by Sean Setters
Photography gear, typically speaking, is expensive. As such, we as photographers often entertain the idea of purchasing inexpensive camera accessories in lieu of adding the brand name equivalent to our kits.
But should we? Is it safe/reliable to buy cheap camera accessories? In some cases, the answer is "yes." When considering the purchase of a cheap camera accessory, here are the questions I ask myself:
1. How substantial is the savings opportunity?
Of course the biggest allure in purchasing cheap accessories is the cost savings realized over purchasing the brand name item. But just how much are you saving? Can you replace the inexpensive alternative more than once while still saving money in the long run compared to the brand name product? If so, the cheaper alternative may prove to be a good investment.
2. How complex is the item?
You're more likely to have issues with inexpensive accessories that contain electronics (especially those that must communicate with your camera) or lens elements (which require tight manufacturing and assembly tolerances). Lens hoods, for instance, are relatively simple to create. In most cases, they're simply a molded piece of plastic. However, that doesn't stop name brand camera manufacturers from charging an arm and a leg for them. A cheap knock-off hood may not have internal flocking or a fancy filter access window, but they'll typically do the job. I say "typically" because there is a moderately wide range of qualities of design and production for the manufacturers filling this low-cost market space. And that brings me to my next question...
3. Is the item made by a relatively well known brand? In-house brands, like Vello (from B&H) and Flashpoint (Adorama) offer budget-priced accessories that a major retailer will stand behind. This means that if you are dissatisfied with your purchase, you can likely return the item without financial consequence. These brands are usually slightly more expensive than unheard of brands, but often provide the best value-per-dollar from a security/reliability perspective.
4. How important are the item's benefits to your kit?
If you are going to rely on your accessory day in and day out, or you have clients whom depend on you to deliver images without fail, then the reliability of a name brand accessory may outweigh the benefit in cost savings realized by going with a cheaper alternative. Of course, brand name accessories can fail too, but... the brand name manufacturer has a reputation and [very valuable] brand to protect, so they will typically produce the highest quality products.
A Prime Example
Recently the eyecup on my now 8 year-old Canon EOS 7D broke (seen above). The item isn't necessarily vital to the operation of my camera, but I wanted to replace it.
In this case, I had three plausible options:
Upon receipt of the Amazon acquired eyecups, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they seem to be identical to the Canon eyecup aside from the model branding.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes the bottom line on your financial statement is more important than any potential risks a third party (especially non-vital) accessory presents. Other times, the potential risks simply aren't worth chancing. Of course, the differentiation will largely depend on one's particular priorities and preferences.
What do you think? Are there other cheap accessory items that you consider relatively safe investments? Let us know in the comments.