It can be hard as a hobbyist, or even professional photographer, to find the resources to continuously expand the tools inside our camera bag. With cameras going out of date after only a couple years, and projects getting larger and larger, forcing us to buy more gear, we can all relate when I say, “Do I really need this?”
That's why today we'll be taking a look into a “poor man's camera bag” to find the cheaper alternatives to some of the more expensive gear we accumulate as photographers!
A Quick Note…
All prices listed are in USD from http://amazon.com and http://ebay.com. There will be a couple items throughout this article where I mention it is recommended not to skimp out and purchase the cheaper alternatives because investing in quality is more important.
Watch the Gear Video
Keeping Your Gear Together
One of the necessary products in your camera bag setup is – obviously – the camera bag itself. I own the Lowepro Flipside 400 AW. This is a fantastic bag for any hobbyist to professional photographer. My 400 AW is capable of holding:
- Two DSLR bodies with a lens a piece
- Two extra lenses
- A Sekonic light meter
- A 430EX flash unit
- Gray cards
- Multiple lens filters
- A battery charger
- Two extra batteries
- Wireless triggers
- Multiple memory cards
- A tripod
- A lightstand
- An umbrella
- 8″ softbox
- Your lunch / sweater / HDD
If you ask me, that's a fair amount of gear for a medium size, all-weather, $149.95 bag. The camera bag you choose is one of the products that you should not be cheap on. Photography equipment is expensive, regardless of how good a deal you can get, so it's better to invest in a great bag to protect your gear.
Your Camera and Lenses
Once again, your camera and lenses are another one of the essential pieces of your kit that you do not want to be cheap with. While it is usually true that you could do with the cheaper camera body, make sure you know your requirements before you purchase a new camera.
I recently upgraded my Canon XTi to a Canon 7D, and to be honest, I wasn't sure I needed the 7D. My reasons for upgrading included:
- I needed more mega-pixels – 10MP was not enough
- I needed higher quality straight out of my camera without post-processing
- I shoot sports, specifically volleyball, so higher FPS was a necessity
- My XTi's highest possible ISO was 1600, and it was extremely noisy, I needed to go higher without sacrificing quality
- Overall, I wanted to expand my photography and my current camera at the time was limiting me
I debated quite a bit between the 5D MK II and the 7D, in the end I chose the 7D because it was the better fit for my photography and my budget.
Your camera and lens is your only required gear. Everything else is just an addition to enhance your photos. The basic concept of capturing a moment in time comes from you and the camera in your hands, no matter how basic or in-depth it is.
With that said, it is advisable to purchase the camera that suits you best. If you're looking to make any sort of money out of photography, don’t skimp on the camera!
Next in my bag are my lenses, I currently own only two lenses, because as a student, I can't afford anymore. My first lens is a Canon EF-S 18-55mm kit lens that came with my XTi. The other lens, a Canon 50mm f/1.4 was recently purchased, as I needed another lens to expand my photography. I also carry a 85mm f/1.8 that I am borrowing for an extended period of time.
Other than that, the only other glass I use I rent from the school I'm studying at. This is a great way to experiment and figure out what lenses suit your style of photography so when you go to make your next lens purchase, you already have a good idea of what you need.
There are many cheaper alternatives to the various lenses available to a photographer. Personally, I do not like to stray from Canon. I don't know why, for some reason it seems impure to put a different brand of lens on my camera.
Thankfully for me, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 seems to be the cheapest 50mm f/1.4 available for a Canon. The Sigma brand is a bit more expensive, which may or may not mean better image quality, but it's up to you to test them both and decide which is better for you.
If you’re just starting out in flash photography or you're looking to purchase an additional flash head to practice with, you don't need to purchase the $450.00 580 EX II. There are cheaper alternatives to start out and practice with. A great alternative to the 430EX II is the Yongnuo YN-468.
B&H lists the 430EX II at $280.00 before shipping, while eBay has the YN-468 at an average price of $95.00 including shipping. After shipping from B&H, you're looking at a 66% price cut. For anyone on a budget, I think I'm safe to say as long as the quality is comparable to the 430EX II, that's a hell of deal.
I currently own the 430EX II, but I didn't purchase it for myself. It was given to me as a gift for my birthday. If I had to purchase my own, after a little research I would have gone with the YN-468 in a heartbeat.
If you were looking to buy another flash unit to use for professional shots, I'd recommend shelling out the extra cash to get the quality and performance from Canon. There's nothing wrong with going for the name brand as long as you can justify and afford it.
Purchasing a light meter is hard to justify. Do you really need one? Sure the pros have one, but do you fall into that bracket? I think that as an amateur it may be more beneficial to not own a light meter and to shoot only in Manual mode.
This way you can learn about different light conditions, and understand what you must demand from your camera given the current setting. As you start to get more serious about photography and when time becomes a factor, a light meter may come in handy.
Simply hold it in front your subject, set your aperture or shutter speed and the meter will tell you the rest. They do come in handy, but like I mentioned before, if you're still learning, don't get used to relying on your meter.
When I purchased my meter in January of 2011, I did my research before hand and settled on a Sekonic. As I entered my local camera store, I wasn't set on a specific model so I asked the salesman helping me out the benefits of each.
I ended up investing in the Sekonic L-358, because he told me you could trigger your strobes wirelessly through the meter if you own PocketWizards, and it has an extra transceiver that goes inside the light meter. As you will find out in the next section, I don't own PocketWizards, but one day I plan to. So for that reason alone I coughed up the extra $50.00 to one day trigger my strobes through my light meter without a cable.
Wireless triggers are one of the easier products to find cheaper alternatives for. Everyone knows about PocketWizards, but at $169.00 per unit, they add up. For professionals it's a no brainer, PocketWizards are a must have.
For the amateur though, $169.00 per unit is rather expensive, especially when you're learning, shooting friends, or even shooting single shots for pay. A great alternative that I carry around with me everywhere is the Yongnuo RF-602's.
Yes, the same people who make the YN-468 flash unit make them; they work perfectly with any brand of camera and flash. Simply attach the transceiver to the hot shoe of your camera, and the receiver to the cold shoe of your flash and start shooting.
I've owned a pair of these triggers since the summer of 2010 and I have never had a misfire. I did a couple of tests when I bought my 7D to see if both the 430EX II and the triggers could keep up to the 8 frames per second that the 7D boasts.
After taking sets of roughly 12 pictures with the 430EX II on 1/64 power, on average the 8th picture didn't have flash. Whether that was due to the 430EX recycling or the 602's misfiring, I'm unsure. Still, at 8fps, getting 7 consecutive photos with wireless flash is pretty impressive.
Did I mention these triggers are only $30.00 for one transceiver and one receiver? The one downside is that they do not transfer E-TTL data wirelessly. They do, however, come with a PC sync port, and after buying a $10.00 adapter I was able to remotely fire my 7D with these triggers.
If you don't have a pair of triggers and are looking into any sort of flash photography, pick up a pair from the link below.
Light modifiers are a great way to save money in your camera bag. As with all types of photography gear, there are cheap and expensive options. One of the more expensive brands in the light modifier category is Westcott. Westcott has great products, a definite consideration for a professional or a photographer with extra money to spend.
However, for a photographer on a budget they may be out of the question. Unfortunately, I fall into the on-a-budget category and therefore cannot afford Westcott products. So I turned to the beloved eBay to find a way to diffuse my 430EX II.
I happened to stumble across a $37.99 umbrella and light stand kit. For my needs, this was the perfect solution to getting into flash photography. I didn't need the expensive, name brand umbrella to learn with. Maybe in the future, when I can afford, or begin to make money from my photos will I expand into the more expensive modifiers.
Buy as You Need
As you expand as a photographer you'll start to notice you can't get the shots you need from your cheaper counter-parts. That's when you know it's time to upgrade – after you've learned the techniques and practices to allow you to fully utilize your new gear.
Just because you opted for the cheaper product, it doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing. Don't let it get to you when there's another photographer at the volleyball game your shooting and he/she has a 1Ds with a 70-200L, shooting with strobes in all four corners of the gym, and you're there with your 60D and your kit lens.
Don't feel pressured, maybe he is a professional, maybe he has 20+ years experience, where as you're only on your second year.
The only way you can continue to expand as a photographer is to work on your basic fundamentals, understanding things like lighting, composition, white balance, shutter speed, and basic flash photography etc.
Remember to buy as you need, not need as you buy. You'll grow as a photographer faster than you might think if you practice, practice, practice!