If I’m going to do an SOS series on photography, it’s hard not to talk about the behind-the-scenes gear. We can try to have more fun in the right lighting when we take our blog photos, but we have to take them with something. The camera gear you use is a matter of both budget and preference. I can’t tell you what you should use, only what I choose to use and why.
First off, to take photos you have to have a camera, and the range out there is huge. Thankfully, prices are coming down, and it seems like pretty nice cameras are being integrated into cell phones and other small portable devices these days, so it’s fairly easy to get your hands on something that will work.
I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which is a fairly pricey full-frame DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. Canon now makes a Mark III version, so my camera is already “old”, despite not having lost too much of its price tag.
Why did I choose this camera? First, it’s a Canon. I don’t really have any brand loyalty or preferences, but back in high school when I was really into photography, I was given a Canon Rebel SLR and a couple of lenses. I still have those lenses, and they work perfectly with this camera. Also, my dad gave me a bunch of his old Nikon lenses (the real deal from back before there was auto-focus!), and I can also use them on this camera thanks to this little Nikon-to-Canon adaptor. So, in my case this particular camera came with a bunch of lenses!
Second, it’s full frame. All my photography books are still packed away so I can’t quote specifics, but my take on what full-frame means is that the digital sensor inside the camera takes full advantage of the lens, and, honestly, the lens is what it’s all about. I’ve heard that a 50 mm lens comes closest to capturing a scene exactly as our eyes see it. Any lens with a lower value (such as a 35 mm lens) will zoom out from the scene (which is why they’re often used in landscape photography), and any lens with a higher value (such as a 100 mm lens) will zoom in on the scene (which is why they’re often used for close up, macro photography). A 50 mm lens is a 50 mm lens on a full-frame camera. If a camera is not full frame, then its smaller sensor means a 50 mm lens is effectively a 75 mm lens or so. It’s zoomed in a bit on the scene since the smaller sensor can’t quite capture everything that the lens sees. Not really a big deal, but it was something that pushed us into the higher price range. My husband and I enjoy taking pictures of everything, not just blog things, so we figured having a nice camera would be useful to both of us. We actually bought our camera before I started a sewing blog! We’d just gotten married and knew a trip to the Alps was in our future, and we wanted to be able to take those seriously wide-angle zoomed-out landscape photos that are only really possible with a full-frame camera.
If my husband and I weren’t into taking fancy photos, then I don’t think we could have justified getting the full-frame camera. There are lots of crop-frame cameras out there with much, much, much lower price tags that work just as well. Especially with the right lenses!
Speaking of lenses, my three indispensable add-ons to the camera are a 50 mm f/1.8 lens, a tripod, and a remote (the latter is capturing baby girl’s attention in the above photo). My husband and I debated about whether the fancier 50 mm f/1.4 lens was worth it, but we figured the number of times we’d take advantage of the greater aperture range was pretty small compared to the price jump. Basically, the lower the f number, the wider the aperture – the iris of the lens – can open. So, an f/1.4 lens can open really wide since it can go all the way down to 1.4, while an f/1.8 lens can only go down to 1.8. That said, 1.8 is still a really wide open aperture! And, in turn, the wider the aperture, the more light a lens can let in. If you’re taking photos in really, really low light, then an f/1.4 lens is fantastic.
Also, specifically for bloggy blog photos, the wider the aperture, the smaller the focal depth, meaning the fuzzier everything except exactly what you’re focusing on will be. Taking photos at a lower f number will make you really pop from your background in your blog photos since you’ll be sharply in focus but the background will be blurry and out of focus. But, you can go too far. There have been times when my garment was in focus but my face was out of focus because the focal depth was too small to capture both. I once asked a professional model photographer what his favorite f setting was, and he said that if he had to set his camera at a fixed aperture, he’d use f/2.8. Now, I don’t know for certain whether all photographers think that, but I do know that I can easily reach f/2.8 with my cheaper lens! The f/1.8 lens is pretty much all plastic though, and we’ve already had to replace it once in our four years of owning the camera. But, two of those lenses are still half the price of one of the f/1.4 lenses!
If you already have a crop-frame camera and you want to invest in a fancy lens, you might consider thinking about a 35 mm lens with a low f. The crop frame turns the 35 mm lens into what is essentially a 50 mm lens. Actually, I just looked at the price for the Canon 35 mm f/2 lens, and I might reconsider my advice and actually suggest still sticking with the (albeit plastic) 50 mm f/1.8 instead!
As for the remote, I can’t imagine taking blog photos by myself without it. But, I’ve never had to try anything else since I bought the remote early on, mostly because I wanted to make sure there were photos of my husband and me together when we were on vacation. The remote has a permanent home in a tiny little case on my camera strap, so it’s always there when we need it. Mine cost around $20, but there are now knock offs out there for under $10! If you don’t have a Canon, there still might be a remote out there that will work for your camera. There are also apps that turn your smart phone into a camera remote! Crazy, right?!
What would I have chosen if none of those things were considerations? Honestly, probably a Sony NEX-6, which is essentially a point-and-shoot camera with fancy lenses. My brother has the older NEX-5, and it takes great photos without the heft, massive size, or complexity of a DSLR. The NEX-6 won’t break your budget quite as much, coming in at a mere $500, and you can get a remote for it as well! The downside is that you still have to buy another lens if you want 50 mm f/1.8 capabilities.
Okay, so that is well more than my two cents! I’m curious what you use and how well you think it works for you.