It’s Not All About the Gear – Photography on a Budget

A while back, before my latest trip to Scotland, I posted a picture on my Instagram showing the camera kit I was packing to take with me. One of the biggest subjects that comes up in photography blogs and magazines is gear, so I wanted to give my take on it as someone who can’t afford to spend a lot.

Obviously great gear doesn’t make for great photos, you still need to have an eye for composition and lighting as well as learning all the technical aspects of photography, but you can’t take those photos without the right equipment to back you up, so it is an important topic to cover.

Check out the photo from Instagram below, which I have edited to add numbers so I can let you know pretty much every bit of equipment I use and hopefully prove you can get good results on a sensible budget.

Numbered Kit
Numbered Kit
  1. Canon EOS 500D – A fairly entry level DSLR, from the second to bottom of Canon’s ranges and not the most recent offering either. You could pick one of these up, body only, for under £150 on eBay. It’s a decent 15MP sensor with video & live view, you may want something with more AF points and tracking for certain subjects or slightly better low light performance, but it does a great job for landscapes.
  2. Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD IF – This is the lens I use 90% of the time so if you’ve seen my landscapes you’ve seen this lens in action. Also note that constant f2.8 maximum aperture, you’ll know how useful that is if you’ve read my previous blog on exposure. Go for the older version without stabilisation and this is a very sharp lens, that aperture and zoom range new in a Canon would cost you £500, I picked this up for £100 on Gumtree and they regularly go for between there and £150.
  3. Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 USM – This is the star of my previous tutorial on getting a cheap macro lens and has been taken apart for some serious close up work, but it was only a £25 lens.
  4. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II – The only lens I bought new, known as the nifty fifty Canon have just released a new version of this as it’s such a popular choice. Nice wide aperture in a useful focal range for portraits and even new it’s under £100.
  5. Tamron SP AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD – My most recent addition, this isn’t the sharpest of lenses at full zoom, but wildlife isn’t my main focus and I couldn’t stretch to a Canon L series, the main thing going for this is the VC stabilisation is very good, the autofocus is fairly fast and quiet too thanks to Tamron’s USD AF motor. For around £200 second hand you can still get some decent wildlife shots, just make sure you’re close enough as it won’t stand up to much cropping.
  6. Canon Speedlite 430EX II with Stofen Diffuser – Another rarity in that I bought this new, you can get them used at around £100 now if you keep an eye out. It’s probably the thing that gets the least use for me but off camera flash does make a huge difference when you need it. Not pictured I have a set of very cheap Yongnuo triggers to fire this remotely.
  7. Miranda Titan 404 Tripod – This was actually free, but I’ve genuinely seen them go for under £10, it’s nothing amazing but has quick release on the leg height adjustment, is fairly compact, lightweight and with a small adapter can take professional tripod heads. My only complaint is it doesn’t go high enough, it’s something I’m looking to upgrade in the future but you have to pay a lot to get something worthwhile changing to.
  8. Manfrotto MN-484RC2 Ball Head with Q/R Plate – To make the free tripod good I swapped the stock head for the Manfrotto, very compact, only one lever to lock position and easily holds the weight of my setup. I’d really recommend this and a bargain can be had at £25.
  9. Manfrotto Advanced Active Backpack I – A good bag is a must, I do a lot of my photography on walks so need something comfortable that can also fit in some food, waterproofs, map, etc. so this one works well for me. I’d recommend getting to a camera shop and trying some to find the right one for your needs though.
  10. Filters – Not many filters are needed these days, each of my lenses has a UV or Skylight filter on to add protection against the front element being scratched. In the case I have a Hoya circular polariser, a Cokin ND grad, Cokin ND8 and a Hoya Pro ND 1000 (see this tutorial). I’d recommend buying decent brands for any filters as it’s extra glass in front of your lens and you don’t want it to take away sharpness, but I’m happy buying used if they’re in good condition. With Lightroom’s excellent graduated filters and shooting RAW I only find myself using the polariser and the ND 1000 now, the latter of the two being a bit specialist.
  11. Batteries – Only the one that came in my camera is original Canon, the rest are eBay specials. There are some warnings out there on using cheap ones, but honestly for the price of the official batteries it’s hard for me to justify. The cheap batteries may not last as long but you can just carry a couple more, they do fine for me, even when I’m shooting long exposures or using the stabilisation on the 300mm lens.
  12. Memory Cards – This is one place I think money is well spent, getting good quality fast cards. The last thing you want is a knock off card dying mid shoot and losing everything you’ve done. Equally the card speed is important for your cameras FPS rate if you’re shooting continuously. I mostly use SanDisk Extreme Pro.
  13. Wired Shutter Release – Almost essential for long exposures to reduce vibration of the camera and to keep the shutter open longer than 30 seconds. So small and cheap (£5 on eBay) you might as well throw one in the bag anyway.
  14. Comfortable Strap – I used the standard Canon one for ages, but ditched it when I got the 70-300mm lens as it made things a lot heavier! I prefer this one as it’s neoprene so softer and has some ‘bounce’ to it which adds more comfort. It’s also longer and can easily be detached which is handy when using a tripod. Definitely worth considering for £15 or so if you do long walks with the camera and a heavy lens.
  15. Waterproof Covers – Under a tenner for a 2 pack and lets you carry on shooting some great atmosphere when the rain starts, again something you might as well have in the bag.

You can really get some great results without spending thousands on gear as long as you choose wisely, read reviews and forums, ask questions and shop around. Don’t buy in a hurry and keep an eye on eBay, Gumtree, etc. for deals to make the most of your budget.

I still look at better kit now and then with thoughts of upgrading and would spend a fortune if I had a fortune to spend, but I still know I can do a good job with what I have and anything better wouldn’t make me a better photographer.

Finally here’s an example photo and behind the scenes shot below.

Stormy Skies Reflected In Scottish Seas
Stormy Skies Reflected In Scottish Seas
Behind the Scenes - Canon 500D, Tamron 17-50mm f2.8, Hoya ProND1000, Miranda Tripod with Manfrotto Head.
Behind the Scenes – Canon 500D, Tamron 17-50mm f2.8, Hoya ProND1000, Miranda Tripod with Manfrotto Head.

3 thoughts on “It’s Not All About the Gear – Photography on a Budget”

  1. Agree with your view on keeping costs down. For me autofocus is not too important, so I shoot with adapters and legacy lenses, mostly M42 and Konica Hexanon. I have the Helios 58mm f/2, Helios 135mm f/2.8, Konica Hexanon 28mm f/3.5 and Konica Hexanon 52mm f/1.8. None have cost me more than 35 quid.

    Can I recommend the Canon 70-300 zoom? It’s image-stabilised, nice and sharp and can be picked up for not a lot more than the Tamron second hand. I just sold mine recently (sold all the Canon gear) and it was the lens I was saddest to see go. More so than the 24-105mm L.

    1. Thanks Mark, I’ve actually spent a fair bit since posting this and now use a 6D mostly with a Tamron 24-70 2.8, but all still bought 2nd hand and I think the point still stands.
      I think the most important thing is you should know what is limiting you about current setup that new gear will improve before upgrading.
      Might do an updated gear post soon.

      Good tip on old manual primes, I’ve seen a lot more people using them recently, I use AF quite a lot but would definitely consider manual if I get a wide prime.

      I did see some posts about the Canon 70-300 and think I probably made the wrong choice getting the Tamron on sharpness, but the stabilisation is excellent which I like as I shoot handheld mostly.
      I’ve actually found it can be reasonably sharp, AF was slightly out which I’ve compensated for on the 6D and also quite often manually tweak focus at 10x live view to get it bang on. Better ISO performance on the 6D also means I can get away with smaller aperture than I could on the 500D which helps for sharpness on certain shots, so much happier with it now than I was at the time.

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