Words and pictures by James Gifford.
The rapid changes in technology make camera equipment obsolete in just a few years, so buying camera gear can seem like a minefield. But, if you buy wisely, you won’t need to replace your equipment on a regular basis.
Plan your spending in advance, according to your budget; also remembering the accessories that you’ll require in addition to your camera body and lens(es) – see below. If you’re serious about your photography, it’s generally better to acquire your gear gradually. Buy a single good lens rather than two or three average ones, which you’ll surely end up wanting to upgrade anyway.
What’s the F?
The f-number associated with a lens refers to its maximum aperture – the lower this number, the shallower the depth of field and the ‘faster’ (and more expensive) the lens, as it will allow a higher shutter speed. If you like the small stuff, you may also want to invest in a dedicated macro lens. Extenders (converters) offer a cheaper way of increasing the range of your lenses, but you will lose a stop of light (it will reduce your maximum aperture) and can result in a deterioration in quality.
Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t the most important item in your gear bag – that accolade goes to your lenses – and, unless you’re buying pro gear, this is the item that’ll become outdated the most quickly. Don’t get carried away with pixel counts – the sensor quality is more important. Think about your preferred genre of photography: for portraits and landscapes, a full-frame sensor will be a priority; for sports, it will be the burst frame rate (how many pictures it takes in a second); and wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate a high frame rate and an impressive ISO performance to allow them to shoot in low light.
These are defined by their focal length, which refers to the magnification: 50 mm is standard, 100 mm is 2x magnified, 200 mm is 4x, etc. Lenses with a focal length of less than 50 mm are known as wide angle lenses, and can be great for panoramic landscapes or for unusual wildlife portraits if your subject is very close. Telephoto lenses have a focal length greater than 50 mm, making them ideal for sports and bird photography. (You will need an image stabiliser for anything greater than 200 mm). Zoom lenses have a range of focal lengths (e.g. 100 – 400 mm,) making them more versatile than prime or fixed lenses although this may mean a compromise in quality – or a greater price tag.