Surveillance Photography: Don’t be a lens snob!

4th June 2012 Equipment 1 Comment

When it comes to surveillance photography and the purchasing of new equipment I do my research. New or previously owned equipment can be very expensive and the results produced (or not) can have a huge impact on your business, good and bad. Like many, I use the internet extensively as it is by far the most convenient source of information with people blogging, posting YouTube video reviews, writing articles for online magazines and posting in the various photographic forums that proliferate the world wide web. In short, there is a huge amount of readily available information and you’d be foolish to ignore it whilst researching your next bit of trick kit!


There is much to consider when looking at new photographic equipment. Unless you are fortunate enough to have an unlimited budget the cost of the equipment will be a major factor. Without giving a lesson in business if you do not consider the cost and the RTI then you are in for a rough ride and potentially a very short business life. Buying the most expensive kit does not mean that you will get the best results, not by some way. There are many out there who are fond of saying “buy cheap, buy twice” but that does not mean splashing out on the most expensive bit of kit going will be the answer to all of your problems, far from it.

The opinion of those that have already purchased and used the equipment that you are looking at must be considered. The internet is full of dissatisfied people that have purchased various items who like nothing better than to vent their anger about their purchase for all to hear about. The really useful guys and girls post in as much detail as possible so that those of us looking to purchase said item can be fully aware of what we may be letting ourselves in for. However, whilst kit reviews are useful, you must bare in mind that the reviewer themselves may not be as proficient as they would have you believe! Is the issue actually operator error rather than equipment driven or maybe an isolated incident? Some reviewers may have an axe to grind with a particular manufacturer or an anterior motive whilst others may well write an excellent, informative review BUT they may well not understand the uses to which we as surveillance photographers intend to put the equipment to. Whilst any professional photographer should be competent taking images in low light and without a flash, they are unlikely to be taking images in the way that we would, from the positions that we would and under the circumstances that we would. Even less will spend the time on task that we do. As Thomo from Lateo Surveillance blogged about previously, getting the money shot at the 11th hour when many are at their lowest ebb is our speciality. For us a positive ID may well be the aim of your mission. So, a review that slates a particular lens for vignetting may well be fine for us where the edges of the image are hopefully totally irrelevant!

Bare in mind when looking at a newly released camera body for example, issues will arise but also be aware that manufacturers will release software updates where appropriate so check the age of the review and also the software version that the reviewer is using. People complained on some of the photography forums about there being dead pixels when shooting video in the Nikon D7000 – yes, indeed, dead pixels were visible but under extreme testing where extreme ISO settings were used. These ISO settings are NOT recommended by the manufacturers, the recommended ISO is normally no higher than 6400. The manufacturers are giving you the opportunity to to shoot higher but saying you do so at your own risk which is why they do not assign an ISO number to these high ISO’s and instead call them H 2 or similar. Sure, in the business that we are in extreme ISO is a common factor but do we care about aberration in the corners as a result of this? No. New adopter syndrome is also something to be aware of. The kit geek who NEEDS the latest bit of kit so that they can discover how bad it is first and write about it!


I am a big fan of 3rd party lens, my own brand being Sigma. Although I am a Nikon man (and do own some Nikon glass) the cost of the higher grade lenses can be prohibitive. You have to ask yourself, is the 3 thousand pound more that you have to pay for the Nikon 300mm worth it over the Sigma? Howdo you intend to employ the lens? Do you need the latest XYZ? Would perhaps the last generation Nikon 300mm f/2.8 be more than good enough for you and the tasks that you carry out? Maybe 2 generations back would be good enough? Good glass is good glass no matter how old it is so do not be a lens snob, do your research, get hands on and then make your decision!

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  • Mark

    4th June 2012 at 10:04 pm - Reply

    A great read, agreed it would be nice to have the latest body, lens etc but in the real world its just not going to happen for most of us. Third party lenes such as Sigma are fantastic, its what they do and do well!! I have used many in the past and never been able to tell the difference between either Nikon, Canon and Sigma!! There is some cheap rubbish out there which as soon as you hold it you will be able to tell so try before you buy…..

    Iv’e currently got an F4 600mm Nikon (Beast) mounted onto my Canon 7D the lens is VERY old and still going VERY strong, producing some VERY good results. Dont get me wrong if you have the cash, good on ya & enjoy it! however dont feel a good quality lens is out of reach, ebay……. its mega!!

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