The Gear I Definitely Wasted My Money On

The Gear I Definitely Wasted My Money On

We've all bought things impulsively, and on occasion it works out. But often it doesn't, and a few times for me those purchases have been an unambiguous waste of money.

I recently wrote an article defending how much many of us photographers enjoy new camera gear. Whether it's a vintage lens and an adapter, or the latest camera body, it's both invigorating and potentially useful to acquire new weapons for the arsenal. However, there are times when we get whisked away in our own excitement and make either impulse purchases, or poorly researched ones. I've done this and it has paid off (Zenit 85mm f/1.5) but it's rare. Usually though, the items either go in to my photography gear retirement home (two big plastic storage containers) or sold on. Let's go through some usual offenders (types of purchases) and one specific offender.

Vintage Lenses

Oh, the relationship I have with vintage lenses is so complicated it's borderline Shakespearian. I'll start with an important caveat: there are vintage lenses that are absolutely superb. However, if it's cheap and vintage, don't think you're about to uncover a hidden gem; you're almost definitely not. I've bought everything from an old 500mm that looked like a Victorian pirate's telescope, to the "original bokeh monster" 135mm. Every single one of them has been unusable for anything other than abstract art.

There are great vintage lenses out there, but they're invariably expensive lenses from 20-60 years ago, and they'll still cost you a reasonable chunk of change. If you're paying <$100 for a vintage lens — save for a few outliers — you're wasting your money. I've tested this enough for everyone.

In fairness, this lens came with the camera and I have no malice towards it.


For years I wanted some high end strobe lights. However, despite many of them being in essence simple electronics and computing that any electrician worth his salt could hash together (I'm being a little facetious, yes), their prices range from the equivalent of a nice lens through to a nice car. I just couldn't drop that much cash on them and so I did what we all do from time to time — particularly at the start — I worked on finding a cheap alternative.

The first set I bought were so poorly made that putting them up could cost you a finger, and they went through bulbs like Polos. The second set I bought were doing ok for a good few months, then while on a shoot in an underground club, they caught fire. Not sparked or blew a fuse; they caught fire and required the nearest fire extinguisher to put out. The third set were bought on the advice of fellow writer Jack Alexander (named and shamed) after he created some nice images with a brandless set of lights from a company on eBay. They weren't bad fill lights, but if you needed some punch, they maxed out at about enough lumens to light a fridge.

Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 EF

Not to be confused with the Canon 70-300mm which I've heard isn't too bad, the 75-300mm was an insult to lenses. Nay, it was an insult to plastic, glass, and anyone with even partial vision. Not only did I begrudge having paid any amount of money for this atrocity, but even the calorie I spent picking it up to put on my camera grates on me. This black misery tube created images softer than a tumbledried alpaca and I gleefully sold it on eBay to somebody who — unless they were a war criminal — deserved better.

What gear do you tend to waste money on? Is there a serial offender? Is there a specific purchase that irks you to this day? Share in the comments below.

Rob Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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My biggest waste of money? Cheap tripods. I have several utterly useless cheap tripods. And every tripod article you read says "don't buy a cheap one". But I did. Several times.
I now have a beautiful Gitzo that! It was expensive but still less than the 4 or 5 rubbish ones I now use as wobbly light stands.

I have sometimes the tendency to buy cheap shit in the hope that it will work out fine. It never does so invariably, I spend my money twice.
I seem to have learnt my lesson now.

Regarding the photo leading the article, the one with the fellow holding a money bag and a bullhorn ... is there a name for this generic style of photography that is used frequently on all sorts of articles?

Stock image 😉👍

Out there somewhere is the "Ansel Adams" of this image style. An unsung hero of the photographic world.

Anything and everything I tried to save a buck on only to regret it, go back and buy the higher quality item and lose $$$ when selling the stuff I originally purchased at a loss. Now, if I can't afford the higher-quality product, either I don't get it or I save for it to buy when I can afford it. This applies mainly to glass and tripods.

One word: Neewer.

I have bought nothing other than stands (strobe stand, etc...), Maybe few backdrops. Haven't tried anything else from them. Are they that bad?

I'm very happy with my Neewer lights and batteries. I've had some grip hardware which didn't impress me. Most of their tripods look a bit shoddy as well. Neewer has some good products and some less good ones. Cool to see someone working to build an affordable lightweight lights brand. They are not suitable for very heavy use scenarios but I'd certainly rather spend $250 than $4000 on a portable video lights kit which only I'll be using (no throwing them in and out of the back of a truck like plumbing pipes).

And much happier owning than dealing with the huge hassle of rental (checking out and checking in, complete waste of time, though necessary to the transaction).

It seems relatively easy for me to research lenses, etc. There's so many basic gear reviews out there. What i waste my money on is wireless connectivity- Kickstarter is full of unproven gadets that seem so exciting. That is, if the connection works half the time. And if so, works quickly enough to not waste huge amounts of time. I bought the Pulse from Alpine Labs and it only worked after tons of waiting to hear from tech support and inconvenient work-arounds, and still was unreliable and only seemed to work half the time. Even (admittedly cheap) basic IR shutter remotes have given me trouble. More cameras should come with a remote system or options for a guaranteed system. Snapbridge is slow too. A faster, simpler system just for remote shutter, some basic camera control and basic thumbnail review would be ideal for many.

And you have not heard of a cam ranger in all of your searching? Industry standard for a reason. You dont need to go to kickstarter to get ripped off there, just use what ever other professional uses for a reason.

Yes I've seen Cam-ranger. But didn't see evidence of it being industry-standard compared to other products. Case Air seemed to be another similar system and both are expensive to try out and I wanted objective comparative reviews. But I can look into it again.

The cheap, sloppy, aftermarket zoom I was sold when I bought my first 35mm SLR in 1988 (a Minolta X-370). My photos didn't look much better than the 110 camera I often used at the time, it was that bad. I wonder how many were turned-off by that kind of crap. Then I read in a magazine that every photographer should have a "nifty fifty" handy, so I bought an old MC Rokkor 50 1.4 at a shop when I saw it. Haven't looked back since.

There are great deals on older lenses if you're patient and know what to look for. For most of the new stuff, you get what you pay for. I recently picked up a 40-ish year-old 80-200 Nikkor zoom on EBay for around $100. Working within its limits, I'm continually stunned with how well it renders and stands up to the sensor on my D850.

I have few photography books I have wasted my money on, then probably the Canon 135 prime - used 3 times in 5 years, now the Fuji 50mm f2 prime, I either use 35mm f2 or 50-140mm f/2.8 and so the 50mm is in awkward situation. Bought the 50mm just to complete the trio of Fuji f2 primes. Then I have few neewer backdrops which were an embarrassment. Wasted $60 per backdrops.

Holy hell batman. Look at all the vintage lens butthurt in the comments! Why are people so damn attached to things and possessions? Did you design the lens? Do you sell it? Do you make them? Why do you care so much about it that someone cant have an opinion different than yours? Literally all you did was spend money on an object, and now you are so personally invested in that object that someone who has a slightly differing opinion has now personally insulted you and you are ready to lynch him.

Palette Gear can be added to the list as well

The calorie you spent picking it up . . . . ha ha ha ha. Plastic is light!
I regret my 50mm 1.2. Such an imperfect lens. I detest that its imperfection has become a trend in photography. All that slight back-focussing is cool, no?