Whenever friends ask about recommendations for photo equipment, I suggest getting the absolute minimum.
The first time I became interested in photography (circa 1979), I faced a problem familiar to many: tight funds. After several months browsing photography magazines and imagining myself shooting with an elegant Contax or a sultry Olympus, I settled for a pedestrian Canon AE1. With a 35mm lens, the camera cost $135.
For the next decade, I shot 95% of my photographs with this camera and lens. Spare funds went into buying film so I could shoot more.
True, the advertisements and fancy gear sometimes tempted me. But I could see no end to them.
For example, I tried a flash, but was told to buy another dozen accessories, such as umbrellas, filters, slaves, cords, stands, etc.
If I fuss so much about the gear, what time would I have to develop my own vision and its expression, I wondered. That was the end of the flash.
The nice thing about my camera-lens combination was this: it became an extension of my eye. Looking at a scene, I could tell precisely where the frame-lines would be without touching the camera. And because I used the same film and developed it myself every time, I could predictably visualise the end result when I took the picture.
My equipment became the tool to realise my vision.
Things are different today. Digital cameras are much more advanced, there is no cost for film, and lenses have improved dramatically.
I have more equipment nowadays, but remain conservative about acquiring new ones, doing so when I am convinced that it is the only way to get photographs that I am consistently missing.
For example, when I started photographing landscapes, I quickly realised that a tripod would enable me to get those pictures I envisioned. So I got one.
Sometimes, going into a situation, we know that we must return with a decent photograph. It may be a professional assignment, or it may be a rare or unique event. That's when we worry if the equipment we carry is good enough. For such a situation, planning is required.
Thus, prior to a trip to the Sundarbans, I rented a super telephoto lens, and thanks to that lens I got some wildlife pictures I had missed during earlier trips.
A more subtle issue is that of quality, another of my hard-earned lessons. If you have decided to get new equipment, try to get the best possible model you can afford.
There is nothing more frustrating than finding a once-in-your-life scene, shooting it and then finding the low-grade lens flared because you were facing the sun, or the lightweight tripod shook and gave you a blurry picture.
Changing the camera is my least frequent upgrade. New cameras are expensive and take time to learn thoroughly.
Exciting camera models appear every day. I saw one recently with built-in GPS, wi-fi, face recognition, video and many other features. I am tempted, but not enough.
But if they make one with a built-in fan to get me through load shedding, I will buy it in a heartbeat!