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
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
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
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.
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