Photogear I shouldn’t have bought

Every so often when I clean out my closet, I’ll come across an item which is still in pristine condition just the way it was after I broke the clear shrink-wrap.

It starts me wondering, “What the heck was I thinking?”

You are bound to disagree with me, but before you post your comments, which I encourage you to, remember this:

The tools any artist finds indispensable is dependent on usage. And usage is dictated most by the types of subjects we point our lenses at. So with that in mind…

400mm telephoto f4.5

When I was in college in Ohio, I owned a 400 mm f4.5 telephoto lens. MInd you, this was in the old days of film and manual focus. In the Midwest where I went to school, that lens was only used in the best of lighting conditions. The aperture of f4.5 was way too slow for anything but outdoor sports which happen in good light. Those of you reading this have to realize even in today’s high ISO capability DSLRs, trying to get a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec is asking a lot.

Flash diffusers

Over the years I’ve bought some doozies. I once bought a diffuser which you inflate by blowing up like a beach ball.

I even had one that was a miniature umbrella that attached to the flash.

Diffusers for flash units or Speedlights/Speedlites are often not the problem. It’s the placement of the flash, being on camera.

Now I’m wondering as I write this if I’ll ever be seen with Gary Fong’s Lightsphere.

I saw a friend of mine use it at an event. I’m sure the results are excellent. The only problem I have with that is this:

Everyone who saw him with that contraption on his hotshoe mounted flash did a double-take as if asking “What is that blender doing on top of your camera?”

I like to blend in when I work, dress like I belong and draw as little attention to myself at an event.

Domke vest

Okay, this one I didn’t buy. I was issued one when I worked at the newspaper. I used it once, no more than twice.

While the vest was helpful in distributing the weight of my gear in its many pockets, it made me stand out.

Over the years I found that “blending in” was important. If I stuck out in a crowd, I would be ineffective, so I ditched the vest.

Super wide angle 14mm fisheye lens

Keep in mind with a DSLR, what is a wide angle depends on whether you have a full frame sensor.

My point is, I had this fisheye lens for a film camera a while back. It cost a lot. I can count the number of times I used it– maybe once a year.

The one time I used it was when I was in a gondola of a hot air balloon or when I was in confined space like a cockpit of a plane. In that particular instance it would have been more prudent to rent that item.

These days you don’t even have to leave your house to rent equipment. Borrow lenses of which I’m an affiliate will ship the item to you. (See their banner ad on the top right column of this page)

Kit lenses

28-200mm f3.5-f5.6. As soon as I realized I could get the view I need simply by walking closer or stepping back, this lens was history. Ever wonder why manufacturers bundle this lens with camera bodies?

These variable aperture lenses are cheap, very slow and poorly constructed. They give you the focal length range which may beginners mistakenly think is the most important feature of a lens.

Their variable aperture results in very little control over depth-of-field and their very small apertures make them all but worthless in low light situations.

Holster style camera bags

When it comes to camera bags, this is really very personal. If everything you shoot is available light and with the same long lens, then a holster style camera bag like the one in the picture is perfect.

But it isn’t for most people who have a flash, some spare batteries, memory card wallet, filters and other accessories. Photography is especially dangerous for women who love accessories that have to match by the way.

And no guys aren’t an exception because manufacturers make camouflage coverings for lenses for those who like to photograph wildlife.

Camera raincoats

Come on, I live in Southern California not the Pacific Northwest. I had one of these too, I’m afraid to admit. Luckily I didn’t buy it.

You can just use a clear trash bag. A clear transparent plastic bag works because you can see what you’re doing underneath it. Also a good idea for people to see that it’s a camera you’re toting instead of a weapon if your camera is attached to a long lens.

Assorted filters

Filters that go over your lenses are important. Some are more useful than others.

WIth Photoshop’s extensive filters and third party plug-ins, there is less and less need but at one time I had Sepia, Tobacco, Soft focus.

I’ve also grouped in the Expo Disc and the Color right filters in this category since they go over the front of the lens.

The Expo Disc and Color right filter helps you get better white balance for a whopping $100 or more. You can just shoot a sheet of white paper and do a custom white balance and send me a check for a $100 because I was an idiot and bought one.

I’m sure you have some winners in your closets. So go ahead and share them under comments. And if you’re Gary Fong and you take offense over my reference of the Lightsphere resembling a blender, I apologize. It was said in jest.

36 thoughts on “Photogear I shouldn’t have bought”

  1. Yes…yes… camera guy daughter here, few gadgets (1) Lens cap leash for those times when you impersonate a “Asian Tourist” (2) National Geographic Bush Vest / actually gone through a Military surplus store with Dad to get one…..Dad paid and I think he was waiting for me to leave it for him (3) Tripod trio Field tripod Guerilla toy plastic tripod Table tripod Impulse buy item when upgrading lenses… better to just buy 1-pod with adjustable legs and take velcro strips to secure tripod (4) Lens bellows gadget rubber squeeze bulb with soft brush tickler… adequate but you would be better off cleaning skylight filter….

  2. Hi Nick,
    Thanks for visiting the blog. I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself.

    Everyone who has a passion for photography tends to buy a lot of junk.

    At first we are curious and we want to do all manner of photography.

    As we get better and more experienced, we settle down and find our niche and favorites subjects. Then we tailor our purchases to what suits our subjects or genres.

    Fortunately, you can rent gear these days if you really want to test out equipment without making a major purchase. Borrow Lenses is online. Locally in Southern California, you can go to Samys Camera or Calumet.

    As for your “junk.” You know there are places like Ebay and Craigslist where you can “recycle” this junk that you don’t use.

  3. DeeAnn,
    Recycling a bag like that is good. I’m sure your daughter will have your good Mojo as well.

    Plus she’ll be the envy of her classmates. Those bags probably can’t be found easily. Maybe not. Since I left the business, I haven’t keep in touch with trends in Photojournalism circles.

  4. @Paul & Peter-
    Gifted my Domke F2 Special Edition NPPA camera bag to daughter.
    She’s put good use to it in college for photography classes (using my gentle recycled camera gear & some new lenses).
    Dust Bunnies cleaned off.

  5. Jim,
    Thanks for your contribution once again.

    If that gizmo works, I can see some application of it for those times you want to sneak a picture of someone.

    Too bad the quality was so bad.

  6. Hi Alistair,
    I tried to fix the link to your post/rant, but couldn’t locate it by searching your website and blog.

    I’m sure my readers can learn something from that. Would you please post that and I’ll make sure it links.


  7. A related issue on the ‘zoom vs prime debate’, and using your legs as zoom: there’s a common error so many instruction books, magazines and even pros make, that telephoto lenses ‘compress perspective’. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that one I could … well … buy a few beers.

    Your legs are more important than your zoom. I posted a little rant about it, not so long ago,

  8. Hi, Peter. My apologies. I didn’t mean to suggest that I thought you were taking swipes at the kit lenses. My reference was to those pros I hear out in the field who do that. I heard it once in a class I was taking — and not by the teacher, but by a fellow student, who ripped a photo newbie’s kit lens — “they’re trash,” he said — and I felt incredibly bad for her.

    I don’t quite follow your observation about how a zoom would be difficult to grasp for a newcomer. I had no trouble understanding that with my kit zoom, I changed the focal range right there on the barrel — and don’t have to move! I thought it was pretty cool, actually. 🙂 But I do understand your rationale for how it’s equally important and educational (and maybe more so) to learn to use a prime lens … and letting your legs figure out where you need to be to get your composition the way you want it.

    Take care.

  9. Hi Joe,
    Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and taking the time to comment.

    I certainly didn’t mean to sound like I was denigrating kit lenses that camera manufacturers sell with their bodies.

    I happen to think that variable focal length lenses are extremely confusing for beginners, that’s all.

    When they hear set your camera to 125. That can mean shutter speed, focal length or ISO.

    Not that long ago, the standard lens 50 mm lens was sold with every body. It was really a good way to learn because you zoomed with your legs and it taught you to compose in the viewfinder as a result.

    Once I learned those basics, I realized if I were to buy a zoom, I really wanted a constant aperture lens even if it cost more.

    I just happen to feel that those kit lenses are too awkward and difficult for beginners to use.

    They’re better off buying the body and getting a cheap $100 50 mm 1.8 lens if they were absolutely serious about learning photography.

    I haven’t bought that pop-up flash diffuser because I hardly use the camera’s built-in flash.

    I hope you’re re-inventing yourself successfully in the current print journalism slum.

  10. I don’t begrudge kit lenses, especially not for people first starting out in photography. I think, in fact, it’s a fine, affordable way for someone to orient themselves to the craft. It’s a way, too, for them to learn the value and importance of higher-quality and faster lenses. I held onto my 18-55mm kit lens to use for wide-angle shots until I was able to afford a better, faster one. Having had and used a kit, I certainly do appreciate now how fortunate I am to have the equipment to get more out of my work and images. I do think all photographers should be mindful of this when they come across people new to the craft who are starting from scratch with a kit. It bothers me when I hear the pros talk down on newbies when they learn or see them using the kit lens. I was there once, and I’ll never do that.

    I own the Gary Fong pop-up flash diffuser — and use it primarily (and a lot) for when I shoot indoor family functions. It saves me a lot of red-eye removal steps in post-processing … and I have very few images where there are harsh shadows or “deer in headlight” looks on the faces of my subjects. I rarely use it for non-family-related shoots, where I’m more mindful and attentive to using optimum lighting.

  11. Go on JB, click that button. What’s to lose for 90 bucks? And when you’re sick of the bokeh you can knock most of the glass out and use it as a very stylish photographer’s beer tankard.

  12. JB, thanks for visiting my blog and sharing. If your heart is set on one of these, I might suggest you find a used one on Ebay for less. Or maybe you can rent one to indulge your curiosity.

    Just don’t say Alistair and I didn’t warn you, buddy.

  13. Sometimes, championing the underdog, my passions get the better of me Jim 🙂 I hate to see an unassuming little 50 languishing while a hulking great 18-200 gets all the action.

    Thanks for your comment on my website.

  14. Aw heck Alistair, I can see ‘vehemently’ disagreeing, but not ‘violently’ 😉

    Maybe I should put that sucker on my camera and commit to keeping it on there for a week just to see if I can learn to like it.

    (Love your website btw)


  15. Thanks for the compliment Peter. Appreciated. And it was my pleasure to re-tweet. A thought-provoking topic. As you say … way back then the circular “doughnuts” of a mirror lens were considered seriously cool.

  16. Alistair,
    Would you believe the circular bokeh that you mentioned was what prompted me to buy that piece of junk lens? It’s funny how gullible “we” are when we’re starting out. I actually thought those “doughnuts” were cool looking in my pictures. No accounting for taste, as they say. Love your website and work by the way.

    Thank you for re-tweeting my post.

  17. Yeah Peter … I think mine has an aperture of f5.6, and it’s provided with a dinky set of filters that you put on behind the glass elements. There’s an ND filter plus a red, yellow and orange one – though why anyone would want to use a filter with this lens is beyond me.

  18. Hi Alistair,
    Thanks for visiting and sharing that. I’m ashamed to admit I owned a mirror lens too, but that was in the film days. 😛 It had a fixed aperture of f8. As I recall you could change the aperture, as if f8 wasn’t slow enough, by using neutral density filters to make it f11 or f16. It’s been a while and I may be mistaken.

    I bet if we all pool together we can somehow benefit from this. We’ll swap and move that junk around. After all, it’s only collecting dust. What do you guys think?

  19. Here you go Jim … some flak. I disagree violently. I’ve got the Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens and it’s excellent. As Peter says – light, small, fast with excellent resolution.

    What I should never have bought is a Tamron 500mm mirror lens. Mirror lenses were a fad a while back and, living in Africa at the time with all that wildlife around, I was caught up with it. The thing has a fixed aperture – wide open – so depth of field is pretty well non-existent, and the awful circular bokeh is an eyesore.

    Anyone want the take a bit of photo-nostalgia off my hands?

  20. Paul,
    It’s always great to hear from you. Thanks for reminding me about the Domke line. I actually have 2 bags in that line. Both are the same color so my wife can’t tell them apart. If she looks closer, she’ll notice they’re different. What can I say? A photographer can’t have enough bags? Lord knows how many bags, handbags and purses ladies have. Both my Domke bags I still in use even though their zippers are shot.

    Wow, I”m jealous you have a Special Edition NPPA bag. Might be worth something on Ebay judging from how rare a photojournalist is becoming these days. 😉

    Always great to hear from you buddy.

  21. I had to laugh when I read your post. Especially about the Domke vest. It’s WAS great tool when I shot sports with film, but now, like you, I like to blend in.

    Wearing that vest make me stick out like a sore thumb.

    Lenses: about 5 I don’t use anymore.

    Camera bodies: an F$, D1, and F%. However, I still use the F5 as a special lens holder. I even had it cleaned and checked in ’08.

    It’s just funny all the stuff we buy, use once, and the best thing it does is collect dust on the shelf.

    Funny stuff.

    Thanks Pete.

  22. Hi Wanda,
    How nice to hear from you! I can understand how you wouldn’t want to use a flash for the work that you do. At least the flash diffuser isn’t a high ticket item.

    If I think hard enough I’m sure I can find more items that I wish I hadn’t bought. Sometimes it’s part of the learning process. Hopefully, others reading this will glean something out of this.

  23. Mark,
    I appreciate very much your input. Thanks for sharing. If you ever list any of that stuff on ebay, be sure to let me know so I can have first dips. 🙂

  24. Hi Joe,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing. Luckily, I didn’t fall for the Lensbaby or Extension tubes. But I have quite a few camera bags.

    The bags I can justify still because I pack my gear for different jobs. I used to bring everything and the kitchen sink. Not so much anymore.

    You can never have enough light stands. And no, if my wife asks, I’m going to erase this … 😉

  25. I have a flash diffuser, and I rarely use it (in spite of the results being excellent), because it makes me STAND OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB!!!! I like the results, but at what cost? I prefer available light, anyway, so I rarely have my flash on me.

  26. Lensbaby – carried it with me the first month i bought it. sits on a shelf in a closet now. there are times i wish i had it on me, but i never have it on me when i want to use it.

    Extension tubes – i dont shoot macro, i shoot people. when i need to do detail shots at weddings, etc my “close-up” lenses are all i use so i never use these tubes.

    Light stands – okay, I use light stands all the time, but I don’t use the 20 I have. I can just never pass up a deal where someone is getting rid of all their studio equipment and has 3 stands for $40.

  27. I know I’m gonna catch a lot of flak over the 50mm comment, que sera 😉

    I just hang my 18-200mm around my neck and ride. That “holster” looks too big for it really, but I should probably get something like it to use when I’m on my motorcycle.

    Don’t worry about the Garand, I only use my powers for good and I’d be a good friend to have when the Zombies attack.


  28. Jim,
    No, I’m not pointing any fingers. Been there myself several times. I use my 50mm for lots and lots of things. It’s the lens that’s on my camera because it’s light, small and fast. Plus I love the ability to control the depth-of-field with it. Wish I had known you use the 18-200mm that much, I could have sold you what I call a holster type camera bag. 😉 Had to look up the M-1 Garand. Glad I did, now I know not to piss you off.

  29. I’m guilty as charged.

    f/1.4 50mm lens, the “Nifty Fifty” I had read so much about and got so many rave reviews; used twice. It sits in my camera bag while my 18-200 stays on my camera.

    My wife bought me a 70-300mm lens that I’ve never used so I don’t really have to take credit for that one.

    M-1 Garand. I love having it, but I haven’t shot it in 20+ years.

    I’ve got a Gary Fong diffuser too 😉


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