"Should i buy a tripod/monopod/batterygrip/filter/blar blar balr?" or words to that affect is one of the most common questions I am asked. I don't mind people asking it as it is an important question. It is easy to get dragged into GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), turning your photography hobby into a collection of all the photo-related paraphernalia you can get your hands on. At this point I will take my turn, stand up and say "Hi, my name's John, and I have GAS". I am a sucker for all camera related items/gadgets/accessories (just ask my wife), but it does not improve my photography (or my bank balance). So, to this end I've been researching what key bits of gear I consider essential, and what aren't, and I came to an interesting conclusion! We really need very little!
I can divide "things you need" into three categories; essential, useful and finally those items you can easily work around.
The Essential Gear
A camera - That's it... well, ok, you need a lens with it, but you get the idea. It does not matter if it is a DSLR or a smartphone, without this, you are dead in the water when it comes to taking pics. Sure there is a plethora of lenses you might want, but any camera is better than non, and if you can't take an interesting image with your smartphone, a $10,000 camera and lens combo is not going to help you! Now, which camera/lens is whole other can of worms with no easy answer! If you do want some advice on this... contact me, and I will see what I can do!
The Useful Gear
This is the list of gear that is useful to have and will have, in my opinion, the biggest impact on your photography after the camera itself.
A spare battery and memory cards - I've covered this in a previous post, but these are the life blood of your camera and having a spare is great. They are also NOT THAT EXPENSIVE.
Post-processing software - I'm not sure it is gear as such, but lets say item. This was nearly in the essential list, but not quit. I recommend Adobe Lightroom. This can transform your images from great to fantastic, so get some, learn it and use it! Check out my Your Image My Edit series of videos for tips and help on that! This recommendation is based on the assumption you have a computer... if you don't, well that is an essential item... get one! :)
Computer back-ups - I've written about my backup strategy previously and I think it is important. We spend so much money on our camera/lenses, an extra $100 on an external hard-drive to back up our images is just common sense. Just think about how much it would cost you to re-make all the images you have taken if they were lost... it will come to more than $100.
A bag - This does not have to be a camera bag exactly, but bags are always useful. It means you have somewhere to put your gear if it rains, and gives some added protection.
Items you don't urgently "need"
Ok, this is subjective, this is basically items that I think are useless, or if you could have you would, but I find myself without frequently and use a work-a-round. As such, they are in this list. Obviously they are useful, but i would say NON-essential! There are exceptions and of course situations where they are essential, but for general use, you can live without the following!
Tripod/monopod - I have a tripod and I use it, but I do not always have it with me. It is bulky and cumbersome at times. So i feel it is not an essential item for me. In it's absence you can use the fantastic bag-pod (rest your camera on a bag) for long exposures, or a wall/table/chair or ANYTHING that is stable. I think i have taken more long exposure shots WITHOUT my tripod than with it, as I don't carry it with me all the time. Would i have liked a tripod/monopod at that time, sure, but would I have brought one knowing I have these work-a-rounds? Maybe not!
Speedlite/flash and triggers - Flashes are useful, but unless you are doing studio or experienced portraiture, you can skip these too!
UV lens filters - lets get one thing straight, on modern cameras and lenses... they are not needed! Some people say they add protection to your lens... see this post and make up your own mind! The only exception is that some lenses require a filter to complete their weather sealing.
Graduated ND and ND filters - OK, I do own these and I do use them, but these are not in my bag all the time, rarely in fact, so I have adopted a more post-processing orientated method to compensate for them. You can either play with the settings of a single RAW image, or take 3 different exposures and blend them afterwards (HDR) to great affect. Yes they are useful for using low f/value lenses in bright light (particularly for video), but you can get around it if the need be.
Remote - There are many remote controls you can use on your camera, but the simple ones are used so you can activate the shutter from a distance or so that you minimize camera shake. Well, you can do both of these things using the timer-function, so... no needed! :)
Lens cleaning gear - hmmmm... this is tough. It is not essential (see how much 'dirt' you need in the front of a lens for it not to work well), but so cheap to get a lens cloth, free a lot of the time, it is useful... Ok, my stance is this. Don't buy one, wait until you get a free one... :) They are useful, but I don't use mine often at all. You need a lot of dirt/damage on a lens for it to have any noticeable effect on the image quality.