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Gear & Apps

Bang For Your Buck: The Best Photography Equipment For $6000 Or Less

By Guest Contributor on February 18th 2015

So many people ask us what camera they should buy to shoot weddings. We also get asked about flashes, modifiers, batteries, lenses, etc. There are so many options that it can be hard to know what is the best piece of gear for the money, right? We all know photography gear can get expensive in a hurry and we don’t want to have to settle on something we know we will have to upgrade in a few months. In the SLR Lounge Photography 101 course, Pye shows that you can make incredible images using basic gear, but what if you have a small budget and want the best gear that your money can buy? In this article, I will introduce you to some of the best photography equipment on the market for your money.

The Nikon D750, Sigma lenses, Yongnuo speedlights, Mag Mod. Does it get any better? I would say no and here is why. All of the gear I will mention is what we currently use and love.

Image by Miguel Quiles

Image by Miguel Quiles

Best Photography Equipment: The Camera

First, we will start with the camera. The Nikon D750 has changed the game, in my opinion. Aside from the button layout, the camera is incredible. The dynamic range is second to none in its price range. Some would even say its better than Nikon’s D3s and D4s. This camera is also a low light beast in every way. I have little to no problem focusing in low light. Shooting at High ISO is no problem. I have shot portraits at ISO 5000 (see image below) because it was getting dark and we were losing daylight. Lastly, this camera produces colors I have not seen on a Nikon body before. Everyone says go with Canon if you want the best color. Not anymore! The best part is that this camera can be bought new for right around $2400!

[REWIND: THE NIKON D750 – IS IT THE BEST WEDDING DSLR EVER?]

Taken with the Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 5000

Taken with the Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 5000  Image by: www.lureyphotography.com

Best Photography Equipment: The Lenses

Next, let’s discuss lenses. Recently, we have been blown away by Sigma’s lens options. We currently use their 35mm 1.4 Art, 85mm 1.4, and 70-200mm 2.8. The 35mm 1.4 Art is amazing. There really are no words to describe it, you just have to try it out for yourself. The bokeh is amazing and it’s crazy sharp. The best part is that it comes in at $900, as apposed to the Nikon 35mm 1.4 that comes in at $1600. 

The 85mm 1.4 is by far my favorite portrait lens. It’s the perfect amount of compression. The images this lens produces are so crisp and clear. This lens comes in at $970 as apposed to the Nikon 85mm 1.4, which comes in at  $1500.  For those that like the compression of a 70-200mm 2.8, you will love Sigma’s version. I personally love the compression at 200mm.  I did have one of my 70-200’s from them go soft, but they replaced it for free and it has been amazing ever since. This lens comes in at $1200 as opposed to the Nikon version, which is right around $2000.

Best Photography Equipment: The Flashes

We own 2 Nikon SB-910’s and they just sit in our bag. At $550 apiece, they are an expensive piece of equipment to have just sitting around. Whenever I am using flash, I use manual mode 99% of the time. So the appeal for TTL is nonexistent for me.

I have found that Yongnuo makes some excellent speedlights. I own 6 YN 560III speedlights from them. These speedlights are extremely well made. When you hold them in your hand you can really feel the quality build. There are 2 reasons why I went with these over the SB-910s. The first is that they have a wireless triggering system built in, similar to the Canon 600 line. The second reason is that they are only $75 a piece!!

I love using these for lighting the dance floor at receptions  and don’t mind nearly as much when a guest knocks them over.  We also have found that Tenergy makes the best batteries when is comes to the rechargeable kind. They last forever and have an insane refresh rate. Tenergy have 2600 mAh as opposed to Eneloops that come in at 1900 mAh. I use the same batteries in my flashes for an entire wedding day without having to change them.

Best Photography Equipment: The Modifiers

Lastly, let’s talk about speedlight modifiers. I have recently fallen in love with MagMod. MagMod is an incredible interchangable speedlight modifier system. They have everything from gels to grids, snoots, etc. This system has become my go to lighting for a wedding day. Its super compact, easy to use/setup, and extremely versatile. The basic MagMod kit can be purchased for $89. Read Pye’s review of it here.

There you have it! You can get everything I’ve mentioned for under $6000 which is how much one Nikon D4s costs! What do you think? What would you substitute from this list and still stay within budget? Comment below.

About the Guest Contributor

Easton and Laura are a husband and wife wedding photography team based out of NJ. They were recently named one of the top 100 wedding photographers in the US. You can see more of their work at www.lureyphotography.com

If you’re interested in becoming a guest contributor, contact us!

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tristan Luc

    great guide, love it, i wish i saw this guide before i invested in sony, the only thing that wrong about this guide is the battery tenergy is full of ****. I personal use godox v860ii flash, and that huge li-ion battery is only around 2000mAh. 2600mAh in that tiny AA battery is a no no. i am really surprise that they last you the whole wedding. may i know how any shots you get out of those batteries before they are dead. No offend just curious. 

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  2. Fernandina Zee-Fritse

    THNX! I was so surprised when I read the part about the flashes!

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  3. Anthony Randall

    I currently use a Nikon D800 to shoot all my glamour work both in studio and on location. Although different from wedding photography a lot of similarities and issues arise with lighting on location. I have had my D800 from day one when it was first released almost two years ago. I find it incredibly slow to focus in poor lighting in the studio or out on location. I also find digital noise an issue at ISO’s over 800. My work is featured in many publications and image quality is paramount.
    I was looking into the D4s but, your amazing review of the D750 sounds like a better option. Thanks for writing this article and if you have any other suggestions I look forward to you sharing them.

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  4. Derek Bailey

    This article raises the point of what you should buy for wedding photography by spending $6K. But the reality is, you should have either backup two of everything, or alternative options for emergencies.

    What happens when Murphy shows up? A premium leather camera strap
    Breaks and your $2k primary camera body, grip $2k lens and a $600 flash are on the ground? A battery fries your flash? Some batteries get hotter than others by the way.

    So maybe not 2 new camera body’s, but an older gen body, or even a decent prosumer DSLR that works with your lenses and flashes. At one point when my wife and I were shooting weddings every weekend we had 2x FF body for the primary shooter. ( 24-70 on one and 70-200 on the other ) 1x APSC body with off brand 24-70 and 70-200, 20, 50 and 85 prime lenses. ( and gofering duties)

    Should one camera body go down for the primary shooter, they can resort to swapping lenses. No biggy, no one notices.

    You show up with one body, one good lens (of the focual length and aperture required),, one battery, one flash one trigger, one battery charger, and you are only one issue away from disaster.

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    • easton reynolds

      I completely agree but would hope that anyone doing wedding photography would think to buy backup gear. I wanted to point out some great gear for the money. This was not meant to be an end all as far as what should be in a wedding photographers bag.

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  5. Jeremy Huynh

    I have 3 sigma lenses. All with image stabilization gone. Two with aperture blocked at wide open. The third one having back focus since the stab is dead.
    I wouldn’t buy anymore from this brand.

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    • Derek Bailey

      We had sigma 24-70 HSM and the 70-200 HSM, very reasonably priced.
      Great glass for the price.
      Great warrenty. We did however find that they could not hold-up to either wedding or sports photography. The 24-70 was sent in a few times for issues with internal focus gear issues.

      I do love my sigma bigma! (Off topic)

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  7. Richard Bremer

    Great list! The one thing I’m not sure about is the 35mm. I’d probably opt for the Tamron 24-70, mainly because the VC is great for when I shoot short video clips out of hand. The image quality and F-stop might be a bit more limited on the Tamron, but I gain versatility with the zoom.

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  8. Dmitry Shuster

    Thanks so much for the article. One quick question: the tenergy batteries which you recommend and linked to B&H are the 18650 Li-ion model. Apparently, per reviews these are bigger and slightly longer than AA and thus won’t work in flashes that take AA. Am I mistaken or do you use other batteries for your AA flashes? Perhaps the Rechargable Tenergy Ni-m with 2600mAh? Is there a specific charger that works well?

    Thanks!

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    • easton reynolds

      Hey Dmitry, I’ll have to check that link out. Sorry about that. I use the rechargeable tenergy Ni-m 2600 mAh that you mentioned. I use the Powerex MaHa charger. The charger lets you speed charge in 1 hr as well as power cycle them over 24hrs.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yep, I got mine on Amazon, they’re the white and green AA’s that are NOT Li-ion, they’re basically the same type of LSD (low self-discharge) Ni-mh chemistry as Eneloops.

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    • easton reynolds

      The link should be fixed now.

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  9. Scott Mosley

    Thank’s for the article, a couple questions if you don’t mind: What modifiers are allowing you to produce such beautifully diffused/soft light on many of your wonderful website images? How many of the those flashes can be (or do you guys) use on a single trigger during the reception? Do you recommend the controller or do you like to keep a flash on your camera (If they even can be used on camera as a commander unit)?
    Lot’s of questions but i’m hungry for knowledge, and this is one of the only sites that actually replies to us readers… Cheers! :)

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    • easton reynolds

      Hey Scott, we use MagMod 90% of the time. If we want softer light we use a 26″ octa rapid box by westcott with a speedlight. We also keep a Alien Bee 800 in the car with a 26×36 Paul C. Buff Softbox with a grid, in case we are shooting in bright sun. We almost never use that though. We look for open shade where ever we are so we don’t have to use the strobe. Thank you for the complements! For the dance floor we normally use 2 speed lights, possibly 3 depending on how big the dance floor is. Sometimes I use an on camera flash and other times the commander depending on if I need a little extra fill light or not. Hope that helps!

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  10. Stephen Jennings

    Also if cost saving is a big enough issue to go to Sigma 1.4’s over Nikon 1.4’s .. you might as well save a few more dollars and go with the Nikon 1.8 line for the 35 and 85. $900 vs $496 .. the Nikon weighs a fraction, sharper and doesn’t suffer the vignetting and corner softness of the Sigma. And if you’re getting paid for the job you’re doing, at the very least up to the Tamron 70-200, much better image quality, better focusing and significantly better corner performance..

    I normally don’t knock people’s gear choices, but Yongnuo flash recommendations made it fair game.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I have to say that if a certain focal length is your “favorite”, I’d certainly consider the Sigmas to be the best buy. I own the Nikon 85 1.8 G and the Sigma 35 1.4 A, and have reviewed both the Nikon 35 1.8 G and the Sigma 85 1.4 EX. Suffice it to say, all of them are very good choices. For weddings and portraits and things, vignetting and corner softness isn’t really a problem on any of them, all though fringing can be a problem on some of them. (Love the Sigma 35 Art in that respect, very low fringing!)

      =Matt=

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  11. Stephen Jennings

    I stopped reading at Yongnuo flahses.. they are such utter pieces of crap that the author lost all credibility with me.

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    • easton reynolds

      Did you have a bad experience with Yongnuo?

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    • Stephen Jennings

      The flashes work great, when they work. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a photo session to find your flash for reasons no one at Yongnuo could explain burned out. By the time it happened a second time I learned these flashes are notorious for burning out. The idea is “yeah, they burn out, but they are so cheap you can buy several!”

      That makes it perfectly fine for amateur or casual use. Completely irresponsible to use these at something as important as a wedding without a proper backup.

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    • easton reynolds

      Interesting. Sorry about your bad experience. I have used the newer models of yongnuo flashes for about 1 1/2 yrs. I have had them dropped down a flight of stairs, knocked over on the dance floor, multiple times. They just keep on ticking. I have 2 sb910 flashes and barely use them. My yongnuos fire every time and are super reliable.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Stephen, this may have been true about the older YN flashes, but just like how older third party lenses used to be utter crap but now are not, the latest YN’s have proven to be very decent.

      I shoot weddings full time, probably using flash more than most photographers in the industry considering how prevalent natural light shooting is, and I’ve had no problems with my set of four YN560 III’s yet. I’m sure I’ll “pop” one of them every now and then if I have to do a lot of full-power shooting in the hot sun, but for the majority of what I do, which is at lower power and at lower FPS, …they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. You’re missing out!

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I went and dug out one of my dead flashes (keeping it int he box foolishly thinking Yongnuo would replace it since it this one lasted only 3 weeks, they did not seem to care.) It’s a YN560-III .. same mentioned in the article. This one died after a shoot in the bag, turned off, with relatively fresh batteries. I got home, unpacking, and found the flash unit was super hot and completely toast. If you look around at reviews this is a vey common issue .. they just up and die for no reason, or blow out if they get to hot while shooting.

      These units are absolutely not professional or even prosumer grade equipment .. I find it astonishing that an accomplished photographer like yourself would be using these over other brands. I get not wanting to pay Nikon’s absurd prices for flashes, even though they work great, but there are many other brands out there that are not dollar store quality like this absurd company produces.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Stephen, it has less to do with not wanting to pay Nikon’s prices, and the simple fact that very few other flashes on the market offer what the 560 III offers- built-in radio receiving, wireless manual control, and even zoom control to boot. The drawback of having a flash burn out is far, far outweighed by the delightful lack of cables, wires, and extra trigger batteries etc. It’s that simple.

      Nikon has slacked off on competing with Canon’s 600EX RT, and even for the price of one 600EXRT I can buy four YN560 III’s plus a controller.

      And heck, I’ve popped bulbs in plenty of Nikon flashes too, and the repair cost has always been about the price of TWO YN560 III’s.

      So yes, they might break more often, (although all four of mine are still going strong, and Easton Reynolds’ have been too for over a year!) …however the professional cost of using them is still far less than using most other systems, even if you factor in the “professional cost” of time and embarrassment in front of your clients when a flash dies.

      Heck, I proudly tell my clients that I “explode” two or three flashes a year, and that’s WHY I buy them cheap on Ebay now, because it didn’t seem to matter which brand I was using, they’d all have issues eventually. Pocket Wizard cables and PC sync ports were the spawn of satan, if you ask me. Good riddance!

      By the way, it sounds like your flash “exploded” for reasons un-related to the longevity of a properly QC’d unit. In other words, you had a lemon, and it should have been replaced by the seller, not by Yongnuo directly. This is bound to happen with cheaply made, budget flashes, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t properly QC’d units out there that live a long life serving a hard-working pro.

      I’m certainly curious to hear which flash system you’re using that hasn’t had any burnouts, of course, and I’d love to know how many of those flashes you own, how the system works, etc. I’m always on the hunt for the ultimate in both versatility, convenience, and reliability, not just “best two out of three”…. ;-)

      I’ll probably be publishing a full review of how I set up my YN560III system, and I won’t hesitate to report if they start “dropping like flies” in an embarrassing way either. I’m not paid by any companies to do any reviews or plugs, I buy all this stuff myself and use it in my full-time work. See my previous system reviewed here: https://www.slrlounge.com/radiopopper-jrx-wedding-photography-field-review/

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    • Stephen Jennings

      Of the original 3 Yongnuo’s I have there is 1 left but I don’t touch the thing. Most of the time I use an SB700 (have 2) unless for whatever reason I need the giant sb910, but don’t use it much. And as far as I know I bought those YN560’s from Yongnuo directly via Amazon.. who knows. Maybe I got an unlucky draw, or did something to upset the photo God’s, but when it comes to super cheap gear I only ever seem to have problems.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Ironically, Stephen, my own SB700 has fried on me three times now, and I’m looking to dump it for an alternative that has good TTL capability. It’s still at Nikon service as I write, actually.

      See, sometimes you eat the bar, and well, sometimes the bar eats you…

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    • Dave Smith

      My yongnuo’s are pretty much the same as the majority of others, they just work, take abuse and are cheap to replace. The problems with brand name flashes are very common and are expensive.

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    • Dave Smith

      Wasn’t the SB-900 made because of all the problem plaguing the SB-900? :) There was no shortage of complaints there. Oh, Nikon D600? There was a quality piece. Silent recall of the D750 anyone? the list goes on and people bash Yonguno?

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    • Matthew Saville

      @Dave – LOL. That seems to be Nikon’s game plan for the ’10 decade. +10 on the name = silent problem fix. SB910, D610, …except I guess the D810 isn’t a “fix”, it’s definitely a continuation…

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  12. Jorge Vazquez

    I just purchased my first Pro camera Nikon D750 vs D810 It was really a very hard choice. Now i will get my sigma lenses as suggested and I think in few months i will be posting some nice pictures from our Canadian Winter Landscapes, Polar Bears and Amazing Lakes. Its going to be fun :) this website its very helpful.

    Teamwork and organized effort is … POWER!

    Thank you for all the shared knowledge.

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  13. Chuck Eggen

    Ok, I’ve been watching the Yungnuos for a while and after reading this pulled the trigger for two of them. Also ordered the manual flash controller (albeit back ordered).

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  14. Eric Mazzone

    I absolutely LOVE my YN-560III’s and MagMod gear. I just got the MagSphere and MagBounce and am still getting used to them. Love the MagGrid, and want to get the MagSnoot.

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  15. aaron febbo

    Good article ! now all i need is the 6 grand to buy all the stuff !

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  16. Steve VanSickle

    I’ve also got the 35 f/1.4 Art and it’s just stunning.
    Though I’ve been intrigued to hear more about the YN-560 III, I have used the previous model (560 II) and they absolutely siphoned batteries in no time, relegating them to “if I have to” status.

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    • easton reynolds

      The 560 III are great with battery life. I normally shoot with them under 1/2 power and using tenergy batteries helps a ton.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yeah the consumption of battery power is negated by the lack of a need to replace batteries in a trigger, IMO. I barely notice my 560 III’s using more battery power than my old Nikon SB80’s, especially using Tenergy / Eneloop batteries. Just keep your batteries healthy, etc. and you should be good…

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    • Steve VanSickle

      That’s interesting. So what do people use to trigger them? I have the YN-622N that I tried using with my Nikon speedlights, and I found them to be hassle: while I loved the ability to control all the settings (manual or ttl) from the 622n-tx, I found that the receivers would kind of ‘go into sleep mode’ after only a minute of downtime, requiring me to hit the Test button the the TX to effectively wake up the receivers.

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    • Dave Smith

      The YN-622 have a sleep mode? I’ve never noticed that on my 622’s, the flashes have sleep modes that make me wake them up, but the 622’s wake them from sleep as soon as I focus. Seems you have all kinds of problems with yongnuo’s most people don’t have. Or are you just a Yonguno hater? I have a mix of Nikon flashes and yongnuo’s. The Yongnuos are just as reliable as the Nikons for much less, plus my yonguno’s don’t stop working like the nikon randomly and often due to “overheating” .

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  17. Chuck Eggen

    +1 for the Mag Mod system. I have one on each speed light. Simple to gel and love the grids.
    +1 on the Sigma 35 Art as well.
    Can’t speak to the D750 but I’ve heard many good things about the performance.

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  18. Matthew Saville

    Yep. I can buy FOUR YN560 III’s and a transmitter or two for less than the price of ONE Canon 600EXRT, lol. And one drop on concrete, and the repair costs on that nice high-tech name-brand flash will be greater than TWO new YN560 III’s…

    Done deal!

    For me, the ultimate kit for weddings would involve combining both full-frame and crop-sensor gear. Especially for travel / landscapes, I just can’t beat the Sigma 50-150 2.8 and the Tokina 11-16, and now the Tokina 11-20 2.8….

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  19. Daniel Thullen

    Easton and Laura, this is an interesting list. Since most of us already have a DSLR of some type, what would you suggest would be the first of the items a budget minded (wedding) photographer should explore (assuming they had enough cash for any of the items)? I’m thinking a Sigma lens. What are your thoughts?

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    • easton reynolds

      Great question! As wedding photographers we deal with low light situations a lot. So if you have a camera that can produce at higher ISO then I would definitely recommend a lens. One thing I always ask myself before buying new gear is “how can I make more money with this piece of gear.” Obviously we all need a camera and a few good lenses but beyond that I would say to purchase the gear that is going to fill in a whole that you have. Maybe you need a few good speedlights? Or maybe you need some modifiers? Hope that helps!

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