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Not long ago, there were two types of camera accessories to buy: brand items designed by known manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon, OR third-party items of questionable quality that you’d likely buy only if you were on a tight budget. Today, this situation has changed, with third-party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron stepping up their game and producing alternatives that even serious professionals have begun using.
Still, the question remains: does the brand name truly matter when it comes to camera accessories?
Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of each side. Keep in mind that this is a highly debatable topic, and this is just a short list of general pros and cons for using brand name and third-party items. If you have any other points to add, please mention them in the comments below.
Brand name items are almost always going to be more expensive than third-party ones, but as most photographers say, “you get what you pay for.” Some reasons for the premium pricing on brand name items include:
This can be extremely important if you belong to any professional organizations such as Canon or Nikon Pro Services, as cleaning and repair of brand name gear is generally included in your membership. While most third-party manufacturers have begun adding their own repair services, they’re not known to be as fast and consistent as name brands, and guaranteed compatibility with your brand name camera of choice.
Third-party vendors thrive on the ability to produce accessories and items that are compatible with many major brand name cameras. If you buy say a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens, there will be both a Nikon and Canon mount option. This means you have to be ultra diligent to make sure a third-party item will work with your camera model. However, if you buy a 35mm f/1.4 lens from Nikon (for example), you know for sure that lens will work your Nikon camera.
When you shoot with a brand name accessory, you’re more likely to get nods of respect from other photographers who recognize the value of that authentic, name brand lens (the coveted red ringed lenses from Canon and gold ring on Nikon lenses). This is becoming more of a debatable point lately with the rise of high-quality third-party gear options, but there’s still something to be said about acknowledging the real deal over a third-party brand.
As mentioned earlier, the scene for third-party brands has shifted to the point where Sigma and Tamron are no longer necessarily viewed as compromises, just for the budget-minded photographer. Instead, these brands are focusing not only on improving old designs perfected by established name-brands, but they’re innovating alternatives that even Canon and Nikon haven’t come up with. Consider the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8, which is already in its third incarnation, or the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens, the first zoom lens for DSLRs that holds a consistent f/1.8 aperture throughout its entire zoom range. These are lenses with features that even Canon and Nikon have yet to offer. Quality and consistency of these Sigma lenses might be questionable depending on your photography standards, but the fact that a third-party brand is innovating and selling unique lenses speaks to how third-party brands are shifting in the overall industry. (Read this to see why one dPS writer uses the Sigma 150-600mm for wildlife photography.)
Every photographer knows that camera gear isn’t cheap, and while brand name items may be ideal, sometimes they just aren’t realistic price points for what is affordable. This is where third-party items can help beginners, or photographers on a budget, can get their hands on some quality equipment. If the gear is kept in good shape, resale value should still be pretty decent, if and when they decide to upgrade to a brand name alternative down the road.
When it comes to third-party accessories, there’s one in particular that you may want to make sure is brand name authentic: your camera batteries. Personally, I’ve had mixed experiences using third-party batteries on both my DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Most of the time they work, but every once and a while, there’s a battery that just won’t hold a charge, or fails for some mysterious reason. That battery is always from a third-party brand. A simple way to work around this would be to stock your camera battery arsenal with some brand name batteries, and some third-party ones to make sure you’re covered. There’s nothing worse than having a battery fail when you need it the most.
What has been your experience using brand names and third-party brands? Are you partial to one over the other? Do you go for brand name camera bodies and lenses, and opt for third-party accessories like filters, tripods, and batteries?
What has your experience been, let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week that are Open for Discussion. We want to get the conversation going, hear your voice and opinions, and talk about some possibly controversial topics in photography.
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