The Frugal Photographer

I hate to spend money. Well, not really, what I mean to say is I hate to waste money.

Why buy something that you don’t need or that you’ll never take full adavantage of?

Lenses, digital sensors and camera bodies today are all excellent for the most part. The difference can be so slight between brands that even the most discerning user would never know if the image was captured by a Nikon, a Canon or whatever brand you choose. So why for example would one Nikon camera body be twice or three times the difference of another? Is the image three times better? Does it make you three times better as a photographer? Hardly.

Aside from construction, the professional cameras tend to be heavier, ie, sturdier and built to withstand being knocked about and exposed to the elements and more expensive to boot.

The amateur cameras are lighter. Yay! I hate how heavy my big Canon is compared to my little Canon Rebels. The construction of amateur cameras is good but not as good as the pro cameras. Image quality? There is a difference at larger magnifications. Before you use that as the yardstick for your purchase think for a moment, how many 16×20 inch prints have you made in the last few years? Probably none or one.

I was asked by an acquaintance about buying camera equipment the other day. What should determine the equipment you buy is how seriously you take your shooting. If you are wanting a camera to grab photos and be small and out of the way do you really need an slr? If you want a little more flexibility in your shooting an amateur body and zoom will probably last many years.

I see too many amateur photographers who have the misconception that the more filters, lenses or gadgets they own the better photos they can take. That is so wrong. Give a good photographer the most basic of body and lens and he or she will come back with exceptional images. Canon makes some very expensive, limited use lenses like their tilt and shift lenses. I don’t own one. I never will and I don’t think that I ever will want to.

I grew up shooting with 4×5 and 8×10 cameras where tilts, shifts and swings were a necessary fact of life. For me to spend from $1600 to $2600 Canadian on a lens that will not only make my camera bag heavier but not add much value to my photography is a waste of money. If I was given that lens I know for a fact that it would be sitting at home in the basement. Maybe I would pull it out once or twice a year just to play with it. Would that kind of purchase be a smart one for you?

Filters are another great way to blow through your savings. If you go to that well known specialty filter site on the web where photographers shill their work while praising the glories of those over priced filters take a moment to seriously look at the photos. The majority of them to my eye aren’t helped or hurt by filters. The filters seem to mainly improve upon a situation where the light is less than optimum. You can help a photo in post processing quite a bit. I’ve never seen a filter, aside from a polarizing filter do as well what can be done in processing. I’ve no axe to grind, sales to make or reputation to build upon. You won’t ever see me on that website posting how great their filters made my photos because they won’t.

A great myth about filters is that the expensive ones are much better than the cheaper ones. To a point they are. But there are exceptions. I bought an 82mm polarizer this spring for under a hundred dollars. You can purchase high end ones for three to four hundred dollars. Why the cheapy?

Thanks to a great test review from the people over at I ended up saving a truck load of money buy purchasing a filter by Marumi, a Japanese manufacturer that was new to me. You would think that if you spent $500 on a polarizer that it would be much better than one that cost me around $100.

We all want to believe that the more money we spend, the better product we get but that isn’t always so.

Google is your friend when you are in the market for camera equipment. Don’t over buy or over spend. Don’t believe the hyped claims by zealous amateurs or pros desperate to get their name in the public eye by shilling for equipment manufacturers. Take every claim you see with a grain of salt and a large dose of common sense.

The most important thing in your photos isn’t your equipment it’s you. You can’t buy gear to make you a better photographer. Better equipment will only make things incrementally better. If you can’t see or recognize the right conditions for a great photo, the most expensive tilt/shift lens in the world with the most expensive professional body won’t help. Equipment only gets in the way.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on June 20, 2010.

3 Responses to “The Frugal Photographer”

  1. Thanks Dan,

    I was in the market for a CP filter, the only filter I use as well. I had never heard of Marumi but read the review at Lenstip and was impressed enough to buy it.

    You saved me some money!


    Michael Shake

  2. Your very welcome Mike.

  3. Nice to see you posting your beautiful prairie images again Dan! I agree with camera advice, although I do have to add that I think my little Canon Rebel is built better than the 5D MKII – at least as far as weatherproofing is concerned. And I can’t tell the difference between a 20c30″ print made with my 10mp Canon and upsized with software, and the same size print with the 21mp Canon, but then my style of photography doesn’t often rely on sharp details, so that might be why.

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