HAVING A FINITE AMOUNT of money to play with comes with the territory if you’re a student but, then again, if you’re studying photography or video at a high level you’ve got no choice but to invest in kit that can effectively support you through your studies.
This is a time when every penny matters and some expert advice can count for a huge amount. So, when first year student Zak Thompson approached Professional Photo to enquire how we thought he might most usefully spend his limited budget, we called in the experts at used kit specialist MPB to give him the best feedback possible.
“I started my Broadcast Media Technology course at Leeds Beckett University last summer,” says Zak, “and up to now I’ve been working with a Canon EOS 1300D, an 18MP hybrid model that can output 1080p video. However, I need something with a lot more in the way of specifications to undertake the course I’m on, and so I know I need to invest in kit that has more of the features I need.”
Zak’s first thought was to buy new, with the freshly introduced Sony a7S III, one of the best video-enabled mirrorless models currently on the market, near the top of his wish list. However, with no second-hand models available at present and a price tag approaching £4000 body only, it was beyond his means. With a more achievable budget of around £2000 or so for a body and couple of lenses, however, the second-hand route offered a solution.
With a bewildering array of options on offer Zak needed advice, and who better to come to the rescue than used kit specialist MPB? The company has helped to transform this section of the market, taking much of the risk out of the process of buying second-hand by checking, grading and photographing everything that’s offered for sale and, as well as buying from a trustworthy outlet, you also have the reassurance of a six-month warranty. It’s an opportunity to dip into a treasure trove of used gear, which can still do a fantastic job and often for a fraction of the price of new.
Narrowing the Choice
We set up a Zoom call between Zak and MPB’s senior content producer Ian Howarth, who also happens to be a professional photographer and videographer. With expert first-hand user knowledge of most of the cameras that were likely to fall into the frame, Ian first of all ascertained that Zak was looking for a model that could function as a hybrid, and so deliver high quality stills as well as video footage.
“The first thought about the a7S III was a good one,” he confirms, “since this really is a fantastic camera that would certainly be able to deliver everything you could possibly require from a modern hybrid model. However, you will be paying a high price for something that’s just been introduced and, as a student, it’s quite possibly going to be offering you things you don’t actually need at the moment. The previous Mark II model, for example, still offers an amazing performance and yet it will be far more affordable. It’s still full frame, comes with phenomenal video production capabilities, including 4K, and it’s got stacks of on-board features. I have friends who shoot professional video with this camera and it does everything they require of it, and yet it’s still highly affordable.”
MPB grades all of its kit honestly, from ‘Well Used’ through to ‘Excellent’ and ‘Like New’ and, at the high end of the scale you’ll get something that looks like it’s just off the shelf in the shop, while even the well-used models will be fully functional and tested. At the time of writing, there were well-used a7S Mark II camera bodies available for just £989, while an excellent example – with maybe just the odd tiny scratch – was selling for £1409.
So, the previous a7S model was a real contender, but Ian was looking at the wider picture and talking through alternatives. “Colour space, which dictates how subtle the changes in colour will be in your footage, is an important consideration when you start to get more serious about video,” he says. “Cameras such as the Panasonic S1H and the brandnew Nikon Z 6
Mark II will offer you the most flexibility – but at a price. In reality, this is something you might need to look at when you’re a full-time professional, but as a student it’s not likely to be something you’ll find will be
Other cameras discussed by Ian and Zak included the Micro Four Thirds Panasonic GH5 – along with its sister product, the GH5S, a very highly regarded hybrid model – the original Nikon Z 6 and another Sony, the a7 Mark III. “These are all excellent cameras and capable of doing a great job,” says Ian. “As someone who’s come into video from photography, I have a personal preference for full frame, but it has to be said that the GH5 is still a phenomenal camera.
“I also really like the Nikon Z 6, with a ‘Like New’ example costing just £1199 at MPB, while the a7 III is a little more expensive at £1529, but offers a huge range of features and is much more of a hybrid than the a7S. It has loads of features, a 24.2MP sensor and offers high resolution 4K video.”
With plenty of cameras to consider, Zak was keen to move on to lens choice. “One of the benefits of the Sony Alpha system is the lens mount,” says Ian, “and there are so many adaptors out there that you can work with lenses from just about anyone – including wonderful vintage models – and it just gives you so much choice.
“There is an argument for working solely with primes when you’re shooting video, since you’ll get great quality plus so much understanding of what that focal length can offer. However, if you’re a student on a budget I would consider going for a really high performing zoom, and I recommend the Sony Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS, which is available from MPB at £434 in Excellent Condition. I’ve used this lens a lot and it’s optically a great performer, is very lightweight and is image stabilised. It has a range that could serve as your do-all lens and it would come in on budget as well.
“Some people will not be impressed by the maximum f/4 aperture, but unless you’re filming something really specific, where you’re looking to use bokeh as part of the shot, you don’t really need an ultra-fast lens. There’s also the point that cameras these days feature such brilliant high ISO performance that you’re able to work in low light in any case.
“However, if you could stretch that investment just a little further, I would also highly recommend a ‘nifty fifty’ type, fast standard lens, and my recommendation here would be the Samyang 45mm f/1.8. This is a brand that combines really high performance with excellent value for money, and you can pick this lens up from MPB for just £259 in Like New condition.”
Zak’s verdict? “That was incredibly helpful, and I really feel as though I know what to do now. I can afford a little more on the budget front and so I think I will go for both lenses, since this will give me more options. And, although the a7S was initially my favoured camera, I now feel the a7 III is better suited to me, so that’s the outfit I’m going to go for.”
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