Really? Is Expensive Gear Actually Even Worth It?

Really? Is Expensive Gear Actually Even Worth It?

With the market inundated with countless products, it can be overwhelming to choose the right price point for the gear you need. Does the price tag truly reflect the quality and performance of the equipment? Let's dive into this question.

I began my photographic journey with fairly low-end gear, consisting of a $50 speedlight and a $10 umbrella. Back then, I often found myself admiring photographers who worked with medium format cameras, professional flashes, and top-notch studios. There's undoubtedly a point where investing more money can yield better results. However, there's also a critical juncture where you must be judicious in how you spend your hard-earned cash. Consider this scenario: You have the option to purchase a budget-friendly lens or an expensive camera body. Which one should you prioritize, and where does the value truly lie? Let's explore where your investment can make the most difference.


Cameras are often the first item on a photographer's shopping list, and they are also the easiest to overspend on. Camera manufacturers excel at marketing and often present marginal improvements as groundbreaking innovations that every photographer must have. These marketing tactics can lead photographers to covet slightly more expensive, marginally better camera equipment. However, it's essential to remember that a camera is fundamentally a light-capturing device, and its core functionality should be the primary focus. You don't necessarily need every high-tech feature, such as animal tracking eye autofocus, to create outstanding photographs. While some features can streamline a photographer's workflow, professionalism ultimately hinges on your ability to produce compelling images. It's worth noting that many photographers who shoot exclusively on film or use wet plates are highly regarded, not solely for image quality, but also for their unique approach. Keep in mind that the latest and greatest camera will become outdated in a few years, just like the latest smartphone. Consequently, I recommend refraining from splurging on the camera body. You can easily save several hundred, if not thousands of dollars, in this regard.


Lenses play a more critical role than cameras, as they refract and direct light onto the sensor, akin to your eyes focusing light onto your brain. If you have excellent eyes but limited processing power (analogous to a slower camera), your perception remains compromised. Consider my experience during my Canon 5D Mark II days, where I used a range of lenses. From the subpar 28-135mm to the exceptional 24-70mm f/2.8, the differences were profound, even though the sensor technology remained the same and lacked animal tracking eye autofocus. The sensor's singular focus point was relatively reliable, a testament to the lens's impact. I applaud photographers whose lenses cost more than their camera bodies. The takeaway here is simple: prioritize investing in lenses over cameras.


The realm of lighting presents a nuanced perspective. While expensive lights are a pleasure to work with, they are not an absolute necessity for creating exceptional work. In fact, you can achieve outstanding results with flashlights and simple speedlights. However, there are notable limitations associated with cheaper lights, which become significant in certain scenarios. Each light source, especially flashes, has several critical properties: color consistency, flash duration, power output, and recycle time. Investing in pricier flash gear yields advantages such as faster recycling, shorter flash durations, and more consistent results. These factors prove invaluable when undertaking high-end assignments, action photography, or when you simply need reliable flash equipment. I've produced a significant body of work using high-end flash generators from the 1990s, and they perform as effectively as new models. Overall, I recommend allocating a reasonable budget for off-camera lighting but also recognize that used high-end equipment from previous decades can be more than sufficient for most work. For instance, the Pro-7a flash generator offers an impressive 1/1,600-second duration at maximum power, while the latest Pro-11 model provides a 1/800-second value for comparison.

Light Modifiers

Light modifiers should not be underestimated, as they significantly influence the mood and ambiance of your images. Think of them as essential tools for shaping and playing with light. A quick glance around my studio reveals that I own more light modifiers than lights and cameras combined. I'm passionate about manipulating light to create striking images, and I firmly believe that exceptional lighting is one of the most noticeable and critical aspects of any great photograph. Quality modifiers, particularly hard modifiers like reflectors, offer greater efficiency and longevity. Investing in top-notch modifiers won't immediately transform your photos, but you'll undoubtedly appreciate the boost in quality and performance they provide.


Last but certainly not least, don't overlook the importance of stands, tripods, arms, and other accessories. When you've already invested in high-quality lights and modifiers, the last thing you want is for them to fail due to subpar support equipment. Even a beloved 1990s Fresnel light can be damaged if not properly secured. I highly recommend investing in sturdy light stands and tripods. Fortunately, you can often find high-end equipment for a fraction of the cost when you come across the right online deals. Studios that are closing or downsizing may be eager to offload their equipment, prioritizing quick sales over maximizing profit. This presents an excellent opportunity to acquire professional gear without breaking the bank. Personally, I have a strong preference for Manfrotto products, including Gitzo for tripods and Avenger for light stands and boom arms. I tend to steer clear of lightweight, portable light stands, as I have concerns even when using them with lightweight speedlights or flash heads.

Closing Thoughts

Expensive gear isn't always the answer to achieving better results. In my experience, an expensive camera may not deliver as much value as high-quality lighting equipment. Consequently, my investment in lights exceeds that of my cameras, and my light modifiers are among my most prized possessions in the studio. As a photographer, I'm willing to load up a roller cart with heavy-duty stands and transport them to on-location shoots because I understand that expensive lights and modifiers deserve equally robust support.

In conclusion, the choice to invest in expensive gear should be a deliberate one, considering your specific needs and goals as a photographer. While high-quality equipment can undoubtedly enhance your capabilities, it's essential to strike a balance between budget and performance. Ultimately, it's your creative vision, skill, and understanding of light that will have the most significant impact on the quality of your photographs.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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The "camera first" mentality is a fairly typical and encouraged by most camera retailers.

How $5,000 gets spent:

Starting out: $4,500 camera, $495 lens, $5 tripod, no lights

Intermediate experience: $3,000 camera, $1,000 lens, $800 tripod, $200 light

Experienced pro: 2 x $500 cameras, 2 x $1000 lenses, 3 x $500 lights, 3 x $100 light stands, $200 tripod

For each category of equipment, there are ranges where you start to rapidly dip into diminishing returns as more of price tag simply becomes a payment for a brand/ logo on the product. As the hardware differences start to not justify an increase. For example, you may see a battery powered off-camera flash for example, you may see a $250 flash and a $1000 one and if you look at teardown either from repair videos, blogs, or via searching for the FCC ID of the products, and see the $250 and $1000 item using mostly the same internals to a point where the brand charging significantly more. While using a little better injection molding, higher quality capacitors Anda better fit and finish can command a higher price, from a BOM standpoint a user may expect a 20% to 30% higher price to the end user, but instead there is typically a massive brand tax.

In any product field, there are ranges where really cheap = such poor quality that it ends up costing the user more due to needing to constantly replace stuff that fails quickly no matter how gently you treat it during regular use. Then there is a range where you get a balance quality and value. Then after that, there is a range where the price skyrocket but the amount of improvement is minimal, where the main target market is people who have a lot of money and are willing to pay multiple times the cost of a moderately priced quality unit for a small bump in quality and performance. Usually such purchases are more common in high end studio work where you are dealing with 5 to 6 figure jobs and a paying extra for the best of the best in hardware is needed to stay competitive at a level where every pixel matters.

Profoto is a prime example of what you described.

I'd for sure rather shoot jobs with 2 Z6II's, a 17-28/2.8, 28-75/2.8, and 70-180/2.8 vs a Z9 and 24-70 2.8....

Better to buy two good systems so that you can afford so you have redundancy, rather than one great system that you can't.

The camera and gear and better vs low cost!!! My Canon T2i from 2010 and the two kit lenses were great for my starter. I went Sony A7s due to 1. it did bracketing 5 @ +/- 3 ev 2. had on camera apps 3. for $30 came with C1. For those those too young to have lived through the early days, software was just a baby and costly $800 for both PS and Lr and each full update and getting C1 for just $30 well gold. I should of waited a few months for the A7sii. The diamonds in the rough was my old Canon Ftb FD and T2i EF and EF-S lenses which my Sony using a $20 adapter could use and get great images. Now 13 years later other are just going mirrorless and making all new lenses where old lenses are no good.
Today software is better than best example we had to use canon SW that was limited to say the least. Only big business and Pros could afford PS/Lr. If anyone would go back to old images and process again they will learn it is really not the camera/lens but the SW that gets the image great. 1. A7s with Canon EF-S 10-22 2. a very old point and shoot. 3. T2i 4. A7s using Canon FD 100-300mm.
If you have or can find a mod 1 or 2 Sony you have till Sep 30 to buy the apps and Aug. 31, 2025 Termination of paid and free application download services. Digital Filter saves you carrying filters/holders.

I’m at it for a long time. I started with cheap gear and now have expensive gear. Yes expensive gear is better. For cameras yes it can make a difference (but almost all new cameras are good). Lens as said in the article- the best lens are brilliant. Cheap lens can still be poor. Lighting gear, less difference but expensive is often (but not always) more robust. Godox/Yongnue are really very good for the price. Always buy a good tripod. Well worth it.

As we have all heard, buy it right the first time or you'll buy it twice. I've always bought quality and that gear has served me well. Rarely will I buy new unless I get a deal but those 3 L lenses have paid for themselves time again. I did trade two Profoto b600 kits (bought used) for a mint 7b with two flash heads, I had the battery re-celled and it operates as new now.

"buy it right the first time or you'll buy it twice" To me this always meant to do your diligent research on the products you're looking at before buying so you can make sure you know that it fits your needs. A lot of people (like my boss) assume it to mean that you always need to spend the most amount of money possible.

for example my boss asked my to put together a gear list so we can shoot our own commercials and he thought we were going to have spend tens of thousands on broadcast equipment. I had to explain to him that no we can just use a Sony a7 series camera, Tamron lens and some affordable led lights with a tripod and an iPad teleprompter. It blew his mind that's all we needed lol. We just don't need that level of gear for what we shoot hahaha.

Another in the ever repeating article, "does high end gear matter" written by a guy with a pile of Profoto gear...
The answer is yes, high end gear is worth it, even second hand.

Yep! I don't have the patience to do it, but it would be interesting to go back a couple years and count how many of this sort of article has appeared.

The answer is yes, expensive gear is better. But, it also depends on the budget. If all you want to do is take pictures of your pet boa constrictor and have photo piggy bank stuffed with dinars, go get that Phase One. If you don't have the budget, there's a myriad choices that will still produce good shots and keep your partner from putting knots on your head for blowing the budget.

I'm new to this website and found it interesting because I am looking for different cameras for my studio. Articles topics repeat. So what? They do in every magazine. But it is more interesting to read than grumpy comments that add nothing.

Some of it yes. Some of it no. Some of it depends on what and how you're shooting. But usually you don't need the highest priced gear to do excellent work.

This is a good article. I've outgrown my gear and am selling it for something more versatile and manageable. I keep upgrading my current full frame stuff but the entire system just doesn't do it for me. I've had a play with a completely different brand and system and it works soooo much better for me.

Great article, thank you!
For most photographers (I'd say about 80% or even more), the quality of lenses should be equally important as cameras. In other words, not very important. Many cheap kit lenses perform very well if stopped down a bit. The same goes for old manual focus lenses. Sure, you can notice differences when viewing photos at 100% or higher magnifications, but in the real world, you look at screen sizes or actual prints from typical viewing distances, and only pixel peepers would maybe see the difference. Maybe. Prints are even more forgiving, even with big enlargements.
The other 20% need expensive gear. Sport, event, concert, studio, wildlife photography...
I admit that I belong to the first 80%. And have expensive gear :) because I like big toys :)

For the big stuff--> Used... always have, always will.

Same I've only ever owned 2 brand new cameras in the 15years I've been a photographer, and that's only because some one gave them to me lol. I've never had an issue buying used camera gear my self. The only issues I've run into is compatibility with adapted lenses or the camera just bad. Like the X-E1. Got if used for like $200 a while back. It has great image quality but the user interface and general handling and auto focus was as slow as molasses and it drained batteries like a sink hole draining a swamp. Also i noticed that some lenses tend to be softer than others when adapting :(