(photo courtesy of Fotolia.com)
A couple of weeks ago on our live weekly show, The Grid (video is below), RC Concepcion and I thought it’d be cool to do an entire show on gear. Basically, we put it out there and just said “ask questions”. In our jobs, we get to deal with gear quite a bit. We get to see a lot of it. Test out a lot of gear. And we talk to a lot of people who’ve tried things out and had success or failure. Well, the feedback was overwhelming. It was impossible to get through all of the questions but I think we made it through a lot of them.
Anyway, after the show (and during actually), I started noticing a lot of comments that contradicted what we said. Some one would ask us our opinion on the 70-200mm lens and we’d say we love it. But then some one would comment and say that the 85mm lens was much better for portraits. Some one else would say they swear by the 135mm and that the other’s were total crap. Then some one would agree and say the 70-200mm lens is the best lens they ever owned.
Well, it got me thinking about something I heard years ago when I first got in to photography and I still live by it today when it comes to gear. See, years ago I was trying to buy a lens and couldn’t decide because every review I read and every forum I searched, pointed me in a different way. Then a friend of mine said something really simple and something I still follow today: “Use what your friends use”.
The Best Gear Advice I’ve Ever Been Given
I’ve shared that advice “Use what your friends use” with many people when they’ve come up and asked me whether they should buy a Canon or Nikon. Or Mac or PC. Or… well, you get it. And many have come back and thanked me. But the idea is something I personally still live by today. I buy what my friends buy. I have a certain group of people who I trust (that’s the most important word here by the way) and I tend to buy what they turn me on to, or recommend. I do look online at review articles/blogs and the overall tone, but those are tough. First off, I don’t personally know the reviewer many times, and it’s hard to find some one who shoots what I shoot, the way I shoot it, with the gear I’m researching. Once in a while I get lucky and see a review from an industry friend who I trust, and that helps a lot. But more often, it doesn’t go that way.
What About Amazon Reviews?
Then you have reviews like you have on Amazon.com or other places. The problem with those is that they’re usually all over the place. Every once in a while you find something that’s all 5-star. But that’s rare. Most of the time, it’s lower. Then you have to start searching through the bad reviews to really see what’s going on. If those bad reviews are meaningless (let’s say the person is unhappy with shipping, or they’re just one of those complainer-type people), then I usually discount that review and will feel comfortable with going with the product based on the 5-star reviews I saw. But again, it’s not always that easy and sometimes a product I’m buying isn’t on Amazon.
Plus, those reviews are great for finding out how people like a specific 70-200mm lens, but they aren’t great for figuring out if that lens is better for what you’re looking for than another one may be. Basically, they tell you how the product is, but they don’t help you choose between several products.
How About Forums?
Ugh! Forums. I think I just threw up in my mouth 😉 Sadly, I’ve long abandoned them. It’s not just that forums are old in terms of our current technology today. But I more just dislike the overall tone in forums. I’ve posted in forums and just been told that I should “Google it!”. Gee… thanks :-/ When I’ve asked for gear advice, I’ve been given 12 different options (usually from one person), and been told “you should just buy what you can afford”. Wow! Thanks again! So forums are pretty much the last place I go to.
The Worst Way to Research Gear
In my opinion the worst way to research gear is to go with public opinion. I’ve always known this, but the comments we got on the show, and in all of the places after the show solidified it to me once again. From looking at some of them, you’d think we were the stupidest people in the world. Hey, everyone has an opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion (you know what opinions are like right 😉 ). I’m cool with that. But when it comes to gear research, I just think it’s confusing. You’ll confuse the hell out of yourself by looking online at all of the available options you have in a Google search.
About a year ago, I posted that was thinking of getting Lasik surgery. I went for a couple of consults and thought I knew what I needed to know about it. Then I started researching online. Bad move! I researched my way in to being paralyzed. I couldn’t make a decision. It sucked. I was stuck. And it wasn’t until I asked a friend of mine, who I totally trusted on this topic, their opinion. They told me they thought I should hold off. And I did because I trust them.
Find a Trusted Source
If you’re researching gear, the best advice I have for you is to find a trusted source. Some one who thinks a bit like you. Shoots something close to what you like to shoot. And hopefully, some one who is in the same financial situation as you so they have a better feel for how you spend your money. If you have a close friend, then great. If not, then try to find some one online who you trust. If it’s RC and I during a gear show, then great. If not, then no sweat. But try to find some one (or a small group of people), and go with their opinion. I’m tellin’ ya, you’ll be thankful in the long run.
One More Thing – Try Renting
So what happens if you’re just stuck? You don’t have a friend who can help, and you really just can’t find anything online to help out. Try renting. Of course this won’t work with camera bags, prints, and many other gear-related things. But it can definitely help out a lot. And if you can’t rent, there’s so many good reputable companies in this industry that stand by their product, that if you’re not satisfied, there’s usually something you can do. In other words… if my advice doesn’t work for you, you still do have options.
Oh, by the way…The show I mentioned is below if you’d like to watch it. It has RC in his patented “I give up!” pose with his hands 😉
Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!
Some really good advice, especially for beginners. I’ve found that over the years and years of shooting like you, I get a feel for what I need (or want) next. I have a couple of friends that I trust and we try each others equipment (we both shoot Canon). I’ve been very surprised by what I’ve found when I’ve used stuff they’ve bought and vice versa. Just like renting I suppose, but with the feedback of a good friend.
Great advice as a newbie like me. Here in the Philippines, renting a gear is very expensive.
That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever read on the internet. Thanks Matt. Great show too! Thanks for all your hard work.
You’re very welcome Guy! Glad to help 🙂
Matt, I loved your show on gear and would love a follow-up episode. Don’t do it for the stupid people and the naysayers. Do it for people like me and many more who love you and trust your advice.
And thank you for answering my question on travel backpacks. You guys rock!!! 🙂
Thanks Louise! We’ll definitely do a follow up 🙂
Thanks for the excellent article – like you say – ask a trusted source and get advice from someone shooting similar topics you do – e.g. better to ask Peter Reid Miller / Dave Black about a 400 2.8 for sport than a wildlife shooter using the same lens.
I have to totally agree with you about renting. I have found it the best way to decide on lenses, yes at times it’s best to go with what a friend may have, but with renting I really get to try it out and know if it will work for how and what I shoot.
Definitely! Great to see you last week! 🙂
This is the only website I read for gear reviews:
I came here looking for gear advice and now I’m going to ask about lasik (hey, it deals with a lens, right??). I’m in the process of researching and considering it so I’m curious to know what your friend said that dissuaded you.
Great post. I like the “rent it” route. I found using that method I can get away with not having a 24-70 which is contradictory to many pros. Buying gear has a learning curve just like photography skills do, the more you do it and the more you mature the better your decisions will be.
I hate to sound like a kiss ass but I buy what the Kelby guys recommend. There are tutorials all over Kelby media concerning gear and recommendations for gear. I love Scott’s class on shooting on a budget. Luckily I also have a buddy that I can run things by concerning a big purchase. Thanks for the post Matt.
Sound advice … so what’s your take on the Fuji X … craze ? 🙂
Hey Michael – I’d say that if you have a reason that you need a smaller, lighter camera system with you then go for it (back or shoulder problems). Street photographers and photographer who can’t carry a DSLR love ’em. I just don’t think those cameras are “there” yet though. My opinion for what it’s worth 🙂
Great advice Matt. One thing I wish you would have covered in the show is tripod heads. I have been considering a BH-40 LR II, BH-40 PCLR, or BH-55 LR II and just can’t make up my mind.
Hey Lorri – I’d say it depends on the tripod. If you have a small travel tripod then putting a BH-55 on it is kinda silly. So in that case I’d go with the BH-40. If you have a larger tripod, then you’ll want to go with the BH-55. By the way, you could always call RRS and ask them. They’re VERY nice people and awesome customer service.
If it helps any, Here’s the BH-40 that I have: http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/it.A/id.4109/.f?sc=26&category=568
And here’s the BH-55 I have: http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/s.nl/it.A/id.4117/.f?sc=26&category=567
People only show you what they want you to see. About 2 years ago I was sitting in the parking lot of a local church with a small group of people. I was admiring the sunset and how right at that split moment it was lighting this house on the hill across the valley from us. I mentioned how beautiful the house looked. One of the young ladies in the group said “that house is just as beautiful on the inside too.” She went on to tell us that one of her best friends in high school lived there until she graduated. She mentioned that she hadn’t been inside the house since or even heard from her since she left. She turned to me and looked me in the eyes and said “do you know why?” I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. She continued, “we found out that her father beat her mother and I think she wanted to leave all of that behind her and I was just a reminder of a time that she wanted to forget.” It was a harsh reminder that people only show you what they want you to see.
When people give advice they are the only ones that know what their true motive is. We hope it’s altruistic but that’s just our hope. They could be lying to their spouse about how much their latest gear acquisition cost. They could be going deeper and deeper into debt to scratch that “I need new gear” itch. They could be straight-up honest and forthright too. I hope for the later but in the end *I* am responsible for the things I do. I need to consider everything including the source of information.
All that said, truly, thanks for what you do Matt. I enjoy your blog and wish you did more Kelby One training classes. I like your style.
Analysis paralysis! Man do I have that now. My main camera broke and looking for a change. I took that friend advice last time – I had a a Nikon but they enticed me over to Canon with “you can borrow my stash of lenses” (which I did!). But now I have another group of friends calling me over to Olympus/micro four thirds. I’ve borrowed their gear, but it feels like a huge decision – abandon the DSLR? Sounds nutty! I do more fine art photography, but I do have clients who hire me to shoot architecture on occasion – so I am afraid what they may think. Currently looking at Canon 70D, 6D, Olympus E-M1 and Sony A6000. I am all over the map! I decided to go to my local camera store (yes they still exist!) and handle the bodies (they carry all but the Olympus, but I’ve already used that) and hopefully that will help me decide.
Wow! You’ve got a decision Alanna – If you’re asking my opinion, I’d say stick with Canon or Nikon. Good luck!
Matt I have a Nikon D800 and my friend has a Cannon so may I use you as my friend? I want to buy a prime lens for macro Do you think that the Nikor 105 is a good option?
Yes. I actually own that lens myself. GREAT lens. And awesome for portraits too.
I really really wish I would have had time to watch this episode before PSW14. I am in the market for a new tripod but luckily I didn’t buy yet. You had some awesome information to share. Thank you for being there and it was great to meet you and the crew. See you next year
You too Karen! Hope you had a great time.
One of the things I like about the “buy what your friends buy” is that when you have a questions about using that gear, you have a ready and trusted source to go to to help you out.
Matt, will you be my friend so I can convince my wife of all of the camera gear I need to buy?
Absolutely! If she’ll listen to me then she must be a smart wife…Which makes me wonder what she’s doing with you 😉
I’m a Canon user and really only that way because when I bought my first SLR all those years ago the chap next to me at work was also a Canon user. However if you use what your friends use ( and they are good friends ) then you can use their kit before buying … also if you are really good friends and really trust each other you can pool resources which is really handy.
So…you don’t think DPReview is a good site to get advice from? Kidding…really.
Spot on – especially “use what your friends use”…’cept maybe the advice if they’re using a PC, you should too.
Buying what your friends buy and whatnot is great advice … except when you don’t have any friends who share your hobby. Or you’re trying to get into a new hobby and don’t know anyone else who does it.
Unfortunately … that’s my position with photography. I have a couple acquaintances, but no one I trust fully. Great for technical how-to advice, but not so much for “what do you think I’ll like……” advice.
Thankful that I’ve found people like you and Scott Kelby and Terry White to follow to get some good tips on gear.
Thanks Christine. And hopefully you realize that’s what I was getting at. Between social media and blogs and such, you can make “friends” with just about anyone of the people in this industry out there. While you may not know some one directly, find some one online that you trust and use their opinion. I know I answer any email/comment/tweet, etc… when some one asks me what they should purchase. So I’m happy to help if that’s what you need. 🙂
Sound advice as always. Thanks Matt 🙂
Long live the Kelby team.
Well….I totally agree with your advice. Ever seen the comments on facebook if a beginner wants an opinion on a picture? Best advice is to find a buddy you trust and can help you improve. Then you will grown and find your own way….