What Was Your Best Photographic or Video Gear Buy?

What Was Your Best Photographic or Video Gear Buy?

The quest for gear can be fraught with disappointment, not to mention expense, but occasionally one piece of equipment exceeds your expectation. A best buy doesn’t need to be the highest quality or most expensive lens or light to find its way into your own hall of fame. For me it represents unexpected value versus the investment. Mine is the Profoto Acute 600e kit. What was yours?

My introduction to the Acute 600e came from a need for a ring flash nearly 15 years ago. I was resolved to get a ring flash and needed to find a power supply. My options were to have a Profoto Ring Flash adapted to Speedotron or buy my first Profoto power supply.

The Acute 600e was developed as a entry into the Profoto family. It is a small AC 600 watt second pack that can power three Acute heads with limited power setting options, moderate to slow recycle, and no active cooling. The Acute E heads are lightweight and do not have a cooling fan. As such, they were not intended for heavy-duty or large-volume use.

After some research I found the Acute 600e pack was offered for around $650 with the option of adding two heads with light stands and umbrellas for only $300 additional. My intention was to only use the Acute 600e to power the ring flash, but I started to use the whole kit on small location shoots as well. After some use, both with the ring flash and the Acute E heads, I was hooked. Soon came 1,200 and 2,400 W/s Acute packs and Acute2 heads. My Speedotron gear began gathering dust (still is come to think of it).

As my studio productions grew I continued on my Profoto path with Pro6 and Pro7a packs and heads which now are my main studio gear. But my love for the 600e has not faded. Along with a AcuteB, the 600 W/s battery version in roughly the same package, I still use the 600e for travel and many interior location shoots. I can’t think of another piece of equipment that I have stuck with for 15 years and I would never have guessed it when I first picked it up.

They still pop up on eBay from time to time. They are worth a look. Does anyone else have any underdog gear that has exceeded their expectations?

Dan Howell's picture

Dan Howell has been a New York City area photographer specializing and fashion and portraits for catalogs and magazines for the past 20 years. He began photography with photojournalistic aspirations but found a more comfortable fit in the fashion and commercial world.

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Thank you for bringing up such a great post idea, Dan! Yes, I can add to your list of equipment that has more than amazed me. When I purchase new equipment, I scratch the date on the back/bottom, etc., to see how things hold up. Not long ago, I flipped over my Minolta Flash Meter IV. It has been in my camera case and in my studio, every day since I scratched the purchase date on the back of the meter.....July 1986. Almost 31 years with the same tool...crazy! Yes, it eats batteries, but it has never died, nor needed service. The PC socket wore out years ago, so I use it on "non-cord" flash...but still....what other piece of daily used tools (especially electronics) lasts that long?

The new Profoto D2s are just spectacular. We've been using their D1 strobes for years, shooting primarily portrait and commercial work involving babies and children at our NYC Midtown studio. But the D1 lacked a good recycle rate.

D2s solve that issue. I can literally shoot these strobes 7-10 times per second and they never miss. As you can imagine, with active subjects like babies, the perfect shot presents itself for a fraction of a second before it's gone.

I couldn't be happier with these units.

Hmm for photography my best gear buy is a light modifier: my 86" PLM umbrella. Just love the quality of light it creates and it's been a staple of my photography's "look" since I got it.

For video my RED Epic, it's great they have an upgrade program for their customers so we always stay ahead on their tech without forking over even more money to buy the next camera in line. Started 5k with the Epic MX (7 years ago while still 4k is barely getting rolled out), went to 6k Dragon, now 6k Weapon, and hopefully soon 8k Helium/VV (whichever gets allocated first).
Love what RED's new color science is capable of, how ergonomic the camera is so I can build it for my individual needs without sacrificing quality, shooting RAW, the list goes on.

Passport Color Checker. My colors, which I always thought were accurate, suddenly were.

Hey Dan!

I've gotten more milage and value out of my Fuji X100 (both original & S) than any other piece of kit i've owned. Also, I love and use my Lume Cubes way more than I thought I ever would - hard to beat for $79.

Well just getting back into photography , now kids are grown up . Held onto Nikon 300 ais 2.8 and 50 ais 1.2 for 40 years now. And just got a D700 from some one who thought it had frozen mirror. Paid 80$ and someone had locked the mirror to clean it and never released it. The thing had sat so long battery wouldn't take a charge. Popped in good battery and cleaned sensor and released mirror and works flawlessly. So now I have a bag which has D 300s, D700,Nikon 24 2.0,50 1.2,105 1.8,180 2.8,300 2.8 AIS's and 24-120, 70-200 AF lenses and getting back into asto and nature photography this spring when the weather in Northern Wi. will break. Must admit that I've become a bit of a gear collector now. Plus have my son hooked he does a lot of shooting for car clubs. I gave him his set up of Nikon d7000 and back pack of lenses

One thing popped into my head and its for photo. I was a wedding photographer/videographer for 6 years and while I was working I came across.... Magmods. If you shoot with speedlight these things will change the way you work.

Besides my 1DX II, I think I would have to say that my purchase of the Westcott 7' parabolic umbrella.

An old Rollieflex I was given and needed some TLC, and the Elinchrom Quadra's I got introduced to. Both of which had a pivotal impact on how I approach and do photography over the years.

There are a few pieces of gear that might qualify, but after a lot of thought (this question comes up every so often), I think I can say that the Manfrotto 501 head (and the 577 plate system) is probably the winner. I've had it since 2003.

Hmm.. either my Profoto D1 or the 85mm f/1.2L II.

profoto b1 and my ef 24-70 2.8 ii

Once, I got all this for $100:

Alien Bees B400 ($225)
LiteMod Frame ($55)
Barn Doors ($49)
2 Rosco Gel Packs ($70)
33" Impact Umbrella ($15)

It was a classic "My Wife Said I Need to Get Rid of All This Sh*t" situation.

And, he wanted me to take light stands too! I learned a ton about lighting playing with this gear, all for the cost of less than a single speedlight.

Poor guy


Back in 1972, I bought a Yashica 124G TLR, which was my first money-making camera. I could shoot weddings and get acceptable Ektacolor enlargements from it. All my other purchases have been incremental improvements (like moving from the Yashica to a Mamiya C330 TLR and then to a Mamiya RZ67), except for the Canon 5D. That purchase enabled me to retire medium format film, gave me the ability to make wall enlargements from every session (not just the ones I thought worthy of hauling out the massive RZ and its humongous kit).

Both the Yashica and 5D paid for themselves in 60 days. I don't think I've had any other purchases that changed my methods and my income so substantially.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4. The very first shot with it I realized how much of a difference good glass can make.

Sigma 50-150 f2.8 for portraits, never knew what a good zoom could do for a face, never disappoints, often surprises.

Profoto B1,B2; Nikkor 200 F2.0; Nikon D5; Nikkor 58 1,4; Nikkor 24 1,4

A Nikon F bought cheaply used and a gifted Nikkor 35mm f/2 AI-converted for reminding me that good photographs are almost everything to do with the photographer and very little to do with the endless parade of technological advances.

I've only been a Nikon user for about a year now, when I seriously decided to switch from Film to Digital. I was previously a Minolta and Hasselblad film photographer up until then without complaint. I had used a Kodak Digital Fixed lens 10mp camera and an Olympus Digital 12mp fixed lens cameras but now I couldn't ever go back. My Favorite Gear Buy that I just love is my 24mm to 120mm Fat Portrait Lens. I've even had other Pro Photogs decide to buy one after seeing the photos I'm getting with it, even a few Canon Pros.

I do like my 18mm to 55mm AF-S Nikkor 1:3.5-5.6G lens for close quarters work. Its great in a wooden circular stairwell shooting at a studio I shoot at kind of regularly that's a little close for the 24-120mm But between the two I get the shots.

I also have an FStoppers knock-off I bought, a 12" 31CM Round Disc Softbox Diffuser for Flash Speedlite N0R4 for $8.46 each. I got 4 of them and they are the tops, just can't shoot against glass with them. I also bought a 12 inch side arm for my 'off camera' flash and use it with my 12 inch Round Disc Softbox Diffuser for my Flash. So I guess that's my Top 4 of my best Gear Buys.

I've got a ton of other lenses both auto and manual only which is funny because I've only ever shot in manual mode. I even got my 13 year old niece interested in photography and shes had 'Pro Photogs following her during a studio shoot at a friends studio near where I live to 'snake' shots and she doesn't even know what 'Auto' mode is on her camera. Better to stay in manual. She's the one who initially discovered the wooden Circular staircase to shoot models in that everyone though was 'too small' to use. My lenses go all the way up to a 650mm to 1300mm that's like over 2 feet long, great for nature shots.

I still use my ancient 18 inch camera bag because the new bags seem to fall apart way to easily and don't seem to last me more than a few months. My old bag is black nylon has paint splashed on it's outside but the interior dividers are wearing because the fabric is old. I'm in the process of cannibalizing my 'new' torn bag with every single zipper broken and use the dividers in my ancient bag to 'fix' it. Wish I could find two more bags just like my ancient bag.

Hope I gave some people some ideas.

Sorry had to go back and edit this post. I have a new favorite lens, I just got and have just been using; its a Nikon DX AF-S Nikkor 18-135mm 1:3.5-5.6G ED, My new Favorite Fat lens! Freakin' Awesome but still also like my 24-120mm also.

Thanks bye.

"Does anyone else have any underdog gear that has exceeded their expectations?"

I dunno...the latest top of the line Nikon & Canon pro bodies and $2k+ legendary portrait lenses don't really fall in the "underdog" category.

Along the lines of what Steve Prue wrote, I can't claim any underdog status, but the used Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS II lens I bought on eBay is by far the best lens in my bag.

It's not a lens that I use often, but I found a used 20mm f/3.5 Macro Photo Lens (for Bellows) at B&H for $180. The magnification of that lens is 6X to 10X. That lens is hard to find on EBay and KEH and is usually priced at $300 and above. I already have the Auto Bellows for the Canon FD mount for their film cameras.

Early on, ditching all my zooms for nothing but a 50mm f/1.8 prime for a year taught me more than any of the study I've done since.

For me there were two different purchases for two different aspects of my work.

First was studio lighting, this unleashed my creativity. Instead of thinking man I would love to shoot this idea in my head but I can't afford a studio rental, I was now able to set up and shoot anywhere including my living room in college.

The second was for my landscape photography. Purchasing lens filters was a game changer, I started to create and image not just take one. It became more of a craft and a slow thought out process. You can see a complete shift in the quality of my work when I got my filters.