Photography: Camera Gear

Sew Well - Photography - Fancy Gear - Camera Remote

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.

Also of note, Jenny of Cashmerette posted her tips for getting great blog photos on her blog this week.  Go check them out!

22 thoughts on “Photography: Camera Gear

  1. Now I get the picture! Still have yet to really form opinions, but you’ve gotten me one step closer to not using my iPad as the only camera… Thanks~~ I’m gonna Instapaper it for future reference.

      1. Oh, how I love Instapaper. It allows you to save web articles for offline viewing. Even if you you have a data plan, it helps cut down on usage. Otherwise it can be good for reading on the underground. And, at the risk of overwindedness, I’d add that it has a folder feature which is helpful when compiling online research–in this case, how to choose the right fancy camera for my needs 🙂

  2. You pretty much use the same equipment I do.. Except I have a Nikon.. Love the 50mm and love my remote.

    I have a few other lenses as photography is another hobby of mine but do love my 50 (like you I couldn’t quite justify the 1.4f priced one, so mine is also 1.8)

    Great little post.

  3. This post was timed perfectly for me since I just my blog, and my first priority is taking better photos for it. I ordered a remote for my Nikon earlier today.

  4. This is such an interesting post… and a little overwhelming! It also makes me wish photography were a bigger hobby of mine so I could justify the time, energy, and expense of looking into these things more, but I guess its back to sewing and taking iPhone photos on my dress form for me!

    1. Sorry it’s overwhelming. I was hoping to not go too in depth here, but I guess maybe it was still too much if you’re not familiar at all with DSLRs. The iPhone takes great photos – so you’ve got that there!

  5. I think we all have the same camera post on the brain. I’ve been planning to write one about my Sony NEX but I was trying to borrow a friend’s camera so I could take nice photos of it, haha.

    1. Oh! You have a Sony NEX!?! I learned about them right after we bought our Canon DSLR, and I thought they were so brilliant that I talked my brother into getting his. He’s never looked back. I definitely think it’s worth a blog post, especially since many people might not realize they can have a really powerful camera without having to face their fears of DSLRs. And, I feel your pain about trying to figure out how to take photos for a post on your camera. I dragged my feet on this post for a week because of the same issue. I ultimately decided to just take a photo of the remote – using baby girl to make the photo a bit more interesting!

      1. This is a great little camera. Along with my Nikon DSLR I too have the Sony Nex-6 as sometimes the DSLR is too big to carry around. It is different to the Nikon, but once I got the hang of it,, I really enjoyed using it.. I pretty much always have this in my handbag. There is a great range of lenses for them, and if photography is not big thing for you, this is the next best thing…

  6. Nice stuff! I have a 50/1.4 lens and it is THE BUSINESS. I’m consistently amazed by how well it shoots – I often do little photoshoots with other blogger friends who also have DSLRs but are using the standard kit lens, and we always end up using the ones shot with my lens!

    1. Yeah, the standard kit lens that comes with many DSLRs is a good all around lens, but it really can’t compete with many of the specialized lenses. For blog photos a 50 mm lens with a low f really does almost all of the work for you. Loved your post, by the way!

  7. This post was really helpful, thanks! I’ve been doing okay using my iphone for blog pics, but I’d like to upgrade some day soon. The camera market is so overwhelming, it’s great to hear from different folks what works for them and why.

  8. Great post. Now we are entering autumn I was wondering whether to invest in another lens for my Nikon to help with the low lighting problems I get with photographing my craft items for my blog. Always wanted to know which lens made the background more blurry.

  9. Really interesting and perfect timing- thank you! My Dad has just upgraded his camera and given me his canon DsLR ( woohoo) with another telephoto lens ( woo hoo I will have to check out what it is now!) and I’ve no idea how to get the best out of it, so it’s super helpful to start learning through posts like this. Big thank you!!

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