Gear Confessions: 7 Photographers Share Their Best and Worst Purchases

Gear Confessions: 7 Photographers Share Their Best and Worst Purchases

Have you ever bought a piece of gear that promised to revolutionize your work or be the exact tool you needed just to find that it was a total dud? We all have those pieces sitting at the bottom of our gear closet that irk us every time they come in view. Alternately, we also all have pieces that have become our indispensable go-to’s that we can’t image shooting without. I asked five photographers to share their best and worst purchases. These juicy gear confessions are sure to land some pieces on your blacklist and others in your B&H cart.

Nat Wongsaroj who has photographed weddings worldwide and has been rated as the top 10 wedding photographers in the US shared this about his best and worst purchases. 

Worst Gear: The Holdfast MoneyMaker 2-Camera Harness

"I initially found the Holdfast Money-Maker 2 Harness ($250) impressive, but ultimately, it proved to be the most disappointing purchase. Despite its promising start, the harness deteriorated significantly within a few years. More concerningly, it caused considerable discomfort in my lower back during extended use, an issue that was resolved only after transitioning to a different system."

Best Gear: The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L Lens

"This lens stands as my most invaluable photography gear, accompanying me on all my photographic endeavors. Its 50mm focal length captures scenes with a natural, lifelike perspective, while its exceptional low-light performance and ability to produce stunning bokeh highlight its versatility. This lens consistently delivers outstanding image quality across various photography genres including wedding and travel, solidifying its place as a fundamental tool in my photography kit."

Image by Nat Wongsaroj

John Gress who is known for his expertise in lighting and has completed commercial work for Ben & Jerry’s, Best Buy, Burger King, Chrysler, ESPN, Nike and more shared this concerning his best and worst gear purchases.

Worst Gear: The Leica M4-P

"The most regrettable purchase in my photography journey was a Leica M4-P, a poor decision I made not once, but twice. I was working as a photojournalist back then, and I believed that owning this camera would be pivotal for my career. However, in practice, it wasn't the most pragmatic choice. Juggling two SLRs during assignments was the norm, and adding the Leica into the mix meant dealing with an additional roll of film, which I had to process. This, understandably, became a hindrance, especially when facing extremely tight deadlines. The valuable lesson I gleaned from these missteps is that what you put in front of your lens in a lot more important than the lens itself. So just keep in mind, gear isn't everything. "

Best Gear: Sekonic L-308X-U Flashmate Light Meter

"One of the most valuable investments I made in my photography journey was the Sekonic L-308 light meter. I relied on this trusty meter for a good 20 years. I took it in and out of my pocket so many times that all the paint wore off. The best part? It only set me back about $200. The meter significantly streamlined my workflow, allowing me to replicate my shots consistently over the years. I used it seamlessly as I transitioned from film to digital and used it with my Alien Bees, Profoto and finally Elinchrom lightings. In 2019, I upgraded to the L478, which seamlessly communicates wirelessly with the Elinchrom system."

Image by John Gress

Annalise Kaylor is a full-time documentary wildlife photographer and conservation photojournalist. Her job has taken her to 39 countries around the world and has been published in many major US publications shared this about her gear wins and flops.

Worst Gear: Manfrotto Accessories

"For me, it was Manfrotto gear or anything else that is proprietary enough that you have to stick with one brand for every accessory. They make some nice accessories, no doubt, but now that everything I own is Arca-compatible, I can seamlessly move from tripod, to holster, to strap, to video head, to ball head without ever changing my lens foot or mount."

Best Gear: The Gerhard Schaffer Floating Hide

Wildlife photography is all about access to your subjects, and my floating hide made by Gerhard Schaffer in Austria gives me unparalleled access in water. Unlike my kayak, my floating hide (or blind, as we tend to use here in the States) makes me look like just another muskrat hut on the water. The birds and wildlife have no idea I'm there, so their behavior is completely undisturbed, and being able to have my lens just an inch above the water for subjects like grebes and ducks makes for gorgeous, eye-level photography.

CJ Duncan holds the Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman degrees and is the founder of Find Your Focus Education. He has photographed Presidents, Vice Presidents, dignitaries, and countless others. He has worked for such companies as Frito-Lay and Bayer CropScience and has been honored to photograph numerous weddings, portraits, and commercial assignments. 

Worst Gear: Countless 'Game-Changing' Speedlight Modifiers

"Unfortunately, I feel like there are more disappointing purchases than good, not because the product was necessarily bad, but rather because I did not need the product. I just got sucked into the idea that the gear would be the 'game changer' and it was not or it was rarely used. That being said, I would have to say the worst purchase has been any type of modifier to the speed light— domes, cards, flexible bounce, boxes, etc... They are useless in my opinion as they rarely seem to be effective while being cumbersome to carry and attach."

Best Gear Purchase: Canon EF 200mm f/2L

"I would have to say the Canon EF 200mm f/2L. This lens is like Photoshop in a glass. The 200mm focal length is not rare and, in fact, is very common. I have used the staple 70-200 f/2.8 lens. However, with the fixed 200 f/2.8, the image quality is noticeably different. There is a look to this lens that is like no other. Last year when my 200 f/2 was stolen, it literally broke my heart, as Canon is no longer manufacturing this lens. Thankfully, I was able to find another one. I am hoping for an RF version but for now, the adapter works great.

Once I began to learn more about my craft, the less likely I was to purchase gear that is regrettable. I understand the physics of lighting and the science of photography and therefore I do not get 'swindled' into gear that cannot deliver what it advertises because it goes against the science of the craft. "

Image by CJ Duncan

Lee Morris, is a Charlestown-based wedding photographer and the co-founder of Fstoppers. 

Worst: Gimbal and Other Gadgets You Won’t Use

"I can't think of a single piece of gear that I regret, but there's a ton of stuff I've bought and then rarely or never used. Just last week, we opened a gimbal that has been in its case for two years and because it hadn't been charged, the battery was shot. Brand new, but unusable and impossible to fix because the battery is internal. Don't buy stuff you aren't going to use."

Best: Nikon D90

“The Nikon D90 was the best piece of gear I ever purchased because it was the first DSLR to shoot video. This doesn't sound like a big deal now, but back then, you either had cheap video cameras with small sensors or you had $100,000 cinema cameras. The D90 got me into video and inspired me to start Fstoppers. Without that camera, who knows what I'd be doing today."

Micheal Hoss, owner, and photographer for creative photography studio Haas House shared this: 

Worst Purchase: Godox SL-60W

"My worst gear purchase is easy. The worst purchase I've made is the SL-60W continuous light from Godox. Much love to Godox. I use their equipment to this day. But the SL-60W is massively underpowered for studio work. I didn't know that when I bought it, but I quickly found out. If you're starting out, get the Godox MS300 instead. It's an absolute steal."

Best Purchase: 

"My favorite purchase has been a second monitor for tethered shooting. My iMac will show captured images, and the second monitor will show a live view from my camera. This lets everyone on set see what's happening on a big screen in real time. It's not necessary, but it makes life easier."

By Haas House photography

Brent Döschen

Brent Dosher serves as a director of photography and outside the office, you'll often discover him braving a snow-covered mountain slope with a camera in hand. His clients include Patagonia, Runner's World, Teva, Men's Journal, and more. Brent shared this:

Worst Gear: Sony RX-100VA

"Maybe not necessarily my worst, but one of my most frustrating gear purchases was the Sony RX-100VA. I decided to buy that camera to bring along on fast and light adventures in the outdoors when I didn't want to bring a full camera, as I could fit the Sony in a small hip pack. The concept was sound, and the camera was able to produce some good images in the right circumstances, much like a camera phone. However, I found the controls and settings to be absolutely maddening and the buttons so tiny, and because of this, I often had my settings set incorrectly and would miss a crucial shot. The image quality at the long end of the telephoto range was quite poor, and even at the short end, there wasn't anything to write home about. It seems like it would be a great camera for a lot of hobbyists, but I was never super comfortable delivering images to clients from that camera. I still managed some good shots with it over the years, but I wish I had just brought the full-sized camera instead." 

"My best gear purchase was my Nikon D750. It's a body that has lasted me an incredible amount of time and has traveled the world with me.  It's not the top-of-the-line camera by any means, but being more inexpensive allows me to bring it along with me on adventures and not be as concerned about damaging it. I have held it under spraying water, I have scraped it against rocks, I have frozen it in sub-zero temperatures."

Doscher's D750 has survived every condition he has put it through.

"The built-in flash won't pop up, the rubber grip is tearing off the side, and it's worn down to bare metal in places. It's started acting a little weird in the past few months after close to 6 years of use, but if it dies I wouldn't hesitate to buy another one. "

My Best and Worst Purchases

I have so many candidates for each category. My worst purchases ended up being pieces I never expected to be disappointed by. My Canon R5, let's not talk about that again. I was beyond excited about the Westcott Optical Spot, and it exceeded my expectations until it joined the ranks of another pricey piece of gear that broke inexplicably. The lens on it jammed after about eight uses, and I could never use it again. It still sits in the corner of my studio. I grab it periodically and hope for a miraculous healing, but as of now, no "up from the grave" moments. In the "worst purchases column," I echo Micheal Hoss with a long list of "not strong enough" continuous lights and Cris Duncan's collection of light modifiers that were unimpressive. On a more positive note, my "best purchases" include almost every piece by Canon I've bought, apart from my R5. The 5D Mark IV, which came out in 2016, still delivers stunning work when I have to grab it as my backup piece. It has withstood years of shooting under every single condition and I haven't had to repair it once. My 100mm lens is a gift from the camera gods of sharpness, and my 16-35mm creates the most epic hero shots.

On of my shots with my trusted 16-35mm lens by Canon

It too has taken years of harsh conditions and held up flawlessly. I know I need to upgrade these two to the newest RF models but it's hard to justify it when they still give me everything I need.

The Karl Taylor Light Cone is at the tip top of the list of my favorite tools. You simply must try it to see what it does. It surely was my best purchase for 2023.  

Both images here are unedited. The one on the right was taken with the Flat world light cone

What Are Your Best and Worst Purchases?

One of my favorite parts of being a writer is hearing from you in the comments. What is the best and worst-ever gear you have ever purchased? Leave all the juicy details in the comments below.

Michelle VanTine's picture

Michelle creates scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people. She works with businesses, public figures, sports & products. Titled “Top Sports Photographers in Miami” in 2019 (#5) and 2020 (#4), she was the only female on the list both years. Follow the fun on IG @michellevantinephotography @sportsphotographermiami

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the images from the Sony RX100 Mark V become acceptable when the RAW files are post-processed through DXO PureRAW.

i have not tried using a ColorChecker colour chart with it however it is really not that bad a camera, especially for video with the use of a gimbal such as a Crane M2

Worst: A Tenba travel case purchased for my 27" display, it barely fit in my car and I replaced it with a soft case which better fit my need.

Best: A mint condition Profoto 7b kit that I traded two Acute b600 kits for this year. I had the battery recelled and it operates as new.

Ohhhhh profoto... I don't think they will ever make the "worst" purchase. I swaped put my hard Peli case for a ThinkTank camera backpack and I liked that better

Annalise - Hejnar Photo makes a Manfrotto to Arca converter that works on that Manfrotto geared head. I made that conversion on that same head years ago and love it. I was also super-frustrated by Manfrotto's non-Arca quick release as well!

Thanks for your feedback. And your best ever purchase?

Where to start...? But it would have to be my two Nikon D810's - still in service today. They've been on assignments around the world since they were new and have never failed me. They produce wonderful magazine covers as well as cropped double truck images. I think I'm happily stuck in the F-Mount world forever!

Nikons are really making the top of the list this year! Go Nikon!

In an article titled: Gear Confessions: 7 Photographers Share Their Best and Worst Purchases, I would think 7 photographers would have been involved, however...

"I asked five photographers to share their best and worst purchases."

Are the last two posting in the Comments? If this is the case could they please raise their hand?

There are 7. Each has a banner and intro. Perhaps you need to scroll down on your screen?

But which are the five photographers that were asked? 😂

Worst purchase: a third party double Sony battery charger that only ever charged up to 90% and I had to finish the charge using the in camera charging. Just forking out for the expensive Sony charger is what I should have done instead (which I now own).

Best purchase: Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.2 E mount. I love using manual lenses and will avoid adapters whenever possible. I love the character this lens produces and don’t really care for the clinical look of modern corrected lenses.

ohhhhh! Share a picture with us! I went through a phase where I used found lenses from the thrift store and used them on my DSLR with an adapter and I agree that "character" is the perfect word for it. I was a little surprised Sony didn't make any of the "best" list this year

A photo from a shop window demonstrating the character of the Voigtlander 40mm.

Oh i love this. It had an old time feel

Thank you.

Worst : cheap ND filter kit (Newwer) bought to get acquainted with the possibilities of those devices. They introduced a grainy pattern to every shot that made them unusable. Really nicely packaged and a great price, but unusable. It led me to buy into the Lee system which I use successfully to this day.

Best : has to be my Canon 5Ds. I was chasing pixels when I graduated to it and got addicted to the stunning depth of detail and dynamic range. I will purchase another before too long to ensure I'm never without. I agree with Brent Doscher regarding Canon. I've used their equipment throughout my photographic adventures and it's always worked well and delivered great results. I'd probably say the same about Nikon if I'd gone down that road, but I didn't. Away from bodies and lenses my first serious tripod (a Vanguard) was a genuine game changer. After a body & lenses, the tripod would be next into the day bag. Thanks for the article! ;-)

I have used my Mark IV for YEARS without ever needing repair. I feel like those older bodies were built to last. I have some ND filters in the graveyard corner of my studio. I tried to get into it, but never did. I've heard great things about Lee filters. Thanks for sharing!

Self-diagnosed GASaholic here. My worst purchase was probably my Wescott XPro backdrop. Easy to set up and acceptable as a grey background, but it takes up a lot of real estate to set up. It is flimsy and just not made for heavy, on-location use. My best purchase takes me back to my Canon 5D Mark II and my 24-105 F4 lens. Combined, they comprised my first "real" camera. I still use that combo as a backup for headshots and find the images it produces perfectly useable.

Darn it about Westcott. Thats two strikes for them. I wrote an article recently abiut the R5 that was a bit controversial. Its my experience that the older cameras : the Mark series, the 1DX series, the old nikons...they were just BUILT TO LAST. They can take a beating and keep performing. Its interesting to read that so many older cameras are making the "best" list

Radio Poppers for convenient wireless manual and TTL speedlite control changed my life. I could easily carry 3, 4, 5 speedlites and set them up in a few quick minutes for newspaper and magazine work. My secret weapon.
Why write about crappy gear that disappointed ?

Oh! That sounds like a great tool! I'll have to check it out. Writing about disappointing purchases saves other people from bad experiences

Worst: A Yongnuo light wand and a bunch of 3rd party batteries for it. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, I just don't find it versatile enough to carry on shoots so I've virtually never used it. I should really get around to selling it on Ebay.

Best: A cheap 2nd hand Lumix GX85 and a couple of lenses. A great lightweight everday camera kit, and the stabilisation makes it so much easier to get shots in the gloomy woods and murky Scottish weather I'm often out in. I'm still keeping my Sony A6000 for portraits because the autofocus and sensor are so good, but the Lumix does pretty much everything else for me now.

Oh la la. A scottish landscape photographer... have we met? I lived in scotland for 4 years and spent my weekends shooting the beautiful seascapes.

I also have a pile of mediocre light wands. I guess we all had that phase!

RE: Wescott Optical Spot. I found an optical spot on amazon that used a Canon EF mount - so you could mount any EF/EF-S glass on it to use. It isn't as high quality as the Westcott one, but in reality your quality comes from the lens and how good your gobo is. That and a nifty 50 has served me well. The light is a little uneven across the frame, but not really noticeable unless you've got the power turned way down. Also, you can make gobo's with a cricut and an aluminum can easily too.

Oh, that's interesting- will you share a link with us? The nifty fifty-everyone will agree with that! This is an updated model of the one I got. I want to say mine was a little cheaper too.

Man anything manfroto tipods is just disappointing and over priced. Their fasterns break so dang easy and like what was mentioned their expensive proprietary plates suck as well.

My dad bought me a D90 when I was a kid and it was the camera that really propelled the speed at which i learned photography. I ended up having to sell it because life kicked me in the balls a while back but I miss it so much.

I always wondered why people bought those leather double straps. Leather stretches and warps over time which is why i bought the black rapid straps. I have both the double strap and the single and they have never let me down. I will say though that the double does also hurt my lower back but it's so convenient during shoots that i still use it.

I purchased a leather double-strap harness... I think I sipped the "cool kid" lemonade. I guess I wasn't cool because I only used it once. The leather was not very comfortable.

Worst purchase a cheap tripod. Best, the Zeiss Milvus 2/35 a versatile walk around lens that renders beautifully and is build so nice

ohhhhhh Zeiss glass... I wouldn't mind you dropping a picture with that. I love seeing the character different lenses bring to images.

Taken in my daily walk around my hometown

Well that Manfrotto Junior Geared head in the article is one of the better purchases I have made. I quite like the Manfrotto quick release plate.

The worst thing I have ever bought, must be one or other of those cheap old vintage, off brand lenses I bought second hand for fun and little money, like a Sigma Fisheye.

The best has to be the Nikon 801, that I used when I did performing arts photography. A huge step forward at the time, and an indestructible companion for many years.

Yet another indestructible Nikon makes the list! I miss when they made cameras that can take a beating and keep going.

Worst Purchase: Wine Country Lens Filter System with various filters and adapter rings. Great glass but clumsy, heavy not very user friendly and way too expensive.

Best Purchase: Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 lens, one of the first built specifically for crop sensor cameras like my new at the time D7100. So sharp with beautiful bokeh, probably dated by today's standards but back in the day.....thankful though that I traded it in on a new D750, my second favourite!

Nikon is making the "best" list again! It's interesting that from all the interviewees and commenters, no one has put a Sony item on their "best of" list

My best purchases include the three Nikon DSLRs I've bought since 2008: D90, D600 & D800, and all the Apple computers I've bought in the last 23 years: iMacs and MacBook Air laptops. I can't really think of anything to list as a worst-ever purchase after the 1990s…

Nikon is CRUSHING THIS! I bought my first MAC this year. I'm really a PC girl. I had a computer built last year ( and I'm happy with both. No bad purchases since the 90s!!!!! That's shocking!