Photography Equipment/Common mistakes

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The most common classes of mistakes in purchasing equipment are:

  • overemphasizing equipment
  • neglecting less glamorous components
  • not understanding trade-offs / focusing on headline numbers

We detail these in turn.

Overemphasizing equipment[edit | edit source]

Equipment is a tool, not an end (unless you are a photographic engineer or collector): the goal is to take photographs, which requires a compelling subject and a skilled photographer far more than it requires expensive equipment.

You do not need to buy cheap equipment first, if you reasonably expect that you'll soon run into its limitations, but don't buy equipment unless you expect to use its capacities.

Subject matters most[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Buying equipment without an eye to intended use

A compelling subject, photographed with the cheapest disposable camera or camera phone, is more interesting than a boring subject, even if it be photographed with the fanciest camera.

Think about what subjects you wish to photograph, and buy equipment to facilitate that.

Technique matters more than equipment[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Thinking equipment obviates technique or compensates for poor technique

Quality cameras make it easier to take pictures and, properly used, can produce higher quality pictures and effects that cannot be replicated with inferior equipment, but they required skilled technique. Good technique with a point and shoot yield better results than poor technique with a far more expensive camera.

No equipment can replace a good eye, or attention to composition or light.

Less glamorous components[edit | edit source]

The most glamorous components of a system are the body and particularly dramatic lenses (especially large telephoto). A system is much more than a body, and all the parts play a role.

Focus on system, not body[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Focusing on body, instead of system

Especially with current technology, lenses last much longer than bodies (decades), and over time you will likely spend much more on lenses than on a body. Lenses are not generally compatible between manufacturers, so if you expect to buy more than one lens (which you will if you are serious), you are buying a system, not a body.

Thus, do not concentrate on minor differences between the current bodies of various manufacturers and at various price points.

Spend on lenses, not body[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Spending on body (instead of lenses)

"Whatever you do, don't spend too much on the body. It is much better to have a good lens on a cheap body than vice versa."[1]

In a quip: "Buy glass, not chips".

Don't skimp on minor parts[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Trying to save on minor parts

A fancy system with inadequately cheap minor parts has feet of clay. For instance, buying cheap memory cards or filters. This is a false economy: an unreliable memory card may cause you to lose many pictures, while a poor quality filter will severely degrade your Image Quality.

Further, this is often a very small savings: minor parts are generally quite cheap.

Alternatively, one may buy cheap parts at first, only to be frustrated and spend far more in the long run replacing the cheap parts.

"Just buy the right stuff the first time".[2]

Budget for a full system, not a body[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Budgeting for a body, then being dismayed at unexpected costs

A system costs more, often much more, than a body alone.

If one does not budget for a full system, one is likely to be dismayed at the full cost of a system, and to skimp on minor parts.

Better to buy a cheaper body and few lenses at first, together with quality parts for a full system, and subsequently upgrade and expand.

Draw up a full list before purchasing components to avoid blowing your budget.

Trade-offs/Headline numbers[edit | edit source]

Photographic equipment has many variables, and particular pieces of equipment make various trade-offs: a particular lens may have higher Image Quality and be faster, but be much heavier and more expensive.

Ignoring these trade-offs and focusing on a single number is softheaded, and leads to unforeseen compromises and frustration. The most common "headline numbers" that people focus on are zoom factor and pixel count, and both are deceiving.

Zooms and Superzooms versus Prime[edit | edit source]

Zoom lenses, and especially superzoom lenses, are undeniably convenient, but have severe trade-offs:

  • poor Image Quality
  • slow: they generally have small aperture, making them dim, and unsuited for DOF effects
  • image distortion
  • flare
  • poor AutoFocus
  • heavy
  • expensive

Prime lenses are often much higher quality, faster, and cheaper, and zoom lenses with low zoom factors are generally similarly superior to superzoom lenses.

Image quality isn't just pixel count[edit | edit source]

Mistake: Focusing on pixel count, instead of Image Quality

More pixels are not necessarily better, and beyond a certain point are worse: small pixels are noisier, and eventually the increased noise outweighs the increased resolution.

Pixel count is a headline number—dig deeper.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. What Camera Should I Buy?, by Philip Greenspun
  2. Serious Support, by Thom Hogan