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What Photo Gear Should You Invest In First?

So, you’ve picked up an exciting new digital camera, now what? To what degree you’re going to throw yourself into your newfound photographic passion is up to you, but you’ll need some gear to start with.  How much you build your kit over the years will be a testament to how much you shoot and what type of shooting you do the most.

At the risk of sounding like one of your favorite grade school teachers, the first and most important thing to remember is that knowledge is power. Remember that you’re going to need to learn how to use all of the gear that you invest in, and most of it will be based upon a general knowledge of basic photographic principles like lighting and composition. Learn those principles first before you spend your money on stuff.

That said, here’s a list of essential gear every newbie should pick up or at least try out. Chances are your more experienced friends have a few extras of these items lying around. . . . and no matter what direction you end up taking your new photographic passion in, these gear essentials will serve you well.

1. “Nifty Fifty” 50mm Prime Lens (or 35mm equivalent (crop sensor)) 

The “nifty fifty” lens, is a great all around 50mm prime lens, with a frame aspect that is most similar to how the human eye naturally perceives a scene.  

When selecting a 50mm prime, look for one that’s fast with a wide aperture like f/1.4 or at least f/2.8.  (This is the “nifty” part of the lens, which allows you to capture images with an extreme shallow depth of field where your subject is in sharp focus with the foreground and background blurred out.  A 50mm prime lens is also one of the more affordable lenses. For those with Canon cameras, for example, a popular choice is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. This type of prime lens allows you to shoot what you see in bright or low light without having to move around to compose the shot, which makes it a versatile and easy to use prime that every photographer should keep in their bag.

Which photo gear to invest in first - 50mm Prime Lens

2.   “Walk Around” Lens

Which photo gear to invest in first - Walk Around Lens

A “walk around” lens is one that you’ll be shooting with the most day-to-day.  Finding the right walk around lens means you’ll get to carry less and focus on getting the shot.

To find the right walk around lens, just think about the type of photography that you are most interested in and think that you’ll spend the most time shooting, and find a lens that suits your creative intention.  

For landscape and cityscapes, a wide angle lens like a 28mm prime allows you to capture large, sprawling scenes in clear detail, while a 28mm-80mm zoom lens allows you to hone in close on a subject, which is ideal for portraiture or action photography.  Other popular “walk around” focal lengths include 28mm-135mm and 28mm-300mm, although these can be heavy and quite expensive to begin your photographic journey with.

A lot can be accomplished in post production software these days, but camera filters still offer invaluable effects that are difficult or impossible to duplicate. 

 Improved Image Quality 

 Polarizing and neutral density filters are one such example. A polarizing filter helps cut glare from reflective surfaces like metal, glass windows, and in nature, larger bodies of water or snow, and bright sandy desert, in order to produce a clearer image with less highlights, and enhanced contrast and saturation.

Lens Protection 

A UV filter will help reduce haze and also is a good choice as a protective barrier between the elements like wind, rain or dust, and your sensitive camera lens. With some lenses costing more than a camera body, it’s far less expensive to replace a scratched filter than a scratched camera lens. Just remember, that a UV filter probably won’t save your lens from internal damage from hard drops, so do pick up that padded camera bag!

Which Photo Gear To Invest In First - Camera Filters

4.  Camera Bag

What camera gear should you invest in first - Camera bag

A padded camera bag gets your gear to the shoot location in one piece. Over time, you’ll likely build up a collection of different camera bags, from top loaders to hard shell cases, but to start off, we suggest picking something like a padded, camera-dedicated backpack that you can comfortably use day to day to carry the gear you need for a given shoot. These types of backpacks have a multitude of design traits that are suited for carrying all your photo gear, from a tripod to a quiver of lenses, camera bodies, filters, batteries, a snack, and whatever else you might need to get you through the day.

5.   Tripod

A tripod makes long exposures possible by providing a stable surface, eliminating camera shake.  A GorillaPod is an excellent choice for those looking to stay light on the road and come in many sizes (Make sure to buy a GorillaPod large enough to hold your particular camera).

If you’re in the game for more traditional tripod, Manfrotto makes a versatile range of solid tripods.

Which Photo Gear To Invest In First - Tripod

6. Extra Memory Cards

Which photo gear to invest in first - Memory Cards

The are four main components to a memory card; card type, transfer speed, capacity and of course price. Even if you don’t think you’ll fill up a memory card fast, you should pick up one or two back up cards for a number of reasons. First, in case your card is damaged, lost or corrupted, you still have a backup to finish your shoot. A few 32GB or 64GB photo dedicated cards will be enough to get you started. Second, if you’re shooting in RAW, which you should be, you’ll fill up a card faster than you think.

Here are a few card options for starters:

Photo: Lexar Professional 633x 128GB SDXC UHS-I/U1Memory Card Video: Sony SF-G128/T1 High Performance 128GB SDXC UHS-II Class 10 U3 Memory Card

7.  Extra Batteries

Most digital cameras these days have batteries that can last for a week-long photography trip, depending on the type of shooting you do. When getting into more specialized photographic techniques such as night lapses or long exposures, it’s wise to invest in a few spare batteries, and a portable USB/car charger if your camera did not include one.

Which photo gear to invest in first - Extra Batteries

8.  External/Portable Hard Drive

Which photo gear to invest in first - External/portable Hard Drive

Like an extra memory card a portable external hard drive acts as a safety net in case your computer at home or on the road is compromised in any way. Make sure to shop around as you can always find great deals online.

Final Thoughts

And once again, invest in education.  Pick up a book, check out our podcast, even engage in local community forum that does weekly photo exercises, critiques, community building, tutorials on photographic techniques, anything that consistently keeps your photographic eye rolling is paramount to developing creative technique as well as technical prowess. Happy shooting!

Scott Fairfax
Chief Copywriter, PolarPro

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