Five Steps to Find Your Perfect Photography Gear

Five Steps to Find Your Perfect Photography Gear

Finding the perfect camera system is not that easy. Before you make a large and long-lasting investment, you should do proper research and critically analyze your own needs. Step by step, you will get closer to the best possible system for yourself.

Investing in a new system is often a decision that will have major effects on your future: financial, educational, and creative. Photography gear often underlies the rules of path dependency. Investing in one system means that you will learn with it and buy gear according to that system. The more you invest, the harder it is to switch. This is why Nikon, Canon, or Sony lovers defend their brand and often recommend it to others. We love our system because we learned how to work with it.

So, make your decision wisely and think before you buy it. Here are five steps that you should go through before you buy new photography gear.

Step One: Understand Your Needs

It often starts with a simple question: What kind of photography do you want to do? It doesn’t matter if you are an absolute beginner or if you want to replace the old Canon Rebel which you used for your holiday trips for a decade now. Most people don’t need the most recent camera with the latest and biggest sensor. Some people do, though. It always depends on your needs.

Which field of photography do you want to work in and what standard do you need? Do you want to shoot food photography for your vegan food blog? Do you want to shoot corporate headshots? Landscapes for Instagram? You need quite different setups for each of these purposes. Researching the typical beginners’ setups will help you limit the range of cameras and lenses.

A good idea about the possible sensor size and resolution of your future camera as well as the focal length and speed for your first lens should be the outcome of your research.

Product photography can be made with a kit lens, but might need a lot of light, a backdrop, and some props.

Step Two: Define Your Financial Limits

It’s too easy to spend too much money on photography gear. On the other hand, I like to say: “buy cheap, buy twice.”

As a beginner in this second step, you should simply define the maximum budget that you could spend on a camera. For experts and most professionals, it’s more complicated. Professionals often calculate the possible turnover of an investment. For a business, a new camera is basically a financial issue and underlies financial rules. Yet, there are many professionals out there who cannot resist GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Running a business which is also your passion can be a blessing and a curse in some ways.

Still, if you are out there, be honest to yourself. Upgrades are usually possible at a later time, and you won’t lose too much money. Don’t sell your last shirt for a faster lens. This is why you need untouchable limits set in stone.

Step Three: Find Suitable Setups Using Different Sources

This is one of the most complicated steps. You have a range of cameras and lenses, and you have set the financial limits. Now, go, search, and compare your cameras. You can go to a store and get some good advice, but some smaller stores don’t offer the full range of possibilities. Last week, I wrote an article about good sources to find suitable gear. Here, you can compare different setups, their size, and qualities.

But it’s not just about finding the best camera and lens for your purpose in your financial limits. Also, consider finding a cheaper option, which saves you money for your first tripod, an extra lens, a flash, or a weekend trip to a national park. Again, if you don’t need the best gear, you can save your money. Of course, it is cool to shoot with 50 megapixels and find all that detail in your shots. More often, it’s the circumstances and your skills that give you the opportunity of a good shot, though. For beginners in landscape photography, I’d always recommend shooting with a cheaper camera and investing in a good tripod and filters. And most of all, save money for making trips to great locations.

In this step, you should also consider the possibilities and prices of upgrading your system. How expensive will be the next lens that you would like to own? There is a huge price difference between shooting wildlife with an Olympus 300mm and a Nikon 600mm lens. Is it justified by the difference in quality and weight?

If you love travel and landscape photography, you need to save money for traveling.

Step Four: Check Your Camera in Person

If you delimited your selection to one or three different setups, go out and check the gear. Visit a shop where you know that it’s available. Most shops allow you to hold the cameras, ask questions, and take a few test shots. Of course, it will take a while until you really know how all the functions work. Operating a camera needs practice, especially if you don’t shoot fully automatic anymore. Having held a camera in your hand will help you decide about its everyday capabilities though. Are all the important dials in reach? Does it fit in your hand?

Personally, I also like to buy secondhand gear, especially lenses. That comes with some advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are the lower price and the possibility to check the gear on location. I will know exactly which lens I will get and can check its qualities. No chance of a fault or anything, given that I buy it locally. I’d never recommend buying used gear without checking it. I once bought a 70-200mm lens that was broken. The cost of repair made the whole purchase almost as expensive as a new lens.

So, here comes the disadvantage: availability. The lens or camera that you want to buy used must be sold in your area. Sometimes, the seller won’t be able to answer your questions or might lie. So, keep a good eye on any faults, and be brave enough to leave if you have any issues. Checking a camera in a sales talk also makes it a quick decision. If you don’t buy it on location directly, it might be sold to someone else quickly. Additionally, you don’t get a warranty and can’t return the gear from a private sale, but you can negotiate the price.

Step Five: Buy, Be Happy, Become Addicted

I set myself a rule, which is a completely personal decision: I buy my camera (and every other product) wherever I checked it as long as I got proper consultation, even while I know that other sources are cheaper. If the service in the shop was bad or even rude, however, I will switch to the cheapest online shops. Personally, I think that good service also needs a price tag.

I buy and sell, buy and sell, buy and sell. After all, I can't take too much gear to every location.

So, what comes next? I go out and use my gear, of course. No camera or lens is made for becoming dusty in the field. After a while, I might find out that the new lens or camera replaced the older gear, and so, I will sell that gear to buy more gear. It’s addictive. It’s beautiful. It’s a photography lifestyle.

Nils Heininger's picture

Nils Heininger is a photographer on the road. He loves long rides on motorbikes, camels and old trains. While discovering the world, he uses his camera to share stories from people across the globe. With a Micro-four thirds in his pocket and a full-frame in his bag, he's always ready for new adventures.

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good advice. side note, the two dust spots on the seascape photo are driving me nuts.

UsedPhotoPro (Robert's Camera), KEH, B&H, and Adorama are all great resources for used gear. Adorama especially (I recommend the VIP360 subscription if you buy a lot of gear... from $5 items to $5000, it saves a lot of money and makes returns amazingly simple and hassle free). Robert's and KEH both give you 6 month warranties on used gear.

"Perfect gear" sounds a bit general. Opinions shall vary. My "unperfect" take would be a bit simpler:
1. Test drive a lot
2. Find what you want
3. "Fall in love"
4. Get motivated to get the means, save and avoid borrowing
5. Buy!
6. Repeat (:

Good advice! After a photo competition with some friends where we were only allowed to use our smartphones, I finally feel how true the saying is - it's the photographer who takes good images, not the gear. That actually killed all my interest in new gear. Today I can watch reviews of amazing lenses and just go