Battery grips.  Filters.  Memory cards.  Sort out what’s necessary and what’s nice to have when it comes to camera accessories

To be a professional photographer, you only really need a camera, lens and a memory card or some film.  That’s it.  The rest of the equipment out there simply makes life easier, enhances your images or, in some cases, drains your bank account.  But there are plenty of options when it comes to camera accessories and knowing which ones will actually help your photography can be tricky.  Do you really a battery grip?  What about a UV filter?  A light meter?  Remote shutter?

In this tutorial, we’ll talk about some of the most common camera accessories, why you’d want them and why you might want to skip them entirely.

Camera accessories you want

Do I really need a battery grip?

A battery grip is a camera accessory that plugs into the bottom of your camera and houses an additional battery.  Some battery grips also include a second shutter button that makes it easier to focus and fire the shutter when shooting in portrait mode.

Battery grips are made by the camera manufacturer and third-party vendors.  They are specific to each camera model, so the battery grip made for my Nikon D750 won’t work on the Nikon D500, even though they use the same battery.

Advantages

  • Prolongs shooting time without needing to replace the battery.
  • Can make shooting in portrait orientation easier and more comfortable.
  • Helps balance the weight of the camera with a heavier lens.
  • Makes holding the camera easier. The grips are curved to the shape of your fingers instead of being square and flat like some camera bottoms.
  • Some come with holders to use AA batteries in an emergency.

Disadvantages

  • Adds weight and bulk to your camera.
  • Can cost several hundred dollars.
  • Isn’t universal. If you upgrade your camera to a different model, you’ll need to buy a new battery grip.
  • Makes some cameras too big to fit in your camera bag or case.
  • Can alter the fit of other accessories like L brackets.

My verdict: I love my battery grip for two reasons…it alleviates the strain on my wrist if I’m shooting in portrait orientation a lot and it gives me a better grip on my camera.  I can shoot without a battery grip…but I don’t like it.  If you want to travel as light as possible or don’t shoot in portrait orientation mode, you might not find one helpful.

Camera accessories for beginners

Do I really need a UV filter?

A UV filter is a clear glass filter that screws to the front of your lens.  It blocks ultraviolet rays from hitting the front element of your lens.  The UV filter is one of the most polarizing camera accessories out there (pardon the pun) with outspoken fans and opponents alike.

Advantages

  • Blocks UV light from your lens and camera sensor (this is less of a problem with digital sensors than it was for film cameras).
  • Protects your front lens element from dust, scratches, smudges, dings and spray.
  • Could help prevent your lens from damage if dropped.

Disadvantages

  • Quality filters for some lenses can cost upward of $150.
  • Can degrade image quality by affecting sharpness, contrast or create flare and ghosting. Cheap filters are more prone to these problems and exacerbate any shortcomings of the lens itself.
  • Won’t protect your lens from hard drops.

My verdict: I keep quality UV filters on all my lenses for the simple fact that I’m a klutz and that I routinely have them out in the elements.  I wrecked a lens when some mist from a geyser I was shooting got onto the front element.  If you take great care of your lenses, use lens caps routinely and shoot in mostly indoor environments, UV filters probably aren’t necessary.  If you’re accident-prone or shoot outside a lot, they are worth looking into.

There are other filters you can use as well, including polarizing filters and neutral density filters.  For more on those, click here!

camera accessories want or need

Do I really need a light meter?

A light meter is a handheld device used to measure the amount of light hitting a scene so you can set your exposure correctly.  These camera accessories are most often used in conjunction with off-camera flash.  An external light meter is different than your in-camera light meter.  An in-camera meter is reflective, meaning it measures the light hitting your scene that is reflected back into the camera.  An external meter is placed in the scene itself and measures all the light hitting the scene, including flash.

Advantages                                                                                                                                              

  • More accurate than an internal on-board light meter
  • Can meter flash
  • Essential if shooting film because you can’t see a preview in your LCD screen
  • Eliminates the guesswork of setting exposures and makes setting up different lighting patterns easier and quicker.
  • Can measure scene light without your camera.

Disadvantages

  • A quality incident light meter costs upward of $300.
  • Takes some extra time to use when shooting.

My verdict: If you shoot film, get a light meter.  If you shoot a lot of flash, consider a light meter.  If you shoot only natural light, you can probably skip it.  For metering flash on a budget, consider learning the gray card method instead of using an external light meter.  A good gray card costs less than $20 and can be used to set exposure and white balance (more on this in a minute).

camera accessories

Do I really need an Expo Disc?

An Expodisc helps set white balance in-camera instead of correcting it in post-production.  It’s a small white disc just slightly larger than your average lens cap.  You hold it in front of the end of your lens and shoot from your scene.  You have to know how to use your camera’s white balance setting configurations, but once you get the hang of it, setting a scene-based white balance is fast and easy.

An Expodisc differs from other camera accessories designed to set a white balance because you point your lens and Expodisc toward your light source.  For white balance cards and similar camera accessories, you set the cards in the scene and shoot toward them.  It’s a subtle difference but an important one.

Advantages

  • Sets white balance in-camera instead of requiring guesswork in post-production.
  • Measures the light actually entering the scene instead of the light reflecting back to the camera.

Disadvantages

  • Need to set a new white balance each time lighting conditions change which can take time and effort.
  • Doesn’t handle setting a white balance when using off-camera flash very well.
  • Doesn’t help much with indoor fluorescent lights of different colors, such as a big gym or hall with several light banks each having a slightly different hue.
  • The official Expodisc runs about $70, but similar tools can be found online for around $20.

My verdict: If you shoot outdoors and can be disciplined enough to use it consistently, it’s a great tool.  If you have bad color perception (you’re color blind or have a hard time with certain tones) it can help improve your color consistency, too.

necessary camera accessories

Do I really need a remote shutter trigger?

A remote shutter (either wireless or corded) allows you to fire your shutter away from your camera.  Some remote shutters offer additional features like time lapse settings.

Advantages

  • Remote shutters allow the photographer to be in the image and fire the shutter remotely. No more shutter hit and runs!
  • Reduces camera shake from the physical act of pushing the shutter. This is helpful shooting slow shutter speeds.
  • Can give physical separation from your camera, allowing you to seek shelter or hide, such as in a blind shooting or shooting lightning.

Disadvantages

  • Cost, although some remote shutter triggers are available for around $10.
  • Wireless remote shutter triggers not compatible with all models of camera.

My verdict: Remote shutters are a great tool and so inexpensive anymore that every photographer should have one in their kit.  I have two, one traditional wireless remote shutter trigger and an app on my phone that lets me fire my shutter as well.  If you have a smartphone, check to see if there’s an app for your camera!

Do I really need a camera cleaning kit?

If you’ve ever bought a camera in a brick-and-mortar store, you might have been urged to buy a camera cleaning kit by an intrepid salesperson.  It can feel a little like an upsell, but there are some good reasons to have a quality cleaning kit on hand.  You’re bound to get smudges, dirt and grime on your lenses and camera body.  A cleaning kit provides you the tools to keep your kit in tip-top shape without taking your equipment to the camera store.

Advantages

  • Get all the cleaning equipment you need in a single kit.
  • Allows for safer quick and deep cleaning sessions.
  • Save your equipment for more costly repairs down the road by tackling small problems now.

Disadvantages

  • Not all cleaning solutions are safe for all lenses. Check with your equipment manufacturer for compatible products and solutions.
  • Some companies might provide products not safe for use on your equipment.
  • Most kits aren’t suitable for cleaning your camera’s sensor. For that, you’ll need to see a professional.

My verdict: Keeping your equipment clean and in good shape is essential.  A camera cleaning kit gives you the tools you need cheaper than you could buy them separately.  Look for a kit made by trusted names in the photography industry…Nikon, LensPen, Altura, etc.  Great tools to have include a microfiber cleaning cloth, lens pen, and blower.  If your kit includes a brush, make sure the bristles attach firmly to the brush and don’t separate easily.

Do I really need a gray card?

A gray card can serve as a dual-purpose camera accessory, helping you set exposure and white balance.  Gray cards come in different styles and sizes, from pocket-sized cards to larger discs that fold into smaller discs.  By shooting an image of the gray card in your scene and using the histogram on the back of your camera, you can determine the correct exposure for your scene.  You can also use it to set a custom white balance in-camera or use the image with the gray card to set white balance in post-production.

Advantages

  • Allows you to set a correct exposure in camera. A gray card is especially helpful in a scene with lots of dark and light tones, or when you are using flash.
  • Allows you to eliminate the guesswork of white balancing in post-production.
  • Less expensive than an Expodisc.

Disadvantages

  • Low-quality products can skew color results.
  • Requires shooting a new image when lighting conditions change taking time and effort.
  • May not give you as accurate color results as a true white balance card.
  • Not 100 percent accurate for color tones. If absolutely nailing color is important (such as in product photography) look into something like the ColorChecker Passport system.

My verdict: I use my gray card anytime I’m shooting off-camera flash and at the start of most of my sessions.  It helps me set exposure quickly when using flash and gives me a baseline to tweak my post-production white balance.  But sometimes I forget to use one or simply don’t want to mess with it every time the lighting changes.  If you have trouble setting exposure using reference tones or need help white balancing, an inexpensive gray card is a great tool to have on hand.

What camera accessories do I need

Do I really need a reflector?

A reflector helps bounce light back into your scene, brightening it overall or simply filling in shadows.  The larger the reflector, the softer the light.  Reflectors are neutral colored, including white, black, silver and gold (although the black actually blocks/absorbs the light vs. reflecting it).

Advantages

  • Fills in shadows or creates softer light in your image
  • Creates catchlights in your subjects’ eyes
  • Easier and cheaper than flash, doesn’t require batteries

Disadvantages

  • Hard to wrangle and shoot your camera simultaneously
  • Can be unmanageable in the wind
  • Can’t bounce light that isn’t there in the first place!
  • While not expensive, they will cost you money. A 4-in-1 kit with white, silver, black and gold will run $30-$50 depending on brand and size.

My verdict: A reflector can be incredibly helpful if you need to fill in shadows but don’t want to, or can’t, use flash.  But they really are hard to wrangle by yourself.  For a DIY reflector on the cheap, buy some foam board at your local dollar store.  It works as well as a white reflector and the square size is easier to manage solo.  Need a silver reflector?  Wrap the foam board in aluminum foil.

The next time a sales associate or fellow photog says you NEED one of these camera accessories, take a minute to assess the situation.  They are helpful in many situations, but not all.  And you can still create beautiful images without them.

But if you’re looking to speed up your workflow or solve a problem, investing in some of these camera accessories might be a smart move.  Before you fork over your wallet, though, know the pros and cons and what each tool is designed for.  Then make the right decision for you.