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 10 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. Forgetting to check for compatibility
You might think all camera equipment plays nice together. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. Ever tried attaching a Nikon lens to a Canon body? It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Don’t even get me started on third-party gear. While third-party companies often offer lens models for multiple camera brands, you have to purchase the right variant; otherwise, the lens you receive will be useless.
APS-C lenses are another good example. They might be from the same brand as your full-frame camera, but pair them together and you’re asking for trouble. These lenses are designed for smaller sensors, so if you stick them on a full-frame camera, you’ll either get dark corners or the lens won’t work at all.
Memory cards can be difficult to work with, too. They might look like they fit, but lots of memory cards are designed the same, and looks can be deceiving! Accessories like flashes and remotes can be just as finicky. Sometimes they’re brand-specific; other times, they’re model-specific.
Finally, consider batteries; here, using incompatible products can do more than just fail to power your camera. They can actually damage it.
So how do you steer clear of these pitfalls? Always do your research. Don’t just glance at the product listings or online specs. Dive deep. Check reviews, ask questions in forums, and if all else fails, consult the manufacturer’s website. A few extra minutes now can save you from a world of hurt later, especially if returns aren’t an option.
3. 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!
4. Buying “hype” products without doing research
Each year, there are a handful of products that promise to transform your photography with a revolutionary new effect. But while these “hype” products – such as a lens with an intriguing focusing effect or a one-size-fits-all accessory – can seem tempting, it’s important to take a step back and make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Some of these products do offer novel experiences and can even introduce you to a style of photography you’ve never tried before. But it’s important to ask yourself: how much will I actually use this product? A soft-focus lens might be fun for the first few days but lose its appeal quickly.
Other hype products are just plain bad. Ever looked at ultra-compact tripods? While these products often promise to combine stability and portability, many skimp on essential features. You might find that the tripod is wobbly or lacks the height and head movement you need. And then there are creative filters. They might promise to make your photos look gorgeous, but some can degrade image quality.
So what’s the solution? Spend time really considering each product before buying. Look for unbiased reviews, preferably ones that show real-world examples. Ask yourself: Do I really plan to use the product long-term? If it’s going to sit in a drawer, it might not be worth your cash. And always weigh the pros and cons. Sometimes a product’s limitations are deal-breakers; other times they’re just minor annoyances.
5. 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.
6. Purchasing redundant gear
You’ve got your eye on a new camera, lens, or accessory, and you’re convinced it’ll take your photography to new heights. I certainly know the feeling – but before you make the purchase, make sure you don’t already own gear that can already achieve the results you want.
Let’s say you have a 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s solid, reliable, and takes great photos. But then you see a 50mm f/1.4 lens. Sure, it’s faster, but the real question is, will you notice the difference? Is it worth the added expense? Often, the answer is no.
The same goes for zoom lenses. If you’ve got a quality 24-70mm zoom, buying a 16-35mm might seem like a good idea. But think about it. How often do you shoot at those wider angles? Sometimes it’s more about the photographer than the lens. If you know how to frame a shot, you can make do with what you already have.
Before making any new purchases, look at your existing gear. List what each item does well and where it falls short. If there’s a real gap, then by all means, fill it. But if you’re just doubling up on capabilities, think twice. Sometimes, less is more.
7. 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.
8. Buying low-quality budget products
As I discussed in the previous tip, we all love a good deal. And there are very tempting products that promise to deliver incredible quality at an unbeatable price.
Now, it’s true that cost doesn’t equal quality. There are plenty of outstanding products that cost less. On the other hand, some budget products are simply cheap, and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up spending all your cash with nothing to show for it.
Take third-party lenses as an example. Brands like Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina make some pretty stellar products. But not all budget lenses are created equal. Venture too far into the low-cost realm and you’ll start to see a noticeable drop in quality. Images will look blurry, or the build quality just doesn’t hold up. Before you know it, you’re back to square one, only now you’re out fifty bucks.
Filters can also be a trap. You might find a $15 ND filter on eBay and think you’ve hit the jackpot. But you get what you pay for. Cheap filters can actually degrade your image quality, turning a good shot into a subpar one.
Once again, always do your homework. Read reviews, compare products, and consider your needs. Make sure the low-cost option is genuinely worth it before clicking that “buy” button. Trust me: your future self will thank you.
9. 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.
10. Investing in gear instead of education
Last but not least, let’s talk about the urge to buy gear as a quick fix. We’ve all been there. We see an amazing photograph and think, “If only I had that lens, I could do that, too.” But here’s the thing: gear is just a tool. It can’t make up for a lack of skill.
Photography is about more than just a fancy camera or lens. You need to understand lighting, settings, and composition. If you don’t, even the best gear won’t help you. How you use what you have is what truly matters.
So what should you do instead of splurging on new gear? Consider investing in education. From in-person workshops to online courses, there are plenty of ways to up your photography game. You can even find free resources if you’re on a tight budget. (Just check out all the in-depth articles offered by dPS!)
Before you swipe that credit card for another lens, ask yourself: Would this money be better spent on a course or workshop that could elevate all my future photos? Often, the answer is yes. Investing in learning can provide returns that last a lifetime, long after the new gear smell has faded.
Mistakes when buying camera gear: final words
And there we have it. If you’ve made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re now armed with knowledge that can save you not only money but also a great deal of frustration. The path to becoming a skilled photographer isn’t just about the hardware in your bag; it’s about making wise choices every step of the way.
The allure of that new lens or state-of-the-art camera can be irresistible. But knowing what to avoid can be just as valuable as knowing what to buy.
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!