Camera and Gear Buying Guide – Part 2: Essential Accessories

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This is part two in a Camera and Gear Buying Guide .  Read the whole series:  Part 1 – Where to Start, Part 2 – Essential Accessories (this article) and Part 3 – Upgrade Philosophy.

Last week, we kicked off this multi-part Camera and Gear Buying Guide with the basics of Where to Start.  Though we don’t expect that you managed to purchase a camera in only a week, we’d like to think we helped to get you off to the right start.  So this week, we’re going to go to the next step – helping you to determine what accessories are essential at this point.  We all have our eyes and our hearts set on getting more lenses and some really fun novelty items.  But we can’t go there just yet.  Before we get into the frills and fancy equipment, there are a bunch of other things that we need to consider first.  My advice would be to consider the following:

Protect Your Gear

(photo courtesy of Crumpler)

We review a lot of camera bags on this site, and with good reason.  Your camera bag is the thing that is going to protect your camera, lenses and other gear.  Occasionally, we’ve reviewed some expensive bags and the feedback we get is about the price.  “Why would I want to spend $270 for a bag,” one reader wrote to me.  The answer is pretty straight forward:  That $270 bag is going to protect your $3,400 worth of camera equipment (and I’m being really conservative – that’s a low number for many of us).  I say that it’s worth every penny if you get a bag that both meets your needs and does it’s job to protect your equipment.  So do your research and put your worries of cost aside.  Consider it an investment.  When considering a bag, I would suggest you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the bag comfortable? – Just like your comfort with the camera is important, so is comfort with your bag.  I’ve used many a great bag (in theory) that was simply not comfortable.  I’m not saying you need to enjoy your bag and love it more than your spouse, but it shouldn’t be an annoyance either.
  • Does the bag hold everything you need? – You don’t want a bag that is too small and you want to have some growing room.  Just because your current gear fits (barely) doesn’t mean that’s wise.  It’s best to get a bag you can grow into so you can use it for years to come.  And don’t forget the other stuff (phone, wallet, journal) that you may want to carry as well.
  • Will your gear be protected? – There should be some good padding around your most sensitive gear, or you should at least be able to configure the bag accordingly.  Especially make sure there is ample padding on the bottom of the bag and around your lenses – especially the one that will remain mounted to your camera body.
  • Is there ample organization? – You’ll be carrying a lot of oddly shaped items.  Lenses and camera bodies are usually well accounted for with most bags.  But what about things like filters, or media pockets?  If you’re carrying this thing every day, you may wish to have organization for pens and notebooks as well.
  • Will this be your only bag? – Some people (myself included) prefer to have a couple of bags to choose from for specific occasions.  I carry a smaller bag daily that helps me carry only the bare essentials.  But I have a larger bag that I will use if I need to also carry a tripod and some of my flash equipment.  But if I were only to have a single bag, I would probably opt for the larger one as it would be able to handle all of my equipment when I needed it.  If you were only choosing one bag, you would need to think about every occasion in which you’d be carrying your camera, and it will quickly narrow your playing field.

In addition to your camera bag, there are some other things you’ll want to protect as well.  The following are some things to consider when it comes to camera protection:

  • UV / Clear Filter – Every lens you have should have a UV or Clear filter on the front of it.  And I’d recommend spending money to get some good ones.  These will protect your lens from most falls.  Your filter gets sacrificed for the good of the lens.  But beyond that, cleaning a filter is far easier than cleaning the lens glass itself, and the UV / Clear filter does a great job of keeping dust away from the lens glass.
  • Protective Wraps – A number of manufacturers make these nice wraps that are essentially squares of padding.  Wrap your lenses in them, wrap your camera in them, wrap any sensitive equipment in them.  They are cheap and offer a nice level of extra padding when you’re moving about.  They also do a nice job of keeping your gear from shifting around in your bag.
  • Screen protector – It’s very possible your camera already came with one.  But if you don’t have one, it’s worth looking into a screen protector.  Typically, these are simply a clear hard-plastic shell that snaps over the screen (and many SLRs are designed to receive them).  They are also often quite cheap.

Other Essential Accessories

Detachable Lanyard on the Luma Loop (photo courtesy Luma Labs)

In addition to camera protection (which I feel is the most important type of accessory), here are a list of things that I think every photographer should have:

  • Aftermarket Camera Strap – Your camera came with one, but it’s likely not the most comfortable camera strap.  It also likely advertises your camera which, if you’re like me, you’re not going to want to do.  There are hundreds of camera strap options and most of them come down to preferences.  Some are more padded than others, some are longer than others, and then there are even the alternative straps like the Sun Sniper and the Luma Loop, both of which rest the camera to your side (not in front of you).
  • Circular Polarizer Filter - My circular polarizer (CP) filter is perhaps the most-used filter in my bag.  It’s one of my secrets to getting crisp, clean black & white photos.  Even if you’re not a landscape photographer, you’ll want one.  I feel that a CP filter is beneficial to nearly every kind of photographer.
  • A Good Tripod – Don’t bother with the tripods you can get at the big box stores (unless the big store happens to be B&H).  Do your research and get yourself a good tripod that can handle two or three times the weight of your camera and your heaviest lens.  Look for one that has quick release tabs and, if you can afford it, is lightweight.  You can spend a lot of good money on a tripod (and the head), but it will be worth it in the end.  We wrote a nice article about tripods a few years ago -  Essential Tripod Features – so be sure to check that out.
  • A Blower Bulb – Dust is going to annoy you as a photographer.  The best way to avoid dust is to carry with you, always, a good blower bulb.  Though it’s large, one of the best on the market is the Giottos Rocket Air Blaster.  But there are many to choose from.  I know a few photographers that actually carry CO2 blasters as well.
  • Lens Pen – A great, convenient and easy way to clean your lens (or filters) in the field.  Erase finger smudges, dust and so on.  And there’s no reason not to have it (or something similar).  It’s only $8.55 USD at Amazon.com.  (Thanks to Simon Hucko for the suggestion)
  • A Journal – I saved the best for last.  No, I’m not kidding.  A journal is essential to you learning your craft.  You should be taking notes whenever you set up an experimental shot.  Record the photo number and any information that the camera won’t already record such as weather conditions, lighting setup, etc.  My journal is also a place where I jot down ideas for a future shoot or formulas for lighting setups I want to try.  Get one that’s small enough to carry and is durable.  You’ll want this with you always.

Previously: Part 1:  Where to Start

Next Week: Part 3: Upgrade Philosophy

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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