I started getting serious about photography two years ago before heading to Iceland for a trip. I bought a D40 and a Tokina wide-angle for landscapes for a total cost of about $900.

I got some decent shots. For example, Skogafoss

Over the past two years I've added a Sigma 70-300mm 4.6f at about $250 and a Nikon 50mm 1.8f for about $225. Still getting some good shots including these from last month:

Tokina: Sunrise

Sigma: Crabby Patty

Nikon: Sunset

In November, I'm taking a trip to Africa and am considering upgrading. Right now, I'm sitting on the fence between upgrading the body to a Nikon D700 or keeping the D40 and getting a 300mm f/2.8 VRII. Either one of those options means spending as much or more on upgrading gear than on the trip itself.

So my question is, as a hobbyist with some semi-pro aspirations and a desire to enter serious amateur competitions, am I getting out of control with buying gear too early, or should I just keep getting better with what I have right now? Primarily, I just love taking photos. Making money and entering contests will always be secondary. I just wonder with where I am in my current abilities if so much money going into gear will bring an equivalent amount of satisfaction from something that I'm not really doing for the money or notoriety.

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    Just saying: that crab picture is amazing in my humble opinion. – pwny Jul 11 '11 at 2:58
  • Thanks! The lens I used to shoot it is going for $159 new. – Ian Felton Jul 11 '11 at 3:10
  • Borrow some money and buy the most expensive gear you can find, that way you cant blame the equipment when the shots don't come out ;) Seriously, your expense is pretty minimal, my first flash card cost almost as much as all your equipment! Needless to say, the camera was more expensive. – Itai Jul 11 '11 at 5:19
  • I like this article--> The Seven Levels of Photographers. – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 1:03
  • Hello my name is Ian and i am a equipaholic. ( Hello Ian and welcome, Yes, you should send me half of all your equipment. – Alaska Man Mar 22 '19 at 17:16

I like gear. If you can afford it, why not. But better gear doesn't necessarily make better pictures.

If you're going on an African safari, that's one place where a good tele is really required. But you should be able to rent one, or possibly buy a used one from someone like KEH and return it after the trip, if you don't think it would get much use afterwards.

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    Buying gear isn't part of the "art", but damn is it pleasurable. Just spend within your limits and don't make more of it than it is, and it's fine IMO. Oh, and put it to good use! – Craig Walker Jul 11 '11 at 3:57
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    That being said, you can't take photos of far off birds without a telephoto lens. Some gear enables and some gear merely makes things a little easier. – Nick Bedford Jul 11 '11 at 4:56
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    This answer solved the problem. It answered the question about how I can have better shots on my trip without going in deep on purchases that aren't necessary beyond the trip itself. After the trip, I can go back to maximizing my progress on my current and much less expensive equipment. Thanks. – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 0:43

recommend to read The Seven Levels of Photographers first and you will find out whether you are still normal or not :-)

I also recommend the monopod. I also bought it and never had regrets about it.

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  • This was funny and had some good info such as, "The one type of gear these people ignore is the only type of gear that actually helps: lighting." I know other gear helps in addition to lighting, but overall this was fun to read and did provide wisdom in a fun way. – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 0:49
  • I really would like to make this the accepted best answer because it has so much truth in it. However, renting a lens will solve the problem I'm specifically trying to solve. However, I think this article has vast amounts of wisdom that would answer a more general question like, "How important is equipment in general?" – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 0:58

My advice would be to buy used. Lenses in particular hold their value extremely well.

Then you don't have to worry about buying gear too early - either your latest purchase will open up new avenues for you photographically, i.e. it was the right time to upgrade, or it wont, in which case you can sell it for about what you paid and be wiser about gear and not any worse off financially.

You have to be a bit wily, there are scams out there but I've been very successful buying from eBay. Just take your time, keep a record of what prices certain items go for before making a bid. I will also ask the seller a simple technical question about the lens to find out if they know anything at all about photography or are simply selling on the goods (which ought to raise alarm bells). Finally if it seems too good to be true it usually is.

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  • Up-voted for the tips on buying used. I'm planning on renting for the trip as mentioned above, but this gives me some good advice if I decide to ever buy an expensive lens or camera. – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 0:45

Perhaps your spouse (if you have one) is the final arbiter on that question! I haven't had to put it to the test yet... early days so far, though I'm wondering if complaining about the gear you've got just not being up to the task helps. :-)

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  • You beat me to it! It depends on what your wife/husband says! – Jon Jul 11 '11 at 18:17
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    I got 99 problems but... – Ian Felton Jul 12 '11 at 0:45

I think you need to weigh up whether the gear you want to buy is an enabler or simply makes some existing piece of gear you have better.

Trying to shoot [x] and not having the lens or flash or whatever to take such a shot is a reason to definitely buy the gear, but if it's something like an extra stop of exposure over your existing lens (say going from an f/4 to an f/2.8) then that's when you need to weigh up the pros verse the cost.

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I suggest that you consider saving up for a more robust lens, such as 24-70/2.8 or 70-200/2.8. For an Africa trip, the lens in Canon's line up that is ideal is the 100-400/4-5.6. I don't know what Nikon's equivalent is, but consider this kind of lens for your kit.

If you are going on a safari, for example, and shooting from a car, you'll want as much range as the camera will give. Consider bringing a light monopod or bean bag to stabilize your shots.

300/2.8 is a specialist lens, and unless you are dropping a lot of money (>$4000) you won't see a lot of value for your money. Do you need 2.8? Beautiful for portraits when shot at 2.8, but not for long-range landscapes, which are typically shot stopped down with a tripod.

You will see the quality of your images improve if you go with prosumer lenses, but keep in mind that you won't see any increased creativity - that is up to you. Looking at your images, IMHO, you don't need more equipment, but more time behind the camera to expand your style and composition.

I just returned from Iceland and had a 17-40/4 and 70-200/2.8 with me and that was plenty. For a few puffin shots, I wish I had an extender for the 70-200, or a crop body, to give me the extra length. There are practical aspects of bringing multiple lenses and a single body - it can be tedious to swap lenses - you may miss a shot - and you leave the camera prone to dust and dirt.

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