Quality Camera Gear On A Frugal Budget


There comes a time in every frugalist’s life when he or she needs to spend a little money.  These moments are great opportunities to make investments — in things like education, new experiences, and tools to create.  You know — the stuff that can truly improve the quality of one’s life.

In my case, the time came when we were planning our recent trip to Japan.  I decided it was high-time to invest in some new camera gear.

 

“Investing”

I know what you’re thinking — “Camera Gear?  That’s just consumption!”  But you’ve got it wrong…

As readers of my blog know, I include lots of pictures in my blog posts.  While I’m no professional photographer, I think pictures really help tell our story… and I like to include a lot of them.

While it is possible to get by blogging with only a cell-phone camera, it’s a hell of lot easier to take great photos once you have proper camera gear.

contemplating gyoza
Photos help tell our story, and make it more real.  I love taking candid shots in low-light settings like this.  (Click to zoom-in)

Great photos are what I want to share with the world — not some grainy, blurry mess.

Until a couple of months ago, that’s exactly what I was dealing with.  All of my cameras were really old — my Nikon D50 first came-out in 2005.  The physics of capturing light hasn’t changed since the days of film cameras, but the technology around digital cameras has been steadily improving for decades… especially in difficult lighting conditions.

old cameras.
My old blogging cameras. They weren’t anything special, but they got the job done for two years.

When I started this blogging adventure, I thought my old camera gear was fine.  I had no idea how many photo’s I’d be taking, nor did I understand the importance of low-light photos.

After a couple of years of blogging, I figured it was time to invest and bring up the image quality.

 

Good Cameras, Less Money

Why do so many people stick to phone cameras these days?  Partly because of convenience, but I also think it’s because cell phone cameras are now just as good as any point and shoot camera.  There’s barely any reason to buy a point-n-shoot these days.

Interchangeable lense cameras are a completely different story — If you want professional or near professional quality photos, DSLRs or mirrorless cameras are the only way to go.

Unfortunately the bigger lenses and bigger image sensors required for quality photos, are really expensive… I’m talking easily $1,000 and up.

Frugal Camera Hack #1:  Here’s a trick I learned years ago to buying quality camera gear on a budget — By used!

Buying used cameras sounds like a great way to get an old piece of junk… but the reality is entirely different.  Good camera gear is high-quality stuff that’s fairly durable.  It might be used, but you can pick-up excellent camera gear in near pristine condition at large discounts to retail prices.

My latest used camera purchase was a Sony a6000 mirrorless camera.

a 6000

I’ve got to say it — it takes incredible pictures! Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras like this are the future — they’re small, but still have the power and flexibility of a mirrored DSLR.

size comparison
Mirrorless cameras are much smaller and more compact than their DSLR cousins. Much nicer to travel with.

We took the new camera with us on our Japan trip, and I couldn’t be happier with the image quality.  We took a ton of great photos.

shisa
We took the a6000 with us to Japan and shot over 2 thousand photos.  Photos like this one would have been impossible with a point-n-shoot camera.

If you’re curious, you can check out a whole bunch of photos from our Japan trip.

Normally this Sony a6000 model retails for $648 from places like Amazon.  The camera is now few years older, but when it was first release it cost over $1,000.

Frugal Camera Hack #2:  The second big trick to saving on camera gear is — buy older models.

Just like with cars or cellphones, camera manufacturers produce new models every year.   When a new model comes out they discount last year’s model, but keep selling it.

So take advantage of this!  Just like used, old doesn’t mean bad.  Even if you don’t want to buy a used camera, you can still purchase a brand-new older model.  Set your sights on a model a couple years old that doesn’t command the high prices of this year’s new hotness.

While you might miss a couple new features, the functionality you really want doesn’t change much from year-to-year.  You’ll save yourself A TON of money by doing this.

I bought my camera used for $490 in September (before we left on our trip).  That’s a considerable savings over retail, and it was practically new — The previous owner of the camera only took 21 photos on the camera.

Yep, only 21 photos!  (On most camera’s it’s possible to check shutter counts.  I highly recommend doing this if you buy a used camera.)

sony camera lens
Yes, these same frugal hacks work for lenses too — I purchased a used lens in Japan for a fraction of what I’d pay back home.

 

Where To Find Used Gear

While most people can get behind the idea of saving money, many people shy away from buying used.  The problem is, you never know what you’re going to get.  Most sellers on Craigslist, Amazon, or Ebay don’t have the expertise (or honesty) to properly grade used camera gear.  They could be selling items with major problems, or simply misrepresenting the quality.

It’s possible to find great deals from these sources, but it does take a lot of work.  As a buyer, I don’t want to take a chance at buying a piece of used equipment, evaluating it, returning it, and then trying to get my money back from an uncooperative seller.

So where do I get my used camera gear without all that mucking around?

There’s a few online camera stores that have a good reputations, and accurate grading systems for used equipment:

I’ve purchased from them a number of times, and have only experienced good results.  (Note: I’m not affiliated or sponsored by these stores in any way… I just think they do a great job)

Prices at these used camera dealers might be slightly higher than what you could negotiate from a Craigslist seller, but you’ll save yourself A TON of time.

Furthermore, it’s also possible to sell old cameras and lenses using these same used resellers.  While I haven’t sold anything with them yet, by all reports the prices are fair and the dealings are honest.

I plan to sell some of my old Nikon lenses using these guys very soon.

 

The End?

While I certainly could have purchased brand new photo gear (we can absolutely afford it), that’s just not how we roll.  The Tako family got to millions of dollars in assets because we don’t spend every dime.  End of story.  We learned to take frugal strategies like buying used instead of new.

Want to know the most important part?  It wasn’t a sacrifice.

Even though my new Sony a6000 is a used model (that’s a few years old), I’m absolutely thrilled.  Why?  Because it’s WAY better than what we had before.  I may have paid a bargain price, but the photos and image quality on this blog have significantly improved over the last couple months.  (I hope everyone noticed!  I certainly have!)

This my friends, is one of the secrets to happiness — It’s not about buying the newest and the most expensive things.  It’s about finding joy in a slowly improving quality of life.  One that we can share with others.

14 thoughts on “Quality Camera Gear On A Frugal Budget

  • November 15, 2017 at 6:20 AM
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    Thank you for the great tips! I’ve always wondered what camera you use to take such great photos. I think you mentioned it once, but I’m still amazed hehe. I think it has a lot to do with your great photography skills as well.

    Before Mr. FAF and I got married. Mr. FAF also “invested” in a $650 camera because he wanted to capture all the special moments once we started our family. However, we barely used that fancy camera because it was heavy. We just had no idea how to use it properly and were too lazy to learn. I think we used it 3-4 times and gave it to my sister after a year >_<.

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    • November 15, 2017 at 8:21 AM
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      Thanks Mrs. FAF! I was lucky enough to take some photography courses in high school, but anyone can learn how to use a camera in manual mode.

      There’s no need to pay for special courses either — there’s free online photography courses (like this one: http://www.r-photoclass.com/ ) that are excellent.

      Reply
  • November 15, 2017 at 7:20 AM
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    Great post. My old Panasonic Lumix has the 30x optical zoom, so I mostly agree with your comment that cellphone cameras have almost replaced point-and-shoots, but that big optical zoom keeps me using the Lumix for now. And the Leica lens is awesome. My cellphone camera just can’t compete when I need that zoom.

    I agree with your advice of buying last years model too – that works for so many things in life!

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    • November 15, 2017 at 8:32 AM
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      Totally agree! There’s no way a super thin cellphone can replicate an optical zoom like that. Optical zooms are always going to be better than digital zooms.

      Great point!

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  • November 15, 2017 at 7:47 AM
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    Buying second hand or last years model is definitely the way to go with a lot of technology. I know so many people who have to have this years iPhone. We always keep ours at least 3 years and then buy the previous years model second hand. And even having an iPhone is a luxury we could do without.

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    • November 15, 2017 at 8:37 AM
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      I always try to ask myself the question “What am I getting by buying this new model?” If I don’t have a darn good answer, I won’t buy it.

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  • November 15, 2017 at 8:19 AM
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    Very nice balance between frugality and quality of life!

    I never heard of Mirrorless Cameras until you mentioned them. Pretty cool that they are so small.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of getting into photography, but I’m not quite ready yet. I have to convince myself that I would use it enough to justify the expense first. But if I do decide to buy, I’ll use your smart approach.

    Do you use any software to edit your photos?
    Mr. Freaky Frugal recently posted…Obamacare madness

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    • November 15, 2017 at 8:35 AM
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      Oh absolutely! There’s always digital fixes to make. I mainly use the Gimp to do all my photo editing. It’s free and nearly as good as Photoshop.

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  • November 15, 2017 at 8:38 AM
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    Ugh, I need a new camera. I lugged our old DSLR, the Canon T1 rebel, to Cancun. It was heavy and really annoying to carry around. I’ll definitely get one of the new mirrorless camera before we take another big trip. The T1 is okay for around town, but it’s just too heavy to take on long trips. Hopefully, I can get a mirrorless that can use the same lenses. Inertia is tough to overcome.
    Buying use is a good idea.

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    • November 15, 2017 at 9:07 AM
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      I can definitely recommend a mirrorless camera for travel. You might want to check out the Canon Eos M5. You should be able to use a lot of your old Canon lenses with it (might need an adapter).

      While there are cheaper mirrorless cameras, I recommend one with an electronic viewfinder (like the M5). In bright sunlight LCD screens can get really washed out. The electronic viewfinder on the a6000 was a godsend on our trip to Japan.

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  • November 17, 2017 at 3:56 PM
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    Mr. Tako,
    That’s really money well invested. I totally agree with you: I don’t have to have the latest and most expensive model in order to find joy. It’s really cool to have a nice camera, so you can record lots of beautiful memories.

    Reply
  • November 17, 2017 at 5:39 PM
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    “Blogging cameras”. Ha ha. Love it.

    I need to follow your advice and get a better camera instead of just relying on my cell phone pictures, but the minimalist in me is like “WAHH, more stuff to carry”. But yeah, taking more professional photos is definitely a good investment. Now, if I can just get myself to stop writing so much and take better photos..

    Reply
    • November 18, 2017 at 2:54 AM
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      You know what the hardest part is? Remembering to take a photo before you dive into a delicious meal… I forget ALL the frickin time!

      Reply

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