May 12, 2021
Do you need the best gear?
Camera equipment is expensive, so should you always buy the 'best' top of the range kit?
When I published the comparison of the Canon R5 and R6, I didn’t expect the number of e-mails and calls asking for more information. It’s been quite interesting to hear the comments and views on my conclusions. If you haven’t read through the blog, I concluded that the much-cheaper R6 camera is more than good enough for most people in many circumstances. Many of the chats led to broader conversations about gear in general, so I thought this week I’d summarise some of the discussions, particularly if we always need to buy the best gear available..
The best must be better
One of the themes from speaking with professional photographers was that the clients like to see a ‘big’ camera. It is a strange concept that some people don’t think they are getting what they pay for unless the photographer has lots of expensive-looking gear. It’s even odder that photographers subscribe to this way of thinking. If a client has booked you for a job, you’d like to hope it’s because they’ve seen the photos you take, not the gear you use.
Much of my PR photography work comes from an agency based in London. I’ve met some of the commissioning editors at shoots. However, in most cases, all our communication has been by e-mail and telephone. They don’t care what gear I use; they are more interested in the photos that land on their desks at the end of a shoot. I have sent images to them using the Canon 1DX MKII, a Canon 5D MKIII, and most recently, my R5 and R6 cameras. I am yet to see a comment in the e-mail asking if I have changed my camera body. Of course, they don’t care as long as the photos tell the story they want me to photograph.
Do I need the best?
It’s not just clients who think that the best gear delivers better photos. I subscribe to quite a few Facebook groups where many ‘experts’ offer their in-depth knowledge. A recent example was a new photographer asking the following question;
You can guess some of the answers; the first response was that the questioner ‘needed’ a 70-200 lens. The next told them they ‘must’ change the 16-35mm f/4 lens to the f/2.8 version. A further response was that they needed to upgrade the body to a full-frame version. Only seven or eight responses down did the questioner get the correct answer – “What do you want to shoot?”
There is a different gear requirement for someone who wants to take sports photography in low light than a photographer more interested in shooting flowers in a home studio. I have a personal example to share from the last couple of weeks. My standard walk-around lens, the f/2.8 24-70, had a knock that couldn’t be repaired. It meant that I needed to replace the lens with a new one. I decided to replace the EF lens with the RF version as I have now moved entirely to the Canon mirrorless system. My two choices were the f/2.8 24-70 RF version with a list price of just under £2,400. The second choice is the f/4 24-105mm lens, retailing at £1,150.
The ‘best’ lens is clearly the former with an extra stop in the aperture range. However, is it the best lens for me? Not really. Much of my work is now either landscape photography or portrait photography using flash. I don’t need the wider aperture; f/4 will be absolutely fine in 99% of cases. Both lenses have five stops of stabilisation, and the cheaper lens has an extra 50% of zoom. If I ever really, really need to have an f/2.8 aperture for a job, I could hire one for about £50 a day. Do I think that I’ll need the wider aperture twenty-five times in the next 3 or 4 years? Probably not, so I can use the difference in cost between the lenses to fund any hire fees and still be better off!
So I should always buy cheaper?
Just as the most expensive gear is not always the best gear for you, it doesn’t follow that you can buy cheaper all the time and hire when you need it. From experience, there are some times when buying better is the better option. When I first started to run my Landscape and Seascape workshops, I would be asked what filter system they should buy. I initially gave a balanced response with the advantages and disadvantages of systems from £50 to more professional systems costing hundreds of pounds.
I’ve now changed the advice I offer. No longer do I include the ‘cheap’ options. Not because I am a gear snob, but that the gear just didn’t do the job asked of them. I didn’t like trying to explain why a system that I had recommended was casting a horrid purple colour across the images.
Change the way you think about buying
My advice when considering buying photography equipment, indeed anything you’re going to invest your hard-earned cash is to ask some different questions;
- Can I do what I need to do with the gear I already have?
- If not, what do I want to do with the new equipment?
- What are the various options that can do the thing I want to do?
- Do reviews say that the option is any good at doing what I want it to do?
- Do I really need to spend more money on something that I don’t need now but I might need in the future?
By going through this question loop, you might save yourself money. So, if you are ever tempted to venture onto Facebook to ask the keyboard experts what gear you need, change the question.
“I want to do x; what equipment have you used that can achieve this, and did it work for you?”
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About the author
As well as running Edinburgh Photography Workshop, Rich Dyson is a professional photographer. His photographs are regularly used in newspapers such as The Times, Guardian and Daily Telegraph. He also had two solo exhibitions as well as being featured in a members sponsored exhibition in the Scottish Parliament. You can see and buy his photography at richdysonphotography.com