There are a lot of ways to save money on gear. But there is equipment that you really can’t get cheaply without regretting your decision. Here are my five don’t-skimp-on recommendations, what are yours? are there any your would add?
No matter how good your camera and lens package is, without a solid tripod you’re sunk. Rigs aside, your tripod is going to be the core of your sensor’s stabilization so you really cannot afford to get something cheap and crappy. That said there are some good affordable tripods that are smooth and have a decent build quality to price ratio.
Here are a few tripods I recommend starting from most expensive to least expensive:
Sachtler Ace Tripod ($560)
- For HDSLR Cameras & Compact Camcorders
- Supports Up to 8.8 lb
- Drag: 3 Grades Each of H/V + Zero
- 5-Step Counterbalance
- Balance Plate with 4.1″ Sliding Range
- 66.5″ Maximum System Height
Benro S6 Tripod ($300 for the kit or $160 for the head)
Benro has a great video tripod that uses Manfrotto plates and works great. They are supposed to be coming out with even more heads in the near future.
- Supports 13.2 lb (6 kg)
- Posi-Step Counterbalance System
- Variable Tilt Drag Control
- Separate Pan and Tilt Locks
- 501PL Compatible Quick Release Plate
- Quick Release Plate Safety Lock
Davis & Sanford Tripods ($150+)
I’ve been using D&S video tripods for several years now and am still blown away with how well they have held up. Not only are these tripods well build and smooth, but you also get a 10 year warranty with them! You can get the tripods in a bowl or lift configuration. I would recommend you check out the “Grounder” version that lens you can the tripod head all the way down to the ground for those hot low shots.
If you’ve got a light setup this is as cheap as I would go. I’ve used the Pearstone VT-2100 for over 2 years now. And while its not the smoothest head out there, its price, and size work very well for HDSLR work. Its a portable, lightweight video tripod that can support cameras weighing up to 15 lbs. Its two-way pan head features separate pan and tilt locks for stable, locked-down shots, or you can pan a full 360° and tilt up and down for smooth tracking of action.
I should also note that Manfrotto is having a huge rebate sale on their tripods from now thru September 30th. Below is a list of tripods and heads with rebates.
2. Zoom Lenses
The 18-55mm kit lens has a time and a place. The place is nowhere, and the time is never.
Unlike cheaper prime lenses (like the 50mm F1.8 or Nikkor primes) zoom lenses aren’t as cheap to get right. First off, they are more difficult to manufacture than primes, and secondly, you have to spend a little more to get one with a constant aperture (Fstop doesn’t change as you zoom in and out). So if you need a zoom lens, save up and get a good one. Don’t waist your money on garbage kit lenses (speaking mainly of the 18-55).
All that said, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on Canon or Nikon zoom lenses. There are some great ones out there for less, here are a few I’d recommend:
70-200mm F2.8 VC ($1500)
- 70-200mm Telephoto Zoom Lens
- Aperture Range: f/2.8-32
- Ultrasonic Silent Drive Motor
- Advanced Vibration Compensation
- Extra Low Dispersion Element
- Moisture Resistant Construction
- Compact Design
Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 ($1200+)
All hail my favorite lens…
- Wide-Angle 24-70mm Full-Frame Zoom Lens
- Built-In Image Stabilization
- Ultrasonic Silent Drive for Silent AF
- Moisture-Resistant Construction
Sigma 18-35mm ($800)
- Aperture Range: f/1.8-16
- Fast Constant Maximum Aperture
- Designed for APS-C-Sized Sensors
- 35mm Equivalent Focal Length: 28.8-56mm
Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 ($570-650)
- 11-16mm f/2.8 AFLens
- Designed for Cameras with APS-C Sensors
- Internal Silent Focusing AF Motor
- One Touch Focus Clutch Mechanism
- Two Aspheric Lens Elements
- Two Super-Low Dispersion Lens Elements
- Improved Multi-Coating
- 77mm Filter Thread
Tamron 28-70 (Old Version $500)
This is a great budget option. Not the sharpest, best lens, but if you simply can’t afford anything else this is a good options for a normal range constant aperture lens.
3. Quick Releases
You don’t want to mess around with cheap crappy quick release plates… Its the only thing between your camera and your tripod!
Even the RC2 plates are pushing it. They work if you have a rebel camera size and a small lens, but thats about all I would trust on those little suckers. I recommend getting all you cameras on 501/577 style Manfrotto plates. You can find them pretty cheap here. If your have a little more to spend, you can’t go wrong with Really Right Stuff plates and clamps, TOP notch stuff.
I’ve yet to find a decent $50-100 shotgun microphone for video work. I’ve bought a few and have always been disappointed. So do yourself a favor and get either a Rode Video Mic, or one of the NTG models.
5. Card Readers
It’s tempting to pick up a dirt cheap multi-card reader, but trust me, thats gonna come back and bite you in the arse. The pins bend easily and you can royal screw up your expensive card. I’ve had this Lexar reader for 2 years and its a champ. It is designed to keep the cards straight so you don’t reck your cards. It also closes so dust stays out of the reader.
So there you have it. Some equipment can be had for cheap, but there are some things worth saving for.
Stay classy my friends.