were to look back at all the times I could’ve heeded this advice, instead of opting for the accessory that only suited the current camera or lens, the pennies would have added up.
Upgrading the Camera or Lens Is Not a Final Purchase
So, you’ve been filming or photographing for a few years, you’ve jumped from novice to intermediate, and you’re looking to upgrade to a better-quality lens — or perhaps upgrade your camera. You feel like it’s the next step, and you’ve saved up the money. However, it’d be wise to also set aside an additional fifteen percent of the cost to cover accessory upgrades. Neither the lens nor the camera will be the final purchase.
Here’s an example. I was recently using the Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8 — a wonderful tool that produces beautiful images.
Image via Lewis McGregor.
However, I also felt it was a little limiting, and I wanted the versatility of a wide-angle zoom lens. So, I decided to sell the Batis, along with a 35mm stills camera that I wasn’t putting to good use to offset the cost of buying the Sony 16-35mm 2.8 G Master lens. A quick Google search will tell you that this is not a cheap lens.
With that, I thought it’d be wise to also purchase the premium damage cover for $65. I also determined that my inexpensive Lowepro camera backpack didn’t feel adequate enough to protect the lens. The bag is great for carrying light camera gear on short trips, but if I dropped the bag or otherwise exposed it to too much external pressure, the equipment inside wouldn’t be safe. I upgraded to a robust and protective Vanguard bag, which was $195. And then, of course, having just paid so much money for a lens, the last thing I wanted was for the front element to get scratched, so I needed a protective filter. But then, you don’t want to buy a cheap filter because of color casts and clarity, so a B+W filter was another $130.
Image via New Africa.
The 16-35mm lens has an 82mm thread, which meant I needed to buy a new Lee Filter adapter so I could continue to attach my ND grad filters; that was $55. As I mentioned before, all of my prior lenses have never had such a large filter thread, so the 77mm variable ND always covered the lens I was using. Now I need another variable ND filter, which I haven’t looked at yet, but all in all, that’s near enough to fifteen to twenty percent additional cost.
Of course, you may already have some of these things, or you may not need them, but acknowledge that when you upgrade, everything else upgrades with it. I remember I once thought a $26 HDMI cable was expensive, but after owning a RED for a number of years, with cables that can easily cost $195 used, a $26 cable seems like a godsend.
Brand Loyalty Is Silly
As you can see from the list, I’ve pretty much gone through most brands, whimsically. I think the only brand I’ve not used is Leica and Olympus. I understand the fun in attaching yourself to a brand, and I acknowledge the sporting element in using the manufacture that may be “winning.” However, back when Canon was all the rage for DSLR filmmaking, where would you be now if you stayed loyal to Canon, with the likes of Pocket 4K on the market? You don’t see a carpenter saying he’s not going to use that drill because it’s from a different brand.
If I’m out city-exploring, but it’s not a dedicated photography day, I’ll take my Fuji X100f because it’s small and compact. If I’m out on a landscape photo walk, it’s the A7RIV. For filmmaking, it’s the Pocket 4K. The camera is a tool, and you should use the right tool for the job.
Financially, it may be beneficial to stick with the same manufacturer so you don’t have to also swap your lenses; however, never be afraid to “join the other team” if they’re offering you better features.
You Don’t Have to Be a Scientist to Be a Photographer
The cameras on my list, aside from the 35mm stills camera, become more technologically advanced each year. And the scientific engineering behind each camera improves drastically. There’s a common misconception, especially in online forums, that you have to know everything about how your camera works. If you don’t understand how a stacked CMOS sensor interoperates light, then why did you buy such an expensive camera?
Image via Histeryk Photo.
Here’s the thing, I’m not saying don’t learn about these things if they interest you, but knowing what color filter array your camera has will not help you nail the exposure on a landscape shot. It doesn’t come into the practice of capturing images, and it can be overwhelming to learn all the science behind cameras. Creating art doesn’t have to be entwined with the science of understanding how we create paint.
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
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