Camera Accessories
December 26, 2013 3:01 AM   Subscribe

NOT another "what camera to get" question; I already own a Canon EOS Rebel T3i. It's the other stuff I'm confused about! I received a $200 Amazon gift card, but I'm getting overwhelmed trying to decide what to get.

I do various searches on Amazon with "rebel t3i" in the keywords, as well as using those "this customer bought instead", and "you might also like...", but I can't seem to find....the extra stuff that isn't some crap filters kit.

What I -need- are some photography gear essentials, like a good set of cleaning tools. Other than that, I don't know....what are some good accessories I could get? What products (that I can find on Amazon!) of the non-lens variety can I use to make my photography better?

I'm into taking pictures of just about everything, from moths to skyscrapers. I'm traveling, currently living in Japan. I like to travel as light as possible, but I'm also pretty great at packing. I love to read, so your photography "Joy of Cooking" bibles are also welcome. My knowledge is spotty, in that I take some pretty good photos (links to my work in my profile) but I wouldn't know how or when or why to use a flash thingumajig if I even knew what I was talking about, and I get sidetracked by "you NEED this" photography blogs while I'm trying to shop.

I'd really like to reach that next stage of picture taking and I feel like this gift card is a chance to fill in a couple gaps on items or information I've somehow completely skipped by on. Help?
posted by DisreputableDog to Shopping (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you're doing any sort of low light, telephoto, or close-up photography, a tripod is very useful.
posted by HuronBob at 3:11 AM on December 26, 2013

In your position, I'd suggest you get something that will significantly expand your picture taking capabilities.

If you're only shooting jpegs, consider buying Adobe Lightroom and start shooting raw files.

If you don't own a speedlight, consider one of these of these, or these and learn to bounce it and possibly use it off-camera, triggered by your camera's inteernal flash.

If you want to take a giant step in improving your available light photography, there's always the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:52 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Adobe Lightroom, with which to edit your RAW files.

An external hard drive, to back up all your RAW files.

Nice prints and/or a nice photobook.

Tripod. Don't just get any old tripod, though. Crummy tripods really, truly are not worth it. Slik, Gitzo, Tiltall, etc. have some relatively nice ones for cheap. Buy used, as from KEH, B&H, or Adorama. (I'm not sure how ordering from those sites squares with residing in Japan, but I'm sure you can figure it out.)

Macro extension tubes, if you don't already have a macro lens situation.

As far as book recommendations go, some of the best intros to photography are free. Checkout the (free!) Cambridge in Colour website, or Reddit's Photo Class. If you practice alongside these sites, then you will get so much more out of them than through any book in particular. You can always check out books later, but IMHO most of the better books already assume all the knowledge contained in those websites. Once you get the technical basics out of the way, it's going to be a lot easier to follow somebody else's guidance.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:25 AM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

A tripod + Canon RC-6 remote is a great way to get yourself into pictures without having to dash over with the timer going. (Canon reports it as compatible with t3i on their website).

If you've had the t3i for a while, it might be nearing time to get a replacement battery.

A quality circular polarizer filter may help landscape and building pictures by cutting down reflections & darkening the sky. Although ive heard they aren't meant for ultrawide lenses, since the sky isnt evenly polarized. Look at hoya and b+w for brands.

You could look into a cokin or lee filter system set. Its a mount + adapter for square filters. The main current use for them seems to be for graduated neutral density filters which will let you dim the sky or another region of the frame when shooting, instead of in post.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:26 AM on December 26, 2013

A tripod

A polarising filter.

You could get a battery grip which extends the battery life (by using 2 batteries) and gives you a vertical shutter release.

Macro extension tubes for the moths.

Get this and shoot some sexy timelapse sequences

posted by JIMSMITH2000 at 5:41 AM on December 26, 2013

I know you said non-lens, but the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens is under $200 and worth every penny. You can get that and still get a tripod, lens cleaner, and extra battery.
posted by kellygrape at 5:56 AM on December 26, 2013

A good flash and diffuser. Either the Speedlight 90 or 270. whichever works with your camera. The diffuser is a must have for flash photography.
posted by Gungho at 6:51 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

DO NOT just buy a tripod.
If you want a very stable tripod, you have to get either a Gitzmo, or Manfrotto, or other comparable tripod. These tripods do not come with a head, so you will have to purchase a head for it.
The heads for these tripods offer different ways of adjusting the camera to be as steady as possible. Beginners start off with a ball head, but without a bubble level the, shots can come out skewed. Personally, I prefer a pan and tilt head with a bubble level ON THE HEAD.
I have used "pro" tripods from many different vendors, and the difference between REAL professional tripods and faux pro tripods is night and day.
This item might set you back a couple of Benjamins, but it is quite worthwhile.
posted by RocRizzo at 8:13 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The remote TheAdamist linked to is useful even without a tripod as an SLR has a wide enough foot print to remain steady when set down on something. I've taken many a picture with my camera sitting on the top of my car. It's amazing what one can do with a bunched up jacket to get the camera pointed where one wants it. Canon's website is kinda unclear whether it works with your camera but B&H says it does. Deal Extreme has a knock off RC-6 for $3.
posted by Mitheral at 8:23 AM on December 26, 2013

What lenses do you currently have?

A decent tripod (some good advice above). Get an extra quick release plate, because you will lose it.
A lens pen & rocket blower to keep everything clean
An R-strap. I find this style to be much more comfortable that the traditional neck strap.
Adobe Lightroom is really powerful and easy to figure out. You can fly through basic adjustments, white balance, sharpening, noise reduction very quickly in Lightroom.
A good camera bag. Many inexpensive bags are needlessly bulky, heavy or awkward, which makes bringing your camera around with you no fun at all. Think Tank is my current favorite for bags, but they are pricey.
posted by inertia at 8:48 AM on December 26, 2013

Magic Lantern and various phone/computer apps make physical remote controls much less necessary than they once were. Avail yourself of the free solutions before you pay for something!
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:51 AM on December 26, 2013

I just got a Canon EOS 700D and here is my list:

Fast SD card - 45Mb/s or higher.
Lense filter - better to crack a cheap filter than an expensive lens.
Lens hood.
Canon Speedlight flash.
Photography lessons.
Spare Canon battery.
Canon f1.8 50mm lens.
posted by mr_silver at 9:25 AM on December 26, 2013

Plenty of good suggestions upthread, but …

I question this: What I -need- are some photography gear essentials.

I find often with photography that people new(ish) to the game assume there's something they're missing, some piece of kit that everyone has or some secret technical knowledge that will take their photos to the next level.

I don't think this is true. I think the most important thing you need to push your photography further is creative inspiration, something that keeps you hungry and keeps you looking at your photos with a critical eye and keeps you excited to go out and shoot.

From your SmugMug it looks like you're already shooting with a fixed 28mm lens (correct?) which is great. Limiting your focal length will increase your creative engagement with your photos.

So, my suggestion: go to a bookstore with a great selection of photo books and find some you like. Find some that speak to you, that get you excited about what could be. Don't worry if the work seems way out of your league, or is very different than what you currently shoot, or anything. Just go find work that excites you! (Then go home and buy the books on Amazon, which is unfortunate for that local bookshop but is necessary given the gift card and all :)

You can also find a lot of inspiration on Flickr (and maybe SmugMug? Not sure about their community), though it may take some work to find the groups that attract the kind of work you dig. I'm always a fan of Hardcore Street Photography (SFW!) though be warned the quality there is VERY high. It can be intimidating.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:21 AM on December 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Spend money on a good tripod. Don't get an unstable cheapo, get a good one. I have tried many and love this one. The three legs are not connected (other than the top mount), so can I have have two on the ground and one on a tree parallel to the ground. I am spread them out flat over a tidepool or very low for plant macro work. There are threads, for the head, at the top and bottom of the center post and on one of the legs.

If you like landscape photography, a graduated neutral density filter is nice to have. It will darken bright skies for a better more (light) balanced phtotograph, top to bottom.

I like using a wrist strap on my camera. Neck straps annoy me.

I like using a light disc for some people, plant and macro work. I have a small 20" (50cm) one and a large 48" (1.2m) one.

I could go on with lens model A, camera bag model B, or flash model C, etc., but I imagine you already know what you like/need.

Have fun!
posted by Leenie at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2013

I find often with photography that people new(ish) to the game assume there's something they're missing, some piece of kit that everyone has or some secret technical knowledge that will take their photos to the next level.

Yeah, this. I'm a pro and I don't own any filters or a lot of other things that people consider "essential". Not that I don't have a lot of gear, but my glass collection consists of a grand total of 2 lenses and I'm still using a 5dmk2. You will get more out of just shooting and learning about composition and how light works than you will out of remote shutters, extension tubes, or other gear doodads. If you need more gear, you will figure it out by shooting more.

With that said, a good tripod is probably the only accessory I would consider essential. I use a Manfrotto with a ballhead, not sure which models.

If I were you I'd buy a good photo history book such as Seizing the Light.
posted by bradbane at 12:47 PM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

consider a manfrotto fluid head because you will eventually want to shoot video.
posted by Gungho at 12:50 PM on December 26, 2013

Important non-lens accessories include a good tripod, a good external flash with diffuser (hot shoe mountable of course), a good external mic if you do any video recording, extra batteries and memory cards, a polarizing filter, and a camera bag that you like.

Depending on your photographic habits you might also want a light tent, an umbrella diffuser/reflector, a macro tube, and/or one of those flexible Gorillapod thingies.

As far as a tripod, I highly endorse the Vanguard Alta Pro series, with the ball head of your choice. Mine is extremely sturdy and easy to use, and that swinging central arm gives it incredible camera-positioning flexibility. It's not light-weight (though lightweight tripods aren't usually any good anyway) but it is very well-made. I love mine.
posted by Scientist at 1:09 PM on December 26, 2013

Honestly, for me and the photos I take, the best thing to buy is a flash with ttl and tilt-and-swivel. There is no lens on earth - however fast - that will make your night photos as good as a bounced flash. I love it. Don't feel compelled to buy a canon flash, they are kind of expensive. Look at cheaper metz, cactus etc. TTL is absolutely key - don't buy into that strobist stuff and get a manual flash unless you want to learn a totally new hobby.
posted by smoke at 2:37 PM on December 26, 2013

Also, I agree with bradbane up above. Rather than going out and buying every piece of gear you think you will ever need all at once (not that that was what you were proposing to do, but it's a common impulse) just buy one accessory (for now) that you think will open up some fun possibilities for you, and then play with it and explore its capabilities until you understand it really well. Once you feel like you've mastered at least the basics of your new toy/tool/gadget, then you can think about what the next piece you want to buy might be – maybe something to expand your abilities in the area that your previous acquisition has opened up to you, or maybe something to take you in a totally new direction.

It's more fun that way, you'll learn more, and you'll be able to be much more deliberate and thoughtful as you accumulate your kit such that you'll end up in the long run with a more useful-to-you set of gear and waste less money along the way. Perhaps start by thinking about a particular type of photography that you'd like to explore more. If you want to do macro photography, get that lens tube. If you want to do studio shots, maybe a light tent or some studio lights/flashes/diffusers. If you want to do nature photography, something like a polarizing filter or a lens hood (or perhaps a telephoto lens for wildlife or a wide-angle one for landscapes) or a really good camera bag might do the trick.

No matter what kind of photography you start exploring though, one thing that will be invaluable to you in almost any circumstance will be a tripod. If you don't have one, a good tripod (like the Vanguard I recommended above, or one of the other excellent suggestions from other posters) is probably the first accessory you should get. As others have said, get a quality one and don't get a lightweight model. The difference between a quality tripod and a cheapo one is immense, and lightweight tripods are just not nearly as stable as traditional ones and are only worthwhile for that 2% of the time when you just absolutely cannot carry any extra weight (i.e. trekking, bicycle touring, etc). There is a good reason that a quality traditional tripod is a bit on the heavy side. And honestly, my Vanguard Alta (which at 5.4 lbs is hardly a lightweight) has gone with me on multiple transcontinental flights and long backpacking treks through African jungles, and I've still never really wished that it was lighter.
posted by Scientist at 2:40 PM on December 26, 2013

Something else you might want to think about is books. Not so much books about photography, but books of photographs. As others have noted, making good pictures is less about gear than one might think. I find that looking at others' vision, as well as learning more about the things I love to photograph, help my photography far more than any equipment purchases. I love that too but it's almost a separate interest.

That said, good software and the time to learn it are important things to have. Given your interest in small things, some extension rings could be good if you don't already have some. Agree with everyone above that a good tripod is worth spending money on too.
posted by mewsic at 4:00 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jumping back in to say that the Vanguard Alta is a lovely tripod and a decent price point for its quality. And to mention that for *my* photography, I use my tripod less than 1 in 10 times I have the camera out. Looking at your photos, I suspect you might be the same.

I might have recommended this before to you, but for your macros, the Raynox Macro diopters (dc 150 and 250) are a great way of getting macros without a specialised lens. They are much better than any other diopter on the market.
posted by smoke at 6:01 PM on December 26, 2013

So I took a ton of notes, followed a number of leads, and made my choices. I went the "more knowledge and inspiration than gear" route, but I'm definitely coming back to this thread once I've practiced enough to know why I want the gear that I want. If anyone's curious, my gift card paid for:
The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression,
Ansel Adams: An Autobiography,
Within The Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision,
People in Focus: How to Photograph Anyone, Anywhere,
a guide for my camera, a camera strap, a cleaning kit,
and an excuse of taking $30 off the pretty, pretty camera bag I've been drooling over for a year.

Heh, though admittedly a few hours later I not-so-impulse bought: Ansel Adams' The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, Rowell's Mountain Light, Jarvis' The Best Camera Is The One That's With You, Robert Doisneau's Paris, and Juliet Margaret Cameron: Her Life and Photographic Work, many of which were going for $2 or less.

I'm just going to favorite the comments I like the best, though honestly the whole list makes me happy. Thank you everyone for your help.
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:47 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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