Your Photography System: Building an Intelligent yet Affordable Beginner System

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  by Chris

How to build the Intelligent yet Affordable Beginner System:

A. Avoid Pitfalls!

1. Don’t buy what you don’t need. (Corallary: Know what you need and why you need it before you buy it!)

There are a whole lot of shiny things out there… Don’t blow your budget on junk! Know what you need and get a basic grasp of what you are trying to do (if you are dedicated, this will become refined a few months down the road…)

2. Don’t buy the latest, greatest, or most expensive.

You don’t need fullframe to start photography. Actually, you don’t want it either! You also don’t need the latest model camera. Choose a basic yet competent body. Lens choicing we will get to below. Which leads to:

3. Don’t buy into an ineffective system.

Canon, Nikon or Pentax. The rest are still trying to figure it out. Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, et all are not good basic system camera sets. Next post we will evaluate what makes an effective system. The mirrorless crew can be part of a system, but they will not make the system, specifically for our point of interest, adventure photography (wildlife, landscape, etc…).

B. Choose the Right Lenses

1. Base your system more around your lenses than your camera.

Your camera you will replace more frequently than your lenses. Especially if you follow my advice and get in your beginning stages an inexpensive camera. Right now, the T2i is a great camera for the aspiring photographer. It has the same sensor as the 7D, at a much lower price. Until the camera becomes a significant limitation, using an entry level model will save you money and weight and help you figure out what you really want in an relatively painless manner.

2. Start with a 50 1.8.

This lens will teach you how to see. You will be able to use  it to effectively capture images in low light, to easily isolate subjects from their background, and capture fascinating details of your surroundings. However, this lens is not long enough, nor is it wide enough… You will need others…

3. Get an effective mid range zoom and tele zoom.

Don’t drop a lot of money on this. You need to figure out what will work and what won’t for you at this stage. Get a 17-85mm lens off ebay for about 180-200. Get a 75-300 lens off ebay for about the same. Don’t worry about ultra wide or ultra long yet; both are hard to use effectively. The above lenses will serve you well, but, if you are dedicated to learning and growing, you will outgrow them soon…

Why inexpensive lenses? You will invest very little into these lenses, but learn a lot from them. Likely, you will drop them some learning how to control your gear. If they get dunked, smashed, or otherwise killed, you will cry little. You will indeed out grow them. Next article in the series will tell you where to go from there.

C. Add the Following

The following pieces will stay in your gear selection for a while, so don’t skimp on them!

1. Shoulder Strap

This piece is much more important than it may seem. The problem with a neck strap (like your camera retails with) is that it will cause great discomfort with more than only minor use (I one carried a 7D + 300 f4 for 5 hours on a neck strap. It hurt.). Moreover, wearing your camera on a neckstrap will make you look rather neophyte-esque. And, finally, a neck strap will cause your camera to get in your way when you try to do stuff. Use a shoulder strap. They are much more comfortable, and much more user-friendly. The blessed ease of swinging a camera up from the side to shoot, and being able to ease it back and be able to continue functioning makes the 50 bucks these things cost cheap! I use the R-Strap. Don’t skimp and get a knock off. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and, by most accounts, the cheap straps really are cheap. You will save nothing by having your connector break on your strap, thus sending your camera (usually lens first!) to the hard merciless ground below. You get what you pay for, and you know it! Here:

2. A Good Tripod

A good tripod will last forever. Get a good one to start. You will never regret the money you spent on it. This article,, has a ton of extremely helpful information, way more than this article can say. I ended up getting a set of manfrotto legs (the 3021) and pay the weight penalty. At some point, I will likely get a light tripod for hiking. A heavy tripod is an unused tripod. Also, DO NOT skimp on the head. Kirk, RRS, or Wimberly. I recomend wimberly, but my Kirk isn’t bad. When you get a long lens, you will need a Gimbal head. Don’t whine, just get it and be glad that for around $500 you can protect $5,000 or more in gear! Get the quick release plates from the manufacturer of you head. throws in a as a freebie! Get two, and get two allen wrenches, so when you lose one, you can still remove the quick release plate from your camera.

3. A Good Camera Bag

A good camera bag makes the difference between your camera, lenses, and cards and such dying of water, concussive forces, etc, and being able to live to see another day. A good camera back also will allow you to bring the gear you need without weighing too much. A good camera bag will keep your gear organized, yet accessible.

I use a Lowepro AW 75 shoulder bag, and an AW 300 nack pack, as well as their Dryzone 200. These bags are well-made, durable, and tough. The shoulder bag and regular back pack are rather water proof. They can take a steady rain and keep the contents dry for abou 30-60 minutes. Things begin to become somewhat damp after that point, though. Note: the zippers must be zipped! The fierce tropical torrents of Florida or the drenching mountain rains of Colorado are a whole nuther matter, though!  They come with rain covers; the one on the shoulder strap is atrociously ineffective. I have not to this date assembled in correctly. Emergency measures should work smoothly and flawlessly and with a minimum of needed dexterity (because usually there is little dexterity to go around by that point…). This thing doesn’t. The AW 300’s rain cover is remarkable, though! The Dryzone keeps everything dry. If only the zipper would zip!!! I must lubricate it more…

I have no major experience with other bags at this point. However, there are many reviews of bags online; find the bag which will fit your sort of adventure. I would start with a back pack. A good back pack will always be helpful. When you get more gear, as your craft improves, you will refine your choice, and hopefully not blow the bank on bags, seeking the elusive utopian bag!

What then? Go shoot a lot, and learn your gear. Learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. Work on your images (another article for another time!) and learn from your mistakes. We will also deal with the other side of your system, your digital darkroom, in a later episode.

The next article is this series will deal with your next system moves. Until then, have fun shooting, and grow in grace, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!

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