A Guest Post by Cameron Shulak
As much as we might hate to admit it, price is one of the most prominent factors when selecting photography equipment. Even to professionals, cost matters, because higher equipment costs mean less cash in pocket at the end of the day. Profit margins may not be an issue for amateurs, but instead it may be a function of what one can afford. We’d all like to have the best of everything, but in reality we have to pick and choose. In this article, we’ll look at some of the strategies to stretch your dollar and get the best gear for your needs.
New vs. Used
It’s always nice to break the seal on a box containing a brand new Canon L series lens, but is it really worth the cost? As photography has become more popular, especially at the amateur level, there is more movement of used equipment throughout the market. Not only does this mean there is more of it, but also that it’s less expensive. Simple supply/demand economics tell us that the more of something there is, the less it will cost. Lenses such as the Canon 70-200’s are extremely popular, to the point where there are hundreds on sites such as eBay at any given time, new and used. Canon lists the MSRP for the 70-200 f/4L USM at just over $800. However, on eBay, just by quickly scanning through completed auctions, the same lens – lightly used but in great condition – can be found for around $550. Obviously nothing compares to a brand new lens, but if you’re willing to settle for one gently used, but still void of any scratches on the body or glass, you can often save anywhere from 20-40% the cost of a new lens. eBay is not the only place to find used equipment; Craigslist is another valuable resource for finding great deals on used equipment. A notable benefit of Craigslist is that the transactions are more interactive and personal, and you are almost guaranteed to be able to see and try the lens before actually purchasing it, a feature not provided by eBay. NOTE: I have had many successful transactions using both of these sites, but always use caution when buying lenses from any online retailer or website. Ensure the quality of the lens is as described, and never purchase a lens with any notable defects. Don’t sacrifice quality just to save $50. In the end that extra $50 will probably mean a nice, clean, like-new lens.
If most your photography is sports related, there isn’t a lot of sense in spending much money on wide-angle lenses. Instead the large majority of your lens budget should go towards telephoto lenses. Landscape photographers should probably invest mostly in wide-angles, but somebody such as a wedding photographer might have a need for a wide variety of lenses. Even then, it would still be a good idea to invest in a couple really good lenses, and work with those, instead of having five mediocre lenses. It is okay to have different types of lenses, providing you actually use them. Though if the lens would be used for less than 10 to 20 out of 100 shots, it isn’t worth spending the money on. Spend the money on lenses that will be used for 20, 30, or 40 shots out of 100. Your photographic opportunities may be slightly more limited, but the pictures you do take will be of unequaled quality.
“The Other Guys”
Commonly referred to as off-brands, Sigma and Tamron have recently made a resurgence into the digital photography world. Taking advantage of the fact that Canon continues to raise prices, these two companies offer lenses that often rival the quality of the Canon lenses, and are almost always less expensive by a decent margin. Until recently, my city’s local camera store only carried Canon and Nikon equipment, but recently they have started carrying both Sigma and Tamron. Every time I ask the associate about a certain type of lens, they not only suggest the typical Canon model, but also always point out the Sigma or Tamron counterpart. The store maintains a very high level of quality for the equipment they carry (even the point and shoots begin around $200), so this is even more proof that these two brands offer a high quality alternative to the expensive Canon and Nikon lenses. The off-brand lenses are made in the various mounts for the respective brands, and work just like any brand-name lens. It’s almost hard to call Sigma and Tamron off-brands anymore because of how prominent they have become in the digital industry.
Primes are fixed focal length lenses, which often feature a high maximum aperture. Zoom lenses other than those typically selling for over $1000 are hard to find much faster than f/4. There are few under $1000, but the current models as fast as f/2.8 are in the $1500 range. Primes, however, are usually extremely fast and don’t demand the price tag of the upper-level lenses. The MSRP for Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 is only $130. Almost the entire lens, including the mount, is plastic, but that little money for that fast of lens is hard to beat. Canon offers other faster and better built versions of the 50mm, but the price tag reflects this. Having a couple prime lenses in the bag is never a bad idea. They are great for those low light situations when even an f/2.8 isn’t fast enough, or when a short depth-of-field is crucial.
What’s the Point?
You may be in a position where money isn’t a factor when considering lenses, but I believe I can speak for most of us when I say it is. The decision between better price and quality is often a tough one, but the best thing to do is research all the available options, and make a decision based on what is best for you. Any of these strategies can be used individually or in conjunction to get the best value for your money.