What is the end game of photography? To make a photo, right? Not always a print but nonetheless an image of some kind is the final goal of most photographers. The tools needed to complete what can sometimes be a world altering task are simple. At their minimum, you’ll require some type of otherwise light-proof box which has a relatively small opening-i.e. a camera, and some way of recording the incident light which enters-i.e. film or digital sensor. You don’t even truly need a lens(pinhole cameras) to make a photograph but of course that helps immensely.
Now, that list of gear might sound incredibly lacking but when you think about it everything else that we throw into the mix simply expounds on or enhances those basic pieces. There are multitudes of cameras, both film and digital, with equally vast selections of lens and filters for each. Everything else aside, this article will help you if you’re just starting out on your photographic journey in that you will learn what basic photo gear you will actually need…not just what someone might want to sell you.
What You’ll Need
Below is a list of the bare-bones gear that you will need to get rolling in making photographs. Of course there are not real absolutes as you will soon find out but in order to reach the end result, a picture, you will need these few things:
The Most Important Item
The single most important tool you can possess isn’t actually a piece of gear at all but rather the correct mindset. I’m listing this first because everything else is secondary to your ability and to adapt and make the most of whatever camera or lens you have available. When I first started out in photography, eighteen year old me saved $265 and bought a 35mm SLR kit that included one 18-55mm F3.5-5.6. I shot on that one lens for about five years and managed to make some wonderful photographs despite it being a “kit” setup. After I switched to digital photography(I still shoot film as well) the progression evolved much the same way with me beginning with a kit lens and later branching out as I learned more about the craft.
Don’t think that you need incredibly expensive cameras or lenses to get started doing photowork. Granted, there are some things that even the most determined effort can’t make happen without the necessary equipment but you might be surprised how much you can get out of “low end” gear when you approach the problem with creative solutions.
The importance of a camera can’t be overstated but that doesn’t mean that it has to be the latest and greatest piece of tech to roll off the line. In fact, if I could back in time I would have spent much less on my first digital camera and much more on the lens. More on lenses in a minute but ironically the camera you use usually plays much less of a role in the final image quality(sharpness/color/contrast) than you might think.
Whether it be film or digital, find a camera that is well built and feels good to you. If you can’t readily handle the camera before you buy then become a review hound and learn everything you can about other users experiences. Luckily, most digital cameras today are so good in terms of ISO performance and build that you won’t really go wrong in most cases. Again, if I can offer a little advice in hindsight, invest more in your glass instead of your camera.
The lens is the eye through which your camera sees and there are apparently hundreds of different eyes out there. Like I mentioned earlier, the quality of your lens is a huge factor in the final quality of your photos. If you put a poorly made, blurry and sluggish lens on the most expensive camera in the world you will still get poorly made, blurry and sluggish photos in turn
In short, if you aren’t sure yet which genre of photography you’ll gravitate towards, what’s called a “normal” focal length lens will be the best bang for your buck. The term “normal” refers to a lens approximately equal to the field of view of the human eye which is arguable in the 30-50mm range. Most kit lenses included with cameras hover in the normal range. In any case, find the fastest lens(small F-number/large aperture) that will fit the most situations be it landscape, portraiture or street photography. Fortunately, a fast 50mm lens remains of the cheapest lenses you can currently buy.
Yes, that really is all you need. While there are a few accessories like film or memory cards that you’ll require the overall basic gear to start making images really is as simply as that.
As you progress you will learn what makes you tick photographically and you can adjust your tools accordingly. Find a camera, find a lens, and start shooting.