Photography is an expensive hobby. It always has been and it probably always will be.
I’m here to tell you though, that although it is really nice to have the latest and greatest camera on the market, it is absolutely not necessary.
We can’t have a discussion on photography and some of the photographic principles that I will be touching on without some level of discussion on the basic technical aspects of the equipment we use: cameras and lenses. When it comes to equipment, what I CAN tell you is that it is NOT the camera that renders phenomenal images that people swoon over.It is the quality lens attached to the camera, and the photographer’s ability to understand the lens and camera well enough to then use those pieces of equipment to their creative advantage.
Photography is all about light. We need light to make images. If we don’t have a lot of light, we have to figure out how to get more, and this is where Fast Aperture values come in handy.
I’m just talking about equipment here and not the other aspects of acquiring more light (exposure), for example shutter speed and ISO can be adjusted to help you acquire more light, but that is for a whole ‘nother photography workshop!
Can it be exciting to have that shiny new camera hanging around your neck; impressive even? Without a doubt.
Can it provide you fancy options when photographing? Sure it can.
Did Henri Cartier-Bresson have a fancy camera? No; he was known for using only one camera, a Leica rangefinder, and one lens, a 50mm, for almost all of his life’s work.
Do most people ever use all the options their fancy-schmancy expensive cameras offer? No; I can’t tell you how many people I know who have no idea what some of those buttons and dials yield.
If your camera has a minimum of 10 or 12 megapixels, it will be more than enough for creating enlargements of 16×20″ prints, or more.
With regards to equipment, I think it’s best to Keep It Super Simple (KISS). Purchase a camera that is good, but not too overwhelming for you when it comes to options, and then sink your money into one or two “Fast” or “Prime” lenses to work with. Then, get to know your camera and your lenses well and your photographic skills will soar! Don’t get caught up in the “I have to have that newer model…” mentality. It’s not worth it. Being smart and informed is your best tool when it comes to equipment.
When looking for a camera, Google and compare two or three cameras that fall within your budget: low-, medium- and high-priced, and do what most dread to do: read about them before purchasing! Knowledge is power, especially in this department. Read the camera manuals (which can be found on-line), and read at least one or two reviews on each model before you purchase it.
It is better to buy the camera you want to purchase as a separate item from a lens.
Allow me to repeat this loudly: BUY THE CAMERA SEPARATELY.
You do not need the “kit” lenses that come in the camera kits, which are nothing more than combinations of cameras/lenses sold together.
However, sometimes it can be difficult to escape kit-buying, because the camera manufacturers may only offer kits at what appears to be a discounted rate. These manufacturers are counting on you to buy more in the future, so they sell you kits, marked as “starter” items, when in fact the lenses that come in kits are designed to:
1. frustrate you in many low-light situations, and
2. can only be used in situations where the lighting is better than adequate, or where you may need an external flash or a tripod.
If you are going to INVEST in equipment, don’t buy a kit! Invest in equipment that will grow with you and give you a lifetime of use.
A “Fast” lens is considered to have an Aperture value of f/2.8, or f/2, f/1.4 or f/1.
(there’s even a new f/0.95 Leica lens you can have for a mere $11k!).
Fast lenses are more expensive than lenses that begin with an aperture of f/4 or more, but they are worth it because they allow the maximum amount of light into your lens / camera which will lessen your frustrations immediately! The more light that enters the camera, the more success you will have photographing!
Kit lenses typically have an aperture that starts at f/3.5 or f/4. They are included in the kits, because the manufacturer is trying to make you believe you are getting a deal by buying kits that include cameras and lenses, but it’s no “deal.” I do not consider the lenses included in kits to be QUALITY lenses. An Aperture value of f/4 does not allow for a lot of light to enter into the lens. In fact it lets in half as much light as a lens with an Aperture of f/2.8, and that is a lot less in many lighting situations where every candlestick counts. You shouldn’t be fooled by any gadgets on the lenses, such as “image stabilization.” If your lens isn’t fast, image stabilization isn’t going to help that much. Now, if there is image stabilization on a fast lens (f/2.8), that is a good thing!
A “Prime” lens has a FIXED focal-length and most Prime lenses are typically reasonably priced, so it becomes a good investment.
A lens that can be “zoomed” is not a fixed or prime lens.
Zoom lenses are convenient, certainly, because it can be like getting three lenses in one, but if it is not a Fast lens, in my professional opinion, it’s not worth the investment.
Now, a zoom lens that is fast (at least f/2.8 throughout your zooming from 24mm to 70mm) are typically pricy, but they ARE a good investment.
Examples of Prime lenses might include:
Wide-angle Lenses: 16mm, 24mm, 28mm
Normal-angle Lens: 50mm
Telephoto Lens: 100mm, 200mm, and above.
Kit lenses are typically Zoom lenses and a couple of the most common zoom lenses included in a kit are the (I’m giving Canon examples because I’m a Canon owner, but Nikon has the same stuff:
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens
Canon EF-S 55-250 f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens
Based on what I’ve told you about fast or prime lenses above, let’s take a look at one of these zoom (kit) lens examples to see why they may not be so good…
The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5- f/5.6:
Zoomed out to 18mm, the largest f-stop you can achieve is f/3.5 – not very fast.
Zoomed in to 55mm, the largest f-stop you can achieve is f/5.6 – not fast at all!
So, you are losing about 1.5 stops of light – or getting less light to enter the lens/camera at f/5.6 as you do at f/3.5.
Zoom lenses of kits are lighter and less expensive to manufacture because they don’t have all the glass elements of a Fast zoom lens.
If you want to purchase a Fast zoom lens, you could always consider buying a lens other than the camera manufacturer’s lenses, for example a Tamron or Sigma, or others. As a professional, I would not do this, but for the desires of enthusiasts, it could be considered because it’ll bring your expenses down.
I’m going to end this intentionally-basic explanation on equipment at this point. If you have questions, feel free to ask them below in the comments section.
Tomorrow I’ll get into more photographic territory: Seeing Within the Frame
Namaste, Joanne Bartone