Don’t buy cheap camera equipment from eBay

[Original article written on August 14, 2013]

Anyone who has ever worked with cameras knows how expensive and, under a strict budget, how unattainable the necessary equipment can be. Using a camera simply for casual pictures of you and your friends doing whatever it is you do requires little-to-no additional equipment aside from the actual camera. However, if you want to take those truly breathtaking images we all dream of, you’ll need a little extra equipment to make it happen. A little extra equipment = a lot of extra cash.

Most of us don’t have the money to go purchase $400 lighting equipment and a $300 tripod and $200 of camera-filters for our photography and I’m not even going to mention the cost of the average cinematography equipment. So what do most people do? They start looking for cheaper alternatives wherever they can find them. Used stores, local classifieds, and of course, eBay. Everyone loves good ol’ eBay. Even eBay has its fair share of regular-priced items but what it also has is Chinese factories producing unimaginably cheap items. And among these cheap items you can find… you guessed it… CAMERA EQUIPMENT!! WOOOHOOOO, right? WRONG.

Okay, maybe there are rare occasions when the cheap camera equipment of eBay is actually a good substitute for the expensive alternatives but not when it comes to anything that directly affects the outcome of an image. This includes lighting equipment and camera filters. The latter of which affects the outcome of an image even more. ND filters affect the exposure and colouring of an image. UV filters affect the colour and contrast of an image. Polarizing filters reduce reflections and darken the sky in an image. You get the point.

I decided that I wanted an ND filter so that I could take shots with super-long exposures and achieve that silky-water look you’ve probably all seen before. However, ND filters can come in a few different levels of intensity and so buying a filter at each level means that you’ll need a collection of filters. Fortunately, variable ND filters exist which have a varying intensity that you can easily adjust. After doing some research, I settled on purchasing a Variable ND filter instead of the single-intensity ones and went searching through eBay for one that fit my beloved camera. I happily came across a 52mm Variable ND filter for about $8 with free shipping and made the purchase. It arrived a week later and I was amazed at how good it looked for such a low price. It seemed to be working great as I adjusted the intensity and watched the filter go alternate between light and dark.

Off I went with my trusted Nikon D3200 and my brand new filter that I just couldn’t wait to try out. I imagined the image would turn out beautifully as I set my camera up next to a river with flowing water and screwed the filter on to my camera’s lens. I set the shutter-speed to 5 seconds and took a few shots of the water before looking at how they turned out. I noticed my images were mostly over-exposed and had awkward darker areas so I tried again. I adjusted the filter to make it even darker, took another image, and upon viewing said image, realized the unfortunate truth. Although the filter seemed to work well when I looked at it with my eyes, actual images revealed it to be extremely inconsistent in it’s darkening of the images. The images would have dark crosses right in the middle of them where the filter was uneven. Feast your eyes upon the first image I took:

Wow such quality

and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, this next image uses the filter set to the maximum intensity level:

So much quality

Horrific, I know. There go my dreams of silky-smooth water. At least for now. Moral of the story: Don’t buy cheap camera equipment from eBay. It says it in the title.