Guys With Sunglasses

If you’re working on moving your photography business to the next level, you’ve probably realized that at some point you’ll need to upgrade your equipment to something a little more professional (especially if you missed the DSLR memo and are still using a point-and-shoot). If you’ve looked around at the cost to upgrade though, you may feel like you need to take out a second mortgage on the house to get better equipment. Untrue!! Don’t do it! I’ve got some great tips to make sure buying equipment won’t mean your business isn’t making you any money.

Create an equipment purchase plan
Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate. Mine looks like a prioritized wishlist. The gear that I think would improve our photography the most goes on top. Then when we have the money, I get the top item on my list. For the accountant-minded photographers, you can create a purchase timeline or whatever other planning techniques you can pull out to impress your friends (as a sidenote, I don’t think any of your friends are really impressed with your tricks, sorry).

It’s your plan, so you do it how you want, but you might want to consider a couple things. First, I’d recommend taking some time early on to decide whether you want to go Canon or Nikon (or Fuji or Sony if you’re a swim upstream kind of person). Also, it’s probably best to put items on your list that don’t overlap other items on your list – ie similar focal lengths and gear that does essentially the same thing as other gear. The one exception would be if you’re buying backup equipment which should obviously be similar to equipment you already own.

Complex equipment = high price tag
As a general rule, a product with more parts and functionality will have a higher price tag. So on the flip side of this rule, simpler equipment tends to be cheaper. The good news is that simple doesn’t always mean inferior. In fact, the lens that I recommend for learning photography will give you some pretty amazing images, but it’s only $100. It’s also a prime, which means that you can’t zoom in or out using the lens. Similarly, if you’re looking for flash triggers, you might consider a basic triggering system to start with. The basic idea is that by cutting out functionality that you don’t absolutely need, you can save a ton of cash.

Don’t be a gear-head
Hi, I’m TJ, and I’m a gear-head. It’s true. But at least I’m a recovering gear-head. That means that I want more stuff, but I don’t always buy more stuff. Larissa helps keep me a little more balanced with equipment purchases. Buying gear just to have something new is a dumb business decision. If you’re just playing around with photography, fine, you can buy whatever you want to. For the rest of you who are trying to run it like a business though, you’ve got to stop spending money on stuff that doesn’t improve the product that you give to the client. It’s fine to buy tools, but they have to be used regularly and they must be a good option considering all the other things you could be buying with that money.

Try before you buy
The most expensive purchase you’ll ever make is one where you get little to no use out of the purchase. Maybe you purchased an EF-S lens and you own a full-frame Canon body. Maybe the image stabilization doesn’t work like you’d expect. Whatever the reason, you probably realize after purchasing and feeling sick to your stomach that you should have tried out the product before you purchased. You can try equipment at local camera shops. You can go to photography trade shows. You can even rent lenses at local camera shops or online at places like Borrow Lenses. Renting once to make sure you like the product is definitely worth the rental fee to make sure you’re going to buy the right item. You should also be reading online reviews – especially if you can’t find a place that rents out that gear.

Buy 3rd party equipment
There’s no reason to be afraid of purchasing non-manufacturer equipment. It can easily save you 30% or more. You’ve probably heard from purists who would never use anything but manufacturer-specific gear because they’ve heard horror stories about 3rd party stuff. From my experience, you CAN get professional results from brands like Sigma and Tamron, but you have to do your research before buying. I have a Sigma 70-200, but I have a Tamron 17-35. Both companies and Canon have similar focal lengths available, but after doing my research online, I found obvious winners in each focal length. Canon was the marginal winner in both cases, but the improved image quality from Canon’s lenses didn’t justify the massive price difference from completely acceptable 3rd party alternatives.

Buy used
If the word “used” sends a chill down your spine, it’s time to re-program yourself. When you think used, you should think about how you can purchase MORE equipment with the same money. Also, used can mean access to discontinued or older items. Have you seen the price of a 30D recently? Unbelievable! And that camera will still give you great results in the studio. To give you some ideas on where I look for used items, try,, Craigslist, photographers going out of business, and Ebay. I’d recommend going in the order I just listed for reliability of product. Just be smart about who you purchase from, and you’re likely to have a successful transaction.

Final thoughts
If you’re just starting out, and you feel like your photography is seriously lacking because you can’t afford the gear, don’t freak out. In fact, being a part time photographer is actually a great way to build up your gear bag and improve as a photographer. Businesses take time to build, and making good choices about buying equipment will make a big difference on how quickly your business will grow.

What tips can you share about buying photography gear? Any great websites or techniques that you use?

17 Responses to “How To Buy Photography Gear On A Budget”

  1. Great article. It’s funny, when I first started I was pretty gung ho about buying everything I could get my hands on, but I realize now that the return on investment can be pretty low on certain lenses. I do buy everything used these days, on the buy/sell boards of I’ve found great deals there, and most of the gear for sale is in great condition.

    • TJ McDowell says:

      Yea, it’s easy to go overboard with the spending for sure. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve seen them around, but never purchased from them myself.

    • hmm i thank you for the fred miranda tip as well i haven’t heard of it at all. I’ve been buying reburished lenses @ adorama and have been happy thus far. I did get used lense off a forum once although i can’t recall the name of the forum now and was pleased with the purchase and got a great deal.

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  3. Petro Jobs says:

    I like your idea about “try before you buy”. Before spending a lot on something (even on your personal stuff), it is best to check and see whether those things are going to be really helpful to you. It’s really upsetting when you come to a point that you regret purchasing those items because they are of no use!

  4. I was glad to see that you mentioned sites like eBay or Craigslist. I want to get some better equipment, but I just can’t cost justify the expense of what I want. It is what has prohibited me from buying for a while. I don’t want mediocre stuff, only to end up buying the more expensive stuff down the road, and then I have spent way more because I bought the cheap stuff AND the expensive stuff.

    I will check out my local used stuff and maybe eBay and see what I can find.

    Great advice, thanks!

  5. I like the idea of “Try before you buy”. I am a very extravagant person, I mostly buy things a lot that comes to the point of having a big credit debts! I always but things that I don’t test first. Well, so much for the tip, thanks anyways!

    • TJ McDowell says:

      It’s easy to buy stuff and stack up the debt. I guess you have to ask yourself if it really was worth purchasing if you had to go into debt to get it – you may see it differently than I do though. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. James says:

    Thank you for sharing and yes, trying before you buy is a good idea. Very useful tips indeed.

  7. I think my number one tip would have to be if you are not going to use it don’t buy it. and tip 1a if you are going to buy it learn how to use it! and finally save your money for the things you need most as opposed to the things you want most.