What Has Been Your Worst Purchase as a Photographer?

What Has Been Your Worst Purchase as a Photographer?

We all love gear. Even those who say they don't love gear, love gear. But my desire to create the unique has lead me to make some questionable purchases. How about you?

I recently wrote an article about a lens I could never bring myself to sell, and it sparked a lively debate. This got me thinking about the purchases I think have worked out to be the best investments. The Canon 135mm f/2 L mentioned in that article is certainly one. My Sony a7 III is arguably a close second. In all honesty, the rest blend together and I become too bored to think of a third. So, I started asking a more entertaining question: what are the worst purchases I've ever made?

It isn't easy for me to pick one. I've been stung a few times by mistakes of my own doing. However, one stands out for me. It was a vintage Russian 300mm prime lens I found in an antique store. It was beautiful. The whole thing was made of metal and weighed a ton, it had no fungus or clouding inside the glass, and it had almost no scuffs on the barrel what so ever. It was a little pricey and I couldn't find much online about it, and none were for sale. That might put some people off (wisely), but I heard the word "rare" whispered by an ethereal voice and parted with more cash than I should have for something I couldn't identify. Its mount was pretty standard and so getting an adapter to place it on my Canon 6D at the time was straightforward. Once it arrived, it fitted to my DSLR with a satisfying click and I was ready.

I gathered my things and with all due pomp and ceremony, I didn't take a photo until I had reached a location I liked during a fiery sunset. In a prophetic turn of fortune, there was no wildlife anywhere to be seen and my subjects were limited. Undeterred I started taking pictures of leaves and anything near me. Once I loaded the images in to Lightroom, I quickly realized the images were soft. Not slight movement soft, they were softer than blowdried kittens in a silk duvet. The bokeh was pretty nice though.


Outside of that there have been innumerous gadgets that have done poorly, not to mention alternative lighting solutions. I once bought some continuous lights off eBay on the recommendation of a friend. With all of them on full blast, despite generating enough heat to melt their way off the continent, they shared the lumen output with a wet safety match. My colleagues have had similar disasters, with Jack Alexander using lights that blew the power in every venue he used them, and Alex Cooke ordering a graphical tablet so large (under the notion that bigger was better) that it rendered itself unusable. You live and learn!

So let's have it. What's the worst purchase you have made as a photographer? Share in the comments below.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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Might specify you are talking about the fx lens, the dx is downright amazing for its price

Yes! That lens is why I went nikon instead of Canon.

Jordan McChesney's picture

I’m beginning to think it may be my newest tripod, a Manfrotto Befree, which cost me about 40,000 yen.
It’s not bad, per se, but I do find myself fumbling with it more than any of the 8,000 yen tripods I used to use in the past. However, I might change my mind as I get more comfortable using it. My guess is that because it’s more expensive, it has more “features” that I’m not used to.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Am I the only one who has no clue how much 40000 yen converts to? $500, $15....
I guess I’d post the comment after conversion.

LMGTFY: 364.59
Google is your friend.

Jordan McChesney's picture

It depends where you’re from. I posted in yen because it’s my local currency. Also, this is a rather international site, so regardless of which currency I use, someone won’t understand it without googling it. I have no idea what $1usd means.
As mentioned above it converts to roughly 364 usd
Or 485 cad if you’re from my home land of maple syrup and ice hockey.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Thanks. I thought so. But it’s just the first time I saw someone mentioned yen. Just looks unusual.

Motti Bembaron's picture

No worries Jordan, use any currency you are comfortable with, we Canucks know how to convert :-)

Scott Hussey's picture

Without question it was the Canon Elan 7. Halfway through the first roll of film, the little plastic latch that holds the film door closed broke.

I still shoot with this, latch is latching.

michaeljin's picture

Sony A7RIII. I'm trying to love it, but try as I might, it's just not jiving with me. That's not to say that it's a bad camera or that it doesn't have it's good points, but after using for a while, I'm just finding that it's just not the right camera for me.. :/

michaeljin's picture

I did not as it is out of my price range and I do not have any particular need for fast burst shooting or better tracking. From what I can gather, the extra weathersealing would be nice, but my primary discomforts seem to come from the form factor, button layout, and viewfinder experience so I don't think that the A9 would solve any of those particular issues for me as it shares the same body as the other cameras in this generation of Sony cameras.

I expected some initial discomfort as I was switching systems, but I anticipated this to go away and so far it hasn't.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Prices will go down, eventually. Besides it might be possible to test drive or rent nowadays. I did rent and left mostly with pleasant memories. Ergo could be better, but worked for my big hands. Viewfinder is a bit better then a7riii. I see only one major potential limitation with sony- E-Mount tightness might prevent efficient image stab.

michaeljin's picture

I highly doubt that the price is going to go down into the $3,000 range for quite some time and either way it wouldn't solve my issues with the A7RIII as it would not provide any meaningful benefit to the way I use the camera. I prefer high resolution cameras and I have no need for high burst shooting rates or very fast tracking as I don't shoot sports or anything like that. So it doesn't really matter if the price goes down since by that point, the A7RIV would probably be better suited for me than an older a9 (assuming that I stick with the Sony system, which is something I"ve been going back and forth about).

Unfortunately, I'm beginning to feel the same way about the A7RIII, the more I play with it. It's a fantastic camera, but the overall user experience is still one which requires the memorization of far more complexities than ever before. It's an absolutely amazing and very capable camera, indeed. But it's just not as easy to use as a Canon or Nikon.

As much as fanboys of all brands hate to admit, there is such a thing as actual superiority and inferiority when it comes to the usability of a camera. It's not just a matter of familiarity or muscle memory. Some cameras are easier or harder to use, period. And the Sony ergonomics and functions are harder to use. Whether or not you can "make it work", or "get the job done" is of course an entirely different question, and a much more subjective one. But the objective fact about usability remains. And no I'm not a fanboy of any other one brand. I will speak to the particular failures of any other camera system in a heartbeat if you'd like.

I just sold my A7r3 and the rest of the system I bought with it. I'd switched from Nikon, wanting the highest possible resolution camera, and the results are quite good. But... I never want to shoot with it. There's something impersonal and clinical about holding up a screen to my eye, while still impulsively chimping on the rear screen--only it's poor resolution and not as big as my Nikon. I can never seem to tell from either screen whether I've nailed focus perfectly, and the colors are just wonky sometimes. Now I don't know whether I'm going back to a Nikon DSLR or what. :(

michaeljin's picture

That's pretty much where I'm at. I can't argue with the results that the camera produces, but nothing about it brings me any joy when I pick it up and so I end up leaving it home unless I specifically have something in mind to shoot and even then, I'll find myself doing the bare minimum. It's a bad place to be.

I'm also looking around at options with a bit of dread since it cost quite a bit of money to drop the D850 and all of my lenses to buy into this system. The thought of taking another hit so soon is frustrating and even then, what are my options? Do I go back to a Nikon DSLR and then eat it again in a few years when they stop making DSLR lenses and bodies? Do I pick another full-frame mirrorless system and then probably get frustrated because of the lack of native lenses? I know I don't want to go through the extra hoops to deal with Fuji's RAF files from those XTrans sensors since I'm pretty comfortable with my Lightroom workflow and Lightroom seems to not really like those files.

I feel like there are no really good options. Even if I did swap to another mirrorless system, I would probably miss the technology that Sony has since it's actually really good. It's frustrating. It's like Sony makes the best sensors, has the best technology, and they even make some really nice lenses, but something about their cameras just don't feel good to me. Maybe I just need to head down to Adorama and feel out these cameras again... Hell, at this point, I'm even seriously considering this "L-Mount Alliance" nonsense because I'm just THAT desperate for some happy solution to my woes.

#buyersremorse #terriblefinancialdecisions #firstworldproblems #hashtag


Do you already own the D850 and Nikon lenses?

michaeljin's picture

I did, but I traded them in when I switched to the A7RIII. The only Nikon stuff I have left is my film cameras and AI-S lenses.

Oof. I was using a D7200. I think I'm going to pick up a D500 and a few lenses and save until I can get the D850.

Maybe when the Nikon mirrorless lineup has matured, or if Canon ever decides to make good cameras to go with their great lenses, I'll consider another switch.

Good luck.

michaeljin's picture

I'd wager that Canon will be quicker to release a good body than Nikon will be to flesh out their native lens line-up, which is going to take another 3 years at least. Good luck to you, too. I'm probably just going to grit my teeth and hang onto the A7RIII and pray that the A7RIV is a better overall experience. God willing, I won't have to change systems again since Sony does seem to do a good job iterating on their bodies each generation. Regardless, there doesn't seem to be a great alternative at this moment unless I want to go back and buy DSLR equipment again.

Good luck to you, too.

Edgar Moskopp's picture

thanks for your honest and good text! I am curious: what made you switch from the excellent D850 to Sony?

michaeljin's picture

I was at a point where I had a handful of lower end lenses and a few high end lenses, so there was going to be further investment made. There had been rumors of Nikon working on a MILC, but nothing was definite so I put my order on a D850 and actually got it pretty quickly. It was an excellent camera and I had no particular complaints with it, but it kept playing in the back of my mind that the market was probably going to go toward MILC's and DSLR development would probably slow and stall, making any future investment into a DSLR system questionable in the longterm.

By the time Nikon actually announced the Z6/Z7 cameras with their specs, I had made the decision to make some sort of move early on to ensure the value of any lenses that I purchased. Even though I anticipated that OEM adapters would keep the DSLR lenses relevant, I would rather purchase lenses native to the camera if possible.

Unfortunately, I found Nikon's mirrorless bodies rather underwhelming when they finally announced them and the lens roadmap that they released made it look like it would literally be at least 4 years before the system was relevant in terms of high end native lenses. Sony was just the obvious choice at that point given the maturity of their system and the fact that (at least on paper), the A7RIII was pretty comparable to the D850 that I had. I expected some initial growing pains in getting used to a new camera, but I was confident that it would all be similar enough that it wouldn't bug me too much while I waited for the other manufacturer's to build out their systems. The fact that the Nikon D850 was somehow inexplicably still out of stock in US stores at the time along with a Sony rebate for trading in other cameras made me feel as though if I was going to get out, there would be no better time as the used value of the D850 was still really high due to the lack of stock so I pulled the trigger on the switch.

This all wouldn't have been nearly as damaging if I had kept my lenses, but I didn't simply because there isn't a very good solution available for adapting Nikon G and Nikon E lenses to Sony cameras. For whatever reason, it's not like Canon where there are excellent adapters available.

Anyway, those are my reasons and I knew going into it that there was the potential for it to be a mistake. I just didn't realize how much I wouldn't get along with the Sony camera... It is what it is, though. Water under the bridge, I guess. Truth be told, it's all a mixed bag. I certainly miss my D850, but I do enjoy some of the benefits of the MILC cameras such as being able to see your see your exposure and Dof in realtime through the EVF, being able to shoot completely silently, and having autofocus point way out to the edges of the frame. Eye-AF is pretty nifty for taking pictures of my toddler, too, since he's not really one to sit still. I think if I went back to a DSLR at this point, I would miss those features simply because they are real quality-of-life improvements even if not strictly necessary for photography.

Edgar Moskopp's picture

thanks for your honest and long explanation! Was interesting to read.

Edgar Moskopp's picture

I have the feeling this is something that can't be printed in spec sheets - if the camera is FUN to use...
The Sonys are always amazing in spec sheets and for sure they produce wonderful shots but I have never heard "I love the menu system of my Sony" or "the buttons on the Sony are the best I have ever used" or "the ergonomics of my Sony are the best"

Sean Sauer's picture

Luckily my worst purchase wasn't that expensive but I was looking to buy an extender arm for an off camera flash and unfortunately there was no measurement info on the item, no reference for scale and I ended up purchasing a giant heavy arm that was really built for a mount to hang off a C-Stand. I could use it but only for a few minutes before I got the shakes as it was HEAVY. Lesson learned. lol!

Josh Wright's picture

Did the same thing Sean :/

Chase Wilson's picture

Canon 1Nrs; 9fps and film is a stupid combination.

I bought a used Nikon from a friend of a friend. Before testing it.. (This was 25 years ago I was young and shall we say...unwise)..I traveled out of state...shot a multi model several day job....film. This was the early 90's. I was like...22 years old. Flew home..turned in all the film...like 50 rolls. Every single shot was half exposed. Half black. The shutter was broken. I never TESTED the camera! I had to refund the entire amount I was paid. Not to mention I ate the flight costs and 2 nights hotel. Now this was mainly MY fault....but this also definitely sticks in my brain as my WORST purchase ever.

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