Digital SLR photography — How much camera gear do you really need?
The good news is you don’t need a lot of camera gear to take great photos. In fact, less can be better.
I only had a couple of seconds to frame, focus and capture this photo of a young Grey Butcherbird. Familiarity with my camera gear, rather than what gear I was using, enabled me to get the shot.
One of the most common things people new to SLR photography wonder about is how many lenses they need. The camera companies with their huge ranges of lenses would obviously like you to buy all of them. But the truth is, there are big advantages in keeping things simple. And of course it will save you a heap of money too.
Every new piece of camera gear is something you’re going to have to become familiar with. A lot of new photographers forget that. They keep buying more camera gear and never get comfortable with what they already have.
When you think about it, that’s like spending your whole photographic life with ‘learner plates’ hanging around your neck.
Macro photography, like this shot of an Assassin Bug, can often involve the use of specialist equipment.
Why is that such a big deal?
You often don’t get much time to compose a shot. The sun disappears behind clouds, wildlife flees into the bush, people’s expressions change. The photographers who use the same gear again and again are always the ones more likely to capture those brief special moments. Knowing their lenses and how they frame a scene mean they’ll work more intuitively when they think about their composition. And while they’re thinking about composition, the ones who are unfamiliar with their brand-new camera gear will be thinking too much about menus and buttons.
That pretty much sums it up: time spent figuring out your equipment is time that could have been better spent figuring out how to get the best photo.
You don’t need every focal length
As someone who loves photographing wildlife, 90% of my photos are taken with my 100-400mm lens at the 400mm end. In other words, I could take 90% of my photos with just one 400mm lens.
The rest of my work is mostly done with my macro lens and my wide-angle lens.
That’s why I don’t have heaps of different lenses.
So that’s what works for me with my nature photography. Your needs and therefore your choice of equipment could well be different. But one thing is likely to be the same, and that is that there will be some focal lengths that you will probably never use. Which means there’s no need to buy them.
Buying a new digital SLR is great fun. I won’t pretend otherwise. But once you take the camera out of its box, you turn the box upside-down and a 100-page manual falls out. You’re going to have to read at least some of that thing.
In my opinion, digital SLR cameras these days are too complicated, with menus and sub-menus and ridiculously complicated combinations of options in focusing and so on. I remember what it was like when I bought my current camera. Despite having a pretty good understanding of cameras, it still took me a while to get used to a new set of menus and stuff specific to that model, and I missed some nice shots in those early days while I was learning it. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that when a flying saucer from the planet Zork hovers in front of you in beautiful light for only a few seconds, you don’t want to be flipping through a 100-page manual.
A modern digital SLR camera or a good lens can each cost about as much as a fancy holiday. Ask yourself who’s taking the best photos? The one who’s totally familiar with his camera while exploring beautiful exotic destinations, or the one who blew his travel budget on another new camera instead and is sitting at home trying to make sense of another manual?
Oh yeah, and speaking of travel, the person with less camera gear is going to find it much easier to pack.
I think it’s pretty clear then what my opinion is about buying tons of new gear. While buying new stuff is fun, it’s not what makes a great photographer.
So how do you choose your equipment?
Now you know some advantages in not having too much camera gear I’ve also written an article where I reveal the the basics in choosing your lens or lenses.