Photography is an expensive hobby. Don’t pay close attention, and suddenly you will find you have maxed out your credit card (or two) with thousands of dollars in cameras, lenses, lighting, and other gear. But fortunately, there are also some valuable accessories that can support your craft without breaking the bank. Here are a few of our favorite cheap photography accessories which, despite all costing well under $100, have all been indispensable at one time or another.
1. ProGrade Digital magnetic card reader – $80
A card reader is a simple device, but ProGrade Digital’s line of dual-card readers improves on the concept with an equally simple addition. It comes with an adhesive magnetic strip that you can stick to the lid of your laptop that will hold the card reader in place. Now you can work from an airport lounge, bus seat, or park bench without your card reader just dangling by its USB cord. It’s particularly useful when paired with the latest generation MacBook Pro, which ditched the built-in SD card slot.
The ProGrade readers are available in Compact Flash plus SD, CFast 2.0 plus SD, and dual MicroSD versions to meet the needs of your workflow. All feature a fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface and cost $80.
2. Joby Gorillapod 3K Kit – $80
A mini-tripod is a great accessory for any photographer, and no brand is better known in this game than Joby with its Gorillapod line. Thanks to is unique construction from interconnected ball joints, a Gorillapod not only stands upright like a normal tripod, but can even be wrapped around things like poles, fence posts, or tree branches, giving you a secure shooting position wherever you are.
We’ve selected the Gorillapod 3K Kit here, as it supports up to 6.6 pounds and comes with a ball head included, making it a versatile option that covers the majority of users. It carries an MSRP of $80, but can be found online for less. For lighter or heavier rigs, Joby makes various other models that will get the job done.
3. Westcott 30-inch Collapsible Diffuser – $20
Shooting outside on a sunny day usually means harsh, unattractive shadows. Whether you’re shooting people, pets, or plants, getting a good exposure in such conditions can be difficult. With a diffuser, you can make your own shade. The Westcott Collapisible Full-Stop Diffuser offers 1 stop of light reduction, helping to even out the lighting on your subject without cutting it out entirely. If you’re photographing a person facing into the sun, this will also greatly reduce the strain on their eyes.
We’ve selected the 30-inch Westcott diffuser here, but there are many other sizes and brands to fit your needs and budget.
4. Think Tank SD Pixel Pocket Rocket memory card holder – $20
Keeping track of memory cards can be problematic in the best of times, but a good card wallet makes the process much more organized. The Think Tank Photo SD Pixel Pocket Rocket is one of our favorite options. It’s made well and can carry up to nine SD cards within its slim, pocketable profile. The included lanyard makes it easy to clip it to your camera bag — particularly Think Tank’s own bags which are specifically designed for it. While it carries an MSRP of $20, you can generally find it for a few bucks less on Amazon.
5. CamDesign Lens Cap Clip – $10
Lens caps keep your lenses protected from dust and scratches, but they also become a huge annoyance when you’re shooting. Whether you drop them in your camera bag or stash them in a pocket, they are too easy to lose track of. The CamDesign Anti-losing Holder Clip (yeah, it’s actually called that) is designed to keep your lens cap safe and secure right on your camera strap. It can hold any standard size lens cap, and is cheap enough that you could even buy a couple of them if you want to hold onto two caps at once.
6. A better camera strap
Sorry, but the strap that came with your camera isn’t very good. It’s uncomfortable, ugly, and not as functional as the myriad third-party options out there. Nor is it very discreet, loudly proclaiming in bold font the brand of camera that you shoot (or maybe that’s a good thing, if you’re a fanboy/girl).
A good camera strap not only helps you carry your camera comfortably on longer shoots, it also grants you the opportunity to bring your personal style to your gear. Whether you’re a pensive artistic type, an accessorized techie, or a fashionista who wants to look good on camera in addition to using one, there’s a strap that fits your personality. There are simply too many options to put just a single one here, but you can check out our guide to the best camera straps for some choices.
7. LCD screen protector
Depending on your particular photographic discipline, a screen protector may or may not be a required accessory. If you’re working in any environment where your gear could suffer a fall or other impact damage, it’s a no-brainer investment. Screen protectors can be either plastic or glass and generally cost under $10 (often for a pack of 2 or 3). We’re not beholden to any particular brand, but we do tend to prefer the glass versions. Just make sure you buy one that fits the size of the LCD screen on your camera.
8. Hot shoe spirit level
This is another accessory that not all photographers will need, but it’s particularly useful for landscape shooters working with tripods. While modern cameras often have digital levels built-in and many tripods have spirit levels on their heads, there’s nothing clearer than a level mounted right on top of your camera. This will ensure you get a level horizon line on every exposure, which can end up saving you precious time in postproduction. Hot shoe spirit levels tend to be quite cheap, with multi-packs selling for well under $10 on Amazon. As with screen protectors, we aren’t attached to a brand here, but there are a couple of different styles to choose from between the low-profile, single-bubble models (shown above) or the larger, dual-axis levels which provide greater accuracy.
9. Circular polarizer filter
These days, we tend to associate the world “filter” more with Instagram than physical filters, but in the film days, photographers would carry around all kinds of glass filters to fix in front of their lenses to create various effects. The vast majority of those effects are now accomplished digitally, but one that can’t be replicated in Photoshop is that of the circular polarizer.
Like polarized sunglasses, a polarizing filter blocks polarized (i.e., reflected) light, which allows you to peer through reflective surfaces like glass or water, or increase contrast by darkening the blue of the sky. There are many brands available (even Amazon Basics sells one for just $12), but we recommend looking for a filter that is multi-coated, like this one from Hoya. The coatings help reduce reflections caused by the filter itself, keeping your images cleaner.
Pro tip: If you own multiple lenses, you can save money by buying just a single filter to fit your largest lens, and then using step-up rings to adapt it to your other lenses.
10. Neutral density filter
Like a polarizing filter, a neutral density (ND) filter creates an effect that can’t be repeated in post. That’s because it physically limits the amount of light entering your lens. Why would you want to do this? There are two primary reasons.
The first concerns long exposures. If you want to take one of those beautiful waterfall pictures where the water is blurry, you’ll need a long shutter speed, which is difficult to do in daylight. An ND filter allows you to hold the shutter open longer than you could otherwise. ND filters can be found in various different strengths, as weak as 2 stops (for a shutter speed twice as long) and as strong as 10 stops (for a shutter speed ten times as long).
The second reason for using an ND filter is when shooting video. Video looks best with a relatively slow shutter speed, generally in the range of 1/48 to 1/60 second, depending on framerate. Higher shutter speeds produce less motion blur, causing each individual frame to become apparent rather than the video looking like a continuous moving picture. An ND filter helps you stick to those slower shutter speeds when working in bright light, and is especially necessary if you want to be able to use a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field, which would otherwise require an increase in shutter speed.
Like polarizers, ND filters are available from many brands and in many different qualities. Again, we recommend looking for a multi-coated one.