Thursday, December 31, 2009

So You Got A Camera

So, you just got a camera. And the folks in the store are anxious to sell you an "accessory kit". They're anxious to do this because it's a high-profit item -- put a bunch of low-quality items together, give it a name, perhaps a name for a specific camera model, and sell it for a premium.

Ignore the accessory kits and instead think about what you need. Here are my suggestions:

  • A memory card. Probably the one that came with the camera is too small. You need a minimum of one decent-sized card and a maximum of two. The price per GB is constant up to 16GB, so forget the idea of getting more smaller ones. The only advantage of two is the ability to transfer pictures from one card while you're using the other one. Always transfer the images to your computer and delete them off the card. Calculate how much space you need by estimating how many pictures you'll take between opportunities to transfer to your computer and then multiply by the space needed for the size you'll be shooting at.
    • Speed does matter. With most cameras, faster cards let you take pictures faster. The cheapest cards off-brand cards seem to be the slowest.
    • If your camera uses Compact Flash (CF), consider a UDMA card and a UDMA reader (see below).
  • A UV filter, if you have an SLR. The real purpose is to protect your lens if it gets knocked. You don't need to pay absolute top dollar, but the cheapest ones may introduce distortion.
  • A bag (not a case). You want a bag to stow the camera in when you're actually using it and possibly when you're using it not at home. I have a small Velocity 7 for active work. You don't want any case that is supposed to be used *while* you're actually taking pictures. They get in the way.
  • If you have an SLR with multiple lenses, consider a backpack. I have an excellent one from Kata.
  • Stability aka a tripod. You probably want some combination of the the following.
    • A tripod. The best recommendations I know of are by Thom Hogan of (he also writes great books). Most people can get by with less, maybe even just putting the camera on the edge of a table and using the self timer.
    • A small tripod. Gorilla pods aren't bad (get the larger one, not the small one, it also comes in green). Or, maybe a Green Pod.
    • A monopod. They're lightweight and good for added stability. Even a really cheap one can make a big difference. I've heard good things about the SteadePod.
  • If you don't have one, you need a card reader for your computer. I have a Lexar dual-slot reader that supports UDMA. It does not have an attached USB cord (more convenient for packing) and closes to keep dust out.
  • Consider a cheat sheet from Bert's Cheat Sheets. Small and handy. I also got one for my external flash.
Don't get:
  • A memory card that's bigger than you actually need. Bigger is not always better: with some cameras, particularly point-and-shoots, larger cards mean the camera takes longer to turn on.
  • Additional batteries or an external battery charger. You can always buy them later.
  • An external flash, unless you know what you're doing (in which case, you probably don't need my advice anyway).
  • Any lens adapter that goes on the outside of your lens.
  • Remote control, unless you know you'll use it.
  • Anything labeled an accessory kit.
And don't forget: enjoy your new camera!