Camera Gear for 2000 Dollars

August 04, 2014

If someone needed a complete camera setup for landscape photography under $2000, what would I suggest that they buy?  You might be surprised at my answers, including the fact that I strongly recommend buying most of this equipment used. (Note that I earn nothing from any of these brands, so all of these are personal recommendations).

 

Half Dome Sunset"Half Dome Sunset"Tier One:
24x48 - 3/5 available

Tier Two:
18x36 - 5/5 available

Purchase

To read more about the photo, visit my blog post.

(Click to see on black  ::  Link to photo in gallery)

 

Without a doubt, the first item I would suggest is Adobe Lightroom 5, a piece of software worth its weight in gold, if software weighed anything.  Although it has a steep learning curve, I believe that there is no quicker way to edit, categorize, process, and export photos exactly how you want them than Lightroom.  You can buy Lightroom 5 used from sites such as FredMiranda.com, which has an eBay-like forum for photographers.  Used (unopened), it's selling for about $75.

 

The next suggestion I would make is that you get a good tripod.  I recommend the Manfrotto 190CXPRO4.  I strongly recommend buying used, in which case you can probably get one for $250 or less if you wait for a good deal on FredMiranda.  At first this may seem expensive for a tripod, but I have realized that, for a landscape photographer, nothing could be more important than a great tripod.  Although I have never tried this specific tripod, I have used Manfrotto's heavier, aluminum 055XPROB tripod and I found it to be very solid (though too heavy for my uses).  

 

Now that you have a good tripod, you need a good tripod head.  The best all-around tripod head is the Really Right Stuff BH-30 ballhead, which costs between $245 and $290 from the RRS website, depending upon the design.  However, even the $245 head is fantastic.  If you can find the BH-30 used, jump on the offer.  However, people like these heads so much that you rarely see someone reselling theirs, so you'll probably have to pay for it new.

 

Now, you need some way to attach the camera to the tripod head.  What you need is an L-bracket designed specifically for your camera.  I strongly recommend buying this bracket used, where it would cost roughly $75 depending upon your camera (which I'll get to in a moment).

 

Another important piece of gear that most people disregard is a color calibration system for your computer monitor.  Without one, the colors on your computer screen will likely be hopelessly off.  After I got my screen calibrated, I had to re-edit the colors on all my old photos because they were so wrong.  I personally use the Datacolor Spyder4Pro, which will set you back $100 if you can find a used one ($135 new).

 

Now that we've spent $745, it's finally time to buy the camera and lens!

 

With some searching around used sales (again, try the FredMiranda forums), you can buy an amazing landscape camera for about $500: the Nikon D7000.  How do I know that it's a great camera?  It's the one I have!  As of August 2014, every photo on this site (except for three of my earliest photos) was taken with the D7000.  So far, I have taken roughly 60,000 photos on my D7000, and it hasn't failed me yet!  If you get the D7000, the L-bracket to buy is called the RRS BD7000-L.

 

Of course, now you need to buy memory cards for the camera, and probably an extra battery as well.  There are a variety of options at different price points, but I think you should budget about $55 for these accessories, at a minimum.

 

If you have spent your money wisely, you should still have $700 for lenses.  This gets tricky because, depending upon the type of landscape photography you like, you may have different lens needs.  Below I'll outline a couple good ways you could spend this money.

 

"Smoke""Smoke"Tier Three:
16x24 - 5/5 available

Tier Four:
12x18 - 5/5 available

Purchase

(Click to see on black  ::  Link to photo in gallery)

 

My first suggestion, and probably what I personally would do, is buy the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art lens for $700 used.  This lens does not have a huge zoom range, but it is arguably the highest-quality zoom lens that you could get for a D7000.  It is a wide-angle to a moderate angle, perfect for most landscapes.  However, it doesn't give you an ultra-wide angle focal length.  Now, you've hit the $2000 mark exactly!  Just ask for a high-quality 72mm polarizing filter (probably $100 or more) for your birthday, and you've got everything you'd ever need.  Total price: $2100.

 

My other top suggestion is the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (the first version), which you can find for about $350 on FredMiranda.  Pair this with the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 macro for $200, and you've got both a good ultra-wide lens and a good normal lens, plus about $150 to spare.  Spend this on a polarizing filter to darken skies and remove glare.  The 77mm B+W polarizing filter is a good choice ($100 used), and don't forget to buy a 52mm step-down ring so that you can use the filter on your 40mm lens.  Save the extra $50 and buy a neutral-density grad filter (I recommend the Lee .9 soft grad filter for $100 from Amazon), which you can hold in front of your lens to help balance the brightness of the sky.  Total price:$2050.

 

Hopefully you already have a messenger bag or hiking backpack that you can modify to carry a camera, but if not, you can always find a cheap one at a garage sale.  For landscape photography, your camera probably does not need to be accessible within seconds because you are usually going to spend time setting up your shot with a tripod anyway, so it's fine to keep your camera inside a normal backpack.  

 

Now, even though each of these options is slightly more than $2000, my hope is that if you wait long enough, you can find a good deal on the other equipment and save $50 to $100 along the way.  

 

Yosemite Tunnel View Sunrise"Dawn In Yosemite"Tier Two:
12x20 - 7/10 available

Artist's Proof - 2/2 available

Purchase

To read more about this photo, visit my blog post.

(Click to see on black  ::  Link to photo in gallery)

 

Clearly, you can see that a lot of background equipment goes into all of the pictures you see in my galleries.  However, although $2000 is a nice chunk of change, you can see now that it is possible to get literally everything that you need for great landscape photography without paying outrageous amounts of money.  For example, the Nikon D810 (a wonderful landscape camera) costs $3300 without a lens, which can cost another $1700.  Think about it; even if the D810 user has everything else necessary in terms of camera gear (from monitor calibration to a good tripod head), they still would have to pay about $3000 more than you did for their setup.  Instead, if they had spent those $3000 traveling to exotic locations, they would have been able to take tremendously better photos in the first place.  I would rather be photographing the sunset in Iceland with a D7000 than be sitting at home with an unused D810!

 

My D7000 is good enough to make beautiful prints that are several feet wide.  In fact, as I type this, a 36-inch tall print of this photo just arrived at my house.  How many people need anything more than that?

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