If you just got a DSLR for the holidays, here's what to get next.
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This article was originally published on December 4, 2014. It has since been updated.
December 11, 2015
So you were just given (or gave yourself) a shiny new camera for the holidays. Congrats, you're about to embark upon one of life's most rewarding hobbies! But before you go out into the wide world in search of your inner shutterbug, there are a few accessories that you might want to seek out.
These suggestions will make your life easier, keep your camera working correctly, and hopefully provide the potential to improve your photos.
Okay, this might not be the most exciting way to spend your hard-earned money, but trust us: Your camera will thank you for it later. When it comes to owning a camera—particularly an interchangeable-lens model—dust and fingerprints are a fact of life. And if you don't stay on top of things, they can quickly become a waking nightmare.
With a pack of microfiber cloths, some lens-cleaning fluid, and a Giottos Rocket Blower, it's easy to wipe away any grime from your lenses and blast dust out of hard-to-reach crevices.
DSLR and mirrorless camera owners who change lenses on a regular basis will find that, over time, blobs will appear in photos. That means you've got dust on your sensor, and it's time for a cleaning. You can do a simple "dry cleaning" using the aforementioned rocket blower, but more persistent spots will require a wet cleaning. For that, we'd suggest a trusted option like the Copperhill Method, along with a steady pair of hands.
(If you're not comfortable, though, don't force it. Send your camera to the manufacturer for a thorough cleaning.)
Most larger cameras come with a strap in the box, but they're often cheaply made and function as little more than free advertising for camera makers. In more dangerous settings, they're also a great way to advertise to thieves that you're carrying a Nikon or Canon that's ripe for the picking.
Anyway, third-party straps can not only be an aesthetic improvement, but add functionality, too. Many shooters love BlackRapid straps, since they keep your DSLR easily accessible at your waist. These straps attach to a tripod mount instead of using a camera's built-in strap lugs, so the camera hangs lens-down, putting the grip right where your dangling hand will meet it.
If you want something more traditional, companies like DSPTCH and A7 sell nylon and leather camera straps that are proudly Made in the USA. There are even boutique strap makers like Gordy's, whose handmade leather straps are iconic in camera geek circles.
No matter what you're in the market for, a good strap is a purchase that keeps on giving, saving you money every time it saves your camera from certain doom on the cold, hard ground.
Most digital cameras come with a battery, but a backup can be a real lifesaver. If you're using a small mirrorless camera or a DSLR with live view, the camera's always-on LCD screen can really chew through battery. Having a fully-charged second cell on hand means you can leave the charger at home and focus on the pleasure of shooting, instead of keeping a nervous eye on the battery meter.
Even though many third-party batteries are just as good as the genuine article, you should be sure to check user reviews of the brand you're looking to buy. If you're worried about getting a dud, buy in person at your local camera store so you can make sure it works and fits your camera before you take it home.
A good tripod will last you a lifetime. Because tripods are compatible with all types of cameras, this is more of an investment than some of the other accessories we've recommended. And speaking from experience, premium tripods like those you'd buy from Manfrotto, Giottos, or Three Legged Thing will last way, way longer than a plasticky $25 piece of junk.
Moreover, if you ever misplace the camera mounting plate, these more established companies sell replacements through major retailers—something that may be impossible to get for a cheap, off-brand tripod.
Okay, so this isn't something you can just one-click buy from Amazon, but it's something you'll absolutely need.
If you don’t know how to operate your camera or aren't familiar with the basics of photography, you're probably better off sticking to your smartphone. If you want to get the most out of your shiny new camera, you'll need to do a little research.
Of course, that doesn't mean you need to go back to school and get a degree in photography.
Companies like Lynda.com and KelbyOne are happy to sell you access to high-quality online learning materials, if you're the self-motivated type. If you need outside encouragement or don't want to spend the coin, you can join a local photography group and get advice from your peers. And there are plenty of other ways to expand your photographic horizons. Find books about photography in the library. Go to YouTube and browse photography advice there.
More than any other single investment, this is the one that will really pay dividends.