When Someone Asks, “What Equipment Should I Buy?”

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By Steve Russell

If it hasn’t happened many times already, one of these days you will be asked one of the two most dreaded questions photographers hear. “What kind of camera/lens should I buy?” Of course, the other dreaded question is, “We can’t afford a photographer. Will you take photos of our wedding?”

Depending on how serious the person asking the question is, recommending photography equipment can be a daunting responsibility to take on. Cameras and lenses are at least 50% personal preference so the person asking for the advice might not like what you recommend. I wanted to share a recent experience with you in the event you’re ever asked a similar question.

About a week ago I received a text from my son that went something like this:

“Dad, I need to get a pretty good digital camera and lens. Nothing over the top, but something that I can control shutter speed and f-stop so I can get good photos in low light.”

In other words, his point & shoot can’t produce acceptable results under the conditions he’s attempting to photograph and the use of flash is prohibited. Sounds like a familiar refrain. His situation is very similar to the one I experienced that pushed me over the line from P&S to DSLR.

Because he is my son and I’m very familiar with his likes and dislikes answering his question isn’t as difficult as it might be coming from someone else. Nevertheless, he might purchase what I recommend and if the equipment doesn’t fit his needs or if he doesn’t like it then he will be stuck with the “stuff” that Dad recommended.

Please understand that I would never expect you to make the same recommendations and I’m not trying to convince you that my recommendations are the best ones. Besides, you don’t have all the information about this particular request that I have. Hopefully, whether you agree with me or not, this will get you thinking about how you might answer the same kind of request. If it hasn’t already happened to you, it will someday. People that want to be the kind of photographer you are will eventually ask what you think.

My first response to anyone asking a similar question would be to ask what they plan to do with the equipment. My son had already told me that in his text. Next I asked him to define “pretty good” and “over the top.” His answer to “pretty good” confirmed what I had guessed and “over the top” meant not the very best or most expensive. Then I asked how much he wanted to or was willing to spend. I also factored in that his job requires that he travel extensively, both domestic and international. With all that information I was ready to start suggesting equipment that would move him well down the road to photography Elysium. Or is it perdition?

He wants a camera that performs well in low light which means good resolution at 800 and 1600 ISO and a high megapixel count. Lots of international travel suggests the need for rugged construction. I wanted to give him a choice so I recommend the Canon EOS 60D which would give him an 18 MP sensor and an articulated view screen but with a plastic body or the Canon EOS 7D with the same sensor and a magnesium alloy body but with a fixed view screen. Of course, the biggest difference between the two camera bodies is the price.

Canon EOS 60D DSLR (14)

As a side note, I recommended Canon products to my son because when we’re together we’ll be able to share equipment. If it were someone else I would probably give them both Nikon and Canon suggestions.

The next item on his list was a lens that could capture good images of people on a stage from his location in the audience. I was tempted to recommend the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Telephoto Lens but he did say nothing over the top. I opted for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L Zoom Lens which has a more affordable price and is a terrific and rugged lens. Alternatively, if he’s willing to give up one stop he could opt for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L lens for less money.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L

Taken with a Canon 7D and a 70-200mm f/4L lens.

Because the 70-200 lens is a little large and heavy for a walking around lens, I also suggested that he consider buying the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L.

Dauphin Island, AL
Taken with a Canon 7D and the 24-105mm f/4.0L lens.

Next on the list was a tripod and head. I’ve been happy with the one I have, that is until I get the Gitzo GT3541XLS, so I recommended the Manfrotto 055CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber Tripod with the Manfrotto 498RC2 Ball Head with Quick Release.

Last on his list was a camera bag to carry the gear. I have a Lowepro Stealth Reporter D200 AW for when I want the camera, one or two lenses and an external flash. However, I have two other bags, a backpack camera bag and the Think Tank Airport Security V2 that holds all my equipment. I decided to go up one size from my D200 and recommend the Lowepro Stealth Reporter D300 AW.

This should provide him with a very versatile set of equipment that will fulfill his requirements. He has to decide if he wants to spend approximately $6,000 for the camera, two lenses, tripod, ball head and camera bag. If not, then I’m sure he’ll be asking where he can spend less now and upgrade later.

Think about how you would respond to a request to recommend photography equipment from someone you know.

Photo Credits:
Canon EOS 60D DSLR by 아우크소(Auxo.co.kr) on Flickr Commons
Canon 7D by meflower on Flickr Commons
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 Lens by Asif A. Ali on Flickr Commons
Becky by Steve Russell on Flickr
Dauphin Island, AL by Steve_Russell_Photography on Flickr

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  • AmpdEditz

    $350-500 for a DSLR tripod?! Ridiculous.
    One of the best options for a on-the-go photographer would be the Tamron 18-270mm lens, and it’s quite affordable ($600). Those lenses are over priced and unnecessary for someone that is just leaving a point and shoot and not even sure what exactly they will be doing.
    I’m sorry, but your opinion is terrible
    - Antony

  • Steve Russell

    He’s not just leaving a point and shoot and he actually know exactly what he will be doing. He’s used a DSLR in his work for years and if very familiar with them. So you drew your opinion without having 100% of the facts. The article is intended to make people think, not to convince them to buy the same items. Your opinion is still welcome, it’s not very erudite but it is welcome.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IXDT5HOHTX2A6G4O4KGWXPJHPQ Brook

    He could also go with the T2I/550D. It’s a great camera and really solid, but he would loose the expanded ISO range, the LCD on top of the camera, etc. It also has a smaller body which is great for walking around though. He may not like it because its not at the same level as a 7D or 60D, but it will save him some money (around $200) on the body, which he could use to buy accessories (filters, vertical battery grip, etc.) This may be taken as an insult to his photographic knowledge, but it is a great DSLR for less money.

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  • Steve Russell

    Good point, Brook. He’ll have to decide which is more important, money or the desired performance of the camera. The T2i is an excellent choice for a lot less money than the 7D.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dick-Beery/100000253142317 Dick Beery

    Why only Cannon or Nikon? Sony make an excellent series of cameras.

  • Adam

    From what was stated in the article, the Tamron 18-270 wouldn’t do what this person was looking for. The lenses that were recomended to him would work better in low light situations then the 18-270 because of the F stop range. Yes, it is an affordable lens but not the brightest either. As a camera salesman I hear this question often and I need to weigh the many options out there to what the person asking plans on doing. Usually the Tamron 18-270 would be a great lens to recomend (as I have one myself and like it) but you truly need to listen to the needs of the customer or whomever is asking. Tripods have a great range in pricing as well. You could just got to your local megastore and buy an inexpensive $20 tripod that tends to last about a year. Or you could invest in a better manufactured one that will last many years or until you out grow it, which tend to cost anywhere from $175 to $600+ depending on what the tripod and head are made of and meant for.

  • Migs

    Indirectly you made a Canon recommendation. All the readership now knows one more professional recommends Canon.

  • Veda E Kliger


    Macro photography

    wish to take a photos of the human Iris

    equipment for this purpose using the 15MP
    Canon T1i E or the 18MP Canon T2i EF-S. With Canon105mm macro lens

    Flash can be seen in the two photos

    question are :

    about the flash: where can I get such a flash where the flash marks
    land in the pupil as in the photo.

    about the lenses :is it making any different if it is f/2.0 ; f/2.8;
    f/3.5 or the 105mm to the 100 mm or the 150mm 180mm etc since I
    intend to take the photos from a stand about 3” from the eye about