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$2000 camera kit challenge… What would YOU buy?

$2000 camera kit challenge…
Chris George steps up to the $2,000 camera kit challenge (Image credit: N-Photo Magazine)

$2000 might sound like a lot of money. But with many of the best mirrorless cameras and best DSLRs costing this before you even buy a lens or a bag, this is not an easy task. Compromises are going to have to be made, to get a complete camera kit that I am going to be happy with.

I'm the Content Director for Digital Camera World and its sister magazines. I have spent over 30 years writing about photography, testing cameras, and trying my best to take half decent cameras. I use several cameras at the moment - but my main system is an ageing Nikon D800 along with an arsenal of serious professional glass. To replace all this loaded kit bag with current models, should I lose it, would cost be over $6000/£6000.

The rules that I have been given for this task are simple:

1) No going over the $2,000/£2,000 budget (well, maybe by 10%, to allow for local price variations)

2) No secondhand kit (which is a shame, as I have often expanded my system in the past with eBay bargains and scouring dealers secondhand departments).

3) No obscure bits of kit. Everything has to be easily available today.

4) I need to buy a full working kit - everything to get me going as a photographer.

So, I am going to have to shop carefully, and make some sacrifices. In the words of the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need”

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony A7 II

The first choice, and the foundation for my new $2,000 system is the Sony A7 Mark II full-frame mirrorless camera. I decided that I really, really didn't want to go back to using a crop-sensor camera – even though I knew that buying say a Sony A6000 or Nikon D3500 would give me much more spare budget to spend on lenses and accessories. As you will see, I have economized elsewhere to get this camera.

In truth, this camera is an absolute bargain at the moment. I carry a first-generation Sony A7 as my everyday camera (the one that is in my backpack as I walk to work) - and it s a camera that I love (and which is also one of the best cheap cameras around). But right now, the A7 II is practically the same price - and comes with the distinct advantage of in-built image stabilization. This 24MP camera has no right to cost under $1,000 - and as such is my bargain first purchase for my new outfit.

2. Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS zoom

I did have a romantic notion, that for my new kit I would go back to where I began – using a 50mm f/1.8 as my standard lens, just like when I first got my first Olympus OM10 SLR some 40 years ago. But in truth, my budget did not allow for this in the end. Sony's own FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS standard zoom is just too tempting when bundled up with the Sony A7 II. You would be mad to buy the A7 II body only...  Furthermore, I already own this lens – so if I lost all my camera gear tomorrow, I would happily have this again as my everyday standard zoom lens.

(Image credit: Samyang)

3. Samyang AF 18mm f/2.8

Having blown half my budget on my camera body and kit lens, choosing more glass meant making major economies. I'd have loved a long telephoto lens for bird photography - or a decent macro lens. But the budget would not allow this without making severe compromises elsewhere. So instead, I thought back to the kit I used a a student, where I happily made do with 28mm, 50mm and 200mm primes for a number of years. Could I do something similar today with the rest of my cash?

I love ultra-wide lenses. Not just for architecture and tight spaces, but in order to create images with real depth - where you are forced to work hard at finding a suitable foreground that works with the background. With a 28mm already offered by my zoom - something wider was needed, so a 20mm or wider was what I went shopping for.

In my view, many lenses are just too expensive for lots of people nowadays... and that is why I have great admiration for Samyang that continue to produce innovative and affordable designs. This 18mm gives me the dramatic visual effect I want - and unlike other low-cost rivals comes with the benefit of autofocus.

(Image credit: Samyang)

4. Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC

I would have loved to find a long telephoto prime lens - but you just can't find affordable version with 200mm focal lengths or longer any more. This Samyang 135mm f/2, however, provides a decent increase on the 28-70mm - and with the considerable benefit of a really fast f/2 maximum aperture. This again is a lens I would use for visual effect - for beautifully blurred background, and isolating subjects from their surroundings. Sure, there are sharper lenses for bokeh out there - but at this price I am happy to work at getting the best performance I can out of this bargain lens. Sure, it doesn't have autofocus – but I can use focus peaking on the Sony A7 II to guide me to getting the right bits of the frame acceptable sharp.

(Image credit: Godox)

5. Godox TT350s

With my camera and three lenses, I now have a great system for creative photography. But I still don't have any accessories. A next obvious purchase might be a tripod, but to be honest I don't really like tripods - only using them when I really have to, so that is something that I will put on a future wishlist. Unlike lots of photographers, I do rather like using flash... usually as fill to increase or decrease contrast in the foreground. And as the A7 II doesn't even have a pop-up strobe, I do feel the need for a modestly-priced flashgun. This Godox does the trick. With a Guide number of 36 (m/ISO100), and a tilting/zooming/rotating head it has everything I need. It offers TTL convenience with the Sony - but full manual control, with settings dropping down to a useful 1/128 power output. And there is HSS control to - which will come in useful when using the 135mm at f/2 in bright conditions. But the best price (at this price) is the built-in radio trigger...

(Image credit: Godox)

6. Godox X1R-S

I used wired set-ups for off-camera flash for years... but there is nothing like the flexibility of a fully wireless flash system. And nowadays, this can actually be cheaper than using cables. The Godox TT350s flashgun has wireless control - but to make use of this, you need to buy a wireless flash trigger, like this one, that slots on the Sony hotshoe. The Godox TT350s and Godox X1R-S can often be found being sold as a pair – making them even more affordable for the would-be strobist.

(Image credit: Cosyspeed)

7. Cosyspeed Camslinger 

I did wonder if I could get away with just using my work backpack for all my new gear – but in reality that would never work. I first saw this Cosyspeed belt bag at The Photography Show last year, and have been meaning to buy one ever since. It's small size will be a great change from the huge bags and backpacks I am used to – and the belt support should be kinder on my back. 

SanDisk 32GB Extreme PRO SDHC UHS-I Memory Card

(Image credit: Sandisk)

8. SanDisk 32GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I card

Almost forgot this... Sadly nearly every camera you buy has one vital accessory that you need to get goinag, that does not come as part of the package. I currently have dozens of memory cards of different capacities and speeds (and format)... but the SanDisk Extreme Pro range is a pretty good place to start. And fortunately I reckon I just have enough budget to buy a 32GB card to get me off taking pictures with my new $2,000 camera kit. 

But what would YOU buy?

That’s it. I’ve used up my theoretical $2,000/£2,000 budget – and coming something that didn't stretch the budget was no easy feat. But I think that with a great full-frame mirrorless camera at its heart (bought at a price that is, quite frankly, too good to be true) makes for a system that I would really relish using. As ever, if you disagree then let us know on our camera forums

Others in this series:
$5,000 camera kit challenge… What would YOU buy?
$1,000 camera kit challenge… What would YOU buy?
$500 camera kit challenge… What would YOU buy?