Choosing the gear that’s right for you

While no one can tell you what is exactly right for you, you can evaluate your shooting history and preferences to better determine the photography system components that work for you.

While reading over the list of Canon photography system components, you may have the overwhelming urge to buy one or two new lenses or accessories. Just seeing the list is like the ultimate wish list for the great camera store in the sky.

Patience, however, is a virtue, and so is developing a solid plan to help you build a system that’s right for you. From personal experience, I can tell you that there are few things more aggravating than having an expensive lens or Speedlite gather dust in a gear bag. I’ve also learned that the loss on the resale price of gear I didn’t really need or use is sobering enough to keep my personal wish list carefully prioritized.

A normal-range lens helps capture fine details across a wide range of tonality in natural-looking portraits — especially with RAW images. I photographed this child in a Shanghai marketplace. Taken with an EOS-1D Mark II with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L lens, ISO 640, 1/250


To plan your photography system, think carefully about your areas of interest, and then try to look ahead to future needs and desires. You may be interested in flower macro shots (see 1-11), natural scenes, or portraits (see 1-12). To get you started, here are some general questions to help you create a plan for building your photography system:

  • Is photography your passion, a current or future profession, or a hobby and a way to keep family snapshots current? If you are serious about photography, then the type of gear you buy will be different from the gear you’d buy for family snapshots.
  • What subjects do you most enjoy photographing? If you shoot sports or fast-moving children, then you should factor camera features such as a high burst rate and fast focusing into your planning. But if you do fine-art shooting, portraits, or landscapes, a slower frame rate and high-quality lenses become more important.
  • Who uses the camera? If you and other family members intend to use the camera, you may want a camera that includes point-and-shoot modes such as the Digital Rebel and EOS 40D.
  • How important is it to you to get the highest-possible quality with every image you make? If you tend to examine every detail of your images, your needs will be significantly different from the photographer who is happy with the average snapshot.
  • At what size do you print images? Answering this question helps you determine the camera resolution you need. But also think ahead to the time when your photography skills are better — that’s when you may want bigger enlargements from images. It is also a good idea to buy with the future in mind rather than settling for what you can get by with or afford today.
  • Do you often shoot in low light or need the ability to handhold the camera in moderate to low light? If you shoot indoor volleyball games in a dimly lit gym, then a fast lens such as an f/2.8 with image stabilization (to counteract movement while handholding the camera) gives you an edge. If most of your shooting is outdoors in good light, then a slower lens should be adequate.
  • Is weight important? In considering this question, factor in the combined weight of the camera body, the battery or battery grip, and the lenses.
  • Do you have specialized needs? Shooting macro images, for example, may require a ring-type flash. Or perhaps you may want to try different types of filters to soften or enhance colors in your images (such as warming filters, which come in a variety of tones and shades for optimizing color in your images). Or perhaps you need a monopod for stabilizing your camera while still being able to move around and shoot.

This photo of a dwarf iris shows the versatility of a sharp, fast telephoto lens. Taken with an EOS-1Ds Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, ISO 100, 1/80 second at f/2.8.


As you learned earlier in this chapter, Canon offers both cameras and lenses in consumer and professional categories, and the price difference is significant. For example, if your answers to the previous questions indicate that you care intensely about image quality and the ability to

make enlargements from your pictures, then you’ll get the best image quality and biggest enlargements with a high-resolution camera such as the EOS-1Ds Mark III, the EOS 5D, or, in the consumer category, the EOS Digital Rebel XTi (400D).

For lenses, the highest image quality comes from Canon’s L-series pro lenses, although many of the consumer lenses also offer excellent image contrast while providing excellent sharpness and speedy focusing.

Using the basic photography system and high image quality as the criterion, approximate costs for a basic system at the time of this publication are as follows:

  • Canon EOS 5D 12.8-megapixel digital SLR: ≈$2,000
  • Wide-angle telephoto EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens: ≈$1,000
  • 77mm UV haze filter: ≈$50
  • 77mm circular polarizer: ≈$125
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens: ≈$1,000
  • 67mm UV Haze-1 filter: -$70 67mm circular polarizer: ≈$95

Total: $4,340

If, on the other hand, you enjoy photography as a pastime, and you don’t tend to lose sleep over getting the biggest enlargements or fret over minute image details, then the basic system cost would look a little more like this:

  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi (400D) 10.1-megapixel dSLR with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 USM lens: ≈$600
  • 58mm UV haze filter: ≈$25
  • Canon EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 III USM lens:≈$180
  • 58mm UV haze filter: ≈$15
  • 58mm circular polarizer: ≈$85
  • 75-300mm lens hood: ≈$25

Total: $930

These examples clearly show that knowing your priorities for a photography system makes a big difference in the amount of money that you spend. And, of course, there are many variations on the system components.


Another consideration is timing. If you are new to photography, the idea of acquiring many more lenses and accessories may seem overwhelming, but remember that you can acquire the lenses and accessories that you need over a period of months or years.

At the most basic level, all you need is a camera and a good walk-around lens that provides a focal range for wide-angle to moderate telephoto shooting. For the EOS Digital Rebels, a kit lens such as the EF-S 18-55mm meets that requirement for many people. The EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM or EF-S 17-85mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM lenses are also ideal walk-around lenses. For the other EOS cameras, the 24-105mm f/4.0L IS USM lens provides a great focal range and excellent image quality.

Then as you can afford to buy lenses, you have the advantage of additional time to think about your shooting needs and preferences, and you can choose the best lens to add to your system.

It is also important to think ahead. As your photography skills increase and the range of your photography evolves, the core pieces of your photography system — the lenses — should stand the test of time and change.

For example, you may spend several years shooting with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel. As you add lenses, the EF-S lenses may seem to be the best buy for the money and you may add a couple more EF-S lenses to your system. But if three years from now, you decide to replace the Digital Rebel with an EOS 5D, then you’ll have to replace the EF-S lenses because they are incompatible with the 5D. This is only one example of why it’s a good idea to think and plan for the future even if it means delaying a purchase until you can afford the item.


Certainly, used equipment can represent substantial savings over the cost of new gear. Used camera gear is sold online on eBay, on, on forums, and on Web sites of major camera stores. Used camera bodies and lenses are usually rated by condition such as scratches, dents, the amount of wear, and so on. Pristine gear may be rated as “Mint,” which is defined as factory-new condition with original documentation and packaging. At the bottom of the scale is “Bargain,” which means that the item has 50 percent or less of the original finish, it is well worn, may have missing parts, or may not be fully functional. In most cases, you have to rely on the honesty of the seller to accurately rate the gear.

You also want to focus on the working condition of an item rather than base its value strictly on appearance. Many picky customers pass over perfectly good equipment because it looks “used.” If the glass on a lens is clean and it performs well, then the aesthetic value should be secondary. A camera store I used to frequent was a great source for used equipment. Whenever the owner encountered a shopper obsessed with appearance over functionality, he would invariably ask, “Are you going to take pictures with it, or of it?”

I prefer to buy used gear from sources that accurately rate their equipment. The downside of buying used professional gear is that it likely has more miles of use on it than if you buy from a photography enthusiast who may not be as good at rating the gear, but will likely have used the gear less and in less demanding conditions. The same cautions apply to buying used camera equipment as to other used gear — if the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is. One way to ensure you don’t throw money away is to buy from camera stores that provide a warranty with the used equipment. The warranty is usually limited and of a short duration, but if you use the gear right away to ensure its functionality, you have some recourse if it doesn’t perform as described.

Category: Photography System

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