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So many questions come in asking for equipment recommendations "on a budget" or "without breaking the bank." This is so difficult to answer because some people have larger budgets than others. One post recently caught my attention and it was by someone who wanted a recommendation for a lighting setup for portraiture without breaking the bank. As usual, he was referred to Strobist. In this case, it was appropriate because he was planning to try for good images of his family and recommending an elaborate studio setup would have been inappropriate.

However, when questions asking for a recommendation of a budget lens for wedding photography crop up, it can be more difficult to infer the likely monetary constraints. Is there any way to get people to quantify "budget"?

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My own take would be that the question is useful, and that the answers should probably escalate in budgetary risk. That is, start with the cheapest approach/equipment that could possibly do the job, point out the drawbacks and deficiencies (if there are any), then move up a notch at a time until you've exhausted the "on a budget" category. I don't think there are many of us who'd fail to notice the point where you've stopped actively compromising functionality and are starting to consider only "comfort features".

As an example, let's take the recent lighting question. A cheap flash that can be pointed at any reflective surface, with another nearby surface acting as fill would be the bottom end (the "headshot in a corner" approach, but with everything depending on the room's geometry). Next up would be to move the flash to a stand or clamp and add an umbrella. That gives one more degree of control. Two flashes adds variable fill without repositioning the subject. Swap the brollies for softboxen for better directional control. Add a light meter for more predictable control of ratios. Move to a low-cost studio kit (AlienBees, DLite or similar), and you've gotten to the end of "budget"; all else is features (recycle times, remote power adjustment, bigger or more specialised modifiers).

A comprehensive answer of that sort (with broad cost ranges) answers the "budget" question without defining "budget", and allows future readers to determine the correct answer for their own situation. That would make both the question and the answer useful.

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  • that's a very good idea -- rank from "simple" to "complex" in order, assuming the complex solutions will cost more. That neatly avoids specific pricing info and cuts to the heart of the matter. Sep 23 '11 at 2:38
  • It is an intriguing idea....however, does such an approach actually adequately answer the specific question at hand, without bringing in a lot of noise that does NOT answer nor help the asker? I could certainly understand this approach if the question was asked without factoring in any level of budget at all...however "on a budget" most often has a specific connotation...one that is usually on the "cheaper" end of the scale.
    – jrista
    Sep 29 '11 at 5:06
  • The "cheaper end of the scale" means very different things to different people. There are folks for whom fifty bucks is a real stretch, and others who simply mean "can we keep this under a grand, please?" And this approach addresses exactly that ambiguity -- there's never a need to go beyond the compromise level. And no, that isn't "noise" -- if we can't address the issue in this way, then the "budget" questions become too specific and go out of scope for the site (just as geographicly specific questions do). Long-tail answers are kind of the point 'round these parts.
    – user2719
    Sep 29 '11 at 16:43
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Buying advice is also difficult - some products may be unavailable, or vastly different prices in different territories.

I wouldn't be surprised if more got closed as "too localised" - prices change so rapidly, and new products enter the market, etc. After all, the full description of the "too localised" reason is:

This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.

That doesn't mean that I don't think that the community cannot answer these sorts of things; just that they may be more suited to the chat room

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  • +1 for the chat room mention.
    – Sean
    Sep 21 '11 at 21:42
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When questions like that arise without actually specifying a budget, use comments to request more information, namely a specific budget. This lack of specificity is not really a problem localized to budget-limited equipment recommendations...its a problem we encounter on quite a few questions. When you don't think you can answer a question adequately because there is not enough information, the general tactic should always be to request that the blanks be filled in.

So, yes, budget can be quantified by the person asking the question, so long as we ask them to provide the information.

In the event that the original poster never provides the requested detail, then we can do one of two things. Answer the question as best as possible, erring on the "low budget" side of things (which is usually sufficient for those who are afraid to "bust the budget"), or close the question as one of the following:

not a real question
It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

Good in the specific case where necessary information is lacking, including "low budget" without any specific currency range specified. Or possibly:

too localized
This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.

Too localized is good when an equipment recommendation question is truly too specific to be useful to anyone but the original poster (i.e. A one-time Everest climber who wants to be able to photograph the world from the top of the world in digital-medium-format resolution, thereby requiring expensive and particularly durable equipment, but unwilling to spend $40,000 on a camera. There is likely only one answer, the Pentax 645D...neither the question nor the answer are likely to be of use to anyone other than the particularly rare everest climber who wants to photograph the top of the world at 50 megapixels, and therefor prime fodder for "too localized".)

Even in the case of budget-restricted questions, we have to realize that our potential audience...many of which are likely to be viewers who pop in from a search engine, read, and move on to the next page in their results, can benefit from buget-limited equipment recommendations. More people than not have to live on a budget, so finding gear they can buy on their budget is useful to more than the much smaller audience of actual members of our site. Since one of the goals of StackExchange is to be a primary supplier of quality information for internet search engines, we should strive to meet that requirement whenever possible.

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All fair answers. To the specific question about lighting on a budget, I believe Stan has struck the correct note. I think referring people to Strobist, who has a particular point of view is less useful. There are plenty of Internet resources on lighting -- many more complicated to read than Strobist, but also of potentially more value.

So if being a high-value information source is a priority, default answers like this should be examined.

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