June 3, 2011

Ask Dave, June 3rd - What to Buy

Ask Dave, June 3rd
I get tons of questions each week, I respond as quickly as possible, and I might just answer them here too. If you have questions you can email me at Learn@DaveShumway.com.

From... A participant in one of my lectures for the Photographic Institute of the Yellowstone
When should I upgrade cameras and what should I buy first?

If you can afford an upgrade, and you can justify it... then you should do it. I am not a big fan of debt, especially credit card debt, so I normally suggest some saving first; but that is just my bias. If you are starting a photography business maybe you should try to get a business loan rather than putting the gear on your credit card, just a thought.
I cannot begin to tell you how many amazing things I photographed with film, before digital, or with shorter/darker lenses before the 300/2.8L IS and 500/4.0L IS became part of my arsenal. At the time I wished I had better equipment, and now I look at those images and wish that I had sprung for better gear sooner.

That said gear does not make the photographer, nor will simply owning/using better gear make you better. I have countless friends who have rented gear for their "big trip" and come home with images worse than what they could/would have created with the "normal" gear. If you don't know how to use it, it will not help you create better images, so you need to have gear that matches your ability.
If you just want better "stuff" to get better images, buy a nice tripod and use it always (you will spend $500-1500+).

As for what you should buy first... If you have bought into a brand like Canon or Nikon then you have started off in a brand that will really let you grow. If you have a Sony/Pentax/Olympus/etc. you might want to think about switching to Canon/Nikon. Inside of Canon and Nikon any camera body, that will focus the lens options you would consider, is a great place to start. Camera bodies depreciate rapidly, while lenses (lately) have proven to appreciate, so I tell folks to "invest" in glass. The other way to think about it is that your vision can be perfect (20/20); but if you are looking through dark fuzzy glasses things will never look quite right :)

Specifically speaking cameras and lenses that I have high regard for are:
  • Canon 7D (for sports and wildlife)
  • Canon 5DII (for portraits and landscapes)
  • Nikon D7000 (for sports and wildlife)
  • Nikon D700 (for portraits and landscapes)
  • The Nikon 3100/5100 are also capable cameras; but they cannot focus some of the Nikor lenses (a downfall as I see it).
  • The Canon Rebel line is full of great options; but I like cameras that have some weather resistance and a metal body (they do focus all of the Canon lenses).
  • The Canon 1DsIII and 1DIV are great cameras; but not starter cameras, and may be a bit inflated in price (same with the Nikon D3s and D3x).
In lenses there is lots of differentiation based on what you want to shoot, and how much you want to spend; but some popular focal lengths are:
  • The 70-200 is most everyones work horse lens and if you spring for a f/2.8 version you can use 1.4TCs and 2.0TCs to make it more telephoto, as well as extension tubes to make it a macro (my 70-200/2.8L IS II is my workhorse, and the 70-200/4.0L was my first "L" lens, and I still use it to this day)
  • The 24-70 is the second most common lens range and for portrait/landscape folks it might even be higher on the list. (I suggest making it a f/2.8 version for sports/events)
  • A wide angle like the Nikor 14-24 or Canon 16-35/17-40 are great to have to offer a wide perspective (this is a lens that for landscapes you don't need it to be super fast; but if you shoot events you do want a f/2.8 version)
  • Next folks look at super telephoto lenses, and the price can be super too. I am a firm believer in having a super telephoto that you can travel/hike with. I loved the 300/2.8 for its mix of speed/size/weight. I think the 500/4.0 is the most popular for its reach and still manageable size/weight. With Canon shaving weight from their new super telephoto offering lenses like the 400/2.8 and 600/4.0 become more tempting (and I have the new 400/2.8 on order :)
  • After that it becomes time to look at specialty lenses. I love tilt/shift lenses while others love fish eye or macro lenses... to each their own.
Remember at the end of the day the gear you have will not make you a better photographer, nor will professional gear make you a professional, and you can't create images sitting behind your computer while you look at gear online ;)

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