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Do you have GAS? GAS is the acronym for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It is the trap many photographers fall into, feeling the need to constantly upgrade or purchase more lenses and equipment. New equipment is always a lot of fun and often sparks some creativity at the outset, but it can get expensive and there is no reason to “break the bank.” Here’s how to save some of your hard earned money.
Rent Cameras & Lenses
There are many online rental centers for camera equipment and they feature a huge variety to choose from. You can rent for a day or for months. It does cost money to rent, but it lets you get to know the equipment and test it out. This way you can discover whether the lens or camera meets your expectations before you pay the full amount to buy it. Many local camera shops have rental centers or you can go with a national rental center, like Aperturent or BorrowLenses.
You can also rent directly from some of the manufacturers. When a new camera model comes out, manufacturers like Canon and Nikon, will sometimes offer 3-day trial rentals of the camera. They often call these “test drives” instead of rentals. If you decide to buy, the cost of the rental is deducted from the cost of the product.
Renting is also a great option when you have a photo shoot where you need a piece of equipment you might not ever use again. If you would rarely use a piece of gear, renting can be more cost effective than buying.
Borrow From a Friend
If you have friends that are photographers (either as hobbyists or as professionals), you might be able to test out a camera or lens they already bought before you buy it also. Join photography hobby groups and professional organizations, or photography sharing groups online or on social media, like Facebook. Once you get to know other group members or attend some events, they might agree to let you use a lens for a few days, or at least while you are at the event to test it out.
You may find the equipment doesn’t impress you as much as you thought it would, or that it’s not that much better than the lens or camera you already own. Either way, you can discover whether that piece of gear is the right fit for you.
Buying used gear can save you hundreds, if not thousands, over time. However, used gear comes with its drawbacks. It is used, so unless you know the seller there is a risk that the equipment will have undisclosed flaws, or worse, arrive broken when sent by shipment. There are no warranties with used gear from private sellers. Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and eBay all have used camera gear sales. We only buy used if we can personally examine and test the equipment face-to-face, but this also has inherent safety risks.
Our recommendation, when buying used, is to buy from a reputable used retailer, like KEH in Atlanta. Their equipment is inspected and rated for its level of wear and tear. You get a clear description of what you are purchasing and they offer a warranty. You can have more confidence in your purchase this way. Using this link will access their site where you can save up to 40% off regular priced used photography equipment. Other sites also offer used equipment for sale, so if you can’t find what you need at KEH, check around.
You can also purchase used gear in thrift shops where you can examine the item before you lay out the cash. Additionally, yard sales and estate sales are great places to pick up used lenses, camera bags, accessories, or even cameras. With the many adapters available in today's market you can also get inexpensive vintage lenses to add to your gear without breaking the bank.
Sell Older Gear
Perhaps you have a lens you rarely use, or you upgraded lenses and still have the old gear. Take an inventory of your gear and see if you are truly using it. There is a chance you will find gear that you have stopped using. If you have gear that is otherwise just collecting dust, consider selling it.
Most camera gear loses value over time, but really good quality lenses can keep their value a longer time. However, don’t wait too long. The longer those lenses or old cameras sit around the more money value you may lose.
You can sell your gear to resellers like KEH. They provide an easy look up tool where you can select the items you have to sell and get a preliminary estimate of your earnings without having to ship the equipment to them right off the bat.
Additionally, you can sell used gear on Craigslist, eBay, and other online sites, as well as on Facebook groups or other social media sites dedicated to photography. Personally, I prefer selling to a reputable company, versus meeting up with individuals that I don’t know or shipping items to people who have bought online.
If you are lucky, you can sell enough old gear to buy that new lens you’ve had your eye on.
Through various online photography groups you may find folks that would be willing to trade gear, either temporarily or permanently. For example, Facebook has multiple buy/sell/trade groups for photography equipment. Joining a local photography group that has monthly meet-ups is another place to possibly find a willing trading partner.
You can also trade in your gear for new gear with online sellers. Again, KEH is a reputable site where you can get a bonus towards your “new to you” purchase (10% if you buy immediately, or 5% if you opt for a KEH gift card). You can arrange your trade by phone or video chat.
Buy Third Party or Off-Brand Lenses
While Sony, Canon, and Nikon have lots of fantastic lenses, they are often expensive. Buying a third party or off-brand lens can provide significant savings.
One of my favorite lenses is the Tamron 18-400mm because of its great price and the large zoom range means I can carry one lens instead of two or three. Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina all make lenses for lower price points than the name brands and many of them are top quality lenses. Some Sigma lenses actually perform better than their name brand equivalents. A website like DXOMark that conducts testing of lenses is a great place to compare lenses to see which will have the better quality. You may find a non-name brand lens that could save you some dollars.
You can also buy non-name brand filters, tripods, batteries, accessories, and memory cards. Personally, we would not suggest third party batteries or memory cards although there are many available. Some cameras won’t function properly with non-name brand batteries and memory cards. And even more importantly, off-brand cards are more likely to corrupt, have failures, or create errors. Check your camera manual for recommended cards and stick to cards that match your camera (like Sony, Fuji, or Nikon cards) or other name brands like Lexar, PNY, or SanDisk.
Watch for Sales & Rebates
There are several times a year when you can expect sales. Typically, camera gear discounts are at their greatest at the end of summer, and after Christmas. However, you can find pre-summer and holiday deals, and sometimes there are discounts at other times of year. If you have social media, like Twitter or Facebook, follow the manufacturers that you usually purchase gear from and you will see their posts when they have sales items or rebates.
Some selling sites also feature alerts, so when certain products go on sale or a rebate is offered you will be notified, or they have pages dedicated to their current sale items (like this one). Rebates can sometimes save you a few hundred dollars. In addition, you can sign up for newsletters and marketing materials from sellers and manufacturers to make sure you don’t miss out.
Buy the Older Model
Over the course of a year, there are several conferences and events during which camera gear manufacturers will announce their new products. As soon as those models start to appear, or a little bit before, the older models they replace will start going on sale. One such conference is CP+ which is usually in late winter or early spring (Feb/Mar).
You don’t need the brand new, most shiny model. None of the improvements in the new model make your current camera or an older model obsolete. Any model of DSLR from the last 5-6 years is perfectly capable of excellent photography in the right hands (a new camera will not help if you don’t know the basics like composition and lighting). Therefore, if you need a new camera, last year’s model will be more than adequate and save you a bunch of money, too.
Don’t Overbuy & Upgrade Slowly
There are so many beginner photographers who suffer from GAS. They have their base camera and kit lens and feel the need to start purchasing other lenses.
Having a plethora of lenses can be a lot of fun and so can all those cool accessories, but they aren’t needed to get great photographs. You do not need all of that gear to get started and to learn photography. It is detrimental to your photography learning to think you need a specific camera body or lens to get a great shot. Think of it this way, if you had your hands on the most expensive camera ever made will your shots be any better if you don’t understand lighting or exposure? If you gave Ansel Adams a $100 point-and-shoot would he still take amazing images? 99% of good photography is the photographer, not the gear.
Having limited gear actually enhances your creativity. It will force you to move around, focus on composition and lighting, and help you learn. Don’t even think about buying new glass or a new camera body until you have stretched the capabilities of your current gear as far as it can go.
If you feel the need to buy an additional lens, start with a “nifty fifty” 50mm prime lens. After you truly get to know the pieces of equipment you have and have mastered those lenses, then consider adding more. The same rule applies to camera bodies. If you upgrade slowly over time you will save money. And as you upgrade, consider all of the previous ways to save we’ve already mentioned. Additionally, we would recommend adding a tripod for steady shooting, a flash for lighting, and upgrading lenses before we would recommend upgrading camera bodies.
Don’t Buy Bundles
When you buy a camera, purchase a camera body and a quality lens separately, or a camera lens combo (although the kit lenses are usually lower quality lenses they are definitely adequate for starting out). Do not buy the kits or bundles that come with a bazillion accessories like cleaning cloths, filter sets, and a cheap plastic tripod. They will claim that you are getting a great deal and loads of savings versus buying all of those items separately, but the selection of equipment in those kits is terrible, cheap quality. Most of them are also things you don’t need, but they “fill” the package to make it look like a good deal. Buy these pieces of equipment as you need them instead, and choose good quality items that you will only need to buy once.
When the time is right, there is nothing wrong with buying a fancy new camera body or a shiny new lens. New gear is always a lot of fun and can spark your creativity. But it isn’t the magic that will make you a great photographer. YOU make the photos. Spending money left and right without understanding the basics will only lead to disappointment because your images won’t get any better despite the potential debt you created.
So have a healthy relationship with your gear buying impulses and don’t let them guide your photographic journey.
Need More Help?
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Are mirrorless cameras the way of the future? Are DSLRs going the way of the Dodo bird? Which is better?
The question of which is better, like so many other questions in photography, does not have a “right” answer and is subject to much debate. Similar to the debates of Canon vs. Nikon or film vs digital… there are merits on both sides.
Those that are pro-mirrorless will focus on the simple mechanics, fast and quiet shutter speeds, and slim lightweight design. DSLR fans will claim, the larger camera body is more functional to grip and that optical viewfinders are better than their electronic counterparts.
One thing I have learned over the years is that much of photography is about compromise. We compromise depth of field for lower ISO, or we sacrifice the crisp images of multiple prime lenses to be able to carry just one lightweight zoom in our camera bag. The choice between DSLR and mirrorless is no different.
Camera manufacturers are well aware of the pros and cons of both traditional SLR/DSLR and mirrorless cameras and are working to make adjustments to their new cameras so the gap between the two technologies is constantly narrowing. For example, Canon’s R5 mirrorless offers one of the best autofocus systems, which traditionally was a DSLR advantage.
This blog post will discuss some of the pros and cons of each camera type. First let’s start off with defining the difference mechanically.
An SLR or DSLR uses a system that includes a mirror and a penta mirror (or pentaprism) which allows the photographer to see what is coming through the lens. The mirror reflects the view through the lens up and into the prism which then projects the image into the viewfinder. The mirror flips up and the shutter unit opens and closes when you take an image so the film (SLR) or sensor (DSLR) can be exposed.
A mirrorless camera does not have a mirror and penta mirror. Instead the light that is hitting the sensor is sent to an electronic viewfinder as a digital rendering of the image. The “live view” exposes the sensor when you take an image and there is no mirror in the way (so only the shutter must open and close).
The way the sensors work in both systems is the same, so the actual image quality between a DSLR and a mirrorless is theoretically identical (assuming the two cameras are using the same sensor type/size).
The type of viewfinder is thus the first area where we see pros and cons to each system.
DSLRs use an optical viewfinder to preview an image. This combined with the mirror and penta mirror give an exact view of what the camera will capture in the scene when the photo is snapped. Most DSLRs today also feature an LCD or Live View to preview images.
Mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder or EVF to preview images. The EVF creates an electronic rendering of the scene.
Many photographers prefer the “real” view of the optical viewfinder versus the electronic or digital rendition. The rendering from an EVF is not as accurate as an optical viewfinder because the rendered image depends on the quality of the viewfinder panel. For example, the EVF may present an image with more or less contrast than the actual captured image. In the past, the resolution of EVFs was much lower, but the latest iterations of EVFs are much improved and almost match the quality of optical viewfinders.
EVFs may also lag, especially in low lighting situations. Following a fast-moving subject is much easier with a high-speed DSLR with optical viewfinder than with a mirrorless EVF. This may be especially important to wildlife, action, or sports photographers.
An advantage of an EVF is that you can view the image with changes to color settings and white balance, or exposure, instantly which you cannot do with an optical viewfinder (but you can snap a photo and view it or use Live Mode on the LCD). If you are learning manual mode this “what you see is what you get” feature of a mirrorless may be an advantage.
The technology of EVFs is continuously improving, but for now DSLR cameras have a slight winning advantage when it comes to viewfinders.
DSLR and mirrorless camera types can shoot at fast shutter speeds to capture many images in rapid succession. With the exception of high-end DSLRs, mirrorless cameras have an advantage in speed. There is no mirror that needs to flip out of the way so the simple mechanics of mirrorless cameras allows them to shoot at higher shutter speeds.
Unfortunately, the optical viewfinder creates a “blackout effect” when shooting continuous bursts of images. This makes it harder to track moving subjects. With an optical viewfinder you can continuously track your subject during a burst of images. Some mirrorless camera manufacturers have been working on this issue and higher end models, like the Sony a9, claim to have solved it.
The first mirrorless cameras did not include full-frame sensors, therefore at that time DSLRs were superior in image quality. Now manufactures use the same sensors (APS-C and full-frame) in both their mirrorless models and their DSLRs, so based solely on technology neither system has an advantage when it comes to image quality.
The selling point for mirrorless is that you can get that same image quality in an overall smaller size camera. However, just as bigger is not always better, smaller is not always better either.
Size & Weight
Because a mirrorless camera does not have a mirror and a pentamirror, the construction includes less parts and therefore they are lighter in weight and less bulky than DSLR cameras. However, the bulkier DSLR often feels better in the grip of one’s hands and has ergonomic advantages.
By making a mirrorless camera so compact, the controls must fit onto smaller rectangular shapes. Larger hands may not be comfortable with the smaller size controls. The touchscreens are also often smaller in size. The compact size of mirrorless includes a smaller battery which affects battery life (we will cover this aspect later).
The DSLR’s larger size makes the controls easier to read and see and makes changing camera settings easier (especially for those who are used to the DSLR shape and design).
One big disadvantage to mirrorless is that while the camera may be smaller, the lenses are not. Balancing a large lens on a small camera body – especially one with the very compact rangefinder-style shape – is awkward and uncomfortable over longer periods of time. Manufacturers can keep making camera bodies smaller, but lens size is determined by the sensor size. This means that to make lenses that match the quality and performance of DSLR lenses, the mirrorless lenses will end up almost identical in size (and weight). You can buy additional grips to make it easier to hold a mirrorless camera, but that defeats the “mirrorless is smaller” advantage.
So in this aspect, the advantage lies wherever your personal preferences lie. If you prefer lightweight, or are upgrading from using your phone for photography, then maybe the smaller mirrorless is the way to go. If you prefer a sturdier heft and grip, or use larger and heavier lenses, then a traditional DSLR should be in your camera bag.
In the past, the winner for autofocus speed was the DSLR. For now, higher end DSLRs still have an advantage, but newer mirrorless cameras have made great strides in this area and are quickly diminishing this difference.
Mirrorless cameras mainly use contrast-detect AF. While this type of AF is precise and accurate, it is also slow and inefficient. The camera focuses through a trial-and-error to-and-fro process that is time consuming (comparatively speaking) versus the DSLRs phase-detection AF method.
Phase-detection AF compares two versions of the scene from two angles and quickly decides which way to focus and how far. This happens very quickly.
But just as quickly as that camera can focus, mirrorless camera manufacturers recognized and tackled this issue to try and find a solution. Now some mirrorless cameras use a hybrid AF with phase-detection built into the camera sensor and contrast-detect AF for precision. This makes the AF accurate and fast. This on-sensor phase-detection is now also being added to traditional DSLRs as well.
If you need the fastest autofocus speeds (wildlife, race cars, sports) and your budget allows you to buy the very highest-end cameras, then you should get a DSLR, otherwise, this category is a tie.
Since DSLR cameras have been around so long, there is a plethora of lenses available for them. Including the third party manufacturer lenses available, the selection is comprehensive. By comparison, the selection of lenses for newer mirrorless cameras is small.
Of course, the availability of lenses is growing as these cameras gain popularity. In the micro four thirds mirrorless, such as those from Olympus, there is more lens selection. Additionally, third party manufacturers are also making lenses for mirrorless cameras now and there are several new adapters on the market that allow photographers to use DSLR lenses, as well as legacy lenses, on their mirrorless camera bodies.
At this point, the DSLR cameras probably still have the advantage for lens selection, but not for long.
DSLRs and mirrorless cameras a both shoot video. Mirrorless cameras, because of their design, are intrinsically better for the constant “live view” mode for video recording.
Mirrorless typically have better and more accurate focusing for video. This is because very few DSLRs have on-sensor phase detection points (as previously discussed). Currently, both mirrorless and DSLR can film in HD, but if you want to shoot in 4K, or even 8K, you will more likely find it in a mirrorless camera.
Professional filmmakers will probably elect to purchase cinema cameras instead of mirrorless or DSLR cameras, but for bloggers or vloggers a mirrorless camera is a clear winner. Additionally, the R&D into video is focused mainly in the mirrorless market, so the technology will only improve from where we are today. Many of the newest lenses for mirrorless also include silent autofocus motors, a technology designed for filming. These quiet technologies can be an advantage for wildlife photographers.
If you are mainly a photographer (other than perhaps wildlife), who only needs video on occasion, then a DSLR may still be the way to go.
Stealth & Quiet
You can never get rid of sound completely because when you take a photo the shutter curtains will open and close regardless of whether you are using a DSLR or mirrorless. The mirrorless camera will be quieter because it does not have mirror. On a DSLR, when the mirror moves out of the way and then returns to its starting position it makes two “clapping” noises in quick succession. If you shoot where quiet is key, such as around skittish wildlife or in public libraries, then you will appreciate that mirrorless technology eliminates some of the sound. Some DSLRs dampen the sound, and some offer silent live view modes, but if you want to be assured that your photo taking will be as quiet as possible, then mirrorless is the way to go. (Side note: some mirrorless cameras have a mirror “clapping” sound effect that you can turn off in your settings.)
Mirrorless cameras drain your battery faster because they require the electronic viewfinder (EVF) or LCD to take photos. Therefore a DSLR battery can easily last twice as long or for twice as many shots. The smaller design of mirrorless cameras also means smaller batteries. This creates an even further limit on their capacity. If you don’t mind carrying an extra battery or two, this might not be a deal breaker.
There is no debate when it comes to battery life. DSLRs win hands down.
Cost / Investment
Mirrorless probably is the way of the future, but that is still a long way off. Mirrorless cameras are still catching up and while they can compete with DSLRs on almost every level, a DSLR is still the cheapest way to get into serious photography.
Finding a mirrorless APS-C with a viewfinder for same price as a new beginner DSLR like a Canon Rebel or Nikon D3XXX series is almost impossible. Unless you are willing to compromise and buy a used mirrorless that is more than 5 years old, a DSLR is the best option when you need something budget friendly.
The Final Tally
As with all debates in photography, sometimes there are no real winners and it comes down to personal preference and your shooting style. Which is “better” will really be determined by where you are willing to make compromises, not because one technology is actually intrinsically better than the other, but because each has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. There may be one or two aspects to a camera system that are crucial to your photography that make the difference in your decision.
So When Should You Choose a DSLR?
So When Should You Choose a Mirrorless?
Hopefully this article has clarified the differences between DSLR and mirrorless and will help you decide which camera system is right for you.
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