Most DSLR owners are constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve their photography. The best solution is to upgrade to a newer and more sophisticated camera, but not everybody can afford to do this. (Plus, it means throwing away your existing investment which can be a bitter pill to swallow; especially if your lenses aren't compatible with the new model.) With that in mind, here are some DSLR upgrades and accessories that will allow you to tease better results out of your existing camera.
DSLR picture from Shutterstock
Your DSLR probably came bundled with a standard 18-55mm lens. This is a solid jack-of-all-trades that sports a nice wide angle and reasonable focal length. However, any photographer worth their salt needs to bolster their kit with a few additional lenses — otherwise you might as well have stuck with a high-end compact camera. In almost all cases, the type of lens employed will have a bigger effect on image quality than the camera itself.
For most photographers, a telephoto zoom lens makes the most sense for your next purchase. Most DSLR models offer affordable 55-200mm lenses that are great for capturing faraway action, such as animals at the zoo.
An ultra-wide-angle zoom lens is also worth putting on your shopping list: this will allow you to take great panoramas without any tedious stitching and are also great when you need to capture everyone in crowded group photos, making them a staple of wedding photographers. On the other end of the spectrum is the macro lens with a fixed aperture: these let you get up close and personal with the camera's subject and are a great way of documenting nature.
You may also want to consider a prime lens which have a fixed focal length (meaning no zoom). The upshot is that the tend to produce sharper pictures which makes them great for detailed portrait photos and the like.
Naturally, you need to ensure that any lens you buy actually fits your camera — not all lens types are compatible with all DSLRs from the same manufacturer. For instance, Canon produces two major kinds of lens mounts: EF, which boast a focusing motor action built into the lens and EF-S, which are designed for Canon cameras with smaller APS-C sensors.
One of the simplest ways to improve your DSLR's performance is to install the latest firmware upgrade. These are usually available on the manufacturer's website and may include everything from improved auto-focus tracking to recording RAW video files. Firmware updates are also free, which is good news for photographers on a budget.
In addition to official vendor updates, you can also find custom, third-party firmware for many DSLR models. These are capable of super-charging your camera with a wide range of features that the manufacturer didn't include.
Just be aware that some of these offerings may overwrite your camera's existing firmware and could potentially void your warranty. It's important to ensure that your camera supports the custom firmware before you install it.
That said, some options, such as the popular Magic Lantern, can be installed temporarily onto SD card which minimises the risks.
If you're serious about photography, a tripod is one of the most important investments you can make. In other words, it's time to upgrade that flimsy plastic one that the store bundled with your DSLR. It's also a good idea to have a few different options on hand for extra versatility — whether you need something small and portable.
Some models that have impressed us in recent years include the MeFoto Travel Tripod (which are small, collapsible and come in a wide range of colours) the Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod (which has widely splayed feet suitable for heavier cameras) the Fishbone Tree-pod (an insane tripod/ladder hybrid constructed from aluminium alloy that can extend to three metres in length) and the Gorillapod Focus (essentially, a DSLR version of the popular smartphone tripod).
No really. Many dismiss 3D as a fading fad, but when it comes to user-created content the technology is more than just a gimmick. It's capable of adding a whole new dimension to your photos (both literally and figuratively). Imagine watching your baby's first steps in a format that you can almost reach out and touch — it might seem vaguely cool now, but what about in twenty years when you kids have flown the coop? Adding 3D functionality to your DSLR will make your recorded memories far more tangible.
One recent example is the Kúla Deeper: a snap-on hardware accessory that allows you to create 3D photos and movies. The accessory adds a pair of mirrors on either side of your DSLR lens for dual image capture. The Kúla Deeper works with most regular DSLRs although viewing the results naturally requires a 3D-compatible display. Charmingly, there's also an Anaglyph mode which lets you watch the movies with a pair of retro red-and-blue 3D glasses. Bless.
Camera straps: A good camera strap will allow you to capture photos at avant-garde angles without straining your biceps or putting your camera at risk. The Joby 3-Way Camera Strap is a handy three-in-one DSLR strap allows you to adjust the wearing style to suit any shooting situation. It quickly converts from a wrist strap to a shoulder strap to a neck strap, thus cutting down on camera bag clutter (and making you feel more versatile than McGuyver). That said, if you prize comfort over versatility, the Joby Ultrafit Slingstrap is also worth checking out.
Camera bags: A DSLR needs a good, protective camera bag that is both sturdy and user-friendly. There is a huge array of options on the market, ranging from wheeled behemoths such as the LowePro Pro Roller X200 to lightweight waterproof backpacks such as the Kata’s Revolver 8. Things to look out for are plenty of spacious compartments for all your accessories, shock-proof guarantees to ward against breakages and easy access to your lenses.
Microphones: These days, most DSLRs are also superb video cameras. However, the inbuilt microphone (if there is one) usually leave a lot to be desired; especially if you're trying to interview someone in a crowded indoor venue. Your best bet is to snap up a microphone accessory that's compatible with your camera's hot shoe. We've been using the Australian-based Rode microphone range and have been very impressed with their output.
The DSLR accessory market is huge; this guide has barely scratched the surface. We'd love to hear which DSLR accessories and peripherals that you personally can't live without: let us know in the comments section below.