LIKE SO MANY other people I suspect, I have a dream to one day become a full time professional photographer and I’m already taking on jobs for clients outside of my regular day job. Perhaps my biggest challenge is finding the money to buy the high end kit I need, but fortunately these days there’s a flourishing used market to help ease the financial pain.
For me the news is even better, because that job I mentioned happens to be as a sales adviser at Park Cameras in Sussex and it means I can browse our second hand selection on a daily basis, and it’s given me a very good handle on what’s available and for what price. Best of all the store, in common with so many other reputable outlets these days, provides a full six month UK warranty, which takes the risk out of buying something that isn’t brand new.
So what should you be looking for should you be a wedding, sports or even landscape photographer/videographer? I’ll start with a category I’m all too familiar with, street and travel photography. For me the original X-Pro1 can still deliver. Featuring Fujifilm’s original X-Trans sensor, the camera produces some of the most striking black and white and colour images I’ve ever seen from a sensor of this age and camera at this price. You can currently pick up a used model for around £260, paired with an unbelievably sharp and fast autofocus lens like the XF 35mm f/2 for a further £270.
Some, such as Fujifilm Ambassador Kevin Mullins, have also used the X-Pro 1 to shoot weddings. However, my choice for this genre would be Sony kit, which performs particularly well in low light situations. The first camera that springs to mind is the 42MP a7R II, which is currently priced at £940 for a used model. Now, while a lens to partner this, such as the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4, would set you back a further £450, this will give you an extremely strong full frame kit that will serve you well for years.
If portraiture is your chosen genre then I’d be tempted to pick up an 85mm f/1.8 for £450 instead. If used fully open in tandem with a full frame sensor such as this one you’ll be able to obliterate the background and achieve smooth and creamy bokeh.
While a few years old now the a7R II still comes equipped with Sony’s class leading eye autofocus, which will stand you in good stead if you’re having to work quickly. While an absolute steal for this money I can still understand how it might stretch the budget to spend £1400 on a camera and lens, but if you’re struggling a little and don’t need the resolution of the a7R, a used Sony a7 II can be found for just £650, which takes the same lenses. The other benefit of this set-up is that the low light performance of the a7 II is actually marginally better than that found on the a7R since, although the cameras share the same processor, the a7R features double the resolution, which makes noise more difficult to control. The newer models feature backside illumination technology, of course, which helps to make noise
much less of an issue.
If video is something you’re looking for, the Sony a7 II also excels, offering Full HD video capability combined with built in image stabilisation to deliver a phenomenal run n’ gun set-up. The results are sharp and crisp and, while the bit rate is only 50mbps, this means the files are quick and easy to edit. You might consider an alternative lens, however, if filmmaking is your intention. The one I would look at would be the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 for £800. A little pricey, perhaps, but the quality difference is quite substantial and often it’s these wider lenses that are best for video since they’re easier to stabilise. This camera is also a very nice option to have if you want to explore slo-mo, since you’re able to shoot at both 30 and 60 fps.
For someone like me, just starting out and on a budget, an alternative video setup would be provided by a camera such as the 16MP Panasonic GH4 with matching 12-60mm kit lens, which comes in at £690 (£500+£190) – almost half the price of the Sony. Delivering video at 4K, both in DCI 4K and UHD 4K resolutions, and a host of video-focused features, such as focus peaking and zebra settings, this really is a well specified piece of kit for a very reasonable outlay. If you’re a videographer looking for ultimate video output fidelity and flexibility in post, this is the setup to go for. Personally, however, I’d still be more tempted by the Sony simply because I’m a sucker for shallow depth of field, and this is much easier to achieve when working with a full frame sensor.
ABOVE: The Canon 70D is Ben’s sentimental choice but still highly usable, while the Canon 7D Mark II is feature-packed for around £1300.
From a sentimental point of view I would also look seriously at the Canon 70D, which is the first DSLR I bought for myself and the one on which I picked up most of my skills and knowledge. I used and abused this camera to the very limit over the years, shooting hundreds of thousands of frames in the harshest of conditions.
While now looking a little elderly perhaps, this model is still a capable workhorse if you’re just starting out on the professional trail. At the heart of a fully weather sealed body is a 20MP APS-C sensor, while there’s also 7fps shooting speed on board, along with Canon’s Dual Pixel AF technology. Perfect for using in sports and wildlife photography, good condition models can be
found for only £400, and an acceptable telephoto lens to accompany it would be something like the 70-300mm DO IS (equivalent to a full frame 480mm at the long end) for around £320.
If your budget is slightly higher however, you can get even more features onboard. With 10fps, superior low light performance, considerably faster autofocus with more flexibly and function plus a 640mm equivalent lens, Canon’s 7D Mark II with the original 100-400L can be bought for £1300 (£700+£600), which is really a steal.
If it’s an entry level camera you’re after, perhaps something for a photographic course or you’re looking to take photography more seriously, then I’d consider something like the Canon 1300D. While a basic DSLR with little in the way of bells and whistles, you can still pick one up with a 18-55mm kit lens for only £260. I’d consider adding a prime ‘standard’ lens to this outfit to increase the flexibility a little, and the Canon ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm f/1.8 can be bought second hand for only £80, which will introduce you to the joys of working with a wide aperture and the thrill of chasing bokeh. It’s a great combination for the price.
Higher up the food chain is the Fujifilm X-T20, and I’d pair this with what Fujifilm calls a ‘kit lens,’ the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, but this is head and shoulders above other zooms of this focal length, especially in low light and in terms of optical performance. Cost of the kit is around £600, and you’ll quickly appreciate the fact that Fujifilm cameras come with dials and buttons galore, saving you having to dig through menus.
To round up, if you’re looking for a basic camera to set you up for maybe a couple of years, take a look at the entry level DSLRs that are out there and, even though fairly basic they still have enough on board to give you the opportunity to learn your craft. However, if I were to start again with the knowledge I now have, I’d be investing in the Fujifilm X-T20 at £320 or maybe even its bigger brother the X-T2 with weather sealing, faster autofocus, better ergonomics and dual card slots for £475. If you’re serious about a future photographic career then this is the level of kit you should be looking at.
Finally, the main thing to bear in mind when looking at used equipment, or even just considering an upgrade for your existing camera kit, is that it makes a lot more sense to have a better lens and a cheaper camera body than it is to have things the other way around. The quality of the glass you use will have a massive impact on the results you achieve. A £1000 lens on a £100 camera will be able to to deliver much more than a £100 lens on a £1000 camera.
Used kit prices are volatile, but the prices quoted here were correct for gear stocked by Park Cameras at the time of going to press.
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