Beginning Photography Equipmen

Buying photography equipment for the first time is a daunting task. Useful guides exist to help beginners choose a good camera, but few newcomers realize that the camera itself is only the first of many pieces of equipment necessary to create a full setup for photography. In this guide, I will suggest a complete kit — everything from lens cloths to computer monitors — that will provide a beginner with high quality images (and room to grow) for a price of around 2000 US dollars.

Beginning Photography Equipment

Note that this guide is not a comprehensive list of equipment that will work for every type of photographer. As your photography becomes more specialized — portraiture, landscapes, wildlife, or anything else — you will gravitate towards more specialized equipment as well. The recommendations below can be considered an all-purpose starter kit rather than a list tuned to one specific type of photographer.

Table of Contents

  • The Camera
  • Lenses
  • The Tripod
  • Software
  • Monitors
  • Lighting
  • Filters
  • Extras
  • Summary

The Camera

Nikon-D7000

The core of photography is a camera, or at least the sensor of a camera. At the moment, one of the biggest debates in the photography world is between two different types of cameras: mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Both have their merits, but a beginning photographer on a tight budget should be looking more closely at DSLRs. With entry-level models, new mirrorless cameras cost about the same as new DSLRs, and sometimes less. However, you can still buy older, high-quality DSLR equipment (including lenses) for a lower price than similar mirrorless gear. Mirrorless cameras are filling this gap quickly, but the best camera for a beginner on a budget is almost certainly a DSLR.

Of all the possible DSLR cameras, my strong recommendation is to buy the Nikon D7000, used, from the camera store Adorama. Some people find too much risk in buying a used camera from eBay and Adorama is one of the most respected names in the camera business — when they rate a used camera at E-, its condition will be as good as most “mint” cameras sold through eBay.

The D7000 is better than an entry-level DSLR because it give you room to grow. Although it has the same sensor as some cheaper cameras, it gives you so many more features (including extra dials that make it easier to change settings once you learn about your camera) that make it indispensable. How do I know that the D7000 is so good? Simple — I have taken more than 60,000 photos with it! Check out the three images below, all taken with the D7000:

Fox
D7000
D7000
D7000
Blue Mist
D7000

Because it gives you more options, the D7000 is better than entry-level DSLRs. It has the same sensor and features as other cheaper cameras but it offers so much more (including additional dials that make setting adjustments easier once you have learned about your camera) that it is indispensable. How can I tell that the D7000 is so great? It’s simple — I have taken over 60,000 photos with the D7000! The D7000 is featured in the following images:

Check out our review for more information and samples of the D7000. We also have a summary of entry-level Nikon DSLRs.

The D7000 is a complicated camera, so a beginner might not find it easy. If you’re serious enough to read this article, you will likely appreciate the many advantages offered by the D7000.

Here’s a link to Adorama’s Nikon D7000. This camera is no longer available. To see all your options, click on the “Buy It Used” heading. A D7000 of “E” quality will cost around $400.

A Nikon entry-level DSLR is another great option, especially for beginners. These cameras offer slightly better image quality than the D7000 and are simpler to use. However, they lack many useful features that can be used for learning photography. The D3300 is Nikon’s latest model. The D3300 is only $500 when you purchase it with a kit lens from Adorama.

Total Cost: $400 for D7000

Lenses

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G

A camera sensor records the light it receives. But a lens’s job, in my opinion, is even more important. It helps the light reach the sensor.

There are many options for lenses, from the cheap (which come with the camera) to the expensive (which can be very expensive). It can be difficult to know which lenses are worth the asking price if you don’t have any prior knowledge. However, our lens database can help.

Prime lenses, which are not zoom lenses, or third-party lenses can be a good option if you’re looking for a high-quality starting lens at a low price. You will quickly realize that you need something better than the 18-55mm zoom kit lens included with certain cameras.

If you have a Nikon D7000 camera, my first recommendation is to get the Nikon 35mm F/1.8 DX lens. It is a tiny, sharp lens that costs less than $200. Adorama has the 35mm f/1.8 DX.

You will need a wide-to telephoto zoom to complement the 35mm F/1.8. A good choice is the Sigma 17-50mm F/2.8 OS lens. This lens is particularly useful because of its wide aperture (f/2.8), which allows it to work well in dark scenes, and also features image stabilization to sharpen handheld images. Adorama sells the Sigma 17-50mm OS for $520.

If you prefer to stick with one lens, the Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 is $800 and would replace the two lenses above. Although it is heavy, the lens is extremely high-quality. Check out our review. Here’s a link to Adorama’s Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 lens.

Lenses are a personal decision. These three recommendations are my only suggestions. You might prefer different lenses if you are interested in a specific type of photography, such as wildlife photography. These lenses can be a great tool for beginners to discover what kind of photography they like. These lenses are durable enough to be kept even as your skills improve.

Total: $720 to $800 depending on the lenses you choose

The Tripod

Manfrotto Tripod

A tripod is often overlooked and undervalued. Three aluminum sticks that are glued together don’t make a tripod any more complicated than three sticks that are glued together. So, what do you think? This is the reason why so many photographers opt to purchase the cheapest tripod they can find and then leave it at home because it’s too expensive and difficult to use. The tripod should have been as popular as its friends Camera and Lens. But, somewhere along the line it lost its way.

While you’ll eventually realize that you need a tripod to take good photos, it’s important for beginners to also have one. I recommend the Manfrotto Mt190X3 tripod. Although it isn’t a perfect tripod, I can tell you that the older version should be sufficient for most beginners. It is also quite affordable at $150 (as far good tripods go). Here’s a link to Adorama’s MT190X3.

A tripod alone is not enough. You still need a ballhead to adjust the camera’s position. I’ve tried a few ballheads within the $100 price range and the Oben BE126 ballhead is my favorite. This ballhead is extremely stable, even with my largest camera and longest telephoto lens. Although this head isn’t as high-end as expensive ones from companies such as Really Right Stuff and Arca Swiss, it is still great for the price. Here’s a link to B&H’s BE-126 camera store.

Total: $260

Software

Adobe-Photoshop-Lightroom-6-and-CC

Software that processes images is competitively priced. The two most widely used options are Adobe Lightroom and Capture One Pro. Although these two programs can both organize and edit photos, Lightroom is much more affordable. While some may argue that Capture One Pro has the superior features, others argue the opposite. However, Lightroom is a great option for budget-minded users because it is half the price. Lightroom is my favorite program, and I use it every day.

Visit Adorama to purchase Adobe Lightroom 6 at $145 You can save $40 by bundling Lightroom with certain products, including the lenses I mentioned earlier. You can also download trial versions for both Capture One Pro or Adobe Lightroom.

Don’t be tempted to buy Photoshop because it is popular. Most photographers won’t actually use its features since it is more a graphics-oriented specialist software than Lightroom. It is also more expensive, and the latest version is not available through a subscription.

Total cost: $140. However, Lightroom bundles Lightroom with a lens for $100.

Monitors

Monitor

Your current monitor is probably not capable of serious editing if you’re just starting to take photos. Particularly, your monitor’s colors will be off — you won’t be editing any images the way you think.

For more information on monitor purchase, see our monitor buying guide. However, many new monitors have been introduced since the publication. The AOC 12367FH 23-inch screen is one of the most popular new models. The AOC 12367FH 23″ screen is the most affordable IPS monitor on the market at $160. If you are serious about color work on your computer, you will need an IPS monitor. There are better options, but this monitor is an excellent starting point for beginners. Here’s a link to the AOC Monitor from B&H.

However, just getting a quality monitor is half of the battle. Step two is color calibration. I strongly recommend that you purchase hardware to calibrate your monitor. Although it doesn’t have the same features of the Spyder5Pro ($190), it does the job for a lower price, assuming that you only need one monitor. I was able to edit my photos for nearly a year without calibration and never realized how inaccurate my colors were. Everything had to be re-edited! You can save time by buying a calibrator unit. Here’s a link to Spyder4Express at B&H.

Total: $220

Lighting

Yongnuo Flash

Disclaimer: I don’t use much external lighting in my photos. This is mainly because I don’t take many pictures of people. However, almost all photographers will require a flash at one time or another for both portraits and creative still-life photography.

If you need a flash that can operate off-camera in an auto (TTL) mode, Nikon flashes will cost hundreds of dollars. Third-party flashes can come in a range of prices, including the Yongnuo YN-568EX for $105, which is a very well-specified flash. This flash may be all you need, depending on the type of photography you do. You may also need many more, ask any portrait photographer! Here’s a link to B&H’s Yongnuo flash.

Some light modifiers, such as reflectors, may be needed. However I do not recommend buying anything until you know that you will be doing portrait photography. There are many light modifiers out there, so a beginner should be familiar with the basics before making a decision about which lighting setups to purchase.

Total: $105

Filters

Hoya

Another essential tool in a photographer’s arsenal is the filter. Digital cameras only require a handful of filters. The old film color-correction filters can be reproduced with software like Adobe Lightroom, but certain filters cannot be duplicated in post-processing. A polarizer is the most important filter for digital photography. These filters are similar to polarized sunglasses. They reduce the glare of shiny surfaces (other then metal), darken skies and reduce haze. They make images more vibrant and richer.

A polarizer is essential for landscape photographers. If you’re not, the polarizer will be useless. You will need a polarizer that is the right size for your lens. Like the front rings of a lens, polarizing filters and filters in general are measured in millimeters. A 72mm filter would be required for a 72mm lens (such as the Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 I mentioned above).

Buy a polarizer the same size as your largest lens’ filter ring if you have a limited budget. You might choose to purchase both the Nikon 35mm F/1.8 DX or the Sigma 17-55mm F/2.8 OS. These lenses come with different filter rings sizes. The Sigma has 77mm and the Nikon 52mm. You can use the same filter with both lenses by getting a 77mm filter and a 52mm-to 77mm step-up. This filter is much cheaper than purchasing two.

Filters can be costly, but that is because a poor filter will affect the quality of every image you take. Don’t cut corners on filters! Hoya is my first recommendation as a beginner photographer. It is known for its quality and affordability.

Here’s a link to the Hoya77mm polarizer from B&H. This size is recommended if you opt for the Sigma 17-50mm F/2.8 OS lens which features a 77mm filter band. The filter is just $90.

Here’s a link to the Hoya 72mm Polarizer at B&H. The filter is $60.

B&H has the 52mm-77mm step up ring. This ring can be used on the Nikon 35mm F/1.8 lens if you have the 17-50mm F/2.8 lens (which also has a filter thread of 77mm). This ring is less than $4

Two additional filters are required if landscape photography is your preferred type of photography. A graduated neutral density filter will darken the sky (not a circular one), and a regular neutral density filter will blur moving water. These are both specialist filters and you should wait until you know what filter you need before you buy either. A high-quality, polarizing filter is sufficient for now.

Total $60 if the Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 was purchased, and a little over $90 if the Nikon 35mm F/1.8 and Sigma 17-50mm F/2.8 OS were purchased.

Extras

Sensor-Gel-Stick

A bag is essential for your camera. However, I do not recommend buying a new one from a shop. You can usually repurpose an old messenger bag or backpack to carry your camera. If not, consider looking for one at a garage. If you’re looking for something cheaper than $50, you can find one for $5 if you purchase secondhand. Remote release is a great option for your camera. The $15 ML-3L3 is recommended for the D7000. (Here’s a link to the B&H ML-3L3). These are very easy to lose so be careful. I have two and they have both worked well.

You should also purchase cleaning equipment for your lenses. I recommend you purchase two to three lenses cloths (this $4 microfiber cloth by B&H is great) and a cleaning spray (here’s a link for a B&H two-ounce spray for $3). This will cost you about $10.

You need to find a way to remove dust from your camera’s sensor. We sell the Senand Gel Stick. This is the best and most safest way to do this. You can purchase additional sticky paper for $13 and it costs $55. Your sensor-cleaning equipment won’t cost more than $70 between the two products.

An extra battery is also recommended. You can still shoot while your battery is charging. It is strongly recommended that you get a Nikon-brand brand battery. While cheaper batteries may be appealing, this is one component that you do not want to fail. The Nikon EN-EL15 is the compatible battery for the Nikon D7000.

Finally, memory cards are required. You can use two SD cards with the D7000 at once, and images take up quite a lot of space. Two 32GB cards are recommended to ensure you have enough space. The 32GB card by PNY Technologies is $20 and a great value. This card is absolutely reliable, as I have the 64GB version of my Nikon D800e. Here’s a link to the 32GB version of PNY cards from B&H. Make sure to order two.

Total: $190 or less

Summary

You’ll need a lot more equipment than just one camera and a set lens, if you keep track. These are the best items, regardless of how many reviews you read and what comparisons you make. These items have been used by me personally, as well as others who have. Although it can seem daunting to set up a DSLR system, you’ll have everything you need if the items in this article are purchased.

My first DSLR was purchased and I quickly realized that I had spent too much money on it. I didn’t have enough for filters or a monitor, nor a tripod. It took me months to get a working kit. To speed up the process, I made a list of all the information and created a simple list.

This is the final collection of all items — a complete, high-quality kit for less than $2000 US dollars.

  1. A camera — Nikon D7000 — $400
  2. Lens or lenses — Sigma 18–35mm f/1.8 DX, Nikon 35mm F/1.8 DX or both the Sigma 17-50mm DX and Nikon 35mm F/1.8 DX — $800 (or $720)
  3. A tripod and ballhead — Manfrotto MT190X3 tripod, Oben BE126 ballhead — $260
  4. Adobe Lightroom 6 – $100 If you bundle it with one your lenses, it will cost $140
  5. A calibrated monitor — AOC12367FH 23-inch monitor and Spyder4Express callibration device — $220
  6. A flash — Yongnuo YN-568EX — $105
  7. A polarizing filter — The Hoya 72mm Polarizer (for Sigma 18-35) and the 77mm Polarizer with a 52mm-to-77mm step-up Ring (for Sigma 17-50mm, Nikon 35mm) $60 and $90, respectively
  8. Extras for smaller items: A remote release, microfiber cloth, cleaning spray for your lenses, a sensor gel stick to clean your camera sensor, extra sticky paper for the Sensor Gel Stick and two 32GB memory card $190

Grand total: $2135 for the single-lens setup and $2085 for the combination of two-lens lenses.

Okay, that’s about $2000. You can buy one of these items second-hand or request a birthday polarizer, and you will have reached the $2000 mark. Congratulations!

You can use the above items for many years without having to purchase additional equipment. These items can be used for years, even if you decide to purchase more specialized gear.

Photography Life does receive a small percentage of sales when you purchase something through the links above. However, we are not associated in any way with these products (except for the sensor gel stick, which we sell on Photography Life). This equipment is the best value for money and I recommend it because of that, not because the manufacturer paid me to do so. You will not pay more for an item if you click on these links. This is a thank-you for all the research and testing.

This article should have helped you to understand how to build a budget-friendly camera system. You can ask me any questions below and I’m happy to answer them.

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