Image credit: Geekcentricity.

A General Guide for Buying Camera Accessories

By Keith Thomson

You’ve purchased a camera, a lens, have read the manual, tested the functions and are now comfortable with the basics, let’s think see how we can enhance our photography experience with accessories, tools that are not a necessity but might be fun to play with or to do specific things with.

If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend a mid-range zoom lens as your “walk around” lens. A 28mm-135mm or so focal range is considered mid-range because it gives you the versatility of a wide-angle, a mid range and a short telephoto lens all in one.

A LENS HOOD (or SHADE), which is a plastic piece than screws onto the front of your lens that helps to block the sun or other light source and prevent lens flare.

LENS FILTERS are similarly screwed in front of the lens, but on the inside. You’ll see a number on the lens, for example 68mm, 77mm, these are the thread sizes and the filter size MUST match the lens. Filters are inexpensive, $10-$15 each, or about $50 form a set, and have a variety of uses. For example: a POLARIZING FILTER reduces reflections, thus saturating an image. NEUTRAL DENSITY filters can reduce the quality of light from all colors equally, therefore allowing for a longer exposure or wider aperture. A DIFFUSION FILTER, creates a dreamy haze, such as is often found in beauty photography.

When shooting in low light, it’d be handy, or necessary, to have a FLASH. I’d highly recommend buying a flash that has MASTER/SLAVE capabilities. This means that if your flash is a master, you can also have a “slave unit,” another off-camera flash, or multiple ones, that you set elsewhere in the room. The RADIO TRIGGER slaves systems are very expensive, often round $1000, but the OPTICAL TRIGGER slave units are far less expensive, the drawback being, because they are optically triggered by infrared light, the slave must be within 80 degrees of the master to “catch” the infrared light and trigger, whereas a radio trigger system allows 360 degrees of trigger capability. Most on-camera flash units nowadays also act as slaves but NOT ALL are masters. It makes sense to me though, that if you all ready have a master, instead of buying a “slave-only” device, a lesser, cheaper flash unit with a slave function gives you the option to use it either as a slave OR as a backup on-camera flash unit.

A FLASH DIFFUSER, like an Omni-Bounce or the various made by Gary Fong, disperses and softens the hard light of a flash. An OFF CAMERA FLASH CHORD connects to your hot shoe and allows you to move your on camera flash 10-15 feet in any direction, maybe being held by an assistant, mounted to a stand or even in one of your hands as you shoot with the other. Each of these are inexpensive, costing from about $15-$50. You’ll notice that more expensive, “professional” camera models often appear to be bulkier than the classic camera body. A BATTERY GRIP is a device that screws on to the bottom of the camera, giving the camera an extra battery for twice the charge but, ergonomically, also gives the camera much better balance. A “brand” battery grip can cost about $200, but a “third party” one can cost a third of that. I must mention though that camera brands often suggest consumers beware of third party batteries and grips because they have been said have communication issues with firmware, though I use a “third party” grip and back-up batteries and have never had a problem.

You’ll need a MEMORY CARD. Without it, you won’t be able to store images so some thought should go into it before purchasing. First, you’ll have to recognize which FORMAT fits your camera slot, CF, SD, MEMORY STICK etc. Then, the size of the card, 8mb, 16mb, 32mb, etc. determines how much storage the card allows, but the SPEED of the card, 150X, 400X etc. determines how fast that card is recording the information. Faster cards minimize lag time. This is especially important when shooting in multi-shot or burst mode. Cards are generally inexpensive, costing but the high storage, high speed, “professional” ones can cost up to $100 or more.

Although you can download your images into a computer easily enough, A MEMORY CARD READER will do it much faster. They cost between $10-$30 and usually have multiple slots for multiple card formats. I always use a card reader, simply because the transfer speed is so much faster than directly off the camera. I like natural light, especially when doing portraits. A REFLECTOR bounces natural light so that you can direct it toward the subject. I use a “FIVE IN ONE” reflector. It folds up to about 1/3 it’s size and has a zipped up cover. The inside of the cover can be turned inside out and put back on, having a silver side and a gold side, thus allowing for a “colder” or “warmer” reflection of natural light. It also has a “white” side, a “black side” and the center, without the cover, is translucent, which can be used as a scrim to filter a light source. They come in different sizes, but a 40.5” costs about about $40.

A WIRELESS REMOTE allows you to trigger the camera without pressing the on-camera button. This is especially useful when you want to put yourself in the photo. It makes it simpler than running back to the camera for each shot to set the timer. It is also used to remove “camera shake” caused by your finger pressing on the button.

As your interest in photography grows, so will your appetite for accessories, like that great, practical bag, or a sturdy, transportable tripod, but these are individually inexpensive ways to accessorize your photography system. One by one, you can attain them, play with them and learn what they can do for you and your photography.

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