Recommended Gear (2013)

A recommended gear list seems like it would go nicely with last week’s post.

I’m a Canon shooter mostly, but the only Canon brand things I own are my camera, a few lenses and a battery or two. All other accessories (chargers, batteries, cords, stands, lights, bags, etc.) are from non-Canon brands. Like most middle-class people, I don’t really have a ton of money to spend on gear even though it would be nice.

I find that brands exist so that you can quickly see what’s compatible with your gear but also for being a showoff. There have been a number of times where I’ve gone to an event shooting for the paper or some other thing and there have been people who feel the need to say, “Well I shoot Canon. This is a 24-70 2.8L.” and I always think, “So? That doesn’t make you any better of a photographer than me.” Bear in mind that I’m also holding a Canon camera so I have no clue what the basis is for people trying to showoff my own camera’s brand to me.

Next time you go to a party or some place where photography is a big deal, just look around and see how many people ask others, “What camera are you shooting with?” and then react with an “ooh” or “well I’m shooting…” it’s kind of a fun game to play with friends. I like to maintain as much of an unbiased opinion of my gear as possible so that if someone asks, I can give them an honest opinion and not be one of those guys that treats others like idiots.

Almost all of my gear is bought on the basis of- does it work well for its intended purpose? This is usually answered by hundreds of reviewers on Amazon.com where there’s pretty much no excuse for buying a bad product. All search results and categories can be filtered by price and rating, no higher than 100 bucks, no lower than 5 stars. I’ve bought almost all my photo equipment off of Amazon this past year, the only exception being a savage backdrop stand and a ton of film from B&H.

A lot of times inexperienced photographers fall victim to overpriced gear. My own grandfather spent hundreds of dollars on a Canon rebel T3 and a bunch of accessories, mainly because he does things like this often, but he could’ve saved a ton. Let me explain.

I bought my first DLSR on Craigslist for $275, the Canon Digital Rebel,  it came with the body, an 18-55mm lens, a battery, and a charger. At the time, I had my heart set on purchasing a Canon T2i which had just come out but it was also $800. So I bought the Rebel from the crazy Craigslist guy and it still works today even after upgrading to the 60D. I bought off-brand rechargeable batteries for under $10 as opposed to the canon models. When I say this a lot of people cringe because they don’t trust anything that doesn’t have the stamp of a popular brand on it. I did the same thing, until I realized hundreds of reviewers couldn’t be wrong and no one can argue against spending less money on something if it’s possible.

THE REASON that I love Canon, and this is also why they’ve been on top for decades, is they’ve always built something worth buying that is built for rugged and extended use. I put my Digital Rebel, the first DSLR from Canon’s DSLR lineup that came out in August of 2003, through almost 40,000 photographs and it still works. That is ridiculous. No way did I ever expect a camera like that to put up with all my abuse, in the snow and in the rain (once in pouring rain for the paper and I dried it out in the oven afterwards) and it still keeps going. So between buying used Canon gear and 5 star off-brand gear I have saved hundreds and I’ve been able to use tons of equipment I wouldn’t have been able to afford if I had bought it new and/or from Canon. I’m sorry, I can’t really justify spending 600 bucks on one Canon Speedlite, when at the end of the day, it’s a speedlite, not a studio strobe. I can buy a similar product on Amazon, non-Canon, and get eight or nine flashes for the price of one.

People like to buy over-priced things new because if it’s a camera it usually comes with a warranty for a few years. That way they can feel safe about what they just bought. If it’s from Canon, why do they even need to offer a warranty, it’s Canon, it’s not going to break easily, ever. That’s the name they’ve made for themselves. It’s cheaper to buy a camera used for half-price, spend the extra money on extra off-brand batteries, grips and bags, and if it does break, it’ll probably be less than 100 bucks to fix. The name Canon and warranty is complete overkill. However I feel I must mention I did buy my 60D new because Best-Buy had it on-sale and I tried to meet up with three or four different people on Craigslist and they all changed their minds or had already sold to someone else. Beware, Craigslist has some mega-steals sometimes but it’s very non-committal and it can be very annoying.

These links are to many of the things I’ve bought within the past year or so, the prices fluctuate, the software changes but the list stays pretty much the same. The links to the gear above should all lead you to their respective Amazon/B&H product pages but if there is a newer software/hardware or something is cheaper then go for that. These links are merely here to give you a good starting point.

The Canon 60D – posting just to fill out the gear list, but cameras are very much a personal preference.

The 50mm 1.8– possibly the cheapest/best lens you can get starting out.

Sandisk SDHC 32GB memory cards – I have two and they work great!

USB 3.0 memory card reader
 
Camera batteries – again these are just the one’s that I bought at the time, start from this page and work your way around to see if there are cheaper/better ones. If not, these have worked flawlessly for me and are much cheaper than their Canon counterparts.

Battery Grip – This is camera specific but the benefits are the same. This makes shooting verticals so much easier and holds two batteries instead of one. This model I bought has worked flawlessly as well.

Dual battery charger – A charger to accompany the dual battery grip.

Remote timer – a cable release for your camera

A Lowepro Fastpack 350 – This is my favorite backpack that sees the most use and abuse. It holds all my camera gear and almost anything else I can think of. I’ve packed it hundreds of times including back and forth to college and each time it seems to fit more stuff than before.

Get a colorimeter to calibrate your monitor – If you can’t accurately see what you’re editing then there’s no point.

A Wacom tablet– I wish I started using one of these right out of the gate when I started using photoshop. It makes things so much easier. Get the small unless you’re doing hardcore painting in Photoshop or some insane amount of graphic design.

Lightroom and a USB cable – Shooting tethered is one of my favorite things about having a laptop and LR4 and it gets you a lot of klout on-location with a client.

USB Extension cable

Photoshop

A Western Digital USB 3.0 1.5TB hard drive – I take this hard drive everywhere, on every shoot. Get a few bigger ones to back up the others with Time Machine. All set. A case is a good idea too.

a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod – This is also a preference item, as is the camera body and lenses, all of which are very user-specific. This is the tripod I use and I love it. Get a bag for it.

Flashes – These flashes are molded after Canon’s line of speedlites and they work fine. A big turn off for a lot of people is that they don’t have TTL metering, but it’s fine if you’re like me and just want to do manual controls in a studio.

Stand/umbrella/with holder – 3 standard items used with flashes. I used to be so confused when it came to these because I used to think, “doesn’t the flash come with that?” no. you need a stand, something to hold the flash onto it, something to trigger it, and a modifier if you want it. Then the flash. That is unless you’re just shooting the flash on the hot shoe in which case you’re fine with just the flash. I defer all further inquiries to Strobist.

Radio Triggers – Not close to Pocket Wizards but they work fine. Just treat them nicely. 

Rechargeable AAs – Saves on money in the long run. Also works with the battery grip I listed in an alternate AA cartridge in a pinch.

8-bay AA recharger – This works great for charger tons of batteries at once. Keep an eye out for it or find something similar.

I’ve covered all major items I can think of. I went ahead and put the list in order of importance. I must emphasize that even though the Wacom tablet and colorimeter aren’t first they are super-important to me when it comes to any editing. That’s it for this post. I’ll be sure to update with a new post if I make any huge changes with my gear.

-Alex

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