Buying new gear is generally more straightforward than buying used gear, simply because there’s less worry about the condition the gear is in when you hand over your money. However, with a diverse market, and constant technological advances, selecting new equipment is not without difficulties. Here, I’ll briefly outline how I go about it.
What to Buy
This is the first, and most important, thing to establish. Much like shopping for groceries, purchasing new equipment is made easier by having a list of what exactly you want to buy.
To work out what to buy, look at your needs. What kinds of photos do you take? Where do you take them? What do you use them for? This will give you a list of features you require. In my case, I take a lot of landscape and macro photos, frequently in poor weather, for printing or high resolution display on a computer. That tells me I need to pick ruggedly built, ideally weather-sealed equipment, and that all lenses and camera bodies should be capable of turning out excellent image quality.
As well as looking at your current needs, think about your future needs. Are you likely to develop new interests? Will you have to look elsewhere for future upgrades? Basically, these questions are to test whether or not there is room to grow in the product you’re buying, or the system it’s a part of. There’s no point in buying something if you’re going to sell it before you’ve had your money’s worth out of it. Equally, if you’re buying into a camera system, it’s less than ideal to buy into one which offers a narrow range of options (e.g. small lens selection over a narrow range of focal lengths), as unless the range grows, you may find yourself having to jump ship to meet your future needs: that can be horrifically expensive if it goes wrong. This is why I have the bulk of my purchases pre-planned for the next five or so years.
Set Your Budget
Quite often, I’m asked by others to recommend a good camera. But, not knowing how much they’re looking to spend, it’s impossible to give them a useful recommendation, as I’ll often recommend something out of their price range, on the basis that I’d be willing to spend more to get it. Establish how much you can afford to spend, and stick to it. If you’re asking for advice, don’t forget to mention your budget (and what, specifically, you require).
I vary my budget, depending on what I’m looking at. I budget more for something critical (e.g. body or lens) than something less critical (e.g. cable release). Another thing I tend to do is look at list prices across different manufacturers, even when I’m not buying, so that I constantly have a feel for what things should cost, and what I should be expecting to pay for them. This helps me to keep my budget realistic.
Make Your Choice
Once you know what you’re after, and how much you’re willing to spend, start shopping around. Generally, I browse online, and draw up a shortlist. Manufacturers are increasingly offering, in addition to comparison tools, interactive shopping tools that help you select exactly what you’re after. Forums and reviews are also helpful, but bear in mind that they’re opinions, and that yours may differ.
I take my shortlist into physical stores to look at things (to see if they fit my hands and work as I’d like them to), and also to chat to salespeople. Good salespeople are founts of knowledge: often, they have used a wider range of products than you, and learnt even more off a broad group of customers. They can tell you about repair costs, warranty conditions, what people are using the gear for, and sometimes, they can even show you samples of what their customers are getting. This is something I feel is often missing from online sales, and one of the major reasons I keep my business to a few select stores: they give me a high level of service.
After the Purchase
You’ve just spent what’s likely to be a large sum of money on equipment. So, what next? Simple: look after it!
Equipment will almost always depreciate: it’s a fact of life. But, that’s nothing compared to equipment that needs expensive repairs or outright replacement, or an unfavourable trade-in because of preventable damage. Caring for your equipment helps to preserve its value, and keeps it around longer for you to enjoy.
The purchase of new equipment is daunting. But, you can ease the process by approaching it with a clear idea of what you want, how much you’re willing to pay for it, finding the best fit for your needs, and looking after it.