Ten Items Photographers Should Never Buy Cheaply

Ten Items Photographers Should Never Buy Cheaply

Who doesn't love a photography related bargain? The problem is that some of those cheaper deals could cause you some serious headaches further down the line. Here are ten items which you should always avoid buying on the cheap.

I'm sure you're already aware that the cost of being a photographer can be a rather pricey pursuit. It's understandable that those on a budget will try to cut corners to save money. Unfortunately, not all cost cutting exercises are equal and some could do much more harm than good.

1. Memory Cards

Buying memory cards online can be a minefield as there are so many fakes out there. Not only do these inferior cards quite often not hold as many images as they claim to, but there is no guarantee on their reliability either. I've heard horror stories from photographers losing important images on a shoot because a cheap card failed on them. If a deal is too good to be true then it probably is. If you're not sure what to look out for when buying memory cards or you're worried you may have bought a fake one already, this article explains in great detail what to look for. Out of everything on this list the memory card is the one thing you should definitely not cut corners on.   

2. Batteries

I have to admit that I have a mix of both cheap and expensive camera batteries in my bag and without exception, the cheaper ones always last considerably less time and need replacing more often. The same goes for the rechargeable AA batteries that I use in my triggers. If you buy cheap when it comes to batteries you will indeed pay twice as you'll have to replace them more frequently. Just like dodgy memory cards, unreliable batteries can easily derail a photo shoot and if that shoot is in a professional context then the financial implications will be considerably more than the few dollars you saved by purchasing cheap batteries.   

3. Lenses

This might seem like an obvious one but I still see photographers buying cheap lenses and then complaining about the image quality. Camera lenses are not made equal and if image quality and reliability are important to you then it's best to spend as much as you can on them. While I appreciate lenses can get expensive they do tend to last a very long time and if you intend to stay with the same camera manufacture those lenses can easily outlive the various camera bodies you will get through over the years of your career. Decent lenses in good condition do tend to hold their resale value rather well so if you do change camera brands or realize you no longer need a particular lens, then you should be able to recoup some of that initial investment by selling it on. Be sure to keep the boxes as this can really help to maximize your return when selling. 

4. Camera Body Caps

The tape didn't come with the cheap purchase

This might seem like an insignificant one as the item is already reasonably cheap to buy but some third-party camera body caps don't stay in place as well as the official ones. I speak from experience having found one of these cheaper body caps had worked its way loose in my camera bag. The result was that the camera in question needed a deep clean to the sensor.

5. People, Props, and Places

Thanks to miserly clients this might not always be in your control, but the quality of your images is directly linked to your team and what you put in front of the camera. A good actor, outfit, location, model, or prop will always make your job as a photographer so much easier. It really doesn't matter how many megapixels your camera shoots at if your subject is lacking your pictures also will be. Throwing more money at a shoot won't always make better pictures, but trying to penny-pinch in these areas will always have a negative effect on your work.

6. Monitor

You don't have to look far to find some amazing deals on computer monitors but not all screens are made to be used for photo editing. If you're not sure what to look for when it comes to buying a monitor this introduction is a great place to start. While I appreciate that a decent monitor can cost a small fortune it really is a worthy investment if you're serious about photography. If you have commercial clients or plan on printing your work, then the image you see on screen needs to be as accurate as possible. Cutting corners on a monitor will either lose you clients, cost you money in reprinting, or increase the amount of time sat in front of the computer correcting images.

7. Printed Material

Printing on the cheapest paper and printer you can find will never do your images or business any favors. If you want to make a good impression then your printed material should scream quality rather than resemble the local takeaway menu. I have printed my portfolio and marketing material for many years with various third-party printers and have always had headaches when I've used companies which were more on the cheap side. In my experience, the less you pay the more likely you'll run into issues with colors being wrong or prints being badly handled etc. Getting things reprinted takes time and money so find yourself a good printer and get it done right the first time around.

8. Lens Filters

Filters can be a photographer's best friend but again they are not all made equal. While I appreciate some can be eye-wateringly expensive there is a huge difference between a $10 and $160 filter. The way I always like to explain using cheap filters to people is with the analogy of a person using a pair of binoculars. It doesn't matter how good your eyes are, if you are looking through something which is inferior then what will be seen will also be second-rate. In addition to this, cheaply made filters can sometimes have a habit of getting stuck on your lens. While there are tools to help remove them its another headache not worth having.  

9. Insurance

Having dedicated insurance for you and your photography is a must and you should never rely on your house insurance to cover all eventualities as a photographer. Insurance companies love to worm their way out of paying for claims so you really need to make sure you read the small print to ensure all bases are covered.

10. Tripod

Considering the tripod is the place your expensive camera will often live unattended, you'd be surprised how many photographers short change on this particular item. I have seen cheap tripods betray their owners in the past and the aftermath was never pretty and always costly. If you shoot on location or around clumsy people then the more robust the tripod is the safer your camera will be. Like with many items in this list, there is a false economy in trying to buy cheap products. Combine this with the added risk a low-end tripod brings to your camera and the thought of buying cheaply begins to sound like a really bad idea.

So there you have it, some of the items you may have thought you could cut corners on as a photographer but probably shouldn't. While I appreciate how expensive being a photographer is, there are some areas where penny-pinching could seriously harm your images and career. Buy cheap, buy twice is a popular saying and it seems especially relevant to us photographers.

Over to You

Have you regretted any cheap photography related purchases that caused you major problems further down the line? Anything crucial you think I missed off the list? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Lead image by ndemello via Pixabay used under Creative Commons.

Log in or register to post comments


Previous comments
David Penner's picture

Any links to websites where I can buy people?

JetCity Ninja's picture


tweet robert kraft. he might know.

David Penner's picture

I'll look into it. Thanks!! I guess the fully rigged out bmpcc 4k is gonna be on hold for a couple weeks

The problem with this article (apart from this list is a list of literally everything in photography), is that there isn't a benchmark given for what constitutes "cheap" and "quality", and neither are examples given nor resources provided. Without more meaningful information on each item, this is fluff at it's fluffiest for this website.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Adam, I can't apologise for the list containing many items a photographer may need as that is just the nature of the game we are in. Don't worry though as I have already written the second part of this article which lists the items you CAN by cheaply and will be out this Sunday.

As for benchmarks, while this would be useful, the intention of the article was to build a road map for people to start their own research.

We all know what cheap is & for those who might have been tempted to buy an item cheaply, they may just think twice now...

The problem is, we DON'T all know what cheap is....we do all know what 'expensive' is, but price is not proportional to quality, hence "cheap" can mean many things to many people, depending on their photography needs (and more importantly, their income!).

Again, while this is a list...it's not a particularly useful one. If one were to go do more research, how will they know the price they're looking at is "cheap", or if the product they're looking at is cheap in quality, but a bargain on price, or vice versa? I have a good idea of these benchmarks for my own style and photography niche, but if I were to branch out into other avenues, I have learned literally nothing here, and have not been equipped to begin researching with a leg up, over the alternative of simply researching any of these from a cold start.

Looking forward to the other list for interest sake, but expect to learn nothing if it's researched and sourced in any way like this one. Food for thought, especially on a website whose readers already probably didn't need just a list to begin with.

Ariel Martini's picture

You forgot "Lightroom Presets"

Paul Adshead's picture

Great point Ariel. I have never used them. Are they really that expensive?

Thom Hogans article on tripods sums it up very well and also gives insight into how much money we waste until we buy a good tripod!


Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks for the link Simon I'm sure many will find it useful. :)

Patrick Wehrung's picture

I think the only “cheap” purchase I’ve had was my JJC remote trigger and to be completely honest I love everything about it. There’s no issue with lag, slower performance, camera locking or anything like that. If I HAD to pick an issue is it tends to run through batteries kind of quickly in long exposure shots. BUT it is definitely a good stop gap until I find a better more reliable wireless trigger for Fuji. Other than that, it’s always been FStoppers approved gear; Benro, Tiffen, Fujinon, Fringer, GODOX etc etc.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Patrick, glad your triggers have been good so far. There are definitely areas you can take a risk with cheaper products. The second part of this article explores this & will be out this Sunday.

It's great to hear you have bought some of our recommendations in the past. We paid ourselves on our kit reviews. :)

No word about camera bag?
I have seen multi thousand gear been carried in plastic bag, or simple women shoulder bag.
Usually those who ar looking for, are looking for cheap one, not willing invest close or more than 100$

Maksims Ter-Oganesovs's picture

Thanks for these advice! Hope it will help ;)

Paul Adshead's picture

It's a good point. I talk about camera bags in the second part of this article. Will be out on Sunday.

Ignacio Balbuena's picture

If you lost a file for a cheap memory card you can always use recuva or disk digger. Is not going to be the 100% same quality (depending of the damage) but is better than lost a whole session. Cheers

Paul Adshead's picture

it's a plan b worth knowing for sure but I'd rather not risk it. Thanks!

Adam Palmer's picture

The only gear I have had for more than 5-10 years is a tripod I bought in the 90's. Worth every penny. I am going to disagree about the batteries. I have had great luck with third party batteries over the last 20 years. Usually costing about 1/3 the price. I think you are much safer with 3x the batteries you would have at the same budget.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Adam, great to hear about the tripod going strong. Is it a Gitzo by any chance?

I've had mixed luck with third-party batteries and these days tend to stay with the official ones. If I found decent third party ones I could trust then I'd rather have 3 of them instead. Next time I'm in the market for some I'll see what's out there... Thanks for your thoughts!

Lino Paul's picture

Everything covered .. thank you

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks for stopping by, appreciate the feedback. : )

Motti Bembaron's picture

Nice artcle. I agree on most points.

Regarding cheap batteries, even before receiving my D750 I purchased the Meike grip with the wireless remote and two batteries (all for $80 USD). They have so far perform amazingly well. Each can take around 1,500 photos, the same as the original Nikon batteries. As for rechargeable batteries, Eneloop so far performed the best for me.

Many sensible advices. One thing you didn't mention about tripods which is perhaps the most important is vibration reduction. A good tripod should reduce vibrations fast. Use a long lens and tap on it. With a good tripod the vibrations will cease very fast. On a cheap tripod the the vibrations will take for ever to stop. A common practice is to use a 2 second self timer instead of a cable release. If the vibrations doesn't stop within 2 seconds after the shutter button is pressed the image will be blurry.

I saw a Youtube clip about a guy who was very proud over a real bargin tripod. Soon he learn that he had to use a 10 second self timer delay to get sharp images. What a bargain!

Memory cards are my own no go for cheapies after a personal experience with a fake card and losing some valuable (to me) images from a trip abroad. It’s worth noting that several brands offer a lifetime warranty – my own preference being Transcend.
Transcend users can register their cards on their site which validates the serial number. If it’s a dodgy card you can contact the supplier immediately. Doing so legitimises the card and makes any subsequent issues east to manage. All my cards are now Transcend which means they are all listed on the site and I have a record of my “stock” and purchase history.

Musing Eye's picture

I see lots of discussion on the gear, but for me #5 - People, Places, and Props - is the one that really strikes home. Perhaps it's because I'm a hobbyist, so I'm not working with high end agency models, a paid scout finding me locations, and a dedicated stylist/costume designer.

Even at my level though, the difference between a model with good poise and expression and one who is perhaps enthusastic (and cheap to hire) can make a difference between what I end up doing with the images. It's also a matter of how much time I end up spending editing, or deciding it's too much work and walking away from the results of a shoot.

There are good videos/articles out there about pulling together props/costumes, and that can be a place to save money at the expense of time and learning some crafting skill (something I have a long way to go on).

William Salopek's picture

About filters... I once saw an image of a bird on FredMiranda.com. Folks were going on and on how sharp it was, etc... Then later in the thread, the photographer who took the picture, said he shot thru his back patio door...and it was DOUBLE PANE as well.

While agree a person needs to make sure they get good quality in a filter, that bird image put a whole new frame-of-reference in my head.

My question for the author would be, what are all of the items that a photographer can go cheap on?

I mean, after reading the article it almost seems like we're being told that we can't go cheap on anything ..... which would of course be ridiculous, because some of us are very serious about our photography, yet are living on an income that is, literally, below the poverty line. So we have to go cheap on MOST things ... yet your article seems to require - even demand - that we spend the going rate on a whole bunch of different items.

So, for the person who is truly poor, by any definition, what are your recommendations, if we still want to produce world-class images?