10 Tips for Buying Better Camera Gear (Without Breaking the Bank)

By Zach McCabe in Art Tutorials > Photography Tips

Sooner than later, everyone who has a camera wants a better one. The reality, however, is that a better camera is only a small part of being a better photographer.

When it’s time to expand your kit or upgrade your DSLR, keep the following money-saving tips in mind:

1. Determine your vision

It’s quite easy to get distracted by the idea of buying something to solve a problem. Every so often buying a new tool will actually enable us to solve the problem – but only if you make sure to get the right tool to solve the right problem.

Try this: look at your most recent photographs. What do you like about them? What do you want to improve on next time? How will you accomplish that? Before you buy new equipment, be SURE that it compliments your vision.

2. Ignore the marketing hype

Buy what works for you and don’t worry about the sales pitch. Because (unless you shoot advertising campaigns for Nikon, Canon, etc) obsessing over camera ads and gear reviews isn’t going to make you a better photographer.

Sure, in the same way that understanding basic chemistry can help you improve your darkroom technique, a basic understanding of camera technology can help you make better images. But comparing the tech specs of the latest generation of DSLRS to your existing gear won’t improve your art.

3. Try everything out for yourself

It is easy to get lost in the details of what a camera can do and forget that its actually a tool that you’ll be looking through, lugging around on your shoulder, and gripping in your hands.

Look at the camera you’re considering in person, not just on paper. Maybe the knobs are too small, or in the wrong place, or another camera just has a better feel to it. Just like you test drive a car before you buy it, test out new gear and make sure it’s going to work for you.

Get up close and personal with your new camera before you buy it, and you’ll save yourself the hassle of making a return, or being stuck with something you don’t like.

4. Buy better lenses first

The wisdom of old photographers is boundless (as is the nonsense). But I do agree with the old truism that you should buy the best lenses you can afford and use whatever money is leftover on cameras.

Long lenses, lenses with wide maximum apertures and durable lenses with tough coatings and weather sealing can be very expensive. The designing and manufacturing of lenses is an exacting process and high quality lenses are expensive. Unlike DSLRs, which depreciate in value very fast, good lenses also tend to hold their resale value.

When it comes to lenses, here’s another truism worth remembering: “You usually get what you pay for.”

5. Consider updating your other “tools” too

Before buying a new camera or lens, think about the other photography tools you use and need. You put a lot of effort into your images, right? Then it’s also a good idea to make sure your software and hardware can keep up.

Most of us shoot digital, and many of us shoot digital exclusively, but very few of us are conscientious about our image storage and backup. I know many people who have lost images to hard drive failure and poor data organization, myself included.

Consider your photography process as a whole. . . could your photography benefit from more powerful workflow software or additional image editing tools?

6. Upgrade yourself just as often

Want to make better pictures? Invest in yourself as an artis! Attend a workshop, get a book. . . or buy a plane ticket.

Years ago, I read an article that quoted a well-respected photographer who said said he spent his money on travelling to projects he wanted to photograph rather than new equipment. By the time I read that article, the photographer was still using his 2 old cameras to make images that were hanging in galleries and museums on 3 continents and were widely published in magazines.

I always wondered, what would he be photographing if he’d opted for the latest gear instead of that plane ticket? What could YOU be photographing if you did the same?

7. Think about buying refurbished gear

The biggest benefit in buying cameras and lenses that have been refurbished is that you know what you are getting. Usually these cameras are relatively new and have just been looked over and repaired by a manufacturer-licensed professional.

Many online stores, as well as most camera manufactures themselves, sell refurbished gear, and the price savings are definitely a big help.

8. Buy slightly used, not new

One of the most effective ways to save money on your photography is to buy used camera gear. This is especially true for used DSLR camera bodies, so consider buying a used camera body that is still in good condition. (Keep in mind if you buy a heavily used camera, or one that is more than a few years old, you should consider having the shutter overhauled and make sure the electronics all work properly.)

KEH.com sells some new equipment, but their selection of used camera equipment is where they really stand out. Sites like Adorama.com and BHPhotoVideo.com sell both new and used camera gear.

9. Buy from social networks and photo communities

Some photography-focused online communities and websites have a section where members can sell gear, and there is a good deal of camaraderie on sites like FredMiranda.com and Photo.net. Users are very active and listings get updated often. Most sellers are ethical and respectful. (Just as, no doubt, you the buyer are ethical in your transactions.)

However, unlike a store individual sellers do not usually have a webpage with their own policies written out clearly for you to read. Contact the seller and communicate clearly about the item’s condition along with any questions you have about shipping or payment. It’s also worth discussing the seller’s return policy in case things go wrong.

10. Always check the classifieds

Local classified ads, online newsletters and Craigslist.org can also be great ways to find deals on camera equipment. If you’ve got more tenacity than money, or if you’re hunting for an obscure lens, you may already be familiar with scouring these sources.

The advantage these types of listings have is that you can meet the seller and look over what you want to buy in person. Use common sense, read the websites’ buying guidelines and communicate what you’re expecting with the seller.

Wherever people meet to talk about photography there is inevitably a discussion, which becomes a debate, on the importance of cameras and gear. And there IS something to the claim that good equipment makes high quality images. Photography has always been an art heavily dependent on the technology of the day.

Keep in mind, though, that any camera requires a photographer with good vision and good technique to make a good photograph. So next time, instead of just buying a “better” camera. . . buy a camera that’s better for you.


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