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The best photography essentials you can buy in 2021
Whether you’re into hiking, biking, photography, or drone piloting, getting started and making the right equipment decisions can be a serious investment. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to get started, especially if you’re new to the hobby. That’s where AA Essentials comes in. This new Android Authority series features different experts from our team who discuss their recommendations for the gear you need to optimize your experience. Today, we’re looking at the best photography essentials.
Choosing the right photography essentials is important, especially if you are stepping into unknown territory. In this post, we’ll walk you through the essential purchases you need to make the most of your photography experience: a camera, lenses, memory cards, tripods, and a bag to carry it all in. We’ll go over some recommendations for optional accessories, too.
Just remember that the right equipment is only one part of the equation. My 10 years of experience in commercial, product, and general photography has taught me you can often get amazing shots without spending much cash, or even using a cheap smartphone. Simply put, fancy equipment won’t make up for poor photography habits. It’s just as important to improve your skills through practice and check out our resources on photography tips, terms, and more.
Photography essentials: Getting the right camera
The first photography essentials purchase on your list should be a good camera. What makes a good shooter will highly depend on your needs. Casual hobbyists may do just fine with a point-and-shoot or a good smartphone camera. Others might prefer more advanced DSLR or mirrorless options.
Regardless of which brand or camera type you pick, research the models and brands you are interested in before pulling out your wallet, as these factors will affect future purchases and upgrades. For example, going with a full-frame camera will require you to purchase lenses made for full-frame sensors, which are significantly more expensive. You will also be forced to buy lenses and accessories designed for your camera, mount, and/or brand.
With that said, we would recommend an entry-level DSLR for those getting their first camera. These are not as expensive as mirrorless options tend to be, so you can dip your toes into the world of photography without spending too much. DSLR cameras are great for learning, as they offer manual controls and plenty of complex features to tinker with. Furthermore, you can grow with them. Both the body and lenses can be easily upgraded at any time, and chances are most of your other equipment will work with your current setup.
Those who have a bit more cash to spend, or want something lighter and with more features, can also take a look at two of our mirrorless recommendations below.
The Nikon D3500 is a great starter camera that can also take amazing shots if you are a proficient photographer. I used a previous version of this camera professionally for a couple of years. The unit comes with a 24.2MP APS-C sensor, eleven autofocus points, a three-inch display, and more. This bundle throws an 18-55mm kit lens in your bag, so no need to look for a separate lens to get started. It’s pretty affordable, so it’s no wonder why it’s a favorite among beginners and enthusiasts.
Canon Rebel T7
If you’re a little tight on cash, you can’t go wrong with the Canon Rebel T7. It comes with a 24.1MP APS-C sensor, a 3-inch screen, built-in Wi-Fi, and phase-detection autofocus. You get plenty of features you usually only see in higher-end cameras, but in a smaller body and a much more comfortable price tag.
Of course, there are some sacrifices. Autofocus is limited to nine points, it can only shoot at 3fps, and it can only record 1080p video. This is below current industry standards, but the Rebel T7 is also among the most affordable DSLR cameras available.
Sony Alpha A6100
The Sony Alpha A6100 isn’t exactly cheap, but you get a great camera that competes with much more expensive ones. This camera features things you won’t find even in some of the best DSLR bodies out there, including a 0.02-second autofocus speed, real-time eye-autofocus, focus tracking, 11fps shooting, gorgeous 4K video recording, a touchscreen, electronic viewfinder, Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity, and a 24.2MP APS-C sensor. It’s a beauty.
Fujifilm has a cult following for good reason. The company produces cameras with great build quality and beautiful designs reminiscent of classic cameras. Manual dials make learning photography more enticing, as you can physically change settings and learn what they do.
Despite the classic style, the tech found inside Fuji cameras is not old. The Fujifilm X-T200 has a 24.2MP APS-C sensor, hybrid phase and contrast autofocus for fast focusing speeds, face/eye detection, 4K recording, HDR movie mode, and a 3.5mm microphone port.
The Fujifilm X-T200 strikes a good balance between quality and price. And the good news is you likely don’t need to upgrade this camera soon. Because Fujifilm is adamant about not releasing full-frame cameras, APS-C sensors in other models are very similar. You can stick with this camera as long as you don’t mind missing out on some fancy features in newer, more expensive models.
Sony RX100 VII
If you want a pocket camera with some serious power, the Sony RX100 VII is a favorite among photographers. It’s expensive, but it will guarantee quality, portability, and you won’t need to deal with buying lenses for it. That’s because it comes with a 24-200mm equivalent lens with a max aperture of f/2.8. It also has a 1-inch 20.1MP sensor and all the great features Sony is known for. The RX100 VII can autofocus in 0.02 seconds and shoots at 20fps. Not to mention premium capabilities like eye autofocus and 4K recording.
If you want a camera you won’t have to upgrade for a while, think about getting a Sony A7C. This mirrorless shooter compares to the legendary A7III, but comes with a more compact body and lower price. This is a full-frame sensor, so you would be elbowing professionals when it comes to image quality.
Features include the same 24.2MP full-frame camera, 4K video recording, and 15 stops of dynamic range. Autofocus, stabilization, and other features are just as good as the A7III’s. Its superior image quality, speed, low-light performance, color theory, fast autofocus, and smooth image stabilization are some of the factors that will make it an industry hit. It’s definitely one of the best Sony cameras, and one you can use even as a pro.
Canon EOS RP
Going full-frame is every photography beginner’s dream. Larger sensors usually equate to better image quality, improved low-light performance, nicer bokeh, and more. The only bad part is that these cameras (and their lenses) tend to be mighty expensive. This trend has been changing, and now you can get some full-frame cameras for a pretty good price; sometimes even lower than some APS-C ones.
Those who want to go straight to a full-frame should consider the Canon EOS RP. It costs right under $1,000 for the body, which is one heck of a price point!
Other great cameras:
Photography essentials: Memory cards
Storing your images in the right memory card is very important as you start working with higher resolution images, improved video, and, therefore, larger files. Getting a slow card can result in buffer times between shots, increasing processing time.
SD card speeds are categorized in classes, where the number represents the minimum transfer speeds. A Class 10 card can transfer 10MB/s. A Class 6 can transfer 6MB/s, and so on. Obviously, you want a Class 10 card, which is the highest. You will also want the highest UHS and V speed class ratings, especially if you plan to shoot high-res video.
In addition, a lower-quality SD card is more likely to fail. These cards keep your work safe, so make sure to buy good ones. Below, we will show you some of our recommendations.
SanDisk Extreme Pro memory card
Sandisk is trusted by photographers worldwide, and this is one hell of a memory card for the price. It supports speeds of up to 170MB per second and is UHS-3 rated. Not only can this card perform, but it can also take a beating. The unit was made to withstand extreme temperatures, water, shock, and even X-Rays.
Samsung Evo Select Memory Card
Samsung’s memory cards are among the most durable photography essentials, featuring water, shock, temperature, x-ray, and magnetic resistance. This microSD card is plenty fast, with up to 100MB/s speeds. It is a class 10 UHS 3 card, so you know it can keep up. And while it’s a microSD card, it comes with an adapter to use as a standard SD card.
JJC card case
I kept losing memory cards until I finally decided to get an SD cardholder. The JJC SD cardholder is a great option for a low price. It fits 12 SD cards and 24 microSD cards. It will protect your cards against water, dust, and random debris. Not to mention it’s very affordable! This is a great way to protect your photos.
Photography essentials: Lenses
Good lenses are expensive, but they are the best photography essentials investment you can make. I can’t stress the importance of quality glass enough. In fact, spending on good lenses will usually improve image quality more than buying an advanced camera body. This is because the image is formed by the lens you put in front of a sensor. Without glass elements, the sensor will capture nothing but a blur of scattered light rays. Getting a crisp, clean image with no aberrations and plenty of detail requires quality glass, shaped perfectly and arranged precisely inside the lens body. These are truly engineering feats, and this is why they can get pricey.
The lens will also determine your maximum aperture, which is important for capturing more light and creating nicer bokeh (blurry background). Focal length is another matter dependent on the lens; it will affect the perspective and distance required to shoot a subject. Modern lenses can also play a big role in focusing speeds.
Furthermore, lenses can usually be taken from camera to camera as you upgrade, so you never lose the initial investment. And when you are ready to let go of a good lens, it tends to keep its value, meaning you can sell it without losing much money.
50mm f/1.8 prime lens
Regardless of your camera manufacturer, there is a 50mm f/1.8 option for you. These prime lenses are phenomenal. The wide f/1.8 aperture helps capture plenty of light, and makes it possible to achieve beautiful bokeh. The 50mm focal length makes this a standard lens; it isn’t a zoom or wide-angle lens. This means there will be little to no distortion in your images. The best part is that, while producing amazing imagery, these prime lenses are usually very affordable.
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art Lens
The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art lens comes with a heavier price tag, but it is worth every single penny. The lens’s wide aperture is held throughout the entire focal range, which is rare to see unless you buy expensive, professional-grade glass. It outputs amazing content and has become a favorite in the industry. The price is different depending on your mount, but it is worth every penny.
Other great lenses:
Photography essentials: Tripods & monopods
Being able to keep your camera stable is crucial for taking certain types of photographs. Tripods make it possible to perform longer exposure times without adding motion blur to your images, making them important photography essentials. This can be beneficial when it’s dark or when you want to capture motion, whether it be from moving lights or objects in an image. You can also take advantage of a tripod when you need your camera to stay still, say for a video, or just to make sure you don’t change the composition. Some also provide smooth panning.
The main downside to tripods is they tend to be bulky and take a while to set up. This is why I usually recommend them for studio work and certain outdoor shoots. Those who need a more versatile tool can use a monopod. These operate on a single leg. This means they aren’t as stable and need more human help, but they are the best solution when space is limited, you want more manual control, or you need to keep moving.
Regardless, the point here is your body and hands are not always steady enough to take certain shots under certain circumstances. Tripods and monopods offer the stability our human bodies sometimes can’t provide.
AmazonBasics 67-inch Monopod
Monopods simply hold a camera in place with a single leg. You do much of the work, which is why I tend not to get too picky with tripods. This AmazonBasics monopod will do just as well as most other options (unless you really pay up). If you want to get fancy, though, we have a dedicated post of the best monopods you can buy. Check it out below.
Neewer Extendable Camera Monopod with Removable Foldable Tripod Support Base
This is a great hybrid that finds a middle ground between a tripod and a monopod. The price is super accessible, making it one of our most recommended photography essentials. It’s made of strong and light aluminum alloy, and the twisting mechanism makes it easy to adjust the height. Not to mention the 3-leg base that offers stability without sacrificing movement.
Vanguard Alta Pro
The Vanguard Alta Pro is a popular tripod with a great build and no extravagant price point. It’s a great investment that will offer features comparable to expensive alternatives. The aluminum alloy legs adjust to 25, 50, and 80-degree angles. The head can rotate 360 degrees, and it includes bubble levels. The center poll can also be adjusted at different angles, and a weight hook can stabilize the tripod further.
Peak Design Travel Tripod
If you have the extra cash and want a nice tripod, Peak Design has earned the trust of the photography community with quality builds and gorgeous designs. The Peak Design Travel Tripod is smaller than your usual heavy-duty tripods, so you don’t need to hurt your back carrying around a bunch of weight. It has a 20lbs weight capacity, a built-in mobile mount, and a weight hook for stability.
A good camera bag will keep your expensive photography essentials protected and readily accessible during a shoot. It’s also a simpler way to keep your equipment organized and stored properly; they usually have dividers and compartments for all your photography gear.
There are plenty of options for sizes, styles, and purposes. You will have to figure out what you prioritize in a bag. Do you want it to be light and stylish? Maybe you need something that can carry all your equipment. Does it have to be heavy-duty and secure? That’s usually best for traveling photographers.
As for me, I have chosen something in the middle. I have been using a Manfrotto Veloce V backpack for about five years, which should tell you I made the right choice. While it is starting to look aged, the backpack’s integrity is in great condition, and it continues to serve me well. I can fit about 5-6 lenses, accessories, a laptop, and a tablet in it, along with either a camera with an attached lens or two camera bodies. It has an outer tripod attaching mechanism and meets carry-on requirements for flights.
I have to say my personal choice would be too big if I were doing more casual shoots, though. Since my photography work is usually commercial, I depend on carrying more equipment with me. I would get something lighter otherwise.
AmazonBasics Holster Camera Case
The Amazon Basics Holster Camera Case is the perfect companion for your casual photo walks, thanks to its reduced size. It can hold a DSLR camera with a medium lens attached (up to 110mm). The outer bags can carry SD cards, polarizers, wipes, and other small accessories. There are nicer options available, but this one gets the job done perfectly for very cheap.
Peak Design Small Camera Cube
If you need more space, we’d love to recommend one of Peak Design’s Camera Cube bags. These come in small, medium, and large sizes. And while the company’s products are costly, these bags start at around $50!
Peak Desing Camera Cubes are very well built and look stylish. They also come with customizable dividers and plenty of compartments for storing accessories.
Think Tank Photo Airport Accelerator Backpack
Think Tank is synonymous with quality and is widely trusted in the photography community. The Photo Airport Accelerator Backpack is great as a full camera equipment transportation and storage solution. The main area features space and dividers to fit multiple cameras, lenses, and flashes. In addition, there are compartments for laptops, tablets, accessories, and more. It’s also made to meet most international carry-on requirements, so you can keep it close to you when traveling.
Photography essentials: Lights
Photography is all about capturing light, but sometimes there isn’t enough of it. Learning to use artificial lighting to your advantage is important. The trick is to make it look as natural as possible. Diffusing is key, as it makes light softer and stops shadows from becoming too harsh. This is why studio photographers prefer using large lights with multiple diffusing layers. These are usually recommended for controlled environments, though.
Event photographers tend to rely more on small LED panels and flashes, as they need to stay mobile, and more often shoot in dark conditions and odd lighting. If you are shooting outdoors, something like a reflector might do the trick. These are cheap and simply use redirected ambient light to illuminate the subject.
What kind of light you use will depend on your shooting needs, habits, editing style, and other factors. In fact, some of you may want to avoid artificial lighting altogether. Astrophotographers have no need for them, and lights can actually ruin their images. Wildlife photographers can also scare off animals with bright lights.
Neewer 176 LED Panel
Neewer is known for making affordable photography products. These don’t offer the best quality out there, but their lights work well and can help you produce stunning photos. At under $50, the Neewer 176 LED Panel is a steal. It comes with a battery and charger, as well as a couple of filters.
Neewer 700W Octagon Softboxes
Need more light? I have used these in the past, and they work perfectly. The Neewer Octagon Softbox kit comes with a couple of softboxes, stands, 700W lights, and a carrying bag. The octagon shape makes for rounder reflections and more evenly distributed lighting.
Fovitec LED Panel Kit
If you can spend more cash on photography essentials, we would highly recommend you upgrade to LED panels. They don’t heat up the studio, use less electricity, and are much easier to set up. Because they can be powered by a V-Type battery and are smaller than traditional softboxes, these can easily become portable lights for on-location shoots. Temperature and intensity controls come in handy.
Yongnuo YN-560IV Flash
Flashes from camera manufacturers are very expensive, but there are some good affordable options out there. You just need to find the right photography essentials, and the Yongnuo YN-560IV is a great one. It supports wireless transmitters, and can save custom settings. It will lack some fancy auto features you get with the pricier speedlites, but it will serve its purpose while helping you learn the fundamentals of flash photography.
Neewer 43-inch 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector
Carrying lights around can be inconvenient; they are large, bulky, and more expensive than this Neewer reflector. When the sun is up and shining, a reflector can be all you need to light up your subject, reduce shadows, and bring more depth to your images. This one comes with multiple surfaces to work with: Translucent, silver, gold, white, and black.
Taking a good photo is only half the battle, and I would say editing is just as important, if not more so (depending on the photographer). Images are usually perfected in post-processing, making editing programs and apps important photography essentials. This is when you can correct any mistakes you have made. Cropping, cloning, fixing exposure, correcting white balance, and manipulating colors are only some of the things you can do in post-processing. This is why I recommend shooting RAW, as uncompressed RAW files keep more information and grant more editing freedom.
Because you can manipulate images to your liking through editing, it is also a great time to imprint your own style into photos. Some people prefer darker environments or deeper colors. Others like a hazy effect. You can use color theory to induce certain emotions.
Beginners should probably give free apps a try before they spend money on paid software. Below I will give you my favorite desktop recommendations, but there are also plenty of free photo editing mobile apps worth your time.
Gimp is argued to be just as good as Photoshop and other editing software, but it is free. I believe it’s not as polished as paid alternatives and has a learning curve. It is an amazing program considering it is free, though. If you are learning to edit and don’t want to invest money in software yet, this is a great tool.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan
Adobe’s editing apps are used by professionals worldwide, but they can be expensive. A more affordable way to obtain them is by paying for the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan. This subscription gives you access to Adobe’s Photoshop, Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Portfolio, and Spark applications.
Adobe Creative Cloud prices:
- Photography plan ($9.99/mo): Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Portfolio, Spark, and 20GB of cloud storage.
- Photography Plan ($19.99/mo): Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Portfolio, Spark, and 1 TB of cloud storage.
- Lightroom plan ($9.99/mo): Lightroom, and 1 TB of cloud storage.
Snapseed is among the best photo editor apps around, offering the simplicity of Lightroom with the price of Gimp (free!).
Google purchased the company responsible for making Snapseed back in 2012. Since then, its popularity has continued to increase. It is known for its simplicity and abundant feature set.
Photography essentials: Helpful accessories
Plenty of smaller photography essentials can help improve both your experience and image quality. Remember, photography is an art, and the way you feel while shooting can reflect in the final product. If you are uncomfortable, for example, you may want to change your camera strap. Otherwise, you won’t be giving your photos your best and might be complaining to yourself the whole time.
Smaller accessories like cleaners, white balance cards, and remote triggers can help you fine-tune your images to reduce editing time or simply obtain more precise results. Some of these products make it possible to shoot images you couldn’t otherwise, such as an ND filter or a circular polarizer. Take a quick look at these recommendations to see if any can make it to your camera bag.
Blackrapid Breathe Curve Camera Strap
Straps included with cameras are usually very good, but those who want to change things up can get a third-party strap. Blackrapid camera straps offer great quality and a different style. Instead of hanging from your neck, these lock to your shoulder and keep the camera secure using the tripod screw. It’s not cheap, but it makes up for the price in quality and comfort.
There’s a similar lower-end Amazon Basics one too. It costs about a third of the price and offers similar functionality.
Camkix Microfiber Cleaning Cloths
It’s always a good habit to keep your camera and glass as clean as possible. This will ensure your images are free of odd elements and your gear stays clean. These are colorful and fun too, so we thought they were a good buy. Not to mention they are pretty affordable.
Nikon Lens Pen Cleaning System
Nikon’s Lens Pen is a simple tool for keeping your camera clean. One side features a brush for clearing out debris, while the other end can clean fingerprints and smudges.
Neewer Universal IR Wireless Shutter Release
A remote shutter trigger helps for photographing groups, creating long exposures, and general shooting purposes. This one is very basic. There are definitely better ones out there, but the Neewer IR remote is super affordable and gets the job done.
AmazonBasics Circular Polarizer
Circular polarizers can create bluer skies, deeper colors, and reduced reflections. They are also quite affordable. Amazon Basics offers multiple sizes.
Rangers 8pcs ND Filter Kit
Neutral density filters stop light from reaching the sensor. These are used to achieve a longer shutter speed or wider aperture when there is too much light available. Think of ND filters as sunglasses for your camera. It’s just dark glass. They usually look much like the circular polarizer above, but the Rangers ND Filter Kit is a one-size-fits-all alternative that doesn’t break the bank.
Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster
An air blower can help you keep your sensor and lenses clean. Sensors are very delicate, so you should only clean it by blowing air at it. If this isn’t enough to get dust and other particles away from the sensor, you should get professional help.
Anwenk White Balance Cards
Cameras do a pretty good job measuring white balance, but they can get things wrong from time to time. This is when you go into your camera’s settings and manually adjust a custom white balance. Your camera will read color data from an image of these cards and adjust white balance accordingly. It’s a must in every list of essentials for photographers.
Keep in mind that all the photography essentials you buy won’t make you a good photographer. What matters most is learning and working on your technique. With that said, the tools help, and can often push you to learn more about the fundamentals of photography. These photography essentials will improve your experience, and therefore, your imagery.