A Photo Kit for All Seasons

camera gear

My essential photography kit: Leitz Tiltall tripod, top; two Canon camera bodies (top one with Canon 50mm f2.5 macro lens attached); Canon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom, upper left; Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom, lower left; Canon 580EX strobe, with off-camera cord; and Dome F2 'Original' camera bag. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

Are you in the process of assembling your first ‘serious’ set of photo equipment, and wondering what it should contain? Are you wanting to minimize mistakes while putting together this investment? Or maybe you’re a veteran shooter with your own version of the ‘all weather’ kit. What follows are my suggestions for an all-season, all-purpose photo kit, one that I would never want to be without: in essence, this is my list of ‘essentials’ for the serious photographer. I’ll explain why I picked the items I did for this kit and why I think they’re the right items.

First: Two Camera Bodies

It doesn’t really matter about the brand(although for me, it would have to be Canon or Nikon), but if you’re serious about photography, you need to own at least two camera bodies. The reason is simple, and obvious: you don’t want to be out of business if one of them breaks! Having two bodies also allows you to work quickly when the shooting situation requires a wide range of focal lengths, thus not missing shots when you would otherwise be changing lenses. But two bodies are essential for the serious photographer.

Next: Wide angle lens or wide angle zoom

Canon wide angles lenses.

Canon wide angles lenses.

It’s critical that you invest in quality, professional glass when assembling this kit. The better f2.8 zooms are really expensive (easily $1000-$1400 each), so if you’re looking for a place to do some economizing, I would consider a fixed f2.8 wide angle lens for this kit. You’ll have to use your sneakers a bit more, backing up, moving forward, but you’ll save a ton of money by buying a prime lens and you’ll find that the fixed focal length will be sharper than almost all of the comparable zooms. If you have a standard DSLR, I would get something in the 18-20mm range since the 1.4x factor will shrink this angle considerably. If you can afford a quality zoom, look for something in the 16/17mm to 35/50mm range for the two ends of the zooming spectrum with an aperture of f2.8.

Third: A macro lens

I love macro photography. I tend to ‘see’ lots of the world through this type of vision, so for me, a 50mm macro lens is a must. And with the 1.4x factor added in that my DSLR’s provide, it even makes a pretty decent portrait lens as well.

Fourth: Telephoto zoom

Nikon telephoto lenses.

Nikon telephoto lenses.

This is where I would splurge on quality glass and get a great 70-200 or 80-200mm f2.8  zoom  lens. Expect to pay $1200-$1500 for this essential item (or even more, if you want to go with some of the latest image-stabilizing models). If I needed to cut corners, then I would buy a 200mm fixed lens. It’s a big jump from the above-mentioned macro lens and this would create some challenges, but the 180-200mm telephoto view of the world is truly what telephoto shooting is about: tight, crisp subjects, out-of-focus backgrounds.

Fifth: Portable strobe with off-camera cord


A portable strobe with off-camera cord is a 'must-have' for my all-season kit. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

A portable strobe with off-camera cord is a 'must-have' for my all-season kit. (Copyright 2010 / Andrew Boyd)

I’ve got a couple of posts that discuss these two items elsewhere on the site, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But this is the first and most essential lighting item that you must have. I’d stick with one made by your camera manufacturer to make sure all of the electronic connections really work properly, and definitely buy it with an off-camera cord. Read my post here as to why this is so important.

Sixth: Tripod

Low-light photography, very slow shutter speed shooting: you must have a good, sturdy tripod. Don’t waste your money on a cheap piece of junk: you can get a decent tripod for around $125US, so please do that. The cheap one will break the first time you really ask it to do some real work and you’ll be kicking yourself for ‘saving’ a few bucks. I use a Leitz Tiltall tripod which has done a good job for years. Other brands to consider are Manfrotto and Gitzo.

Seventh and Last: A good, sturdy camera bag

Something that protects your equipment but still leaves it quickly accessible is the key here. Halliburton and Pelican cases are great but that’s not what you want here. I like Domke bags, which I’ve used for a very, very long time, because they are well-made, protect my gear but leave it ready-to-use. Two others brands you might want to consider are the new Kata PR bags and Think Tank bags. Kata is making some really nice looking bags, although I haven’t tried them out myself. Think Tank has a whole belt-and-holster system that some photographers, particularly those with back problems, seem to really love. If this sounds like you, check them out as well.

That sums it up: the kit I couldn’t live without! Of course, you will think of some things that are essential to your photography which aren’t listed here, and that’s fine. We all have our own ways of working. I’d be curious about anyone’s thoughts as to differences in what they just can’t shoot without: what about you? What’s not here that you could never photograph without?

Links to My Equipment
Full Disclosure: Links listed go to sponsors’ websites. Any purchases made from ‘click-throughs’ from this site earn the Discerning Photographer a small commission; you’ll of course want to do your own comparison shopping.
Tiltall Tripod – Black (Max 70″)Canon 5D Camera Bodies, with and without lensesCanon 16-35mm Zoom Options
Canon 50mm f2.5 Macro LensCanon 70-200mm f2.8 Zoom LensCanon 580EX StrobeDomke Camera Bags
Kata Camera Bags

Related articles on the web:

Things to Consider When Choosing Your Camera at Epic Edits

If I Had $1000 to Spend on My First Digital Camera at Photography Bay

Scott’s Gear at Scott Kelby Photoshop Insider

Posted in: Equipment

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

12 Comments on "A Photo Kit for All Seasons"

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  1. uberVU - social comments | March 16, 2010
  1. Ana says:

    You say that we should have 2 bodies, just in case one brakes …. do you think they should be of the same brand? 2 nikons or 1 Nikon and one Cannon … I think they should be the same brand, but I am not sure, so I would like your opinion … thanks

  2. One brand. You want to be able to build a group of lenses that will be interchangeable, so stick with one manufacturer.

  3. Tammara says:

    I live in the desert and am mostly interested in taking close ups of plants and when I’m lucky enough small animals- . Is there anything else you would recommend I have in my starter kit? Thank you – Tammara Acerra

  4. The macro lens is the most important item, Tammara. That, and a tripod. You’ll want to have to option to sometimes stop your lens way down and hand holding may not be an option.

  5. Pat says:

    I own a Canon 60D w/ kit lens (EFS 18-135mm) and would like to purchase one or two addition lenses. I mostly use my camera to take pictures of my children playing high school sports (basketball and tennis), but also enjoy taking vacation photos or shots of fall foliage, etc. I don’t want to buy extremely cheap lenses because I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy photography once I get into it more. What would you recommend? Telephoto, macro, zoom? What lens would be good for indoor basketball shots? My indoor pics, before buying the 60D, were typically dark and fuzzy. Basketball season is almost here and I want to be prepared. Also, should have buy a strobe?

  6. Lot of questions here, Pat! Let’s see if we can answer them…The 60D is a great camera, so you’ve got a solid base to build upon there. For the sports you want to shoot, you really must have a telephoto. The piece of Canon glass that you might want to consider is the 70-200mm f4 lens: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/183198-USA/Canon_2578A002_EF_70_200mm_f_4L_USM.html. It
    ‘s much, much cheaper than the f2.8 verison, but it’s still ‘pro’ glass in terms of the quality you can expect. If that’s too much, you can see what Tamron has to offer–it won’t be as sturdy or as well made as the Canon, but it might do the job. I would take my own camera and CF card to the store and make them let you put the lenses on your camera and shoot some images with both. Take the card home, load them up in your computer and take a comparison look to see if you can live with the non-Canon solution.
    You can try the basketball without a flash. If you decide to get one, this Canon unit is excellent: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/571297-USA/Canon_2805B002_430EX_II_Speedlite_TTL.html

    Good luck!
    For the strobe,

  7. Ro says:

    My daughter’s photography teacher said he trade his camera in for a new model every so often. How do you do that? I have a Sony Alpha 200 but it is outdated so I want a Nikon.

  8. I don’t know if by ‘trade in’ he means he puts it on consignment in his local camera store as he ‘trades up’ to his new camera; your best bet will be ebay for selling your old model. But cameras now are really computers with lenses on the front end, and like all computers, the old ones usually have little residual value.

  9. I’m so new into photography and I’ll always remember the components of the photo kit. Your post is a good guide.

  10. Richard says:

    It might be obvious to most people but I would add one more thing to this kit – lots of memory cards. They can go bad, plus if you’re shooting a lot before you can download to your computer, nothing’s worse than running out of storage before you run out of stuff to shoot.

    They’re so cheap these days that it’s worth picking up a few more than you think you might need.

  11. Great point, Richard. Thanks!

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