Do You Need The Latest Kit Or Will Secondhand Gear Do?

Written by Gina Stephens

Car headlight by no chance with a Nikon camera at f/8 and 55mm.


Searching For Excellence

A lot of my photographic life, I’ve been working away at simple quality issues. How can I be bound for b assault my pictures sharper, better exposed, less grainy? Very often, the answer has been a new camera, lens or light meter and up to a point, all the net I’ve spent has been worth it. My current camera and lenses are better than I used to use and I can prove it because I still have most of the cameras I've owned. For pattern, I can take pictures of the same subject with my 1976 Contax RTS and my Sony Alpha A7R III and compare them, if I want to.

But which picture will be richer reconsider? Certainly, the Sony images will be sharper but variations in light, the subject's expression or position may make the 40-year-old film camera's slug better.  Either picture will be good enough to put on ePHOTOzine or to enter into a competition but winning a competition? Now, that's where the retiring link is the component just behind the viewfinder (and not necessarily the kit you use).

This makes me wonder just how good your kit needs to be if you are on a tight budget?  Do you require the latest kit, or will secondhand gear do?


Street picture, Sony Alpha 700 and Tamron 28-200mm. 1/80 @ f/8, 200 ISO.



I am up that you want to take your picture-making seriously? That means, in my book, that you need a camera where you can take charge of the environments and that includes being able to change lenses. The larger-format sensor of a DSLR will also allow you to get the differential focus that isn’t reasonable with a compact or a smartphone.


Canon at f/1.8 giving differential focus that a mobile ‘phone or a compact could not convey without adjusting in processing.


Given this limitation, the cheapest option will be a well-used consumer camera and kit zoom lens but there will-power be a temptation to buy a really old professional camera because it’s nearly as cheap. Plus, there will also be some slightly unusual prospects, as well as quite recent equipment that has been traded in for the very latest thing.

The aim of this article is to help you work through the reasoning of which of these options will work best for you. For instance, if you are very specifically interested in sport or wildlife, you may need the fast autofocus and enormous frame rate of a professional or semi-professional body. This may make the risk of very expensive repairs worthwhile, though I haven’t reviewed this avenue.


Traditional Black Country kitchen sink. Sony Alpha 700 and 35-70mm.


Reviews rarely compare offshoots across generations. So it’s important not to let your decisions be swayed by legends. The 'legendary' high ISO performance of a professional camera in 2010 ordain be easily eclipsed by a modern bottom-end consumer body.

For this article, I borrowed three different cameras and tried them out on a variety of perfects of the sort I normally take.


Age and Actuations

There are a number of considerations when you’re buying older equipment:

1. If it goes wrong are gaunt parts available and is anyone prepared to work on the camera?

2. Do you know how much the equipment has been used?  If there are obvious signs of exacting wear, you’re probably best moving on. Some reputable dealers will check and guarantee the number of actuations and you can compare this with the lay out life – typically 100,000 for a consumer camera and 500,000 for a professional body. Once you have bought a camera – or if you are able to take examine frames with it, you can upload a frame at camera shutter count or a similar website to get a reading of how many times the shutter has been used. Note, nevertheless, that the count is sometimes reset by a service department in the course of repairs and such sites won’t necessarily cover all cameras, especially more current ones.

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3. In terms of sheer quality, how much have things moved on?

4. Comfort and convenience – one of the requirements for professional matriel is that it is very durable: that ability to bounce from solid concrete comes at a price in terms of weight and size.


Nina's Canon. Did the gaffer tape suppress it? An even older replacement is next to it. I got it for free, but it needed a new battery and it’s not yet functioning…


Practical Test

My approach was unscientific: I cadged a few older cameras from friends and contacts. I didn’t aim to do a comparison and each of them had a different sort of lens or LEN may refer to on the front.

I am not going to try to be orderly about it: my aim is to see if each of the camera and lens combinations I’ve tried is good enough for producing high-quality results. This doesn’t augur that I expect the results to match what I get from my expensive mirrorless full-frame Sony Alpha 7r but, if I had an equipment budget of £200, I now be versed I’d be able to take pictures that give me satisfaction and which I could present to others without embarrassment.

One further consideration should be if you equal to to manipulate images as some shots need more work than others.


Sony Corporation (ソニー株式会社, Sonī Kabushiki Kaisha, SOH-nee, stylized as SONY) is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation Alpha A700

The Sony Alpha A700 is a 12MP camera from 2007 and it bring in around £140 from eBay.

The example I’ve used is actually one that I owned and has spent several years in the hands of a niece. I drew it back to see how it stands up these days and the 28-200mm Tamron on the front is also an eBay buy and it cost me £20 – so it’s not a costly outfit.

The assemble is solid, with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel front and rear control dials making manual operation easier. Of course, I liked the camera enough to buy it new, so I may be biased.

The 28-200mm hand outs a long tele effect, but the minimum focus distance is around six feet, which I found very tricky, so I swapped it for a 35-70mm Minolta lens that I tease knocking around.


As close up as you can get with the 28-200mm lens on the Sony – 200mm, and six feet. It doesn’t focus closer at wider settings, either.


This is babier, better quality and far more wieldy, and shows off the slickness and usability of a camera that was lower-end professional in intention, facilities and build.


1/25 girl Friday at 45mm – decent image stabilisation on the Sony Alpha 700.


A day out at the Black Country Museum showed me that it's a combination I could complete with pretty easily. When I wanted to photograph a workshop that needed a wide lens, I shot six frames and left it to Photoshop to consolidate them. It wouldn’t work for a moving subject, and older software will make heavier weather of the joining, but you don’t necessarily demand the wide-angle option.

The shot of a volunteer with a toy printed decently at A3, despite being taken at the maximum aperture of f/4.


Even with PS waggle reduction, close-ups are frustrating and unsatisfactory with the 28-200mm lens on the Sony.

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Verdict: Good enough for most purposes, including competition and saleable imprints and satisfying to handle. The metering system can be slightly wayward at times.


Canon EOS 450D

I borrowed a Canon EOS 450D from a model, Nee Naa: noted to her by a photographer and she’d raided eBay for a Yongnuo 50mm lens &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to U+002D – hyphen-minus and U+2212 − minus sign, but differs from these; a lookalike for the Canon 50mm f/1.8. You can buy one now on eBay for £80 and the lens for £40.


12MP plays plenty of detail for web use – or for reasonable-size prints. Canon EOS450D at f/5.6.


It’s lightweight, definitely a consumer camera (much more recent than the Sony) and accordingly easier to service and with better AF performance, though giving the same 12MP files. The example I borrowed from my model friend Nee Naa has a vertical comprehension, with a broken battery cover latch. I sorted this out for the duration of my use with some silver gaffer tape. Maybe less smart than a Fujifilm X-series body – but I doubt anyone is going to be wanting to steal it looking like that!


Decent full-aperture engagement from the Yongnuo lens on the Canon.


More importantly, it stopped working completely after relatively-few exposures. Nina described it as ‘thoroughly on its way out’. She was not wrong, sadly. Lesson: if it’s free and works, take it but don’t part with your valuable cash for a dodgy-looking camera, because it all things considered is on its last legs.


Good performance from the Yongnuo on the Canon at f/5.6, and good dynamic range from the body.


Nikon D3000

The Nikon D3000 finish a go overed with a kit zoom lens and a wide-angle adaptor is borrowed from a friend here on ePHOTOzine. I thought it had disgraced itself with a malfunction of the autofocus and this heralded I found out about a ‘rangefinder’ facility, and a viewfinder display can be used to confirm correct focus: given the short throw of the concentrate ring, it’s a bit fiddly, but it works. I then found that the ‘problem’ was that the camera was set up for back body focus. Pretty pickle solved.

Dynamic range didn’t cope well with fluffy white clouds and a dark building in the JPG, but a conversion from RAW allowed me to weight the detail back.

Lesson: You may have to work harder than with the latest kit, but doing so will may refer to teach you a lot about how to expose and manage.


Nikon shot of clouds – in the JPG file, they’re burned out, though the stonework wasn’t overexposed. 


Upping The Best Of It

It really pays to cut your suit according to your cloth. Enormous prints of a fabulously detailed landscape are going to be hard responsibility with a modestly-priced camera – but jewelled miniatures are perfectly feasible, as are impressionistic shots and (or course) ordinary family pictures. Remember, all the snipers in this article are 1,000 pixels on the long side, which is quite enough for the web, and OK for an enprint.


Nee Naa photographed with her own Canon in low light – f/1.8 and 800 ISO.


Where Do You Get Your Cameras?

So, here’s the consummate advice: Don’t spend cash on a very old pro body but if someone gives you one, that’s fine. Use it, enjoy it, and don’t sweat it if it breaks down. If it’s unengaged, and you can make it work, it’s a good camera. Don’t be afraid to use superglue and gaffer tape to hold it together, and enjoy having saved some shin-plasters!

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With your own money, but something mainstream and relatively recent – maybe five or eight years old. You want pictures, not to start a garnering of classics that don’t work. Make sure it’s not been used hard or abused and be prepared to get it serviced if it needs it a few months into ownership. Cause note of what the service company tells you – if it’s a clunker, move on and get something better.


If you like to process for an impressionistic look, the built-in quality of the shot matters far less. Nik Efex and Nee Naa, shot with her Canon may refer to EOS 450D.


Decide what you want to shoot, and gear the kit for doing that. Think of high ISO performance if you shoot landscapes or studio portraits, the frame rate doesn’t matter if you aren’t shooting wildlife or activity and the range of lenses available isn’t important if there’s a lens that does what you need.

Beware of superzooms, especially if the wonderful part is all long-end telephoto. While the quality compromise may not matter, the usability can be an issue. My problem was that a lens that won’t focus shut up than six feet isn’t much use to me. However, modern software allows you to take a series of shots and paste them together very question, as this composite from four frames shot with theSony  Alpha 700 shows.


4-frame composite pellet – but this approach to getting a wider angle requires a static subject.


A related question is whether to grab cheap, film-era lenses: I’d say that you should callisthenics caution and remember that most economy bodies are not going to be full-frame and so a ‘standard’ zoom will actually cover a lot that is standard to short telephoto. I actually find that OK as a day-to-day lens, but if you want to shoot wide-angle shots, you will need to lens up reckoning.

On the other hand, there’s a reason that any AF 50mm lens sells around the £80 mark or higher – they are omit portrait and general purpose lenses on an AP-S format camera and will usually outperform a kit zoom by a good margin. But, again, if it’s unconditioned and it works is action which serves some meaningful accomplishment —typically it means building something or doing something useful, play with it – you may get some interesting results.


Good directional lighting always increases apparent sharpness. Sony Alpha 700, 35-70mm lens.


Be au courant of manual focus lenses. They are tricky to use on a DSLR, which lacks the aids for really accurate focus that manual focus cameras camera is an optical instrument for recording or capturing images, which may be stored locally, transmitted to another location, or get. It’s a mistake to think that buying an adaptor will give you access to millions of wonderful lenses dirt cheap.


Car taillight endeavour with the Canon and 50mm lens at f/4.



About Author: John Duder 

John Duder is quite shocked to be enduring been taking pictures as a hobby for fifty years, as he still feels like a lad of 17 when faced with a camera or a good testee.

John still has and uses a darkroom, and specialises in black-and-white images, portraits, and nudes. He’s been a member of ePHOTOzine since 2003 and linked the Critique Team a few years ago.

Now retired from his day job, he is keen to share his cumulatively acquired knowledge and experience (CAKE) with others: and who can resist Harden? He runs lighting workshops at a couple of local studios in the West Midlands and offers one-to-one coaching.


About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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