It’s been a week since the conversation between myself and my assistant Tom, in which I decided that it would be a good idea to try to set up a complete photography kit on less than £500 ($650).

Now, let’s get one thing straight, I love buying stuff! More specifically, I love buying gadgets. I am tech-obsessed and, I guess, a sort of shopaholic. Except that the buzz I get is not from shopping, it’s from having. I never send anything back. Hence the obsession with budget equipment, otherwise I would be flat broke.

So I am excited about getting started buying the elements that will make up this new kit. But with only £500 ($650) to spend, I need to be sensible. I need to do this right, and make some shrewd decisions.

The first question is what do I want the kit list to be. What elements do I need, what do I need to get from that £500?

I think I’ve boiled the kit-list down to this (with some off-the-top-of-my-head buying budget numbers next to each):

Camera (£260 / $336)

Lens (£50 / $65)

Tripod (£20 / $27)

Flash x2 (total £80 / $103)

Light stands x2 (£20 / $27)

Off-camera triggers (£50 / $65)

Reflector (£20 / $27)

This is supposed to be a video kit as well, but without question flashguns give you the most bang for your buck in terms of lighting, and you can get away with a lot more using natural light for video than for stills (great article on the pros and cons of flash vs continuous lighting here). So, I am specifically planning a kit with lighting for stills, and video will be an afterthought. That is roughly my business balance anyway – primarily stills with some video, not the other way around.

The thing I want to start with is that all-important camera.

I intend to shoot everything in manual mode, including the flashguns, and I will be getting hold of some simple single-pin-firing triggers, so compatibility is not something I need to consider.

I have allocated £260 to a camera purchase. And a few days ago I started researching to see just what I could get for that kind of money.

You’d be totally blown away by what you can get for that much money (I was/am). The second hand camera market is buzzing!

One thing I have decided, is that I will be getting the camera from a reputable second-hand photography equipment dealer. Clearly cameras are fairly complicated pieces of equipment and I could do without any unexpected surprises. If I buy from a proper second-hand photography shop these cameras, or camera bodies, will be well tested and should come with a bit of a warranty.

If I buy from eBay or from an online advert, or Facebook Marketplace or similar, who knows what could be wrong with the camera. I think it’s sensible to go reputable for the camera purchase only.

I started trawling the second hand shops here in the UK (I’ll be writing an article on the best ones to take a look at soon). And straightaway there are two big questions – DSLR or mirrorless… and full frame or APS-C (or Micro 4/3, or whatever else). [Good explanation of DSLR vs mirrorless here, and full frame vs APS-C or other here.]

In my professional photography business, we operate top of the range DSLR alongside full-frame mirrorless, allowing us to make the most of both types of technology, and allowing us to pick and choose depending on the job (plus we tend to use mirrorless cameras for video work).

There is a part of me which would love to choose mirrorless for this project, but I’m not sure it would be the right way to go.

I feel like there’s more to go wrong on a mirrorless camera. In general, the weather sealing is not as good, they’re a bit less robust, rely far more heavily on electronics to function (think EVF vs physical mirror)… And besides they are still relatively new technology so prices on higher spec, old equipment are not that enticing. Plus the opposite of that is true at the moment – lots of pros switching from DLSR to mirrorless, so good stock of DSLR on the second hand market and therefore competitive prices.

I suspect this is all fairly baseless reasoning (let’s see how many people tell me I’m wrong in the comments!), but I kind of feel like DSLR technology is a bit less fragile, a bit less reliant on delicate electronics, and a bit older, and therefore I am hoping I will get a bit more bang for my buck going with the older system.

The next question is full frame, or crop frame?

I would definitely lean towards full frame here, the creative opportunities are much more extensive, and there is more opportunity and ability to manipulate an image with a full frame sensor. APS-C sensors are often a good idea if you’re looking at macro, or prioritising video, but I am doing neither of those things, so I would like to be looking at full frame if possible within the budget.

Second-hand, full frame, cameras for under £280 are not going to be all that easy to find. I am going to have to look at some old models. But that’s okay.

The big question. The really big question. The huge, enormous question which I know you’re all dying to know the answer to… is what brand?

I will put you out of your misery. I will almost certainly end up with a Canon… I have used Canon for years, and unless it really makes financial sense, I will probably lean towards an old Canon DSLR here.

I’m not one of these die-hard Canon fans that think no other brand will do, I think Nikon are amazing, Sony’s Alpha range of mirrorless cameras are simply incredible, and Olympus are doing some exciting things these days too. But I’ve been using Canons for years, and been buying Canons, so I should already know most of the essential information about their older models.

Without looking, I strongly suspect £280 worth of full-frame Canon DSLR in today’s second-hand market probably means a 5D mk I, or a 5D mk II.

But let’s take a look, and see what’s out there!

More news soon.

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Love and hugs, the BudgetProPhoto team.

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