How to decide which “camera and other equipment” to buy.
©munish khanna

One question I am most often asked when someone starts his/her training under me is “which camera should I buy?” I don’t have a camera yet, I’ll need to buy one before joining the course!!
It’s a simple question and can have a simple answer but I usually ask them to hold on to their shopping till they join the course and have gained some experience and they know which way they are heading for. As they meet fellow students they get to have hands on feel of different brands and models of equipment. And please do your homework before buying anything. A lot of information and reviews are available online today, check them out and make up your mind before you leave for shopping. A dealer may push something he wants to sell. At times, I do get a call from my students, while they are standing in the shop, as to which lens or equipment should they buy. It is, at times, very difficult to give the right opinion as i may not have all the parameters clear to me for comparison at that very moment. I might be busy shooting or driving, but you have to decide at that very moment! That’s another reason for my writing this article.

consider the following-

Are you left with enough funds for other equipment?
Other equipment you need to buy and the order of priority.
It is the eye behind the camera that takes pictures, not the camera. But as you start getting recognition, your equipment matters as well.
Invest in good lenses.
You are buying camera for long term use and not just for learning.     
Do your own research before buying


How much is your budget? How much do you want to spend on the camera, keeping in mind that you will need to buy more stuff as you grow with your passion for photography. In photography, there is a range starting from a lower to an exhorbitantly expensive price tag for the equipment. Generally expensive means better, but you have to evaluate as to in what terms the equipment is better. In terms of quality? Sturdiness? Product life? or Ease of use? 
If you have enough money, go for one of the best reviewed cameras. Also you may go for an expensive camera if you want it to go with your status. If you are particular about what will look good in your hands, do go for a more expensive one. If you have a given amount of money in hand, I would prefer buying an expensive lens compared to an expensive camera. Generally people tend to spend more on the camera and are not left with enough money to buy a good lens. A better (read expensive!) camera no doubt has its merits but remember that with the fast changing technology the price of the camera falls off very steeply whereas the price of the lens remains more or less constant. In other words, the camera which you bought today will become outdated too fast whereas technology in lenses will not change that fast. So, a camera with a longer life doesn’t really make much sense at a higher price because it will soon become outdated either in terms of the number of pixels or otherwise. Yes, if you do shoot a lot then it is worthwile the investment. Count the camera life through the number of shutter releases and not through the number of days or years. You may read about the camera being made up of titanium / magnesium and other strong alloys. Once again, these are great features but are you ever intending to drop your camera? If you are going to shoot a lot and in unfavourable conditions, then features like better wheather sealing etc.  are no doubt useful but maybe not otherwise.
Important features which a high end camera would generally have- better built, higher shutter life, wheather sealing, higher number of frames per second, better processor, maybe (not necessary) easier to handle, compatibility with more professional accessories, faster recycling time of the inbuilt flash, but generally it wont have one. Yes, a pro camera would not have a built in flash where as an amateur camera would have one. 
check out the equipment buying form.


Which is a good brand? Nikon or canon? Comparison. Do not even think of any other brand. Since the dawn of digital technology there has been quite a lot of turmoil in the camera industry. Minolta joined hands with konika and was eventually sold out to sony. Sony pro cameras which you may buy today are actually minolta cameras. Yashika, once a popular low budget brand is no more. Kodak ventured into pro segment without success. However, it is interesting to know that till recently Nikon cameras used to have sony CCDs and similarly Kodak also manufactures for some well known brands. But Kodak's own DSLR camera which was based on a nikon body with a nikon lens mount did not do well in the market and does not exist anymore. Samsung etc. have absolutely no experience in the pro or camera segment for that matter. Do not even think of buying such brands. Go for the brand that has been there and will certainly be there for years and years to come. And that is canon and Nikon.
If you ever want to venture into the medium format camera segment, opt for Mamiya or Hasselblad coupled with any of the phaseone digital backs, which are considered best worldwide. same way, some of the well known brands do not exist today due to competetion and changes in technology. 

Do check out the nikon and canon comparison.

Buying form

Features comparison form

where to buy from ? You can buy all your equipment right here.

Buy Canon cameras

 

17-85 d17-85 d
Lenses - Buy your lenses keeping in mind the kind of work you intend to do. Very good reviews on lenses are available at www.fredmiranda.com or checkout recommended lenses
I generally prefer zoom lenses compared to the primes although primes are supposed to be better in quality. Bt with improvement in technology even the zooms are as good as the primes. Moreover, if you are shooting in fast changing situations it is just too difficult shooting with a fixed focal length lens. Getting the shot is more important than that little extra quality, which will be of no use if you miss out on the actual shot. Try not to repeat your focal lengths. you may not buy your lenses together but you must plan which all lenses to buy. this way you will be able to not miss out or repeat focal lengths. Go for the assortment of lenses depending on the kind of work you intend to do. Or if your area of specialization is one, you may go for cheaper lenses for another genre, which you may indulge in very rarely. Generally you would like to consider lenses for the following categories-

 

WIDE ANGLES-Interiors, landscapes, Industrial, architecture, travel, groups, street

EXTREME WIDE ANGLES- If you intend to pursue photography as a profession and are not using a full frame sensor.
NORMAL- This is an all round lens. You may even opt to go for a fixed focal length 50mm lens.
TELE- portraits, fashion, travel, food, street, candid, kids
EXTREME TELE- wildlife, street, candid
MACRO- food, Small products, abstracts, jewellery, also for portraits
SHILT AND TILT- architecture, products

However, it does not mean that one type of lens can't or should not be used in another area. for creative purposes or if your frame includes a lot of ambience as well you may use a wide or extreme wide angle for fashion.

If you can afford, buy Nikon or canon lenses and not sigma or tamron lenses

Filters - Hoya makes the best filters. If you find them unaffordable go for any other good brand, maybe marumi. but if you have a lens with great optics go for the best uv filter. www.hoya.com www.marumi.com
 

Tripod
Go for the tripod, which is very sturdy and portable at the sametime, if you are planning to buy one. Otherwise you could have the heavier one for more critical studio work and for the medium format. For traveling you could keep the lighter one. But remember, it should be stable enough and heavy enough to take the weight of the camera especially when connected to a long lens and in the vertical position. This is when it is actually resting on the screw of the tripod head.
Monopods are good in the fast move but keep in mind that monopods are not a substitute for a tripod but to be able to shoot a couple of shutter speeds below the safe limit or to avoid camera shake otherwise. 

Memory cards-
sandisk is the best choice. Otherwise you may opt for lexar or Kingston. Do not go for any other brands. Go for the higher capacity than speed if you are not a pro and if you are not into sports or wildlife. even the basic ones are fast enough and will work just as good. In the same price if you need to choose between capacity and speed, go for capacity. Buy two cards than one. you can continue shooting while one card is being transfered to the computer. Moreover you always have a backup in case the card goes bad.  
www.sandisk.com

Computer
Go for the highest affordable configuration. As your camera megapixels increase over the time, you will start finding your computer slower and slower. A 2Gb RAM is certainly a bare minimum, although you can manage with 1Gb as well and later on upgrade which is possible only if you are using a single 1gb RAM and not two 512gb rams.  However most of the computers come with two slots filled with half the number to double up as the total. A good graphic card is also important as it helps in rendering the images better. Your monitor ofcouse is extremely important. Sony and Dell have some of the best options. Since sony does not make monitors anymore check out Dell. Interestingly sony monitors have a much larger colour gamut compared to apple macbok pro. Dell also make monitors with 102% color gamut. If you are buying LG or Samsung check out their professional series, their general models are not too great. 17” is a must. Go for the conventional LCD monitor than the wide screen version as you get more surface area/working space in a 4:3 standard lcd compared to the widescreen. However now almost all the monitors have wide screens (which is actually less surface area!!!)
Higher the resolution of the monitor better it is. If you can find out the color gamut of the monitor, consider the one which has a higher gamut.

Mac versus windows. As people generally say, window is not so good and a lot of other things. That may be true but do not expect mac to be flawless. Surprisingly many photography / imaging softwares from major brands are designed better for windows than for mac! but with vista and then windows7 it did not get any better. Relatively snow leopard (mac os10.5)  is much better.

update- Today we have two 27" iMacs, macbook pros, iMac mini besides the fact that we are also selling all Apple products at "Click for Camera" - Munish Khanna Academy's Photography store.

But yes, Compatibility certainly is an issue as it is not possible to access mac formated hard discs on windows. On the other hand some windows Hard discs can be read on Mac but you can transfer large files......so its a task transferring large data to windows.... But we still love Mac :-)

   

Desktop or laptop- Maximum you can get is a 17” screen on a laptop whereas 24” monitors have also become quite affordable these days. Ideally you should have both but if portability is the criteria then laptop is the only solution. Generally laptops do not have very accurate colors, so working on your pictures on a laptop is not the right choice (with exceptions, offcourse) In such a scenario, if you have limited budget and can buy either a desktop or a laptop, buy a good monitor. You can always plug in your laptop to the monitor and see accurate colors but offcourse depending on the accuracy of the external monitor. You can buy all Apple products at our site.
www.apple.com
www.dell.com

computer cabinets- Ibal is "supposed" to be good but it is not in terms of the higher price tag. It usually has one or the other problem. A good mouse is very important for photography softwares. It is not  recommended to use the laptop track pad for photoshop as it does not have the same maneuverability as a mouse. Go for a good optical mouse which is comfortable in your hand rather than a fancy too big or too small a mouse.

within the given budget, go for highest affordable ram than harddisc. (external discs can always be added easily but not ram without discard), bigger monitor with good resolution, good graphic card. 

Softwares- till date photoshop has always been the best image editing software.
For RAW conversions, try out different options and use the one you find most comfortable. Generally, I use the proprietory software of the brand I am using. Capture one pro is supposed to be one of the best raw convertors. I feel a good software is the one which you take minimum time to understand and get going. It shouldn’t have silly loopholes. 
www.adobe.com www.phaseone.com 

Color management- beyond doubt, this is a very important part of your work flow. Mostly, you may have shot correctly but may not see it correctly if your monitor is not calibrated. In an attempt to correct the image, which was actually correct, you are in fact spoiling it and making it worst. You pass on the image to another person who is observing the image on another monitor which is also off calibration and to different range. He may further “correct” the image, which needed absolutely no treatment to begin with. Once your monitor is calibrated you are sure that you are seeing what you shot. One may feel that it is an expensive investment but it is worth it. The price for different models ranges from about 7000INR to about 20,000 INR. 
www.datacolor.com Do check out the article on colour management.

Graphic tablets WACOM is the only option. If you do a lot of artistic photoshop and fine cutouts, intuos tablets are worth the investment. Your hand doesn't pain because of continuous mouse use and it is just like sketching. The opacity of the tols is based on the pressure of the pen. It is very convenient to cut out rounds and give natural stamping on portraits etc. www.wacom.com

Camera bag- This in one area where you can probably save your money. Go for “lowepro” bags, which are supposed to be the best in the world. Other option is “kata”. National geographic also makes some camera bags.
While you buy your bag make sure that it is within the specifications of the baggage you can carry on board an international flight. Backpacks are good for stocking your equipment while on the move but not so convenient and quick for changing lenses etc. unless you get used to it, while on the move. For this purpose a shoulder bag is the best option. You may also go for a combination of a smaller shoulder /waist bag plus a large backpack. Go for a backpack in which you may fit in your laptop as well, even though you may not want to use it for that purpose. But if you do so even once for a holiday or something, it will be worth it. You also get very cheap bags which do not last long and you are anyways taking a risk of your expensive equipment.

I use lowepro computer plus AW backpack. I find "woodland" Photographers jacket very useful for fast shooting. We have also designed our own Photographers jacket keeping in mind everything a photographer looks for. Do check out what all equipment computer can fit in.
www.lowepro.com

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Studio lights 

As far as overall performance and value for money is concerned go for “prolinchrom 23” There are several other Indian brands, but I have always found prolinchrom to be most durable and easy to maintain. Since last few years, Prolinchrom has been replaced by the original Elinchrom lights, which are also highly recommended. There are different versions available and based on your work, you may choose one. You may need more power or settle for the basic power output. If you mostly shoot outdoors, power packs may be an option for you.

delite 2delite 2
   


 

  Flash

opt for the dedicated flash of the brand you are using. Other major independent brands are metz, vivitar, starblitz.

Go for Canon 430 EX II if you are on a budget. If you plan to use a number of flashes off camera in synch with one another, go for Canon 600 EX RT with a higher guide number and radio technology. 430 EX II is based on optical technology, which means the flashes need to be in line of the first flash to trigger wirelessly. 600 EX RT on the other had will work through walls as well.

For Holidays and travel, Canon 270 EX II is a good option due to its small size.

 Stand alone data storage- Best  brands being Wolverine( www.wolverinedata.com ) Jobo, epson.....make sure that you are buying a stand alone device and not an external hard drive which needs a computer. Go for the highest affordable capacity than a bigger screen. But do buy the one, which has the display where you can view your images rather than just indications.

How much equipment is enough? I came across two great photographers in new york, one of them had the most modern gadgets, much before anybody would plan to buy, but would generally say that he was short of equipment. On the other hand the other one, who was operating from his apartment would generally make stands out of wooden sticks fixed in plaster of paris inside “paint boxes”. A stand is only making your efforts more convenient but is not directly effecting your photography. Any such area where you can save the money, you should but not on the real photography equipment.
Whatever equipment you may buy remember one thing that these are only means to an end. It is you who actually makes the photograph, if your picture is aesthetically good, it will no doubt overpower another picture which may be technically better but aesthetically weaker. In the nutshell, do not compromise on the equipment which is directly going to effect your pictures.

Tripods

Choosing a tripod can be an overwhelming experience, we are given with a wide variety of choices for choosing a suitable tripod which matches your requirements. 

Tripod on one hand is a very simple tool to keep our cameras steady when we use them in challenging light conditions. On the other hand, there are so many different situations that come into play when choosing a tripod: How tall should it be? How light weight should it be? How stable it should be? how much weight can it support? How much should I spend on a tripod? These are just some of the questions that might strike you up as you look into buying a new tripod.
 

1. WHAT IS THE NEED OF A TRIPOD?

-To increase sharpness and depth of field in your images by keeping the camera still in low light environments when using slow shutter speeds.

-To make heavy camera gear stable such as long telephoto lenses on the tripod. 

-To enhance the quality of the images by keeping the ISO low.

- To do self-portraits with a camera timer.

- To shoot videos without vibration.

 

2. TRIPOD COMPONENTS - WHAT DOES A TRIPOD CONSISTS OF 

Tripod legs are typically made of alluminum, basalt, steel or carbon fibre.

Head is the part that holds a digital camera or a lens.

Centre column or centre post is  a separate leg that runs through the middle, allowing to further raise the tripod head.

Good tripods allow changing tripod feet at the end of the legs for indoor and outdoor use.

 

 

- Factors to consider when choosing a tripod

 

1. WEIGHT OF THE TRIPOD

The first thing that should be taken care of is that how much weight a tripod can support. Many people make a mistake of buying a tripod that can only support a few pounds and is not made for heavy DSLR equipment.  One should always make sure that the tripod you want to buy can support at least 1.5 times more than the total weight of your camera and your heaviest lens. Do not forget that you will at times apply pressure on your camera and sometimes even rest your hands on the setup if you are shooting with long lenses, which adds to the weight. You might also add an external flash or a battery grip to your camera in the future, so you have to keep all of that in mind while buying a tripod .


2. HEIGHT OF THE TRIPOD

Always buy a tripod which matches your height so that you don't have to bend to look into the viewfinder.Once you put your camera on tripod your viewfinder should be at your eye level. However if it is much below your eye level you have to bend down which can be a tiring experience.Another factor to consider is tripod height when it is folded for easier travel, So that the feet can be removed and you can carry it everywhere with you without much of a problem.  

3. TRIPOD LEGS

Tripod legs generally made in two forms – tubular and non-tubular. All carbon-fiber legs come in tubular form and have a threaded twist-lock system to secure the legs, while aluminum, basalt and steel tripods might come in different shapes with a flip-lock.

4. TRIPOD FEET

Advance tripods will allow you to replace tripod feet for different conditions and situations – they just unscrew on the bottom of the tripod legs.

There are different types of tripod feet for indoors (rubber or plastic) and outdoors use (metal spikes). Unless you are planning to shoot in icy, rainy/slippery conditions, the standard rubber feet that come with your tripod should work just fine.

5. TRIPOD HEAD

The most essential part of the tripod system is a tripod head. It is responsible for securely holding camera equipment and controlling camera movement. A modular tripod system does not come with a head and you have to buy it separately. When choosing a tripod head, always make sure that it can support at least the same amount of weight your tripod legs can so that there's a balance between both and the equipment remains stable on the tripod system keeping it safe from falling.

 

There are three types of heads commonly available:

Pan-Tilt Head,  Ball-Head,  Gimbal Head

6. STABILITY
Stability is yet another factor that must be kept in mind before buying a tripod. A heavy tripod does not always mean that it is stable. There are plenty of tripod systems out there that are heavy and durable, yet lack the much-needed stability when used in various weather conditions.

When a tripod is fully set up, it has to withstand not only wind, but also occasional bumps and knocks that might happen in the field. You always need to make sure that your camera and lens balance on a tripod rather than lean towards one direction, because you might end up damaging your equipment if the head is not fully tightened or if the front outweighs the back and everything falls on the ground.