Congratulations! You’re the proud owner of a new camera. But not just any new camera; no, not a new mobile device, not a new point and shoot — not that there’s anything wrong with either of those. You’ve stepped into a different realm of camera: a digital SLR. You know, like the ones the “professionals” use.
Delivery… by Loco Steve, on Flickr
While it would be pretty shortsighted to draw any meaningful parallels between skill level and what kind of camera one owns, you have every right to be excited about the creative possibilities opened up by your new DSLR. But there’s got to be more to this whole DSLR experience than just the stuff that came in the box…right?
So, if you’ve recently purchased a new DSLR or plan to purchase one in the near future and are wondering what else you should buy (since we’re spending money here) to supplement your new camera, peruse the list below to get an idea or two.
I don’t want to say that the pop-up flash that comes with your camera is useless, but it is, in fact, quite limited. It doesn’t have much range, which presents a problem when you’re using a long lens; and the light it provides isn’t very flattering. Onboard flash might come through in a pinch as fill flash, especially if you’re shooting in the sun, so maybe it’s better than nothing.
But if you intend to make any substantive use of flash to light your photographs, you’re going to want an off-camera flash unit. From macro to portraiture to light painting, an external flash will help widen the scope of your creativity and provide you with a degree of flexibility not achievable with on-camera flash.
Kit lenses get a bad rap and I understand why in some cases, but there are actually some pretty good examples of decent kit lenses out there. Don’t believe the hype that the lens provided with your camera is going to be a piece of junk; spend some time with it and put it through its paces before you decide to throw it out. You might decide to get rid of it and replace it with something else. You might decide to keep it and add another lens for a great one-two punch. In either case, give serious consideration to a prime lens.
Prime lenses are held in such high regard by photographers for a number of reasons. Since prime lenses are designed for a single focal length, they typically sport higher quality optics than their zoom counterparts. They also tend to have a larger maximum aperture, making useful in low light conditions. Aside from whatever optical/functional advantages a prime lens might have, one of the most important things it can do for you is force you to think more critically about composition. A lens that has the potential to help make you a better photographer should be a no-brainer to go on your shopping list.
Tripod by a Wall by garryknight, on Flickr
A tripod is something that you probably won’t use on a daily basis — unless, of course, you shoot landscapes or long exposures of some kind everyday. For most people, especially those new to DSLR photography, a tripod will be something you use under very specific circumstances. But regardless of how often you will use your tripod, it’s better to have one just in case, rather than find yourself in a “just in case” scenario and not have one. For such simple looking devices, you might find yourself bewildered by how costly some tripods are. You don’t have to spend $1,000 on one, but if you’re going to get a tripod, consider it a worthwhile investment and buy one of reasonable quality — which usually means spending more than $30.
Shoulder bag, messenger bag, backpack. There are endless options available in the world of camera bags. So many options that you might find this to be one of the most agonizing decisions to make once you’ve decided to make a purchase in this category. But you’ll need something to carry all your newly acquired gear in. When choosing a bag, be sure to take the following into account:
- Comfort – Get a bag that you will be comfortable wearing for extended periods.
- Durability – Never skimp on quality. Your bag is tasked with holding lots of expensive gear; make sure it’s up to the challenge in terms of build quality.
- Accessibility – Make sure you choose a bag that provides quick and easy access to your camera. You don’t want to have to dig around or struggle to get your camera out. That’s a waste of time.
- Flexibility – A worthy camera bag will allow you to customize the interior and will have plenty of pockets for smaller accessories.
This might seem like an unimportant thing, but ask yourself how comfortable you are with that manufacturer-issued strap bearing down on your neck. “Not very” is the answer most people give. Just like with a camera bag, comfort is a consequential factor. DSLRs aren’t known for being lightweight; if you’re going to have your camera around your neck for long stretches of time, go for a strap with some padding on it. And make sure it’s durable; it’s got an extremely important job.
Your camera will come with a battery. Yes, one battery. That’s not enough. Buy yourself more batteries and keep them in that nice new bag you’re getting. What good is it if you’re out shooting and your one and only battery dies on you? It’s time to go home, I guess. So if you don’t want a battery to dictate how long you can shoot, make sure you’ve got more than one. Better yet, get a battery grip and you instantly double your camera’s battery capacity!
Memory cards by Bengt Nyman, on Flickr
While your camera might come with only one battery, it comes with zero memory cards. Sure, your camera will “work” without a memory card, but what’s the point if you can’t save any photos? And, like batteries, you should have more than one.
Hopefully this serves as a good starting point for all you new and future DSLR owners. There are surely dozens of other pieces of gear that could have made this list, but these are some of the very basics — staples, perhaps — that should be plenty adequate for helping you gain a strong foothold in DSLR photography. Choose wisely and enjoy your new camera.
I agree with the gear selected. I would add two comments. First, always buy the best quality you can afford. Second, work on developing a style and/or a specialty then buy the gear you need. Don’t buy it because it sounds really good in review, buy it because it furthers you craft.
Fantastic info! I’m a pro am shooter, and it’s nice to get reminders that set the foundation for great photos.
Well, I will give you 3 of your 7 bits of gear. Extra memory cards, a gear bag and a tripod/head are essential “no brainers” to all photographers. I shoot nature and wildlife professionally with long days often exceeding 12-14 hours and I don’t even own an extended battery grip or a flash. Now some indoor photographers will need a flash but not most. As for a cushy lens strap – if you know how to carry your camera(s) – is not needed. Finally, lenses should be purpose-selected and unless you are a commercial portrait photographer(and need an 85mm f/1.2 prime), almost any high-grade zoom lens will better serve you than a single prime. I personally would add polarizing and neutral-density filters, spare batteries, lens hoods, lens cleaning gear, a cable release, and a range of quality zoom lenses to my list of ‘essential’ gear.
Loren, I would like to agree with you and as far as wildlife/nature photography goes, which is my specialty here in South Africa, mainly focusing on the Kruger National Park, another important piece of equipment is a window rest, as one is not allowed out of the vehicle when driving in such areas a s game parks.
I think more prominence should be given to how useful and important tripods are. A mid quality lens on a tripod mounted camera will give far sharper images than a good lens hand held. Also the fact you have to work somewhat slower it can give a more measured feel to images. I wouldn’t be without mine, an old Gitzo. The heavier and sturdier the better.
I agree, but I’d say buy the tripod before the flash unit. Most cameras have good low light performance. Tripods slow you down and make you think about what you are photographing and why. Mark of a pro.
Agreed – tripod slows you down in a good way, too. Makes you more purposeful in composing and exposing. Either a remote trigger or use the 2 second timer, and when necessary use the mirror lockup. This takes away 2-3 excuses you would otherwise have to make if you get blur or out-of-focus or weird background items growing out of your subjects head.
TRIPOD, as they say, ‘my sharpest lens’.
I have a Chinese C fibre Gitzo knock off, about a $120? I can’t tell the difference. Leg sections may be important to you as a 3 leg section MAY be more stable, but a 4 will go in your carry on back pack. The headreally is personal pref. Tp ball or not to ball its up to you, I have both. Ball can be a nuisance if youre shooting panoramic sequences. I have drilled my centre column and use a pin so it can rotate. STRAPS. With my 5D i used a wrist strap, cheap and much more secure than a neckstrap. Consider it.
I agree with whoever said add filters… I think a good variable ND and polarizers are as important if not more than a good flash… certainly got mine long before I started buying extra batteries, and have never bought a comfy strap. My camera is either in my hand or in my bag. Just my opinion.
I think people have forgotten the most important one: UV filter. Currently I only have bare bones kit (I’m still learning and trying to find my specialty): small camera bag, memory cards, UV filter, Polarizing filter and an extra zoom lens i picked up cheap.