Please Don’t Pay Full Price for these 11 Photography Items

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Photography is not a cheap hobby, but it doesn't have to be nearly as expensive as most think it is.  Over the last 5 years that I've been running Improve Photography, I've been hunting down the very best cheap and inexpensive alternatives to photography, which I share in the recommended gear section of the site.  Here are some of my favorite finds, all of which except for #2 I have personally tested and save money with regularly.

If you buy all these items, this article would save you $2,912.  Doesn't that make this article worth sharing on social media?  🙂

I accidentally dunked my inexpensive YN-560 flash in the pool while doing a sports portrait shoot and it still works like a charm. These are fantastic flashes!
I accidentally dunked my inexpensive YN-560 flash in the pool while doing a sports portrait shoot and it still works like a charm. These are fantastic flashes!

Speedlight Flashes

Amount I saved: $350 per flash (and I have four flashes!)

Improve Photography has–for five years–recommended Yongnuo flashes instead of the far more expensive Canon/Nikon flashes.  When I do our completely free photography workshops around the world, I often look around and see only Yongnuo flashes amongst the participants who read the site frequently.

Yongnuo makes very inexpensive speedlights for about $70.  They are built well, reliable, and cheap enough you can buy two.  If you're just starting today, I'd pick up a YN-560 IV but check out my flash recommendations page here.

The flashes that I like from Yongnuo are the all-manual flashes.  They are very simple to use.  If you take a picture and the flash is too bright, you simply turn the flash down.  Too dim?  Turn it up.  It's that simple.  But they also make high speed sync and ttl flashes for about $150, which are comparable to the $650 Canon/Nikon flashes.

The CamRanger

Savings: About $260

The CamRanger is a pretty popular device that allows more advanced photographers to add functionality to their cameras to show the photos on an iPad, do intervalometers, wi-fi tethering, and lots of other cool features.  We gave the CamRanger high marks in our review, but if you want similar functionality for a tiny fraction of the cost, read on.

However, you can make a device very similar to a CamRanger for next to nothing.  The CamRanger is basically just a cheap TP-Link 3040 router with special firmware installed.  The only significant limitation of this method is that you have to use a Canon camera and an Android device.  But you could get a Nexus tablet AND this router for far less than the cost of the CamRanger.  Read our full CamRanger review for more details on this hack.

Lenses

I often see photographers with 6 or 7 lenses, some better than others, but none which are professional grade.  Because pro lenses are soooo expensive, they buy one cheap one, then another cheap one, and then repeat.  I often do the math in my head and see that if they would have waited to save up, they could have had an excellent lens.

Personally, I rarely find the need to use a lens other than a wide angle, a 24-70, or a 70-200.  Three lenses that work like clockwork.  The trouble is these lenses are about $2,000 each.

Fortunately, Tamron has stepped up its quality significantly in the last couple years.  You can get a lens that is 95% as good as the Canon or Nikon trinity of lenses for half the cost.  I highly recommend the Tamron 70-200 for those of you who are looking for the ultimate portrait lens.  For all you Canonistas, be sure to check out my article on the 8 best inexpensive Canon lenses, too.

But don't wait around for lenses to go on sale.  Lenses from the major manufacturers rarely go on sale, and the sales are usually somewhat small.

Some of the photographers and I (that's me at the top left) in a crashed airplane in Iceland on a free photography workshop that we put on.
Some of the photographers and I (that's me at the top left) in a crashed airplane in Iceland on a free photography workshop that we put on.

Travel for Photography

Amount I saved: About $2,000 per trip

This is–by far–my favorite hack on this page.  Last year, on one of our completely free photography workshops, we traveled to Iceland to photography the amazing landscapes.  The cost of the trip from the United States?  $699 which included flights, lodging, and some meals!!!  It sounded too good to be true at first, but I've gone on several of these trips now and I can assure you that it is not a scam.

How do we get such amazing deals?  We travel using Living Social escapes.  Here's how it works.  Living Social is just like Groupon (which also has travel deals, though not quite as good).  You look for deals that are only available for a few days.  I regularly see trips to Iceland, Ireland, Costa Rica, and other popular photography destinations for under $1,000 including flights and lodging and sometimes a rental car.  Check out their current deals here.

There are a couple limitations: trips leave from popular airports, but you have to buy airfare to get to the start point if you aren't near one.  Also, rates are based on double occupancy so you'll pay a bit more if you're traveling alone.  Even considering these limitations, I saved thousands of dollars off what I could find on Expedia and other sites for some of the trips I've been on.

(Many) Products on Amazon.com

Okay, I admit it.  I'm an Amazon addict.  I've found a little trick that has sometimes helped me to save a significant chunk of money.

If you put something in your Amazon wish list and go back to view the item a few times, suddenly the item goes on a magical sale just for you.  In fact, I just looked through my wish list and found a wetsuit that I've been eyeing that Amazon is offering me for 33% off right now.  Amazon sees you want the item but aren't so sure about the price, so sometimes they give you a little sale.

This does not work for all items, and I find it usually works best on items that are over $40.  You won't see this work on cameras because they have a minimum advertised price restriction, but on some photography accessories I've seen this happen many times.  Worth a try, right?

Also, be sure to look at the right hand side for the “Other offers” box.  Often you can find Amazon Warehouse deals or deals from third parties for the same item that has been returned at savings of about 10%.

The battery I have in my camera right now is a cheap knock off. It's capacity is 2200mAh, compared to 1900 for the Nikon battery, and the cheap battery was half the cost!
The battery I have in my camera right now is a cheap knock off. It's capacity is 2200mAh, compared to 1900 for the Nikon battery, and the cheap battery was half the cost!

DSLR Batteries

Amount I saved per battery: $33.26

I like to have a lot of batteries for my camera.  I'm always on the go and sometimes forget one on the charger, or run out of battery on a shoot.  The problem is that camera batteries from Nikon, and Sony often cost about $45.  Canon batteries are often even more.

If you shop on Amazon, I find batteries from third-party companies that often cost a lot less. My preference for third-party batteries is Wasabi, which I've bought from quite a few times, but there are other good ones as well.  These batteries are not only less expensive, they often give better battery life than the name brand battery.

Keep in mind when doing this that camera manufacturers may not honor the warranty if a third party battery is used, and it is the battery that causes the problem with the camera.  This is possible, but I've purchased dozens without issues, and if you read the reviews on Amazon, there are some third-party batteries that get better reviews than the name brand battery.

Flash Modifiers

Amount I saved: About $100

Flash modifiers are such a scam.  It seems like I get an email twice a week from companies launching a “revolutionary new on-camera flash modifier” on Kickstarter.  The truth is that the only things that make a difference in the quality of light are size and shape.  So don't waste your money on the $200 softbox when you can get one for $50 on Amazon.

I've used flash systems that cost well over $4,000 and over time I've found that I prefer the cheap stuff because I don't feel bad if a light stand tips over and one breaks.  The quality of light is really the same.

There certainly are some cruddy flash modifiers, but there are also some very well-built knock off light modifiers for far, far less.  This Cowboy Studio small octa softbox is a particular favorite of mine.  It may not have the build quality of a $200 softbox of the same size, but I'll bet you a 5d Mark III you couldn' t tell the difference between which one I'm using on my photos.

The print from the cheap lab is on the left, and the print from the expensive lab is on the right. The quality is WAY better from the cheaper lab!
The print from the cheap lab is on the left, and the print from the expensive lab is on the right. The quality is WAY better from the cheaper lab!

Prints

Amount I saved: $32 for a small order

One of our most popular articles is a review I did of the most popular print labs.  I ordered prints from 11 popular labs and compared them on price, shipping speed, customer service, and print quality.  The–very surprising–result of that test was that the most expensive lab produced the worst quality print in a blind test, and the cheapest lab produced the highest quality test.  Snapfish and Shutterfly, which are both popular online print labs, received pathetic results in the test for both print quality and pricing.

Our favorite print lab was Pro DPI (and no, they don't pay me to say that).  Their costs were extremely low, they shipped very fast, and they were the very cheapest for the order we placed which included several prints of different sizes.  Check out the photo print lab test here.

Wouldn't this just look beautiful on your Pinterest board? :-)
Wouldn't this just look beautiful on your Pinterest board? 🙂

Photography Magazines

Amount I saved: $180 for a one-year subscription

I don't read magazines very often anymore, but sometimes I like to thumb through one when I'm on an airplane.  In stores, magazines often cost between $5 and $9.

However, you can get a one-year subscription to Popular Photography or several other photography magazines for only $5 on Amazon.  Yep, an entire year's subscription for $5 total.  That's a deal and a half!

Grips

Amount I saved: $180

I go back-and-forth about battery grips.  They are really nice to have when shooting portraits, and the extra battery is handy to have in the camera so you never have to switch it out, but I don't love the weight and bulk.  Either way, the Canon or Nikon battery grip costs about $220 for many cameras.

You can get battery grips from third party companies for as little as $50 like this one for the Canon 7D Mark II.  I've used both and the difference is negligible.  Personally, I'll save the money.

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33 thoughts on “Please Don’t Pay Full Price for these 11 Photography Items”

    1. @Glen Barrington – Nope. Not one of the companies paid me. These are just a list of the products I like and use.

  1. I just found this article and this is exactly what I teach to my adult photo students at Saint Petersburg College. It is funny all the crazy things i thought when I first got into photography. As for flashes the EX580II is awesome, the Yongnuo is decent compared to this model but the Yongnuo brand flash kills the 600EX-RT from Canon. They just made that thing complicated.

    I purchaded the Yongnuo brand for my assistants and they love it. Too bad I already have the expensive ones.

    Great stuff and info!

  2. For flash modifiers, the only system I use anymore are the MagMod line. I’m still figuring out their Sphere and Bounce, but the grid and gel is absolutely killer. I’m probably going to pick up a couple of their snoots.

    As to prints, I love ProDPI, but usually go with MPixPro because ProDPI doesn’t offer the luster coat on metal paper prints while MPixPro does. love the quality and service from them both.

    1. Glad to see another MagMod user. The MagMod system is great! Used it while light assisting a photographer and now have two MagMod 2 kits myself. Affordable and switching or adding mods takes seconds.

  3. I had the Yongnuo flashes and sold them. The quality of light was fine but the problem I had with them was the refresh rate which I found to be about 13 seconds. Maybe I was doing something wrong but with wedding photography and needing reliable light to be quick I just couldn’t rely on that.

    Thanks for the article. I love that Cowboy Studio softbox for such ridiculous price.

    1. 13 seconds!?!??! Something had to be wrong. I’ve never seen a YN flash take that long, and I’ve owned lots of them. I’ve found the refresh rate to be comparable to the Canon/Nikon.

  4. Thanks for the tips. However, for lenses, nothing beats the old prime lenses. Cheaper, sharper and better (if you get the good ones) than the zooms mentioned in this article. If you want to go for long-range zoom and you do not need VR function why not pick up the 80-200 AF-D still unbeaten in sharpness in the long-range zooms and a lot cheaper. However, if you want to go for pure quality go for the best primes = less elements = sharper. Yes I do own 8 lenses but all top primes picked up for very reasonable prices giving me the best quality.

  5. Love love this post. As an owner of a Tamron 24-70 and 70-200 for my Sony I couldn’t be happier with them. I love the Zeiss lines but couldn’t justify paying 2-3x for those cameras.

    For flashes I also have a Sigma which has TTL support that’s about 1/3 of the price of the Sony version as well.

  6. I don’t see Meridian Pro on you list. I think they are great! Great results, fantastic customer service and great prices.

  7. great article Jim. Wouldn’t you include camera slings on the list? Anyway, this exactly what I always tell my students. Name brand gears cost too much that it hinders them from buying better gears.

    1. @Hari,

      Press the top two buttons at the same time (the one that has what looks like a Wi-Fi symbol and the one that has ZOOM written over it). You should see the channel start flashing on the LCD screen. Now use the up and down arrows to change the channel.

  8. Thank you Jim.
    Very good article, something which I was looking for.
    I read all your emails and enjoy.
    Thanks once again

    Rajendra

  9. Best hack for Amazon is camelcamelcamel.com. You can check the price chart at the bottom to see how much the item has been since being listed on Amazon, then set an alert for whatever price you like. Whenever the item hits, or goes below, your requested price, camelcamelcamel sends you an email to inform you. Saved over $150 by doing this on my Sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens!

  10. About the Battery Grip. Is there any third party recommendation for my Nikon D800?
    It seems that Zeikos is very famous, but I just want to be sure.

    1. I have the Zeikos grip for my D700 and D300 they work great and I have had no issues. Other than the bulk and weight mentioned but that is unavoidable.

  11. You may want to recheck your recommendation of ProDPI. I began using them after your initial recommendation and was happy for a bit. But this past fall everything that they printed for me had horrible magenta casts. They would graciously reprint them at my complaint, and they would come exactly the same. Their support staff explained that the majority of their customers liked the extra warmth that they printed with. I prefer to have my prints match my calibrated monitor personally.

  12. Great tips on the flash units. Had been looking at them myself and was turned off by such the high prices for first-party flash units. Good recommendations. I have bought those non-OEM batteries (not the Wasabi brand) and they work great. No problems with them at all. Definitely a better deal than the expensive canon brand.
    I have known about the Amazon pricing. Some days it goes up others it goes down. However, if everyone is putting in their wishlist it kind of kills the “special discount for you” premise. The prices are more or less based on how many people buy. I have seen this happen before on a very low demand item where it would drop every day or so til it leveled off and shot back up. Likely someone bought it. What is better is setting some alerts up on camelcamelcamel and adding in the wishlist. Automatic alerts for when it drops below your price.

  13. Great article. Thank you for sharing. Unfortunately being in Europe, I have to double most of the prices.

    I noticed that a lot of the links produced 404 page not found for me. A quick google quickly found the relative pages, so no harm.

    Best Regards

    Mark

  14. Wow. Actually very helpful information you got here. I was about to shell out a bunch of cash for a new flash. Looking into this more. Thanks for the tip

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