Well, as mentioned in an earlier post, nothing is really “required” as such, but, let us look at some gear that will help and will remain useful for quite some time to come.
The pop-up flash on the DSLRs today is probably “the” example of stagnation in technology. This is the worst location a flash could be on any camera…Right on the centre of the lens and low on top of the camera. Quite a few of the high-end DSLRs do not have a built-in flash for the same reason. Keep in mind that we are capturing light and photography is basically all about light!
There is already a ton of information on the net and I will not get into any specific details on this part. If you are really interested in learning more about the flash, it’s working, modifiers and more, here are a couple of sites that I would recommend that you go through.
- Strobist – This is considered to be “the” place to learn about lighting.
- ScanTips – This one has a variety of related information.
Both Nikon and Canon have their own speedlites for their camera bodies. Both use TTL metering to figure out the amount of flash (light) to add to a given scene. Almost all of these branded speedlites are expensive when compared to a variety of third-party hardware. I would recommend that you purchase one that suits your budget and supports i-TLL for Nikon and e-TTL/e-TTL II for Canon. Although manual speedlites from third-party vendors are a lot cheaper, you can always add those as and when needed for a multi-light setup. Most of us would probably start with one speedlite and stay there. TTL speedlites make it a lot simpler to start understanding their purpose and utility.
In my experience, so far, speedlites generally be a lot brighter than ideal by default. You might want to set your flash exposure compensation to around -1 (lower by 1 stop) for most scenarios.
A speedlite TTL cable or a wireless setup is good to have in order to take the flash completely off the camera. Although you can use the pop-up flash on the camera to trigger a stand-alone flash in manual mode, it also implies that your pop-up flash will fire and add to the available light. A cheap light stand might also be a good idea for experimenting with the direction and intensity of light.
After a lot of research, I decided to go with a Yongnuo speedlite for Nikon. They also build the equivalent models for Canon. The online links are under the “Good Deals!” page. After I was comfortable with the flash, I also got the wireless commander and transceiver for the same.
Mostly, entry-level DSLRs come with a “kit” lens. This “kit” lens makes the camera usable and therefore makes a complete “kit”. The majority of the kit lens would be 18-55mm. Some might come with options of 18-105mm, 18-135mm or even18-140mm etc. There might be cases where you have a combo of an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm or a 55-300mm. If you already have a combo, then, you can skip the first part of the following.
The standard kit lens that comes with entry-level DSLRs is generally adequate for a variety of purposes and you should only consider purchasing another lens when you really feel the need for it. Keep in mind that the lens will generally outlast your camera body. This is what you should be spending most of your budgeted allocation. Do not look at the cheapest price on a lens and buy it.
Okay, now that we are done with the basic part, let’s look at the first two lens that most DSLR users would start feeling the need for.
- More reach.
- Better low light response.
Let us consider both of these and one more that generally crops up after these two.
This is perhaps the most common of the two in my experience. The need to zoom in to scenes outdoors is generally felt first. For instance, you see a bird at home or some animal in a zoo or perhaps a flower on a tree. These are all scenarios where you would feel the need for a lens that gives you more reach. I say “reach” and not “zoom” since “zoom” is a marketing word that creates the perception of “reach” as I already mentioned in an earlier post.
Although the standard 55-200mm from most vendors is a lot cheaper than the 55-300mm, I would recommend that you go with a 300mm reach to begin with. Lens beyond the 300mm focal length or faster 200mm ones will cost at least twice or more. Ideally, stick to the vendor lens with VR/IS for these standard lenses. Once you have a better grasp of the lens and IQ (Image Quality), then, you can always consider third-party lenses.
With Nikon, choosing even from the vendor lens can be tricky as they have quite a few variations and you might land up with lenses that do not auto-focus with your camera. Canon, on the other hand, has no such issues.
Low Light or Indoor Shooting
The second part of the need comes from shooting indoors at home or at parties and events. All of a sudden you find that the kit lens you have is just not good enough. This is where we get lucky in the current times. Most camera vendors have very affordable 35mm and/or 50mm f/1.8 prime lens on the market today. Either of these lens should be more than adequate for the most common scenarios of shooting indoors or low light events. Yes, it would be nice to have a longer zoom lens for outdoor evening events, but, those lenses move into the very expensive area. In case you really need the more expensive lens, the low-cost alternates will give you a better idea of what to expect from those more expensive lenses.
This is a possible third need that might crop up after the other two. Macro lenses allow you to get extreme close up shots of your subjects. Generally when we see images of the compound eyes of a fly or the round eyes of a tiny spider and similar bugs and insects, it invokes a desire to try to do the same ourselves. Getting these kind of high magnification images, even when using a dedicated macro lens, is not an easy task. Nonetheless it is a very interesting and exciting part of DSLR photography.
There are two basic points to consider when considering a macro lens.
- The working distance
- The DoF (depth of field)
The working distance is the distance of the subject from the front of the lens. The DoF is the amount of area in focus at a given aperture. For example, I have a Tamron 60mm SP f/2 1:1 Macro lens which has a working distance of around 100mm (10cm) and can stop down to f/45 at the maximum magnification. Diffraction will become a factor when stopping down to these levels as also the light, but, we will get into those aspects later. Keep in mind that lenses with shorter focal lengths provide a greater DoF as does a smaller aperture (high f-value). Almost all macro lenses, at least the ones I know of, are prime. Recall from an earlier post that prime lenses are those which have a fixed focal length (opposite of zoom lenses).
Despite the fact that there are quite a few lenses on the market that sport the “macro” label, they are not true macro lenses. A true Macro Lens is defined as one that will image a subject on the camera sensor at the same life-size.
There is a huge debate on the utility of protective filters for lenses on a DSLR. The most commonly used filter comes from the legacy of the film cameras where the film used to be sensitive to UV rays and could botch an exposure. DSLRs are not really affected by UV, but, a UV filter can help protect your lens’ front element from damage and dust.
There are arguments for both, using and not using a UV filter on a DSLR lens. Against arguments are that adding any glass to your lens will impact the IQ (Image Quality). I have found this to be true when using inexpensive UV filters. Personally, I would recommend using a known brand name filter to protect the lens. Of course, you would need to balance the cost of the filter, it’s impact on IQ vs the cost of the lens itself.
In my case, I tried several of the cheaper brands and found they had an impact on the IQ which was not acceptable. I then went with known brand ones which were not very expensive, but, were a lot better in terms of quality.
One filter that cannot be duplicated in digital post-processing is a polarizing filter. This has the effect of reducing reflections from non-metallic objects like water, leaves, grass etc and adding saturation to colours in general. The reduced reflections mean that you will be able to see more details of these objects. The increased colour saturation also has a very pleasing look. Although these filters come in various garbs, look for a multi-coated (MC) circular polarizing filter, also called a CPL (Circular Polarizing Filter).
Once again, I wasted money on cheap CPLs only to find they were completely useless excepting for test scenarios to check if they actually worked. I ultimately landed up purchasing an expensive, branded one which is really good.
The best way of using pricey filters like a good CPL is to purchase one for the largest diameter lens you have and then buy a set of step-up rings for the other lens in your gear. This way, you can use one good, expensive, filter across your lens when needed.
This was the one exception I mentioned in an earlier post as to the required, additional, gear. The camera bag that comes with most DSLR cameras is practically a waste. It offers no padding or protection for the camera or related gear. Besides getting a decent, usable camera bag, you also have to consider if you can actually use that one carry bag all the time or would you require something different.
Most of us do not carry a DSLR around primarily for the ease of carrying reasons. We now have camera bags that can also accommodate a laptop along with some more “stuff”. Some of these bags also include a water-proof jacket built into the bag. Since most of us might be carrying around a laptop anyway, it might be an idea to look into these kind of camera bags and see if there is a suitable one for you.
The ones that I have are listed on the Good Deals! page.
Like the lens filters, I got a couple of the cheaper ones of both to check out. I say “cheaper” in hindsight since both are practically useless. The tripod I purchased was a Benro T-600EX and I don’t think I would trust it to hold my camera without my being right there as well. It is also quite shaky and has some vibration when the camera shutter is released. I use a remote release to avoid any camera shake, but, the tripod itself vibrates a bit with my D5300 shutter release. The shake is not much, but, becomes apparent when using it for macro work.
Similarly, I purchased a cheap MonoPod to figure out its utility in my case. I generally use it as a support and rarely put my camera on it.
Now that I have paid the price for learning, I am looking for a stable tripod and monopod which is compact enough to be carried around. The release plates and the camera mount heads for the tripods also need to be figured out based on the actual usage and need. We will go into some of these details later.
Batteries, Batteries and more Batteries!
Plan on having battery backups for all your battery operated gear including the camera. This is a must! I prefer using Eneloop or similar ones. My last couple of purchases for batteries has been the Panasonic Eneloop Pro upto 2550mAh 4xAA Rechargeable Ni-MH Battery BK-3HCCE/4BN from Amazon India. The batteries for the camera would vary depending on the make and model. Check your camera manual to see which one you would require for the camera.
Most entry-level DSLRs work with SD cards. All the DSLRs, in general, come with at least one SD card as part of a standard “kit” which enables you to start using the camera from day one. Sadly, I have yet to come across any “kit” SD card which is adequate speed wise. Like the spare batteries, this is another item that you should get. I would advise you to buy only the faster class 10 cards and nothing below that.
Depending on your camera resolution, just make sure you have some backup cards at all times. I generally keep a couple of 32GB Class 10 cards as a backup with one in the camera. I have SD cards from Strontium, Lexar and Sandisk. I have more of Strontium since it seems to be better in the price to performance department for now. The most recent purchase was Strontium Nitro Plus 32GB UHS-1(U3) SDXC Card from Amazon India.
While none of this is required gear, I would strongly advise getting a speedlite, spare batteries and storage besides a decent carry bag. The rest can come later as and when needed. If you continue with DSLR photography, all of this will become required gear at some stage.