Don't Skimp on These Five Items

Photography is expensive, although there are many areas where we can save and cut corners. However, these five items are certainly things that you don't want to skimp on.

When I started photography, I was completely broke. I borrowed my first camera and lens until I made enough money to buy my first. Along the way, I had to buy cheap, and I often regretted it. In hindsight, holding off on the purchase until I had more money would have saved me a lot in the long run, but such is the benefit of hindsight. Yes, there were some great money-saving ideas and products that I purchased along the way (I have an article on that here), but I also wasted a lot of money trying to cut corners. 

There aren't a great deal of items that you truly have to throw money at in photography, but in this video I go over the five items that I would never skimp on, as well as my rationale behind them, the most important item on this list being camera lenses. Camera bodies are released far more often than lenses, so it is easy to be misled into looking for the latest and greatest camera body, whereas for most of us, any camera since about 2008 will be fine, but spending those saved dollars on a lens instead will really make a difference. 

From lenses, I then go on to look at light stands, tripods, and hard drives. Although in my saving money article, I talk about going cheap on flashes, the fifth item on this list is something that I certainly wouldn't skimp on, and that is the modifier. I have had both very cheap and very expensive modifiers, and the difference to me is massive, both in terms of performance and build quality. 

What items do you never go cheap on?

Scott Choucino's picture

Food Photographer from the UK. Not at all tech savvy and knows very little about gear news and rumours.

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Tripod and cordless shutter release for long exposure hobbies.

Well... and as much camera and lens as I could afford without having my credit card confiscated by my extremely kind wife.

It took me three times on tripod purchases to absorb the "buy cheap, buy twice" concept. :)

Lol I made that mistake ONE time with one of those super cheap $20 tripods with the elevation lever you had to wind like a car window from 1984. It shook more than a chihuahua lmao. I never got a sharp image. When I could afford it I went overkill on my tripod. I got an Induro tripod with a ball head that supports 30lbs. Sucker is rock solid but super heavy. I have had it for about 14 years now it's still workin just fine! Weirdly enough that lesson didn't carry over into my lenses for another 2 years . I wasted so much money on bad lenses :(

Awesome metaphor... lololol.
I tell myself I keep the hand-me-down wind up tripod, the 20 dollar box store one, the allegedly good one, and another upgrade... so I
never forget how much I love my Gitzo GT2542.

Sure it's heavier than a lot of gear, but when the wind's blowing... I've got a 15 lb. souvenir rock in my tripod strap on shelf, a reasonably heavy ball head, and someday one of those tracking mounts, to go with my Pentax K-3 II, I will still expect a sturdy platform without the knees caving in on my set up while I practice long exposure shots. Personal opinion. 😎

Still have the Bogen I bought in 1984. The year I graduated . Ooohh, they're serving pudding with stewed prunes!!!!

I can't find my Bogen from about the same year. (Also, about the time I graduated).

Prefer my prunes raw.

Oh yeah? Explain your opinion please.

I don't agree with you. The brands that he mentions are not the most expensive but they are not cheap out brands. They are brands, unlike garbage such as things like an Amazon basics light stand or tripod. Aside from the point of him possibly not having the most expensive gear, the list is valid nonetheless. Your argument simply has no marit and your comment was not useful.

What was the point of your comment if not to be useful to others?

Haha. That was very clear before. My point was that your comment was useless to anyone.
Personally, I dont need your opinion.

You mad?

I've got six tripods, all Manfrotto aluminum. And a huge, sleek, black Inka studio stand. All purchased second-hand, and I've had one for 30 years. My EF L lenses are going to get me at least a year into my EOS R ownership.

Is it just me...?

I'd need a bit more information there. ;)

I have six large Manfrotto lightstands and they don't travel with me any longer. I use cheap, light, small 7' stands with AD200 on them.

Same with modifiers, I have two $10 40" umbrellas that do exactly (I mean EXACTLY) the same job as my two much more expensive umbrellas.

When it comes to large softboxes you probably should spend more because they are constructed better and will last longer. Again, if your equipment is always in a studio, never gets folded and opened or exposed to nature's elements, any modifiers will do the job. Although, size does matter of course.

As for lenses, yes, optics are more important than the camera. However, I have a 15 year old Nikon 180mm f/2.8 and it produces absulutely amazing results. It's not the latest and the greatest but many older lenses will do amazingly well.

Like anything in life, you meed to invest in what is suitable with what you so. For example, if you are a nature photographer in Canada you probably need to invest more on good boots, coat and gloves.


Even if one actively tries to not buy cheap to avoid buying twice, there is another factor at play, which is our knowledge of what we actually need.

Point in case -- when I was starting I had no idea what kind of tripod I needed so I bought what I though was a decent one. I quickly realised it was rubbish so I got what I thought was the ultimate in tripods I would ever need. Riiight... Fast forward, I got my latest tripod just a few months ago and it serves me well, but by now I already realised what I would like to be better. Each time I buy what I think is the best thing I need...

Great inexpensive light modifiers on ebay by godox/ sirui/ triopp/selens. "brolly softbox with grid 60x90" "octagon 120cm" "Parabolic 48" Hexadecagon"
sold my monolights and use only speedlights for any portraiture (in/out) . I also dont shoot at anything more then f4 so it works great. Fast light to move around change it up

You don’t shoot smaller than f4?
You’re missing out.

"You’re missing out"


I buy inexpensive, manual, hotshoe strobes; Yongnuo, to be precise. Four of them costs the same as one P-TTL Sigma. Two Sigma's costs the same as one weather-sealed Pentax P-TTL.

However, I find that when not outdoors, AC strobes are a much better option. Bought a two light Honey Badger kit for less than one PENTAX P-TTL. I can shoot easily at f/8 with modifiers, more suited for portraits to get both eyes and the tip of the nose within the field of focus.

As for modifiers, when it comes to umbrellas, I see little benefit in the US$80 option versus the $10 option. Granted, the ten dollar option breaks easier when abused, but both will break if abused, both lasts if cared for, and the ten dollar one is easier to replace.

When it comes to soft boxes, it is worth paying for something sturdy and long lasting.

As for light stands, C-stands are more expensive, and less convenient to pack & setup than a folding tripod stand, but are far easier to arrange in close quarters. I question whether the $250 C-stand is a better buy than the $80 C-stand, and how many people need a C-stand versus a folding tripod stand. Just one C-stand, and all the rest folding tripod stands may be more than adequate for most.

OTOH, I grew up in a Third-World nation, and learned to spend as little as possible on the things we want, so as to get the things we need.

I have 4x 560 mk3/4 flashes and 6 shanny sn600n flashes. Never do I use ttl anymore. The difference for a ttl flash or manual isnt a lot. Theure all very cheap at under $100. They are disposable. I sold all 4 of my nikon flashes. Sb800/700 and 2x900.never buying oem flash again

Cstand i dont have. Will not buy. Not easy to carry vs the spread legs downward to open style. Outdoors I work fast so use my old and reliable bogen stands.

I dont shoot portraits at more then f/4. .usually I favor the art 105. I like some separation from the background. No one looks if the tip of the nose is in focus or not. People look at the "whole" of the image. They dont even notice it. Sometimes when I shoot a few people standing on the dance floor the ones towards the end have less focus then the middle ones. It isnt a formal family group picture though where you setup the proper shot. Its a spontaneous image of people dancong and getting together for a quick shot. In weddings you dont have enough light at times to even shoot at anything smaller then 2.8. Our ceremonies for weddings are at 9pm.were shooting everyone at 3.2 or wider.

I shoot portraits at f/4 to f/11 and I always get separation from the background. I also get bokeh. The big difference for me is to never have a strobe on full power, thus always have “instant” flash power for multiple shots. Effective zero recycle time.

For the Yongnuo, at GN 58 - 60, (4× YN-560 IV, 2× 660), I may have to use multiple strobes for key/fill lights to avoid full power when using modifiers, even at f/4.0. With the Badgers, one light, never full power. Even if I did use full power, much faster recycle time, …and Bowen S-mount. …And modelling lamp. …And 0.1 stop adjustments, (although I think that that is overkill).

With lighting gear, you can have it all if you buy used.

I don't know what it is, but unless it's something brand new from Profoto, lighting gear has terrible resale value -- which is great if you're a buyer.

You just have to be patient and jump on good deals when they're available.

Some of my buys:

Plume Wafer Hexoval Softbox for $100 (new price is $573.50)

Chimera Octa 30 Beauty Dish for $90 (new price is $299)

Avenger A635B stand for $45 (new price is $165)

And my best purchase ever was all this for $100:

Alien Bees B400 (new price is $225)
Alien Bees LIteMod Frame & Barn Doors (new price is about $100)
$100+ worth of Rosco Gels
An umbrella ($40 value)
A light stand ($50 value)

Still using the Norman's bought used 1990

Sure, don't skimp, but the law of diminishing return exists in photography gear as in all things. For example, the Zeiss Otus is amazing, but there is no universe where I buy one.

Wise words. :) I buy as much as my budget allows without defaulting on the home loan.

I agree on most of the points.

I don’t think expensive modifiers are worth the money. I’ve worked with almost everything and I couldn’t justify spending any more than the least amount possible for modifiers. As a matter of fact my studio looks more like a craft store than a photo studio as a result. Unless you got money for days, and no time at all - buy cheap modifiers.

The one thing I think should replace the modifiers slot would be on the images themselves.

Don’t skimp on your Work. If you save $1000 by buying eBay modifiers, then spend $200 on 5 portfolio images. Or $1000 on a great portfolio image. Buy the perfect dress. Rent the perfect car. Rent the perfect Airbnb. Pay the model. Find the right production designer. Build the set. By far the most consistent force multiplier is to have a good team. No amount of heavy tripods, or expensive glass will ever make up for having a good production designer, stylist, talent or location.

Better off renting , use it as a business write off, save what you can, buy used better than cheap new.

I am not going to bash anyone on a tight budget. But, if you are in business, and have a client or ad/art director knock, whose been around, sees all this Godox, Neewer, KF concepts, etc stuff. Doesn't bode well for referrals. No matter how good you actually are. You are fooling yourself if you think this does not matter, or they do not know a Manufacturer name. You could always try to marker the name out ,worked for a time. Knew guys that actually did that.

That’s when you rent.

That is exactly what I said in my first comment .

Light Stands... Matthews Lightstands... I will never go cheap on lightstands and tripods... never go cheap..OR LIGHT on a tripod..I don't even understand these light weight flimsy tripods... what's the point.. when I stick it on a tripod..I want it still there after gale force winds