Posted on April 29th, 2015
Top Budget Kit For Starting Out
As a photographer who often had a tight budget for kit, I decided I would create a list of the equipment I used when starting out. Because photography is such a broad subject and with kit chooses changing depending on your shoot type, I am going to create a list of a good general kit that will help young photographers explore photography and experiment before looking for a specialism. I will split my kit into 2 parts starting with what I consider essential kit and moving into more experimental equipment. I will also supply a list of recommended equipment for use on a budget from the saviour of young photographers that is Amazon.
A DSLR and a kit lens (digital single lens reflect camera), both Nikon and Canon make amazing affordable DSLRs and even the bottom of the range cameras now perform as well as professional DSLR from that past. Combine them with Professional lenses and they can take stunning photos (having a bottom of the range DSLR body is not excuse for bad photos). Despite kit lenses being the biggest let-down of performance in budget DSLR I would still recommend getting a kit when starting out. A lot can be done when using cheap kit lenses and having lenses that you can learn on is always important.All I have to say about all consumer DSLRs is TAKE THEM OUT OF AUTO MODE! If you are just looking for a better quality point and shoot DON’T GET A DSLR!
I shoot Nikon but I would look at both Canon and Nikon Options. My tip is to look at the top of the range cameras for both companies and all other products they make and invest in what you believe is the best company. This is important as you will build up your kit over time and invest in lenses, flashes and triggers along with other items that will not work on both companies’ products. The last thing you want to do is have to invest in all new equipment when you come to changing your DSLR body. This is also why I would mainly look at Nikon and Canon over companies such as Sony.
A High speed Memory card, there is a lot of talk about if you should use one large card or lots of smaller cards to minimise losses if a memory card becomes corrupt. This is important for professionals but as a beginner I would not worry so much. Due to also doing lots of DSLR video I tend to use 16gb and 32gb cards and manage my cards to minimise losses. I find using small cards protects your work but doing lots of sports photography I often find i miss moments when my card becomes full. I find its best for me to use larger cards but change them every 100 photos or so. This means I can choose to change my card when I get the opportunity to and not be forced to change cards when it’s full. This is made far better by the fact that even large cards have dropped hugely in price.
I good camera bag with room to expand, I was lucky with my equipment when I started as I managed to, due to extensive research, get little wrong when it came to what to get and invest in. However If I had to say one thing I would do differently it would be getting a camera bag with room to expand. When I started Photography I was very young and had no idea it would become such a large part of my life and therefor end up with so much equipment. My first bag was along the lines of a Lowepro Rezo TLZ 20. It was an amazing bag, well made and well-designed but has no room for extra lenses. I still use this bag today for a single body and scouting lens combination because it’s ideal for quick access but usually this is alongside my huge Lowepro Vertex 300 AW. Anyway I would recommend looking for camera bags with a little room to expand kit. My friend really loved his over the shoulder bag that could hold a body and lens, and extra lens and a flash along with small accessories. I believe this bag is the perfect choice for a beginner and gives you a little room to carry some snacks.
A good tripod, this is a vital part of lots of photography. Okay there are lots of photos that won’t need a tripod but having a good tripod to hand when the time comes is important. over the next few weeks I will do an in-depth review of my tripod and talk about some of the finer points of choosing one but I think you really need to consider a few things when buying one. The first point is that a tripod is an investment much like lenses. I know many photographers who have used the same tripod for most of their lives. If you buy a good tripod the first time round it will save you time and money in the future. The next point is something I was shocked how many young photographers didn’t know. Professional tripods come in two parts, the legs and the head. This means you can choose a good set of legs and use them with both video and stills heads without having to buy the whole unit again. The most important thing about any photography equipment and particularly tripods is the ease of use. I find that kit that is clumsy and annoying to set-up gets left in the bag. You want to select tripod legs and particularly a head that are fast and comfortable for youto use. Heads come in many types, some for stills and some for video. As a videographer and photographer I have both a liquid video head and a ball stills head. Despite both heads being amazing it is important to know the limitations of the heads you buy. For example my video head (Manfrotto 501HDV) has a lovely liquid pan and tilt, tension controls and an auto balance. This is ideal for DSLR video but almost useless for Stills photography as there is not control over rotation of the camera from landscape to portrait. My ball head on the other hand is amazing for stills photography as it quickly allows me to move my camera to any position, is very light weight and has a very fast quick release place with lock. All this makes it an idea stills head but for video I would probably be better going hand held. For the tripod legs it is important to get a good ridged system. Remember that you could be shooting in all conditions and a sturdy tripod it vital. I once used a cheepo tripod from Tesco and the wind blew my camera over and smashed the lens. If you invest in a good tripod the first time it will minimize risks like this. Outdoor long exposures will also be hard in wind with anything but a good stable tripod. I use Manfrotto 55xprob tripod legs with both my video and stills head and love them. I have never had any problems and a good build quality and sturdy construction means I will probably use them for years to come.
Expanded beginner kit “hobby kit”
UV filters to protect lenses. This is something I find a lot of people use to protect their lenses. I have used one for years as I shoot a lot in dusty/sandy places but knowledge of when the filter is affecting your image is important. Filter will create imperfection such as lens flair if used in some situations. Filters on amazon are so cheap it’s never a bad thing to get one.
A lens hood, not only does a lens hood stop stay light from catching the elements in you lens and creating lens flair but it also helps to protect the front of your lens. I picked up my lens hoods on Amazon for less than £5 each and they have stopped my hitting my glass 100s of times.
A shutter remote, there are many times when I use a shutter remote. As you start to learn about photography I am sure you will find yourself trying long exposures. Even on a tripod just the vibration of you pressing the cameras shutter bottom can be enough to create a blurred image. Both wireless and wired remotes on Amazon are really cheap so it does not hurt to get one. Also if you are like me you will find that sometimes when experimenting, you are your only available subject and using a timer is far too slow and annoying.
A Speedlight, the day I got a Speedlight changed my photography forever. I would look for flashes that can be used off-camera as a slave from your on camera flash. Basically a light sensor on the Speedlight detects your on-camera flash firing and fires the Speedlight. I could talk for hours about Speedlights and lighting but all you need to know is you will only realise how bad an on-camera flash makes an image look when you try an off-camera flash.
Flash Radio Triggers, once you have played with your off-camera flash you will find that its light sensor can be a little temperamental at times. A bright day or placing it in strange places can stop it detecting you on-camera flash. Radio triggers are basically 2 little wireless boxes, one goes on your camera hot shoe and the other on the flash hot shoe. When you release your shutter a signal is sent from the camera to the flash by the triggers and the flash is fired. Sadly flash triggers are one thing that you will almost certainly have to upgrade if you are on a budget now. Cheap triggers can be found on Amazon for less than £30 and are an amazing introduction to off-camera flash technology’s the problem is that once you need more professional triggers that have TTL and high speed sync they can cost £100s.
A popup reflector, this is as simple as it sounds, a popup reflector is uses to reflect and manipulate any light in your scene. Reflectors are an amazing and cheap way to improve the lighting in your images.
A polarizing filter, as you experiment with your photography you will find there are times when distracting reflections ruin your images. A circular Polarizing filter helps remove reflections and increase saturation. Unlike most filters polarizing filter are almost imposable to replicate in post-production.
Leadasy New 52mm SLIM CPL Circular Polarizing Filter
A 50mm prime lens, the day I got my first 50mm prime lens was a big step for me and my photos seemed to instantly improve. Prime lenses are very fast for better depth of field and performance in low light. They are well worth the investment. See my “Prime time” article for more information.
The equipment I have linked on this page is often a cheap alternative for hobby photographer to experiment and not all recommended for professionals. I have compiled this list in order to show just how much you can get on a budget. I have owned most of this equipment in my early days as a photographer but have since replaced some with more professional equipment.