Budget camera equipment for under £50
The Great £50 Challenge
In the world of digital photography, £50 won’t get you much. Or so you’d think. The WDC team, like most of us, are often guilty of wanting only the very newest and most expensive kit. So, as a challenge we gave five of the team a budget of £50 each to buy a piece of photographic equipment that would benefit their shooting. They could buy from anywhere – auctions, secondhand shops, or even new – it just had to be within the budget. Once purchased the varying bits of photographic kit were used and results compared back in the office.
Nigel Atherton, The Editor
EZ-Fold Hot Shoe Softbox kit
The technological leaps made in recent years by the humble flashgun, particularly in the area of wireless TTL functionality, has made them a viable alternative to bulky mains-operated studio flash units. For portraiture, however, I still prefer to soften the illumination with a softbox. There are numerous diffusing devices but, for me, the best is the Lastolite Ezybox, which is a 60cm softbox that collapses down in seconds to fit in a small bag. The trouble is that, with a price tag of over £100, it isn’t cheap.
Looking on eBay for something for £50 I stumbled across this budget alternative, called the EZ-Fold Hot Shoe Softbox Kit, from an eBay shop called Cotswold Photo. It too is 60cm and is similar in design, functionality and build quality, but costs just £33.99, plus £6 postage.
The kit comes in a small black zip-up bag which fits (just) into the laptop compartment of my rucksack. The silver-lined softbox frame springs open when you take it out of its own smaller zip bag, and folds back up with a twist of the wrists. The diffuser panel fixes to the front with Velcro, and a round metal frame slots into the back. This is attached to an accessory flash shoe on a mini ball head, which is designed to fit onto a lighting stand, but also happens to fit onto my Manfrotto off-camera flash bracket – creating a supersoft, if slightly unwieldy, handheld rig.
The softbox in action
I used the EZ-Fold Hot Shoe Softbox with a Nikon D300 and Nikon Speedlight SB800 – an ideal set-up given the flashgun’s ability to be triggered wirelessly from the camera.
As you’d expect, the softbox makes a massive difference to the quality of the illumination when compared with a bare flashgun or even the smaller clip-on diffusers you can buy.
If you use flash on location, whether for weddings, portraits or even nature subjects, this is an inexpensive way to make a huge difference to the professionalism of your results.
Mat Gallagher, Deputy Editor
My main weakness, which I’m sure I share with many others, is a yearning for more lenses. Despite already having the main bases already covered by my zooms, I’m always poring over the lists of primes. The only problem is the ones I want are usually hideously expensive.
Back in my college days I started off with a rather nice Canon A1 and continued to use it as a second camera for many years until some shifty airport baggage handler decided to remove it from my case one year.
Having moved on to the EOS cameras by this stage I was left with an almost mint 135mm FD lens that I had no use for – until now.
On receiving my £50 I decided to investigate adaptors, having previously seen an OM adaptor for the Four Thirds range. There must be one available to fit my old 135mm FD on my EOS 5D. Sure enough, a scour through eBay revealed a selection of them. Not wanting to spend more than I had to, I opted for the cheapest one I could find from a firm based in Hong Kong; it cost just £22.50 plus £5 postage.
To my slight surprise the package arrived just over a week later, and this simple device fitted neatly on my camera mount – more importantly, it also allowed me to attach the FD lens on the other end.
The adaptor in use
The version I bought had no connection for the aperture value, so while you can set this on the lens, nothing shows on the camera. In practice this didn’t make much difference; the shutter could still be set manually and it even allowed an auto shutter reading from the aperture priority mode.
I took the lens along to a fashion catwalk; while the manual focusing with moving subject was a challenge at first, it’s amazing how quickly you start to adjust to it and, by pre-focusing at certain points, I was able to get plenty of sharp results. In fact, when checking the images back on the computer, the results were stunning.
These old lenses are extremely crisp and you can pick them up for next to nothing online.
Matt Golowczynski, Technical Writer
Canon PowerShot S10
Looking more like an overweight IXUS but still very much a PowerShot, Canon’s S10 celebrated its 10th birthday this year, and has the honour of being one of Canon’s first digital compacts. I managed to pick one up for £29 – not bad when you consider it started its life priced around £700 – and for a second-hand model it was in surprisingly good condition, too.
Despite its bulky appearance against the svelte compacts of today, it was one of the smallest cameras available upon its release. Its aluminium and magnesium alloy construction lends it a surprisingly solid build quality, inside of which is a – wait for it – 2.1MP CCD sensor. It also offers an optical viewfinder, 1.8in LCD screen and a 2x optical zoom stretching from 35-70mm.
In terms of design the camera has aged gracefully; controls are well spaced out and the viewfinder is generously sized, while the brushed top-plate plays host to a small LCD panel with basic shooting information.
The lens whirrs a little noisily when travelling through its zoom range, and image playback can be a tardy affair, though image quality is surprisingly good. Sharpness is well maintained and exposures are consistent.
Closer inspection reveals a lack of fine detail and minor fringing around high-contrast edges, though for 6x4 prints, which
at this resolution is perhaps all you’d use it for, you wouldn’t be able to notice such foibles.
Paul Nuttall, News and Features Writer
ND Grad filters
With £50 in my pocket and free rein to spend it on whatever photographic caught my eye, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. However, I found myself a bit overwhelmed with just what £50 can buy you in the world of photography.
With a bit of focused thinking, I decided to take a look in my kit bag and see what I was missing – rather than aimlessly surf the internet – and saunter car boot sales. My conclusion: filters. I’d been meaning to get some for quite some time but had managed to scrape by without them until now.
A quick scan of the internet showed the filters that I was looking for – graduated ND filters, mostly for landscape work – were retailing for £40+ per unit. However, a bit more digging uncovered filter specialist SRB-Griturn, who offer a series of affordable square filters perfect for the job.
I bagged three ND grad filters (ND0.6, ND0.9 and ND1.2) for £12.50 each, and a filter holder for just £3.50, along with an 82mm adaptor to fit my lens. I then headed for the hills to take full advantage of the benefits of an ND grad.
The grads in use
The square format proved to be a touch fiddly with the holder, though I found that it made aligning them much easier.
Having a three-filter set-up gave me the chance to fine-tune at the point of capture, and all for little more than the price of some single filters.
Plus, to use them with another lens, it’ll only cost you the price of a £4.50 adaptor.
Mike Lowe, Staff Writer
The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom is a perfect example of a budget accessory that is easy to buy brand-spanking-new from numerous shops. It’s an affordable tripod-like product with a key difference – it has multi-sectioned legs which can wrap around pretty much anything to provide support.
I recently went to Tokyo and, not wanting to pack a heavy tripod in my already bulging suitcase, bought a Gorillapod to take with me. At just 241g I knew the weight wouldn’t be an issue when wandering the city – plus there was even change enough from £50 for a pre-flight drink.
At night cities truly come to life, but taking sharp pictures requires a combination of high ISO, on-camera flash, and long shutter speeds. With the Gorillapod perched on a high ledge I was able to set the camera to look down at the buildings below, use a low ISO and expose for a number of seconds to create a crisp, detailed nightscape – something that just wouldn’t have been possible in my shaky hands!
Gorillapods in the mist
While on occasion I missed the height of a full tripod, that’s just not what the Gorillapod is about; at a rigid 25cms tall and without extension you’ll need to be more creative to gain height by wrapping the legs around the side of a lamppost, for example. It can be fiddly to work the legs into place, but once you do the support is solid and can hold up to 3kg.
The Gorillapod is certainly unique and should be in every photographer’s kit bag.
See pictures taken with these accessories on our website.
This article has more pages:
- 1. How to save money on your photography and camera equipment
- 2. How to save money by using old lenses
- 3. Budget camera equipment for under £50