Shopping for that new camera, lens, tripod, or photo accessory? The gear-hunting phase is an exciting time for any photographer – but it can also be intimidating, especially if you’re planning to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your next purchase. You want to make the right decision, but given the array of options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Fortunately, I’ve bought a fair few items of camera equipment myself, and I’ve identified plenty of gear-purchasing pitfalls along the way. In this article, I discuss the five most critical mistakes to avoid when shopping for new equipment; that way, you can stop yourself from making frustrating decisions that ultimately cost you time, effort, and money.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Taking advice from the wrong person
It’s normal – even wise – to ask for other people’s advice before finalizing a major buying decision. However, it’s important to get advice from the right sources. Don’t simply listen to folks who sound like they know what they’re talking about; instead, make sure they actually know their electronic viewfinders from their electronic front-curtain shutters.
So once you’ve found a potential advisor, ask yourself: Is this person really an expert? Are they someone who genuinely knows their way around a camera? Do they actually understand all of the features associated with the item I’m shopping for – and do they understand the features well enough to have an informed opinion?
If you can’t give a confident “Yes!” answer to each of these questions, you may want to reach out to someone else. Because while there are plenty of photographers out there who know a thing or two about camera equipment, it’s essential that you speak with someone who can understand your unique needs – and the many ways that your needs differ from theirs.
On a related note, avoid buying anything just because a photographer you know has it or because all the online reviews say it’s the best gear on the market. Ask questions to trusted experts, and even then, don’t take their thoughts as gospel; instead, use the advice as a great tool to help you make a decision. Remember: Even the best advice isn’t a substitute for research and careful comparison shopping.
2. Assuming that cost equals quality
Yes, good-quality gear should be considered an investment, and if you’re a professional photographer (or you’re planning to become one), you often will need to spend several thousand dollars to create a basic setup. However, it’s important that you don’t simply assume that a higher price tag automatically means you get a better item.
Even if money isn’t an issue for you, some high-quality gear actually costs less than its lower-quality counterparts, especially if you buy third-party. Additionally, paying more doesn’t guarantee that your purchase will actually meet your needs. A camera might cost more due to its dozens of impressive features, but if those features are worthless to you, is it really worth buying?
And a pricey camera doesn’t guarantee you the spectacular photos you’ve been dreaming about, either – because the best photography equipment is only as good as the person actually taking the photos.
Here’s my advice: Focus less on the price tag and more on whether or not a given item is right for you. Ask yourself: Does this equipment fit my current skill level? Am I familiar with all of the functions and tools? Is it a good fit for the type of photography I do?
At the end of the day, dozens of bells and whistles and lots of different settings won’t do you any good if you don’t use them or don’t understand them!
3. Failing to budget properly
In life, proper planning is often the key to success, and shopping for photography gear is no different. A big part of the planning phase involves budgeting, and there are a number of common mistakes you can make in that arena.
For one, a lot of shoppers fail to factor in the full cost of accessories. A good landscape photography setup, for instance, requires a high-quality camera – but it also requires several lenses, batteries, a tripod, memory cards, and more. It’s easy to fixate on the camera and/or the lenses, then run out of money before you can purchase the (still essential) tripod, memory cards, etc.
Therefore, before you buy any new gear, I’d recommend writing out a list of everything you might need, and identifying exactly how much your entire setup will cost.
Additionally, many photographers drastically overestimate what they’re likely to get in exchange for their money. An outrageously expensive camera won’t magically allow you to start pulling off pro-level images; only a good photographic education will help you do that. So don’t just budget for gear. Make sure you budget for education materials, too!
4. Becoming distracted by bargains and specials
You’re finally ready to walk into the photography shop and make your purchases. You’ve done your homework. You’ve figured out which camera is right for your requirements. You’ve even picked out accessories and other tools to go with it. You know exactly what you want.
Then you head into the store, and you’re confronted with a dozen signs advertising special deals on gear galore! It’s easy to lose focus, but I implore you: Remember what you came for!
Never buy any piece of photography gear just because it’s displayed under a flashy sign or because a salesperson insists that it’s what you absolutely must have. If something sounds way too good to be true, it probably is. Keep your eye on the prize, and make sure you walk out of that shop with the gear that you actually need.
5. Getting ahead of yourself
Most of us have big photographic dreams that we hope will come true someday. Maybe you want to become a professional travel photographer, and you picture yourself flying from location to location with a bag of camera gear in tow. Maybe you hope to become the next professional basketball photographer for Sports Illustrated, and you imagine yourself with a rugged camera, a half-dozen super-telephoto lenses, and a sturdy monopod.
While those dreams are great – and are an excellent way to keep you motivated – it’s important to ask yourself whether they’re likely to come true in the near future before you sink a ton of money into that pro-level gear.
If you’re brand new to photography, for instance, you probably shouldn’t spend $4000+ on a camera, even if it’s the most popular model used by professional travel shooters. And if you’ve only ever used your iPhone to take photos, you probably shouldn’t fork over $8000 for that incredible super-telephoto lens.
Basically, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. It’s good to dream, but shop according to your current needs and skill level, not what you’re hoping they’ll be someday in the future. It may not seem like it, but catering to your current skills will make you more likely to be happy with your purchases now and in the future.
Gear-buying mistakes: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re familiar with the common pitfalls and mistakes encountered by gear-shopping photographers.
So remember the advice that I’ve shared. Make sure to think about your budget, identify your current needs, and whatever you do, don’t get distracted by sales and bargains!
That way, you can get the gear that will best suit your photographic talents.
Now over to you:
What gear do you plan to buy? Do you have any additional tips to keep in mind? Share your thoughts in the comments below!