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01-19-2010, 06:55 PM   #1
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Calling all Pentax wise folks: Frugal but not cheap photography


Every now and then I meet people that got in to photography, from noobs to vets, but still within the amateur scale, that seems spent a fortune on gears. I do believe that the $$ of gears correlates with the picture quality, but it wouldn't be a hard rule for everyone. In few occasions, I also met with people with ‘minimalist’ gears yet they have an outstanding portfolio. Before I jumped in on the photography wagon, I saw photography as an expensive hobby. I jumped in because I need to capture moments in the family and a visual creativity outlet. I jumped in anyway, but with a promise to my family that we all can still be sane with our budget. This is one of the reason I picked Pentax of all other brands, knowing that I can stretch more quality out of my hard earned dollars. In the past since my jump, I had my share of (what I think is) LBA, but managed to spend on lenses frugally. In the process, I also acquired lenses that I wish I did not spend even a dime for it. From life lessons, we all know that being cheap can lead to lower acceptance of standards and quality. Some fight it by not being cheap at all, but for me I choose to be frugal yet strive for the high quality standards. I totally understand one is justified to spend fortunes on a hobby, but unfortunately I am not in the club yet. My experience from falling out of the endless “gotta have the fastest & coolest” cycle in the PC/gadget world has teach me a real good lessons. Wish I can get back all the $$ I spent there J

I am asking the forum if anyone can share their wisdom in photography that represents the frugal approach. I’d like to know if you have any experience on building a smart spending mindset, but also avoiding the ‘mediocre’ trap. In the world of constant deals, bids, and for sale postings, how do you decide which gear is worth spending? How do you improve your pictures with the gear on hand?

Sorry for the long ask. I hope anyone, pro or amateurs, can chime in on this ‘less technical’ topic.


01-19-2010, 07:29 PM   #2
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Amateur here.
My perspective is that all photo companies are caught in the trap of trying to meet the latest and best standards to keep up with consumer demands. Unfortunately, this must be the bread and butter of the company, giving it the 'room' to produce the gear that may be less popular but satisfying certain niches.

Pentax does this well IMO, and they've managed to stay in relatively good shape bringing out just a few top products that compete favourably with its rivals, particularly in price. The gear they produce is not mediocre either - despite not being considered 'professional' by many.

What's worth spending is what you as the user feels appropriate to suit the job it's assigned for. Sounds like a vague answer, but that's the only way I could justify it. 'Why do I need this lens/accessory?' If I can answer this question to my own satisfaction, then it's worthwhile having.

Improving your skills with what you have is always possible - just requires a lot of practice and learning of new techniques. These are just my 2c worth...
01-19-2010, 09:08 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
Amateur here.
My perspective is that all photo companies are caught in the trap of trying to meet the latest and best standards to keep up with consumer demands.
I think actually the companies do their best to manufacture demand for the "latest and greatest". We're lucky that Pentax was clever enough to see that backward compatibility could be a selling point and a way to maintain it's customer base. Put simply, at this point I buy the bodies because I have (and love) the lenses.

I'm one of those who ran ahead of my skill level in acquiring equipment. No doubt good gear helps but I'm reminded every day here that good photographers can do amazing things with pretty average gear.
01-19-2010, 09:17 PM   #4
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I do believe that the $$ of gears correlates with the picture quality
I think "image quality" does have a correlation to money spent, but not "picture quality" (the art) . I have seen some really great photos come from the crappiest cameras.

01-19-2010, 09:26 PM   #5
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dadipentak: No doubt good gear helps but I'm reminded every day here that good photographers can do amazing things with pretty average gear.
Absolutely yes!

One of the best recommendations I can give you is to read, read, read--especially here at our forum where I can not count the number of money saving tips I have found, either directly or indirectly. You are not going to get all the answers in one thread, obviously, but just hang in there and be patient.

One of the more obvious cost-saving tactics, is to use older glass---particularly manual focus lenses and lenses which require you to manually stop down. You can get some fantastic glass this way, for tremendous savings over modern equivalents. But this, of course, demands more of you as a photographer--you have to work harder, da! I think it is the way to go, because you get more of the experience of photography this way--anyone can hold a camera up and push a button, virtually relying on the computer to do everything. BEST!

Last edited by Jewelltrail; 01-20-2010 at 11:06 AM.
01-19-2010, 09:40 PM   #6
Damn Brit

To be honest I think one method of becoming frugal is to avoid photography forums.
Hanging around with a bunch of like minded enthusiasts it's easy to get caught up in all that enthusiasm.
With any hobby there's always a danger of getting carried away and sadly not everyone has the discipline to resist the newest, best, fastest, widest.
Being on a budget is a great incentive to get the best out of what you have and probably helps with being careful about selection of any new purchases.
I bet most of us have purchases we'd rather not talk about because of inexperience early on (and maybe impetuousness in the present).

I'm an amateur but I'm going to school and hope to become a professional/artist, I kid myself that any purchases I make are an investment in my future. I am starting to settle into a kit that suits my needs though and purchases tend to be what I need for school (mostly).

As far as $$ correlating to picture quality, it very much depends and I would say is more true from a professional point of view than an artistic one because image quality is just one element in what makes a good picture.

Last edited by Damn Brit; 01-19-2010 at 09:45 PM.
01-19-2010, 09:41 PM   #7
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Pre-digital, photography for me was expensive, developing and printing, etc. Digital has been fun and relatively affordable. My opinion - with IS or SR, within a pretty basic K100 with the 2 kit lenses and you are essentially set, with possibly an additional flash. Everything beyond that is icing on the cake. You have 6MP, reasonably quality zoom lenses, 18 to 200 or 300mm, auto focus, a relatively good sensor, with sufficient resolution in a pretty small package. You have a good range of ISOs to select from shot to shot, along with a good range of shutter speeds again shot to shot. With a M42 adapter you also can take advantage of all the older lenses. All of this is pretty inexpensive.

Most of the old photographers had the equivalent of a pin hole camera. With this pretty basic equipment set, there is not much you can't do. Just about everything else is in the hands of the photographer - their creativity, skill, technique, understanding and use of the equipment, along with their ability to be an artist.

01-19-2010, 10:45 PM   #8
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Like others have touched on, one way to be frugal is to not buy anything. Try to work with what you have. Make sure it truly cannot do the job before looking for a new lens. Don't just look at your own abilities either. You might think that the kit lens would be terrible at birding, that you need 300mm or more. I have seen interesting bird photos taken with the DA 10-17 fisheye at 10mm, nearly the widest possible field of view. I wouldn't have considered it on my own. Besides lenses you have, learn processing too. Your goal should be to reshape your gear shopping questions from "What's a good zoom for my budget?" to "I have these requirements and need a lens to fit them."

A second way to frugality is knowledge about the lenses. Each lens is a set of compromises, made with a goal in mind. Until you know what those compromises are, you're just buying numbers and hoping for the best.

A third way is accepting a bit less to get the same result. One example that I often see is with the Pentax lineup of 50mm f1.7 lenses. The optical formula is the same from the Pentax-M 50mm f1.7 through the Pentax-FA 50mm f1.7. Price varies by a factor of 10. Some people have "upgraded" from the Pentax-F to the Pentax-FA, gaining... well, the FA is styled differently, and there's the extra data supplied to the MTF program line, that's really helpful. I think that covers the differences, and the FA costs maybe double. You can also accept lenses with cosmetic flaws, mismatched caps, etc. If you can focus manually, that's huge.
01-20-2010, 09:24 AM   #9
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@JewellTrail: Agreed. Reading is great, either from the forums or the nearest public library.

@JewellTrail & Just1MoreDave: I found manual lenses as the sweet spot, although it has its own challenge. I am always off 2 out of 3, but it makes me more appreciate (and critical) when I use AF.

@Damn Brit: Can't stay away from forums, at least I know to not to go to the for sale forum too often. The forum benefits outweighs the cost, hands down.

@mtroute: "Picture Quality" (the art) will stick in my head. Thanks!
01-20-2010, 10:04 AM   #10
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I would probably describe myself as a frugal amateur. Yes, photography can be an expensive hobby but not any more so than anything else. Back in the film days I think it was easier because you could save up and buy your gear over time while today, things are changing so rapidly in the digital world, your camera is almost obsolete 6 months after you buy it. That really isn't true because if your gear still works and you like the pictures, that should be good enough. There are several threads where folks like the IQ of their older 6 megapixel cameras better. So much for new technology. Older lenses are as good as anything made today and you can gather quite an assortment of great lenses for very little if you don't mind manual focusing. Spend some time in the Takumar Club thread.

Also, compare the cost of photography to other hobbies and activities. Downhill skiing for example will set you back at least $500 for gear, and that's cheap beginner stuff. Decent mid level boots and skis will be over $1000. About the same as camera bodies. Lift tickets are $60-75 a day. A good stable canoe or kayak, so you can go fishing somewhere besides the shoreline will be in that $500 and up range also. A small boat with an outboard is about the same as a K7 and a couple of Limited lenses. That big bass boat is more than Canon FF and a bag of lenses.
01-20-2010, 10:12 AM   #11
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I'm frugal, I wait for the best deals (here or ebay) on the best bang for the buck lenses - mostly manual lenses. Many have a number of different versions - you have to do a lot of research to find which exact model is the best (ex the 10 or so helios versions, the tons of vivitar 28 versions)
01-20-2010, 10:23 AM   #12
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i feel your pain my friend.... it's a tricky balance these days, wanting to enjoy a hobby requires a financial investment, while trying to stay above water with personal finances.... the u.s. economy has been an emotional and financial rollercoaster...
that being said, i'd love to have a 50-135mm, 6-250mm, 300mm da, but too much $$$$$!!!!!
so i've tried to be patient and watch auction sites and retailers religiously, and hope for the best... also our forum is an excellent venue for additional bodies and lenses.... sometimes at very reasonable cost(s).......... buying older pentax legacy glass is a great option, as well as third party lenses (vintage and newer), some of which are affordable and very good optically... i.e., kiron 105mm f2.8 1:1 macro.... pentax smc a f1.7 50mm.... and many, many more...
still playing the lottery as well... i can still dream, can't i???
dave m....
01-20-2010, 11:30 AM   #13
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My working assumption is that 99% of the difference between a great portfolio and a mediocre one is the photographer and in the *flexibility* of his gear, not su much the actuly image quality thre gear is capable of. That is, assuming the gear is even moderately decent. But all DSLR's and almost all lenses available for them would fall in to that "even moderately decent" category.

What I mean by "flexibility" is that I don't want my gear to prevent me from getting the shot. If my lens only has a f/5.6 maximum aperture, you can't get the shallow DOF you might want in some shots, or the kind of shutter speeds in low light you might need to avoid blur, etc. If your longest lens is 55mm, you can't get the kind of closeups of distant subjects you might want; if you're widest is 18mm, you are similarly limited. You might also need a lens with a given magnification rati to capture a given image. For cameras, maybe frame rate is a significant factor, maybe something else - I'm much less camera-limited than lens-limited, though.

Anyhow, given this philosophy, the way I attempt to keep a lid on expenses is to try not to think I need the "best" len for a given purpose, but one that does the job adequately. If the lens allows me to take pictures I couldn't have taken with the lenses I have already, it's worth buying. If it's just a question of allegedly providing better image quality on pictures I can already take, I'm usually not interested. And face with a chocie betwene two lenses that might both fill a "hole" in my lineup, I'll choose the less expensive over the "better" one. Although I'm also sensitive here to size and weight, since those also affect the likelihood of my getting the shot (I'm more likely to have a small/light lens with me than a large heavy one).

Wha this means in practice is that I've accumulated a collection of lenses, some very cheap, some more expensive but only when there there was no significantly cheaper way to fulfill that need. Are my lenses the best possible chocie at every focal length when it comes to IQ? Not by a long shot. A couple probably come close, but more importantly, they are all *more* than good enough.

So, "good enough" - that's the buzzword.
01-22-2010, 06:22 PM   #14
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You don't really need the super sharp or great lenses but just avoid the crappy ones.
All images, save for the real crappy ones can be made to look great by post processing software.
Get a good PP software and whatever average lens you might get can turn out great!
You have to keep your end of the job though and get the right framing or do good composition.
If you have a good subject, good composition and are creative enough and know what you want your photo to look like, then a PP software can do the job.
You can make the backgrounds blurred, you can change the color temperature, make it black and white, sharpen soft images or even blurred ones.
Give me one or two good lenses and a good PP software and I'm kosher!
This is frugal and buy only lenses that I need and let the PP software do the rest!
01-22-2010, 07:16 PM   #15
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You have to think about lens prices not just in absolute up front cost, but overall cost of ownership. Some of my glass is moderately pricey (~$1k range) but I bought the lenses used and can sell them for what I paid or even more a year or two from now. So the cost of ownership is really only the opportunity cost of tying up a few grand in lenses while I own them. If I bought cheaper / more undesirable lenses I would not only lose money on them in the long run, but also end up with less than ideal gear. For instance, I could get a "cheap" $250 55-250 IS and use for a year then sell for $150, or an "expensive" $1100 or so used 100-400 IS, use for a year, and then sell for $1100 or more.

It's kind of like used luxury/exotic cars, you can practically use them for free if you pay attention to the prices... pick up an NSX for a good deal, drive it for a year, sell it for what you paid. Cheaper than trying to pay off some econobox.

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