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.
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.
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.