July 30, 2020

Aspiring (professional) Photographers: Stop Buying Camera Kits!

Yep, you heard me right. My #1 piece of advice for beginners: stop buying those camera kits so conveniently (and purposefully) marketed towards you. They’re overpriced, limited in their ability, and designed to actually make you spend MORE money in the long run.

But why?

Here’s a little secret…my first camera actually WAS a beginner camera that came from a kit, complete with a camera bag and two lenses. It was a gift from my parents (which I’m still super thankful for…thanks mom & dad for kickstarting my photography career!), and I was so excited! Like most new photographers, I thought “wow! I have a real camera now”. And to a degree that was an accurate statement….that camera was absolutely capable of taking much better photos than my iPhone – with the right training. My issue with these camera kits is that they cost WAY too much money for what they are and the results they can achieve.

The cameras in these kits are crop-sensor cameras, meaning the sensor on the camera is smaller than professional grade models. In terms of performance, crop sensor cameras produce lower quality images, don’t perform well in low-light scenarios, and actually reduce the real estate of your images (i.e. if you buy a 50mm lens, it will actually perform at the focal length of an 85mm lens due to the crop sensor).

The lenses that come in these kits are also sub-par performers for anyone serious about photography. These kits typically come with a 70-300mm lens and an 18-55mm lens, and they’re some of the worst performing lenses across the entire fleet of Canon and Nikon lenses. They aren’t sharp and they are slow to focus. The bottom line is, the equipment that is sold in these crop sensor camera kits is not made for professional photographers and will not produce professional results. If you’re wanting to make a business out of photography, you will probably outgrow this camera and set of lenses quickly. I know I did.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “but Taylor, I’m just a beginner. So a kit like this is perfect for me to learn on and then I can just upgrade later, right?”. And sure, you absolutely could. That’s what I did and what a lot of people do. If I knew then what I knew now, though, I would have spent the money differently. In the end, you’ll be spending more money than if you bought better gear that will grow with your abilities to start out.

So what would I do?

I’d follow some advice that I wholeheartedly believe in: BUY USED. The most current camera kit that Canon sells is the Rebel T7 with a 70-300mm lens and a 18-55mm lens for around $600. Nikon’s equivalent sells for around $700. Now, I know everyone like brand new, shiny toys, but for the price, you’ll get more bang for your buck by buying used gear. I’ve bought cameras and lenses from Ebay and Facebook Marketplace (using Facebook Pay) because

  1. It has saved me thousands of dollars
  2. They offer purchase protection. So if I buy something and it comes broken, isn’t as described, or doesn’t come at all, I’ll get my money back.

What To Buy:

For a beginner camera body, I’d find a Canon 6D (Mark i. The Mark ii is also a great camera but will run you more money for a similar result) in good condition. This camera was built like a workhorse and even though its around 10 years old, it will outperform any crop sensor camera bar none. The Canon 6D is a full-frame camera, giving you great low light performance and allowing you to take full advantage of the focal length of your lens (so your 50mm lens will perform like a 50mm lens). You can buy this camera used for around $500.

Some things to look for when buying a used camera:

1. Shutter count. The life span of a camera shutter is around 150,000 actuations, or clicks. Look for a camera that has at least 50% of the shutter life left. The lower the better. If the seller doesn’t advertise the shutter count, make sure to ask about it.

2. Wear and tear. Make sure the body itself is in good condition. Ensure the screen works, there are no issues with the viewfinder, and the lens mount isn’t damaged. Again, if the seller doesn’t have clear photos of this, ask.

3. Be smart, Don’t get scammed. Purchase protection is great, but its better to avoid a scam in the first place. Remember, if it seems sketchy, it probably is. Move on to the next listing!

To start your lens collection, I’d buy the Canon 50mm f2.8 macro lens. This lens is sharp, focuses fast, is lightweight, and is great for portraits and macro photography alike. This guy will run you around $150, often less. 50mm is the most popular focal length for lenses because its great for portraits and lifestyle shots, so this will give you the versatility to learn your camera and learn photography with great results.

In Conclusion,

So, to reiterate: don’t spend $600 or $700 on a camera kit! For $650, you can buy a full-frame camera and a great lens that will set you out on the right foot with your photography journey. In my opinion, this is 100% the way to go in terms of beginner gear. You’ll be able to learn photography without limiting yourself to the performance of a crop sensor camera and crummy lenses, and have the equipment to produce professional results once your abilities get to that point. Any questions on buying used gear? Send them my way. I’m happy to help!

– Taylor