November 10, 2011

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Jon's DSLR Buying Guide: Part 3 – Accessories

This is part of a multipart series on buying a DSLR. For the camera, see Part 1 or the Lens, see Part 2.

Once you’ve bought your camera and your lens, you’d think you were done, but like anything remotely expensive and/or complex — there’s more! Of course, cameras have a thousand different accessories, bits, boggles, and doodads that you can buy. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should (unless of course you’ve got money to burn, in which case, skip this guide and just buy whatever strikes your fancy). As with the previous segments, I’m targeting the first time photographer here.

Things that you should buy:

  • UV Lens Filter — For every single lens you buy, you should get a UV filter. They serve two functions: #1 — They will make your outdoor shots a little better because they cut the haze in the distance. #2 — They protect your lens from scratches and dings. A $10 UV filter is a much more palatable replacement cost than $400 for a new lens. NOTE: UV filters come in different sizes depending on your lens. If you’ve got your lens already, you can look at the very tip of it (that points towards your subjects) and you should see a number like 52MM or 77MM. You can also check online as most lenses will have their “filter attachment size” listed.

  • Large/Fast Memory card — You should get yourself the largest and fastest memory card you can afford. The more size you have, the more pictures you can fit. Generally 16 GB will get you at least 800 pictures (RAW). That seems like a silly large number, but with it you won’t have to worry about conserving your shots AND it allows you to go an entire vacation without ever changing memory cards. Speed makes a difference in how fast your camera can write data to the card (and therefore how fast you can take pictures) and more importantly for later… how long it takes to get 16 GB (or more) of pictures off the card and onto your computer. Right now the fastest SanDisk cards are the “Extreme Pro” series. The SanDisk 16GB Extreme Pro Compact Flash is only $98 right now and the SanDisk Extreme Pro 16 GB SDHC is even cheaper at $62 (pick the one your camera uses, probably SDHC these days).

  • Extra Battery — If you aren’t using flash or the LCD heavily, you can get away with nearly 1,000 pictures taken per battery. Still, you really don’t want to run out your battery and not have a backup (especially if you are on vacation). The batteries for my D300s are only $45 each and that’s a small investment.

  • Camera Bag — Your camera (and its accessories) are expensive. If you plan to take the camera anywhere, you should plan to have it in a padded bag designed for cameras. I have a lot of camera gear (several lenses, 2 external flash units, a half dozen lens filters, extra batteries, etc) so I use a Tamrac Expedition 6x Photo/Laptop Backpack. You might not want something so big (and dedicated) so consider looking at the Lowepro Toploader Zoom series. The Toploader Zoom won’t hold much beyond your camera and an extra battery — but if that is all you have — what more do you need? Plus it is small enough to be packed into a larger suitcase for traveling.

  • Book/Educational Material — Just like buying a TI Graphing calculator doesn’t make you instantly better at math, Buying a DSLR won’t make you a better photographer. There is a book for basically every camera out there, so regardless if you got a D3100, a D5100, a D7000, a D300s or something else all together… find a book for your camera and use it.

Accessories to wait on:

  • External Flash — You could run out and buy an SB-700 external flash, but unless you know what you’re doing… it won’t help much. I think that having an external flash is AWESOME and it is basically critical for myself. For the first time photographer on the other hand? It’s expensive.

  • Tripod — The reasons to use a tripod are A) group photos that you (the photographer) want to be in B) Very Low light (think stars and stuff). Unless you are jumping into photography to do the artsy stuff, you can hold off on a tripod for a while. When you do get that far, get yourself something nice like a Manfrotto kit. It is much more expensive than the $25 tripods at Wal-Mart, but as someone who has bought a number of shitty tripods in his time… it is worth it to splurge.

  • Additional Lens Filters — I suggested you buy a UV Lens filter, but there are many, many other kinds. You can go hog-wild on them, but each one requires it’s own skill set to effectively use. Honestly, I’ve got a half dozen and except for the times I make a specific effort to work with one of the filters — I never use them.

  • Remote Trigger — Most DSLRs will allow you to have a wired or wireless remote trigger. Unless you’ve got yourself a tripod it probably won’t do you much good.

  • Additional Lenses — Lenses are expensive. If you bought a decent starter lens, you should be able to “make it work” in most situations. Don’t Bother:

  • Battery Grip — They look like fun and seem like a generally good idea but battery grips are expensive, heavy, and add bulk to your camera. Unless you are doing a lot of portrait work (or REALLY need that extra battery power non-stop)… skip grips.

  • WiFi transmitter — WiFi transmitters are growing in popularity, but most of them seem to suck. If you really adore that concept of having your pictures on Flickr (or your computer) seconds after you take them, then invest in an Eye-Fi Pro X2 instead (as long as your camera supports SDHC). Hopefully this small guide helps out. There are so many other bits for cameras that I could have an entire separate series of blog posts just on camera accessories.