Saturday, May 2, 2009

Investing on Cameras or Lenses?

Every year, there are several DSLRs coming out with new features and functionality that are eclipsing the past years DSLRs. If your have a DSLR and it was from several years ago, you may feel that it is quite obsolete compared to the new ones coming out this year. They are cheaper too!

To illustrate the point, let's say you have a entry level DSLR from Nikon, the Nikon D40 - which is release on December 2006. So a two and a half year old camera. It has big bright 2.5 inches screen, small, 3 focus points, 2 frames per seconds, built in flash, info view, scene modes, etc - for $549. It was the best selling DSLR at some point, the biggest bang for the buck.

So what would you do? Get a new DSLR every year (or every other year)? Or maybe lenses?

I recommend getting several flashes and some light stand and learn how to light via Strobist! Financially, it saves you LOTS of money (spend hundreds instead of thousands of dollars) AND exponentially improve your photographic skill - even with your current camera and lenses!

Now why is that? Or how does it work? Strobist provides tons of "how-to" etc (take lighting 101) and lighting resources (where to buy, reviews, etc). Secondly, most people usually want to get newer lenses because they need "faster" lenses. Faster lens means larger opening to capture more light. The standard kit lens is usually a "slow" lens, where it does not have the ability to capture light as fast as the faster lens. So, lighting/flashes compensate that by adding more light! So if you learn how to light - it will make your equipment to be more useful and all the more, you can do a LOT of things that really not possible without flashes.

Consider also this cost analysis:
Getting a new fast lens probably cost you $1,500. Getting an SB-800 and 2 more SB-600 (so 3 flashes total) will cost you $~700. Throw in a pair or light stand, 2 umbrellas, some gels - ~$200 - brings up the total to $900 - that using Nikon brand, and some nicer brands of stands and umbrellas, etc. So, learn how to light: WORTH IT!!

Now, if the choice is between camera and lenses, then I recommend in investing on lenses instead of camera. Several reasons:

  • All technique aside, it is the lens that contributes more into the sharpness of your picture
  • Beautiful bokeh (rendering of out of focus area) is caused by lens characteristics, not camera
  • Lens holds its value really well, unlike camera
  • Lens controls the aperture - which allow you to produce DoF, bokeh, and shutter speed - and of course the camera control the lens
  • Less need for upgrade for lenses
  • Studying the correct usage of lenses and its characteristics can improve your photographic skills better than camera
So got an older camera and itching for an upgrade? I say hold it. Check out your lens arsenal, and improve them first. In most cases for amateur or serious amateur, what your camera can do is more than enough for our needs. So as long as your camera is compatible with the lenses, stick with it and get a NICE lens instead. Does this mean you should throw away your kit lens? Nah, not really. You can keep it around for most occasions - parties, trips, vacations, etc - where you just want to enjoy the moment instead of being hassled by taking photos and their settings.

So, what do you currently have in your lens line up? I wrote a blog post about this in the past.

I am still using my Nikon D80 and a Nikon film camera - and I am not anticipating for a camera upgrade anytime soon. They are both still do their jobs very very well. But since then, I have upgraded my lens line up to be as such:
  • AF-S 17-35 f/2.8
  • AF-S 24-70 f/2.8
  • AF-S 70-200 f/2.8
BUT, again - my best investment so far are:
  • 2 Bogen Light Stands
  • 2 SB 600s
  • 1 SB 800
  • 1 SB 80DX
  • 2 White Umbrellas
  • 1 Silver Umbrella
  • 1 Multicolor reflector
  • 1 Set of gels
With some of those lighting gear, I made this picture in this post.

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