You need pro level equipment to get the best results… You really can’t do much with the kit lens that came with your camera… Buy my (3x the price of your camera) lens and then you can take great photos… You need to upgrade to the latest model to get the best results… Oh really?
Upon hearing any of this all-too-common advice, many new photographers become convinced that they will never be any good unless they take out a second mortgage to fund their equipment purchases. As a frugal photographer, I am a strong believer in mastering what you have before investing in higher priced gear. I also like to get the best value when purchasing photography equipment. The vast majority of so-called expert photo gear advice you are likely to hear is given with the primary objective of getting you to spend more money, not make you a better photographer.
As I’ve written before, no major camera manufacturer is making a bad camera or lens nowadays. They could not stay in business in this tough market if they did. In fact, because of the pressure to produce the best equipment at the most popular price points, the DSLR camera and kit lenses that start in the $500 price range are very good to excellent nowadays, and are the true value leaders in photography equipment. In skillful hands, they can produce results that are pretty much the equal of what the high priced pro equipment can output. The differences, in most cases, can be measured in a lab but are often indiscernible or negligible to the eye of the viewer. In most cases, the camera in the $500 price range can take a photo that will be just as satisfying as that captured with a $2000 model. Here is an example:
This photo was shot five years ago, in New Mexico, with my first DSLR camera, a well used Canon D30 3 megapixel DSLR purchased used on Ebay for less than $200, and a $10 screw-on close-up lens. Did the low cost of the DSLR camera used to shoot this photo degrade the image quality? I think not! The image is sharp, colorful and a vivid depiction of what I saw. It is a satisfying image. Granted, pros will not use this camera model to create billboard size images. But as a photography tool for hobbyists like you and me, it will do what you ask of it to a very satisfactory degree. That can be said of just about any modern DSLR camera regardless of price.
Most of the cost of higher priced cameras and lenses can be attributed to more exotic construction materials. For $500 you are buying a camera and lens that uses more plastic in its body and lens. The higher priced pro cameras are often more ruggedly constructed to stand up to daily use. They are also sold in much lower volume, necessitating a higher price per unit. In truth, with most camera manufacturers, their budget priced camera model typically uses the sensor and electronics that was in last years higher priced models. The differences in final image quality may be measurable in a lab, but does not really matter in the general quality of the photos you produce!
One of the best ways to get the most camera for your money is to buy last years discontinued camera model. Often, it is heavily discounted when compared to the newly released DSLR. If you can get a manufacturer refurbished camera (usually they are brand new cameras in a plan box with a limited warranty) you can save even more money. Use the money you save to visit places worth photographing!
I follow my own advice. Like most of you, photography does not pay my bills. So, for me, purchasing high end equipment makes little sense. The craft of photography is about the art of seeing. The frugal photographer masters his craft, and is able to create great photos without breaking the bank. So stop buying and start shooting!