What Camera Accessories are Essential in 2020?

There are several ways I could present the needed accessories for a camera enthusiast or photographer to have. What a seasoned photographer would want versus what a fledgling photographer would need are two different listings. Though a lot of the same accessories will be found on those lists, a professional will be willing to spend more on their accessories and may have all of the basics, whereas an amateur (like me) will be trying to get what they need on a budget. 

Because we amateurs can learn from what professionals see as essential, this article is going to combine listings of basic camera accessories from both amateurs and professionals and explain why each accessory is invaluable to your photography.

what camera accessories are essential

Camera Accessory Essentials

Cleaning Necessities

Neglecting camera maintenance may be the most expensive mistake you can make. Cleanliness doesn’t just affect your photograph’s quality, but it can affect the longevity of your camera and equipment. 

Camera Cleaning Kit

Even though compact system cameras and DSLRs have in-built cleaning mechanisms, sticky pollen and dust particles can still find its way onto a sensor. You should just be prepared to understand how to properly clean your equipment by reading the manuals and truly moving through the pieces and parts of your camera and lenses. As far as kits go, you don’t need to buy anything overly expensive. A pack of sensor cleaning swabs and a small bottle of sensor cleaning fluid will do nicely.

Camera Cleaning Kit

Lens Pen

One side has a felt tip with a dry carbon cleaning compound, and the other side has a retractable soft brush. 

Bulb Blower

It’s compact and not that hi-tech, but you don’t want to use compressed air to clean your camera (especially the sensor). A blower is useful for blowing specks and grit off your camera body and lens before giving it a wipe with a soft lens cloth. It can be especially useful when cleaning a sensor, because there is no direct touch and the air can be directed precisely. 

Batteries, Battery Chargers, and Portable Charge Banks

Once you start using external flash units, you’ll be going through batteries like crazy—and that’s why you should invest in rechargeable batteries as soon as you know what you need. Your camera, your accessories, none of it matters if you run out of power. Whether I was the videographer or the photographer on a project, the first thing I always put in my camera bag is a fully charged, spare battery. I also make sure I have spare batteries for any and all accessories I may be using. When I know I’ll be using my phone a lot (because I take pictures EVERYWHERE) I bring along a charging bank that can recharge a phone at least twice. 

When it comes to purchasing back-up batteries for cameras of any kind, think quality over price. I know it’ll be more expensive up-front, but in my experience, third-party batteries usually do not continuously hold a charge as well as a battery made for your camera does.  Believe me, nothing’s worse than running out of juice, grabbing a battery that you know you charged fully, and only getting half the time out of it – especially when you still have a lot to film or photograph. Worse? In some cases, if you use any kind of battery other than those purchasable through your camera manufacturer, you might be voiding your warranty. Read the fine print!  

Also, I travel a lot, so I make sure that everything I get in this category is capable of being charged in a car via USB and I have one of those old car-cigarette-lighters to USB chargers I keep, just in case. 

Camera Battery Charger

Battery chargers need to be efficient when you are a professional. Battery chargers do their job much faster than plugging your camera into the wall and charging the battery that way. You can even purchase chargers that charge multiple batteries at a time. Better quality chargers have built-in overcharge protection.  

Memory Cards and their Buddies

Memory cards are important, because they store the data that you are shooting. Your camera’s internal storage is not very extensive so you will need to store that data somewhere and depending upon what you are recording and how you are recording it, there are decisions that need to be made. 

Memory Cards

First thing first, always check what format of memory card your camera takes by looking in the user’s guide. 

It’s important to know the capabilities of your memory cards and if they will work with what you are shooting. 

Memory Cards

You will need cards with fast writing speeds if you partake in shooting video or action based photography. Using a memory card which is too slow can result in the camera’s buffer filling up too quickly. The camera has to stop and wait for the buffer to start to empty before it can continue capturing photos or video.

I know that for videography, especially in 4K, the larger storage capacity is a must. This also applies to cameras with high frame rates and/or large sensors and pixel counts.When I was a videographer, I always carried multiple large capacity cards. The additional space was worth the cost. 

Again, your camera’s user manual will tell you the minimum requirement, but be sure you buy the right kind of SD card for your type of photography as well.

To be honest, it’s better to have too many SD or micro-SD cards than not enough. You may have various subject matters, various events, or other criteria by which to organize your cards. You definitely don’t want all those shots on your camera at all times. It’s truly best to have those shots on memory cards and not just on a cloud. In some cases, it’s not really feasible to use a cloud at all. Another reason for having multiple cards along with you? If one gets corrupted, you can always grab another one.

But remember to keep these things organized. 

Memory Card Wallet

A memory card wallet can keep your memory cards safe and organized. They can be soft cover or hard cover and made of materials that keep things safer. Try to get a water-proof or water resistant model. It’s for storage and for travel, and you never know what the weather’s going to do when you go out to shoot. 

Memory Card Wallet to store your extra cards

Just one kind of organization –  If a memory card is full flip if over (label down). If a memory card is empty and ready to go have it label side up. This system helps keep things organized, and makes it easier to grab an empty card when you need it!

Memory Card Reader

To get the photos from your camera and into your computer for post-processing,  most cameras use a USB cable supplied by the camera manufacturer. WiFi-enabled cameras allow the wireless transfer of photos to your computer.

High-volume photographers need a way to quickly and efficiently get their digital images uploaded to a computer. It’s not always convenient to connect your camera to your computer using the cable that comes with it every single time. And what if you used multiple cards for a particular project? That’s going to take a while. 

You can use a memory card reader to transfer the photos much faster. The best to look for are compatible with most types of cards and can fit the USB port you need to fit for the computer you plan to post-process on. You can purchase readers that read both SD and microSD cards in the same contraption. 

Memory Card Reader

Always get a card reader that’s compatible with your card technology – otherwise, you may find transfer speeds are much slower than you’d like. An important technical feature of a memory card reader is the “bus type” which determines the speed at which your computer can read the data you are processing to it from your memory cards. USB 3.0 is a standard, but some computers have available USB-C which is faster. 

Professionals may take one with them and leave one at home. Amateurs and people, like me, who are on a strict budget? Well, I’m limiting that to one reader. Thanks. 

Camera Bag

If your camera and equipment is inconvenient for you to carry around, guess what? You’ll always leave it at home. That’s why a camera bag is essential. 

It’s a good way to protect your investment. As you build up a collection of lenses and accessories you’ll find that a proper camera bag will keep your equipment all together, protect it, keep dust and dirt off of it, and make transporting it much easier. Speaking of protecting an investment, maybe it’d be practical to choose a bag that’s a little less obvious to would-be thieves. Or perhaps you should choose a compact bag that can fit inside of another bag that doesn’t draw attention to your valuables. Keep all of these things in mind as you choose your camera bags. 

Is there a perfect bag? No, not really. You have to find the one that works best for you. That might be one bag or multiple bags that you pack for each circumstance you find yourself in.  

Different types of camera bags

Think of those moments when you don’t have convenience on your side. There might be times when you can’t put the bag down and rifle through it. You need a bag that you can get into for lens changes and filter applications. If you are able to shift things around conveniently, you may opt for a less specialized bag. You may even want to be sure the laptop you use for photography can fit in your bag with the rest of your accessories. Each person has a different need and each circumstance may present you with a new set of needs! 

Look for varieties that come with cushioned interiors with cushioned/adjustable compartments. Moisture resistant outer layers are an added bonus that I know I would never be without.  

Backpacks – These are for hiking and uneven terrain. The straps and support can help limit the  strain to your back. Unfortunately, it must be taken off to access the supplies inside of it. 

Shoulder Bags – Things like low-profile messenger bags are often used for smaller shoots in crowded areas. They’re inconspicuous and convenient to get into. However, these bags place the weight on one shoulder which can cause back issues.  

Sling Bags – combine the some of the comfort of a backpack with some of the convenience of a shoulder bag

Camera Straps

Most of the cameras I have had, came with a free strap. Most of them have the brand name of the camera on it, pssssht… 

For one thing, that’s advertising to those who would like to take that little piece of technology off of my hands. Not good. 

Worse? It actually wasn’t very comfortable at all. Most straps that come with a camera kit can actually get painful for longer shoots, especially at the neck. So, you may want to look into purchasing a camera strap that better suits your needs. I mean, it’s not a necessity to get a brand new one right off the bat, but once you have the more essential purchases out of the way, this should be a purchase. 

Various types of Camera Straps

A camera strap should be comfortable for you, durable, and adjustable. Padding is good! If it gets more weight off of your neck, or cushions your neck, all the better. Shoulder to hip designs are more comfortable and you can pull the camera up from the hip position for a shot with reasonable ease. Some straps fit across the shoulder and still others have wrist cuffs instead of neck straps.  Obviously, the wrist cuffs would only work with lighter cameras. But it’s an alternative. 

You can also go completely hands-free with hip holsters. So, keep that in mind as you shop! 

Another thing to keep in mind, is how often you need to move from holding your camera to placing it on a tripod. If you do this a lot, it’s important to have a quality, easy-to-use release mechanism. The last thing you want while mounting your camera to a tripod for that perfect shot, is to get frustrated by removing the strap. 

Tripod and/or Monopods

In my opinion, this purchase, whether you spend a lot on it or as much as you can budget, is one of the top three purchases to make if you want to get into photography or videography. Price isn’t important, you just need something sturdy that will keep your camera still in a breeze or keep it still every time you touch it or the camera.

Aluminum Tripod

Tripods are particularly useful when slow shutter speeds or powerful telephoto or macro lenses are involved. It’s going to be the external stabilization your muscles cannot provide. It also frees up your hands for making adjustments.

It provides a method of holding your camera at exactly the right angle and keeping it absolutely still, so your images are pin-sharp and full of detail. This becomes essential in low-light situations, where the shutter speed needs to be slower. 

Another style of photography that’s heavily dependent upon the use of a tripod is sequencing composite shots – where your subject is moving through the scene and you want to capture them several times to show the movement. Your shots are taken in a burst as the subject moves. 

Carbon Fiber Tripod

As a rule aluminium tripods are cheaper than carbon fiber, but they are also heavier to carry.

Look for a tripod that extends to near eye-level, yet allows you to shoot close to the ground as well. Clip locks on the legs are good for quick deployment, but twist locks take up less room. A good starter tripod should provide splaying of each leg independently. Some may offer a rising center column that can provide additional height.

Remember that you may need a heavier and more sturdy tripod as your camera equipment becomes heavier and your lenses get larger. You do not want your tripod to collapse and harm your investments! But most are light weight and still capable of holding up. For smaller cameras, you can even find compact tripods.  

A little bit about monopods? Sure. A lot of tripods are actually made with the capability of becoming a monopod. By removing the center tube from the tripod support legs, you can easily carry the camera around on a “monopod”. 

Tripod Head

A tripod head is the bit that goes between the tripod legs and your camera. Many tripods are sold as a kit with a head, but you can also buy them separately. You should always select a tripod head that fits with the way you shoot or the subject.

Ball heads can be used for any type of photography and are quick to use, but they are especially well suited to still life and macro photography. It allows for the most wide use of angles. 

A pistol grip head is similar to a ball head, but do not use a knob to loosen the ball. Instead, they use a pistol grip. Some photographers like how quick and easy it is to reposition the camera without fumbling with the tripod head. Keep in mind that pistol grips loosen over time, unlike traditional ball heads. 

However, if you need to keep the horizon level in the frame, but need to tip the camera up or down, a ball head will not work. That’s why many photographers prefer pan and tilt heads, which rest on 2 axises. They are limited compared to a ball head, but that limitation is with a purpose – better control. 

Fluid heads are the same as Pan and Tilt heads, with one minor exception. The fluid head also features “drag” which controls how much friction there is when panning or tilting. This makes it easy to get smooth moving shots when recording video. 

For cameras with extremely enormous lenses, a gimbal head may be needed. Most commonly used for wildlife photography, gimbal heads hold the lens centered to the tripod with the flexibility to move as if you were hand-holding the lens. 

Still not sure what type of camera tripod is best for you, then be sure to check out my article, “What is a Camera Tripod?” when you have finished here.

Additional Lenses – Prime Lenses

The chances are that your camera came with a standard zoom lens which covers a focal length range of around 18-55mm on an APS-C format camera, 14-42mm on Micro Four Thirds or perhaps a 24-105mm on a full-frame model.

This is a great starting point, but to shoot landscapes you may want a wider lens. You may want to shoot detail of something that is very far away, and so you’ll need a telephoto lens. If you want to shoot small objects or subjects, you will want a macro lens. Some people prefer a portrait lens so that there is a wide aperture that limits the depth of field for a tight shot of the subject with a blurred background. And each type of lens comes in various sizes. Once you get started with additional lenses, you’ll understand why a good camera bag comes in handy!  

Various Lenses to choose from

As a beginner or even intermediate photographer, you may want to always have a prime lens handy. A prime lens is one that doesn’t zoom. In some ways it’s for beginners. It forces you to learn about how to manipulate composition. With a fixed camera lens, you have to think through your shots more, which stretches your skills and helps you improve faster. So, surprising though it may be, the quality that comes from photos taken by this lens winds up being better than that taken by a zoom lens. Why? For one, you are working more for a better product. Also, there are fewer elements involved that could cause things to go wrong.

The lenses are available in different sizes for different shots. To check the maximum aperture of your lens look on the lens barrel for an f-number.  The lower the f-number the faster the lens. A lens with an f-number of F2.8 or below is “fast”. 

You can look at a previous article about photography basics if you want to know what aperture speed might be desirable in your lens. In that article, I discuss something called the bokeh effect.  Basically, with a large aperture size, you can achieve a very shallow depth-of-field. This creates a beautifully blurred background which is great for making your subject stand out.

Lenses also come in different focal lengths – 24mm, 50mm, 80mm, etc. A 24mm prime lens is fairly wide angle and therefore perfect for landscapes but can distort portraits or closer shots. A 50mm lens captures the scene as our eyes see it – with no lens distortion. An 80mm prime lens is often chosen for portrait or still life photography. It’s considered more flattering on facial features without being right up in someone’s face.

For more information on the right kind of lens to use in your photography, be sure to check out my article on Camera Lens Basics.

Remote Shutter Release

Not just for self portraits, they’re also useful for night photography, landscape photography, wildlife photography – or really any time you have the camera mounted on a tripod. It allows you to engage the shutter without touching the camera, so it’s useful for longer exposures when the camera is on a tripod as it avoids introducing unwanted camera shake or blurring.

You can find remote shutter releases that simply let you take the photo without having to touch the camera. They act as bulb timers to enable you to take exposures longer than 30 seconds.  These remotes can become as complicated as having an internal intervalometer which allows for advanced timing features such as taking a series of images at specific timer intervals for a specified duration.

Remote Shutter Release

There are two types of remote release, those that connect to the camera via a cable and wireless releases. Wireless releases have the advantage of working from a longer range. Most of them use Infra-red or BluTooth technology. 

When it comes to wired releases, the remote and receiver are the same no matter what kit you get, but the cord that connects from the receiver to your camera will be different depending on what camera model you have. 

Closer view of the shutter release

More advanced remotes – no matter wired or wireless – have built-in timers and even LCD screens. Some shutter releases have evolved to be app-based, using smartphone technology. You need to be sure your camera has this feature as an option. The user’s guide can tell you.  

Filters

Because of post-processing and the functionality on many newer digital cameras and apps, external filters are underrated. However, they can actually be very helpful in attaining the perfect shot or providing you with a tool through which you can bring a certain style to your work. Filters provide a creative advantage by allowing you to control the rate and characteristics of the light that hits your camera’s sensor. They are useful during high-light shoots; daylight, for instance. 

Circular Polarizers work by changing the way light is taken in, eliminating reflections and glare (water, glass, etc.), as well as darkening brightness (such as from a bright blue sky) for rich, gorgeous color. When I looked it up, I would say that this lens is the type that most professional photographers list as the most important. 

Camera lens filters

Coming in at second place in “which lens is most important to professional photographers” – at least in the online research I conducted, are neutral density filters. Neutral density filters are incredibly popular because they enable you to take long exposure shots in daylight to blur cloud or water movement in landscapes. They also come in handy when you want to shoot with a very wide aperture in bright light. That’s because they actually cut the light entering the camera to keep from overexposing a shot in bright light. You could actually think of a Neutral Density lens as sunglasses for your camera! 

Graduated neutral density filters enable you to balance the exposure of a bright sky with a darker foreground, and polarising filters are useful to cut down on reflections and boost saturation and contrast.

UV filters are clear filters that protect the front element of your lenses. You can get them in different sizes (for different lenses) and they screw onto the front of the lens. It doesn’t really do anything but protect the lens. 

UV Filters

Filters come in two varieties; round and square (or rectangular). Round filters screw into the filter thread on the front of a lens and need to be bought in a specific size for the lens you happen to be using. Or, you can buy them in the largest thread you need and use stepping rings to fit them to the smaller lenses you use. On the other hand, square filters slide into a holder that mounts on the end of a lens and can be transferred between lenses using different sized adapters. Square works best with graduated filters because that graduation needs to be located in exactly the proper place over the scene in a viewfinder. 

Just keep in mind that you need to get filters with the proper thread size for your camera’s lens (the diameter is measured in millimeters), or the lense you will be using. Otherwise, you are wasting time and money. 

If you are looking for tips on how to clean your lens and filters, be sure to stop by and read this article from B&H Photo.

Reflector

A reflector is a quick and affordable way to brighten up your portraits and still life images, giving your shots a high-end professional look. 

Lighting and Umbrella reflectors

You can use them indoors (near windows) or outdoors to bounce light back onto your subject and to fill-in unwanted shadows. Most reflectors come double-sided or with detachable covers, so you get a choice of various reflective surfaces. Each surface gives a photo a slightly different result. The white surfaces of reflectors can also double up as diffusers to soften strong direct sunshine. 

Different types of reflectors

Some are collapsible and made of material that makes carrying it along with you for a shoot simple. You can find many with stands, so that your hands are freed up. Or, you could go simplistic. This doesn’t have to be a costly purchase. I’ve found that poster-boards work well in a pinch! 

External Flash – Speedlight or Flashgun

If your camera has a pop-up flash, it will add a little fill-in light, but it’s really not the best thing to use. Photographers get better power and more flattering results from an external flash. 

These can mount on the camera, or for even better results, be fired remotely via a cable or a wireless connection. 

Camera Flash

Unlike a reflector, an external flash of either kind can have harsh lighting. Therefore another purchase may need to be made – called a diffuser. You can get a flashgun that is compatible with your camera’s metering system so exposure control is automatic. A fully-manual flashgun will save you a bit of money, but will take a lot more practice. 

White-Balancing Tool

Most digital cameras have a function that allows for automatic white balancing. However, this is not always going to give you the proper coloration in the finished photo. Using auto on your white-balancing is what can lead to that kind of yellow-gold tone on items in the photo that should actually be white. Therefore, most photographers both amateur or professional will manually adjust this setting by using the “customize” options on their cameras. Read your literature about this for your particular camera. It’s important! I’ve seen great shots become very icky because I didn’t adjust my white-balance. 

White Balance Tool

A white-balancing tool is placed in the same lighting as the subject. Then, photographers can adjust their settings accordingly or use it as a base point for accurate post-processing later. To be honest, you can just use any old gray card or completely white piece of paper you have on hand. However, if you like to post process or you want to be absolutely sure of the balance, these tools are easy to get and not overly expensive. They’re usually called a Gray Panel or a Color Card or a Color Checker Card. 

I get into more detail about white balancing and other basics in my Beginner’s Guide to Photography Basics

YOUR SKILLS!!!

No matter how much basic photography gear you pack into your camera bag – it all means nothing if you don’t take along your skills and your eye for a good shot. You get better with practice more than with gear. Over the years, I’ve gotten progressively better by just using my phone, changing the settings to PRO, and adjusting things for myself. Taking multiple shots and finding that perfect lighting for a good shot – all of it adds up to experience. Get your gear because it makes your shooting more convenient, but take that gear and practice with it, learn with it, and become confident with it. 

Rachel Adams

I have used a wide variety of cameras over the years and wanted to share my experiences and knowledge with my readers. I don't have a degree in photography and I don't do this professionally. So, if you were looking for a photography expert - sorry. But if you prefer a practical person who admits she’s been a noob to photography and has learned from good people and through trial and error? I’m here for ya!

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