You Don’t Need That Or That Or That

One thing I have learned over the years, as many other photographers has, is what equipment is important and what would be fun to own.

I’ve put myself in danger financially and have gotten myself out of the slum.

All because I wanted a lens or a camera or a flash and so on.

Today I am here to tell you that you do not need that expensive $3,000 lens or the $600 flash.

Today I am here to tell you that you need a few essential things.

1. Camera

The first item on the need list is a camera.  I don’t care what camera it is, but as long as you can change lenses you are good.

2. Lenses

The second item(s) on the need list is a lens or a couple of them.  As I said before you don’t need the $3,000 lens that Zeiss sells.  Heck you do not even need the $2,000 lens from Nikon or Canon.  You can do perfectly fine with simple f/1.8 prime lenses which cost under $500 each, some even under $300 each.   Pick up a 35mm, 50mm and 85mm or 135mm and you could be set for practically any photography unless it’s a niche field requiring macro or longer lenses.

3. Your Brain

Without your best tool you won’t get by anyway.  So think about what services you are offering, what you are photographing, and purchase only the equipment that you need.

You Don’t Need That

If the time comes where you need a different camera body or lens and you do not own it… rent it.

There are so many great equipment rental companies, but one of the most popular is Borrow Lenses which is owned by Shutterfly.  If you’re photographing sports and need the extra speed of a Nikon D4 then rent the camera body.  Need the 400mm lens?  Rent it.

Depending on the type of photography you do, a tripod might be needed. I personally do a lot of tripod shooting so I invested in a Really Right Stuff tripod.  However, there are many less expensive brands out there that can also do the job perfectly fine for you.  So again, use your head and think about what you need and invest wisely.

Many photographers call this Gear Acquisition Syndrome or G.A.S.  Here are two articles on the subject.  Don’t forget this video from Zack Arias as well.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome

So next time you see an ad on Facebook or anywhere that looks like this – don’t be afraid to rent instead of buy.  That lens is over $2,000 and while it is amazing it’s not a lens that every photographer needs.

If you have questions about what equipment to buy please don’t go to the store and ask a salesman.  Ask someone who has been there, done that, and wants to help you rather than sell.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting,


This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Well said Scott! New gear always looks so tempting! I try to buy only when I have a paying job, and I’ve done well with used equipment… little by little I’m working my way through my list of must-haves… (if only I could stop adding to it!!)

  2. I agree for the most part, but for me, a camera body with a wider ISO range became essential because I shoot mostly in client’s homes (and now my studio), plus with my own girls I tend to shoot in very low light. But, do you need a $5k body? No! :) I think it’s important to grow into your gear and then when you have beyond outgrown them, go for the upgrade, so not out of the gate of course! :)Great article, sir!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Caitlin.

  3. Scott, I’m glad you wrote this. You’ve seen me live by this very code whether out of necessity, or out of downright stubbornness since we’ve become friends. I’ve bought a few things here and there that I wanted, rather than needed, but for the most part, I’ve tried to keep my kit basic.

    There’s a side benefit to this, that I think you could blog about…or maybe I will:
    The more basic the kit, the more you will learn about setting up your shots.

    1. Without a doubt the more limited you are with the equipment the more you have the think about setting up shots. For example, if you have to photograph a close-up without a macro lens.

      1. I have been using a borrowed lensbaby for macro shots. I like the results.

        1. I have a lensbaby, but can’t justify using it for any professional use. It’s a fun toy to have, but that’s about it – in my opinion. For macro’s I’d much prefer a real macro lens.

          1. I agree. Fortunately for me , I don’t own this one. It’s borrowed.

  4. I agree
    Except for the tripod
    For most forms of photography I think it is necessary
    It helps your # 1 2 and 3 work better
    Yes it also helps your brain because it slows you down and makes you think
    There are a few subjects where it might not be needed but I would add a tripod as #4 necessary for most people

    1. I use a tripod for a lot of my photography, but for most photography you can get by without it. So I would not consider a tripod as an essential tool unless of course you are photographing something that requires a tripod.

  5. Scott — I agree with your three points but would emphatically add a fourth: “appropriate light.” I, too, struggle with G.A.S., most recently having been ured to the smaller, lighter, quieter world of the OM-D and EM-1. They are remarkable cameras that are capable of exquisite image IQ, particularly if the photographer has “found the light” in a given scene.

    Having shot extensively with FF and mirrorless, I would opine that it’s possible to get reasonably comparable results but for me, FF often requires less effort. As much as I love the size, weight and silence of my EM-1s, I feel much more confident when wielding a Nikon D600. The sensor will be more forgiving once I’m in Lightroom and the D600’s autofocus makes it much easier to nail more “keepers,” especially fast-moving subjects.

    In the environment in which I regularly shoot, a certain degree of stealth and quiet are hugely beneficial but the light is not always cooperative. My noisy D600, equipped with its heavy 28-300mm, pretty much covers my particular waterfront (from portraits to candids to action) — but size and shutter sound are somewhat intrusive. It’s much more pleasurable to use the EM-1 but, frankly, at the end of the shooting day, I’d much rather have image files from the former than the latter. When the light is good, no problem. When it’s not, those Nikon FF files make better pictures.

    Certainly it’s nice to have a variety of tools available but juggling two different systems presents challenges. Too bad there itsn’t a single, perfect camera!

    In any case, finding the light is at least as important as “Your Camera” and “Your Lens” and doing so requires “Your Brain.” I only wish I was better at it and perhaps I wouldn’t suffer so much from G.A.S.

    1. You just stated exactly why the camera you choose is important. Not every camera is best for everyone.

  6. I have thousands of dollars of lighting equipment sitting in my basement that I’ve used ten times since I bought it two years ago. It was of those things I thought I needed but in reality, it was just a want. I regret it.

    On the other hand, the 35mm and 85mm lenses I bought along with my “pre-owned” D5100, I use those several times a week. But G.A.S is getting the better of me again. I’m thinking of dumping my Nikon and switching to one of the compact system cameras, such as the Sony a7, Fuji X-T1 or the OM-D E-M1. Help me!!!

    1. For the lights, you could always sell them. For the camera, think hard about what you need. If you don’t need the bigger D5100 or the APS-C sensor, then go smaller. If you need full frame, but smaller camera, then go that route.

      1. Thanks for your advice.

        My hesitation is more about what I may not be able to do with a smaller format compact systems camera. My kids are in Tae Kwon do. Will I be able to capture fast action with the AF in CSC? Is the wide angle lens on micro 4/3 wide enough for landscape photography? For the full frame CSC will there be enough lenses for the format? Etc.

  7. What I do when I think I “need” gear I ask myself what my needs are that my current gear fails to fulfill. Is there a legitimate need? Is it long or short term (i.e. will a rental do or should I look at purchasing)? If I think I need to purchase, how long until I can recoup my costs (assuming I’m getting work with the gear)?

    I think a big trap photographers get into is thinking they need a piece of gear because Joe Pro uses it and if only they had that magical piece of gear their shots would be awesome. Better to master what you have and consistently produce good results with it. Limitations and be very conducive to to creativity and skill development. I’ve got an expensive DSLR rig but you know what my favorite shot was taken with last year? It wasn’t my 5D Mark III. I was an old Canon AE-1 with a simple 50mm f/1/8 lens and some B&W film. I paid all of $15 for the camera and lens. :)

  8. Excellent article and advice. Not having the budget to buy [most of the time] lots of gear or new equipment I’ve gone the route of buying used from a dependable mom and pop camera store. Been going to them for over 30 years and they always come through for me.They are competitive with pricing and offer a generous trade-in policy. They are also a Nikon and Canon distributor. Camera shops like this are hard to find these days. If you have one in your area, support it!

    1. It’s great to support the small shops whenever possible. They’re the backbone of the industry.

  9. My father told me if I saw something I wanted real bad. Go back a week later and see if you really want it. Most time you will see you really don’t want it.

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