Can you build a solid kit for $500?

     I think you can. Shown to the left is one of my favorite shots ever from back when I had my first kit. Did I have to invest thousands of dollars to get quality images? Nope. Is it the greatest photo ever on the face of the planet? Nope, but it's something I'm proud of, an image of respectable quality, regardless of its minor flaws, that helped me book more work.

My first "full" kit was a Canon XTi, 50mm 1.8 with two Vivitar 285HV flashes on cheap stands, with Ebay umbrellas, triggered with Cactus V2 triggers.

Total investment: just under $500, most would consider this cheap for a camera, lens, two lights, stands, modifiers, and triggers.

Late model entry level cameras can be easily found for around $200. I've regularly seen Canon XT, XTi, XS, 10D, 20D, Nikon d40, d50, d60, d70, d70s. Sony a200, a300, and a few others (body only) for $200-$250. Let's assume you got an XTi body for $200 as I did (check of ebay shows quite a few sold recently at that price.) 

Total Invested: $200

Second investment is a lens. The mark II version of the 18-55mm kit lens is quite nice, (speaking for canon) it keeps surprising me, but the mark I version, the one that came with the XTi, is less impressive. All in all, the kit lenses for any entry level cameras isn't going to be the best thing ever, but if used correctly, will do the job, and get you started. If you find a great deal on a camera body with the older kit lens, it's still a good place to start. Another strong contender is the 50mm 1.8 (1.7 for the minolta mount for sony series) Used, $75-100, new for $100-$125. Very fast lenses, Very sharp, very few flaws. This is the lens I suggest getting, simply because at the price point... nothing else compares. If you want a zoom, the kit lenses, or older consumer grade lenses can do the job, just research the lenses extensively. I'm a big fan of Canon's EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 II. Sharp, decently fast, good range, good contrast, low CA, for $150 I don't regret buying it at all. Let's assume you spend $125 on a lens, going for new 50mm, or a used, decent zoom.

Total Invested: $325

Flashes! This has recently become a point that I've become very vocal about. I've shot with top of the line Canon and Nikon speedlites, Vivitars that are older than I am, 20 year old Nikon SBs, beastly Metz, and I've completely fallen in love with the YongNuo flashes. Ive got two YN560s and four YN460IIs. Surprisingly enough, the older YN460IIs are just as powerful as the new 560s when used in an umbrella or softbox, but cost much lower, $45. Let's pick up two of them for ya for $90.

Total Invested $415

Let's trigger the lights now. $360 for Pocketwizards are out of the question, but if you've read my post on the RF-602s, you know my opinion of them. Pick up a set for $30 ($50 if you want two receivers, but don't go crazy, we're on a budget here! You'll live with setting the second flash on optical slave mode for now.)

Total Invested: $445 - We're getting close.

Stands, Brackets and Modifiers. The last step in completing our kit. Cowboy Studios Speedlite Kit. As reviewed in the article, it's nothing fancy, but gets the job done, they hold your flashes , hold an umbrella, and let you point it at your subject. Two kits, $40 each with shipping, brings the cost up to $80 finishing up the kit.

Total Invested: $525.

Opps, just a bit over $500. But hell, you just got a complete, solid kit for just $525. If you go an alternate route, and start with one light, you're sitting pretty at $440, can't complain with that. If someone told you when you first started that you could get a full kit for less than the cost of a new, entry level DSLR (body only, mind you) would you have thought them crazy? Well maybe I am, but my first clients thought the work I provided for them was fantastic, and the few magazine covers shot with my $500 kit sure made my day.

Remember, If you know what the hell you're doing, you can use any piece of equipment to its full potential.

Happy Shooting.


On December 29, 2011 at 7:57 PM , Jason Petorak said...

Don't forget the cheap 5-in-1 reflector you can pick up on Amazon for under $20.