As a professional photographer for over 10 years, and an amateur for much longer, I’ve slowly accumulated a collection of gear and equipment which can make a photographer’s life so much easier. After being asked over and over for specific tips by friends and professional peers, I’ve put together this guide on gear upgrades every photographer should have.
I work extremely hard to reward myself with nice camera gear, but I also want to use and enjoy my purchases – not just baby it. I search out high quality equipment which will last many years of use.
For the purposes of this guide, I’ve remained camera brand agnostic. With many fellow photographers and bloggers using a multitude of exceptional cameras, from my own Nikon preference, or Canon or Sony, these upgrades are meant to be suited for any camera choice.
Every recommendation here is something I’ve used for a significant amount of time.
Camera Strap Upgrade
I’ve spent countless hours and miles hiking up and down mountains with the camera strap that came with my camera. It wears on the neck and isn’t comfortable for long periods.
When you are wearing your camera for a lengthy amount of time, or need something more comfortable than the strap that comes with your camera body, this is the ultimate strap. Made by Peak Design, the Slide Camera Strap is incredibly durable and versatile. Leaving the camera hanging around your neck is really bad for your spine. A sling strap like this one allows you to quickly move the camera out of the way or back into your grip for shooting. If you have multiple cameras, get the extra clips and quickly move the strap from one body to another. As an added bonus, the strap comes with tripod attachment capabilities.
Protective Camera Body Case Upgrade
Over the years, I’ve acquired a sizeable collection of camera backpacks. I don’t use them. I really don’t like them. The problem I have is that they are heavy with all of their protective padding. I’m often traveling to places which require miles of hiking. Carrying that extra weight, plus camera gear, plus food and water, and other hiking supplies, means I have way too much weight. Cue, the backpack insert.
After spending a lot of time testing gear packed in a variety of materials, from towels, to neoprene sleeves, to different cases, I settled on the Tenba BYOB 9 DSLR. It holds my camera, a second lens, extra memory cards and batteries, and a microfiber cloth for quick cleaning. The zipper is excellent, and the insert fits into my hiking backpack perfectly alongside all my other gear.
A typical hiking bag setup is sleeping bag on bottom, insert on sleeping back, extra clothes and first aid kit on top. My other hiking bag compartments hold food and liquids safely away from the camera. I could never reach such an ideal setup with a camera bag.
From an added safety perspective, I’m not carrying around gear with camera logos that scream “steal me” to potentially unsavory characters or bears in the woods.
Waterproofing Adventure Upgrade
Water is your camera’s arch nemesis. I’ve tested this theory and it didn’t turn out well for me. Grab a Seal Line Dry Pack and keep your gear protected. I always use a dry pack when kayaking for my camera gear, keys, and phone. This type of gear is a great idea if you’re spending time at the ocean with saltwater in the air.
Neutral Density Filter Upgrade
A neutral density filter is the key to bringing your photography to the next level when taking photos of moving water, sunsets, sunrises, and nightscapes. The filter allows you to capture long exposures without blowing out your highlights and overexposing lighter elements. The ND filter provides excellent balance and that epic look you may have been struggling to capture.
- Moving clouds turn into soft white objects against a vivid blue sky
- Waves turn smooth in choppy water
- Waterfalls turn into fuzzy water
- Car headlights become streaks of color
- Blur moving tourists or make them disappear with an extra long exposure
- Photograph multiple lightning strikes during a thunderstorm
There is a whole range of prices for neutral density filters – from $20 to $200. In the end, you’re going to be better off buying more expensive ones. These will reduce vignetting in the edges of your photos and bring you greater color accuracy. I ended up going with the Breakthrough Photography 10-Stop filter, however B + W and Hoya are other reputable brands some other photographer friends of mine use.
If you want to specialize in sunrise and sunset shots specifically, you’ll want to pick up a Graduated Neutral Density filter. This will taper the filter and allow you to pick up colors with much a more accurate balance. B + W produces some excellent quality GNDs.
Shopping strategy: Buy the biggest size ND filter you have lenses for, then adapter rings, or step up rings for your other lenses you might use this on. For example, I bought the Breakthrough 82mm filter, then a 78mm adapter and 58mm step up adapter for two other lenses I use often. I also purchased a lens cap for the larger filter to provide some extra protection. A filter case with a zipper will help keep your filter and step up adapters padded and dust free when not in use.
High Capacity High Speed Memory Card Upgrade
No matter the type of memory card your camera takes, you’re going to benefit from having a high capacity high speed card plugged in. If you’re using a card which came with your camera, this is a good chance you’re using a cheapo memory card. Delkin is my go-to brand for memory cards these days. They specialize in high quality cards and offer an incredible 48-hour replacement policy and lifetime warranty.
While a high capacity card means you will almost never worry about running out of room when you are presented with that once in a lifetime shot, make sure to transfer photos to your computer on a regular basis.
I currently own three full size tripods. One is an old 60’s aluminum tripod with metal spikes. This is my favorite tripod – it is sturdy, lightweight, and can throw some crazy environmental conditions. However, its irreplaceable and I’ll never be able to get the same one again. My second favorite is a Manfrotto. It is extremely high quality, but pretty heavy, so I mostly use it when shooting at home and not adventuring due to the weight. My third tripod isn’t good, nor is it in working condition. It was one of those cheapo $25-40 tripods that come in a bundle. I used it several times and it broke pretty quickly.
So what is the best kind of tripod? It depends on what you’re using it for and if you’re inside or outside. You most definitely want high quality. The worst thing that could happen is your tripod malfunctions or breaks and drops your camera and lens. The $25 tripod will quickly turn into a several hundred or several thousand dollar replacement.
A tripod like the Manfrotto BeFree, is a great balance between features. Sturdy enough to hold your camera and lens, lightweight enough to travel with at 2.43 pounds, a ball head for flexibility, and multiple leg configurations for setting up your composition.
Remote Shutter Release Upgrade
I no longer use a remote shutter cord. Wait a minute – how is this an upgrade? Well, I now use my phone paired to my camera with WiFi for a remote. I can shutter release, change basic camera settings, and stand much farther away.
Most new cameras all offer pairing capabilities to your phone. I highly encourage using and playing with the apps. The images are far superior to a selfie-stick and if you are patient enough, you can end up with some really cool shots of yourself cameoed in the background.
In the above image – I’m incorporating every camera upgrade listed in this post, with my remote camera app being the arc-de-triomphe.