Choosing photography gear can be as easy as saying “I want it” or as difficult as deciding whether its ‘worth it’. When choosing photography gear, its better to differentiate between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’.
Its very easy to pick the ‘best’ gear out there because all the pro’s you follow use it. Its easy to pick the brand new camera or lens because they were just released. Its something else entirely to select the right gear for your needs.
Let’s say you want to buy a camera and lens combo to photography your daughter’s soccer games and for general use around your family. You don’t need to go buy spend $12,000 on a Nikon D5 and a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II when you could get just as much value from a much smaller and cheaper prosumer camera body and lens combination or a point-and-shoot system like a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85.
There’s a big difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ when it comes to all things in life, but in the world of photography that difference can be a difference of many thousands of dollars and you won’t necessarily see the value in that extra money spent.
Choosing Photography Gear — Want vs Need
Moose Peterson describes this by using three categories: Want, Need and Status. This is a very good way to help anyone make a decision when it comes to photography gear. Do you ‘want’ it, ‘need’ it or it is just status symbol for you?
If you’re someone that may not be reliant on photography to pay your bills, the ‘want, need, status’ thinking process might not matter to you. If you want it and you have the money to spend on it, go for it.
That said, if you’re choosing photography gear for the business of photography, you need to really think long and hard about what gear to choose and how much money to spend on it. This decision is even more important if you’re not a full-time professional photographer because you won’t have the regular income coming in to offset the costs of new gear.
So…how should you approach the selection process? For me – as a semi-professional who makes a little money as a side-gig – I’ve taken the approach that my mom and dad taught me as a kid. I buy the best tools I can afford and then use them as long as I can. My decision process still falls into the ‘need vs want’ categorization though.
Do I want a Canon 800mm lens? Heck yes I do. Do i need that lens? Nope. There’s absolutely no way I can justify spending $13,000 on a lens. Now…if I started trying to get some commercial work that required that lens, then I’d be looking into buying one but I really don’t have much interest in going down that path right now, so that lens is a ‘nice to have’ lens that I might rent occasionally.
Same goes for the Canon 200-400 with 1.4x extender or the newly announced Nikon 180-400. Both are lenses that I’d love to have (a ‘want’) and I could make an argument that – at the right price – either of these lenses would work well for me (if I was in the Canon or Nikon ecosystem) but my current Sony 100-400 GM lens works perfectly for my needs at this point. At this point, if I were to buy either of these lenses (and a Canon / Nikon body), I’d be filling a ‘want’ and a ‘status’ category rather than a ‘need’ category.
My current gear
At the time of the writing of this post, my current gear is the following:
- Sony a7r iii
- Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G
- Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
- Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
- Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM
I explain a little more about my current gear set up here, but let me walk you through the thought process behind choosing photography gear..
I mainly shoot landscapes and nature, so the Sony a7r iii is a no-brainer for me. I had a Canon 5DSr when it came out but wanted to downsize my camera and the mirrorless world was really calling my name, so I made the switch.
Since I’m mostly out shooting sweeping landscapes, my gear covers the wide-angle spectrum from 12mm to 70mm with some of the best glass available today. I am missing the 70mm to 100mm range but for my shooting style, that isn’t really an issue. I actually bought the Sony 70-200 f4 but exchanged it for the 100-400mm because the latter lens is much more versatile for my type of shooting.
Switching from Canon to Sony was a bit of a cash outlay for me, but after selling my Canon gear, I ended up spending an extra $2500 in total to make the switch. Some may not think the switch was worth it, but for me, I couldn’t be happier with the Sony ecosystem (other than the aforementioned missing long-glass).
Choosing Photography Gear – Finishing up
Before I end this post, let me point out the image up above. That is a shot from 2010 shot with a Canon 5D and Canon 17-40 L. At the time I shot that photo, the 5D was 5+ years old and the 17-40 wasn’t (and still isn’t) considered the ‘best’ lens for landscape. Regardless, I used them both for a very long time and make some great images.
At the end of the day, the gear you have isn’t nearly as important as ‘f/8 and be there’ is. When choosing photography gear, you can spend many thousands of dollars on gear and never see the value in that gear OR you can go on ebay right now and spend $1500 to get a great older camera and a couple of lenses and get out there and shoot.